In the last chapter, God was telling Moses to go for a second audience with Pharaoh. This section, as well as Exodus 6, was clearly written by a different author than Exodus 4-5, the two sections having been poorly harmonized. The repeats make it rather easy to tell:

  • Moses’ refusal, claiming not to be a good speaker (Exodus 4:10 vs Exodus 6:12).
  • The recruitment of Aaron (Exodus 4:14 vs Exodus 6:13).
  • The appeal to the Hebrews (Exodus 4:31 vs Exodus 6:9).
  • The meeting with Pharaoh (Exodus 5:1-5 vs Exodus 7:10).

So God spends quite a bit of time building Moses and Aaron up for their (second) meeting with Pharaoh. He repeats the whole “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart” so that he gets to show off and “the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord” (Exodus 7:3-5). This didn’t really work out so well for God, unless he accidentally forgot to take off his ibis head mask that day…

Meeting the king

Pharaoh, clearly still rather suspicious about the Hebrews’ god claims, asks Moses and Aaron to provide some evidence by performing a miracle. Aaron throws his rod to the ground and it turns into a snake.

Unperturbed, Pharaoh calls in his own magicians and they also turn their staves into snakes. But “Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods” (Exod. 7:12), which sounds really dirty to my immature mind. But even cannibalistic snakes fail to intimidate Pharaoh and he still refuses to let the Hebrews leave.

And, as Javerbaum points out, “neither Aaron, nor Moses, nor Pharaoh, nor any of the sorcerers there, had any idea how gay it was” (The Last Testament, p.73).

The First Plague: Water turns to blood

The River of Blood by Ted Larson

The River of Blood by Ted Larson

For his next trick, God tells Moses and Aaron to ambush Pharaoh in the morning while he’s doing his business (nature unspecified) by the Nile’s bank. Once there, Aaron holds his rod and stretches his hand out “over the waters of Egypt, over their rivers, their canals, and their ponds, and all their pools of water” (Exod. 7:19). This guy has really long reach!

All the water in Egypt (even the water in vessels) is turned to blood. This is a much exaggerated feat from the little parlour trick God taught Moses in Exodus 4:8-9. Not only that, but they seem to have ditched the whole self-inflicted leprosy trick from Exodus 4:6-7.

But the Egyptian magicians keep up with God and do “the same by their secret arts” (Exod. 7:22). This, of course, raises the question of whether the bloody river turned back to water first. If not, the magicians aren’t particularly impressive. (“Behold as I, Blurgharg the Mighty, transform this blood into… blood!”)

Seeing that God isn’t more powerful than a common Egyptian magician, Pharaoh lacks suitable awe and still refuses to let the Hebrews leave.