Monday, February 11, 2013

Pharaoh’s Dogged Determination -- Exodus 7:20-25

So Moses and Aaron did even as the Lord had commanded.  And he lifted up the staff and struck the water that was in the Nile, in the sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of his servants, and all the water that was in the Nile was turned to blood.  And the fish that were in the Nile died, and the Nile became foul, so that the Egyptians could not drink water from the Nile.  And the blood was through all the land of Egypt.  But the magicians of Egypt did the same with their secret arts; and Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he did not listen to them, as the Lord had said.  Then Pharaoh turned and went into his house with no concern even for this.  So all the Egyptians dug around the Nile for water to drink, for they could not drink of the water of the Nile.  And seven days passed after the Lord had struck the Nile.
Once again Moses and Aaron right away did as God had commanded them to.  I find the phrase “in the sight of (Pharaoh’s) servants” a type of reminder to us that we are not to hide our dependence on God or our purpose in ministry from the public arena.  What we do with God’s help is not espionage work, trying to convince someone to follow God’s way in secret, “or else”.  No, what we are called to do is to “go in the name of the Lord” and not be ashamed or secretive of what we are doing for Him and with Him.
Interestingly, this whole issue comes up time and time again as various mission organizations deal with “how do we best approach sharing the Gospel with a particular group”.  Do we play it “low key” and “just build relationships” and “when they’re ready, they’ll ask us about Jesus”?  Do we simply “give them the Word of God, tell them what’s in it, and they can take it or leave it as it’s their choice?”  Most people would agree that those are two extremes, neither of which are the preferred approach modeled by Jesus Himself when He shared “the meaning of eternal life” with the woman at the well.  We should never hide whom we are in Christ, or that we have a desire that all should come to know Him as their personal savior.  But having said that, we need to let them know that we love them as people and care about what’s going on in their lives.  From my own personal experience in observing both full-time Christian workers and others, it is most difficult for the majority of those who would witness for Christ to find the right balance in this regard.  I believe the growth of the Church is hindered somewhat as a result.
As Aaron struck the water that was in the Nile, it turned to blood, the fish therein died, the smell of the river became awful, and no one could drink from it.  The text said this blood spread throughout the land of Egypt just as God had said.  God delivers on His Word.
But here is perhaps the most difficult phrase in this passage to explain, namely, “the magicians of Egypt did the same thing with their secret arts.”  What gives?  Literally, these soothsayer priests were able to duplicate the miracle.  Of course, the keen mind would ask, “with what water did they do this?”  Or, you may ask, “why were they able to?”  I am reminded of the lesson I have been learning lately which is that sometimes God allows things to happen which from the Enemy’s perspective have a very different and negative desired result and from God’s perspective are allowed for a very positive end-result for those that love Him.  (We can see this in the New Testament when we read Matthew 4:1.  There we see that both the Spirit of God and the devil himself were actively involved in bringing about a particular situation – the temptation of Jesus.  God allowed it with the ultimate purpose of truly having His Son experience temptation.  He wanted Jesus to fully understand how we are tempted. And He also wanted to make it possible for us to know that our Lord was tempted as we are.  The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews writes in chapter 2, verse 18 – “For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted” – you and me.  Amen.
But the devil showed up with other plans at the time.  He tempted Jesus to defeat Him and His claims.  And so it was when the devil showed up in Egypt.  He wanted to work against God.  So God allows the ‘magicians’ to do their thing and succeed.  One commentator (Chuck Smith) suggests that they weren’t helping – they should have used their skills to turn the blood back to water.
David Guzik meanwhile asks the question that we referred to above, “How could the magicians of Egypt find fresh water to turn to blood, if all the water had already become blood?”  Guzik suggests that “all the waters directly associated with the Nile had been turned to blood (including its pools and tributaries, and water in vessels drawn from the Nile). Yet water obtained by wells was not plagued.”  And it is thus that he explains the next part in the passage that indicates the Egyptians dug all around the river for water to drink.  So the magicians had turned “fresh water” into blood.  I am not so sure that this is accurate as the actual text says it was “the blood” that “was through all the land of Egypt”.  However, I suppose Guzik’s explanation is possible if we consider “open water” versus “underground water”.
Most scholars believe the action of the magicians to be a ‘miracle’ from Satan’s hand.  As such, he could only help his magicians do the same, rather than bring about a positive, constructive or as Guzik says, a “cleansing miracle”.  Guzik adds, “he can bring supernatural destruction, but not goodness.”  Satan, he contends, is not in the business of bringing about “alleviation of human suffering” which can only come from God Himself.
Robert Jamieson in addressing this matter of the magicians’ sorcery believes it was on a very small scale using water dug there and then from the sand beside the Nile and then applying some red dye.  We have no evidence of this either.  Whatever happened, we know that Pharaoh used the so-called mirroring of God’s miracle by his magicians as sufficient for him to remain hardened in his heart.  As such, he discounts anything that Moses and Aaron had to say or ask for and returns to his house emotionally untouched and seemingly uncaring for his subjects who now had to work as hard as they could, against all odds, to dig and find fresh water.  Pharaoh’s attitude reminds me a little of what Queen Marie Antoinette is believed (but never proven) to have said when she was told the people had no bread.  She responded, “Let them eat cake.”  In the case of Pharaoh, it seems to be “Let my people find water, obviously there’s some around since my magicians were able to turn it into blood.”  How insensitive and how not that different from the extra work he had placed on Hebrew slaves a little while earlier when he made them gather their own straw to make bricks without reducing the required daily quota.   It is evident that evil men (or women) will go to any extent to get their way even if it means harming their own people.  That is something we have seen time and time again with dictators and it may well be something we will see again in our modern times and even western society.
The chapter ends with the statement that this state of affairs actually went on for seven days before God spoke to Moses again.  Can you imagine what the Egyptians were going through?  What we do not know is how this affected the Israelites.  Nor do we know what was going through the minds of the Pharaoh, Aaron, Moses, and the Israelites as a result.
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