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Exodus 7:14-24

Context
The First Blow: Water to Blood

7:14 1 The Lord said to Moses, “Pharaoh’s heart is hard; 2  he refuses to release 3  the people. 7:15 Go to Pharaoh in the morning when 4  he goes out to the water. Position yourself 5  to meet him by the edge of the Nile, 6  and take 7  in your hand the staff 8  that was turned into a snake. 7:16 Tell him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has sent me to you to say, 9  “Release my people, that they may serve me 10  in the desert!” But until now 11  you have not listened. 12  7:17 Thus says the Lord: “By this you will know that I am the Lord: I am going to strike 13  the water of the Nile with the staff that is in my hand, and it will be turned into blood. 14  7:18 Fish 15  in the Nile will die, the Nile will stink, and the Egyptians will be unable 16  to drink water from the Nile.”’” 7:19 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron, ‘Take your staff and stretch out your hand over Egypt’s waters – over their rivers, over their canals, 17  over their ponds, and over all their reservoirs 18  – so that it becomes 19  blood.’ There will be blood everywhere in 20  the land of Egypt, even in wooden and stone containers.” 7:20 Moses and Aaron did so, 21  just as the Lord had commanded. Moses raised 22  the staff 23  and struck the water that was in the Nile right before the eyes 24  of Pharaoh and his servants, 25  and all the water that was in the Nile was turned to blood. 26  7:21 When the fish 27  that were in the Nile died, the Nile began 28  to stink, so that the Egyptians could not drink water from the Nile. There was blood 29  everywhere in the land of Egypt! 7:22 But the magicians of Egypt did the same 30  by their secret arts, and so 31  Pharaoh’s heart remained hard, 32  and he refused to listen to Moses and Aaron 33  – just as the Lord had predicted. 7:23 And Pharaoh turned and went into his house. He did not pay any attention to this. 34  7:24 All the Egyptians dug around the Nile for water to drink, 35  because they could not drink the water of the Nile.

1 sn With the first plague, or blow on Pharaoh, a new section of the book unfolds. Until now the dominant focus has been on preparing the deliverer for the exodus. From here the account will focus on preparing Pharaoh for it. The theological emphasis for exposition of the entire series of plagues may be: The sovereign Lord is fully able to deliver his people from the oppression of the world so that they may worship and serve him alone. The distinct idea of each plague then will contribute to this main idea. It is clear from the outset that God could have delivered his people simply and suddenly. But he chose to draw out the process with the series of plagues. There appear to be several reasons: First, the plagues are designed to judge Egypt. It is justice for slavery. Second, the plagues are designed to inform Israel and Egypt of the ability of Yahweh. Everyone must know that it is Yahweh doing all these things. The Egyptians must know this before they are destroyed. Third, the plagues are designed to deliver Israel. The first plague is the plague of blood: God has absolute power over the sources of life. Here Yahweh strikes the heart of Egyptian life with death and corruption. The lesson is that God can turn the source of life into the prospect of death. Moreover, the Nile was venerated; so by turning it into death Moses was showing the superiority of Yahweh.

2 tn Or “unresponsive” (so HALOT 456 s.v. I כָּבֵד).

3 tn The Piel infinitive construct לְשַׁלַּח (lÿshallakh) serves as the direct object of מֵאֵן (meen), telling what Pharaoh refuses (characteristic perfect) to do. The whole clause is an explanation (like a metonymy of effect) of the first clause that states that Pharaoh’s heart is hard.

4 tn The clause begins with הִנֵּה (hinneh); here it provides the circumstances for the instruction for Moses – he is going out to the water so go meet him. A temporal clause translation captures the connection between the clauses.

5 tn The instruction to Moses continues with this perfect tense with vav (ו) consecutive following the imperative. The verb means “to take a stand, station oneself.” It seems that Pharaoh’s going out to the water was a regular feature of his day and that Moses could be there waiting to meet him.

6 sn The Nile, the source of fertility for the country, was deified by the Egyptians. There were religious festivals held to the god of the Nile, especially when the Nile was flooding. The Talmud suggests that Pharaoh in this passage went out to the Nile to make observations as a magician about its level. Others suggest he went out simply to bathe or to check the water level – but that would not change the view of the Nile that was prevalent in the land.

7 tn The verb תִּקַּח (tiqqakh), the Qal imperfect of לָקַח (laqakh), functions here as the imperfect of instruction, or injunction perhaps, given the word order of the clause.

8 tn The final clause begins with the noun and vav disjunctive, which singles this instruction out for special attention – “now the staff…you are to take.”

9 tn The form לֵאמֹר (lemor) is the Qal infinitive construct with the lamed (ל) preposition. It is used so often epexegetically that it has achieved idiomatic status – “saying” (if translated at all). But here it would make better sense to take it as a purpose infinitive. God sent him to say these words.

10 tn The imperfect tense with the vav (וְיַעַבְדֻנִי, vÿyaavduni) following the imperative is in volitive sequence, showing the purpose – “that they may serve me.” The word “serve” (עָבַד, ’avad) is a general term to include religious observance and obedience.

11 tn The final עַד־כֹּה (’ad-koh, “until now”) narrows the use of the perfect tense to the present perfect: “you have not listened.” That verb, however, involves more than than mere audition. It has the idea of responding to, hearkening, and in some places obeying; here “you have not complied” might catch the point of what Moses is saying, while “listen” helps to maintain the connection with other uses of the verb.

12 tn Or “complied” (שָׁמַעְתָּ, shamata).

13 tn The construction using הִנֵּה (hinneh) before the participle (here the Hiphil participle מַכֶּה, makkeh) introduces a futur instans use of the participle, expressing imminent future, that he is about to do something.

14 sn W. C. Kaiser summarizes a view that has been adopted by many scholars, including a good number of conservatives, that the plagues overlap with natural phenomena in Egypt. Accordingly, the “blood” would not be literal blood, but a reddish contamination in the water. If there was an unusually high inundation of the Nile, the water flowed sluggishly through swamps and was joined with the water from the mountains that washed out the reddish soil. If the flood were high, the water would have a deeper red color. In addition to this discoloration, there is said to be a type of algae which produce a stench and a deadly fluctuation of the oxygen level of the river that is fatal to fish (see W. C. Kaiser, Jr., “Exodus,” EBC 2:350; he cites Greta Hort, “The Plagues of Egypt,” ZAW 69 [1957]: 84-103; same title, ZAW 70 [1958]: 48-59). While most scholars would agree that the water did not actually become blood (any more than the moon will be turned to literal blood [Joel 2:31]), many are not satisfied with this kind of explanation. If the event was a fairly common feature of the Nile, it would not have been any kind of sign to Pharaoh – and it should still be observable. The features that would have to be safeguarded are that it was understood to be done by the staff of God, that it was unexpected and not a mere coincidence, and that the magnitude of the contamination, color, stench, and death, was unparalleled. God does use natural features in miracles, but to be miraculous signs they cannot simply coincide with natural phenomena.

15 tn The definite article here has the generic use, indicating the class – “fish” (R. J. Williams, Hebrew Syntax, 19, §92).

16 tn The verb לָאָה (laa), here in the Niphal perfect with a vav consecutive, means “be weary, impatient.” The Niphal meaning is “make oneself weary” in doing something, or “weary (strenuously exert) oneself.” It seems always to indicate exhausted patience (see BDB 521 s.v.). The term seems to imply that the Egyptians were not able to drink the red, contaminated water, and so would expend all their energy looking for water to drink – in frustration of course.

17 tn Or “irrigation rivers” of the Nile.

18 sn The Hebrew term means “gathering,” i.e., wherever they gathered or collected waters, notably cisterns and reservoirs. This would naturally lead to the inclusion of both wooden and stone vessels – down to the smallest gatherings.

19 tn The imperfect tense with vav (ו) after the imperative indicates the purpose or result: “in order that they [the waters] be[come] blood.”

20 tn Or “in all.”

21 sn Both Moses and Aaron had tasks to perform. Moses, being the “god” to Pharaoh, dealt directly with him and the Nile. He would strike the Nile. But Aaron, “his prophet,” would stretch out the staff over the rest of the waters of Egypt.

22 tn Heb “And he raised”; the referent (Moses) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

23 tn Gesenius calls the preposition on “staff” the בְּ (bet) instrumenti, used to introduce the object (GKC 380-81 §119.q). This construction provides a greater emphasis than an accusative.

24 tn The text could be rendered “in the sight of,” or simply “before,” but the literal idea of “before the eyes of” may stress how obvious the event was and how personally they were witnesses of it.

25 sn U. Cassuto (Exodus, 98) notes that the striking of the water was not a magical act. It signified two things: (1) the beginning of the sign, which was in accordance with God’s will, as Moses had previously announced, and (2) to symbolize actual “striking,” wherewith the Lord strikes Egypt and its gods (see v. 25).

26 sn There have been various attempts to explain the details of this plague or blow. One possible suggestion is that the plague turned the Nile into “blood,” but that it gradually turned back to its normal color and substance. However, the effects of the “blood” polluted the water so that dead fish and other contamination left it undrinkable. This would explain how the magicians could also do it – they would not have tried if all water was already turned to blood. It also explains why Pharaoh did not ask for the water to be turned back. This view was put forward by B. Schor; it is summarized by B. Jacob (Exodus, 258), who prefers the view of Rashi that the blow affected only water in use.

27 tn The first clause in this verse begins with a vav disjunctive, introducing a circumstantial clause to the statement that the water stank. The vav (ו) consecutive on the next verb shows that the smell was the result of the dead fish in the contaminated water. The result is then expressed with the vav beginning the clause that states that they could not drink it.

28 tn The preterite could be given a simple definite past translation, but an ingressive past would be more likely, as the smell would get worse and worse with the dead fish.

29 tn Heb “and there was blood.”

30 tn Heb “thus, so.”

31 tn The vav consecutive on the preterite introduces the outcome or result of the matter – Pharaoh was hardened.

32 tn Heb “and the heart of Pharaoh became hard.” This phrase translates the Hebrew word חָזַק (khazaq; see S. R. Driver, Exodus, 53). In context this represents the continuation of a prior condition.

33 tn Heb “to them”; the referents (Moses and Aaron) have been specified in the translation for clarity.

34 tn The text has וְלֹא־שָׁת לִבּוֹ גַּם־לָזֹאת (vÿlo-shat libbo gam-lazot), which literally says, “and he did not set his heart also to this.” To “set the heart” to something would mean “to consider it.” This Hebrew idiom means that he did not pay attention to it, or take it to heart (cf. 2 Sam 13:20; Ps 48:13; 62:10; Prov 22:17; 24:32). Since Pharaoh had not been affected by this, he did not consider it or its implications further.

35 sn The text stresses that the water in the Nile, and Nile water that had been diverted or collected for use, was polluted and undrinkable. Water underground also was from the Nile, but it had not been contaminated, certainly not with dead fish, and so would be drinkable.



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