Last week we saw that Yahweh’s name is who He is and what He does, and therefore He is able to use the feebleness of normal human beings and glorify it into Godlike power and authority and grace. Not only are human beings “gods” in the world, it is also clear that there are other powers at work as well.
Yahweh and the Gods
This showdown in Egypt is not only between Moses and Pharaoh and not merely Yahweh and Pharaoh either but also between Yahweh and all the gods of Egypt (Ex. 12:12). And neither do we “wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 6:12, cf. Rom. 8:38-39, Col. 2:15, Dan. 10:12-13, 20) We know for a fact that Israel was afflicted with evil spirits by the time of Christ, and these demons have some power and authority in this world (e.g. Mk. 3:22, 5:7). At the same time we know that the prophets call the gods of the nations nothing, gods of stone and wood and precious metals (cf. 1 Cor. 8:4-6). Yahweh is not merely doing battle with clever men and their card tricks (7:11, 22, 8:7). He is doing battle with the demons of Egypt, but before Him they are nothing.
We’ve pointed out previously that the word for serpent here is actually dragon or sea monster (7:9-10 cf. Gen. 1:21, Is. 27:1). This first sign is a reversal of Genesis 3. It was a dragon who deceived the woman, and now Pharaoh, the seed of that dragon has risen up again to fight against the word of the Lord. Many centuries later, Pharaoh is still referred to as a dragon (Ez. 29:3, 32:2, cf. Jer. 51:34). But every dragon is ultimately a picture of the descendents of the original dragon (Rev. 12:9). And there is ample evidence that this image is based in reality (Num. 21, Job 41:19-21), and the connection appears to be related to the seraphim (Num. 21:8, Is. 6:2, 6, 14:29, 30:6). This first sign is not just a fancy magic trick. Here, Yahweh shows himself as the Lord of the Dragon, the God who rules the Serpent and all seraphim (7:12). Who is Yahweh? Yahweh is the God who promised enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent and ultimately to crush the head of the serpent.
The Bloody Nile
Scholars have pointed out that this sign and the ones that follow are similar to naturally occurring phenomena. The Nile annually floods and then recedes, and in the annual cycle, there is usually a change of color in the Nile which is reddish and bloodlike. Furthermore, generally after this there are more frogs, and when the frogs die there is an increase in lice and flies. (Not to mention the nifty “stiff serpent trick” apparently attested to some ancient records.) What are we to make of this? God made heaven and earth, and it would be silly to worry that God might use “natural” momentum to perform miraculous deeds. If these things are attested to having happened, great, but there is a slippery slope in both directions. If God is directing these events in supernatural ways, then it doesn’t much matter if historical records show increasing frog populations after the Nile floods. It doesn’t matter much that piles of dead frogs would tend to attract lice and flies. The fact is that God is directing these events down to the minute. At the same time, there’s no need to examine what kind of chemical makeup would turn the Nile a bloody color. The text says that it turned to blood and everything died (7:21). There is clearly symbolism going on: this is the same body of water where the Hebrew baby boys were thrown 40 years earlier (1:22) and the Nile was worshipped as a god. But an ordinary, naturally occurring phenomenon cannot account for all that is in the text. At the same time, it is important not to miss the fact that the symbolism is not mere symbolism. Yahweh is carrying out holy war against the gods of Egypt and the Nile god who gave them life and sustenance has been struck dead. Yahweh rules the dragon and the sea, and we should not miss the connection with the rod (7:15, 17, 19-20): God is going to use Pharaoh (like a rod) to fill the Nile with Egyptian blood.
Conclusions and Applications
First, we need to recognize that we do not live in a materialistic world. Darwin and all his ugly stepchildren were wrong. We live in the world that God made which is both material and spiritual and consists of both visible and invisible elements. This world is a fairy land, and history is a grand and true fairy tale. This means we need to recognize that actions and words are full of weight. Positively, do not underestimate beauty and blessing, and conversely do be deceived: do not believe the lie that our actions and words somehow cannot affect others, our families, and our society (e.g. Achan, bitterness).
Secondly, we need to recognize that we serve the true God, and in Christ, he has triumphed over the prince of darkness, and we cannot be harmed by him. Therefore James says, “Resist the Devil and he will flee from you.” The power of the Devil and his angels has been broken. Jesus was lifted up and the god of this world was judged and cast out (Jn. 12:31-32).
Finally, we should see Christ and the gospel in this story. Jesus is the rod of Jesse who was hung on the pole of the cross as a serpent. He who knew no sin became sin for us that sin might be destroyed. He became the serpent in order to swallow all of the serpents. He died in order to to swallow up death. Look to the cross and be saved, be healed, and see the history of this world and your life as the story of the great dragon slayer Jesus and His armies.