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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 14–25
Verses 14–25

Here is the first of the ten plagues, the turning of the water into blood, which was, 1. A dreadful plague, and very grievous. The very sight of such vast rolling streams of blood, pure blood no doubt, florid and high-colored, could not but strike a horror upon people: much more afflictive were the consequences of it. Nothing more common than water: so wisely has Providence ordered it, and so kindly, that that which is so needful and serviceable to the comfort of human life should be cheap, and almost every where to be had; but now the Egyptians must either drink blood, or die for thirst. Fish was much of their food (Num. 11:5), but the changing of the waters was the death of the fish; it was a pestilence in that element (Exod. 7:21): The fish died. In the general deluge they escaped, because perhaps they had not then contributed so much to the luxury of man as they have since; but in this particular judgment they perished (Ps. 105:29): He slew their fish; and when another destruction of Egypt, long afterwards, is threatened, the disappointment of those that make sluices and ponds for fish is particularly noticed, Isa. 19:10. Egypt was a pleasant land, but the noisome stench of dead fish and blood, which by degrees would grow putrid, now rendered it very unpleasant. 2. It was a righteous plague, and justly inflicted upon the Egyptians. For, (1.) Nilus, the river of Egypt, was their idol; they and their land derived so much benefit from it that they served and worshipped it more than the Creator. The true fountain of the Nile being unknown to them, they paid all their devotions to its streams: here therefore God punished them, and turned that into blood which they had turned into a god. Note, That creature which we idolize God justly removes from us, or embitters to us. He makes that a scourge to us which we make a competitor with him. (2.) They had stained the river with the blood of the Hebrews’ children, and now God made that river all bloody. Thus he gave them blood to drink, for they were worthy, Rev. 16:6. Note, Never any thirsted after blood, but, sooner or later, they had enough of it. 3. It was a significant plague. Egypt had a great dependence upon their river (Zech. 14:18), so that in smiting the river they were warned of the destruction of all the productions of their country, till it came at last to their firstborn; and this red river proved a direful omen of the ruin of Pharaoh and all his forces in the Red Sea. This plague of Egypt is alluded to in the prediction of the ruin of the enemies of the New-Testament church, Rev. 16:3, 4. But there the sea, as well as the rivers and fountains of water, is turned into blood; for spiritual judgments reach further, and strike deeper, than temporal judgments do. And, lastly, let me observe in general concerning this plague that one of the first miracles Moses wrought was turning water into blood, but one of the first miracles our Lord Jesus wrought was turning water into wine; for the law was given by Moses, and it was a dispensation of death and terror; but grace and truth, which, like wine, make glad the heart, came by Jesus Christ. Observe,

I. Moses is directed to give Pharaoh warning of this plague. “Pharaoh’s heart is hardened (Exod. 7:14), therefore go and try what this will do to soften it,” Exod. 7:15. Moses perhaps may not be admitted into Pharaoh’s presence-chamber, or the room of state where he used to give audience to ambassadors; and therefore he is directed to meet him by the river’s brink, whither God foresaw he would come in the morning, either for the pleasure of a morning’s walk or to pay his morning devotions to the river: for thus all people will walk, every one in the name of his god; they will not fail to worship their god every morning. There Moses must be ready to give him a new summons to surrender, and, in case of a refusal, to tell him of the judgment that was coming upon that very river on the banks of which they were now standing. Notice is thus given him of it beforehand, that they might have no colour to say it was a chance, or to attribute it to any other cause, but that it might appear to be done by the power of the God of the Hebrews, and as a punishment upon him for his obstinacy. Moses is expressly ordered to take the rod with him, that Pharaoh might be alarmed at the sight of that rod which had so lately triumphed over the rods of the magicians. Now learn hence, 1. That the judgments of God are all known to himself beforehand. He knows what he will do in wrath as well as in mercy. Every consumption is a consumption determined, Isa. 10:23. 2. That men cannot escape the alarms of God’s wrath, because they cannot go out of the hearing of their own consciences: he that made their hearts can make his sword to approach them. 3. That God warns before he wounds; for he is long-suffering, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.

II. Aaron (who carried the mace) is directed to summon the plague by smiting the river with his rod, Exod. 7:19, 20. It was done in the sight of Pharaoh and his attendants; for God’s true miracles were not performed, as Satan’s lying wonders were, by those that peeped and muttered: truth seeks no corners. An amazing change was immediately wrought; all the waters, not only in the rivers but in all their ponds, were turned into blood. 1. See here the almighty power of God. Every creature is that to us which he makes it to be, water or blood. 2. See the mutability of all things under the sun, and what changes we may meet with in them. That which is water to-day may be blood to-morrow; what is always vain may soon become vexatious. A river, at the best, is transient; but divine justice can quickly make it malignant. 3. See what mischievous work sin makes. if the things that have been our comforts prove our crosses, we must thank ourselves: it is sin that turns our waters into blood.

III. Pharaoh endeavours to confront the miracle, because he resolves not to humble himself under the plague. He sends for the magicians, and, by God’s permission, they ape the miracle with their enchantments (Exod. 7:22), and this serves Pharaoh for an excuse not to set his heart to this also (Exod. 7:23), and a pitiful excuse it was. Could they have turned the river of blood into water again, this would have been something to the purpose; then they would have proved their power, and Pharaoh would have been obliged to them as his benefactors. But for them, when there was such scarcity of water, to turn more of it into blood, only to show their art, plainly intimates that the design of the devil is only to delude his devotees and amuse them, not to do them any real kindness, but to keep them from doing a real kindness to themselves by repenting and returning to their God.

IV. The Egyptians, in the mean time, are seeking for relief against the plague, digging round about the river for water to drink, Exod. 7:24. Probably they found some, with much ado, God remembering mercy in the midst of wrath; for he is full of compassion, and would not let the subjects smart too much for the obstinacy of their prince.

V. The plague continued seven days (Exod. 7:25), and, in all that time, Pharaoh’s proud heart would not let him so much as desire Moses to intercede for the removal of it. Thus the hypocrites in heart heap up wrath; they cry not when he binds them (Job 36:13); and then no wonder that his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.

Three more of the plagues of Egypt are related in this chapter, I. That of the frogs, which is, 1. Threatened, Exod. 8:1-4. 2. Inflicted, Exod. 8:5, 6. 3. Mimicked by the magicians, Exod. 8:7. 4. Removed, at the humble request of Pharaoh (Exod. 8:8-14), who yet hardens his heart, and, notwithstanding his promise while the plague was upon him (Exod. 8:8), refuses to let Israel go, Exod. 8:15. II. The plague of lice (Exod. 8:16, 17), by which, 1. The magicians were baffled (Exod. 8:18, 19), and yet, 2. Pharaoh was hardened, Exod. 8:19. III. That of flies. 1. Pharaoh is warned of it before (Exod. 8:20, 21), and told that the land of Goshen should be exempt from this plague, Exod. 8:22, 23. 2. The plague is brought, Exod. 8:24. 3. Pharaoh treats with Moses about the release of Israel, and humbles himself, Exod. 8:25-29. 4. The plague is thereupon removed (Exod. 8:31), and Pharaoh’s heart hardened, Exod. 8:32.