Blood in the Water Exodus 7:14-24

There are lots of shows where crimes are caught on camera. The robber, or vandal thinks they are getting away with an act, but video surveillance reveals their identity, and they are eventually arrested by the police.  Cameras show a lot of things, but sometimes the angle of the shot misses something, and another camera might show something that makes it look another way.  In the instance of a crime, we hope that the wrongdoers get caught, that a judge reviews the facts, that the truth comes to light, and a decision is made that brings justice and resolution to a problem.  Best case scenario. But what happens when wrongdoings happen, and no one knows about it and there are no cameras or witnesses? What happens when criminals get away with murder and vanish into thin air, or someone does something to us and we bear the brunt of what happened for months, years, and even generations? 

When we read the book of Exodus, we know the ending.  We know about the mighty hand and outstretched arm of God that performs many signs and wonders and delivers his people out of Egypt.  We can take comfort from the words of the prophet Isaiah: Behold, the LORD’S hand is not so short that it cannot save; nor is His ear so dull that it cannot hear.  Isaiah 59:1

Try to put yourself in the story today as we go through it.  Once upon a time, the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob became slaves in Egypt. Joseph, the son of Jacob, had been sold as a slave by his brothers, yet over time, things had gone well for him, and he was given a position of honor: second in the nation under Pharaoh! 

His children were given land and privilege, and their future seemed secure.  But a new Pharaoh came to power who didn’t remember Joseph, and he looked with contempt on the descendants of Abraham, he took their freedoms away, they were treated like vermin, and horrible things were done to them.  When we picked up the narrative in Exodus 2, Pharaoh had decreed that any male baby born to the Hebrews was to be thrown in the Nile River and done away with. Imagine the grief and fear.  Imagine going through nine months of pregnancy only to have your son ripped from your arms and thrown in the river.  There is no evidence left that a child ever existed.  There are no cameras, no grave sites, no lock of hair.  There is only grief, and stretch marks, and the hollowness of an empty womb.  But no one can prove the crime.  The evidence is washed away—the water has covered up any proof of misconduct.  But YOU know. And God knows…or does he?  In this part of the account of Exodus, it’s been a very long time since Moses was born.  So many babies have been killed.  So much harm has been done.  So much corruption has been normalized. 

The author of Job writes: [God’s] eyes are upon the ways of a person, and He sees all his steps.  There is no darkness or deep shadow where the workers of injustice can hide themselves.  Job 34:21,22

There is a truth here that is undeniable:  SIN CANNOT BE COVERED UP.  All sin will eventually come to light.  When Cain killed his brother Abel, God came to him and said: “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood cries to me out of the ground.”[1]  Sin cannot be covered up.

The Nile is the world’s longest river.  The ancient Egyptians oriented themselves to the south, because it was in the south that the Nile rose, and where the annual floods came.  Civilization grew up at the banks of the Nile.  It is considered, not just a source of water, but the source of life.  It is also the source of their political and spiritual understanding. There is no Egypt without the Nile.  In July, the Nile begins to rise, and by the end of August, it is at flood stage.  In October the water recedes and by April, the Nile is at its lowest.  The rise and fall of the waters symbolize death and rebirth. The Nile river became known as the “Father of Life” and the “Mother of All Men”, and was considered a manifestation of the god Hapi, who blessed the land with life.

Hapi is depicted as a plump man with blue or green skin, wearing the false beard of the pharaoh.  He’s sometimes portrayed as twins-symbolizing Upper and Lower Egypt.  The Nile River supposedly flowed from the home of Hapi through the heavens and the land of the dead, and then emerged from a cave in the mountains.  When the water would rise during flood season, it was known as the “Arrival of Hapi.” [2]

Ma’at—who we looked at before, is one who embodies the concepts of truth, harmony and balance.  She is also linked with the Nile, as is the god Khnum, among others. But Hapi controlled the water itself.  He was given the title, “Father of the gods” and “Lord of the Fishes”.  Egyptians would put statues of the god, made out of wood or stone, in the towns and cities so that they could ask for his assistance. They would throw offerings into the river at places that were sacred to the god so that the water would not be too low, and therefore not enough for irrigation for crops, or too high, which would destroy their mud-brick homes.[3]

We’re not sure what time of year the plagues happened, but three times during the signs that are about to take place, Pharaoh is found at the bank of the river: possibly performing some kind of ritual for worship of the Nile god during the inundation period, or to measure the height of the river.[4]

After the battle between Aaron and the royal magicians with their crocodiles or sea monsters, it’s time for another round of confrontation.  We pick up our text in Exodus 7:14:  Then the LORD said to Moses, “Pharaoh’s heart is stubborn; he refuses to let the people go. “Go to Pharaoh in the morning as he is going out to the water, and station yourself to meet him on the bank of the Nile; and you shall take in your hand the staff that was turned into a serpent. “You shall say to him, ‘The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you, saying, “Let My people go, that they may serve Me in the wilderness.  But behold, you have not listened until now.”  ‘Thus says the LORD, “By this you shall know that I am the LORD: behold, I will strike the water that is in the Nile with the staff that is in my hand, and it will be turned to blood. “The fish that are in the Nile will die, and the Nile will become foul, and the Egyptians will find difficulty in drinking water from the Nile.”’”  Then the LORD said to Moses, “Say to Aaron, ‘Take YOUR staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt, over their rivers, over their streams, and over their pools, and over all their reservoirs of water, that they may become blood; and there will be blood throughout all the land of Egypt, both in vessels of wood and in vessels of stone.’”  Exodus 7:14-19

The many gods and goddesses in Egypt, (over 500 of them) mainly have to do with the life of Egypt; they were gods of the Nile, the land, the sky, the crops, the animals, and everything for daily life. This plague and the next one are going to go against the gods of the Nile, and the next four will go against the gods of the land,  and the final plagues will go against the gods of the sky.[5]

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.  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.  Exodus 7:20-22a

Pharaoh had the responsibility of maintaining proper order and justice, or ma’at—remember Ma’at?  If the great Nile River and the canals turn to blood, then Pharaoh has failed in his duty, to protect the land from forces of chaos, disorder and injustice.[6]  The Nile is the source for drinking water and irrigation for crops.  Imagine not being able to get clean water.  Those living in Flint, Michigan could probably tell you a thing or two about what that’s like.   The people of Egypt would have to dig wells.  It puts a damper on washing clothes, cooking food, watering your crops. The search for decent water would consume your day. 

It might be pretty hard to imagine being without water like that.  We can turn on our taps, and we have water everywhere.  So, then…imagine not being able to find toilet paper…oh wait.  You can.  Well, Pharaoh’s magicians also turn water to blood.  I’m not sure how they did that, unless they used water dug from the wells.  And why?  Proof that their gods were powerful, too. 

Why is this sign so important?  Sure, it puts a huge damper on things.  Sure, it shows that Pharaoh lacks the capability of controlling chaos.  Sure, it says something about their god, Hapi, who is “Lord of the fishes”:  if all the fish in the Nile die, it means, your god stinks, and so do all the fish coming to the top and floating downstream.  P-ee-w!!

Blood in the water isn’t really unusual.  In 2 Kings, there’s an incident where the Moabites see water that looks red like blood.[7]  There are other ancient Egyptian stories that are told of the son of Rameses who was a magician and declared that the water would become the color of blood.  There is a writing during this time that reports on conditions of social, economic, and political chaos in the land, and mentions that the River Nile was blood.  A Sumerian myth says that the goddess Inanna punished men with plagues, and the first one was blood.  She filled the wells and the gardens, and when female slaves came to draw water, they only drew blood.[8]  In another writing a few centuries before Moses, it records that the Nile had turned to blood and was undrinkable.[9]  So, is this ‘normal’?  There is such a thing as red algae bloom, that happens in oceans and can also happen in freshwater.  In 2016, satellite imagery of the Nile showed the water looking like blood from above.[10]  Microscopic algae -can reproduce so rapidly that the water appears to be a bloody red, and it can be harmful to the fish and other animals that live in and near the water.[11]  Red tide in Florida in 2018 caused fish to wash up dead on the Gulf Coast.[12]

A satellite image of the Nile using infrared technology colors the river in red (Courtesy European Space Agency, April 2016)

If you think about it, any of these upcoming plagues could all be explained by nature if you really wanted to.[13]  Let me remind you, that’s NOT the point.  The point is, and always will be:  God is God and Pharaoh is not.  God controls the timing of all the plagues.[14]  He controls WHAT happens and when.

So, if the water is blood, or just looks like blood, what’s the deal?  Why is the turning of the Nile river to blood so significant?  Well, it’s not just a nifty trick.  Let me come back to my point:  SIN CANNOT BE COVERED UP. The crimes of those who are in power in Egypt are coming to light. 

Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear.  BUT your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.  For your hands are stained with blood, your fingers with guilt.  Isaiah 59:1-3 NIV

The powers that be in Egypt have enslaved the people of God for 400 years.  God sees it; he hears their cries, and he remembers his covenant with Abraham.[15]  The people have done back breaking labor, and built storage cities for the king, and it’s a hard life.  There’s no two ways about it.  But the worst and most vile thing was their babies, who were thrown into the river to drown.  The mouth of the Nile opened up and devoured them, acting as if nothing had ever happened.  The Egyptians thought their god was happy/Hapi with them, (pun intended) because to the Egyptians, the greatest service you could render to a god was to be drowned.  And throwing children in the river is simply offering a gift to the gods, while dealing a blow to their enemies. But to Yahweh, life is precious, and children are a gift—not disposable!  The Egyptians carried on as if everything was normal, while the Israelites grieved and screamed and cried out to God, and it seemed as if he’d forgotten about them: Until now.

When the water of the Nile turned to blood, Egypt is confronted with the reality of their crimes in the eyes of Yahweh.  No more secrets.  No more lies.  God knows what happened.  The truth has been revealed.  This sign is comfort for the people of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and it’s a warning to the Egyptians: Yahweh knows what you did!  SIN CANNOT BE COVERED UP

Turning the Nile to blood is payback for the slaying of the Israelite male infants, and also symbolizes the slaying (or at least injuring) of Hapi,[16] the god of the Nile.  The life source of Egypt is tainted.

And there was blood in all the land of Egypt, both in vessels of wood and in vessels of stone.’” Exodus 7:19. In Hebrew, it simply reads—in wood and stone.  That’s an interesting little combination[17] of words there, that we might just skip over.  There were wooden and stone jars that were used for storing water, and sometimes that water was used to pour out for another god.[18]  But ‘wood and stone’ are used together many times in the Old Testament to refer to idols of other gods.[19]  2 Kings 19:18 says:  they were not gods but the work of men’s hands, ‘wood and stone’.   This could have double meaning—the blood is a sign against the gods of Egypt—all those of wood and stone. 

You could say, there’s ‘blood in the water’ because this sign reveals the weakness of the gods of Egypt, and it anticipates a victory by Yahweh.  So, what did Pharaoh do?

…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.  Exodus 7:22b-24

Pharaoh turns around and ignores the disaster.  He has other people to get water for him.  And even if he knows what this sign is saying against the actions of the Pharaoh before him, who first ordered the babies to be thrown in the Nile, and what this is saying about his own behavior towards the slaves, as he continues to perpetrate crimes against these people, and refuses to let them go and worship Yahweh, and what this plague is pronouncing against the gods of Egypt, Pharaoh continues to close himself and his heart off from God.  He’s stubborn.  He walks off the set, while the people of Egypt have to dig around and try to find usable water for themselves.

So, what happens when wrongdoings happen, and no one knows about it and there are no cameras or witnesses? What happens when criminals get away with murder and vanish into thin air, or someone does something to us and we bear the brunt of what happened for months, years, and even generations?   God sees.  God knows.  And sin cannot be covered up.  Maybe today you are dealing with trauma and sorrow in your life like the Israelites.  Horrible wrongs have been done to you, and you deal with the grief and anger and despair.  God sees.  He cares.  Sin cannot be covered up 

Jesus once said to his disciples: “there is nothing covered up that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known.” Luke 12:2. Maybe that’s what you identify with in this story today.  Maybe that’s what you need to hear.  Or maybe you’re more like Pharaoh.  You are unconcerned about what you have done in your life.  It doesn’t matter what the ramifications of your actions have on other people.  Your heart has become hard and stubborn towards God and his people.  It’s not too late to repent—to change.  God is known as the one who has mercy and compassion.  Having a hard heart is dangerous when it comes to eternity.  Pharaoh’s chances of an afterlife are becoming slimmer and slimmer as he contemplates the judgment where his heart will be weighed against justice and truth. 

John’s vision in Revelation reminds us that there IS a judgment of the dead that will happen for everyone.  He writes about the book of life being opened, and the dead being judged according to what they have done.  And everyone whose names are not in the book of life will go into the lake of fire.[20]  And while that sounds very good to us for people like Pharaoh, and for people who are evil and commit horrible atrocities and maybe even for our enemies that we might like to rub our hands over and plot their demise…here’s the rub.  What applies to Pharaoh also applies to us. 

Back to Isaiah 59:  For OUR sins are piled up before God and testify against us. Yes, we know what sinners we are.  Isaiah 59:12 NLT

The blood in the Nile revealed the sin of Egypt before God and all the people, but we have blood on our hands, too.  Our sins testify against us.  Sin cannot be covered up.  Thisall comes back to what kind of heart we have.  Will we be stubborn like Pharaoh, or will we confess our sins?  We have a sin problem.  Scripture tells us that all of us have sinned. It doesn’t matter if we don’t think we’ve done anything as bad as so-and-so.  We’ve all done things that are rebellious and proud, and our hearts are bent in a direction that wants to turn away from God’s ways.  Here’s another truth to remember: SIN CANNOT BE COVERED UP, BUT SIN CAN BE COVERED OVER

The Psalmist writes: [God] You forgave the iniquity of Your people; You covered all their sin.  Psalm 85:2  The blood in the Nile River was a sign of what happened, and the blood is also a sign of what is to come, in the killing of the firstborn of Egypt, and the Passover Lamb.[21]  The doorposts were covered in blood so that the angel of death would Pass-over their houses. And the killing of the Passover Lamb —is a sign of what is to come through Jesus. 

Blood and water are such powerful symbols in the Scriptures.  Here, God changed water to blood.  The water that once brought life became death.  In the gospel of John, Jesus, God’s Son, turns water into wine, which is his first sign.  In the Last Supper, Jesus compares the wine to his blood—that will be shed.  When Jesus died, his side was pierced, and blood and water flowed from his side. From the blood on the doorposts at Passover, to the blood on the cross on Good Friday, it’s a reminder that God sees our sin, he KNOWS our iniquities, and we cannot hide from him.  All our sins have to be paid for one way or another, and we CAN’T do it on our own.  ‘My sin is ever before me’—writes king David.  It shows up like blood stains on the hands.  We can have hard, and heavy, hearts like Pharaoh, or we can do like David did as he said: I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not cover up.  I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”; and You forgave the guilt of my sin.  Psalm 32:5

SIN CANNOT BE COVERED UP, BUT SIN CAN BE COVERED OVER

In the plague on the Nile, sin was UNCOVERED, by means of the blood.  Through Jesus Christ, sin is COVERED—only by means of HIS blood.  The gods of wood and stone that are found in ancient Egypt cannot speak, cannot act, and cannot save, and they are nothing compared to Jesus, who was nailed to a piece of wood, and rose from a stone tomb.  He is the one who now has the name above ALL names: the name of Yahweh—the great I AM.  By the blood of Jesus, God passes over our sins.  By his wounds we are healed, and by his blood, our sins are covered over –and they are forgiven.

He is greater than any Egyptian god of water, for in Jesus Christ we also find the water of eternal life.[22]  He is the source of true life, and rebirth, and creation.  From him springs forgiveness, healing, and a relationship with the great and only God of the universe.  We remember his blood when we celebrate Communion.  We remember that it washes away our sins when we celebrate with the water of Baptism. 

Prayer

God, we’re so grateful that you see us and you hear us, and you remember your covenant with us through Jesus Christ.  We bring you our grief Lord: the things that bother us, the wrongs that have been committed against us, and the hurts that we carry.  We also acknowledge our sin to you.  We know that there is blood on our hands. But by the blood of Jesus, we ask you to cover over our sins and forgive them through the work of Christ on the cross.  Amen.

There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains!

Lose all their guilty stains, Lose all their guilty stains
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains

Lyrics by William Cowper

Going Deeper Questions

Going Deeper Questions

–have you had something bad happen to you that that you believe never got justice?

Read Exodus 7:14-18

–Have you ever been without water or gone to a place where water was scarce, or you could only drink bottled water?  How did that change your plans, actions or perspective?

–Water that looks like or turns to blood is not that unusual in ancient stories or mythology. (2 Kings 3:22) In another writing a few centuries before Moses, it records that the Nile had turned to blood.  The phenomenon called Red algae bloom has happened in the Nile and in other places in the world, that makes the water appear red and kills off fish and is undrinkable.  How does that shift your perspective on this sign? 

–Remember, there is a battle going on between two differing religious and spiritual points of view.  According to the writer of Exodus, the point of all of the plagues is that God is God, and Pharaoh is not. 

Read Exodus 1:22

–How do you think this event shaped the way the Israelites thought about God?  How do you think it shaped the way the Egyptians thought about the Nile and THEIR gods?

Read Exodus 7:19

–The words ‘wood and stone’ are used together many times in the Old Testament to refer to idols of other gods.  (Deut. 4:28; 28:36,64; 2 Kings 19:18; Isaiah 37:19) This sign of blood could also be a statement against other gods. 

Read Exodus 7:20-24

–Why do you think it was important for the magicians to try and replicate this sign?  Do you think the people of Egypt cared?  How does Pharaoh prove that his heart is still hard? 

–The sins of the Pharaohs and Egypt will have to be dealt with.  And so do the sins that other people commit against us.  How does that knowledge sit with you?

–As great as that is when it comes to how people have treated us, it also means that our own sins cannot be covered up, either.  Isaiah notes:  For OUR sins are piled up before God and testify against us. Yes, we know what sinners we are.  Isaiah 59:12 NLT

Sin has to be dealt with, and the only one who can help us is Jesus.  Sin cannot be covered up BUT Sin can be covered over.

The symbols of blood and water are powerful in Scripture.  The water of the Nile that once brought life, now brings death to Egypt.  But the blood of the Passover Lamb that was painted on the doorposts brought life and opened up the beginning of a relationship with Yahweh for the people of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  It’s also a sign that points to the blood of Jesus that was on the cross and the knowledge that God sees our sin, but through Jesus, it is covered over and forgiven. 

–We remember his blood when we celebrate Communion. We remember that Jesus washes away our sins when we celebrate with the water of Baptism. 

This is the One who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and with the blood.  1 John 5:6

Can you think of any other uses of ‘blood and water’ in the Bible? 

If you have unconfessed sin in your life, don’t try to cover it up.  The only way to come out clean on the day of eternal judgment is to acknowledge it now and ask for forgiveness because of the blood of Jesus. 

I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not cover up.  I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD”; and You forgave the guilt of my sin. Psalm 32:5


[1] Genesis 4:10.

[2] https://ancientegyptonline.co.uk/hapi/

[3] https://ancientegyptonline.co.uk/hapi/

[4] Nahum M. Sarna, The JPS Torah Commentary: Exodus (Philadelphia, PA: Jewish Publication Society, 1991), 39.

[5] Tony Merida, Exodus, Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2014, 51. 

[6] John H. Walton, Craig S. Keener, eds, Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016, 121.

[7] 2 Kings 3:22

[8] Nahum M. Sarna, Exploring Exodus: The Origins of Biblical Israel, New York: Schocken Books, 1986, 69.

[9] Walton, Matthews, and Chavalas, the IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2000, 82.

[10] https://www.timesofisrael.com/satellite-image-of-nile-evokes-biblical-legend/

[11] https://www.livescience.com/58638-science-of-the-10-plagues.html#:~:text=The%20sudden%20appearance%20of%20red,be%20stained%20a%20bloody%20red.

[12] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kCARlO4Lvr8

[13] Sarna, Exploring Exodus, 69. 

[14] James K. Bruckner, Exodus, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2008, 78. 

[15] Exodus 2:28

[16] Peter Enns, Exodus for Normal People, Perkiomenville: The Bible for Normal People, 2021, 110.

[17] It’s a merism—combination of words that refer to the whole

[18] https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/547789

[19] References to wood and stone list and article: Elizabeth C. Larocca-Pitts, “Of Wood and Stone”: The Significance of Israelite Cultic Items in the Bible and its Early Interpreters (HSM 61; Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2001) https://brill.com/view/book/edcoll/9789004369924/B9789004369924-s018.xml

[20] Revelation 20:12-15

[21] Bruckner, 77. 

[22] John 4:10,14

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s