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The Lord said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet. 2You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go out of his land. 3But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and I will multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt. 4When Pharaoh does not listen to you, I will lay my hand upon Egypt and bring my people the Israelites, company by company, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment. 5The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out from among them.” 6Moses and Aaron did so; they did just as the Lord commanded them. 7Moses was eighty years old and Aaron eighty-three when they spoke to Pharaoh.
Aaron’s Miraculous Rod
8 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, 9“When Pharaoh says to you, ‘Perform a wonder,’ then you shall say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and throw it down before Pharaoh, and it will become a snake.’ ” 10So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did as the Lord had commanded; Aaron threw down his staff before Pharaoh and his officials, and it became a snake. 11Then Pharaoh summoned the wise men and the sorcerers; and they also, the magicians of Egypt, did the same by their secret arts. 12Each one threw down his staff, and they became snakes; but Aaron’s staff swallowed up theirs. 13Still Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the Lord had said.
The First Plague: Water Turned to Blood
14 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Pharaoh’s heart is hardened; he refuses to let the people go. 15Go to Pharaoh in the morning, as he is going out to the water; stand by at the river bank to meet him, and take in your hand the staff that was turned into a snake. 16Say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you to say, “Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the wilderness.” But until now you have not listened. 17Thus says the Lord, “By this you shall know that I am the Lord.” See, with the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water that is in the Nile, and it shall be turned to blood. 18The fish in the river shall die, the river itself shall stink, and the Egyptians shall be unable to drink water from the Nile.’ ” 19The Lord said to Moses, “Say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt—over its rivers, its canals, and its ponds, and all its pools of water—so that they may become blood; and there shall be blood throughout the whole land of Egypt, even in vessels of wood and in vessels of stone.’ ”
20 Moses and Aaron did just as the Lord commanded. In the sight of Pharaoh and of his officials he lifted up the staff and struck the water in the river, and all the water in the river was turned into blood, 21and the fish in the river died. The river stank so that the Egyptians could not drink its water, and there was blood throughout the whole land of Egypt. 22But the magicians of Egypt did the same by their secret arts; so Pharaoh’s heart remained hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the Lord had said. 23Pharaoh turned and went into his house, and he did not take even this to heart. 24And all the Egyptians had to dig along the Nile for water to drink, for they could not drink the water of the river.
25 Seven days passed after the Lord had struck the Nile.
1. And the Lord said unto Moses. Moses again repeats, that consolation was afforded him in his anxiety, and a remedy given for his want of faith; since he was both armed himself with divine authority, and Aaron was appointed as his companion and assistant. For that he was “made a god to Pharaoh,” means that he was furnished with supreme authority and power, whereby he should cast down the tyrant’s pride.7777 “The word Elohim, as the Hebrews remark, whether applied to God, or to men, or to angels, signifies judicial power.” — Grotius in Pol. Syn. Nor did God take away anything from Himself in order to transfer it to Moses; since He so communicates to His servants what is peculiar to Himself as to remain Himself in His completeness. Nay, whenever He seems to resign a part of His glory to His ministers, He only teaches that the virtue and efficacy of His Spirit will be joined with their labors, that they may not be fruitless. Moses, therefore, was a god to Pharaoh; because in him God exerted His power, that he should be superior to the greatness of the king. It is a common figure of the Hebrews, to give the title of God to all things excellent, since He alone reigns over heaven and earth, and exalts or casts down angels, as well as men, according to His will. By this consolation, as I have said, the weakness of Moses was supported, so that, relying on God’s authority, he might fearlessly despise the fierceness of the king. A reinforcement is also given him in the person of his brother, lest his stammering should be any hinderance to him. It has been already remarked, that it was brought about by the ingratitude of Moses, that half the honor should be transferred to his brother; although God, in giving him as his companion, so far lessened his dignity as to put the younger before the first-born. The name of “Prophet” is here used for an interpreter; because the prophetical office proceeds from God alone. But, because God delivered through one to the other what He wished to be said or done, Aaron is made subject to Moses, just as if he had been God; since it is fit that they should be listened to without contradiction who are the representatives of God. And this is made clearer in the second verse, where God restricts the power given to Moses, and circumscribes it within its proper bounds; for, when He directs him to speak whatever He commands, He ranks him as His minister, and confines him under authority, without departing from His own rights.
3. And I will harden. As the expression is somewhat harsh, many commentators, as I have before said, take pains to soften it. Hence it is that some take the words in connection, “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart by multiplying my signs;” as if God were pointing out the external cause of his obstinacy. But Moses has already declared, and will hereafter repeat it, that the king’s mind was hardened by God in other ways besides His working miracles. As to the meaning of the words, I have no doubt that, by the first clause, God armed the heart of His servant with firmness, to resist boldly the perversity of the tyrant; and then reminds him that he has the remedy in his hand. Thus, then, I think this passage must be translated, “I indeed will harden Pharaoh’s heart, but I will multiply my signs;” as though He had said, his hardness will be no obstacle to you, for the miracles will be sufficient to overcome it. In the same sense, He adds immediately afterwards, “Although Pharaoh should not hear you, still I will lay on my hand;” for thus, in my opinion, the conjunctions should be resolved adversatively I do not altogether reject the interpretation of others; “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, that I may multiply my signs;” and, “He7878 It is thus translated in A.V. will not hearken unto you, that I may lay on my hand.” And, in fact, God willed that Pharaoh should pertinaciously resist Moses, in order that the deliverance of the people might be more conspicuous. There is, however, no need of discussing at length the manner in which God hardens reprobates, as often as this expression occurs. Let us hold fast to what I have already observed, that they are but poor speculators who refer it to a mere bare permission; because if God, by blinding their minds, or hardening their hearts, inflicts deserved punishment upon the reprobate, He not only permits them to do what they themselves please, but actually executes a judgment which He knows to be just. Whence also it follows, that He not only withdraws the grace of His Spirit, but delivers to Satan those whom he knows to be deserving of blindness of mind and obstinacy of heart. Meanwhile, I admit that the blame of either evil rests with the men themselves, who willfully blind themselves, and with a willfulness which is like madness, are driven, or rather rush, into sin. I have also briefly shewn what foul calumniators are they, who for the sake of awakening ill-will against us, pretend that God is thus made to be the author of sin; since it would be an act of too great absurdity to estimate His secret and incomprehensible judgments by the little measure of our own apprehension. The opponents of this doctrine foolishly and inconsiderately mix together two different things, since the hardness of heart is the sin of man, but the hardening of the heart is the judgment of God. He again propounds in this place His great judgments, in order that the Israelites may expect with anxious and attentive minds His magnificent and wonderful mode of operation.
5. And the Egyptians shall know. This is a species of irony, viz., that the Egyptians, subdued by the plagues, should at last begin to feel that their contention was against God. The object, however, of God was to encourage Moses, lest he should fail before the madness and fury of his enemies. Therefore, although the Egyptians might be stupid n their rage, still God declares that in the end they would know that they had fought to their own destruction when they waged war against heaven; for there is an implied antithesis between their tardy acknowledgment of this and their present slowness of heart, which was at length forcibly removed when God thundered openly against them from heaven. For we know how unconcernedly the wicked oppose their7979 “Leur fierte, comme un bouclier de fer;” their pride like an iron buckler. — Fr. iron obstinacy to the Divine threatenings, until they are forced into a state of alarm by violence; not because they are humbled beneath the hand of God, but because they see that by all their raging and turbulence they cannot escape from punishment; just as drunkards, awakened from their intoxication, would willingly drown their senses in eternal sleep, and even in annihilation; yet, whether they will or not, they must bear the pains of their intemperance. Moreover, this acknowledgment which was to be extorted from the unwilling, admonished Moses and others8080 Les autres fideles. — Fr. to attribute just praise to the power of God, before they were experimentally convinced of it. It is true, indeed, that the sincere worshippers of God also are sometimes instructed by punishments, (to which reference is made, Isaiah 26:9, “when thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness;”) but a kind of “knowledge” is here pointed out which so prostrates the reprobate that they cease not to lift up their horns, as it were, against God; and thus it casts them down without amending them. There was also an experimental knowledge for the elect people, of which mention has been already made, (Isaiah 6:7,)
“ye shall know that I am the Lord your God, after that I shall have brought you out from the land of Egypt;”
but this (properly speaking) is nothing more than a confirmation of the faith which, before the event takes place, is content with the simple word. Or, God certainly, by the event itself, reproves the dullness of His people when He sees that their confidence in His own word is not sufficiently strong. But the wicked so know God, that, lost in shame and fear, they see not what they do see.
6. And Moses and Aaron did. It is not for the sake of boasting that Moses reports his own obedience; but after having ingenuously confessed his hesitation, he now relates that he and his brother were in better courage for the performance of their office. In the meantime he shows that he, as well as his brother, was God’s minister, and that he brought no industry, nor talent, nor counsel, nor dexterity himself, but simply obeyed God. Still from their example we must learn, that as we may not set about anything except what God prescribes, so we ought obediently and without objection to pursue whatever He commands. What follows as to their age is meant in amplification; since it was no common case, considering the natural coldness and heaviness of old age, that two octogenarians should have actively engaged in so difficult a charge. For I do not assent to the opinion of those who think that their dignity was enhanced by their age. I admit that age is venerable; but Moses had far different views, namely, that, excluding all human means, he might celebrate God’s glory, who performed so mighty a work by men who were failing and decrepit with age. For although their vigor was as yet unabated, their old age might have made them timid, and might have also affected the people with anxiety, when they beheld their leaders to be not only of advanced age, but even naturally not far from the grave.
8. And the Lord spake. No wonder that Moses often repeats the same thing, because he wrote for persons of rude and dull minds. But it behooves us, lest we should be disgusted by his simple and popular style, diligently to examine how little we are inclined to be acute and earnest in our consideration of the works of God. No doubt there is here related what we have already heard respecting the change of the rod into a serpent, except that he now tells us that the miracle which had before been performed in the wilderness of Midian, and afterwards in Egypt, in the sight of the people, was likewise performed once more before Pharaoh. Moreover, we gather from hence that at the request of Pharaoh the servants of God had proved and testified their vocation; and therefore that his pertinacity was the less excusable, since he despised the power of God so manifestly shewn forth. For this is usual with unbelievers, to demand proofs of God’s power, which they may still discredit, — not that they professedly scorn God, but because their secret impiety urges them to seek after subterfuges. The message is disagreeable and full of what is annoying to the proud king; and because he does not dare directly to refuse God, he invents a plausible pretext for his refusal, by asking for a miracle; and when this is performed, he seeks still deeper lurking places, as we shall very soon perceive. Since, therefore, it was certain that he would not pay a willing obedience to the divine command, and would not yield before he had been miraculously convinced, God furnishes His servants with a notable and sure testimony of His power. Moreover, the change of the crook, or shepherd’s staff, into a serpent had this object, namely, that the mean and rustic guise of Moses should not be despised. For (since kings are wont to exalt themselves very highly) Pharaoh might have laughed at the audacity of Moses and Aaron, who, forgetful, as it seemed, of their condition, put themselves into conflict with the whole power of Egypt; but Pharaoh knew, although they were not to be dreaded for their splendid appearance, and had nothing magnificent about them, that they were still not destitute of sure and strong help, when he saw the serpent come forth from the rod. In a word, God bore witness that His power is hidden beneath the infirmity of His servants, so that at every season He might render formidable to the greatest monarchs those who otherwise are like earthen vessels. It is not clear to me why Aaron was commanded to cast down the rod rather than Moses, unless, perhaps, because God would designedly humble the pride of the arrogant king, when He did not deign to exert His power by the hand of His superior servant, but only employed the inferior one. Therefore, with reference to this ministration, the rod of God and of Moses is now called the rod of Aaron. Thus Paul boasts of his gospel, the office of preaching which he knew to be committed to him. (Romans 16:25, and 2 Timothy 2:8.)
10. And Moses and Aaron went in. Although they were now fully conscious of their vocation; and knew that they were endued with divine power for working miracles, yet would they never have dared to approach the fierce and cruel tyrant, unless the inward inspiration of the Spirit had armed them to persevere. Hence, then, arose their magnanimity to overcome all terrors; because God raised them by faith above everything that is lofty on earth, and sustained them by this support. Therefore do they come to the conflict with invincible strength, and confirm by a miracle their most hateful mission. But as to the question which is ordinarily raised here, whether the change of the rods was true and substantial, as they call it; with respect to that of Moses, I am confidently persuaded that it was so; for there is no more difficulty with God to change the forms of things, than there was to create heaven and earth out of nothing. Philosophers are not ignorant of the great variety of transmutations which occur in nature, nay, it is patent even to the uninstructed; but, because the rod was changed into a serpent in an extraordinary manner, and contrary to the course of nature, we must form the same judgment of it as of the change of Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt; except that the rod soon after returned into its original nature. (Genesis 19:26.) There is more reason for doubt respecting the rods of the magicians, since it is probable that the eyes of the wicked king were deceived by their illusions. But there would be nothing absurd in our saying, that such liberty was conceded to them by God, not that they should create one body out of another, but that they should set forth the work of God as being their own. For assuredly the potency of error far surpasses the bounds of our comprehension. This Paul affirms to be given to Satan for the punishment of unbelievers, “that they should believe a lie,” because they will not obey the truth. (2 Thessalonians 2:11.) He says, indeed, that the coming of Antichrist shall be with signs and lying wonders, but by adding the word “power,” he shews that the deception or illusion shall not consist so much in the external form of things, as in the perverse abuse of signs.8181 Calvin’s own comment on 2 Thessalonians 2:9, may explain this somewhat obscure passage, “He gives the names of miracles of falsehood (lying wonders) not merely to such as are falsely and deceptively contrived by cunning men with a view to impose upon the simple — but takes falsehood as consisting in this, that Satan draws to a contrary end works which otherwise are truly works of God, and abuses miracles so as to obscure God’s glory. In the meantime, however, there can be no doubt that he deceives by means of enchantments, an example of which we have in Pharaoh’s magicians. (Exodus 7:11).” Calvin Soc. Edition, p. 337. Therefore Christ absolutely pronounces that “false prophets shall shew great signs and wonders.” (Matthew 24:24.) It might be, then, that God in just vengeance might choose the rods of the magicians to be changed into serpents; as we shall hereafter see that the waters were changed by their enchantments into blood, that the earth was covered with frogs and lice, that the fields were smitten with hail, and the atmosphere darkened.8282 It does not appear that the magicians performed the two latter miracles. Still we must be assured, that not even a fly can be created except by God only; but that Satan lays hold, for the purpose of his impostures, of things which are done by the secret judgment of God.
11. Then Pharaoh also called. The impiety of the tyrant, which had before lain hid in the recesses of his heart, now breaks forth; when he does not hesitate to enter into the lists with God. For he was sufficiently instructed in the wonderful power of God, had not his iniquity urged him onwards into desperate madness. In asking for a sign, he thought (as I before said) that he should have had just cause for despising Moses; as the wicked trust that they may do anything with impunity, unless God should openly appear from heaven to prohibit them; but, because inflexible perversity altogether has possession of their hearts, they do not hesitate to resist the manifest power of God. Thus the wickedness of Pharaoh blinded his eyes, that, seeing the light, he saw it not; but, though convinced, still he sought for darkness to hide the sight of the light from him. He received, therefore, the just reward of such impious and diabolical arrogance, when he was deceived by the juggles of his own magicians. This is an example of great use, and well worthy to be noted; by which we are, first of all, taught, that the wicked, whatever disposition to be taught they may assume, still remain inwardly rebellious and stubborn; and, moreover, that they are not only inclined to error, but are eagerly borne towards it with all their heart. This vice is not always conspicuous in every individual; but when God brings His light nearer to them, it is easily detected, and betrays itself. How many, now-a-days, among the Papists are followers of wicked superstitions under the pretext of simplicity? As long as, under the garb of ignorance, they deceive themselves and others, they seem to be worthy of pity; but, as soon as the truth shines forth, they demonstrate their love for the impostures by which they perish, and their delight in falsehoods. Assuredly (as Paul says) they have “received not the love of the truth.” (2 Thessalonians 2:10.) Are we surprised at Pharaoh calling for the magicians, in order to repel from himself his sense of God’s power? As if there were not many at this time, who hire for themselves certain impious brawlers,8383 Des caphars, et causeurs effrontez, — Fr. by whose fascinating and fair words they may become besotted in their errors. It is remarkable, that they are honourably called “wise men” by courtesy, although they were but inventors of deceit, and destitute of sound learning. For although astronomy flourished among them, and the study of liberal arts was cultivated, it yet appears from the context that they were devoted to many foolish imaginations, nay, that all their degenerate science was but vanity. For מכשפים,8484 The explanation of those words must be understood to be rather conjectural than gathered from any knowledge of their etymology. In Daniel 2, the same words are employed to designate the sorcerers and magicians of Babylon. — W. makshephim, and חרתמים, chartumim, are the names of superstitious arts; the former signifying jugglers, or those who deceive the eyes and the senses by their enchantments; but the latter is used for those who cast nativities, telling people’s fortunes by the horoscope, and prognosticating by the aspect of the stars. Therefore, although the Egyptian magicians had departed from genuine philosophy, they still retained the name of “wise men,” that they might obtain credit for their delusions: as the devil, in order to appropriate God’s glory, or to change himself into an angel of light, is wont to conceal his falsehoods by specious titles. Doubtless Pharaoh sought, as in a case of perplexity, to examine it more certainly by comparison; but yet for no other reason than to conceal his impiety under a fresh covering. The word להט,8585 להט, C. has here said that each of two different significations is the proper one. As a verb, להט, is to burn with a flame; as a substantive it is a flame or flash; and hence the flashing of a sword; and sometimes that rapid crossing of the fingers which confuses the eye. But in ver. 22, and in 8:3-14, the same word occurs with the omission of the middle letter; and this omission will justify its being regarded as belonging to the root לוט, which signifies hiding, involving in obscurity, practising deceitful arts. — W lahat, although properly signifying the blade of a sword, is here used for enchantment. I think, however, that they mistake, who assign the reason for this to be, that they exercised their sorceries by a sword, or some similar weapon. It rather designates metaphorically the versatile motion, by which the magicians exhibit one thing for another; for it properly signifies “a flame.” This severe and terrible vengeance upon Pharaoh ought to inspire us with terror, lest, in our hatred of truth, we should seek after deceptions. For this is intolerable profaneness, if designedly we desire to pervert the distinction between truth and falsehood. Therefore it is not to be wondered at, if God plunges into the deepest darkness of error, those who shut their eyes against the light presented to them; and if He hands those over to be the disciples of Satan, who refuse to listen to Him as their master.
12. For they cast down every man. The number of the magicians is not expressed; and although Paul names two, Jannes and Jambres,8686
C. has Mambres, the reading of the Vulgate.
(2 Timothy 3:8,) it is probable that they were not the only ones, but the chief, and, as it were, the ringleaders. But I will not dispute this questionable point. The admonition of Paul is more to the purpose, that “as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses,” so also there should always be false teachers, who would oppose Christ’s true ministers, and indeed
should “wax worse and worse.” (Verse 13.) It is an awful fact that the reins were so given to these magicians, that they contended with Moses in almost an equal contest. But the ingratitude of the world is worthy of bearing the same punishment of blindness. God elsewhere testifies that when He permits false prophets to work miracles to deceive, it is to prove men’s hearts. (Deuteronomy 13:3.) And truly, unless our own hypocrisy were like a veil to take away the distinction between black and white, Satan would avail nothing by such arts and deceptions; but we ourselves, as if devoted to destruction, willingly cast ourselves into his nets; but especially against the reprobate, who obstinately seek for occasions of error, God casts this last thunderbolt, namely, He gives efficacy to the delusion, and so deprives them
of their senses at the same time, that they do not guard themselves from manifest destruction. Many indeed would excuse Pharaoh, because, being deceived by his magicians, he did not disentangle himself from the error which he could not escape; for what could he do when he saw the contest equally maintained? But it must be thoroughly understood that none are so hurried away except those whom God would resist; especially the spirit of confusion and mental blindness seizes on those who have been
obstinate in their wickedness. Nor must the mark of distinction be overlooked, that the rod of Moses swallowed up the rods of the magicians. How then was it that Pharaoh did not perceive Moses to be victorious? how was it that he rather turned aside to his own impostors? how was it, in fine, that he did not acknowledge God’s servant who had been superior in the contest, except that the wicked maliciously close their eyes against the manifested power of God? Whosoever will aim at the right mark
shall certainly never be destitute of God as his guide. Therefore blame is justly thrown upon Pharaoh, because through the hardness of his heart he would not attend. Too frivolous is that cavil which the Papists advance, that the serpent is called the rod of Moses, as the bread transubstantiated into the body of Christ retains the name of bread;8787
“This is a metonymy,” says Corn. a Lapide in loco, “for things are often called by the name of what they were, or of that into which they are changed. So Philo, St. Augustine, etc. For a similar or better reason, (however Calvin may here rail,) the flesh of Christ in the holy Sacrament is called bread, (1 Corinthians 11:26, and John 6:31;) for the Jews call all sorts of food, and even flesh, by the name of bread, especially since in the Eucharist the accidents of bread and wine remain, and are seen; thus, judging as men by their eyesight and senses, they rightly call it bread, because they see and touch the species of bread.”
The subject is somewhat more fully discussed by C. himself — Institutes, Book 4., ch. 17. 15. — C. Soc. Transl., Vol. 3, pp. 402, 403. for they unskillfully confound two altogether different things; because, in the mystery of the Lord’s Supper, the analogy between the sign and the thing signified always remains; in this miracle the case is entirely otherwise. Again, because the change was only temporary, Moses properly called that a rod to which its previous form was presently to be restored. Besides, in comparing the true serpent with the fictitious ones, he was unwilling to make a difference in names. But, to pass all this over, the Papists will prevail nothing, until they have shewn that the bread is transubstantiated into the body.8888 This clause is inverted in the Fr., “Que le corps est transubstantie au pain.” Nay, what they foolishly wrest against us, we may retort upon them, namely, that the bread is called the body of Christ although it remains bread, just as the serpent which then appeared is called the rod.
14. And the Lord said unto Moses. Moses now begins to relate the two plagues which were inflicted upon Egypt before Pharaoh was induced to obey; and although there was something prodigious in the madness which strove against God’s hand so powerfully constraining him, yet in the person of this single reprobate, the picture of human pride and rebellion, when it is not controlled by a spirit of tractableness, is presented to our view. Let the faithful then be admonished by this narrative diligently to beware, lest, by wantonly rebelling against God, they provoke a similar vengeance upon themselves. For the same Being who hardened Pharaoh’s heart is the constant avenger of impiety, and, smiting His enemies with a spirit of confusion, renders them as furious as they are senseless. Moreover, lest Moses, stumbling against this obstacle, should desist from the course he had begun, God encourages him to the combat, as much as to say, that he had to contend with a very hard stone until it should be broken. Hearing that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, he might begin to waver, unless a hope of victory were shewn him from elsewhere. But since the obstinacy of this beast is indomitable, God arms His servant with new weapons, as much as to say, that he must be worn down though he could not be broken. But although to some the analogy may appear far-fetched, between the ten plagues and the ten precepts of the law, yet, in my opinion, it is probable, and agreeable to reason, that before God promulgated the law the wicked were smitten with as many plagues as He was about to give precepts to His people, that in this way He might confirm their authority. First, however, He commands Moses to take up the rod, and reminds him of the recent miracle that he may gird himself to the new conflict with greater confidence. Then, after the Hebrew manner, He more fully lays open what He had briefly touched upon; for, at first, no mention is made of Aaron, but God only announces to Moses what He would have done; then He explains that the hand of Aaron was to be interposed. Where God reminds them that the rod was lately turned into a serpent, He shews that we profit but little by His works, unless our faith gathers strength from them. Besides, when God denounces to Pharaoh what He is going to do, He renders him more inexcusable, because he is not awakened by threats to repentance. God indeed knew that this would be without success; but although he knows the disease to be incurable, He still ceases not to apply the remedies — not indeed such as will restore health, but such as will draw out the secret poison from the mind. Many are here at issue (litigant) with God, because He not only speaks to the deaf, but even, by admonishing or chastising them in vain, exasperates their malice more and more. But it is for us, when any appearance of unreasonableness perplexes us, reverently to adore the secret judgments of God and to be soberly wise. Meanwhile the event shews that God’s threatenings do not fall ineffectually, but that the contempt of them doubles both the crime and the punishment.
19. And the Lord spake unto Moses. This is the more extended narrative of which I spoke; for Moses mentions nothing different from what went before, but explains more distinctly his mode of action in the performance of the miracle, namely, that what God had commanded was completed by the instrumentality of Aaron. There was a reason for commencing with this miracle, that the Egyptians might know that there was no safeguard for them in the resources upon which they prided themselves the most. We know what great wealth, defense, and conveniences arose to them from the Nile; thence came their abundant fisheries, thence the fertility of their whole country, which it irrigated in its inundation, a thing that, in other lands is injurious; its navigation was most advantageous for their merchants, it was also a strong fortification to a good part of the kingdom. Therefore, in order to cast down the Egyptians from their principal dependence, He turns its waters into blood. Besides, because water is one of the two elements of which man’s life consists, in depriving the Egyptians of one part of their life, He used the best and shortest method of humiliating their haughtiness, had they not been altogether intractable. He might, indeed, by a single breath, have dried up all the sources of water, and overwhelmed the whole nation by drought; but this would have been commonly believed to have happened by chance, or naturally, and therefore would have been a less apparent prodigy, whilst it would have shut up the way for others. It would, then, have been sufficient, by the terror of death it awakened, to turn them to the fear of God, unless their madness had been desperate. Moses enumerates, besides the river, the streams, and ponds, and pools of water; because, in different parts of the country, as well artificially as naturally, the Nile was so diffused, that scarcely any other country is provided in all directions with such an abundance of water; as though God should say, “It shall avail you nothing to possess such an immense supply of water; because you shall thirst as much as if the Nile were dry.” He adds, “both in vessels of wood and in vessels of stone;” meaning, that in whatever kind of vessel they came to draw, they would find nothing but blood.
20. And Moses and Aaron did so. He repeats that what God threatened as to the death of the fish, and the stinking of the Nile, actually took place; that he may aggravate the sin of the king, who was unaffected by the manifold power of God. Still he immediately adds that his counsellors witnessed it also. Hence we may conjecture, that the same infatuation had pervaded the whole court. It was also proper that so memorable a circumstance should not only be known generally, but that its author should be seen by many eyes. But it was a sign of the reprobation of the whole nation, that there was none of all that multitude who labored to correct the folly of the king. Whence also it appears that God confounds the wisdom of the world; for there was no nation which gloried more in its universal knowledge; even as Isaiah reproaches them of their boast. (Isaiah 19:11.) But we see in how shameful a manner, on the one hand proud, and on the other amazed, they betrayed not a single spark of sound intelligence.
22. And the magicians of Egypt did so. A question arises as to how the magicians could imitate Moses, when the material to work upon no longer remained; for, if there were no water left in Egypt, its transmutation was impossible. But I have no doubt but that, for the purpose of their illusion, pure and clear waters appeared for a little while, and then were changed into blood. For, since the season for concluding the contests was not yet arrived, doubtless God opened a way for Himself, until they reached their end. The supposition of Augustine8989 Tom. 3., pars prima, p. 428; Quaestiones in Exodum, 23; and tom. 2., p. 463; Ep. 143., in Marcellum, where he offers another explanation also, viz., that their miracle might have been wrought upon salt water. is a forced one, that the magicians took the water, which remained pure and unaltered among the habitations of the Israelites. I should more willingly accept what he says, that, perhaps the waters were smitten by them at the same instant, so that in one place the power of God shone forth, in another their deception prevailed — although the solution I have given is very sufficient. Whether the change were true or imaginary, I dare not decide; except that it is more in accordance with the delusions of Satan, that the eyes of the wicked were deceived. Nor is there any necessity to philosophize more subtilely with Augustine,9090 Vol. 3, pt. 1, p. 427, quaes. 21. “Insunt enim corporeis rebus per omnia elementa mundi quaedam occultae seminariae rationes, quibus, eum data fuerit opportunitas temporalis, atque causalis, prorumpunt in species debitas suis modis, et finibus.” that there is a seminal principle infused into all created things, so that one species may generate another. We may rather take our stand on the teaching of Paul, that God sends strong delusion to ensnare the unbelievers with lies, because they refuse to embrace the truth, (2 Thessalonians 2:11;) and I have already shewn from another passage of Moses, that, by the just judgment of God, false prophets perform signs and wonders. Moses, however, seems to hint that it was only an illusion, where he adds, “the magicians did so with their enchantments;” as if the flashes, as of lightning, dazzled the eyes of the spectators; for this I have shewn to be the meaning of the word. Yet I do not question but that God altogether preserved His people from this calamity, so that these guests and strangers were supplied with the water of Egypt, whilst not a drop was left for the natives of the land. Thus was the king convicted of obstinacy, because he was not more attentive to observe this distinction; nay, he must have been doubly mad and foolish, to the destruction of himself and his kingdom, to set the delusion of the magicians against the power of God. But this often happens to the reprobate, that they rush eagerly as it were to their own destruction, whilst they are borne away by satanic impulse in opposition to God. Yet this was no slight temptation to God’s servants, to see the ministers of Satan almost rivaling themselves. For, if God chose to bear witness to their deliverance by miracles, — when they saw their enemies endued with a similar power, how could their own vocation be ratified and sure? And indeed it is probable that their faith was shaken by these machinations; yet I count it certain that it did not yield and give way; for, if Moses had been overcome by doubt, he would have confessed it, as it was his custom to do. But God opened their eyes, so that they should regard with contempt the tricks and deceptions of the magicians; besides, the divine vision had shone upon them together with the word, so that it was no marvel that, thus supported, they should repel, or sustain, every assault with firmness.
23. And Pharaoh turned. In this word Moses teaches us that the hardness of heart, to which God had devote Pharaoh, was voluntary; so that the sin rested in himself, nor did the secret appointment of God avail anything to lessen his culpability, for his folly is condemned, because he did not “set his heart to this also.” Whence it follows that he was the author of his own obstinacy, because, being blinded by pride and contempt, he took no account of the glory of God. Thus the wicked, although as being vessels of wrath, they are cast of God into a reprobate mind, still harden themselves, because wittingly and willfully they run against God, and thus their security, audacity, and perverseness take away from them the excuse of ignorance or error. Wherefore this example warns us not to slumber when God arouses us, but attentively to consider His works, which may instruct us to reverence and fear Him. The statement that the Egyptians dug wells for themselves increases the certainty of the miracle, as does also what is added as to the seven days; for if the corruption of the water had only been momentary, some suspicion of delusion might have crept in, which was removed both by the continued taste and appearance. Therefore it was said before, that the Egyptians would suffer inconvenience and pain9191 He seems to allude to verse 18, which he translates “et molestia afficientur Aegyptii, bibendo aquas ex flumine.” from the want of water; for thus I explain it, that they should be sorrowful and afflicted, viz., because they had nothing to drink.