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The L ord 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 L ord, 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 L ord commanded them. 7Moses was eighty years old and Aaron eighty-three when they spoke to Pharaoh.

Aaron’s Miraculous Rod

8 The L ord 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 L ord 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 L ord had said.

The First Plague: Water Turned to Blood

14 Then the L ord 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 L ord, 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 L ord, “By this you shall know that I am the L ord.” 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 L ord 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 L ord 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 L ord 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 L ord 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.

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