Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Exodus 7

By Joseph Benson


Verse 1
Exodus 7:1. A god to Pharaoh — That is, my representative in this affair, as magistrates are called gods, because they are God’s vicegerents. He was authorized to speak and act in God’s name, and endued with a divine power, to do that which is above the ordinary course of nature. And Aaron shall be thy prophet — That is, he shall speak from thee to Pharaoh, as prophets do from God to the children of men. Thou shalt as a god inflict and remove the plagues, and Aaron as a prophet shall denounce them.

Verse 7
Exodus 7:7. Moses was fourscore years old — Joseph, who was to be only a servant to Pharaoh, was preferred at thirty years old; but Moses, who was to be a god to Pharaoh, was not so dignified till he was eighty years old. It was fit he should long wait for such an honour, and be long in preparing for such a service.

Verse 9
Exodus 7:9. Say unto Aaron, Take thy rod — This Moses ordinarily held in his hand, and delivered to Aaron, upon occasion, for the execution of his commands. For this and some other miracles were to be done, not by Moses immediately, but by Aaron, partly, perhaps, to preclude or take off the suspicion that these miracles were wrought by some magic arts of Moses, and partly for the greater honour of Moses, that he might be what God had said, (Exodus 7:1,) a god to Pharaoh, who not only could work miracles himself, but also give power to others to do so. Perhaps the conjecture of Grotius upon this place may be worth mentioning here, which is, that the custom of ambassadors bearing a caduceus, or rod, in their hands, had its origin in this event, being taken up first by the neighbouring nations, and from them communicated to the Greeks and Romans. And it is remarkable that the caduceus of Mercury, the messenger of the gods of Greece and Rome, was formed of two serpents twisted round a rod.

Verse 10
Exodus 7:10. It became a serpent — This was proper, not only to affect Pharaoh with wonder, but to strike a terror upon him. This first miracle, though it was not a plague, yet amounted to the threatening of a plague; if it made not Pharaoh feel, it made him fear; and this is God’s method of dealing with sinners; he comes upon them gradually.

Verse 11
Exodus 7:11. Moses had been originally instructed in the learning of the Egyptians, and was suspected to have improved in magical arts in his long retirement. The magicians are therefore sent for to vie with him. The two chief of them were Jannes and Jambres. Their rods became serpents, probably by the power of evil angels, artfully substituting serpents in the room of the rods, God permitting the delusion to be wrought for wise and holy ends. But the serpent which Aaron’s rod was turned into, swallowed up the others: which was sufficient to have convinced Pharaoh on which side the right lay.

Verse 12
Exodus 7:12. They became serpents — The authors of the Universal History cast considerable light on this subject: “If it be asked,” say they, “why God suffered the magicians to act thus, by a power borrowed from the devil, in order to invalidate, if possible, those miracles which his servant wrought by his divine power, the following reasons may be given for it: First, It was necessary that those magicians should be suffered to exert the utmost of their power against Moses, in order to clear him from the imputation of magic or sorcery; for as the notion of such an extraordinary art was very rife, not only among the Egyptians, but all other nations, if they had not entered into this strenuous competition with him, and been at length overcome by him, both the Hebrews and Egyptians would have been more apt to attribute all his miracles to his skill in magic, than to the divine power. Secondly, It was necessary in order to confirm the faith of the wavering and desponding Israelites, by making them see the difference between Moses’s acting by the power of God, and the sorcerers by that of Satan. And, lastly, In order to preserve them afterward from being seduced by any false miracles, from the true worship of God.”

Verse 13
Exodus 7:13. And he hardened Pharaoh’s heart — That is, permitted it to be hardened: or, as the very same Hebrew word is rendered in Exodus 7:22, Pharaoh’s heart was hardened.

Verse 14
Exodus 7:14. Pharaoh’s heart is hardened — כבד לב, is made heavy.

Neither my word nor works make any impression upon him. He is obdurate and obstinate, and what was designed for his conviction and humiliation only aggravates his guilt, and prepares him for a more signal destruction.

Verse 15
Exodus 7:15. Lo, he goeth out unto the water — Of the river Nile: whither he went at that time, either for his recreation, or to pay his morning worship to that river, which, as Plutarch testifies, the Egyptians had in great veneration.

Verse 18
Exodus 7:18. The Egyptians shall loathe to drink of the water — “There are a few wells,” says Harmer, “in Egypt, but their waters are not drunk, being unpleasant and unwholesome. The water of the Nile is what they universally make use of in this country, which is looked upon to be extraordinarily wholesome, and at the same time extremely delicious.” And he refers to Maillett and another author, as affirming that the Egyptians have been wont to excite thirst artificially, that they might drink the more of it. He then quotes, the Abbot Mascrier (let. 1, pp. 15, 16) in the following words: “The water of Egypt is so delicious that one would not wish the heat should be less, nor to be delivered from the sensation of thirst. The Turks find it so exquisitely charming that they excite themselves to drink of it by eating salt. It is a common saying among them, that if Mohammed had drunk of it he would have begged of God not to have died, that he might always have done it.” On these facts Harmer remarks as follows: “A person that never before heard of this delicacy of the water of the Nile, and of the large quantities which on that account are drunk of it, will, I am sure, find an energy in those words of Moses to Pharaoh, which he never observed before, The Egyptians shall loathe to drink of the river. They shall loathe to drink of that water which they used to prefer to all the waters in the universe — that which they had been wont eagerly to long for; and will rather drink of well-water, which in their country is detestable.” — Harmer, vol. 2. p. 295.

Verse 19
Exodus 7:19. Upon their streams, &c., — both in vessels of wood and vessels of stone — “To what purpose this minuteness?” says the last-mentioned author. “May not the meaning be that the water of the Nile should not only look red and nauseous, like blood, in the river, but in their vessels too, and that no method of purifying it should take place, but, whether drunk out of vessels of wood or out of vessels of stone, by means of which they were wont to purge the Nile water, it should be the same, and should appear like blood.” — Harmer, vol. 2. p. 292.

Verse 20
Exodus 7:20. The waters in the river were turned into blood — This was a plague justly inflicted on the Egyptians; for the river of Egypt was their idol; they and their land had so much benefit by that creature, that they served and worshipped it more than their Creator. In ancient times they annually even sacrificed a girl to it, at the opening of the canals, Univ. Hist., vol. 1. p. 413. Also they had stained the river with the blood of the Hebrew children, and now God made that river all bloody; thus he gave them blood to drink, for they were worthy, Revelation 16:6. See the power of God! Every creature is that to us which he makes it to be, water or blood. 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. And see what mischievous work sin makes! It is sin that turns our waters into blood. All the waters — It seems the word all here, and in the foregoing verse, is either to be understood in a limited sense, as it frequently is in Scripture, meaning not all in the strictest sense, but only a very great part; or else that although Moses’s commission extended to all the waters in Egypt, yet it was only executed upon the river Nile: because we read that the magicians did the same thing; but if Moses had turned all the waters into blood, as some scoffers have, with great raillery and triumph, observed, how could the magicians do the same, there being, on this supposition, no water for them upon which to make the trial.

Verse 22
Exodus 7:22. The magicians did so — By God’s permission; with their enchantments — It seems they performed real miracles, for the text says expressly they did the same as Moses, and probably to their own surprise, as well as that of others, not knowing that any such effect would follow upon their using enchantments. Certainly they were ignorant of the extent of their own power, or rather, what Satan would or could do by them, and by what means these things came to pass, otherwise they would not have disgraced themselves, by making an attempt to bring forth lice, which they could not perform. What they did do served Pharaoh for an excuse not to set his heart to this also. And a poor excuse it was. Could they have turned the river of blood into water again, and by a word have purified those waters which the almighty power of God had rendered corrupt, they would have proved their power and done Pharaoh a signal favour. But the superiority of the miracles of Moses, even in these instances in which they vied with him, was incontestible: and they were compelled to acknowledge that what he did was by the finger of God. “God, by permitting them to succeed thus far in their opposition, rendered their folly more conspicuous: for by suffering them to change the waters into blood, and putting it out of their power to restore them to their former purity; and by permitting them to produce frogs, which they were not able to remove, he only put it in their power to increase those plagues upon themselves and their countrymen at the same time that they demonstrated their own inability.”— Bishop Kidder.

Verse 24
Exodus 7:24. The Egyptians digged round about the river for water — Josephus says, they lost their labour, and found only blood there: but if they found water, or water less bloody, it is not material to us, as it does not lessen Moses’s miracle, it not being within the compass of his commission to prevent their getting water by digging.

Verse 25
Exodus 7:25. Seven days were fulfilled — Before the plague was removed.