It all started with Joseph. Remember? He’s the one who brought the children of his father Israel down to Egypt. It was a good thing, of course. He saved their race and God used him to sustain the line of the seed of the woman (remember the promise in Gen. 3:15 of the coming savior?)
But generations passed and the Israelites took to heart the command to “be fruitful and multiply.” They grew to such a huge number that the Egyptians kinda freaked. Sadly, God’s people ended up as slaves.
For 430 years. That’s a long time! So did God ever send someone to rescue the Israelites?
He did! God sent Moses. Finally! You know the story. Born to a Jewish mother, raised in Pharoah’s court, hides in the wilderness for forty years, God talks to him at the burning bush, then back to Egypt to stand before Pharaoh.
God tells Moses to give his command (Moses has this job again later). “Let my people go that they may serve me.”
Pharaoh says nope! And that’s how we come to the ten plagues.
God’s Word is so amazing. In every passage, we dig up layers and layers of awesomeness. It would take forever to uncover everything in the plagues, so we’ll just dig deeply into a few. Then, with the last plague post, I’ll attach a chart about each of the plagues—no extra charge!
We’ll look at three aspects of each plague that we cover:
- A bit of explanation and how it fits into the history and culture of the time.
- How it relates to creation in the book of Genesis (and tohu va vohu—see below)
- Jesus! We know he’s here (the whole Bible points to him, remember The Road to Emmaus?).
Today we’ll dive into the first plague—the Nile turns to blood—but first a bit of explanation about a cool Hebrew phrase that will help us understand the plagues.
Tohu va Vohu
Tohu va vohu comes from Genesis 1:2. It means, “formless and void.” It points to chaos, the uncreated mess the world was in before God brought forth order and beauty. It’s not a good place to be. (Sometimes my is desk is in a state of tohu va vohu, but that’s another post.)
How does this relate to God’s tenfold punishment of Egypt? Before the decimation brought on by the plagues, Egypt sparkled like a beautiful Garden of Eden. Rich with vegetation, the mighty Nile provided water and trade, cattle, and it brimmed with humanity and her greatest creations—pyramids, art, culture.
What happens to this glorious garden habitation because of Pharaoh’s hard heart? Plague by plague it reverts back to tohu va vohu. (See Exodus 7-12.) With each one, an element of creation is stripped away: water, animals, vegetation, the sky, the ground, and more—all gone. The Egyptians fall into a state of de-creation, until all that is left is destruction, a big formless mess, just like before God created the world.
We’ll unravel this in more detail as we go through. Now, onto the Nile.
A River Turns to Blood
Explanation: Think about the Nile. Does Egyptian life rely on it at all? Maybe a little? Heck yeah! They depend on the Nile not just for water, but for food, industry, trade–everything. The Nile represents their whole existence. God cursing it to blood foreshadows the complete desolation that is to come.
Creation Connection: When God separates the waters in Genesis 1, he creates order and purity. Throughout Scripture, its cleansing qualities point to life and the life-giving Word of God as well as God himself (Is. 55:1, Jer. 2:13, John 7:38). When the water becomes stained and foul, this points to the Egyptians’ rejection of the God who gives living water. Do you see how making the Nile flow with nasty, bitter blood, the Lord is stripping away the gift of water he gave in creation? This is the first step toward complete tohu va vohu.
Another note about the Nile turning to blood. Remember earlier in Exodus … what did the Egyptians do to the Israelite infant boys? Killed them, right? Where did they throw the little ones?
Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every son that is born to the Hebrews you shall cast into the Nile, but you shall let every daughter live.” (Exodus 1:22, ESV)
God doesn’t forget this horrific sin, but judges it in a most appropriate way.
Jesus! This one so clearly points us to Christ, doesn’t it? As in many of the types or symbols in the Bible, water displays both God’s justice and his grace. Without Jesus, I’m just like the Egyptians. I reject his word, his life, his commands. Because of my sin, I deserve to be cut off from the fresh springs and to be deserted to a land cursed with only bitter water.
Yet, my Father doesn’t leave me there. Because of his grace, Jesus calls me to come.
“If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” John 7:37-38
When my spiritual life feels as dry as the desert, his water not only brings life, but produces fruit that can bless others. How amazing is that?
What do you think Jesus meant when he said come to me and drink? I think he means to remember that he alone is the source of life. Sometimes I look for life everywhere else but to him. But there’s no other stream. I must constantly go to him—in his Word, prayer, worship, the Sacraments—in order to stay alive spiritually. Without his living water, I will die. Today, right now, pray to be filled so fully with his living water that it overflows to the thirsty in your life.
Remember, he loves you like there’s no tomorrow.
Be sure to check in next week for part two on the ten plagues!
Shine Your Light: How has someone “spilled” Jesus’ love to you recently? I’d love to hear and I know it will bless others.