Exodus 7 – Let There Be Blood

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Today’s PassageExodus 7

I hope you’re ready for some plagues, because today we’ve got plagues. Well, one plague. Don’t worry, there are more later.

But the plague of turning the Nile into blood isn’t the only miracle God performs through Moses and Aaron here. He also turns Aaron’s staff into a snake in the presence of Pharaoh, as he did with Moses’ staff when it was just God and Moses. He doesn’t do the thing where he gives Moses’ hand leprosy and then heals it, at least not on this occasion. Later on he’ll give all the Egyptians a bad case of the festering boils, which is at least in the same category of miracle, if you consider that it demonstrates power over disease. But hand leprosy–or in fact any leprosy whatsoever–is a miracle reserved only for Moses himself. Lucky Moses.

You may also notice that both of these miracles involve the use of Aaron’s staff. If you know what to make of the staff, you’re a better reader than I, because I’m not sure if it’s significant or not. Looking ahead, Aaron will employ it in a few more of the plagues beyond the first one, and there’s a point at which it starts saying that Moses uses his staff to usher in certain plagues. Do they share a staff? Is it a symbol of Israel’s history as a nation of herdsmen? Perhaps, but let’s bear in mind that Pharaoh’s wise men and sorcerers have staffs too (11-12), and shepherding is loathsome to the Egyptians (Genesis 46:34). Their staffs are probably different from Aaron’s, which may or may not be Moses’ also. I don’t know.

I don’t know how miracles work in general. I mean, my view is that the mathematical laws of the universe work because God wants them to work. At every second in all of space and time, he’s wanting there to be a Law of Universal Gravitation and a Second Law of Thermodynamics. We have a mathable universe because God wanted one. He made a mathable universe and kept it mathable. But where does that leave miracles? Are they God violating the natural order, declaring the universe to be an open rather than a closed system, invoking Creator Override privileges? Or has God put physical laws in place that, if we knew them, would explain how these miraculous phenomena happened?

I used to think it was the latter. I used to think I was pretty clever for thinking of it. A miracle is just a phenomenon that we don’t understand the physics of. But God understands it, because he made the physics that make it possible. The real miracle is that there is a universe and that we can know things about it. So clever, right?

But here a staff turns into a snake, and probably several hundred million cubic meters’ worth of H2O becomes a complex liquid solution containing glucose and proteins and potassium and God knows what else. If there exists math that can explain why that happened to the Nile right then and there and why it doesn’t happen to any other river at any point in time ever, it’s beyond my knowing. It seems more likely to me that God simply said: “You know what? That river, the Nile, the one that is the lifeblood of Egypt? Actual blood now.”

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