Exodus 7:20-21Stop and think about seeing an entire river turn to blood before your eyes. Wouldn't that completely freak you out??
So [Aaron] lifted up the rod and struck the waters that were in the river, in the sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of his servants. And all the waters that were in the river were turned to blood. The fish that were in the river died, the river stank, and the Egyptians could not drink the water of the river. So there was blood throughout all the land of Egypt.
We don't know exactly how this went down: did the change happen instantaneously? Did the blood propagate spherically from the point where Aaron's rod struck the water, the same way that a ripple does? If so, how quickly? Not only did the water in the river turn to blood, but also the water in all of the pots in people's homes throughout Egypt (verse 19), which perhaps indicates that the change was all at once rather than an effect that spread through the river. Regardless of the method, this was a shocking and dramatic feat, and I imagine that this would be more bewildering to the senses than any of the plagues involving animals or insects swarming in.
Why Pharaoh didn't careNevertheless, it wasn't enough to convince Pharaoh to let Israel go. When Pharaoh's magicians were able to replicate the feat, Pharaoh was no longer impressed by God's display of power.
Exodus 7:22-24Whatever initial shock Pharaoh might have had from seeing this great sight, all it took for him to dismiss it was to see his magicians turn a little bit of water to blood. I say a little bit because the ENTIRE RIVER was already blood, as was the water in all of the pots in their homes. So where did they even get water from to try to copy the feat?
Then the magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments; and Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, as the Lord had said. And Pharaoh turned and went into his house. Neither was his heart moved by this.
So all the Egyptians dug all around the river for water to drink, because they could not drink the water of the river.
God, in His mercy, still allowed people to obtain fresh water, albeit through some labor (having to dig for water to supply the entire city would be quite demanding). The point of this first plague was not to actually harm the Egyptians, but to demonstrate God's incredible power. It also shows God's mercy in giving them time to repent since the next plague didn't begin for 7 days (Exodus 7:25).
Does the magicians' feat seem like a reasonable enough demonstration for Pharaoh to write off seeing the whole river turned to blood? Disregarding the issue of scale and the fact that not only the river but also the buckets in people's homes were affected, I still don't think that the magicians' display of a similar ability is sufficient, the key difference being that they couldn't undo the plague.
The tendency of human leadership is to try to fix problems. I have no doubt that Pharaoh asked these guys to fix it - don't make it worse, fix it! They were probably frustrated for a while before Pharaoh accepted their replication as satisfactory. What this effectively did was cause Pharaoh to see God's miracle as nothing special since his gods could do something similar; although, when the magicians couldn't keep up, Pharaoh still didn't turn from his ways.
What can we learn?If the people of Egypt had repented before God and gone against Pharaoh, perhaps God would have had mercy on them. Instead of acknowledging God's power and humbling themselves, they set to work digging around the river, trying to overcome God's curse rather than seek relief from its Source.
How often, I wonder, does our own reluctance to acknowledge God or turn to Him for relief place an even greater burden on us?
2 Chronicles 7:14Not all suffering is because of sin, but some of it is. God certainly doesn't desire to punish us, but, until we have repented before Him, He's obligated to do so for our own good.
if My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.
Ezekiel 18:21-23Let's be sure that we're not "digging around the river" in our own lives by being humble and repentant before God.
If a wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed, keeps all My statutes, and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live... Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?” says the Lord God, “and not that he should turn from his ways and live?