God again spoke to Moses after Moses and Aaron had to leave Pharaoh’s court. “In the morning,” He said, “Pharaoh will go out to bathe at the edge of the river. He won’t want to receive you in court so soon again, so go along the river bank till you reach his bathing pool. Tell him that your God has sent you again to tell him to let My people go into the desert to worship Me. Tell him that because he has refused to let the Israelites leave, I will turn the water of the Nile into blood. Remind him that the fish in it will die and that the Egyptians will not be able to drink it because of the terrible taste and odor.”
Hours later, when the king of Egypt was slipping into his beautifully tiled pool built into the bank of the Nile, he was startled to hear a somewhat familiar voice calling to him from the heavy, green foliage just outside the borders of the pool. He looked up over the wall to see Moses and Aaron looking down on him. Guards moved swiftly toward the two Israelites.
“Let them speak!” Pharaoh commanded, waving his hand for the guards not to interfere. “I should like to know what kind of show these two will put on this time.”
When the guards saw that their king was wearing a smile, they felt free to smile. But when Aaron stepped forward with the rod, faces grew serious. No one had forgotten about the unpleasant episode of the snakes, and no one could even guess what God might next bring from that rod.
Aaron repeated all that God had spoken to Moses. When he spoke of the threat to turn the water of the Nile into blood, Pharaoh held up a hand for silence (Ex. 7:14-18).
“The Nile is a very big river,” Pharaoh spoke up, calmly splashing water over his head. ‘I just don’t know what we would do with that much blood!”
There was a roar of laughter from the Egyptian guards and servants. Before the last giggle had died down, Aaron lifted his rod out before him, then brought it down with a splash into the water that flowed through the pool’s filtering screens. The Egyptians stared at Aaron, wondering what this gesture of his could mean.
The first sign that anything unusual was happening was a yell from the servants who held Pharaoh’s robe. “Look!” he shouted. “The water is turning red!”
Pharaoh looked down to see that the water was much darker than it had been. Even as he stared at it, the water lost all clarity and grew increasingly red. The king’s first sudden, wild desire was to get out of the pool, and this he did in a very hasty and undignified manner. His servant threw his robe about him to hide the crimson streaks that coursed down his body. But all the Egyptians, including Pharaoh, uneasily eyed the puddle in which the king stood. It was thick and red, just like blood (Ex. 7:19-21)!
It was difficult for Pharaoh to regain his dignity and calmness. But he knew he must do so before his servants. Furthermore, he felt that he had to prove that the two Israelites were simply trying to frighten him into freeing their people.
“Call my wise men,” Pharaoh commanded a servant, “and tell them what has happened. Get them here at once, so that these Israelites will soon know that their magic is no better than that of my magicians.”
Again there was a wait for the magicians to show up. Meanwhile, the king went back to his palace to dress. But before he left, he gazed in concern across the broad expanse of blood-red liquid of the Nile flowing slowly to the north. The result of God’s power was before his eyes, but he didn’t choose to believe it. He was hoping that it was just a trick of some kind, and that his wise men could prove that it was.
At last Pharaoh returned, flanked by guards and servants. Behind him walked his magicians, and behind the magicians came more servants bearing huge casks of clear water. Then, with Moses and Aaron looking on, the magicians waved their hands over the casks, and uttered strange words. Servants stepped forward to dump the contents of the casks on the ground.
The liquid that gushed forth was as red as blood! Pharaoh smiled when he saw what his wise men had done. He turned to triumphantly regard Moses and Aaron.
“As you see again,” he said to them, “there is no miracle you can perform that my magicians can’t perform. Of course you had the advantage. You could hardly expect my wise men to turn the river into blood while it is already that way.” Therefore Pharaoh and his servants walked back to the palace, leaving Moses and Aaron standing by the red Nile (vs. 22-23).
A week passed, during which the Egyptians went through much misery. Nile water was the very life of the land. Having become as blood and filled with dead fish, it couldn’t be used for anything except irrigation.
Long before a week passed, the Egyptians were frantically seeking water to keep themselves and their livestock alive. Even the ponds and pools of the country had turned to blood – except possibly those in the land of Goshen where most of the Israelites lived. Either the Egyptians had to bring water in from outside their borders or get it by digging for springs away from the banks of the Nile. Wells were very few, but it might have been from a well or spring that the magicians obtained the water that was brought before Pharaoh in casks, and which was turned red by their deceptive powers.
Even many of the Israelite slaves must have suffered along with the Egyptians, inasmuch as many of them were captive in the areas where construction was going on. But because of the shortage of water, possibly the Israelites weren’t required to work for a few days.
In spite of all the misery in the land, Pharaoh stubbornly refused to change his mind about the Israelites. However, as the week went on, he began to wonder if the discomfort of his people was too high a price to pay to keep the Israelites as slaves. At the same time Pharaoh and those about him were not as miserable as most other people, because every effort was made to supply clear water to the royal family. But Pharaoh knew that the nation couldn’t last long under those conditions. He realized that sooner or later he would have to give in and call for Moses and Aaron.
On the 8th day after the Nile had been turned to blood, Pharaoh was awakened by excited servants. “Why do you disturb me?” the king demanded. “Guards!” Put these bumbling serfs in prison for breaking into my bedroom!”
“But we came to report to your highness that the Nile is again flowing clear and clean!” one of the servants blurted.
“Is this true?” Pharaoh demanded of the guards who were approaching. When the guards nodded in happy agreement, Pharaoh sank back on his pillow and smiled with relief. To the Egyptian king’s way of thinking, he had won out in a battle of patience with the God of the Israelites.
“You servants will be rewarded for bringing good news,” Pharaoh murmured, waving every one away. From that hour on there was great rejoicing in Egypt. Within a few days things were back to normal. But if the king thought that this was the end of his being bothered by Moses and Aaron and their God, he had some unpleasant surprises coming.
Later, God commanded the two Israelites to go again to Pharaoh with a warning. Moses and Aaron knew that they wouldn’t be welcome, but they also knew that they must trust God and obey Him. When Pharaoh heard that they had arrived to speak to him, he was angry. But the more he thought about them, the more curious he became. He soon calmed down.
“Perhaps they have come to tell me that they have given up the futile idea of leaving Egypt,” the king told his advisors. “Send word to my guards to let them in.”
After the two Israelites were brought into the court, Aaron stepped up to speak. But Pharaoh held up his hand for silence.
“Spare me that worn-out speech about your people wanting to go into the desert to worship your God,” the king said in a weary tone. “Make your talk short simply by telling me, if you have a reason, why you’re here.”
“We have come again to ask you to let our people go,” Aaron said. “If you refuse to let them go, our God will bring up millions of frogs from the Nile. They will spread out over your country in such great swarms that they will be in your beds, your kitchens and wherever you sit or stand or lie down? (Ex. 8:1-4)!
Pharaoh frowned down on Aaron and Moses for a few seconds. This announcement of a plague of frogs was startling to him, but he wanted others to believe that he was nothing more than slightly annoyed.
“Perhaps by your magic you can do such a thing,” the king finally spoke. “But my magicians have already proved that they can do anything you can do. If your God is no more powerful than my wise men and their gods, what have I to fear? Leave now and tell your God that I will not free the Israelites.
“You will learn very soon what our God can do,” Aaron told the king, and he and Moses left the court.
Pharaoh was worried. He knew that his wise men had really failed miserably in trying to outperform Moses and Aaron. He would have been even more concerned if later he could have seen two men standing by the Nile – one holding a shepherd’s rod out before him as a kind of signal for God to bring a second grievous woe upon Egypt.
Very early next morning the king of Egypt was awakened by screams from somewhere in the palace. He was about to call for servants to find out what was going on when he felt something move under his hand. In the dim light of the dawn he could see several small creatures crawling and hopping about on his bed cover. He jerked to a sitting position and blinked in alarm at the crawling things. They were tiny frogs (vs. 5-6).
Angered that his servants would allow such a thing, he leaped out of bed, only to plant his bare feet on more frogs on the floor. He roared out his displeasure, but his words were drowned in sounds of scuffling and banging in the hall outside his bedroom. He moved toward the door to find out what the commotion was about, but with each step there was a cold, slippery feeling beneath his feet.
The light of dawn was increasing now, and the king could more clearly see little greenish-gray frogs hopping and crawling through the windows, across the floor, over his bed and even up the walls. It was too fantastic to be real, he thought. Surely it had to be only a bad dream!
Just as he reached his door, it flew open and servants stumbled in, swatting and pounding at hordes of frogs swarming on the hall floor.
When the servants saw Pharaoh standing sternly over them, they ceased their swatting and bowed low to him.
“Forgive us, your highness!” one of them chattered. “The whole palace is being overtaken by frogs, and we were trying to keep them from entering your rooms!” “The frogs are coming out of the river and swarming over everything!” another servant blurted out.
It wasn’t until that moment that the king recalled, with a shudder, what the Israelite Aaron had spoken just the day before. In that same moment Pharaoh’s anger turned to alarm. He realized then that his was no mere nightmare. The plague of frogs was actually at hand!
“Close all doors!” Pharaoh commanded. ‘Cover every window in the place! Then call all servants to help clear those frogs from inside this building.
Within a few minutes scores of servants were feverishly working to rid the palace of frogs. Even the guards joined in the task of making the building almost airtight. Servants were stationed at every entrance to sweep the tiny reptiles back whenever doors were opened.
“Call my robe bearer,” the king commanded. “I wish to go now to bathe in my pool.” One of the guards stepped forward a little nervously, holding up a hand as though to restrain Pharaoh from going outside.
“My master would find it impossible to go into the pool this morning,” the guard said. “It is filled with frogs and tadpoles. Besides, the path to the pool is almost solidly covered with a creeping blanket of frogs.
The king frowned at the guard, and was about to say something when a servant approached, bowing as he came. “Your majesty’s advisors are here to see you,” the servant panted. “They would like to have a meeting with you at once.”
“Go tell them I never discuss affairs of state before breakfast!” Pharaoh snapped, and strode back to his private quarters.
Later, waiters brought in trays of food to spread out on the king’s large, private dining table. Pharaoh uncovered one of the streaming dishes, and his grim expression almost disappeared at the sight of the savory contents.
“These frogs are a serious problem,” Pharaoh thought, “but I’m not going to let them spoil my appetite.”
He seized a pitcher of cream and poured it lavishly over the contents of the bowl in front of him. Using a spoon-like utensil, he began to eat with obvious enjoyment. His curled, carefully squared beard bobbed swiftly up and down with each movement of his jaws.
Suddenly he stopped eating. His mouth hung open, and he stared down into his bowl like one hypnotized and unable to act. Something was moving in the cream in his dish! The movement increased, and abruptly two small frogs burst out of his food, crawled up the inside of the bowl, leaped off the rim and went sprawling on the table in thick drops of cream. His spoon clanked to the floor while his gaze shifted to the equally upsetting sight of a frog floating lifelessly in a silver cup of his favorite beverage. The nearest waiter, having just noticed the situation, was horrified. It took all the courage he could muster to step up and snatch the offending articles from the table.
“Take this food back to the kitchen and tell the cooks to eat it!” Pharaoh growled. “Then bring me food without frogs in it or all you waiters and cooks will be dragged away by the guards!”
The Bible doesn’t tell us just how the frogs affected Pharaoh and his household at first, and therefore the foregoing description must be made with the help of some imagination. Probably the actual situations were in some ways much funnier and in other ways much more tragic. We do know that the Egyptians suffered a great deal during the next several days, what with the frogs continuing to emerge from the Nile and move in distressing hordes across the country.
As usual, in a weak attempt to prove to the Egyptians that his wise men could also work such great “magic,” Pharaoh called in the magicians.
“Show me, before the witnesses gathered here in my court, that you can also produce frogs,” he commanded.
“We shall indeed do that, O Pharaoh,” spoke up one of the chief magicians, whose name was Jannes (II Tim. 3:8).
“This Moses and Aaron,” spoke up another named Jambres, “are not truly skilled in the art of sorcery. They were simply clever enough to know that the marshlands of the Nile have been teeming with millions upon millions of tadpoles, and they guessed the day and almost the hour when those tadpoles would turn to frogs and crawl out of the river. In other words, O king, they have tried to deceive you into thinking that their God has given them the power to produce the frogs. But now, through the powers of sorcery, we shall produce frogs from nowhere!”
Several magicians took their places before the king. There was a mysterious waving of arms and hands along with some strange words from Jambres and Jannes, and little green frogs appeared as from nothing and started hopping about in all directions (Ex. 8:7).
This feat of magic pleased the king, but it was plain that he had already seen enough frogs for one day. He waved for the performance to cease.
“But our display of sorcery is not yet complete, O king,” Jannes spoke up. “Look at the floor again!” Pharaoh’s gaze dropped to the floor, He leaned forward and blinked. The frogs the magicians had brought on had disappeared!
“The gods who give you power for your magic was indeed mighty,” Pharaoh nodded. “Let us beseech them to stop this plague of frogs. Surely it can’t last another day.”
But the king was wrong. Frogs continued to pour from the river day after day, and to spread out over Egypt – except possibly the land of Goshen, where most of the Israelites lived. Many of the frogs soon died for lack of shade and moisture. Many were killed by the constant efforts of the Egyptians. Soon there were great heaps of the tiny reptiles piled up everywhere. To bury them was too much of a task. For every frog that died, there was another to take its place, and the misery of the Egyptians increased each day by the frogs crawling into their food, their beds and everywhere they sat or walked.
Meanwhile, the king’s troubles swiftly increased. His advisors and officers pressed him to do something about the plague. They pointed out to him that if it didn’t end soon, the Egyptians would flee from their own country, and that the nation would be too weakened to live. This worried Pharaoh, who knew that he couldn’t rule people if they weren’t there to rule.
Another thing that worried the king was the way in which Moses and Aaron had outperformed his magicians. Although he had several times called in his wise men to try to prove to his people that the Egyptians gods were always ready to act through the magicians, Pharaoh knew that the power shown through Moses and Aaron was much greater, and he was afraid of it.
One thing that made matters difficult for the Egyptians was that their pagan religion required them to worship certain reptiles, including the frog. One of their idols even had the head of a frog. Therefore many of the people of Egypt had a superstitious fear of killing the frogs, or even to step on them by accident.
Still the frogs kept pouring out of the Nile and over the land, and their dead grew into ever-growing piles of sickening, decaying flesh.
“Something must be done at once or you will no longer have a nation to rule,” Pharaoh’s chief advisor told him. “Our people cannot bear up under this thing much longer. Many of them have already fled to foreign lands.”
“You mean you want me to give in to those two self-styled Israelites and their silly demands?” Pharaoh asked. “That is the only thing to do,” the chief advisor replied, “unless you think your magicians have the power to stop this plague.”
Pharaoh did not answer. He would not ask the magicians to try to rid the nation of frogs. He knew that their source of power was not as great as that of Moses and Aaron. Deep in thought, the king sauntered to the window, then realized that it was tightly boarded up to keep out the tiny invaders. If only he could know just how long the plague would last, he could act accordingly. But he didn’t know. If he gave in and let the Israelites go, his plans would be shattered. He wanted to keep on using the Israelites to build cities with more grandeur and splendor than man had ever known. Perhaps just a few more years, and his ambition would be fulfilled. But if the plague of frogs continued he might lose everything.
“Send for Moses and Aaron!” Pharaoh suddenly blurted out. Relief swept over the chief advisor’s face as he heard those words. He turned to a servant to order him to send a message by the swiftest rider in the king’s service.
Pharaoh was waiting in his court when Moses and Aaron arrived later. Moses felt that there could be only one reason to be summoned so hastily, and he was right.
“Ask your God to stop sending these terrible frogs!” Pharaoh commanded, staring sternly at the two Israelites. “We would be most happy to do so,” Aaron spoke out, “if you will promise to free our people.”
Pharaoh hesitated. He leaned back in his chair, and blankly regarded one of his clenched fists. “I will let your people go,” he said with a sigh. “They will be free to go into the desert to worship your God” (Ex. 8:8)!
This, at last, was what Moses had worked for! He breathed a prayer of thankfulness that the king of Egypt had finally given in to their requests. But Moses knew that it wouldn’t be wise to ask God to stop the oncoming frogs at just any time. He knew that if Pharaoh would choose a certain time, then the power of God would be better shown to the king.
“When do you want our God to stop the frogs from overrunning your land?” Moses asked Pharaoh. “Tomorrow, “the king replied.
“Then it shall be done tomorrow,” Moses said. “Tomorrow the frogs will cease to hop through your cities and fields and buildings. The only live frogs to be found will be in the river. This will be a miracle from our God. It will be something that no other gods can do.”
As soon as Moses could get to a place where he could privately pray, he asked God to stop the plague of frogs on the following day (vs. 9-12).
Next morning, the weary people of Egypt were relieved and happy to find that there were no more live frogs anywhere except in the Nile River. There was great rejoicing and celebrating. But there was still the huge task of raking the dead reptiles into heaps, and after that the horrible odor of decaying frogs was very unpleasant (v. 15).
Meanwhile, Moses was anxiously expecting some kind of decree from the king, stating that the Israelites would be freed. Nothing happened. Angered at the delay by Pharaoh to declare the Israelites free, Moses went with Aaron back to the royal palace.
“I know why you are here,” Pharaoh greeted them in wearied tones, “so there’s no point in reminding me about my promise to let your people leave Egypt.
Watch for the next installment of The Story of the Bible.