Ten Plagues of Egypt: Lesson 4: The Plague on the Nile River

Exodus 7:14-24

The precision of the prediction was designed to convince Pharaoh (Ex 7.17-18)

  • it will be changed into blood
  • the fish will die
  • the river will stink
  • the Egyptians will not be able to drink its water

The extent of the prediction was designed to convince Pharaoh (Ex 7.19) Over the streams and canals, over the ponds and all the reservoirs’—and they will turn to blood. Blood will be everywhere in Egypt, even in the wooden buckets and stone jars.”


Did the Egyptian magicians perform a miracle as well? In Exodus 7.22, we see that they “did the same things by their secret arts.” Two possibilities:

  • The magicians, by means of demonic activity, were able to imitate on a smaller scale by taking water and turning it into blood.

The word “secret arts,” is a generic term. It does not require a supernatural happening. It means “trickery.” That is, sleight of hand. Therefore, Pharaoh was not convinced since he viewed the plague as just trickery.

Why blood in the Nile?

The Nile River was considered the backbone of Egypt.

It is doubtful whether Egypt would have enjoyed any influence if it were not for the Nile River. From agriculture to zoning, the Nile affected every part of the Egyptian culture and life. So revered was the Nile that the Egyptians wrote a hymn of praise to it.

“Hail to thee, Oh Nile, that issues from the earth and comes to keep Egypt alive! He that waters the meadows which recreated, in order to keep every kid alive. He that makes to drink the desert and the place distant from water: that is his dew coming down (from) heaven. . . If he is sluggish, then nostrils are stopped up and everybody is poor.” (ANET, 272 cited by Davis, Moses and the God’s of Egypt)

Centered in the middle of the desert, Egypt depended on the Nile River. It provided water to irrigate the fields and grow crops. The annual rise and flooding provided new deposits of soil.

Not only did the Nile River provide real advantages, it also conjured superstitious benefits among the people. They believed that the Nile brought fertility, blessing, and happiness.

“When he [Nile] rises, then the land is in jubilation, then every belly is in joy, every backbone takes on laughter, and every tooth is exposed.” (Ibid.)

The Nile River was considered the domain, and sometimes, playground of the gods.

  • The god Hapi was called the “spirit of the Nile.”
  • The great god Khnum was called the guardian of the Nile resources.
  • One of the greatest gods, Osiris, was the god of the underworld. The Egyptians believed that the Nile was his bloodstream.
  • The goddess, Neith, was associated with the largest fish found in the Nile. The god, Hathor, protected the slightly smaller fish, chromis.
  • The crocodile was worshiped in his temple where his statue was erected, and venerated as a sacred animal as he splashed about in his pool. A lady of high rank would kneel down and, without the slightest trace of disgust, would drink from the pool in which the crocodile wallowed. Ordinary crocodiles were mummified throughout the whole of Egypt.

With all of the gods of Egypt, the Nile River would be a very natural starting place for God’s attacks on Pharaoh. There would be no question in the minds of the Egyptians that the first plague was a vicious at- tack against their gods and their Pharaoh’s abilities to control the Nile.

Was it blood or some other substance?

Some say that the setting sun reflected off the Nile, giving it the appearance that it turned to blood.

Problems: 1) This would not turn the water into a non-drinkable substance; 2) This would hardly be recognized as the work of God since it was a common experience.

Some say thick red fluid from the soil or the multiplication of plankton created a red “blood-like” color. Problems: 1) This does not explain the change of water in the storage containers; 2) This also would hardly be recognized as the work of God since it occurred annually.

The Bible states the Nile literally turned into blood. The Hebrew simply states that this was blood. Besides liberal tendencies, some object to this view because blood could not be filtered by the makeshift wells (Ex 7.24). Others say the make-shift wells would filter the plankton. These naturalistic suggestions are not plausible given the above problems.

The make-shift wells were simply a token of God’s grace. God did not take any lives with this plague, he simply made finding potable water a chore.

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