The Miracles Begin
Moses was now in his 80th year. He was beginning the final 40 years of his life in leading the nation of Israel to the Promised Land. Moses and Aaron had been prepared by God to understand that Pharaoh would be very stubborn, regardless of the miracles that were to be performed. Pharaoh also had some "tricks" that could be performed through his magicians—perhaps even with demonic help. Pharaoh's magicians somehow imitated the first three miracles that Moses displayed (those with the snakes and the first two plagues—the water to blood and the frogs). After that, the magicians could no longer duplicate or simulate miraculous plagues. The ability to work magic with snakes was a skill in which the Egyptian magicians apparently prided themselves: "The power to control and direct the movements of such venomous reptiles was one of the things of which the Egyptian was most proud, and in which he was most skillful, already in the time when the pyramids were being built" (E.A. Wallis Budge, Egyptian Magic,1971, p. 5). This could have been akin to snake charming, a fleshly skill, or something supernatural—originating from Satan, the chief serpent. The New Testament tells us the names of the chief magicians were Jannes and Jambres (2 Timothy 3:8). Their magic, though powerful, was not equal to the power by which God worked through Moses. Nevertheless, even after the power of God prevailed, Pharaoh did not listen.
In the future, the Bible reveals, an awesome geopolitical power known as "the beast" will arise on the world scene. Its leader will be a dictator like Pharaoh and, as Pharaoh was with the priests of Egypt, he will be in league with a false religious power that will perform many wonders and miracles. Will we be able to discern the power of God as opposed to the power of this false system? There are those who will be deceived (Revelation 13:13-14). Through His written Word, God promises that if we stay close to Him, we will not be deceived.
Returning now to Exodus, let us examine the first three plagues on Egypt—plagues that even the Israelites experienced.
1. Waters made blood: Each of the plagues of Egypt was an assault on multiple Egyptian gods. For instance, the plague on the waters was a slap at Khnum, the giver of the Nile; at Hapy, the spirit of the Nile; at Sodpet, the god of Nile floodwaters; at Osiris, whose bloodstream was the Nile; at Edjo, the goddess of the Delta; at Hatmehyt, guardian goddess of fish and fishermen; and at various other deities that should have been looking out for the Egyptians. Whether the waters were turned into actual blood is unclear. It is possible that the waters simply appeared this way. The Nelson Study Bible points out, "The Hebrew word translated blood can refer to a red color, as in Joel 2:31... [It] might be that God caused torrential rains to flood and pollute the sources of the Nile to create this plague... Red soil and algae would make the waters of the Nile red, unfit for drinking and deficient in oxygen for the fish" (1997). Indeed, volcanic or meteoric activity could cause a similar pollution of blood-red coloring, as appears to be the case in a prophesied future event in Revelation 8:8. And the Bible does seem to indicate that there was geologic upheaval at the time of the Exodus (compare Psalm 114:1-6). In any case, no matter what the actual change in Egypt's waters was, and no matter how God brought it about, the important thing to realize is that He brought it about. It was clearly a divine miracle.
2. Frogs: One of the gods worshiped by the Egyptians was Heket, whose image was a frog or a woman with the head of a frog. Heket was the goddess of birth, midwives and safe deliveries (frogs, in moderate numbers, being seen as signs of life, renewal and happiness). After the overabundance of them, and then the stench of huge piles of dead frogs, it would seem that the goddess Heket would have lost credibility. Furthermore, the court of Hapy, mentioned above, included crocodile gods and frog goddesses. And the primordial gods Nun, Kek and Heh were each depicted as a man with a frog's head. This plague, though imitated by the magicians, causes Pharaoh to yield. But his stubbornness then prevails and he changes his mind.
3. Lice: Though the Egyptians revered no specific god of lice, so far as we know, they did worship an insect God—Kheper, who was represented as a scarab beetle. Furthermore, we should see how this plague was a slap at the Egyptian gods in general—who were unable to protect their subjects from the infestation. Indeed, Har-pa-khered (Horus in child form) was invoked to ward off dangerous creatures, while Imhotep was besought as a god of medicinal healing. But beseech as they might, there was no relief. Even Pharaoh himself was considered a god—the divine incarnation of the sky and sun god Horus—yet he personally suffered from this plague. The lice infestation could not be imitated by the magicians. They, therefore, yield—but Pharaoh does not.