Saturday 8th August 2020 The Plague of Blood
Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Pharaoh’s heart is hardened; he refuses to let the people go. Go to Pharaoh in the morning, as he is going out to the water; stand by at the river bank to meet him, and take in your hand the staff that was turned into a snake. Say to him, “The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, sent me to you to say, ‘Let my people go, so that they may worship me in the wilderness.’ But until now you have not listened. Thus says the Lord, ‘By this you shall know that I am the Lord.’ See, with the staff that is in my hand I will strike the water that is in the Nile, and it shall be turned to blood. The fish in the river shall die, the river itself shall stink, and the Egyptians shall be unable to drink water from the Nile.”’ The Lord said to Moses, ‘Say to Aaron, “Take your staff and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt—over its rivers, its canals, and its ponds, and all its pools of water—so that they may become blood; and there shall be blood throughout the whole land of Egypt, even in vessels of wood and in vessels of stone.”’
Moses and Aaron did just as the Lord commanded. In the sight of Pharaoh and of his officials he lifted up the staff and struck the water in the river, and all the water in the river was turned into blood, and the fish in the river died. The river stank so that the Egyptians could not drink its water, and there was blood throughout the whole land of Egypt. But the magicians of Egypt did the same by their secret arts; so Pharaoh’s heart remained hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the Lord had said. Pharaoh turned and went into his house, and he did not take even this to heart. And all the Egyptians had to dig along the Nile for water to drink, for they could not drink the water of the river. Seven days passed after the Lord had struck the Nile.
Perhaps the most convincing reason why Moses would find Pharoah at the river in the morning is that the story requires it. The first challenge to Pharaoh’s authority must take place at the Nile, the origin of Egypt. The annual four-month inundation left behind rich silt, while rapids to the south, the delta to the North, and desert either side of the river defended the nation from attack. Vast irrigation systems harnessed the water when the river receded, providing all year round agriculture, with excess produce traded with other lands by boat. The organisation required to control the waters created a stratified society which valued order and stability, whose foundation was slavery: the hardly visible army of foreign workers without whom it would be difficult to keep the system running.
The Egyptian word for “blood” and “red” were the same, and red was the colour of Apep, the serpent of chaos and synonym for evil. When the highly learned priests, not served well by the translation “magicians”, performed rituals of execration they destroyed red pots or figurines as proxies for Egypt’s enemies. Now in an ironic reversal they experienced this destruction for themselves. All they could do in response was conjure more bloody water, bringing further misery to the people and helping Moses’ mission. The Nile, source of fertility and life becomes the bringer of death, and the people have to dig into the sands to find clean water.
This is still reality for millions of people. The World Health Organisation reported in 2017 that although 71% of the global population (5.3 billion people) used a safely managed drinking-water service, at least 2 billion people were using a contaminated drinking water source able to transmit diseases such as diarrhoea, cholera, dysentery, typhoid, and polio.
thank you for the technical wisdom and commitment to the common good which has brought clean water to more people than ever.
Where decisions must be made about allocating resources may leaders be guided to channel these to the people who have least.
Give us determination to build communities on fairness, questioning the ways that we have always done things, and bringing our practices into your sunlight. Amen