20 And Moses and Aaron did so, just as the LORD commanded. So he 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.
21 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.
22 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.
23 And Pharaoh turned and went into his house. Neither was his heart moved by this.
24 So all the Egyptians dug all around the river for water to drink, because they could not drink the water of the river.
When I was a teenager, I explored all sorts of different spiritual practices. I was introduced to Hindu spirituality, Buddhism, transcendental meditation, Judaism, and even Islam. As a voracious reader, I gobbled up books on all sorts of topics to try to find a key to unlock the spiritual side of my life. Like some teens, I was fairly certain that the magic of children’s stories had a loose basis in fact, that there really was a magical, spirit-filled reality just beyond our senses, a numinous realm that hinted at a better life. Psychologists explain this away as a common teenage dissatisfaction with the real world that teens finally see as they mature, and so they fall prey to fantasies that give them hope for a better life, a life where they finally have some measure of control via magic or spirituality. The shrinks may be right, and that would certainly explain the popularity of teen novels about kids with magical powers. But my own searches nonetheless led me down many unfulfilling spiritual paths.
Today, you can see the same pattern among adults, and their searches for a “better life” through spiritual practices. Whether it’s a delve into fictionalized “prophecy” or the many “new age” philosophies, people are still seeking spiritual fulfillment – and lining the pockets of the many writers and “teachers” who sell the stuff. The fact that there are so many products and seminars out there and that the industry is still growing should tell us something: none of them have the true answer. If they truly held the secret and were able to teach it, then people would no longer need those books, seminars, recordings and retreats, would they?
The truly sad part of this fascination with so-called “New Age” spirituality and general spiritual exploration is that it leads people away from the faiths where they were raised. Worse yet, they continue to cling to some vestige of their traditional religion even as they consult astrologers, practice transcendental meditation, fast with their “spiritual brethren”, and generally dabble in other “spiritual” practices – all while continuing to sing and pray in church on Saturdays or Sundays. Of course, anyone who explores such teachings too deeply will find that they don’t lead to the fulfilling life they had hoped for. In fact, New Age and occult teachings quite often lead people to even more frustration with their current lives, and so the cycle continues as people seek the next fad that comes along.
In today’s verses, we see Moses and Aaron bringing the first of the ten plagues upon Egypt. The result is plain to see: death. We normally like to think of blood being mentioned in the Bible as a metaphor for the life-giving, sin-washing blood of Christ. In today’s verses, we see that the wrong kind of blood can bring death. Note that the magicians of Egypt are able to perform the same sort of miracle, but this miracle is NOT one that leads to life, it leads only to death. And even after both “sides” have performed the miracle, people found that even when they dug deep into the ground, the wells had been similarly polluted. There was no drinkable water anywhere.
What the magicians and Pharaoh had failed to see was that this first plague was meant as a sign, a wonder, a miracle to point to the Lord God.
“Thus says the LORD: ‘By this you shall know that I am the LORD. Behold, I will strike the waters which are in the river with the rod that is in my hand, and they shall be turned to blood.'”
This wasn’t a feat to be imitated, it was a miracle intended to prompt belief. This blood was not meant to give life, only to point to the One who gives life. In imitating Moses and Aaron, the magicians of Egypt thought they were imitating the actions of men, which somehow makes people think that the ways of men are equal. But this miracle didn’t come from Moses and his brother, it came from God.
Proverbs 14:12 (also 16:25)
There is a way that seems right to a man,
But its end is the way of death.
Pharaoh and many people today fail to see that the miracles of the Bible aren’t something to be imitated, they are signposts pointing to God. Yes, God can and will perform miracles for His chosen people, but they don’t just happen by some magical application of our own will. Miracles come from and point to the glory of God. New Age practices that seek to imitate the presence and power of the Holy Spirit are just imitations, and they point nowhere except back at the mortal being who does such things. But the fruit of the working of the Holy Spirit points outward, away, toward the One Righteous Judge, the Almighty God, the God Who Heals. The blood of the Nile is a river of death, providing no sustenance at all. The blood of Jesus is a fountain of life, bringing salvation to all who are washed in its flood.
We live in a society that is very much like ancient Egypt in our philosophies and spiritual malaise. And God has come forth and promised to set us free through His Son Jesus Christ, to break the bonds of slavery and idolatry that point toward death. Jesus doesn’t promise a “new age,” He promises new life, and that we may have life more abundantly. (John 10:10) God the Holy Spirit wants to flood our hearts with righteousness, replacing the death-dealing blood of men with the life-giving blood of Christ.
Let us stop seeking imitations of life and Spirit, and instead come to the foot of the Cross, where the blood of the Lamb of God brings us the only true life everlasting.
Lord God Almighty, all glory is Yours. You alone bring life to us, and so it is to You I come today. Humble me to seek You alone, and give me discernment to refuse and rebuke those who try to imitate Your life-giving will. Use me to teach only the gospel of Christ – a stumbling block to some, but salvation to others. Help me to open their eyes so they will rise in Your glory rather than fall prey to deception and death. Amen.