God reassures (and encourages) Moses in verse 1 and is scripting their audience with Pharaoh, as shown in verse 2. The repeated mention of the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart by God in verse 3 and elsewhere is troubling for some people. This is best understood as further hardening – Pharaoh has already made it very clear that he does not know the Lord (Exodus 5:2) – and Pharaoh has “gods” of his own. The sense of the word “know” as it is used here is as much about defiance, as it is about being ignorant of His identity. The plagues to come shortly will not only demonstrate who the real God is (verse 5 “The Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord”), they will show those “gods” to be false and powerless.
The Lord does all of this to demonstrate His power to them, and to “the people of Israel.” Note the repetition throughout these early chapters in Exodus (and later chapters as well) of the theme “I am the Lord” and “you shall know that I am the Lord your God. The Lord is making clear who He is, and that He is keeping the promises He made to their fathers. He mentions those promises made to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob together (as in Exodus 6:8) often in these chapters in order to drive this home.
Moses and Aaron present the first sign with staff, as God had instructed. We do not know if the mimicry of Pharaoh’s “magicians” in verse 11 is some sort of trick or by some evil or demonic supernatural power. But see in verse 12, that their “parlor games” are swallowed up quite literally by what God has done. Then, the first plague – turning the water in the Nile to blood – is introduced by Aaron’s staff, as God commanded. Once more, the mimicry of these “magicians” might be impressive if instead they reversed the effects of the plague – but they cannot truly fight God! And now, the Egyptian people suffer because of their ruler’s heart (verses 23-24).
(Side note: A very interesting explanation of the Egyptian “gods” relative to their being mocked by each of the 10 plagues in this and following chapters can be found in this link to an article by Dr. David Livingston called “The Plagues and The Exodus“)
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image © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers
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