And Moses [was] fourscore years old, and Aaron fourscore and three years old, when they spake unto Pharaoh.
An interesting little sidenote. Perhaps a comment on the prior verse about obedience; though relatively old (ben), they were nonetheless humble enough to submit to God’s instruction. And adventurous enough to confront Pharaoh, at least with the assurance of miraculous (mowpeth) help:
And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying, When Pharaoh shall speak unto you, saying, Shew a miracle for you: then thou shalt say unto Aaron, Take thy rod, and cast [it] before Pharaoh, [and] it shall become a serpent.
Interesting how Pharaoh is expected to prompt for this. Apparently miraculous signs are considered essential proof of divine support in this place and time. Necessary, but perhaps not sufficient, since two can play at that game:
And Moses and Aaron went in unto Pharaoh, and they did so as the LORD had commanded: and Aaron cast down his rod before Pharaoh, and before his servants, and it became a serpent. Then Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers: now the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments.
The wise men (chakam), sorcerors (kashaph) and magicians (chartom) apparently had enchantments (lahat) that appeared to do the same thing. I know its fashionable nowadays to dismiss such stories as ignorant superstition, but is not our modern skepticism equally liable to the charge of ignorance? Would it not be strange for Pharaoh to keep so many conjurers on staff if they truly had no power?
Though, their power is manifestly inferior to that God gave Aaaron:
For they cast down every man his rod, and they became serpents: but Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods.
Which, alas, fails to impress Pharaoh:
And he hardened Pharaoh’s heart, that he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had said.
Much has been made of what it meant for God to harden (chazaq) Pharaoh’s heart (leb). Personally, I’ve largely ceased wondering about to what extend I, God, or Satan are responsible for my actions. Ultimately I make choices, and experience consequences, and (at one level, at least) that’s all that matters. And Pharaoh, given the oppression and brutality his dynasty inflicted upon the Hebrews to reap an economic benefit, has made his bed as much as any of the rest of us. That certainly seems the bottom line as far as God is concerned:
And the LORD said unto Moses, Pharaoh’s heart [is] hardened, he refuseth to let the people go.
So, what to do?
Get thee unto Pharaoh in the morning; lo, he goeth out unto the water; and thou shalt stand by the river’s brink against he come; and the rod which was turned to a serpent shalt thou take in thine hand.
I wonder if Pharaoh’s morning trip was personal, religious, or sanitary in nature. Moses’ interruption must have been unwelcome in any case, especially with that unpleasant serpentine (nachash) reminder. As well as what must’ve been a tiresome re-petition:
And thou shalt say unto him, The LORD God of the Hebrews hath sent me unto thee, saying, Let my people go, that they may serve me in the wilderness: and, behold, hitherto thou wouldest not hear.
With a bonus sign:
Thus saith the LORD, In this thou shalt know that I [am] the LORD: behold, I will smite with the rod
that [is] in mine hand upon the waters which [are] in the river, and they shall be turned to blood. And the fish that [is] in the river shall die, and the river shall stink; and the Egyptians shall lothe to drink of the water of the river.
Ick. But, what’s interesting to me is how God seems to be teaching Pharaoh to fear Moses’ rod (matteh). Perhaps that is how God has to work: when people don’t believe in Him, He manifests his glory through various instruments, that they might at least believe in the works. Very transformational, in the sense that we are to be His manifest signs in an unbelieving world.
And Moses and Aaron did so, as the LORD commanded; and he lifted up the rod, and smote 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. And the fish that [was] in the river died; and the river stank, and the Egyptians could not drink of the water of the river; and there was blood throughout all the land of Egypt.
Though again, Pharaoh isn’t impressed:
And the magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments: and Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, neither did he hearken unto them; as the LORD had said. And Pharaoh turned and went into his house, neither did he set his heart to this also.
Very interesting. It is a sobering reminder that at one level, the world (or Satan) can match the works of God — or at least appear to. This appears to provide a sufficient excuse (at least for Pharaoh) to not take God — and His power — seriously. So, what’s the difference, really?
Three distinctions come to mind:
1. The magicians presumably worked in a closed environment (i.e., a pool or pot), not in the wild.
2. They aren’t powerful enough to undo what God has done.
3. Because of those two, they don’t really affect the lives of the people:
And all the Egyptians digged round about the river for water to drink; for they could not drink of the water of the river.
To me, this is more sobering than anything else. It is a reminder that we — in our flesh — can sometimes manufacture what appear to be signs of God’s presence. Perhaps this is a useful three-way test:
1. Are we manifesting God’s power and presence in the outside world, not just our contrived Christian enclaves?
2. Are we undoing the works that Satan has done in people’s lives, and our communities?
3. Are people actually benefitting from our work, or is it just for show?
Something to think about.
God, I don’t want to be a court magician, using counterfeit spirituality to prop up my personal kingdom and status. I want to be a true prophet, channeling Your power for Your purposes, so that people are forced to choose whether to believe or harden their heart against reality. I want to be making a real impact on the lives of those around me. I also want to not be satisfied with petty imitations of you, but rather drink deeply of Your living water. Show me Your glory, O Lord. In Jesus name, Amen.
About the Title:
Today’s title, a play on “Wise as a Serpent“, alludes to the question of why God provides these signs, as well as what questions they are meant to answer.