Magicians and Miracles in Egypt – Exodus

While many in the west deny the supernatural altogether, we must be careful not to do the same. The Lord interacts with His creation supernaturally as well as through natural means.  Moreover, there is a supernatural element at work today that we need to be aware of.  One of the devils greatest achievements is convincing people that he doesn’t exist.

Today, there are many in the world who are powered by demonic forces or trickery who purport to be able to talk to the dead, summon spirits or perform miracles.  There are also those who can read auras, get in touch with their higher self or similar.  Yet, none of this is done in the Lords power, or through the Holy Spirit.

So, with this in mind, I wanted to write up part of the study we did last week on the exodus covering the magicians of Egypt. There is a clearly defined difference between what the magicians of Egypt did and what God did.

What did the Egyptian magicians represent?

We see the magicians for the first time in Exodus 7:11-12 where they are called in by Pharaoh to demonstrate that the power displayed by Moses and Aaron when they threw down their staff and it turned into a serpent was no better than the power of the local gods of Egypt.  These magicians were the keepers of the secret books of Egypt that only Pharaohs assigned magicians and wise men could read.  These tomes represented the religious and cultural understanding of the times – thus these magicians represented the idols of Egypt.

"But then Pharaoh called the wise men and sorcerers—the magicians of Egypt, and they also did the same thing by their occult practices. Each one threw down his staff, and it became a serpent. But Aaron’s staff swallowed their staffs." (Ex 7:11-12 HCSB)

Now, you can debate how the Egyptian magicians performed this transformation – or any of the other "miracles" for that matter.  Whether it was sleight of hand or demonic power is almost beside the point.  What is important to note however is:

  • they represented the spiritual elite of Egypt
  • they claimed that their power was supernatural
  • their sorcery was enough to convince Pharaoh

Limitations in power

One of the fascinating aspects of the account of these Magicians is that in each instance where Moses performs a miracle the magicians come along and do the same thing with turning water to blood:

"Moses and Aaron did just as the Lord had commanded; in the sight of Pharaoh and his officials, he raised the staff and struck the water in the Nile, and all the water in the Nile was turned to blood

"But the magicians of Egypt did the same thing by their occult practices. So Pharaoh’s heart hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the Lord had said." (Ex 7:20,22 HCSB).

And bringing frogs up:

"When Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt, the frogs came up and covered the land of Egypt. 7 But the magicians did the same thing by their occult practices and brought frogs up onto the land of Egypt." (Ex 8:6-7 HCSB)

What I think is interesting about this is that all they tried to do – and seemed to do successfully in these cases, was to demonstrate that they could do the same.  This was convincing enough for Pharaoh, however, perhaps a more beneficial thing to do would have been to undo the effects of the plague.  What good is more frogs, when I have more than I can handle already?  However, for whatever reason this either was not attempted or was attempted, failed and not recorded.

In addition, the replication of these miracles was likely not on the same scale as that of the Lord – there wasn’t lots of clean water around after the Nile was turned to blood, so the miracle was likely less impressive. Nonetheless it was still enough to convince Pharaoh and that was all that mattered.

Harmless or serving a greater and more sinister purpose?

This brings up an interesting point.  It is possible to think that occult trickery like this and like that performed by the Egyptian magicians (or wicca, new age, clairvoyants, or other occult practices today) are largely harmless.  The work that the magicians did served a very important and sinister purpose.

Ultimately what the magicians did was to marginalize the work of God that was taking place around them.  They sought to demonstrate that the power that was at work was common – and that it was not restricted just to the Lord but that they also had that power.  Thus they made the work of God look less compelling to the person watching.  This is a dangerous and deceptive tactic designed to turn the heart away from the right response.

Ultimately people who claim to have supernatural power that is not of God (and even some who say their power is of God) oppose the truth.  Jannes and Jambres are widely thought to be the two magicians called by Pharaoh to oppose Moses – Paul talked about these two as an example of deceivers:

"Just as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so these also resist the truth, men who are corrupt in mind, worthless in regard to the faith." (2 Tim 3:8 HCSB).

The ultimate confession

The last point to make from the Egyptian magicians comes from Exodus

Aaron stretched out his hand with his staff, and when he struck the dust of the earth, gnats were on the people and animals. All the dust of the earth became gnats throughout the land of Egypt.  The magicians tried to produce gnats using their occult practices, but they could not. The gnats remained on the people and animals.  “This is the finger of God,” the magicians said to Pharaoh. (Ex 8:17-19 HCSB)

This is only the third plague – the Lord is just warming up, but while the magicians could perform copy cat tricks for the previous two, they are quickly finding themselves out of their depth.  The statement that they make "This is the finger of God" is an astounding one and extremely revealing.

There are a number of critical points loaded into this statement that tell us alot about what these magicians were coming to realize:

  • The power of God is at work
  • The power they used was not of the Lord
  • Their power is insignificant compared to the power that is at work
  • The false gods they got their power from were impotent before the Lord

These magicians knew the depth and the breadth of their power, and while it was probably considerable as far as the average Egyptian believed, it was as nothing before the very real and demonstrated power of the one true God – and the magicians realized the distinction between these two powers.

Furthermore, they recognized the power of God.  Romans 1:19-22 says

…What can be known about God is evident among them, because God has shown it to them. From the creation of the world His invisible attributes, that is His eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen being understood through what He has made… For though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or show gratitude.

The magicians story doesn’t end here.  In Exodus 9:11 we read:

The magicians could not stand before Moses because of the boils, for the boils were on the magicians as well as on all the Egyptians.

As the plagues got worse, the magicians were victims just like the rest of Egypt.  It was publicly made plain to them and to all Egypt that the power of the Lord was distinct to the power of all the false gods of Egypt – the emissaries of these false gods were also humiliated before the people and the people of Egypt were left in no doubt as to the power of the God of Israel compared to the power of their gods.

In this way the Lord demonstrated his superiority over everything raised up in the place of Himself. Furthermore, we have a record of this in scripture to remind us of the creator of the universe.  The reminder is to continually bear in mind the overwhelming power of the Lord and His jealousy for his glory.  It is a righteous glory which he is worthy of, and ultimately we will all bow to it – to the praise of His glory. 

We should be doing this today, not waiting for the end of our lives to come – as it will be too late.

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