Throw Your Staff Before Pharaoh
and It Will Become a Snake

6:28 to 7:13

    DIG: How is Moses like God to Pharaoh? How did Moses overcome his speaking handicap? How and why will God harden Pharaoh’s heart? Why would Pharaoh want a miracle performed? What surprises you about the sorcerers’ power? Where does it come from? What is the meaning of Aaron’s snake swallowing theirs?

    REFLECT: We have often heard the argument for boldness in evangelism: You may be the only Bible those whom you come in contact with will ever see. Taking a cue from this passage, we should take this a step further: You may be the only “God” they see. Or, perhaps more accurately, you may be the first “God” they see. As a people recreated in ADONAI's image, we should be a means by which the good news of the LORD's salvation spreads. Do you preach the Gospel at all times, even without using words?

    Scripture now resumes the narrative interrupted where 6:13 left off before the genealogy from 6:14 to 27. Now when God spoke to Moses in Egypt, He said to him, "I AM ADONAI. Tell Pharaoh, king of Egypt, everything I tell you." Moses repeated the complaint he had made in 6:12. But Moses said to ADONAI, “Since I speak with a lack of eloquence and faltering lips, why would Pharaoh listen to me” (6:28-30)? The same question remained unanswered. How will God respond?

    God continued to insist that Moses take action. The beginning of YHVH's response to him is emphatic. The word see is an imperative. ADONAI was urging Moses to carefully consider the words that would follow. He would continue using a powerful metaphor, saying: See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron will be your prophet (7:1). Moses would operate with divine authority and, like the true God, would make His word known through the prophet. Therefore, Aaron became a prophet in the sense that Moses became a God to Pharaoh. As a prophet would be the spokesman for God, Aaron was the spokesman for Moses. At the very least, this declaration put Moses on an equal footing with Pharaoh, who was himself considered a god in ancient Egypt.101

    God empowered Moses when He said: You are to say everything I command you, and your brother Aaron is to tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go out of his country. So the procedure is that God would speak to Moses, and Moses would speak to Aaron, and Aaron would speak to Pharaoh. The message was always the same: Let the Israelites go. But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart (see 4:21), and though I multiply my miraculous signs and wonders in Egypt, he will not listen to you (7:2-4a). Moses was not to have any unreal expectations. Pharaoh’s rejection would be part of God’s plan.

    Pharaoh’s hardness of heart would result in the ten plagues of judgment upon Egypt. Then I will lay My hand on Egypt and with mighty acts of judgment I will bring out My people, the Israelites. Earlier, Amenhotep II responded to Moses’ request that the Israelites be released by saying: I do not know ADONAI (5:2). The LORD now announces that one of His purposes for the coming plagues is that the Egyptians will know that I am ADONAI when I stretch out My hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it (7:4b-5). The plagues would serve as a rude awakening to Pharaoh. Although the primary purpose for bringing the ten plagues upon Egypt was for judgment, a secondary reason was for evangelism. Some Egyptians feared what ADONAI had said and acted upon it. And perhaps, some Egyptians even participated in the exodus with the nation of Isra'el.

    Moses and Aaron obeyed God and did just as He commanded them (7:6). A literal reading of this verse contains a repetition: And Moses and Aaron did as God commanded them, thus they did. Repetition is common in Hebrew for the purpose of emphasis. Moses and Aaron were completely faithful in proclaiming the LORD's message. In the last few chapters Moses had doubted God’s word and had been reluctant to carry out His calling. But that was a thing of the past. From this point on, to the crossing of the Sea of Reeds, Moses was a man with a full heart toward ADONAI, with no hesitation.

    Moses was eighty years old and Aaron was eighty-three when they spoke to Pharaoh (7:7). In the Hebrew culture, the first-born son had many privileges. Nevertheless, God had continually shown that He was not bound by cultural mores. Here Aaron is mentioned as being second to Moses. This was not the first time YHVH had chosen the younger over the older brother. He had chosen Abram over Hebron, Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau and Joseph over Reuben. The ages are also important. Ages of prominent figures in the TaNaKh are given when a major event was about to occur (Genesis 16:16, 17:24-25). The ten plagues were about to start. Humanly speaking, their ages put them at a great disadvantage, but with the LORD on their side, not even Pharaoh could succeed (Romans 8:31).

    Knowing that Pharaoh would question Moses’ and Aaron’s authority, God instructed them how to respond. Then ADONAI said to Moses and Aaron, “When Pharaoh says to you, ‘Perform a miracle,’ then say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and throw it down before Pharaoh,’ and it will become a snake” (7:8-9). This snake confrontation foreshadows the LORD’s humiliation of Egypt from this point through the crossing of the Sea of Reeds. The word that connects the two events is the word swallowed, which appears in 7:12 where Aaron’s staff swallowed up the staffs of the Egyptian magicians, and in 15:12 where the Egyptian army was swallowed up in the Sea of Reeds. In addition, the staff that swallowed up the magicians’ snakes points to the staff that would cause the waters to overwhelm the Egyptian army (14:16 and 26).

    So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did just as ADONAI commanded (7:10a). Although Scripture does not always mention Aaron’s name in connection with the visits to Pharaoh, he always accompanied Moses. They meet Pharaoh for the second time. The basic pattern established here would be repeated in one form or another in connection with each of the ten plagues. Moses and/or Aaron would perform a miracle to demonstrate that God was superior to Pharaoh and his gods. Pharaoh’s magicians would try to duplicate the miracle by their secret arts. Eventually the plague caused by the miracle would subside, bringing relief to the Egyptians. Then Pharaoh would harden his heart further and continue to refuse to free the Israelites and Moses or Aaron would perform another miracle, which would bring on the next plague.102

    Aaron began the sequence when he threw his staff down in front of Pharaoh and his officials and it became a snake (7:10b), just as Moses had done earlier (4:3). In doing this, the Israelite leaders attacked Pharaoh and his people at the very heart of their beliefs.

    In the first place, an image of an enraged cobra was placed on the front of the king’s crown. The Egyptians believed that it was charged with divine sovereignty and potency. As such, it was considered the symbol of Pharaoh’s power. It symbolized his divinity and majesty. When Aaron threw his staff-like snake down in front of Pharaoh, he was challenging Pharaoh’s sovereignty. Pharaoh clearly understood that Moses and Aaron were taunting him.

    In the second place, casting down the staff challenged the power of Egyptian magic as described in many of Egypt’s mythological books. There were many examples of Egyptian priests supposedly performing feats of the occult, including changing inanimate objects into animals. One text tells of a priest who made a wax crocodile that came to life when he threw it into a lake. Later he bent down, picked it up, and it became wax again.103

    Pharaoh responded to the challenge when he summoned his own wise men and illusionists or sorcerers, two of whom were named Jannes and Jambres (Second Timothy 3:8). At that time, the Egyptian magicians imitated the miracle of Aaron’s staff with their secret arts. Only ADONAI can create life. Each one threw down his staff and it appeared to become a snake. These Egyptian magicians were mentioned centuries earlier in the days of Joseph (Genesis 41:8 and 24), and the Babylonian magicians were to be found centuries later in the days of Dani'el (Dani'el 2:10 and 27, 4:7, 5:11). We learn from this that Satan can imitate miracles. This is why we need to be very careful about believing that all miracles are from the LORD. During the Great Tribulation, Satan will be able to imitate numerous miracles. He will be able to deceive the entire world to worship the Antichrist and display all kinds of counterfeit miracles signs and wonders (Second Thessalonians 2:9-12 and Revelation 13:3, 11-15). The test case is never miracles alone; the test case is always conformity to the word of God and who gets the glory (Deuteronomy 18). God’s power is always superior to Satan’s power, and Aaron’s staff, or snake, swallowed up their staffs, or imitation snakes (7:11-12).

    Yet unimpressed, Pharaoh’s heart became hard and he would not listen to them, just as the Lord had said (7:13). He was not at all moved by the performance of Aaron, arguing that Aaron, like his magicians, achieved the miracle by illusion. The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart has been debated for centuries. In the book of Exodus, God appears to harden his heart nine times (4:21, 7:3, 9:12, 10:1, 20 and 27, 11:10, 14:4 and 8), while Pharaoh appears to harden his own heart an equal number of times (7:13, 14 and 22, 8:15, 19 and 32, 9:7, 34 and 35). The problem seems to be that YHVH initiates the process (4:21 and 7:3) before Pharaoh starts to harden his own heart. As a result, some have said that Pharaoh was a puppet with no will of his own, that God had forced him to harden his heart against his will. Therefore, when Pharaoh hardened his heart, he had set the stage for the ten plagues to fall upon Egypt. However, although ADONAI is sovereign, He will not violate a person’s free will. We can say no to God and make it stick! Exodus tells us that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, but it also tells us that Pharaoh deliberately hardened his own heart over and over again. Let’s take a look at these eighteen references more closely.

    The first two references (4:21 and 7:3) state that ADONAI will harden Pharaoh’s heart at some future time. The Hebrew verb used there is hazaq, and it means to be strong. In those earlier passages the verb was in the imperfect tense, indicating uncompleted action; the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart had not yet occurred.

    But the next ten references indicate that Pharaoh hardened his own heart, with the only exception being 9:12. The final six references tell us that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, with the only exception being 14:4. In those passages the verb is an imperfect introduced by a waw conversive that makes it act like a perfect. The perfect tense signifies a completed action. It was not that Pharaoh’s heart was in the process of being hardened, because it was already hardened at that point in time.104

    The picture that emerges, then, is that ADONAI, on the basis of His foreknowledge, predicted (4:21 and 7:3) and announced that He would harden Pharaoh’s heart, but only after Pharaoh had hardened his own heart. God then confirmed that hardening process in the last six references, beginning with His own involvement in 9:12, after Pharaoh’s willful hardening had passed the point of no return. Although mankind’s sin is God’s sorrow, the time comes when He gives hopelessly wicked people over to the sin they have chosen, and they are without excuse and judged accordingly (Romans 1:18-2:3).105

    Pharaoh is a typical example of an unbeliever. He asks for proof, a miracle that will attest to the truth and power of God. Then ADONAI responds. However, even with the physical evidence before him, Pharaoh does not believe. He simply will not be persuaded, no matter how much evidence is placed before his eyes because there is never enough evidence for unbelief. This is true of unbelievers throughout the ages. Even many of those who saw Jesus, heard Him preach and witnessed His miracles did not believe in Him, for though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand (Matthew 13:13). The same is true today. People cannot be talked into heaven. People need to have their hearts changed by the will and power of the Creator. There is no other way.106


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