Exodus 7:1-13 ~ 20101017 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
10/17 Exodus 7:1-13 an evil and adulterous generation asks for a sign
Introduction/Review: God declares what he will do
Moses is God's ambassador to Pharaoh. Moses complains that since even God's chosen people have rejected God's message to them, how will Pharaoh, arch-enemy of God and his people, possibly respond favorably? God declares to Moses 'look, I have made you God to Pharaoh'. Being God to Pharaoh meant simply being a faithful messenger, obedient to God's command and faithfully saying and doing what God told him to do and say. In this case, God clearly laid out exactly what he wanted Moses and Aaron to say and do, and he even told them what the result would be.
But most importantly, God declared what he would do. Moses, as God's chosen messenger, felt the burden of the responsibility weighing on his shoulders. These are sweet words of comfort from the Almighty. Moses, the Exodus is my doing. Egypt is the stage on which I will display my glory in a way that all may see. God says 'you speak all that I command you, and this is what I will do:'
These are the things God declares that he himself will do:
+I will harden Pharaoh's heart
+I will multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt
+I will lay my hand on Egypt
+I will bring my armies, my people out by great acts of judgment
+I will cause the Egyptians to know that I am YHWH
God will escalate the engagement in Egypt to demonstrate to all involved that he alone is God. And he tells Moses and Aaron exactly what to expect. You will speak to the Pharaoh. I will harden his heart. I will multiply my signs and wonders. The Pharaoh will not listen to you. But I will be successful in bringing my people out by great acts of judgment. All this will result in the Egyptians acknowledging that I am YHWH.
The request for a sign: wicked and adulterous
God is preparing his servants for what they will encounter. God knows how every detail of this story will unfold. Throughout this story, we see God fully in control, initiating the action, and the Pharaoh responding. Even in the prayers of the people, as they cried out for deliverance from their cruel oppression, God responded by bringing out of exile his servant, whom he had been preparing for the last forty years - teaching him humility and preparing him to shepherd his people in the desert. His servant, whom eighty years earlier he had protected from the death sentence of the Pharaoh by the hand of some disobedient midwives who feared God more than the Pharaoh, and by the hand of a creatively obedient mother, who cast her son into the Nile in a little ark, and then by the hand of the Pharaoh's own daughter, who raised Moses as her own son.
So God prepares Moses and Aaron for what awaits them in the courts of the king of Egypt. The Pharaoh will not take God by surprise. God is the one who knows exactly how events will unfold. Pharaoh will be seen to be the one scrambling to respond to God's action.
God gives his servants instructions for how to respond to the future demands of the Pharaoh. He will require you to prove yourselves. What authority do you have to march into my presence and demand the release of my slaves? This is a request for a show of power to authenticate the claims they were making. They claim to represent YHWH, the God of Israel. If their claim is true, they should be able to perform some miraculous act to authenticate their claim. This is the same kind of request that the Scribes, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees made of Jesus. He was making claims that he was God in the flesh. In Matthew 12:38-39 (also Luke 11:16,29), Jesus was answering the controversy with the religious leaders over where his power came from. He had cast demons out of a blind and mute man and healed him. The Pharisees were accusing him of working miracles by the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons. Jesus confronted their hypocrisy and called them a brood of vipers. On another occasion, shortly after the feeding of the multitudes, the religious leaders again demanded a sign (Matt.16:1-4; Mark 8:11-12). Jesus said it was 'an evil and adulterous generation' that 'seeks for a sign'. Not that it is wrong to examine the evidence, but both of these statements came on the heels of irrefutable evidence that Jesus is who he claimed to be. In the one case, the religious leaders refused to believe that Jesus could be who he claimed to be, so they sought a different explanation as the source of his supernatural powers. What Jesus had done was undeniably supernatural, and the only two possible explanations were God or the Devil. Since they had rejected the possibility that he was indeed God in the flesh, they concluded that he must be empowered by Satan. In the other instance, their demand came on the heels of the feeding of the multitudes in the desert. The text there tells us that they asked for a sign to test him - this is the same word that is used to describe the temptation of Christ by the devil in the wilderness. They were not seekers looking for what was true. Their minds were already made up and they were attempting by any means possible to trip him up and distract him from his real mission.
The Sign of the Serpent
But for Moses and Aaron, God preempted the request of the king of Egypt for a sign by instructing Moses and Aaron to perform the sign of the staff turned into a serpent. This was not a random choice of animals. God could have turned Aaron's staff into a kangaroo or a platypus. The serpent was the power symbol of ancient Egypt, as can be seen on the headdress of the Pharaoh. The exiled shepherd with his staff, the representative of the oppressed slave people, comes into the presence of the most powerful monarch of the world and when asked for his credentials, his staff turns into the prime power symbol of Egypt, a serpent. This is the third time this particular miracle is performed. First, in the burning bush encounter (4:3), God commanded Moses to throw down his staff and he ran from it. Then Moses and Aaron performed this for the elders of Israel and they believed and worshiped. Now, in the courts of Pharaoh, Aaron is told to throw down his staff and it becomes a serpent. But the word here translated 'serpent' is different than the word translated 'serpent' in chapter 4. The word in chapter 4 is the word commonly used for a snake. This word we have here is often translated 'dragon' or 'great sea creature' (Gen.1:21). This word is used to describe leviathan in Isaiah 27:1. It is possible that the author is using different words just to vary the style and avoid repetition, but it appears that this may be an entirely different creature. Remember how afraid Moses was when he threw down his staff and it became a snake? He was probably just getting over these fears. Imagine this time in the presence of Pharaoh he throws down his staff expecting a snake and instead it turns in to a great sea creature or dragon. Some scholars conjecture that this could be a monstrous snake or even a crocodile. Whatever it was, it was surely an impressive demonstration of supernatural power, and an affront to the power of Pharaoh.
The working of the wise men and the superiority of God; lying signs that lead astray I
This is amazing! Pharaoh has requested a supernatural sign of the credentials of Moses and Aaron, and they have produced in magnificent style. We have a monstrous reptile writhing about in the courts of Pharaoh and he calls for his magicians. They all by their secret arts turn their staffs into monstrous creatures. Now we have the whole room writhing with giant sea-serpents. Don't miss the humor of this situation! I would think that this would have unnerved the Pharaoh. I wonder what the room looked like after this show! I could imagine the Pharaoh, seeing all this take place and his room filled with great creatures, tries to regain his composure and say to his magicians 'Uh, thanks, that's great. Now can you please make them all go away?' But about that time, Aaron's staff swallowed up their staffs.
What are we to think of this? Is this some kind of parlor trick, where the magicians use slight of hand and illusions to deceive? Did they compress a nerve in the neck of the snake, making it become rigid, and then release it and it became active again? There is no indication in the text that what they did was any less real or supernatural than what Moses and Aaron did. God prepared Moses and Aaron for Pharaoh's demand for a sign, but were they prepared to see the sorcerers of Egypt duplicate their miraculous sign? In Deuteronomy 13:1-2, God warns his people of false prophets that will bring lying signs or wonders (same word) and lead the people to follow other Gods.
The warning is that even if the sign happens we are to evaluate on other criteria. We are not to blindly follow someone just because a supernatural sign took place. We are called to evaluate the message in light of scripture; specifically in light of the character and nature of God. Jesus warned:
The apostle John says:
We are not to insist on or put our trust in any supernatural event or experience. God is God and he can do whatever he pleases. But there are also the spiritual forces of evil at work in the heavenly places. We are not to be dependent on the supernatural authentication, but on the very words of God himself.
The blindness of Pharaoh
The magicians of Pharaoh had a tangible reminder of the power of God - they left empty-handed. They didn't get their staffs back. Aaron left with staff in hand. It is interesting that it doesn't say 'Aaron's dragon swallowed up their dragons.' Instead it says that Aaron's staff swallowed up their staffs. The simple shepherd's staff swallowed up the magicians' staffs. This word 'swallow' is only used two places in Exodus; here and in 15:12
...celebrating how the armies of Egypt were swallowed by the sea. This sign to Pharaoh is a foretaste of what is to come. Although the power of the Pharaoh and his sorcerers is real, it is no match for the power of YHWH. The power of God's enemies will be swallowed up by a much greater power.
What I think is the most startling thing in this story is not the great serpents fighting in the courts of Pharaoh, but the response of Pharaoh himself.
What is staggering in this narrative is the foolishness of Pharaoh. How could he not get the message? All his magicians were stripped of their magician's staffs by the staff of the simple shepherd from the wilderness. But rather than recognize the implications of the event, he selectively chooses the one thing that helps his case and ignores the rest. His magicians were able to duplicate the sign, so he need not heed the warning. This reminds me of the foolishness described in Romans 1:
How foolish! And yet how often do we ignore the clear commands of God and only see what we want to see?