Monday, April 2, 2012

Snakes. Why did it have to be snakes? Exodus 7

Back at the burning bush, I skipped over one of the signs that God showed Moses to prepare him for the confrontation with Pharaoh. Moses was told to throw down his staff, and the staff became a snake. I do love the last line of Exodus 4:3 about the snake: "Moses fled from it." You got that right—my two feet will hopefully carry me beyond the reach of those slithering menaces.

Now, in our exploration of the narrative, we've reached Exodus 7 (link). Moses has confronted Pharaoh once, and that ended with increased labor for Israel and no letting of the people to go. God has promised several times that His hand will be stretched out and heavy on the Egyptians and eventually Egypt will drive out the Israelites.

Pharaoh and Moses meet again, and this time it's time to show at least the first of the cards to be played in this round. Aaron throws down his staff, and it becomes a serpent. Now, most of us think we'd be convinced by this and we'd call it a day. Not so with Pharaoh. He calls for his own wise men, and by their "secret arts" they copy the same trick.

The same one! They turn their staves into serpents. Doug has, at this point, left the building with instructions to call me when it gets better. Tradition puts two sorcerers at the side of Pharaoh, but the text does not demand that. It only demands more than one. And they all brought sticks, and they all ended up with snakes. That's at least 3 snakes too many.

When all is said and done, though, Aaron's staff-snake eats all of the other staff-snakes. I can imagine one Egyptian magician grumbling about having to limp out without his cane, but that's another discussion. The point here, as discussed for centuries, is that the power of Yahweh, God of Israel, exceeds all the magic of Egypt.

So this morning, you've woken up to discover that you did not profit a few million from the lottery last weekend, despite your earnest prayers and commitment to give much of it away. You're headed back to work, or possibly back to the job hunt, and wondering: just why is it that God does not seem to be coming through for you when people who you know don't like Him are doing great?

Why is it that their methods and magic are working and yours isn't? Is it that God is not powerful enough in these days?

I would point you back, at a safe distance, to the snakes. I do not know how the Egyptians were able to copy the results that God's man did by God's power. I only know this: they did. In no uncertain terms, the text admits the Egyptians had snakes.

The world can and does produce success that looks equal to the results of following God. For that matter, the world's production often looks better: Pharaoh still has his slaves, after all.

Yet when it's all said and done, the success snake gets eaten. The things of this world are swallowed up in the scheme of eternity, and even the wealth of this world becomes the gravel to be tread upon in the next.

Religion has often been called a crutch, but I would pose you this question: if all men limp, is not a crutch necessary? At the end of the encounter, Aaron has his crutch. The Egyptians? They limp away. What have you got?

Today's nerd note: we tend to class the opposition to Moses as "magicians" and "sorcerers" but keep in mind that the separation between "Physics" and "Metaphysics" is only a page until the Enlightenment Age of recent past. These were magicians and scientists both, much like a Medieval Alchemist (or a Persian Magi). So, count them as both mystical and logical. There's not nearly the separation there we claim today.

Really, though, science still makes philosophical and religious claims and religion and philosophy make scientific claims. And to do either one, you really cannot ignore the other.

Today's additional nerd note: 2 Timothy 3:8 uses the traditional names of Jannes and Jambres as the opposition to Moses. These names are possibly accurate, given that we hold Paul's writing to be inspired and accurate. However, these could have been the two leaders among a crowd or other opponents of Moses. Tradition gives us that these were the magician-scientists of Exodus 7.


  1. Doug, are you writing a book? This is a great series!


    PS And I am WITH YOU about the snakes. (*shudder*)

  2. Thanks for the compliment on the series. Ann thinks I should try and turn it into a book, but who would buy it since it's already free on the internet?

    It's about the only way I could ever write a book: 600 words a day. Slowly but surely!



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