7:1- “God tells Moses, “See, I have made you God to Pharaoh” (Ex. 7:1 AT),⁷ which of course does not mean that God thinks Moses has become indifferentiable from God himself. The point is that Moses’s ruling authority in the relevant matters is the ruling authority of God. . . . Both the NIV and the ESV render the Hebrew, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh.” In fact, every major modern English translation opts for “like God,” “as God,” or “seem like God,” all of which renderings are, contextually speaking, semantically accurate and happily orthodox, but entirely lacking in the rhetorical punch of the original.” -DA Carson, Jesus the Son of God Thus begins a handful of instances where Moses is equated with God as he speaks with the authority of a god. So far, Moses is the closest we've come to the human capable of redeeming humanity, uniting God and humans, but even Moses falls short. Imagine how significant the implications of this verse would be to a man who saw himself as a god or at least the son of a god. Moses had to be a god to talk authoritatively to a god.
“The highest level that any human being can achieve in Israelite religion is prophet, one who receives direct communications from God. Beneath this rank is the rank of priest, one who receives communications through the more indirect method of Urim and Thummim. In other ancient Near Eastern cultures, ordinary human beings can achieve the level of the divine in very special cases. The best known example from Egypt is the great sage Imhotep, who was deified by later generations; and the best known example from Mesopotamia is the legendary hero Gilgamesh. Parallel cases from Greece include Herakles and Prometheus. In Israel the elevation of a human being from human status to divine status certainly was heretical. For while the covenant concept in ancient Israel meant that the relationship between man and God was extremely close, the gap between the two could never be bridged. Paradoxically, the other cultures in the ancient Near East viewed their gods as distant. . . and yet the larger gap could be bridged. The standard theology of the Bible, however, is set aside in the case of Moses’s appearance before Pharaoh. The summit conference between the two leaders of the two peoples demands that the two appear as equals. Accordingly, since Pharaoh was understood to be a god by his people, for the purposes of this story, Moses is elevated to divine status. This is the plain meaning of the two passages cited at the outset. When one country sends a foreign minister, the other follows suit; and so on. If this were simply a case of Aaron serving as a spokesperson for his brother Moses encumbered by a speech impediment or with difficulties speaking, as some scholars have suggested, then one would be ready to accept the words “mouth” and “prophet” figuratively, with no further discussion necessary. But the application of the term elohim to Moses in these passages informs us that something much grander is present, namely, promotion to divine status, and thus one needs to understand the epithets attributed to Aaron literally: they notify the reader that he too has been elevated in rank, to the level of prophet..” 1
7:2- Funny thing how Aaron is supposed to be the mouthpiece, but we don’t see much of him speaking on Moses’ behalf. There are a few passages that say he and Moses did something together, but we don’t have a single word recorded from Aaron until the Golden Calf in Ex 32.
7:3- If God already says He will harden Pharaoh’s heart before the first plague (and even before Moses reenters Pharaoh’s court, Ex 4:21 and 3:19), does that mean that God was removing Pharaoh’s free will. If so, wouldn’t that make God responsible for Pharaoh's actions? I encourage you to study this out for yourself without jumping to any overly easy blanket answers (ie God’s ways are different from ours, God can do whatever he wants, or God can’t do anything wrong). There is no easy answer to the balance between sovereignty and free will. That being said, I do believe there is a way we can read these passages and preserve both truths in balance without having God force anyone to do anything they wouldn’t otherwise do. Several verses between Ex 3 and Ex 11 talk about Pharaoh's heart being hard. Some say God hardened it. Others say Pharoah hardened it. The word most often used of God’s action actually means to strengthen or to give extra courage to. It doesn’t mean to harden in the sense we normally read into it. In fact, the word is used nearly 300 times in the Tanakh, and only 13 times is it translated as “hardened,” with 12 of those times being in these chapters about Pharaoh. The remaining instance is almost identical, just about the inhabitants of Canaan in Joshua rather than Pharaoh. In other words, Yahweh was not hardening Pharaoh’s heart in the sense of encouraging him to make the wrong decision. Yahweh knew the difficult decision that lay ahead for Pharaoh, so He strengthened Pharaoh’s heart. He gave him extra courage in the hopes that Pharaoh would use that for good. Instead, Pharaoh chose a way that brought more death. He thought it’d bring more death for Israel, but it actually brought more death for Egypt. It’s also important to notice that this is a narrative about how God dealt with one specific really bad guy a really long time ago. It is not a systematic theology textbook, stating how He works with people in general. The Bible is not suggesting that God would ever harden your heart against Him. God is not going to force you to do something you don’t want to do. Notice that while we frequently refer to the 10 Plagues, the author called them “signs” more than he called them plagues. Only the hail and death of the firstborn were called “plagues.” As I understand it, and I do have to do more study, a sign has the idea of a portent of the future while a wonder has the idea of something miraculous, something supernatural.
7:4- We wouldn’t think of a bunch of slaves as an army, but in the hands of God, anyone can become anything. A single person can become an army. Remember that the next time you feel incapable or unqualified in life. Notice that these signs are not punishments. They’re judgments in the sense that Yahweh looked down and judged that this is the kind of life Pharaoh chose for his people. God doesn’t punish nearly as much as He just lets you receive the consequences of your own actions.
7:5- Five times in Exodus God says His purpose for the 10 Signs is for the Israelites to know that He is God. Another five times, He says His purpose is for the Egyptians to know that He is God. The goal of the exodus wasn’t just freedom. It was also recognition. He created all people and then chose a specific family in Genesis. This is the start of His drawing all people to Himself. He is showing that He actually cares about the poor and oppressed and wants to reunite all people into an Eden-like state.
7:7- “At the moment when Moses and Aaron are ready to appear before Pharaoh, the text stops to inform us of the ages of the two heroes. Moses, we learn, is 80 years old at this point (Exodus 7:7). No doubt there is an attempt here at an internally consistent chronology, since the wandering period lasts 40 years and Moses dies at the age of 120. But the very fact that Moses’s age of 80 years is noted immediately before his appearance before Pharaoh is significant, I believe, in light of the following. One of the classic texts that relates the struggle between Horus and Seth is the Late Egyptian story called ‘The Contendings of Horus and Seth. . .’ dated to the 20th Dynasty. In the course of the story, Thoth writes a letter to Re-Atum in which he states ‘What shall we do about these two people, who for eighty years now have been before the tribunal, and no one knows how to judge between the two?’ As I remarked above, the Moses birth story places Moses in the traditional role of Horus, and it transforms Pharaoh into the traditional role of Seth. As the Exodus narrative progresses from the birth account to the initial appearance of Moses before Pharaoh, 80 years have passed.” 2
7:9- Miracle is that word “wonder” from verse 3. It’s a sign. Remember how Moses’ rod previously turned into a nachash, a serpent like the one from the Garden? Ready for that to get even funkier? This is not the nachash word of the earlier passage. This is the word tannin, a sea monster, the leviathan from Job, the symbol of chaos revered by so many ancient cultures. Why would the sign change from a dragon creature to a sea serpent creature? I propose it is because control over the nachash would have been significant to Israel due to her origin story (the Garden) but meaningless to the Egyptians who didn’t share that creation narrative. But for Yahweh to control a chaos monster, a tannin, and then use it to destroy other tanninim, that would stand out to the Egyptians as significant.
7:11- As we’ve discussed in the introduction to this class, while we believe that Yahweh is the true God, there are other elohim, other powerful spiritual beings that exist for real in the spiritual realm. The Bible presents them as realities that can cross dimensions and share their power with humans. We’ve sterilized all that because it’s uncomfortable, but I don’t want to be guilty of taming our sacred Scriptures. I don’t think God looks pleasantly on those who do. The Bible presents people like these sorcerers as legitimate sorcerers, devotees of a pagan god who through some form of black magic, attained otherworldly power. The text doesn’t explain how because ancient people weren’t as stubborn as we are about explaining away this stuff. They just knew it was real. Pharaoh summons wise men (advisors with a particular set of skills), sorcerers (wizards, people who had some connection to the spiritual realm), and magicians (a specific type of priest who possessed occult knowledge; astrologers). They were not slight of hand artists like we think of. Check out https://www.thetorah.com/article/the-egyptian-magicians for some pictures of what these sorcerer priests may have looked like. Interestingly enough, magicians show up one time in the Bible before this story. And in that story, they’re also alongside Egyptian wise men (Genesis 41:8 when the Pharaoh at the time of Joseph has a vision he doesn’t understand). Want to guess the next time wise men, sorcerers, and magicians all show up together in the Biblical story? It’s Daniel 2:2. Gen 41:8 and Ex 7:11 are connected by their both taking place in Egypt. Gen 41:8 and Dan 2:2 are connected by both being about unsolvable mystery dreams a powerful world leader had. That’s Biblical theology. You might not have connected Joseph’s Pharoah with Moses’ Pharoah with Nebuchadnezzar, but the Bible does, and it’s really cool. Random side note just for fun, Jewish tradition puts an emphasis on just two of the magicians and suggests they are “sons of Balaam and places their rise at the time the Pharaoh gave command to kill the first-born of Israel and supposes them to have been teachers of Moses, the makers of the golden calf.” -Brian Godawa
Some argue that the word enchantments specifically refers to incantations or spells. I think they’re right. Moses and Aaron don’t need any magic phrases. They’re not bending a god to their will. They’re acting on His behalf.
7:12- “When Pharaoh’s magicians replicate this feat, with each of their rods becoming a dragon, then Aaron’s tannin swallows up theirs, leading one scholar to describe Aaron’s staff as a ‘dragongobbling dragon.’ As the only other use of ‘swallow’ (bāla‘) in Exodus describes the Egyptians being swallowed in the depths of the earth beneath the sea (Exodus 15:12), it is quite likely, as some scholars suggest, that the divine demonstration of Aaron’s staff threatened Pharaoh with being swallowed up by chaos, a foreshadowing of the demise of his hosts in the sea. This is precisely the trajectory that ensued with the plagues which, wreaking havoc in nature, were the steady undoing of Egypt’s world, culminating with the Egyptian host submerged in the sea.” - Michael Morales, Exodus
Check out https://www.thetorah.com/article/the-egyptian-magicians for some pictures of what these staffs may have looked like.
“Moreover, priests believed that ḥeka [an Egyptian god/mystical energy force] could protect them from poisonous snakes and other natural dangers, as the Coffin Texts make clear: “The serpent is in my hand and cannot bite me” (spell 885). A visual depiction of this appears on a number of cippi that depict the so-called “Horus of the Crocodiles,” such as the aforementioned Metternich stele, in which the young god Horus stands upon crocodiles while holding a variety of noxious animals by their tails, including serpents, thus sympathetically conferring protection on the stele’s owner from snake bites and other forces of chaos.” 3
7:15- In the next scene (Exodus 7:14-25), Yahweh directs Moses to confront Pharaoh in the morning as he ‘is going forth into the water.’ Aaron is directed to bring his staff ‘which had turned into a serpent [nakhash],’ and they are to confront Pharaoh at the bank of the Nile. We have already observed how Yahweh characterizes Pharaoh in Ezekiel as the “great sea dragon who lies in the midst of his Nile,” claiming ‘my Nile is my own.’ Such a characterization seems to be at work in this scene as Yahweh confronts Pharaoh while he, dragonlike, wades in the river. As in Ezekiel, Pharaoh here is likened to ‘a huge mythical reptile wallowing in the river.’ Through the same rod that on the previous day had turned into a dragon, Yahweh will now turn the waters of the Nile into blood, claiming sovereignty over ‘Pharaoh’s Nile.’ As the first miracle and sign put before Pharaoh, respectively, the staff’s transformation into a dragon and the turning of Pharaoh’s Nile into blood are defining for the epic of Israel’s deliverance out of Egypt.” -Michael Morales, Exodus
It’s also a good deal ironic since Moses was supposed to have died in thatsame river 80 years earlier.
7:17- The 10 Signs are very purposefully structured. There are 3 triads and then the 10th plague, with organization apparent in several forms. The 1st , 4th , and 7th signs begin with Moses out for a walk when he meets Pharaoh. The 2nd , 5th , and 8th begin with Moses’ warning Pharaoh in the palace. And the 3rd , 6th , and 9th happen without any warning. The first three also happen in the morning. Aaron is the main character in the first triad, then he and Moses split the activity in the second, then it’s all Moses in the third.
“Only in the first triad is Aaron with his outstretched staff the executor of the plagues. . . . Cassuto also observes that the plagues are equally arranged in pairs: two involving the Nile, two plagues of insects, two epidemics affecting beasts and humans respectively, two plagues devastating the crops, and the final darkness paired with the death of the firstborn.” -Robert Alter, Translation and Commentary
Isn’t it fascinating how blood can represent life or death, and the difference is entirely on whether it exists in the body or out of the body. Why do you think God chose this first sign? I know God is God and He can do whatever He wants, but He’s dealing with humans. A sign has to make sense for it to be a sign. Why would He do this? Was it just a cool party trick? Was it a cruel joke so they couldn’t get a morning bath? I believe there were three primary reasons. First, He’s doing to Egypt what Egypt did to Israel. The water being blood was a horrifyingly vivid picture of all the blood of the Israelite babies sent to their deaths in the river. God is doing to Pharaoh what Pharaoh did to Israel, but He’s giving Egypt chances to change. Second, the priests needed to bathe to stay ritually pure. These signs will consistently gnaw away at the priests’ abilities to serve their gods. Third, this sign would have had significance within Egyptian mythology.
“The event has three analogues in Egyptian texts. Tale of Ipuwer: The Tale of Ipuwer (ca. 1650-1550 B.C.E.), which laments the chaos that has engulfed Egypt, claims: “The river is blood. If one drinks of it, one rejects it and thirsts for water… Foreign tribes have come to Egypt.” As in the biblical text, the Egyptian story describes a bloody Nile and a defeat at the hand of foreigners. A Demon of Bastet: A ritual text that identifies one of seven demons of the goddess Bastet (here a manifestation of Sekhmet) as “The one who is in the Nile-flood who makes blood” (924-889 BCE). As Thomas Schneider observes: “This could be understood as a demon who creates carnage in the Nile, and thus turns the Nile into blood ( Exod 7:17-20 ).” 4
Tale of the Heavenly Cow: “[The Egyptians] had a story called the Cataclysm of Ra in which Ra’s daughter, the goddess Hathor, was called on to punish humanity for not worshipping Ra like they were supposed to. So, she decided to wipe out all of humanity, but Ra didn’t like that because he still wanted people to rule, so With the help of his faithful followers, Ra arranged for large quantities of beer to be mixed with red dye or pomegranate juice so that it would look like blood. Then they brought seven thousand jars of beer and poured the contents on the fields, flooding the fields where Hathor would return to continue her slaughter. The next day, when Hathor returned to eliminate the rest of the humanity, she saw the large pool of blood. She started drinking from it until she became so drunk that she couldn’t remember why she was sent there, and when she returned to her father, Nun, she slept for many days.”
“As a result of this myth, during the festivals of Hathor and Sekhmet, people would drink beer blended with pomegranate juice in celebration of the salvation of mankind. The festival was also linked to the flooding of the Nile, which every year would turn the color of blood as silt was carried upstream.” 5
Whether or not this was actual blood is debated. Some suggest the water was just turned red. (I have read from some that the ancient Egyptian word for red could also mean blood, but I haven’t been able to verify that.) But that likely wouldn’t explain why the water was undrinkable. Others have suggested the red coloring was some sort of poisonous algae that colored the water. I bring this up here because some people try to explain each of the signs as natural phenomena. While I do believe God can and does use natural phenomena to work, these signs are specifically called miracles. To me, that means God likely stepped in and do some supernatural. There could be some connection like bloody water sending the frogs on land which allowed the insect population to increase which led to the burning rash. But I don’t usually build out those connections too much. For a perspective on how the plagues could have been natural occurrences, read https://www.livescience.com/58638-science-of-the-10-plagues.html.
Pause and consider the complete power and control a being like Yahweh would have. He spoke the very universe into existence. Now consider your own life and the choices you’re presented with every day. You too have a measure of delegated sovereignty that God allows. It’s kind of like being on a cruise ship. The captain gets the ship to its destination, but he doesn’t police or govern every decision of the passengers. Most people tend to lean one way or the other, emphasizing God’s sovereignty or humanity’s free will at the expense of the other. Which one do you find yourself focusing on most? Be honest. Do you frequently mention God’s directionleadingguidance/will in your conversations? Or do you more often think of your decisions as being your own? Do you worry beforehand about whether or not God actually wants you to move forward with something? Or do you usually move ahead in confidence that everything will work out no matter what? This week, try to lean into the opposite way of thinking than comes naturally to you. If you normally see God as the main active agent, think of your decisions as your own this week. If you normally make your own decisions without considering God’s greater plan, pause and consider that perspective before making a choice. Scripture presents both sides as balancing truths. We would do well to remember
1) God does not force us to do anything, and
2) God does use humans to achieve His ultimate glory. If you can’t fully reconcile those two in your head, that’s ok. Rest in the unknown, knowing that both can be true and that God doesn’t demand we accept an easy answer just for the sake of an answer. It’s ok to land on “I’m not 100% sure right now.” Consider how that statement alone makes you feel, and discuss it with the Lord and friends this week.
Addendum from Brian Godawa on the Magicians of Egypt:
“Magic was a form of power in ancient Egypt. Magicians were called “lector-priests” in Egyptian because they considered it part of their religious worldview. Magic was notmere tricks or sleight of hand to them. It was real, and magicians carried weight in Pharaoh’s court. In Exodus 7, Moses confronts Pharaoh with his miracles and Pharaoh calls his magicians to replicate what he thought was magic. They sought to do the same with each of the plagues—water turned to blood, the frogs—until they were unable to counter the miracles with their “secret arts.” Then they warned Pharaoh that these were “the finger of God” (Exodus 8:19). The Old Testament never names the magicians anywhere. But the New Testament does. When Paul wrote to Timothy about evil men opposing the gospel, he likened them to the magicians of Pharaoh’s court.
- 2 Timothy 3:8–9
Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men. The obvious question is where Paul obtained the names of the magicians if they weren’t in the Old Testament. As I have written elsewhere, the Bible often draws from other non-canonical sources for much of its historical and even theological material. In this particular case, there are some traditions in pseudepigraphal and apocryphal texts that reference the names of Jannes and Jambres. All the extant manuscripts we have are post-biblical but may point back to a more ancient origin. The earliest occurrence of them comes from the Damascus Document of the Dead Sea Scrolls, which is dated about 100 B.C. Apparently referring to the Exodus, it states:
" …in ancient times, Moses and Aaron arose by the hand of the Prince of Lights and Satan [Belial] in his cunning raised up Jannes [Joḥana] and his brother when Israel was first delivered."
There are scattered references to Jannes and Jambres in post-Christian rabbinic literature such as the Targums and Talmud and even a reference to them as adepts of magic with Moses by the 1st century A.D. pagan writer Pliny the Elder. One tradition of Jannes and Jambres is recorded in the Jewish Talmudic commentaries Targum Pseudo-Jonathan from some time around the 8th century A.D. In this storyline, the two brother magicians are with Pharaoh in the days of Moses’s birth. In fact, they are the ones who warn the king from a dream that there was to be a child born “by whose hand will be destruction to all the land of Egypt.” This revelation leads to Pharaoh’s slaughter of the Hebrew male infants. Jannes and Jambres turn out to be the sons of Balaam, the Moabite sorcerer who tried to curse Israel. According to this story, they went with Balaam when his donkey saved him from the Angel of Yahweh’s wrath. According to the Anchor Bible Dictionary, other tales of Jannes and Jambres find their way into the Jewish Common Era texts. They include the brothers at the confrontation of Pharaoh with Moses. “Outdone by Moses, they came to him to become proselytes and, against God’s explicit directive, were accepted. Thus a “mixed multitude” (Exodus 12:38) with Jannes and Jambres at the head accompanied Israel out of Egypt. It was they who were the real culprits in Israel’s idolatrous debacle at Sinai and consequently were killed by the Levites. Alternatively in Jewish tradition, Jannes and Jambres, flying above the Red Sea on self-made wings, were destroyed by an angel dispatched by God.” Ancient Christian writers also have their legends of Jannes and Jambres, some of which include: “Pharaoh’s daughter reputedly entrusted Moses to Jannes and Jambres for instruction in wisdom. They were regarded as gods by the Egyptians, and Satan counted them his brothers. Moreover, Abezethibou, the demon from the Red Sea, claimed to have come to their aid; it was they who were responsible for leading Pharaoh astray until the king and his host met their death in the sea. Moses, in the course of their altercations with him, afflicted their adherents with sores and sent the mother of one of them to their death.” The Jewish Encyclopedia claims that according to rabbinical tradition, Jannes and Jambres,
“were the two chiefs of the magicians at the court of Pharaoh who foretold the birth of Moses, “the destroyer of the land of Egypt,” thereby causing the cruel edicts of Pharaoh. . . .”
All these are late legends pointing back to earlier sources for the names of the magicians. But there is one pseudepigraphal book by their names discovered in fragments from as early as the 3rd century A.D. With possible connections back to Artapanus (100 B.C.), Jannes and Jambres is most likely a Jewish pre-Christian text that tells a story of the magician brothers and intersects with the story of Moses. It is very fragmentary and therefore difficult to understand at some points, but Charlesworth’s The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha and the New Testament provides the composition as coherently as possible. Evidently, the 3rd century church father Origen believed this was the book from which Paul got the names of Jannes and Jambres he mentions to Timothy. It tells the story of Pharaoh summoning his wise men and magicians to observe some kind of plant whose branches seemed to sprout in a mere seven days. Jannes is ordered to sit beneath an apple tree. An earthquake and thunder occurs, breaking off some of the branches, so Jannes runs to his library for his magical books and tools. Then two heavenly messengers in white visit him and tell him that “the Lord of the earth and the Overseer of the universe” have told them to come and take Jannes away to Hades. But for some unknown reason, they grant him a respite from his fate for 14 days. Jannes’s mother falls ill, and Jannes takes his brother Jambres to Memphis to give him a book of magic, admonishing him to keep it secret. He also warns Jambres not to “go forth” with Pharaoh when he marches out against the Hebrews. In the next scene, Jannes is at a wedding for seven days. While there, emissaries come from the palace, telling him to “oppose Moses the Hebrew and his brother Aaron, who are performing signs and wonders to the amazement of all.” He is struck with a fatal ulcer on the spot and retires, from where he sends a message of apparent regret to Pharaoh that he opposed Moses. He calls it “the finger of God” that he is unable to counter. Jambres and possibly his mother visit Jannes, but a falling star seems to foretell his death. Jannes dies, and Jambres gives some kind of moving lament about how death changes our bodies to lifelessness. Soon after, the mother of the two brothers dies, and Jambres buries her next to her son. Jambres then uses his magical books near the apple tree from the beginning of the story in order to perform necromancy and call up his brother’s “shade” from Hades. Jannes exclaims that he is suffering justly in “the netherworld where there is burning and the pit of perdition” for having opposed Moses and Aaron. He exhorts his brother Jambres to do good because in death his abode is a 3 by 6 foot grave and in Hades there is suffering and “no forgiveness” for their idolatry. How Jambres responds and what happens to him, we do not know from the missing fragments. But it seems to convey the common imagery of Hades that Second Temple Literature was developing.” - Brian Godawa