Posts Tagged ‘Pharaoh’

Were Pharaoh’s magicians able to perform real magic?

February 17, 2010

The Plague of Blood: Did the magicians really do these things too?

Reference: Exodus 7:11, 22; 8:7

Question:

In Exodus 7:10+ how can that act of going ‘One On One’ with Moses’ miracles such as the staff turning into a serpent or the staff turning the water to blood, etc… be explained? This wasn’t just 3 Card Monte or slight of the hand tricks. These were huge events that took place.  Yet Pharaoh’s magicians were able to perform them as well.

2 Possible Answers:

Logically there are only two options concerning the magic.  Either these guys were the ancient Egyptian equivalent of David Blane or they had X-men powers.  Either way though, the message communicated stays the same.

Option 1. The magic was a trick:  It is perfectly reasonable to conclude that these men were simply performing amazing tricks.  They may have been students of nature who knew how to manipulate animal behavior for the sake of control or appearance.  Or perhaps they may have been very good at selling people on their tricks.  In the passages listed above it says that Moses performed the action first.  In the plague of blood, the entire Nile River turned to blood by the hand of God first.  So how could the magicians have turned the Nile to blood if it was already turned to blood.  It doesn’t say that they did, it only says that following the actions of Moses and Aaron the magicians turned some nondescript water into blood.  This certainly could have been a trick.  But turning the Nile into blood is nothing short of a horrific sign of God.  Likewise, Aaron and Moses first caused frogs to come up and cover the land.  How then could the magicians prove that they did anything if the land was already covered with frogs.   This again could have been a trick, or a manipulation of Pharaoh, who is the key antagonist in this contest.

Option 2. The magic was real: The only other option is that the Magic was indeed real.  We know from scripture that the world we live in is one in which there is a real spiritual battle going on all around us.  God is the great God of power, but his kingdom on earth was usurped by Satan back in Genesis 3.  That means there are spiritual forces, with unexplainable spiritual powers in this world.  Paul dealt with this in Acts, Jesus confronted it often in the Gospels.  Thus, it is also perfectly logical and within Biblical precedent to arrive at the conclusion that Pharaoh’s magicians, by some type of ancient divination had tapped into a source of power other than God (a practice explicitly forbidden by God Deuteronomy 18:10; Leviticus 19:26).  All this to say, some other spiritual power could have been allowing them to perform real magic.

One Possible Interpretation

Whichever option one ascribes to above, they must still arrive at the same conclusion, and the main point of these passages.  Namely, Pharaoh’s heart hardens and God wins the contest.  Whether this was real magic or well-disguised tricks, Pharaoh’s heart became hard because of them.  Or, as I conclude in a previous blog post, Pharaoh’s heart was already hard.  Thus, even if they were only tricks they still wouldn’t have had to be very impressive to make Pharaoh deny God’s request to “Let my people go!”  But the most important conclusion is that God wins.  Every time that the magicians of Pharaoh try to challenge the mighty hand of God they fall short until they themselves agree that this is “The finger of God” (Exodus 8:19).  But still Pharaoh would not believe until the most horrific plague of all, the death of the first-borns, in which Pharaoh lost his own son.  Awful as this was, it served as a potent sign of God’s power, and his mercy, for it was in this final plague that God would “passover” the Israelites and spare them from his wrath.  The Israelites shed the blood of lambs and marked their homes so that God would, pass them by.  This is one of the most powerful moments of mercy and of foreshadowing toward Jesus, who would be the Passover Lamb for all of us.  Again, we see a reminder of one of the most important truths of this passage and all of scripture, God wins!

Why did God harden Pharaoh’s heart?

February 3, 2010

Reference: Exodus (Various Verses)

Moses (the guy with the white beard) and his brother Aaron (the guy talking to Pharaoh) after the final plague (death of the firstborns). Note that even then Pharaoh is depicted as having a proud look and a hard heart.

In Exodus 4-14 there are 20 occurrences in which Pharaoh’s heart is hardened.  That wouldn’t seem like such a big deal except for the fact that in half of those occurrences it says that the LORD is the one who hardens Pharaoh’s heart.  Why would God do that?  Doesn’t that seem like the God is manipulating Pharaoh’s will?  Doesn’t it seem like he is forcing Pharaoh to do evil, when perhaps he otherwise would have done good?  And in the end does God hold Pharaoh responsible for the actions that God himself forced him to do?

First of all, we need to remember who the bad guy is here.  This Pharaoh and his forefathers had subjected the Israelites to cruel slavery for generations.  The Egyptians had become one of the richest and most powerful empires of the ancient world.  The economic benefit of free labor is not something that Pharaoh would have given up easily (just look at our own country’s history, the emancipation of the Slaves led to the bloodiest war in American History and it was all about economics).  So it is safe to say that Pharaoh’s heart is already about as hard as it can get.  Furthermore, half of the instances of Pharaoh’s heart being hardened occurred with no mention of God doing the hardening.  In other words, this is a guy who had it out for Israel and was determined to defy God at every turn.

Concerning the trouble with the fact that God prophesies that he would harden Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 4:21, 7:3, 14:4,17) we should keep in mind the nature of God’s prophesies, namely, that they are usually conditional.  In other words, God is saying, “I will harden Pharaoh’s heart IF he does not do what I say” in which case the issue of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart is already a mutt point, because if Pharaoh doesn’t do what Moses asks him to do (i.e. “Let my people go”) then his heart is hardened, not by God’s doing but by Pharaoh’s own greed, pride, and selfishness (see 1 Samuel 6:6).

In 2 Chronicles 36 there is another similar situation where it seems like God is pulling the strings of a leader who holds the fate of Israel in his hands.  Only in this instance the heart is not hardened, the heart is “stirred”.  It says  in 2 Chronicles 36:22-23 that God “Stirred the heart of Cyrus” to let the people return to Israel after their 70-year exile.  This is a situation that we don’t usually call into question because it is much easier to swallow the idea that God would move a leader’s heart to do something good rather than the contrary.  So does that mean that in Pharaoh’s situation God pulled the evil string and in Cyrus’s situation God pulled the good string?   Not at all.  One of the tough things that we need to grapple with is that God is fully sovereign (in control) AND his people have complete free will.  If that seems like an impossible combination, then welcome to the bigness and complexity of our God.  Unfortunately there is no blog-ready answer for that conundrum.

Lastly, some people say that God made Pharaoh’s heart hard so that he would have more opportunity to show how great he is.  Exodus 9:16 makes it clear that God’s glory was definitely put on display because of the actions of Pharaoh.  But while it is true that God’s greatness had an opportunity to be put on display every time Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, that does not mean that God was pulling the strings to make the situation go that way.  Certainly God was glorified by his great rescue of his enslaved people from Egypt, but he would have been glorified as well if Pharaoh had let the people go right away, just as was the situation when the Exiled people of Israel returned to Jerusalem from Babylon several generations later.  This was a very similar situation, but God was still glorified in that situation just as he was glorified during the exodus from Egypt.  Pharaoh was making his own decisions, and even then God was glorified.

All this to say, Pharaoh had a free will and with that free will he made his heart very hard.  The only thing that God did to ‘harden’ Pharaoh’s heart was to say through Moses “Let my people go!”  An unwelcome command that made Pharaoh very grumpy.  Often times our hearts become hard when God asks us to do things that we don’t want to do, but that doesn’t mean that God is the one making our hearts heard.  That’s a bad decision that we make all by ourselves.