The Magicians Know the Lord
Exodus 5:2 And Pharaoh said, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey His voice to let Israel go? I do not know the LORD, nor will I let Israel go.”
Before the Lord revealed to Moses the name YHWH, nobody had it. No wonder Pharaoh didn’t know the name.
Pharaoh knew plenty of names: there was no lack of them in the Egyptian pantheon. And that was part of his wisdom, that he knew the names, what they stood for, what they did, how they kept the universe running, how they preserved the balance of life in Egypt. Pharaoh was at the center of all the networked festivals by which his land and his people prospered and were dominant. Pharaoh even had magicians who did real magic.
One way Pharaoh would know the Lord would be the Lord’s dealing with the craft of Egypt’s magicians.
First their rods are confiscated. We might think, when they turn their own rods into snakes, Why did God allow that to happen? Doesn’t it make his own sign counterproductive? Why didn’t he stop them from turning their rods into snakes? It was because God wanted to take their rods away. God is putting a reputation on Aaron’s rod (Matthew Henry’s phrase), and he is confiscating the symbols of Egypt.
Then the magicians are able to turn water to blood. Not very helpful at that point; it would have been far better if they could have diminished the amount of blood and countered God’s power, but they could not. They could tack on a sympathetic achievement that only made the whole situation a little bit worse than the calamity it already was. So it shows their limitations, but not altogether.
Next the magicians manage to multiply frogs! This is not helpful either, the problem being an the overabundance of frogs. It would have been interesting if they had been able to annihilate many of them easily. Instead, whether because it did not occur to them to do otherwise or because they were unable to annihilate them, they bring forth a few more, adding to the mess.
It is a picture of the craft and power of Egypt limping along behind the great deeds of the Lord and preening itself ridiculously on its puny and pathetic imitations.
At last God put a stop to it. They were able to get frogs from the Nile, but when it came to making gnats, the magicians had to admit their inability. You would think frogs would be harder! But God drew the line with the gnats, and they saw that the line was draws by the finger of God, and suddenly were unable to remain as scornful of YHWH as formerly.
The last we see of the magicians is when there is an epidemic that disfigures the Egyptians. In this plague, the magicians are unable to even make and appearance, let alone try to create more boils on Pharaoh and his court. They have been outclassed: their rods confiscated, their damage limited, their moment allowed for the sake of hardening Pharaoh’s heart in increments, their power broken and themselves defeated and dishonored.
Pharaoh will never know the Lord savingly, will never see him in a believing way. But he will know that the Lord can humiliate the craft and sorcery of Egypt’s wisest practitioners: they are no match for the Lord. The power and craft of the greatest nation on the planet was no match for the Lord. God was on the way to save his people.
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