Aaron's Rod Becomes A Serpent part 1
by John Thomas Lowe
Aaron's Rod Is Turned Into A Serpent
11. Then Pharaoh also called the wise men4 and the sorcerers 3: now the magicians of Egypt2, they also did in like manner5 with their enchantments1.
Magic was practiced in Egypt, and they consisted of the arrangement and employment of charms, which were believed to exert a powerful effect over man and brute creation. The Ritual of the Dead" consists of charms, spoken by the soul in Hades, to enable it to pass the various monsters it would encounter there. Charms were considered effective in this life to produce or remove disease and avert the attacks of harmful animals. Egyptian works are mere collections of magical recipes and supply strange prescriptions and mystic words to be uttered. A Jewish tradition, accepted by the Apostle Paul (2Timothy 3:6), spoke of two magicians as the notable opponents of Moses and called them "Jannes and Jambres." (See the Tar-gums of Jerusalem and Jonathan.) The former of these, Jannes, obtained fame as a magician among the classical writers and was mentioned by Pliny and Apuleius. Some have supposed that the magicians possessed supernatural powers obtained by a connection with evil spirits. However, it is most probable that they were merely persons acquainted with many secrets of nature not known and trained in tricks of sleight-of-hand and conjuring.
They also did likewise5—The magicians had entered the royal presence with rods in their hands, which all Egyptians carried. These they cast down upon the ground when they are seen to be serpents. This was the mere exhibition of a trick, well known to Egyptian serpent-charmers in all ages, by which a charmed serpent is made to look like a stick for a time and then disenchanted. Alternatively, it may have been affected by sleight-of-hand, which seems to be the meaning of the word translated "enchantments1."
The art of serpent-charming is indigenous in the East: there are allusions to it in Psalm 58:5, Jeremiah 8:17, and Ecclesiastes 10:11; it is practiced in Egypt to the present day. Modern Egyptian serpent-charmers possess an extraordinary power over serpents, drawing them forth, for instance, by noises made with the lips, from their hiding places, and by pressure applied to the neck, throwing them into such a state of hypnotic rigidity that they can be held as rods by the tip of the tail. The serpent commonly used for the purpose is a species of cobra. However, we only hear of serpents becoming rods, not of rods becoming serpents: the latter, the swallowing up of the magicians' rods by Aaron's rod, is 'peculiar to the Hebrew story.
Moses had been instructed in learning the Egyptians and was suspected of having improved in magical arts in his long retirement. The magicians are to compete with him. The chief of them was Jannes and Jambres. Their rods became serpents, by the power of evil angels, artfully substituting serpents in the room of the rods, God permitting the delusion performed for wise and holy ends. However, the serpent, which Aaron's rod was changed into, swallowed the others: which was sufficient to convince Pharaoh on which side the right lay.
They will not be convinced of what men dislike because it opposes their pride and lusts, but it is easy to cause them to believe things they wish to be true. God always sends complete proofs of its Divine authority with his word, but when men are determined to disobey and willing to object, he often permits a snare to be set in which they are entangled. The magicians were cheats, trying to copy the real miracles of Moses by sleight of hand or juggling, which to a small extent, they succeeded in deceiving the bystanders. However, they were compelled to confess that they could not imitate the effects of Divine power. No one assists more in destroying sinners than men who resist the truth by amusing other men with a counterfeit resemblance. Satan is most dreaded when transformed into an angel of light.
Three names for the magicians of Egypt2 are in this verse. The "magicians" are the "bearers of sacred words," scribes, and interpreters of hieroglyphic writings. The "wise men"4 are men who know occult arts. The "sorcerers"3 are they who "mutter magic formulae," especially when driving away crocodiles, snakes, asps, etc. It was natural that Pharaoh should have sent for such persons. Books containing magic formulae belonged exclusively to the King; no one was permitted to consult them except the priests and wise men4, who formed a council or school and were called in by the Pharaoh on all occasions of difficulty.
According to the Arabs, the name of the place where they lived was Asana, ancient and pleasant, called the city of the magicians, which lay to the East of the Nile. Josephus calls these magicians of Egypt priests, and Artapanus says they were priests that lived near Memphis. Their name in the Hebrew language is either from a word which signifies a greyish tool because, in their enchantments, they used superstitious characters and figures; or, they used two words, the one signifying a "hole" and the other "stopped"; because they bored a hole in a tree to put witchcrafts into it and stopped it up, and then declared what should be, or they had to say.
Then Pharaoh also called the wise men4 and the sorcerers 3.—His object in calling them was to ascertain whether this exploit of Aaron's was a work of divine power or merely a feat of magical art. The magicians of Egypt in modern times have been celebrated superstars in charming serpents, and particularly by pressing the nape, they throw them into a kind of catalepsy, which renders them stiff and immovable—thus seeming to change them into a rod. They conceal the serpent about their persons and, by acts of legerdemain, produce it from their dress, stiff and straight as a rod. Their ancient predecessors performed the same trick, the most renowned of whom, Jannes and Jambres (2Ti 3:8), were called on this occasion. They had time after the summons to make suitable preparations—and so they succeeded by their "enchantments1" in practicing an illusion on the senses.
Under the general title of wise men4 he seems to comprehend all who were most eminent in any wisdom, either natural, civil, or divine, who were all called to give their opinion and advice in these matters.
The magicians, the same now called sorcerers3, acted by the devil's power, whom by certain rites and ceremonies they engaged in their assistance. Of these, the two chiefs were Jannes and Jambres (2 Timothy 3:8).
They also did in like manner, in show and appearance, which was not difficult for the devil to do, either by altering the air and the spectators' sight and by causing their rods both to look and move like serpents; or by a sudden and secret transference of real serpents hither and thither removing the rods. Nor is it strange that God permitted those delusions, partly because it was a just punishment upon the Egyptians for their abominable and manifold idolatry, and barbarous cruelty towards the Israelites, and their other wickedness; and partly because there was a sufficient difference made between their impostures, and the real miracles wrought by Moses and Aaron, as appears from the next verse, and Exodus 8:18, and other passages. Furthermore, this is excellent evidence of the truth of Scripture and that it was not written by fiction and design. For if Moses had written these books to deceive the world and to advance his reputation (as some have impudently said,) it is ridiculous to think that he would have put in this and many other passages, which might seem so much to eclipse his honor, and the glory of his works.
"Now the magicians of Egypt"2, they also did in like manner with their enchantments; or by their secret wiles and jugglings, making things seem to appear to the sight when they did not really, but by dazzling the eyes of men by their wicked and diabolical art, they fancied they saw things which they did not; for the word has the signification of flames of fire, or a flaming sword, or lance, which being brandished to and fro dazzles the sight. The Targum of Jonathan gives the names of two of these magicians, Jannes and Jambres.
Many commentators believe them to have been in actual communication with the unseen world and worked their wonders with the assistance of evil spirits. Others reject this explanation and believe they have sure supernatural gifts. However, the most familiar view in the present day regards them as persons who knew many secrets of nature which were generally unknown and who used this knowledge to impress men with a belief in their supernatural power.