Exodus 7: 1-13
7 Then the Lord said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron will be your prophet. 2 You are to say everything I command you, and your brother Aaron is to tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go out of his country. 3 But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in Egypt, 4 he will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and with mighty acts of judgment I will bring out my divisions, my people the Israelites. 5 And the Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it.”
6 Moses and Aaron did just as the Lord commanded them. 7 Moses was eighty years old and Aaron eighty-three when they spoke to Pharaoh.
8 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, 9 “When Pharaoh says to you, ‘Perform a miracle,’ then say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and throw it down before Pharaoh,’ and it will become a snake.”
10 So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did just as the Lord commanded. Aaron threw his staff down in front of Pharaoh and his officials, and it became a snake. 11 Pharaoh then summoned wise men and sorcerers, and the Egyptian magicians also did the same things by their secret arts: 12 Each one threw down his staff and it became a snake. But Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs. 13 Yet Pharaoh’s heart became hard and he would not listen to them, just as the Lord had said.
- I think that it has been well documented by behavioral psychologists that the vast majority of people on the planet have an innate aversion to snakes and snakelike animals.
- This isn’t hard to believe.
- It is more than a little difficult to develop warm feelings for a creature that can hide almost anywhere, climb almost anything, wait indefinitely, and then either bite and poison you or squeeze you to death.
- Certainly, not all snakes can do this, but how many snakes do we actually need?
- Given this deep and widespread aversion, it is truly remarkable that human beings also have an irresistible fascination with snakes.
- When we looked at the creation story in Genesis, the snake has held human beings in its power.
- There is no simple explanation for this uncertainty—fear and fascination often go hand in hand—but perhaps more than snakes themselves, the human preoccupation with snakes has more to do with what they symbolize.
- In the most ancient of civilizations the snake was a representation of fertility and life.
- The shedding of the snake’s skin was viewed as a sign of rebirth and transformation, of resurrection from death to new life.
- Yet, at Easter time we look at the butterfly as the symbol of new birth as a symbol of resurrection – from the cocoon to a beautify flying insect.
In the ancient Far East, the snake was associated with guardianship and protection.
- Snakes are fierce and effective fighters.
- There is little evidence of fear in a snake’s awful countenance.
- Snake venom—a powerful poison and, in derivative form, sometimes a medicine—was viewed variously as divine judgment, a powerful chemical, and a mystical life force.
- Because snakes so closely resemble both roots and tree limbs, many believed snakes to be plants come to life, and because snakes possessed such powerful venom, healers extracted venoms just as they collected roots and saps.
- The attitudes about deceitfulness, deception, and craftiness seem to have developed later; the snake as a source of wisdom, however, is one of the oldest known beliefs.
- Whether the basic belief was one of reverence and respect or fear and revulsion, it is noteworthy that almost every major culture of the ancient world left evidence of cultic and religious veneration of snakes and serpents.
- Our own Scriptures evidence a strong doubt toward snakes and serpents. Throughout our shared Hebrew and Christian history, snakes have been both heroes and villains in some of our most beloved stories.
- Last week we looked at the villainous serpent in the Garden of Eden, but today we look to Moses and Aaron as they invoked God’s power to turn a staff into a snake.
- Set the stage about Moses – here in Exodus.
- A short summary of Moses – and the Exodus from slavery in Egypt. The most essential – formative narrative of God’s action in the life of the Jew.
- Because the Jews had become so numerous in Egypt – the Pharaoh was fearful – and ordered each new born Jewish boy to be put to death – but Moses was spared.
- Leaping forward – as the life of Moses really is the subject of a good Bible study class.
- Moses is now 80 when God calls him to go to the Pharaoh and say “set my people free” – Moses is the classical doubter – get someone else he eventually says to God – but God says — you are the right one for my task.
- This Scripture about the shaft becoming the snake is a preamble to the 10 plagues that God – through Moses – lays on the Pharaoh – before the Jews are able to leave Egypt. – The Nile is turned into blood; Frogs invade the land; Gnats and swarms of flies – cover the land; and finally, the Passover – where the angel of death will kill the first born of every living creature – unless there is brushed some blood of a sacrificed lamb with a hyssop on the lentil of the door.
- The angel of death will Passover the home. – Hence Passover.
- The confrontation scenes between Moses and Pharaoh are truly epic battles of will—the representative of God and his prophet Aaron facing off against unquestionably the most powerful man in the world at the time.
- The beauty of these stories is that they are so completely scripted by God—God tells Moses what to do, but he also tells him what the result will be ahead of time.
- Moses enters the contest knowing that Pharaoh will have his heart hardened and refuse to let the Hebrew people go. So why even try?
- At its most simple and basic, this is a classic my-God-can-beat-up-your-god story, so popular in the Hebrew Bible (think Elijah and the prophets of Baal)
- Moses requests the release of the Hebrew slaves, and Pharaoh says, in effect, “Prove to me why I should” (Perform a wonder!), and Aaron tosses his staff on the ground and it turns into a snake.
- Cocky old Pharaoh summons his sorcerers and magicians; they toss down three of their own rods, which also turn into snakes.
- Probably thinking, whatever you can do, my guys can do better,
- Pharaoh is ready to call the contest a draw, but then Aaron’s staff consumes the other three snakes—game, set, but not match.
- The pharaoh’s heart stays hard. Even though the pharaoh sees his magician’s snakes devoured by Aron’s snake, the pharaoh does not heed the miracle that God provided.
- Many times, we are like the pharaoh, God provides signs of God’s power in our lives and we continue on our own way — disbelieving and relying on ourselves to fix the problem.
- Ever receive an unexpected note of love and support? Ever receive a surprised visit by a friend? How about a phone call that came your way? Or a gift of flowers? All, of these can be God’s signs of love and support.
- Or, we are reminded again of Jesus on the cross and how that suffering was for each of us. Sometimes, we find this hard to understand about why God would provide this kind of love for us. – a promise from God!
- But is our heart so hard that we cannot receive God’s promises— promises which can be life changing.
- On the surface, this is such a satisfying story, in the same vein as David defeating Goliath.
- The underdog prevails in a spectacular fashion.
- On a deeper level, however, this story symbolizes the ongoing relationship of God and God’s people to the world.
- The Hebrew people spent most of their history in slavery and subjugation to more powerful nations.
- Politically, economically, militarily, the nation of Israel was ever the underdog.
- For every weapon they could raise, there was someone else who could raise three.
- For every mighty act they could perform, there was a despot whose heart remained hard.
- For every cry for justice or freedom the chosen people could raise, there was an oppressor nation just waiting to deny them.
- It is easy to miss the meaning of this simple passage for the miraculous event it describes. Far beyond the ability to do magic tricks rests a much greater power.
- It is the power that comes from deep trust and assurance that God is in control. This assurance allows even the most timid and unsure to stand before the most powerful people on earth with courage and confidence.
- This power reminds us that no matter what we might see with our eyes, the wisdom of our hearts convinces us that we will prevail.
- We don’t need a happy, funny, silly symbol, but a symbol of strength and promise. For those in the time of Moses as well as God’s people today, the promise endures: true faith swallows up fear, and trust in God is the greatest power of all.
- Thanks be to God.