Last week we observed God’s second revelation of Himself to Moses, and we should note that such there is a similar repetition to all of chapters 5-6. You see, in chapters 1-4, we find this overall pattern: God’s people suffer and cry out, God hears their cry and reveals Himself to Moses, and God commissions Moses to speak to Pharaoh. After his and Aaron’s first brief encounter with Pharaoh, the pattern is then repeated: God’s people suffered even more, Moses cries out on their behalf, God hears and further reveals Himself to Moses, and now in our present passage, God sends Moses again to Pharaoh’s court.
We will break up our passage into three scenes. First, we find Moses again declaring his fear and inability to serve on God’s behalf. Second, God sends Moses and Aaron to their second encounter with Pharaoh. Third, the two men prelude the oncoming plagues with the sign of their staff becoming a serpent in Pharaoh’s court.
THESE ARE MOSES AND AARON // VERSES 10-30
After God’s repeated and emphatic self-revelation to Moses, we read:
So the LORD said to Moses, “Go in, tell Pharaoh king of Egypt to let the people of Israel go out of his land.” But Moses said to the LORD, “Behold, the people of Israel have not listened to me. How then shall Pharaoh listen to me, for I am of uncircumcised lips?” But the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron and gave them a charge about the people of Israel and about Pharaoh king of Egypt: to bring the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt.
Just as at Horeb, these verse record Moses pleading his inability and fear before God’s recommissioning. Chapter 5 proved his previous fear that the Israelites would not listen to him, and he has no reason to expect that Pharaoh would listen either. His mouth is simply not sufficient to accomplish the task that God has given him. Nevertheless, the LORD gave Moses and Aaron authority to do the work that He called them to do.
You may have noticed that a genealogy of Moses appears to be randomly inserted after these verses. Douglas Stuart, however, informs us that the genealogy’s placement is not as random as it may first appear:
In the style of ancient Near Eastern writing and according to the concerns of ancient Near Eastern culture, a genealogy here is neither out of place nor stylistically intrusive but welcome and perfectly placed. At the end of 6:12, the ongoing narrative stops for a moment: right at the point where Moses said, in effect, “I can’t do it.” This would be the ideal point for a commercial in a modern TV dramatic presentation, the point just before the resolution of the suspense, since the viewer’s interest level is held by the emotional interest in story resolution. Most ancient narratives had no concern for preservation of suspense per se. But neither did it hurt to place a review and retrospective, which is that 6:13-27 functions as in Exodus, at a location just prior to a major story resolution, the final, great divine reassurance of Moses’ call, commission, and challenge (6:28-7:7) equipping him for the launching of the plagues (7:8 and following).
Indeed, the importance of this genealogy is emphasized by verses 26-30 essentially restating verses 10-13, although with the repetition of these are the Moses and Aaron… this Moses and Aaron. All genealogies in Scripture give us a chance to pause and marvel at God’s providential care of His people throughout seemingly unimportant generations. While it is easy for our eyes to gloss over while trying to read these foreign and difficult names, we should remind ourselves that each name belonged to a flesh and blood fellow image-bearer with hopes, fears, joys, and sorrows that were just as real as yours or mine.
This particular genealogy, however, takes that providential point and applies it squarely upon Moses and even more pointedly upon Aaron (notice that Moses’ wife and descendants are not listed, while Aaron’s are). Ryken explains that this genealogy establishes Moses and Aaron “as full-blooded Hebrews.” He goes on:
The same Moses and Aaron who led Israel out of Egypt were true sons of Israel. But the genealogy is especially interested in the status of Aaron. Its purpose is to show that he is a legitimate leader in his own right, and thus a worthy partner for Moses. Up until now the focus has been on Moses, who as everyone knew was called to be Israel’s prophet. But as the story resumes in Exodus 7, we are prepared for his older brother Aaron to take an increasingly prominent role.
That prominent role will later be seen as Aaron becomes the first high priest of Israel. Furthermore, is it not an interesting parallel that God answered Moses’ original concern over his inadequacies of speech by promising to send Aaron with him, and now God’s providential hand in Aaron’s lineage and descendants is particularly highlighted?
The listing of family of Aaron and Moses displays that God did not randomly or arbitrarily select these men to lead Israel; instead, the LORD’s hand was upon the lives of each of their ancestors, as it would also be over their descendants. God always intended to use Moses and Aaron for this task, even while their patriarch Levi still lived. The words that Mordecai spoke of Esther were equally true of Moses and Aaron: they were born for such a time as this, born to lead God’s people out of their bondage in Egypt.
This divine orchestration of God is most clearly seen in the genealogy of Christ, which gives us an opportunity to reflect over God’s sovereign preserving of Abraham’s promised offspring until the fullness of time for God’s Son to take on flesh had come. Indeed, two persons from Jesus’ genealogy are also found here: Amminadab and Nahshon, who were the father and brother of Aaron’s wife. Thus, the LORD has even worked history so that Israel’s first high priest married into the family of the eternal High Priest of God’s people.
RETURNING TO PHARAOH // VERSES 1-7
In these verses, we arrive at our second scene. While the first scene addressed Moses’ fears by displaying God’s sovereign plan of raising up Moses and Aaron, this scene gives us the LORD’s message to Moses as he readies himself to appear before Pharaoh a second time.
And the LORD said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet. You shall speak all that I command you, and your brother Aaron shall tell Pharaoh to let the people of Israel go out of his land. But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, Pharaoh will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and bring my hosts, my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great acts of judgment. The Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them.” Moses and Aaron did so; they did just as the LORD commanded them. Now Moses was eighty years old, and Aaron eighty-three years old, when they spoke to Pharaoh.
While there are numerous points that we could draw from and remark upon these verses, let us address four.
First, despite Moses’ fears and inability, the LORD began by saying that He has made Moses like God to Pharaoh with Aaron acting as his prophet. We should note, however, that the word like is not in the Hebrew text. A literal reading is, therefore: See, I have made you God to Pharaoh. While we might rightfully squirm at that language being used, we can, of course, relax that God is in no way calling Moses a deity. Indeed, Moses has clearly shown us all of his fears and failures in the writing of this book, by no means hiding God’s marvelous grace in using him to deliver God’s people.
Yet neither is the LORD speaking a falsehood. He was not deifying Moses in actuality, but in Pharaoh’s eyes, Moses was God, for he was the LORD’s ambassador and representative. Pharaoh certainly knew enough of foreign diplomacy to know that an ambassador was to be treated as if he was the king or nation that he represented. Indeed, Pharaoh would have regularly sent out ambassadors of his own with the expectation that they would be treated as though they were Pharaoh himself.
Furthermore, remember that Pharaoh called himself a son of the gods, believing that he was their physical representation on earth. Since he viewed himself as divine, he spoke to people through messengers, most notably a servant who bore the title of the mouth of Pharaoh. Thus, the LORD was very purposely making his servant Moses into what Pharaoh viewed himself as being.
What is even more amazing is that God has placed us in a similar role. 2 Corinthians 5:20 tells us, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.” Through the indwelling Spirit, we are the body of Christ, His hands, feet, and mouth in the world. Therefore, as Paul prayed, we ought to speak the gospel boldly, for we are no less under the command and authority of God than Moses and Aaron were as they appeared before Pharaoh.
Second, in verses 3-4, God told Moses again that He would harden Pharaoh’s heart and that the king of Egypt would not listen to Moses. Recall from verse 12 of chapter 6 that this was precisely Moses’ fear, and now the LORD was confirming it. He was being sent to proclaim God’s Word, even though Pharaoh will not hear it.
Here again is a wonderful time to bring remind ourselves of a point that we have already noted several times before: God does not operate according to our wisdom. In fact, if we were consultants brought in to help Moses have a more effective ministry, we would certainly counsel him not to waste his time preaching to someone like Pharaoh who was never going to believe anyway. After all, there were surely better uses of Moses’ time and giftings, right? It turns out that God often called His prophets to declare His Word to those with deaf ears, blind eyes, and hard hearts, just look at Isaiah 6. Most significantly, most of those who heard Jesus throughout His ministry did not believe, and even after His resurrection, we are told that some who saw Him still doubted. How disheartening!
The reality, however, is that God is not a pragmatist. His chief aim is not efficiency but the display of His glory. In fact, He very often does what is impractical or even impossible precisely so that His glory will be more radiantly displayed, which is exactly what He intended to do with Pharaoh. Beloved, let us cling to this fact, as counterintuitive as it may appear, success in ministry is not judged by efficiency or even effectiveness but by faithfulness to God’s Word.
Third, notice the purpose of God’s great acts of judgment that He would bring upon Egypt: the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring out the people of Israel from among them. This verse purposely parallels with verse 7 from chapter 6, which was God’s message to the Hebrews: “I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the LORD your God, who has brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.”
Through the great wonders that God would pour out upon Egypt, He was declaring to both the Israelites and the Egyptians that Yahweh is God. Both peoples would come to know Him. The Israelites would know Yahweh as their God, while the Egyptians would be forced to acknowledge that He is the Most High, the only true God. Of course, some of the Egyptians would be so convinced of Yahweh’s might that they would abandon Egypt and join Israel in their exodus; most, however, would remain as hard-hearted as their king.
Philippians 2 teaches us that the same will be true with the greatest act of redemption that God worked through the crucifixion of Christ. You see, one day every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. All creatures in heaven, on earth, under the earth, and in the sea will know that Jesus is Yahweh. But while all will know Christ as Lord, not all will know Him as Savior. All will worship Him, although not all will do so in joy. Even so, the glory and majesty of our great God and Savior will be known. So, are you striving to know Him now?
Knowing God is, in fact, the greatest application of any sermon over any text of Scripture. You see, we often treat theology and practicality as barely relating to one another. Theology, however, is practical. As those whom God has redeemed for His own possession and who will spend all eternity with Him, there is no matter of greater importance than to know our God. Indeed, knowing Him more and more will be our eternal pursuit. Jesus, after all, said that knowing God is eternal life (John 17:3), and the point of theology should always be to know and love God more. Therefore, the most practical and eternal application of any text should be how it reveals our Lord more clearly to us.
In fact, we could compare different types of application to physical objects. Sometimes an application addresses a particular need, just like a lawnmower or dish soap address particular needs. But the baseline application of Scripture is more like a diamond or even the Grand Canyon. From a pragmatic standpoint, what can you do with either? Both must simply be admired, and as God’s image-bearers, we are draw to their beauty. Sometimes particular sin must be addressed, and particular obedience must be commanded. Yet as we study Scripture, we should most regularly be called to simply bask in awe and wonder at the holy splendor of our triune God, to begin our eternal joys here and now.
Fourth, after being told in verse 6 of Moses and Aaron’s obedience to the LORD, verse 7 pauses to give us the ages of these two brothers: Now Moses was eighty years old, and Aaron eight-three years old, when they spoke to Pharaoh. Ryken makes a valuable comment on this verse:
This example is a special encouragement to older Christians because Moses was a senior citizen. The Bible sometimes records a man’s age when he is about to accomplish something great for God. Here we are told that Moses was eighty—well past the age that most Americans retire. In fact, Moses himself believed that eighty years was about the longest that a man could expect to live (see Psalm 90:10). The closer we get to eighty, the more tempting it is to think that our best years are behind us, that we have already accomplished our life’s work. However, when Moses turned eighty, his work was just beginning! He had forty more years of service ahead of him, years in which he proved faithful to the very end. Dwight L. Moody observed that “Moses spent forty years in Pharaoh’s court thinking was somebody, forty years in the desert learning that he was nobody, and forty years showing what God can do with a somebody who found out he was a nobody.”
No matter how young or old you are, we should ask God how he wants us to serve him. As we grow older, God will open up new opportunities to glorify him through prayer, through sharing Christ with family members, or through offering spiritual wisdom to younger Christians. If we are afraid that we have nothing left to offer, we only need to ask God to show what he can do with somebody who is a nobody.
THE FIRST SIGN // VERSES 8-13
We come now, at last, to the beginning of the cosmic showdown between the LORD and Pharaoh. Yet before God began to pour out the bowls of His wrath upon the stone-hearted king, He would work a personal sign within Pharaoh’s court, one that would be a clear message to the king as well as foretell his end from the beginning.
Then the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “When Pharaoh says to you, ‘Prove yourselves by working a miracle,’ then you shall say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and cast it down before Pharaoh, that it may become a serpent.’” So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did just as the LORD commanded. Aaron cast down his staff before Pharaoh and his servants, and it became a serpent.
While we do not hear the words from Pharaoh’s own mouth, the LORD predicts that the king would demand a sign to verify that their God (whom Pharaoh explicitly admitted to not know) is truly divine. “It was not wrong for Pharaoh to make such a request,” Ryken notes. “Strangely enough, he seemed to understand the true purpose of divine miracles. God does not perform random acts of omnipotence but instead displays his miraculous power in order to confirm the truth of his Word.”
As a blatant unbeliever, we should expect nothing less from Pharaoh. Recall, however, the great sorrow that came upon Christ whenever He was given the same treatment by those who should have been the very first to believe in Him. Mark 8:11 says, “The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him.” Despite their knowledge of the Scriptures and their professions of holy conduct, they were blind to the long-awaited Messiah as He stood before them. Jesus, therefore, rightly lamented their condition. They failed to notice that they were standing in the place of unbelieving skepticism where Pharaoh once stood.
As you may have guessed, there is a considerable amount of significance to be found in God turning the staff of Moses and Aaron into a snake. As said in chapters 1-2, Pharaoh’s royal headdress displayed the uraeus, a cobra prepared to strike, which represented Wadjet, the serpentine goddess who was sometimes the protector and sometimes the feminine counterpart of Ra, the sun-god. Since pharaohs were said to be sons of Ra, it made sense for them to take that protection and power for themselves. Ryken further notes that “when Pharaoh first ascended the throne of Egypt, he would take the royal crown and say,
O Great One, O Magician, O Fiery Snake!
Let there be terror of me like the terror of thee.
Let there be fear of me like the fear of thee.
Let there be awe of me like the awe of thee.
Let me rule, a leader of the living.
Let me be powerful, a leader of spirits.
Ryken then comments:
With these words, Pharaoh offered his soul to the devil.
This background helps explain what Aaron was doing when he “cast down his staff before Pharaoh” (7:10). He was taking the symbol of the king’s majesty and making it crawl in the dust. This was a direct assault on Pharaoh’s sovereignty; indeed, it was an attack on Egypt’s entire belief system. To draw a modern comparison, it would be like taking a bald eagle into the Oval Office and wringing its neck. When God confronts other gods he does not probe around, hoping to find a weakness. Instead, he takes aim at his enemies’ greatest strength and overwhelms it with superior force. In this case, he sent Moses and Aaron straight to Pharaoh’s command center, where he proceeded to claim ultimate authority over all Egypt.
We noted how chapters 1-2 were examples of the war between the woman and the serpent, between her offspring and his offspring, was being waged and how God kept subverting the plans and designs of Pharaoh through various women. Although the war continues, this sign indicates that God is now longer going to providentially subvert Pharaoh; instead, the LORD will break the king like the mortal that he is.
Of course, Pharaoh does not listen to Moses and Aaron (as the LORD had said); instead, then Pharaoh summoned the wise men and the sorcerers, and they, the magicians of Egypt, also did the same by their secret arts. For each man cast down his staff, and they became serpents. As an answer to their miracle, the king of Egypt had his own magicians duplicate it.
One of the big questions here is whether the magicians actually did magic or whether it was a slight of hand trick. Valid arguments can be made for either, so the reality is that we simply do not know. I, however, tend to think that they performed real, demonic magic. Indeed, Jesus warned us in the Olivet Discourse that “false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand” (Mark 13:22-23). Since we believe in the supernatural, we need not be like the materialists who scoff at every phenomenon as if only nothing could happen beyond the matter that composes our physical reality. Paul did not call the agents of the domain of darkness rulers, authorities, cosmic powers, and spiritual forces of evil for no reason (Ephesians 6:12).
Yet as we see here (and will also see next week), their power is limited. They were able to duplicate this sign but were powerless to triumph over it. A recent quotation that has been attributed to J. R. R. Tolkien, although it is only a paraphrase of similar statements, describes this picture of evil quite well: “Evil cannot create anything new, they can only corrupt and ruin what good forces have invented or made.” We, indeed, find that true with these magicians.
But Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs. Crucially, even though they could duplicate the sign, they could not overcome it. As John 1:5 says, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” God’s snake swallowing up the other two snakes is also prophetic of two future events. First, in Exodus 15:12, Moses and the Israelites would sing to the LORD: “You stretched out your right hand; the earth swallowed them.” They were, of course, singing about God’s engulfing Pharaoh and his army as he pursued the people of Israel into the parted waters of the sea. Pharaoh, an offspring of the serpent, was swallowed up by the sea. Interestingly, both serpents and the sea are normally used as pictures of evil and chaos, but God displays His sovereignty over both by using them redeem His people and to swallow up evil.
The second event, however, dwarfs both of these Exodus scenes by far. In 1 Corinthians 15:54, Paul writes that death, the great curse and enemy of man, “is swallowed up in victory.” How is that so? He goes one to write, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:56–57). All of humanity came under the curse of death through the first sin that our father Adam committed and through the multitude of sins that we likewise commit. Yet Christ has swallowed up death by destroying its sting: sin. Just as God used a serpent and the sea in Exodus, Christ defeated death with death, by hanging in all His innocence upon the cursed tree. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). Like the serpent and the sea, our Lord used what is often seen as a representation of evil as His instrument for defeating evil, for bringing evil back upon itself. Or, to use the imagery of Genesis 3:15 and of Exodus, Christ crushed the serpent’s head, even as His heel was struck.
Our text concludes with these words: Still Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the LORD had said. The hardness of the king’s heart came as no surprise to the LORD. God knew that his ears were deaf to His Word and his eyes were too blind to truly see the gracious warning that God had given him.
The same is still true today. Like Pharaoh, many still align themselves as offspring of the serpent, effectively giving their souls to devil (although perhaps not as blatantly as Pharaoh did), rather than hearing the Word of Christ and becoming a child of God. Indeed, let us hear the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 2:14-17:
But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.
Brothers and sisters, in Christ, we too have been commissioned by God to spread the fragrance of His knowledge everywhere. For some, that fragrance is a stench that stings their nostrils, as it did with Pharaoh. Others, however, will smell that it is incense from the very throne room of God, giving us life in our knowledge of Him. What living aroma are you? Are you the fragrance of Christ to those around you? Of course, we can only have such a fragrance by being in God’s presence ourselves. When Moses came down from Sinai, his face was radiant with the glory of God. As we too are with God through His Word, we will bear the aroma of His glory with us into the world, a stench of death to some but the fragrance of life itself to others.
 Ryken, Exodus, 175.
 Ryken, Exodus, 183.
 Ryken, Exodus, 184-185
 How can we know the difference if Christ’s own signs were intended to verify His preaching? The difference here is that these signs and wonders come in contradiction to God’s Word rather than being in line with it. Like the Bereans, we must rightly submit all things to the truth of Scripture.