How Did Pharaoh’s Magicians Perform Miracles? Demon Power? Sleight of Hand? Do Demons Actually Have Power? #56

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Our passages today are Job 25 and 26, and for once, one of Job’s friends actually makes some sense, or at least just doesn’t spew out garbage, so that is an improvement. (Keeping in mind that God Himself rebukes Job’s friends at the end of the book of Job.) Luke 11 has two powerful teachings on prayer: The Model Prayer/Lord’s Prayer and Jesus’ exhortation to ask and keep on asking, knock and keep on knocking and seek and keep on seeking. (That is the actual verb tense that is in the Greek of Luke 11 – indicating a continuous and ongoing action of persevering asking, seeking and knocking.) 1 Corinthians 12 Begins the longest extended teaching in the Bible on Spiritual Gifts, and will be the focus of our next two episodes, but today we are in Exodus 8. God has sent Moses and Aaron to tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites free, and has given them some miraculous signs to show Pharaoh that God is powerful and means business. We saw this yesterday in Exodus 7:

10 So Moses and Aaron went in to Pharaoh and did just as the Lord had commanded. Aaron threw down his staff before Pharaoh and his officials, and it became a serpent. 11 But then Pharaoh called the wise men and sorcerers—the magicians of Egypt, and they also did the same thing by their occult practices. 12 Each one threw down his staff, and it became a serpent. But Aaron’s staff swallowed their staffs. 13 However, Pharaoh’s heart was hard, and he did not listen to them, as the Lord had said.

20 Moses and Aaron did just as the Lord had commanded; in the sight of Pharaoh and his officials, he raised the staff and struck the water in the Nile, and all the water in the Nile was turned to blood. 21 The fish in the Nile died, and the river smelled so bad the Egyptians could not drink water from it. There was blood throughout the land of Egypt. 22 But the magicians of Egypt did the same thing by their occult practices.

Exodus 7

A very similar dynamic will happen today in chapter 8 – so let’s read it and come back and discuss what is going on.

The Lord then said to Moses, “Tell Aaron: Stretch out your hand with your staff over the rivers, canals, and ponds, and cause the frogs to come up onto the land of Egypt.” When Aaron stretched out his hand over the waters of Egypt, the frogs came up and covered the land of Egypt. But the magicians did the same thing by their occult practices and brought frogs up onto the land of Egypt.

Exodus 8:5-7

I believe the Bible is absolutely inspired and inerrant – all that it affirms is true and factual. This account quite clearly shows that the magicians of Egypt were able to do some incredible things: Turn their staffs into snakes, turn water into blood and produce a plague of frogs. How is this possible? We have two major possibilities: #1 The Egyptian magicians pulled some sort of trickery and sleight of hand – akin to a modern Criss Angel/David Copperfield type. #2 The Egyptian magicians tapped into a different power source other than God. tends to favor the first option:

The second option, and the more probable, is that the magicians simply created illusions. Through sleight-of-hand and conjurer’s tricks, they deceived their audience into believing that they were performing the same miracles as Moses and Aaron. The first illusion, that of turning the staffs into snakes, may have been performed by snake charming, which was widely practiced in ancient Egypt (and even some today). There was a way in which snake charmers could cause a snake to stiffen like a staff and relax on command. Since the magicians were summoned after Aaron threw down his own staff, they would have had time to prepare the trick in advance. As for turning the Nile to blood, only dye is needed to make water run red. The frogs may be a more complicated illusion, but, just as modern illusionists can pull rabbits out of hats, Pharaoh’s magicians could have summoned frogs.

I will definitely admit that this is a possibility, but as near as I can tell, the text of each of these passages does not seem to lend itself to trickery. Each time, the Word of God says that the Egyptian magicians “did the same thing by their occult practices/enchantments.” I heavily favor option #2 as the most compatible with the biblical text. Somehow, someway, spiritual beings/demons/elohims/Satan himself empowered these magicians. Is such a thing possible? I believe the Bible indicates the answer is yes – Satan does have power, and he can empower people, from time to time. Consider these passages:

The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie,

The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders,

2 Thessalonians 2:9 NIV, then KJV

I do note here that some versions use the phrase ‘false’ signs and wonders, and that is within the range of meaning of the Greek word. I prefer the NIV and KJV translations here, because lying wonders seems to more properly fit the context – since it is saying that Satan will come with POWER. If he is coming with power – then his signs and wonders will likely be real – not the kind of trickery a cruise ship magician does. Jesus makes this even more explicit and clear in Matthew 24:

“If anyone tells you then, ‘See, here is the Messiah!’ or, ‘Over here!’ do not believe it. 24 For false messiahs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. 

Matthew 24:23-24

Beyond question, Jesus is teaching here that there will be last days false prophets and false messiahs that will perform ‘GREAT’ signs and wonders in front of the people. The prophets are false. The messiahs are false. Their signs and wonders are great, and very real indeed. Likewise, Deuteronomy 13 demonstrates that false prophets can produce accurate predictions, signs and wonders:

“If a prophet or someone who has dreams arises among you and proclaims a sign or wonder to you, and that sign or wonder he has promised you comes about, but he says, ‘Let us follow other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us worship them,’ do not listen to that prophet’s words or to that dreamer. 

Deuteronomy 13:1-3

The case of Simon Magus, the magician in Acts 8, is quite inconclusive, but the case of the Gerasene demoniac and the demon-possessed man that beat naked the seven sons of Sceva is not. Both of those individuals had supernatural strength that was provided to them by the demons that were demonizing them. Perhaps most spectacularly (and terrifyingly) of all, is the Beast of Revelation 13:

Then I saw another beast coming up out of the earth; it had two horns like a lamb, but it spoke like a dragon. 12 It exercises all the authority of the first beast on its behalf and compels the earth and those who live on it to worship the first beast, whose fatal wound was healed. 13 It also performs great signs, even causing fire to come down from heaven to earth in front of people. 14 It deceives those who live on the earth because of the signs that it is permitted to perform in the presence of the beast, telling those who live on the earth to make an image of the beast who was wounded by the sword and yet lived. 15 It was permitted to give breath to the image of the beast, so that the image of the beast could both speak and cause whoever would not worship the image of the beast to be killed.

Revelation 13:11-15

Finally, we arrive at the demonic spirits of Revelation 16, who have the power to do signs:

14 For they are demonic spirits performing signs, who travel to the kings of the whole world to assemble them for the battle on the great day of God, the Almighty.

Revelation 16:14

Beyond a shadow of a doubt, the Bible teaches that Satan and demons have a high level of power and authority. This power and authority pales in comparison to Yahweh God’s power and authority, but it far outshines the power of any human. I believe that the Egyptian magicians were somehow tapping into this power in a way that, no doubt, impressed Pharaoh, but their power would ultimately be shown as completely impotent in the face of God’s increasing plagues against Egypt, and they knew it quickly:

16 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell Aaron: Stretch out your staff and strike the dust of the land, and it will become gnats throughout the land of Egypt.” 17 And they did this. Aaron stretched out his hand with his staff, and when he struck the dust of the land, gnats were on people and animals. All the dust of the land became gnats throughout the land of Egypt. 18 The magicians tried to produce gnats using their occult practices, but they could not. The gnats remained on people and animals.19 “This is the finger of God,” the magicians said to Pharaoh. But Pharaoh’s heart was hard, and he would not listen to them, as the Lord had said.

Exodus 8:16-19

Interestingly, though the magicians of Egypt are not named here, it is very possible that Paul names them in the New Testament.

For among them are those who worm their way into households and deceive gullible women overwhelmed by sins and led astray by a variety of passions, always learning and never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so these also resist the truth. They are men who are corrupt in mind and worthless in regard to the faith. But they will not make further progress, for their foolishness will be clear to all, as was the foolishness of Jannes and Jambres.

2 Timothy 3:6-9

Origen of Alexandria (180s A.D.-230s A.D.) wrote that Paul got the name of Jannes and Jambres (Neither of which appears in the Old Testament) from an extra-biblical book which named the magicians in the Exodus narrative. Apparently in this book the impotence of the Egyptian magicians is highlighted even more than in the Biblical account. I appreciate the conclusion from’s article on this matter, so we will close this part of the pod with it:

Whether they were creating illusions or performing actual miracles, the Egyptian magicians were eventually stymied by God’s power. They were unable to summon gnats (Exodus 8:16–19), turn the sky dark (Exodus 10:21–23), call down hailstones (Exodus 9:22–26), or duplicate any of the other plagues. God’s power is great enough to defeat both man’s conniving and Satan’s power with ease.

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