Exodus Day Twenty
July 28, 2020, 5:00 AM

Swallowed Up
Exodus 7:8-14

“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.
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.
But Aaron's staff swallowed up their staffs.
Still Pharaoh's heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the LORD had said.
Then the LORD said to Moses,
‘Pharaoh's heart is hardened; he refuses to let the people go.’”

God is preparing for war. A war with the most powerful man on earth. This passage is the opening of this engagement. Moses and Aaron are to go before Pharaoh with a threefold message that will be fleshed out through the ten plagues that are forthcoming—

1. Pharaoh will know that YHWH (Yahweh) is God.
2. Pharaoh will know that YHWH is in the midst of the land.
3. Pharaoh will know that there is no god like YHWH.

In Egypt, as in many ancient cultures, the cycle of life was dependent upon the gods who inhabited elements of nature and controlled the seasons. For instance, Egypt needed the annual flooding of the Nile River to bring forth and to maintain the fertility of the land. The flow of the Nile enabled canals to stretch forth from the main path and extend the life-giving power of the Mighty River. Animals in Egypt were often considered sacred. For instance, when Moses refuses Pharaoh’s offer to sacrifice within Egypt, Moses says, “It would not be right to do so, for the offerings we shall sacrifice to the LORD our God are an abomination to the Egyptians. If we sacrifice offerings abominable to the Egyptians before their eyes, will they not stone us?” (8:26). Why stoning for sacrifices? Many animals were considered sacred in Egypt — You don’t kill what the gods inhabit. Indeed, many elements of nature were thought to be indwelt by the gods. I mentioned on Sunday, the sun god, Re (pronounced ray). The sun, in a tropical, desert setting, is quite mysterious and powerful. And the Pharaoh is thought to be the earthly incarnation of many of these gods. You mess with Pharaoh, and you mess with the gods.

This brings us to this second recorded encounter in Pharaoh’s court. The serpent and the staff. The Egyptian cobra, which is a venomous snake of a rather large size. It’s reported that some of these fellas can reach the length of 8½ feet. According to the remains of artwork in Egypt and the incredible discoveries made in the tomb of King Tut, the image of the cobra is quite ubiquitous on the headgear and scepters and thrones of the pharaohs. Anyone who crosses pharaoh knows that they will face the deadly venomous justice of the king of Egypt.

And so, Aaron’s rod is turned to a serpent before the royal entourage of the king and his court magicians. Interestingly, nothing is said here about grabbing the tail and returning the serpent to a staff, as Moses did at the Burning Bush. But the twist here is that the magicians are able to reproduce the sign. I have read that there are, even to this day, snake charmers in Egypt who are able to put snakes in a trance so that they become as stiff as a rod. This is not stretching the bounds of credulity here. However, the power of the sign isn’t in staff becoming serpent; but what Aaron’s serpent does to the magician’s serpents: “For each man cast down his staff, and they became serpents. But Aaron's staff swallowed up their staffs.” (7:12).

This swallowing up is apparently meant to be an ominous sign to Pharaoh-- If he refuses to repent and relent, he too, will be swallowed up. If he continues to harden his heart, disaster comes for his nation and his people. Only God is God; and God is in the midst of the land; and there is no god like God. It cannot be coincidental that the same imagery of “swallowing” will be used to describe the way the Red Sea will finally, ultimately undo and destroy the might of Pharaoh’s Egypt (cf. Ex. 15:10-12). The adventure of the Exodus begins and ends with the might of YHWH “swallowing up” those who would pretend to be god.

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