The Serpent, Serpents and Another Serpent
“And the LORD said unto Moses, See, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh: and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet. Thou shalt speak all that I command thee: and Aaron thy brother shall speak unto Pharaoh, that he send the children of Israel out of his land. And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt. But Pharaoh shall not hearken unto you, that I may lay my hand upon Egypt, and bring forth mine armies, and my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great judgments. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch forth mine hand upon Egypt, and bring out the children of Israel from among them. And Moses and Aaron did as the LORD commanded them, so did they. And Moses was fourscore years old, and Aaron fourscore and three years old, when they spake unto Pharaoh. And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying, When Pharaoh shall speak unto you, saying, Shew a miracle for you: then thou shalt say unto Aaron, Take thy rod, and cast it before Pharaoh, and it shall become a serpent. And Moses and Aaron went in unto Pharaoh, and they did so as the LORD had commanded: and Aaron cast down his rod before Pharaoh, and before his servants, and it became a serpent. Then Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers: now the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments. For they cast down every man his rod, and they became serpents: but Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods. And he hardened Pharaoh’s heart, that he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had said.”
A God to Pharaoh
This chapter begins with a strange declaration. — “And the LORD said unto Moses, See, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh: and Aaron thy brother shall be thy prophet” (v. 1). The Lord God said to Moses, “I have made thee a god to Pharaoh.” What does that mean? Look at the previous verse (Exodus 6:30). Being again commissioned of God to go to Pharaoh, Moses said, “Behold, I am of uncircumcised lips, and how shall Pharaoh hearken unto me?” This is the Lord’s next word to Moses. — “See, I have made thee a god to Pharaoh.” With that declaration, he assured Moses that he was sent with divine authority as God’s messenger and that, as God’s messenger, failure was an impossibility.
Moses had been commissioned as God’s messenger to Pharaoh. He was clothed with power and authority from God as his representative to the King of Egypt. Civil magistrates are called “gods” (Psalm 82:6-7; John 10:34-36), because they are set over men with divine authority to whom we are responsible and whose laws we are commanded to obey (Romans 13:1-7). Here, Moses is called “a god to Pharaoh,” not as a civil magistrate, but as God’s prophet. He was sent to Pharaoh as God’s ambassador, as a man with a message from God to deliver to the King of Egypt.
That is the position in which every man sent of God as his messenger stands before those to whom he is sent. God’s servants are all sinful men, nothing but sinful men. Yet, that man who is sent of God, carrying God’s message to you, is clothed with divine authority. He is to be heard. His message is to be obeyed. The labor of such men is never in vain (Jeremiah 1:10; 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:1; Hebrews 13:7, 17; 2 Corinthians 2:14-17).
Moses received the message directly from God; but he did not personally deliver it to Pharaoh. He related God’s message to Aaron, his brother, the man appointed by God to be high priest over the house of Israel. And Aaron delivered the message to Pharaoh. What a vivid portrayal that is of true preaching. God’s servants seek and obtain a message from him. Then, they deliver the message back into the hands of Christ, the only Mediator between God and men, and implore him to deliver his message by them in the power of his Spirit.
And those men who are sent of God to speak for him, true gospel preachers, studiously labor to know and to speak only that which God commands and all that God commands in his word — “Thou shalt speak all that I command thee: and Aaron thy brother shall speak unto Pharaoh, that he send the children of Israel out of his land” (Exodus 7:2; Jeremiah 23:28; Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 20:27). God’s servants are not free to preach what they desire, selecting what they think is appropriate. Like Moses, God’s servants in all ages are given a specific message to proclaim. We are commanded and responsible to “declare unto you all the counsel of God,” to “preach the Word” (2 Timothy 4:30) in season and out of season, to “hold fast the form of sound words” (2 Timothy 1:13). — “If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness; he is a fool, knowing nothing” (1 Timothy 6:3-4).
With this qualification, “I have made thee a god to Pharaoh,” Moses went forth, acting as God’s representative. He ruled over Egypt’s proud king, commanding him, controlling him, and punishing him for his disobedience. He is no longer timid, hesitant, and discouraged. He never again mentioned his own inability, but went forth in the name of Christ as God’s messenger to men, full of confidence, not in himself, but in God whose servant he was. Let every man called and sent of God do likewise
In verses 3-5 the Lord God tells Moses plainly that he would be to Pharaoh a messenger of death and of judgment. It was God’s purpose in sending Moses to Pharaoh to harden Pharaoh’s heart by his Word and by the wonders he would perform before his eyes. — “And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt” (v. 3).
Here, we see the great sovereignty of our God displayed in wisdom and justice. God hardened Pharaoh’s heart by every renewed declaration of his Word and by every wonder performed before his eyes. By these things the children of Israel were more and more convinced that the Lord was about to deliver them; but Pharaoh and the Egyptians became more and more hardened in their hatred of God. The same sun that melts the wax until it be dissolved, hardens the clay into brick (2 Corinthians 4:3-4; Hebrews 3:12-13; Isaiah 6:9-10; Romans 11:5-10; 2 Thessalonians 2:8-12; Romans 1:28-32).
Many try to blunt the keen edge of Holy Scripture in order to make it more acceptable to the carnal mind. Instead of acknowledging with fear and trembling that God’s Word teaches precisely what is here stated, that the Lord God actually hardened the heart of Pharaoh, most argue that He did nothing of the kind, that He simply permitted the Egyptian monarch to harden his own heart.
While it is true that Pharaoh did harden his own heart, the Scriptures specifically tell us that the Lord God himself hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and that he did so precisely according to his own sovereign pleasure and eternal purpose. Pharaoh was responsible for hardening his heart. He did so because he hated God and refused to bow to him. Yet, even Pharaoh’s hardness of heart was accomplished according to God’s purpose (Romans 9:15-23).
Two Great Ends
But God’s purpose in hardening Pharaoh’s heart was not an arbitrary, capricious whim. He raised up Pharaoh, hardened his heart, and dumped him in the Red Sea in order to accomplish two great ends: the glory of his own great name and the deliverance of his people. We see this clearly in verses 4 and 5. — “But Pharaoh shall not hearken unto you, that I may lay my hand upon Egypt, and bring forth mine armies, and my people the children of Israel, out of the land of Egypt by great judgments. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the LORD, when I stretch forth mine hand upon Egypt, and bring out the children of Israel from among them.”
The Lord God turned the Egyptians “to hate his people, to deal subtly with his servants.” Then, “He sent Moses his servant; and Aaron whom he had chosen. They showed his signs among them, and wonders in the land of Ham. He sent darkness, and made it dark; and they rebelled not against his word” (Psalms 105:26-28). He “led them by the right hand of Moses with his glorious arm, dividing the water before them, to make himself an everlasting name… led them through the deep, as an horse in the wilderness, that they should not stumble. So didst thou lead thy people, to make thyself a glorious name” (Isaiah 63:12-14).
In verses 6 and 7 the Spirit of God describes the men God chose to be his servants by whom he would deliver his people. He does so by declaring just two things about them. — “And Moses and Aaron did as the LORD commanded them, so did they. And Moses was fourscore years old, and Aaron fourscore and three years old, when they spake unto Pharaoh.”
Moses and Aaron were faithful men. God only requires one thing of his servants. — “It is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2). — “And Moses and Aaron did as the LORD commanded them, so did they” (Exodus 7:6). They never again showed the slightest reluctance, or made any objection to any message God commanded them to deliver or any work they were commanded to do, but went about it at once, and performed it with all readiness of mind and cheerfulness of heart.
They were faithful men; and they were old men. — “And Moses was fourscore years old, and Aaron fourscore and three years old, when they spake unto Pharaoh” (Exodus 7:7). I see several things here that are important. They were men of considerable experience. They were mature men, seasoned with the experience of life in this world. They had been in training for a long time. They were wise, prudent men of great age, sedate and composed. They were weak, old men. A. W. Pink wrote, “This reference to the ages of Moses and Aaron seems to be brought in here in order to magnify the power and grace of Jehovah. He was pleased to employ two aged men as His instruments.”
Now, look at the serpents mentioned in verses 8-12.
“And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying, When Pharaoh shall speak unto you, saying, Show a miracle for you: then thou shalt say unto Aaron, Take thy rod, and cast it before Pharaoh, and it shall become a serpent. And Moses and Aaron went in unto Pharaoh, and they did so as the LORD had commanded: and Aaron cast down his rod before Pharaoh, and before his servants, and it became a serpent. Then Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers: now the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments. For they cast down every man his rod, and they became serpents: but Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods.”
After delivering God’s message to him, Pharaoh demanded (as God said he would) that Moses show him a sign, a miracle. Like multitudes throughout the ages, he seems to have said, “I will believe God if you can prove that I should.” And God gave him a sign. But, remember, it was God who chose the sign. Aaron threw his rod to the ground, and it immediately turned into a serpent. Then, Pharaoh’s magicians did the same thing with their rods by “their enchantments.” But Aaron’s serpent swallowed the serpents of Pharaoh’s magicians.
The serpent was the emblem of Pharaoh and his power. His headdress featured a raised cobra. The fact that Aaron’s serpent devoured the other serpents amounted to nothing less than the Lord God declaring his sovereignty, supremacy, and power over Pharaoh and his gods. But it showed even more than that. This sign, by which God originally declared himself to Pharaoh, was a display of our Lord Jesus Christ and his dominion and triumph over Satan, by which he would accomplish our redemption and eternal salvation.
Aaron’s rod clearly represents Christ himself. It was the rod of power that budded with life. When it was thrown on the ground, it became a serpent. That is exactly what happened when our Lord Jesus Christ came into this world in human flesh. It was a serpent, Satan, the god of this world, who beguiled Eve and brought Adam into ruin. This was by God’s design (Job 26:13; Isaiah 27:1).
When our Lord Jesus Christ was portrayed in his redemptive power and grace, he was portrayed as a serpent of brass (Numbers 21:9; John 3:14-15). The serpent Moses made and held up in the wilderness for the saving of the people was a serpent of brass, because brass has within it a toxin, or poisonous element; and our blessed Savior, when he died in our place at Calvary, made the toxin, the poison that ruined us, his own when he bare our sins in his own body on the tree. The serpent was made of brass for another reason. — Brass is the color that most resembles the color of the noxious reptile. And our Lord Jesus, in order to redeem and save his people from their sins, was made a curse for us. Therefore, when Moses portrayed him in his redemptive character, he made the image of a serpent, the only creature of God that is said to be under the divine curse.
Pharaoh’s magicians, “with their enchantments,” threw their rods on the ground and made them appear as serpents. It really does not matter, but I am inclined to think these magicians did not actually turn their rods into serpents, but that they simply made them appear to be serpents, just as false prophets ever seek to imitate true prophets and seek to give out imitations of Christ for Christ himself (2 Corinthians 11:13). Then, Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods. The rods of Jannes and Jambres were entirely consumed by Aaron’s rod (2 Timothy 3:1-8). And our Lord Jesus Christ has, by his sin-atoning sacrifice, utterly destroyed the devil and cast him out (John 12:31-33; Revelation 20:1-6).
Christ has bound the old serpent with the chain of his omnipotence, having utterly consumed every evil he brought upon God’s chosen. Soon, just as “Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods,” our blessed Savior shall completely rid the universe of the slime of Satan upon His creation! — “And there shall be no more curse!” Because Christ died and rose again, because he has swallowed up the curse, God’s people have nothing to fear from the serpents Satan spawns in this world (Isaiah 11:8-9).
A Hardened Rebel
Pharaoh’s heart was hardened by that, which it would appear, should melt any heart. — “And he hardened Pharaoh’s heart, that he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had said” (v. 13). The fact is the heart of man is so hard that it cannot be melted to repentance, except God himself melt it by his grace. But the primary emphasis of this statement is the fact that, “the king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will” (Proverbs 21:1). Our great God is in absolute control of all things, both the good and the evil (Psalm 76:10; Revelation 17:17; Romans 11:33-36). Let us worship and adore Him.
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