1 And the Lord said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron shall be your prophet. 2 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. 3 But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, 4 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. 5 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.” 6 Moses and Aaron did so; they did just as the Lord commanded them. 7 Now Moses was eighty years old, and Aaron eighty-three years old, when they spoke to Pharaoh.
8 Then the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, 9 “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.’” 10 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. 11 Then Pharaoh summoned the wise men and the sorcerers, and they, the magicians of Egypt, also did the same by their secret arts. 12 For each man cast down his staff, and they became serpents. But Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs. 13 Still Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the Lord had said. – Exodus 7:1-13 ESV
When God first commissioned Moses for his new role as the deliverer of the people of Israel, Moses tried to use his lack of speaking skills as an excuse for turning down the position. But God responded by adding Aaron, Moses’ older brother, to the team. The two of them would become the perfect pair, with Moses serving as the silent, but highly powerful partner and Aaron performing the role of spokesman. God described their partnership this way:
“You shall speak to him [Aaron] and put the words in his mouth, and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth and will teach you both what to do. He shall speak for you to the people, and he shall be your mouth, and you shall be as God to him. And take in your hand this staff, with which you shall do the signs.” – Exodus 4:15-17 ESV
Moses would be responsible for passing on to Aaron any messages he received from the Lord, then Aaron would vocalize God’s words to the appropriate party. But all signs and wonders would be Moses’ purview. With his staff in hand, he would enact any and all miracles ordered by God to validate the message and the messengers. Even before Moses left Midian, God told him, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go” (Exodus 4:21 ESV).
Upon their arrival in Egypt, Moses and his brother had run into an apparent roadblock in their efforts to deliver the people of Israel. Things had started out well when the Hebrews had received the two men and their message with open arms. But Pharaoh had proved to be a hard nut to crack, rejecting their request to allow the Israelites to go into the wilderness to worship their God. And Pharaoh subsidized his rejection by increasing the workload of the Hebrews, whom he viewed as little more than captive immigrant workers. With their hopes dashed and their daily lives marked by suffering and pain, the Israelites lashed out at Moses and Aaron, blaming them for their circumstances. This led Moses to take out his frustration on God.
“O Lord, why have you done evil to this people? Why did you ever send me? For since I came to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has done evil to this people, and you have not delivered your people at all.” – Exodus 5:22-23 ESV
But none of this should have come as a shock to Moses. God had warned him that Pharaoh would not be cooperative. What is interesting to note is that words were never going to be the means by which God accomplished His will in Egypt. Pharaoh was never going to be coerced or convinced by words alone. And while Moses had been worrying about his lack of rhetorical skills, he should have listened to what God had said.
“When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go. Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord, Israel is my firstborn son, and I say to you, “Let my son go that he may serve me.” If you refuse to let him go, behold, I will kill your firstborn son.’” – Exodus 4:21-23 ESV
The miracles would be the means by which God orchestrated the release of His people. And God told Moses that one particular miracle would prove to be the deciding factor in persuading Pharaoh to let God’s people go.
As chapter seven opens, the roles of Aaron and Moses remain the same. Aaron will continue to act as the mouthpiece for the pair, while Moses performs all the signs. But God informs them that even all the signs and wonders Moses displays before Pharaoh will do nothing to change his mind.
“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.” – Exodus 7:3-4 ESV
In a sense, God is letting Moses know that the initial signs he performs will appear as little more than cheap parlor tricks to Pharaoh. He will be impressed but not enough to change his mind. And as this chapter reveals, the magicians of Egypt will replicate many of the signs that Moses performs, further negating their influence. But God told Moses that another set of signs and wonders was coming.
“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.” – Exodus 7:4-5 ESV
These “great acts of judgment” were going to take things to a whole new level. And God wanted His two messengers to know that the simple, yet impressive signs He had instructed Moses to perform were just the beginning. There was far more to come.
But God instructed them to go before Pharaoh and do just as He had commanded them to do. Pharaoh was going to demand that they provide some kind of sign to prove that they were truly representatives of the Hebrews’ deity.
“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.’” – Exodus 7:9 ESV
In this instance, it would be Aaron who did double duty, speaking to Pharaoh but also performing the sign from God. When they appeared before Pharaoh, he demanded a sign just as God had predicted, and Aaron did as God commanded. He threw his staff to the ground and it became a snake. But Aaron and Moses must have been shocked when the Egyptian magicians quickly replicated the sign by turning their own staffs into snakes. The text provides no explanation for how the magicians managed to do what they did. But there are only a few options available. Either these men did what they did by the power of Satan or God did it. The second choice makes the most sense. Since the staff of Aaron possessed no power in and of itself, it had to be God who made this miraculous transformation possible. The sign was His idea. So, when the magicians threw down their staffs, God displayed His power yet again, and the magicians were probably amazed by what they saw. It is likely that they never expected their efforts to be successful. But the real demonstration of God’s power was in what happened next.
But Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs. – Exodus 7:12 ESV
This powerful demonstration of God’s power would have validated Aaron as His spokesman. God was the one who turned all the staffs into snakes and He was the one who gave Aaron’s staff primacy over all the others. God was declaring Aaron and Moses to be His official representatives. But Pharaoh remained unimpressed and unwavering in his commitment to deny the Israelites their freedom.
Still Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the Lord had said. – Exodus 7:13 ESV
Now the stage was set. Pharaoh knew he was dealing with two men who had true power. Yet, he remained just as fervent in his desire to keep the Israelites in their role as free slave labor. He was not about to give up this valuable asset, even when faced with Aaron’s display of magical power. It was going to take a lot more than that to change his heart and God knew it. Not only that, God had ordained it.
But as this scene in the royal palace comes to a close, it is essential that we not gloss over the small detail that Moses discloses in the narrative.
Now Moses was eighty years old, and Aaron eighty-three years old, when they spoke to Pharaoh. – Exodus 7:7 ESV
As the old adage states, these two men were not spring chickens. They would be considered old in just about any cultural context, but in that day and age, they would have been ancient. Moses spent 40 years of his life in Pharaoh’s court before fleeing to Midian. There, he lived another 40 years in relative obscurity and anonymity. And at the ripe old age of 80, God called Moses to serve as the deliverer of His people. This octogenarian was destined to be the God-ordained savior of the Israelite people. He had been for this role and God had planned for his starting date to begin at age 80.
“D. L. Moody wittily said that Moses spent forty years in Pharaoh’s court thinking he was somebody; forty years in the desert learning he was nobody; and forty years showing what God can do with somebody who found out he was nobody.” – Bernard Ramm, His Way Out
I can’t help but think of the movie, “Grumpy Old Men,” starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. It is difficult not to see Moses and Aaron as two crusty old senior citizens with bad backs, diminished hearing, and poor eyesight. When they should have been playing canasta in the old folks’ home, they were serving as God’s emissaries in the court of Pharaoh. They would not have been impressive to look at. Their presence would not have struck fear into Pharaoh. But these two unlikely candidates had been chosen by God to carry out His sovereign plan for delivering His people. And, with His help, they would prove more than adequate for the task.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.