Exodus 7:11—How could the wise men and sorcerers of Pharaoh perform the same feats of power that God told Moses to perform?

Problem: Several passages in Exodus (7:11, 22; 8:7) state that the wise men, sorcerers, and magicians of Pharaoh did the same works with their enchantments which God commanded Moses and Aaron to perform. However, Moses and Aaron claimed to have been sent from the Lord God. How could these men perform the same feats of power as Moses and Aaron did by the power of God?

Solution: The Bible indicates that one of Satan’s tactics in his effort to deceive humankind is to employ counterfeit miracles (see Rev. 16:14). Exodus 7:11 states, “But Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers; so the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments.” Each of the other verses makes a similar claim. The passage states that the feats of Pharaoh’s magicians were performed “by their [magical] enchantments.”

Some commentators assert that the feats of the magicians were merely tricks. Perhaps the magicians had enchanted snakes so that they became stiff and appeared to be rods. When cast down upon the floor, they came out of their trance and began to move as snakes. Some say these were acts of Satan, who actually turned the rods of the magicians into snakes. This, however, is not plausible in view of the fact that only God can create life, as even the magicians later recognized (Ex. 8:18–19). Whatever explanation one might take regarding these feats, one common point holds for every account and is found in the text itself. It is clear that by whatever power they performed these feats, they were not accomplished by the power of God. Rather, they were performed “by their enchantments.” The purpose of these acts was to convince Pharaoh that his magicians possessed as much power as Moses and Aaron, and it was not necessary for Pharaoh to yield to their request to let Israel go. It worked, at least for the first three encounters (Aaron’s rod, the plague of blood, and the plague of frogs). However, when Moses and Aaron, by the power of God, brought forth lice from the sand, the magicians were not able to counterfeit this miracle. They could only exclaim, “This is the finger of God” (Ex. 8:19).

There are several points by which one can discern the difference between a satanic sign and a divine miracle.

These differences can be seen in these passages in Exodus. Although the magicians appeared to turn their rods into snakes, their rods were swallowed up by Aaron’s rod, indicating superiority. Although the magicians could turn water to blood, they could not reverse the process. Although the magicians could bring forth frogs, they could not get rid of them. Their acts were supernormal, but not supernatural.

Although the magicians could copy some of the miracles of Moses and Aaron, their message was connected with error. Basically they copied the miracles of God’s chosen men in order to convince Pharaoh that the God of the Hebrews was no more powerful than the gods of Egypt. Although Pharaoh’s magicians were able to copy the first three miracles performed by God through Moses and Aaron, there came a point at which their enchantments were no longer able to counterfeit the power of God.

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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.