God’s Presence is here to do battle. There is no real question of whether or not he can vanquish the enemy. So, why hasn’t he? Why hasn’t he just wiped Satan out and all that he stands for? I mean, sometimes don’t you wish he would? Ah, but the Presence of God is not here to merely vanquish the enemy. If that were his goal, it would already be done. Wouldn’t it? He is present to capture your heart. His goal is for you to see the lie supporting the foundation you are standing on before it collapses; before it is too late. And sometimes this is accomplished by a titanic clash in which the powers that some were clinging to are dismantled by the power of his presence. And there is tension here, but it has nothing to do with which force will conquer. The tension pops electrically over whether or not people will allow Yahweh to capture their heart. Because through all of the battling God leaves that decision up to you.
Exodus 7:8-13 represents the beginning of an epic clash of powers. On the one side you have the Pharaoh of Egypt, drunk with power and clothed with self-woven deity. On his side you have the nation of Egypt, the birth mother of a whole brood of gods which supply wealth and protection to their mother. On the other side you have Yahweh, the I Am, the God of slaves. And on his side is the nation of Israel, beat up slaves who lay claim to only one God. The first time Moses and Aaron approached Pharaoh it ended in apparent disaster. Yahweh tells them to go again and informs them that the clash of power was about to begin. Pharaoh is going to ask for a miracle; a sign or symbol that authenticates them and Yahweh. This time when Aaron throws down his staff, it will become a great serpent. The word used here is different from the one used in chapter 4. In chapter 4 the word means snake and probably refers to a dangerous serpent. Remember Moses running and hiding when it all happened. Here the word can mean sea serpent or even dragon. If this was a snake it was probably huge.
Okay, so Aaron’s staff becomes some kind of monstrous serpent. And this time we are not told of any running and hiding. Instead Pharaoh seems to calmly call in his wise men, sorcerers, and magicians. Very clearly, we are intended to envision Pharaoh’s best and most skilled people waltzing into the palace. And amazingly we see them throwing down their staffs and they also become monstrous serpents. We have no idea how many of these monsters were slithering over the palace floor. It must have been quite the sight. It is important to see here a clash of powers. Contrary to some commentators this was not some kind of trick in which a snake handler renders a snake rigid by pressing a nerve at the base of its head. In the first place, if these were snakes at all, they were not your normal every day snakes. They were monsters. In the second place, it does no good to ignore the power wielded by those outside of the will of God. This is a story about the clash of power. I would rather people just dismiss the veracity of the story than to steal away its wonder with explanations of how it all could have happened naturally. There are spiritual forces contrary to Yahweh out there and these forces have mysterious powers?
Humorously, Aaron’s staff (note the text does not say serpent) swallows up the staffs of Pharaoh’s magicians. This is a clear indication of which power is greater. I can almost hear Yahweh saying, “Oh yeah! Well, my monster can swallow your monsters!” This is the beginning of a pattern that will be repeated. There were powers at work in Egypt. For several hundred years the Israelites have been witnesses to those powers. This conflict is not just about who can produce the greatest serpent. This is about Israel letting go of the power of Egypt and giving their heart to Yahweh. At least that is Yahweh’s plan. He could have simply whisked them out of Egypt without the epic battle; without the monster snakes. But how can he win their hearts? How can he show them that the Present One is greater than Pharaoh; greater than the brood of Egyptian gods? Pharaoh’s heart is rendered rigid; unyielding. And this is also part of the pattern.
There are all manner of powers out there. We may be tempted to explain them away or simply refuse to believe. But maybe that is just another power; the power of my informed and enlightened brain. God showed up to do battle with the powers of the air. In our present passage that clash involved monstrous snakes. But the ultimate clash took place on a cross; where power laid down life in a surprising move which won the war. Now, the only question is which power will you serve? Will you be enticed by promises of mysterious power or will you be swept away by the story of the slain lamb? Peace, Walter