Ten Plagues of Egypt: Lesson 1: God Foil’s Man’s Wisdom

How God used dedicated, common men to frustrate the wisest of the wise in Exodus 6.28–7.13

GOD often frustrates the “wisdom” of natural man (Isa 29.14; cf. 1Co 1.19). When man seeks to glorify himself, God may frustrate his “wisdom.” Recently I received an e-mail illustrating God’s sometimes canny frustrating work:

“The average cost of rehabilitating a seal after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska was $80,000. At a special ceremony, two of the most expensively saved animals were released back into the wild amid cheers and applause from onlookers. A minute later they were both eaten by a killer whale.”

“Two animal rights protesters were protesting at the cruelty of sending pigs to a slaughter-house in Bonn. Suddenly the pigs, all two thousand of them, escaped through a broken fence and stampeded, trampling the two hap- less protesters to death.”

“Iraqi terrorist, Khay Rahnajet, didn’t pay enough postage on a letter bomb. It came back with “return to sender” stamped on it. Forgetting it was a bomb, he opened it and was blown to bits.”

God has an uncanny way of frustrating the wisdom of man. Often God uses his servants to destroy man’s wisdom. This article will show how God used two common men (Moses and Aaron) to frustrate the wisdom of Egypt’s great leader – Pharaoh.

God foiled man’s wisdom by using men with great limitations.

Now when the LORD spoke to Moses in Egypt, 29 he said to him, “I am the LORD. Tell Pharaoh king of Egypt everything I tell you.” 30 But Moses said to the LORD, “Since I speak with faltering lips, why would Pharaoh listen to me?” (Ex 6:28–30).

This is the second time that God commanded Moses to speak to Pharaoh. Earlier, God told Moses to go to Pharaoh and speak to him. However, Moses was hesitant.

Moses said to the LORD, “O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.” [lit. Heb. heavy in mouth and heavy in tongue.] (Ex 4.10)

Again, God told Moses to go to Pharaoh. Moses responds, “I speak with faltering lips.” He may have been a stutterer or a slow speaker. We do know that his lack of speaking abilities would not fare well in Pharoah’s courts. We know from ANE documents that eloquence was not only desirable but also influential in the courts of pharaohs.[1] Wasn’t Moses eloquent enough? For forty years, he was trained in the royal courts of Pharaoh. He knew how to approach the pharaohs. Yet, he knew his limitations. While it is true that Moses may not have been a very eloquent speaker, the issue was not his skill level, but lack of trust.

God foiled man’s wisdom by using men of low status.

Then the LORD said to Moses, “See, I have made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron will be your prophet.  You are to say everything I command you, and your brother Aaron is to tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites go out of his country. (vv 1–2)

The pharaohs of Egypt were raised believing that they were gods. They were duped into believing that their fathers were gods. They were told and treated like they were gods all of their lives. No wonder we see arrogance in this Pharaoh. What a shock it would be to Pharaoh to realize that he was not the only god, and that he was weaker than the other god.

This is why God made Moses appear as a god and Aaron as his prophet. God was about to use Moses and Aaron to challenge Pharaoh’s claim to singular sovereignty. The fact that there was another God frustrated the Egyptian wisdom.

Natural man delights in viewing himself as the center of the universe. His claims to individual sovereignty will one day be frustrated as Pharaoh’s were.

God foiled man’s wisdom by using men of old age.

Moses was eighty years old and Aaron eighty-three when they spoke to Pharaoh. (v 7)

One of the most striking features of this scenario is that Moses and Aaron were older men. Moses was 80 and Aaron was 83.

One would think that God would use young, vibrant men for this particular task. However, in the case of Moses and Aaron, they began their ministry at the end of their lives.

In contrast, pharaohs were often young children when they began their reigns. God may be using the older, weaker men as further evidence that Egyptian wisdom was just foolishness.

God foiled man’s wisdom by sovereignly equipping His servants to accomplish their ministry.

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 ser- vants, 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 en- chantments. 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. (vv 8–13)

Signs and magical spells were a large part of Egyptian life. For the pharaohs, magic spells were significant. Magic, for the Egyptian, gave a sense of omnipotent control. The magicians practiced cursing (including killing), curing, determining weather, predicting the future, and raising the “dead.” Egyptians took pride in their “all-powerful,” “all-knowing” magicians.

When Moses and Aaron threw down their rods, Pharaoh called on his own men to duplicate the trick to show that he could not be frustrated by this new god.

Then Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers: now the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments. (v 11)

What exactly did these magicians of Pharaoh do? There are four basic views:[2]

  • The magicians performed a miracle: Demonic power enabled them to perform real miracles. Problem: I am uncomfortable with this point. Though Satan and his forces have great powers, there is not sufficient biblical evidence that Satan has the ability to create life from an inanimate object. Later, the magicians were not able to produce gnats from the dust of the ground. But when the magicians tried to produce gnats by their secret arts, they could not. And the gnats were on men and animals. (Ex 8.18)
  • The magicians produced an optical illusion: They appeared to be snakes but were not. Problem: The Bible states that they were snakes. They were not merely optical illusions.
  • The magicians used paralyzed snakes: The hage (cobra) could be paralyzed if pressure was applied to the muscles around the neck. They would look like rods in that paralyzed state. Problem: It is doubtful that the Pharaoh would think that the rods were not real snakes.
  • The magicians used sleight of hand: They replaced snakes with rods. This view has the least problems.

It is difficult to be dogmatic which view is best. At least it can be said that these magicians were demonically helped to be more than the typical garden-variety magician.

Each one threw down his staff and it became a snake. But Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs. (7.12)

Aaron’s snake “swallowed up” the other snakes. Literally, it “gulped them down.” Pharaoh’s wise men were frustrated by God’s work.


Moses and Aaron lived in a unique dispensation when God often used miraculous events to establish His sovereignty. What we can glean from this passage is that God uses anyone, in spite of their natural abilities, status or age. He sim- ply wants willing, obedient believers and equips them for His service.

Notice some implications from this passage. First, you may not be very talented. God can use you. If you are a believer, then He has equipped you with at least one spiritual gift. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good (1Co 12.7). Second, you may be in the latter stages of life. God can use you if you are obedient. Third, you may not have any influence or clout. God can use you if you are obedient. What- ever your situation, trust in and serve God wholeheartedly.

[1] John Davis, Moses and the Gods of Egypt, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1986) 76.

[2] Outlined by John Davis, Moses, 90–2.

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