A Hardened Heart (cont.),
by Arthur W. Pink (1886-1952)
6And Moses and Aaron did as the Lord commanded them, so did they. 7And Moses [was] fourscore years old, and Aaron fourscore and three years old, when they spake unto Pharaoh.
8And the Lord spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying, 9“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.” 10And 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. 11Then Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers: now the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments. 12For they cast down every man his rod, and they became serpents: but Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods. 13And He hardened Pharaoh’s heart, that he hearkened not unto them; as the Lord had said. (Exodus 7:1-13, AV)
“And Moses and Aaron did as the Lord commanded them, so did they” (v. 6). Why are we told this here? We believe the answer is, To point a contrast from what we find at the beginning of Exodus 5. In the opening verse of that chapter we learn that Moses “went in, and told Pharaoh, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Let My people go” (Ex. 5:1, AV). This was the Lord’s peremptory demand. Then we read of Pharaoh’s scornful refusal. Now note what follows: “And they said, The God of the Hebrews hath met with us: let us go, we pray thee, three days’ journey into the desert, and sacrifice unto the Lord our God” (Ex. 5:3, AV). It is plain that Moses and Aaron changed the Lord’s words. They toned down the offensive message. Instead of occupying the high ground of God’s ambassadors and commanding Pharaoh, they descended to the servile level of pleading with him and making a request of him. It is for this reason, we believe, that in 7:1 we find Jehovah saying to Moses, “See” (that is, mark it well) “I have made thee a god to Pharaoh”: it is not for you to go and beg from him, it is for you to demand and command. And then the Lord added, “Thou shalt speak all that I command thee”. This time the Lord’s servants obeyed to the letter, hence we are now told that they “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” (v. 7). 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. No doubt the Holy Spirit would also impress us with the lengthiness of Israel’s afflictions, and the longsufferance of Jehovah before He dealt in judgment. For over eighty years the Hebrews had been sorely oppressed.
“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” (vv. 8-12).
The reason why Pharaoh asked Moses and Aaron to perform a miracle was to test them and prove whether or not the God of the Hebrews had really sent them. The selected miracle’s meaning and message in the present connection is not easy to determine. From an evidential viewpoint it demonstrated that Moses and Aaron were supernaturally endowed. Probably, too, the rod becoming a serpent was designed to speak to the conscience of Pharaoh, intimating that he and his people were under the dominion of Satan. This seems to be borne out by the fact that nothing was here said — either by the Lord when instructing Moses (v. 9), or in the description of the miracle (vv. 10-12) — about the serpent being turned into a rod again. It is also very significant that the second sign given to Moses (see Ex. 4:6) — the restoring of the leprous hand — which accredited Moses before the Israelites, was not performed before Pharaoh. The reason for this is obvious: the people of God, not the men of the world, are the only ones who have revealed to them the secret of deliverance from the defilement of sin.
The response of Pharaoh to this miracle wrought by Moses and Aaron was remarkable. The king summoned his wise men and the sorcerers — those who were in league with the powers of evil — and they duplicated the miracle. It is indeed sad to find almost all of the commentators denying that a real miracle was performed by the Egyptian magicians. Whatever philosophical or doctrinal difficulties may be involved, it ill becomes us to yield to the rationalism of our day. The scriptural account is very explicit and leaves no room for uncertainty. First, the Holy Spirit has told us that the magicians of Egypt “also did in like manner (as what Moses and Aaron had done) with their enchantments.” These words are not to be explained away, but are to be received by simple faith. Second, it is added, “for they cast down every man his rod,” (not something else which they had substituted by sleight of hand) “and they (the rods) became serpents”. If language has any meaning then these words bar out the idea that the magicians threw down serpents. They cast down their rods, and these became serpents. Finally, we are told, “but Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods”, i.e., Aaron’s rod, now turned into a serpent, swallowed up their rods, now become serpents. That the Holy Spirit has worded it in this way is evidently for the express purpose of forbidding us to conclude that anything other than “rods” were cast to the ground.
If it should be asked, “How was it possible for these Egyptian sorcerers to perform this miracle?”, the answer must be, “By the power of the Devil.” This subject is admittedly mysterious, and much too large a one for us to enter into now at length. What is before us here in these earlier chapters of Exodus adumbrates the great conflict between good and evil. Pharaoh acts throughout as the representative of Satan, and the fact that he was able to summon magicians who could work such prodigies only serves to illustrate and exemplify the mighty powers which the Devil has at his disposal. It is both foolish and mischievous to underestimate the strength of our great Enemy. The one that was permitted to transport our Savior from the wilderness to the temple at Jerusalem, and the one who was able to show Him “all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time” (Luke 4:5), would have no difficulty in empowering his emissaries to transform their rods into serpents.
“They cast down every man his rod, and they became serpents: but Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods” (v. 12). This is very striking. The magicians appeared in the name of their “gods” (cf. Exodus 12:12 and 18:11), but this miracle made it apparent that the power of Moses was superior to their sorceries, and opposed to them too. This “sign” foreshadowed the end of the great conflict then beginning, as of every other wherein powers terrestrial and infernal contend with the Almighty. “The symbols of their authority have disappeared, and that of Jehovah’s servants alone remained” (Urquhart).
“And He hardened Pharaoh’s heart (literally, Pharaoh’s heart was hardened) that he hearkened not unto them; as the Lord had said” (v. 13). Here again the commentators offend grievously. They insist, almost one and all, that this verse signifies that Pharaoh hardened his own heart, and that it was not until later, and because of Pharaoh’s obduracy, that the Lord “hardened” his heart. But this very verse unequivocally repudiates their carnal reasonings. This verse emphatically declares that Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, “that he hearkened not unto them, as the Lord had said”. Now let the previous chapters be read through carefully and note what the Lord had said. He had said nothing whatever about Pharaoh hardening his own heart! But He had said, “I will harden his heart” (4:21), and again, “I will harden his heart” (7:3). This settles the matter. God had expressly declared that He would harden the king’s heart, and now we read in 7:13 that “Pharaoh’s heart was hardened” (not, “was hard”), “that he harkened not unto them, AS the Lord had said”. Man ever reverses the order of God. The carnal mind says, Do good in order to be saved: God says, You must be saved before you can do any good thing. The carnal mind reasons that a man must believe in order to be born again; the Scriptures teach that a man must first have spiritual life before he can manifest the activities of that life. Those who follow the theologians will conclude that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart because the king had first hardened his heart; but those who bow to the authority of Holy Writ (and there are very few who really do so), will acknowledge that Pharaoh hardened his heart because God had first hardened it.
What is said here of Pharaoh affords a most solemn illustration of what we read of in Proverbs 21:1: “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: He turneth it whithersoever He will”. The hardening of Pharaoh’s heart is not one whit more appalling than what we read of it Revelation 17:17: “For God hath put in their hearts to fulfill His will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the Beast”. Here we find ten kings in league with the Antichrist, the Man of Sin, and that it is God Himself who puts it into their hearts to give their kingdom unto him. Again we say that such things are not to be philosophized about. Nor are we to call into question the righteousness and holiness of God’s ways. Scripture plainly tells us that His ways are “past finding out” (Romans 11:33). Let us then tremble before Him, and if in marvelous grace He has softened our hearts let us magnify His sovereign mercy unceasingly.
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