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Discovery Magazine 11/1/2006

Egyptian Magicians, snakes, and rods

Do you remember the story in the Bible when Moses and Aaron threw down a rod that became a snake, and Pharoah’s magicians copied them by throwing down their rods that became snakes as well? The biblical account states:

“And Aaron cast down his rod before Pharaoh and before his servants, and it became a serpent. But Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers; so the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments” (Exodus 7:10-11).

Have you ever wondered how the magicians of Egypt could have possessed the miraculous power to repeat the sign that God had given to Moses and Aaron? Did the magicians really have supernatural powers? The biblical text does not give us all the details, but there are clues that suggest that the Egyptian magicians used trickery instead of real supernatural ability.

Egyptians often used the snake in their religious rituals. Many Egyptian paintings and carvings portray this animal in connection with ancient Egyptian snake charmers and magicians. They would certainly have become very skilled at capturing, handling, and displaying snakes. One common trick charmers could do was to press below the neck of certain snakes to “paralyze” them. By pressing a certain spot below the neck, the snake becomes stiff and difficult to bend, much like a rod. This could have been the trick that the Egyptian magicians used with Moses and Aaron.

The Bible does not say that the magicians possessed miraculous powers. Their “magic” tricks were most likely just the ability to know how to hold a snake to make it stiffen like a rod. While the magicians could at least make it look like they had amazing abilities, they could not withstand the power of the almighty God. Their weak attempts to copy the miracle performed by Moses and Aaron were ruined when God showed His power by causing the rod of Moses and Aaron to eat all the other snakes of the magicians (Exodus 7:12). The important point to remember is that God is all powerful—more powerful than any false god or magician.

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