Egyptian magicians, part one

As I continued my study of Moses I came across another aspect of his story that I was totally unaware of. Most people are familiar with the wonders and plagues that God visits upon Egypt as Pharaoh refuses to free the slaves. What I wasn’t familiar with was the fact that Pharaoh’s magicians actually recreated a few of these wonders and plagues. When Moses and Aaron first approach Pharaoh, Aaron throws down his staff and it turns into a serpent. Then this happens.

Exodus 7:11-12 Then Pharaoh summoned the wise men and the sorcerers, and they, the magicians of Egypt, also did the same by their secret arts. 12 For each man cast down his staff, and they became serpents. But Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs.

This isn’t the only miracle these guys copy. Moses and Aaron turn the Nile river to blood and the fish in the Nile died and it starts getting real stanky around there. Then this happens.

Exodus 7:22 But the magicians of Egypt did the same by their secret arts. So Pharaoh’s heart remained hardened, and he would not listen to them, as the Lord had said.

This happens once more, when in chapter 8 of Exodus God brings forth the plague of frogs on Egypt. Aaron stretches out his hand over the waters of Egypt, frogs come swarming from everywhere, and then this happens.

Exodus 8:7 But the magicians did the same by their secret arts and made frogs come up on the land of Egypt.

Now before I dive into this whole thing, I think it’s also important to notice that the Bible does take record of when the magicians failed. On the next plague, the plague of gnats, Aaron strikes the dust of the earth and gnats come swarming everything. Then this happens.

Exodus 8:18 The magicians tried by their secret arts to produce gnats, but they could not. So there were gnats on man and beast.

So here’s where we’re at. These Egyptian magicians were able to turn staffs into serpents, water into blood, summon frogs, but not turn dirt into gnats. I was totally fascinated by this because in all the sermons and preaching I’ve heard all my life, I’ve never heard these magicians mentioned. As I was reading this I just shook my head, because I couldn’t believe that Pharaoh had evil wizards! When I really started digging into this and studying this, I was really driven by the question of how these magicians did what they did. What I found was that there are two schools of thought. Many people believe that these magicians were occult powered, drawing on dark, demonic power. Just as many people actually believe that these guys were grand illusionists, like Criss Angel or David Blaine (or David Copperfield, if you’re old enough to remember him.) There seem to be strong arguments for each, with some studies I read even talking about the mastery some Egyptian illusionists had over snakes, saying they would keep snakes in their robes and then bust them out when doing magic tricks and illusions.

As you read these Bible verses, it keeps saying that they pulled off their deeds by using their “secret arts.” I took that back to the King James Version and saw that it uses the word “enchantments” instead of the phrase “secret arts.” So then I dug even deeper using some awesome new study books I’ve recently been gifted.

The first time the word enchantments is used in Exodus 7:11 it’s actually the Hebrew word lahat. Lahat means flaming, enchantment.  The only other time the word lahat appears in the Old Testament is in Genesis 3:24.

Genesis 3:24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.

In that verse, the phrase “and a flaming” matches up to lahat, the same word that’s used to describe the enchantments the Egyptian magicians used to turn their staffs into snakes. This seems to make a strong case in my mind for the idea of real power behind the magicians, as it’s sharing a word with a fire enchantment that God himself put on a sword. But let’s keep looking.

I found it really interesting that the next three times the Bible uses the word enchantments in Exodus when it talks about the Egyptian magicians, it’s no longer lahat, but now it changes to the Hebrew word lat. This word shows how the ESV Bible got their use of calling the magicians deeds “secret arts”, because that’s exactly what lat means. It means arts, but with an added meaning of secrecy and mystery.

I suppose none of this really puts to bed the question of the Egyptian magicians. Dark powered occultist wizards or just talented illusionists? At the end of the day, I don’t know that it’s the most important debate to settle. What I can say is this. For me, just in my spirit, I feel like there was real power represented here. I don’t think these were Criss Angel kinda guys just pulling off a few random tricks. One reason I feel this way is because when I was doing this study I really felt strongly that God was warning me against occult powers, dark spirits, and stuff of that nature. These days you don’t hear much about this stuff, but there’s a ton of Biblical evidence that there are dark and unseen powers and forces at work in the world. Here are just a few of the verses that reference stuff like this.

2 Thessalonians 2:9 The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders,

Leviticus 19:31 “Do not turn to mediums or necromancers; do not seek them out, and so make yourselves unclean by them: I am the Lord your God.

Matthew 24:24 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.

Revelation 16:14 For they are demonic spirits, performing signs, who go abroad to the kings of the whole world, to assemble them for battle on the great day of God the Almighty.

We can argue all we want about whether or not the Egyptian magicians were tapping into these dark and demonic powers, but the Bible puts a definitive stamp on the fact that these powers do exist. One of the most well known verses about it is in Ephesians.

Ephesians 6:12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this verse appears in the midst of the Bible telling us about the armor of God and imploring us to wear it.

Ephesians 6:11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.

On Thursday I’m going to continue looking at this subject as God was really speaking to me through this portion of Moses’ life about the importance of being aware of all of our enemies, the seen and the unseen.


Father God, today I just feel so thankful that you’re in control.  You know my heart, you know that I’ve been ignorant to the existence of the unseen forces of this world and you know that it’s something that I’ve had a certain level of fear towards in the past.  Thank you for not leaving me ignorant.  There are enemies we face in this world, and I thank you for using the life of Moses to get me more aware of all the threats that exist.  Most of all, I’m thankful that our protection and victory is in you.  When Jesus would come up against demonic influence and demonic possession he faced it from a stance of power and authority.  He didn’t cower, he wasn’t fearful, he was confident that his power far surpassed anything else.  Thank you that that power is present in us, that we carry with us the spirit of our Lord, that we may face down the darkest and most sinister of threats from a place of confidence and victory.  Lord, you spoke a word into my life a few months ago when several times you were telling me to get serious.  Part of getting serious is getting educated, and I thank you that you’re educating me on the layout of the battlefield that we face as believers in you.  As I close out this prayer today, I pray for protection for everyone from any demonic influences, from any evil spirits that would come against them.  I also pray for wisdom and education, that you’ll get us wise to not just the enemies we can see, not just the obvious temptations, but to the unseen as well.  I thank you for the confidence you’re building in me to face down things that once filled me with fear.  I am a child of the most high God, I am your child, help me to always stand tall and confident in that identity.  I love you Lord, and I’m so thankful that I belong to you.  In the precious name of Jesus I pray, amen.

I’m really excited about the Bible these days.  It’s such a source of comfort and knowledge to me.  I’m excited to wrap up this look at the Egyptian magicians on Thursday as the Moses Moments series rolls on.  I hope all of you out there are having a good week.  God loves you, and He’s for you.  And if that’s the case, how can anyone against you hope to prosper?


Published by: Aaron Hall

A lifelong writer, I now spend my days working in communications for city government. I love Jesus with all my heart, and I love sharing my thoughts on the Bible here on this blog.

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