The fundamental aim of all magic is to impose the human will on nature, on man or on the super-sensual world in order to master them.
—E. M. Butler, Ritual Magic (1949)
Anyone who pretends to be interested in magic or the occult for reasons other than gaining personal power is the worst kind of hypocrite.
—Anton LaVey, high priest of the Church of Satan, San Francisco
Moses as a Prepper
When Moses reached his rebellious stage, he refused to be counted the son of Pharaoh’s daughter (Heb. 11:24), as well as refused to be considered an heir to the throne. He chose to align himself with God’s covenant people rather than to enjoy the power and prestige that rightly belonged to a prince of Egypt. The chronological history of ancient Egypt is a little hard to track, so it is hard to know where exactly to look for Moses’ foster mother in the accepted sequence of Egyptian rulers. Most likely her reign ended a dynasty and, after her death, the throne passed to another noble family.
At this point, Moses was starting to understand his calling before God. He knew he was to be a judge and shepherd to Israel. He was to deliver his people from Egypt and lead them back to the Promised Land. He expected the people of Israel to understand this as well (Acts 7:25). But when Moses killed an Egyptian in order to rescue an Israelite from a beating, he didn’t receive the acceptance and support he expected. What he got was envy and resentment. “Who made you a judge and ruler over us?” they asked (Acts 7:35). They weren’t ready for freedom. So Moses hit the road.
He spent 40 years in the wilderness of Midian tending sheep, preparing for future stewardship, and learning what it meant to really be a shepherd from the ground up (Ex. 3:1). Meanwhile Israel got what they wanted, slavery for another generation.
At the end of that time, God appeared to Moses in a bush that burned with fire and yet was not consumed (Ex. 3:2). He revealed Himself by the name of Yahweh, “I AM,” and commissioned Moses to deliver Israel from Egypt. God gave Moses miraculous signs to perform before the elders of Israel and ultimately before Pharaoh (Ex. 4:1-9). God also told Moses that the job would not be an easy one… Pharaoh would harden his heart against God’s word and God’s signs (Ex. 3:19-20). The coming conflict would save Israel and destroy Egypt.
Moses Before Pharaoh
When Moses and his brother Aaron stood before Pharaoh and claimed to speak for the God of Israel, Pharaoh demanded some evidence. He wanted to see Moses’ credentials. Aaron cast down Moses’ shepherd’s rod, and it became a living serpent. But Pharaoh snapped his fingers for his sorcerers, Jannes and Jambres, to cast down their rods, and they too became serpents (Ex. 7:12).
The issue in Pharaoh’s mind was power. Moses claimed to represent the God of a conquered and enslaved people. So what kind of magical power could he tap through such a God? A stick into a serpent was fun, but Pharaoh’s boys matched it. Even when the serpent that was Moses’ rod gobbled up the other serpents, Pharaoh appeared bored by it all. Entertaining, he may have thought, but not enough raw power to threaten an empire.
The next day Moses and Aaron met Pharaoh and his entourage on the bank of the Nile. Again Moses demanded the release of Israel, and again Pharaoh said no way. Moses told Aaron to lift up the shepherd’s rod over the Nile. He did so, and the Nile turned to blood. It was a fitting judgment since a previous pharaoh had tried to turn the Nile red with the blood of Hebrew babies. But once again the sorcerers sprang into action. They found some small amount of water that had escaped God’s judgment, and they turned it into blood as well (Ex. 7:22). Pharaoh’s heart grew harder. So what if the Hebrew God could deliver on volume? Pharaoh’s men could still match Him on quality. They could perform what looked like the same sort of magic.
God’s next judgment brought up frogs, lot of them. They covered the land and got into everything. Again the magicians duplicated the miracle on a much smaller scale. They brought up more frogs—as if Egypt didn’t have enough already. At this point, Pharaoh began to buckle. He asked Moses and Aaron to remove the frogs. They did. That is, the frogs died off, and their stench filled the land. Again Pharaoh hardened his heart and would not let Israel go.
God sent yet another plague. He turned the dust of the land into lice, and the lice infested man and beast. Pharaoh’s sorcerers tried to duplicate this miracle. This time they failed. Finally they professed to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God!” (Ex. 8:18-19). Fifteen hundred years later Jesus would say the same thing about His own miracles (Luke 11:20). Here we find the radical difference between magic and miracles. Miracles are the work of God’s Spirit.
Magic as a Philosophy
For every non-theistic religion or philosophy, reality is, at the end of the day, “One”. Whatever gods there may be, they are identical with or products of that monistic reality. The same is true of man. If the universe is simply “One,” man is of the product of that universe and so potentially or perhaps actually divine. That’s the belief system that made the pharaohs divine. So in this system (non-theism), man’s problem is that he has the tools to control the universe available, he just needs access to them. So the issue becomes how to access the tools of power and control.
In the ancient world, that access was magic. As man saw himself besieged on all sides by demons, ghosts, and evil spirits, he sought protection in magic charms, amulets, and spells. Magic was the platform of usable energy, the non-rational hyperlink through which man could manipulate reality, before which even the gods had to bow. But magic always comes with a price tag and it was always best to procure its powers from a state licensed professional. Of course, those experts always guaranteed their product, at least in general terms. The charm-weavers and spell-writers really did believe in the magic they marketed. After all, it was a way of life for the entire culture. They knew no other world.
Like most of ancient civilizations, Egypt has left us relatively few written records of their life and culture. Of the available manuscripts and records however, magic plays an important role.
Egyptian medicine was largely applied magic. The records are full of incantations and rituals designed to drive away the demon behind each illness. The mortuary arts were either themselves magical or shaped by the demands of magic. The body of the deceased was magically prepared for eternity. The Pyramid Texts taught the departed soul what magic words it must utter before the divine judge of the underworld. These spells would blind the gods to the man’s moral imperfections so that his soul might continue its journey on into deification. Amulets bound over the heart of the man’s mummified corpse would charm that heart into non-recriminating silence. So for the Egyptians, magic trumped ethics and, with it, you could manipulate (even cheat) the gods.
Magic vs. Stewardship
Unlike Egyptian magic, Christian theism begins with the self-existent, transcendent God who speaks authoritatively through Scripture. This God created the universe not of necessity, but for His own glory. The universe He created He also sustains, and governs by His providence. Though God uses secondary causes, He Himself upholds and enables those causes. He makes the sun to shine, the rains to fall, and the grass to grow (Matt. 5:45; Ps. 104:14). He guides the stars in their courses (Job 38:31-32). He gives life and takes it away (Ps. 104:29-30). He guarantees the regularity that we see in creation (Gen. 8:22). That regularity is His covenant faithfulness, a faithfulness so precise that we can describe it with mathematical equations.
God’s dominion over the universe makes possible man’s stewardship under God (Gen. 1:26-28). Agriculture, metallurgy, engineering, medicine, even cooking, all presuppose a rational, predictable universe. One that has no room for magic. But as surely as providence means rational order, it also means ethical order. God providentially blesses those who keep His covenant. He blesses crops and commerce and cattle (Deut. 28:1-14). Not that covenant keeping forces God’s hand. Rather, covenant life is where God graciously manifests Himself and where He delights in His people. Where the magician seeks power for himself, even power over the gods, the godly man seeks fellowship with God. In that fellowship is life and power—and sometimes even miracles.
Miracles are not magic. They are God stepping out of His routine to accomplish a special purpose at a particular time in a particular place. Miracles reveal God’s grace and power. They credential His message and His messengers. They deliver His people and overturn His enemies. They stand out sharply against the background of His providential rule and are a face-slap to unbelief. Pharaoh felt the full force of that slap. So did Egypt. By the time God was finished, Egypt was destroyed (Ex. 10:7).
Conclusion: Challenging the Dark Side with Faith
Today’s rationalists reject magic out of hand. They insist that it’s all superstition, imposture, and self-deception. And most of it is. We must remember that the Advent of Jesus Christ changed the world. In his On the Incarnation of the Word, Athanasius tells us that the coming of Christ marked the demise of oracles and the disappearance of demons. Certainly we don’t encounter today the rampant demon possession that Jesus found in Israel when He came to Earth.
What kind of magic did Jannes and Jambres practice then? The text of Exodus seems straightforward. They duplicated the effects of God’s miracles. Their rods “became serpents” and they “brought up frogs.” There is no hint here of sleight of hand or stage magic. The effects were real and the magic demonic.
Even so, Moses never saw the Egyptian magicians as actual rivals. He knew his God was the sovereign Creator. God’s miracles were not magic. God’s miracles were products of His creative word. The demonic was not a threat, only an obstacle. Humble before God, Moses was not afraid to challenge the most powerful empire on Earth or the dark forces behind it. And by faith, the people were set free.
Today, the same rules apply. We counter manipulation of our money supply (a form of magic and power from below) with nothing less than the full power of what God’s Word says about sound money. Christian patriots must use the Moses strategy in faith. Humble but bold, speaking the truth of God’s revealed word. Write a letter today to Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke, telling him in no uncertain words what God’s Word says about watering down the money and stealing from future generations. Remember, be polite. Moses was never disrespectful to Pharaoh. Here’s the link: https://www.federalreserve.gov/Feedback.cfm