Tuesday, November 19, 2013



Part 6:  Purposes of the Plagues.

In part 6 of this series we learn that in the plan to deliver the Hebrews from their Egyptian captivity there were at least four additional purposes for the plagues: to show God’s sovereignty through Pharaoh, to execute judgment upon the gods of Egypt, that what happened in Egypt would be forever remembered throughout history and that God has made two promises to the Israelites and He intends to keep them both.



Researchers usually note that Moses’ rod was intended as a symbol of authority or rank as most nobles and officials carried rods.

However, we must take note that just because Moses carried a rod it did not impress Pharaoh when Moses and Aaron appeared before him the first time. Though the account in Exodus does not expressly state that Pharaoh was unimpressed we learn, all the same, that he wasn’t impressed based upon the contempt he showed Moses.

Immediately upon praying with the elders of Israel in the last verse of Exodus 4, Moses and Aaron sought audience with Pharaoh in the first verse of Exodus 5. At once Moses clearly states with prophetic authority God’s demand, “Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Let my people go, that they may hold a feast unto me in the wilderness.”

Pharaoh’s response was swift and without regard for either the staff in Moses’ hand or for any “god” named “the Lord God of Israel.”

“Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go.” --Exodus 5: 2

The impudence that would mark this Pharaoh manifested itself immediately as the very stubbornness that God warned Moses of at the burning bush.

And it is worth taking note of Henry’s comment on Moses’ first encounter with Pharaoh.

Moses, in treating with the elders of Israel, is directed to call God the God of their fathers; but in treating with Pharaoh, they call him the God of Israel, and it is the first we find him called so in scripture. (1)

Almost as soon as Moses and Aaron left Pharaoh’s presence, Pharaoh ordered his taskmasters to a new cruelty upon the Hebrew slaves.

And Pharaoh commanded the same day the taskmasters of the people, and their officers, saying, Ye shall no more give the people straw to make brick, as heretofore: let them go and gather straw for themselves.

And the tale of the bricks, which they did make heretofore, ye shall lay upon them; ye shall not diminish ought thereof: for they be idle; therefore they cry, saying, Let us go and sacrifice to our God.

Let there more work be laid upon the men, that they may labour therein; and let them not regard vain words.

And the taskmasters of the people went out, and their officers, and they spake to the people, saying, Thus saith Pharaoh, I will not give you straw.

Go ye, get you straw where ye can find it: yet not ought of your work shall be diminished.

So the people were scattered abroad throughout all the land of Egypt to gather stubble instead of straw.

And the taskmasters hasted them, saying, Fulfill your works, your daily tasks, as when there was straw.

And the officers of the children of Israel, which Pharaoh's taskmasters had set over them, were beaten, and demanded, Wherefore have ye not fulfilled your task in making brick both yesterday and to day, as heretofore? --Exodus 5: 6-14

In surely one of the more well-known accounts in the Old Testament, Pharaoh orders the Hebrew slaves to make bricks without straw. In fact it is so well known today that to say, “make bricks without straw” is meant to say someone must work harder with less.

Some researchers believe that the straw was used to strengthen the Nile mud as it was molded into bricks while other researchers believe the straw was used to line the molds so that it was easier to remove the shaped mud without distorting or breaking its shape.

The Bible Digest offers this comment:

What a testing for the people, but how much more for Moses! God had promised deliverance (iii. 8) but instead of relief they were receiving an increase in the burdens. The supply of straw was taken away but the output of the bricks had to remain the same. An interesting interpretation is to be found on this matter. It has usually been conceded that the straw was put inside the bricks as binding material, thus creating reinforcement. If this were so the children of Israel might have produced their quota of bricks by leaving the straw out or using it very sparingly. Of course this would weaken the brick and it would crumble in time. But the suggestion is that the straw was “teban”, the very short straw or the dust of the threshing floor.

This was used not for binding but for dusting the moulds to prevent the clay sticking to the sides. Without this teban a brick would have to be made again and again because it would not come out of the mould cleanly but, clinging to the mould, would twist or break. This would slow production considerably. (2)

From Dummelow:

The word rendered ‘straw’ means straw cut into short pieces and mixed with chaff. This required little labour, if any to make it fit for use in brickmaking. What is called ‘stubble’ is not what we know by that name, but includes all kinds of field rubbish, small twigs, stems, roots of withered plants, etc., which were used for fuel. To make this fit for brickmaking it had not only to be gathered, but chopped up and sorted, thus entailing double labour on the part of the Israelites. (3)

It seems that the debate need not be an “either or” debate as it appears that the straw served both purposes, both as filler and as dusting for the molds.

And from Ryrie we learn that the foremen were evidently Hebrews, not Egyptians like the taskmasters, because of the beating they received (v. 14). By beating the Hebrew officers, Pharaoh succeeded in setting them against Moses and Aaron (v. 21). (4)


Exodus 7 shows us Moses and Aaron returning to Pharaoh. Moses instructed Aaron to cast down his rod, and when Aaron did so, his rod turned into a serpent.

Pharaoh was not impressed.

He called for his magicians to come forward, and these magicians did likewise with their rods -- they cast them down and they turned into serpents.

2 Timothy 3:8 names two magicians who “withstood” Moses as Jannes and Jambres. Jannes is also mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls.  (5)

It is worth noting that the Egyptian “god of magic” was Thoth. Thoth is often depicted with a pen in his hand for he is also the god of writing, and mythology states that Thoth recorded many magic spells and incantations into books. Thoth is associated with the moon and the paths of some stars, each of which are required understanding for the deeper workings of witchcraft. The magicians of Egypt were trained in the arts Thoth taught.

And it must be understood here that “magicians” in this context are NOT necessarily the circus-variety magicians who put on street shows to entertain children with their sleight of hand tricks self-taught from a $19.95 book and starter kit from Barnes and Noble. These were magicians serious about their trade and their arts. It was extremely prestigious to serve in the presence of the ruler, therefore, when a magician was summoned to the Pharaoh’s presence -- it was game day, time to put up or shut up. Magicians of this sort were closer in works and artform to witches and thus more intense and serious about their craft.

We get the impression that when Aaron’s rod turns to a snake and then eats the snakes from the magicians that this is a minor miracle as many commentators note that the important thing is that Aaron’s rod ate the magicians’. But there is more to it than that . . .

Aaron’s rod-turned-serpent ate the rods-turned-serpents of the magicians. Here sets the foundation of what is to come, namely the unexpected. This is what we shall see henceforth from all the plagues that come upon Egypt -- mostly natural disasters that have unexpected, thus unanticipated, consequences.

Yes, rods are symbols of authority. Rods used by magicians (thus witches) are not some random sticks picked up off the ground underneath trees. Rods are created from wood specifically chosen for the dark arts, such as holly wood. We are not told in the biblical account what kind of wood was used, but we can be assured that in the ancient recordings of Thoth, he specified which wood(s) would be necessary for gaining mastery of the spells and incantations.

At the very onset, we see one of Jehovah’s intentions -- that Pharaoh’s so-called cunning masters of the dark arts would not only be no match for Moses and Aaron, but they would have NO tools of authority and, thus, be rendered utterly impotent. Jannes and Jambres see the instruments of their trade stripped from them, and though we are not given privilege to their conversation after the incident, we know they must have been startled, if not a little fearful, for they left Pharaoh’s presence with LESS than what they entered with -- their rods vanquished and their importance, thus their relevance, their influence, diminished. And this before the first declared plague.

What must the two sorcerers have thought as they consulted their familiars and their dark lords as to what was going on and their consorts of darkness having no answer as it must be revealed that they are not among those privy to Jehovah’s “situation room.” What fear must have crept in at the edges of their hearts as they realized a new “Being” had entered the arena, and that He was not among those they offered sacrifices or prayers to, thus He could not be summoned nor manipulated.

Though the scriptures do not give us their thoughts we can probably safely surmise that they understood before Pharaoh did that they were outmatched and could only endure the consequences of what was to become a very one-sided battle.

As the plagues unfolded Pharaoh may have perceived them as a contest, but Moses did not, and the very first incident between Moses and Aaron and Pharaoh’s magicians set the groundwork when Aaron’s rod-turned-serpent consumed the rods-turned-serpents of the magicians and stripped them of their symbols and tools of power.

Looking at the incident from the Christian point of view, it would be easy to simply say, “Oh, Aaron’s rod ate up the others, which means his rod was more important,” and move on, not realizing the deeper significance. But looking at the incident from the witchcraft point of view, a magician (a witch) needs his tools, and in the encounter with Moses and Aaron, thus Jehovah, these tools were literally irretrievably snatched away, and not just from one, but from all.

In this account we see at once the purpose that Paul says in Romans of why God raised up Pharaoh -- to show that Pharaoh was brought to power to be an object lesson of God’s sovereignty. When Aaron’s rod consumed the magicians’ rods, thus the power of the magicians, Pharaoh may have been annoyed at the triumph of Aaron’s serpent but it is clear that he is oblivious that he has just lost his forward phalanx in his very first attempt to checkmate Jehovah. Only such a man stiffened with pride would disregard the clear rebuke sent by the Holy God of Israel. Instead, Pharaoh hardens his heart to advance forward in his self-imposed chess game only to be outmaneuvered time and time again in the next 10 matchups with Moses, Aaron and Jehovah.

Continued in Part 8 -- The Ten Plagues



1. A Commentary on the Whole Bible, Vol. 1, Matthew Henry, undated copy, pg 291, emphasis Henry's.

2. The Bible Digest, C. W. Slemming, D.D., 1960, pg 42.

3. The One-Volume Bible Commentary, edited by The Rev. J. R. Dummelow, M.A., 1958, pg 54.

4. The Ryrie Study Bible, Charles Caldwell Ryrie, Th.D., Ph.D., 1978, pg 99

5. Archaeological Study Bible, Zondervan Corporation, 2005, pg 96