Moses and Aaron had just finished speaking. Most of the Israelites believed these things. Some shook their heads in doubt. There were a few who felt that Moses and Aaron were trying to push themselves into being Israelite leaders. It was from these that shouts of protest came.
“It’s easy for you to say that God sent you!” one of them yelled. “But can you prove it?”
“We want to get out of Egypt!” another shouted, “but we want to choose our own leaders – not just any one who comes along!”
Encouraged by those who spoke out, other doubters began to voice their opinions, where upon Aaron held up his arms and called for silence.
“Our God knew there would be those of you who would fail to recognize His servants,” Aaron told them. “God therefore has given Moses the power to perform miracles. That should leave no doubt that Moses is the one to go before Pharaoh and demand that our people be freed from slavery!”
A murmur arose from the group of elders as Moses stepped before them, holding his shepherd’s rod at arm’s length about his head. Then he tossed it out between himself and the onlookers. The instant it touched the ground, it turned into a long snake, wiggling toward the staring elders. There was a sudden shuffling of feet and a few grunts of alarm as those at close range struggled to retreat. Understanding the elders’ alarm, Moses stepped forward and seized the snake by its tail. To the astonishment of all, except Aaron, it became a shepherd’s rod in Moses’ hand.
Again the elders murmured among themselves, but this time there was a different note in their voices.
Now there was silence as Moses held up his right hand for all to see. He put it inside his jacket for a few seconds, when he withdrew it it showed a white, leprous, decayed hand that brought a chorus of cries of horror from the crowd. A moment later, when Moses had put his hand back into his jacket and withdrew it a second time, the crowd was amazed to see that the hand was normal again.
“No man could do such things without the power of our God,” some of the elders said in low voices.
“I have seen Pharaoh’s magicians do greater wonders than those,” someone spoke up. “Perhaps this is only a clever magician without any power from God.”
At a sign from Aaron, two husky men brought a large jar of water, and set it down before the crowd.
“As you people can see,” Aaron announced, “this jar contains water. It has just been brought here from the Nile. I invite all who are interested to step up here to the jar and look at and taste this water.”
The first one to step forward and examine the water was the man who had just spoken of Moses as possibly being only a clever magician. A few others followed him.
“Tip the jar over,” Aaron told the men who had brought it. They obeyed, and as the many gallons of waters surged forth across the ground, Moses held his rod over it. Instantly the water turned red. Those who stood close by looked down to find their sandals and feet splotched with the thick scarlet liquid!
“Blood!” someone cried. “The water has turned to blood!”
The loud murmur from the crowd of elders gradually died down until there was complete silence. Then someone began to speak out in a clear voice and thank God for sending Moses to lead the Israelites out of their misery. The others bowed their heads and joined silently in the prayer (Ex. 4:29-31).
As for Moses and Aaron, they thanked God for taking the troublesome doubts out of the minds of the elders. Not long after that, Moses and Aaron and many of the elders of Israel crossed the Nile River and went south to the Egyptian capital city of Memphis to appear before the king.
It wasn’t a simple matter to get into the royal court and talk to Pharaoh. But Moses had been raised in the royal palace. He knew just what should be done, and it wasn’t long before the group of Israelites was in the presence of the king.
“For what reason are these Israelites before me?” Pharaoh demanded of his aides. “They are here to ask a favor of you,” was the answer.
“I owe no favors to the Israelites,” Pharaoh snapped. “But let them ask, so that I will have the opportunity to refuse them!”
At a motion from an aide, Aaron stepped forward from his group to address the king. “We come in the name of the God of Israel,” Aaron declared. “He has told us to come to you and tell you to let our people go out into the desert to worship Him.”
There was a sudden, cold silence in the court following Aaron’s words. It was broken by faint whispers from several Egyptian women who were Pharaoh’s guests for the day. Pharaoh leaned forward and frowned curiously down upon Aaron.
“Who is this God of Israel who attempts to tell me what to do?” he asked. “I don’t know who he is or anything about him. But whoever he is, I am not going to let the Israelites leave Egypt” (Ex. 5:2)!
“We must do as our God tells us,” Aaron explained. “All we ask is that our people be allowed to go three days’ journey into the desert. There we are to make sacrifices to our God. If we don’t obey Him in this matter, he may bring horrible punishment to us through disease or by some enemy attack” (v. 3).
Moses had by this time stepped up besides Aaron. He held his shepherd’s rod in his hand, waiting for the opportunity to use it. Pharaoh stared coldly down at the two.
“Don’t think I don’t know that you two are stirring up your people into trying to escape from Egypt!” he growled, shaking a forefinger warningly at them. “Now leave this court. Get back to whatever you’re supposed to be doing, and stop trying to talk your people into doing less work for me!”
Armed guards quickly stepped forth to escort Moses and Aaron and the elders toward the doors. Forced out of the court, there was no opportunity to display their miracles before the king. Furthermore, it looked as though there would never be another chance to come before Pharaoh. Moses was disappointed and discouraged.
The more the king thought about being told to let the Israelites go, the angrier he became. Before the day was over he gave an order to be sent to all Egyptian taskmasters, the foremen of the Israelite labor gangs. The order also went to the Israelite officers who helped the taskmasters keep the gangs working. Here is what the order said:
“From now on, all Israelites employed in making bricks must furnish the straw that goes into the making of bricks. At the same time, they must produce as many bricks as they have been making with straw furnished by the Egyptians. Israelites laboring at other tasks must be given more work to do. I, Pharaoh, demand these things because the Israelites have been idle, and have even been asking for time off on the seventh day of each week to worship their God” (Ex. 5:6-9).
The Israelites labor gangs were working at many things, including digging irrigation canals, bricking up the banks of the Nile in various areas, building walls, erecting pyramids and making bricks. Whatever they were doing, this order from Pharaoh increased their labors and their misery.
Probably those who made bricks were more affected by this cruel ruling. As a result, they had to work longer than usual to go through the hay and grain fields to gather up the straws that were left after the harvests. When no more straw could be found, they gathered stubble to help hold the bricks together.
As time went on, the Israelite brick-makers had to go farther and farther away to gather plant stalks and stubble, and thus there was less and less time for them to produce the amount of bricks they had made when straw was brought to them (vs. 10-13).
When the taskmasters saw that the Israelites were gradually falling behind in what was expected of them, they feared that Pharaoh would be angry with them. Therefore they severely beat the Israelites officers, and hoped that in turn the officers would best their people into working harder (v. 14).
Instead, the officers sent men to Pharaoh to complain about matters. When these men came before the Egyptian king, they told him that it was impossible for the Israelites to do all the work that was expected of them, and that the Egyptians were very unfair to expect so much work to be done.
Pharaoh stared as coldly at the Israelite officers as he had glared at Moses and Aaron.
“You Israelites are lazy!” he shouted. “Otherwise you would not be whining about wanting to take time off to worship this God of yours! Now get back to your jobs. My order still holds, which means you won’t be furnished straw. But I expect just as much work from your people, even though they must get the straw themselves” (vs. 15-19)!
The Israelite officers trudged wearily from Pharaoh’s palace, realizing that matters were now far worse than ever before, what with their having increased the kings’ anger! Outside they met Moses and Aaron, who were anxiously waiting to learn the outcome of the officers’ visit to the royal court.
“God should deal with you for what you’ve done,” one of the officers said bitterly to Moses and Aaron. “Pharaoh is so angry because of your asking to go out into the desert to worship God that he may even order his army against us!”
Moses felt sorrowful about how things had turned out. As soon as he could be by himself, he prayed to God.
“Why did you send me to the king?” he asked God. “Instead of rescuing my people, you have allowed even more misery to come to them” (vs. 20-23)!
“You shall see what I will do to Pharaoh,” God told Moses. “After I deal with him, he will be anxious to be rid of Israel. Remember, I am God Almighty, your Creator and the One who made a promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I know the sufferings of your people, and I have not forgotten my promises. Tell them that I – the Eternal will bring great things to pass to rescue them from Egypt. When they see these things take place, they will have no doubt that I am their God. Then I shall give them the land they were promised” (Ex. 6:6-7).
Encouraged by hearing God repeat His promises, Moses sent word to the slaving Israelites of the things God had told him. He hoped this would brace up the spirits of the overworked people. But they were in such a miserable, hopeless state that they paid no attention to what Moses had to say (v. 9).
Not long after that, God told Moses to go again to Pharaoh and tell him to let the Israelites leave Egypt. “But if my people aren’t interested in even trying to escape, what good will it do to go to Pharaoh again?” Moses argued.
“Must I remind you again that I am your Creator?” God asked. “As your Maker, I am telling you and Aaron to do this thing! I have given you the power to do great things before Pharaoh, and to your brother I have given the ability to speak well. Even so, I shall allow Pharaoh to remain stubborn in his desire to keep the Israelites as slaves. Then, when I bring terrible things upon Egypt, so that my people will be rescued, this idol-worshipping nation will surely come to know that your God is the only God” (vs. 10-13).
Moses and Aaron obeyed, and went again to Pharaoh’s court. When the king was told that they had come again to see him, he was a little amused.
“Show them in,” he ordered his court officers. “It should be interesting to hear what these two upstart Israelites have to say to me this time.”
As soon as Moses and Aaron were before the king, Aaron again asked him to allow the Israelites to lease Egypt.
“How do I know that you two have been sent by your God to demand this thing?” Pharaoh asked. “If you’re anything more than just the troublemakers I think you are, you should be able to show some kind of sign to prove the power of this God of yours.”
Hoping to amuse his guests who were seated in the court, Pharaoh settled back in his massive chair, prepared to enjoy the discomfort he intended to cause Moses and Aaron by his request for them to prove themselves to be true messengers from God.
Moses glanced around at the over-curious faces of the guests, servants and guards. Some of them were grinning, as though expecting Moses and Aaron to turn and hurriedly leave the embarrassment.
“Throw your rod on the floor,” Moses said to Aaron. The rod Aaron held was the same one Moses had carried when God had first spoken to him. Aaron held it high for all to see, then tossed it forward on the wide, richly carpeted expanse of floor in front of the king’s chair.
Onlookers could see and hear the rod thud to the carpet. For a moment they wondered why Aaron had done this. Did it mean that Moses and Aaron were giving up trying to get Pharaoh to let the Israelites leaves Egypt? Guards grasped their weapons more firmly, alert to any possible surprise action by the two Israelites.
Then a surprise did take place. Grins faded from the faces of the onlookers. They were replaced by expressions of alarm and even horror. Pharaoh’s bearded chin dropped a little. His narrowed eyes snapped open. And he lurched back a bit in his chair. Even the husky guards stiffened at sight of the thing on the floor. There were even a few stiffed screams from women who were present.
The rod turned into a large, coiling hissing snake (Ex. 7:8-10)! Pharaoh quickly straightened up into a more kingly posture, and managed to gaze with some boredom at the repulsive serpent as he beckoned to one of his aides.
“Call in my magicians – quickly!” he snapped in a low tone. Minutes dragged by as people in the court waited in uneasy silence, staring at the coiled tongue-darting snake. As for Moses and Aaron, they stood patiently waiting for something to happen. Finally the aide came in to whisper something into Pharaoh’s ear.
“That was a very interesting and exciting display,” the king said to Moses and Aaron. “Now let us see if my wise men can show as much ability and power as your God has shown through you.”
At a sign from Pharaoh, the court musicians struck up a sort of fanfare on their horns, drums and stringed instruments. Curtains parted at one side of the huge room, and out strode several well-robed men. Each carried what appeared to be a shepherds’ rod. They lined up before the king, each holding his rod upward at arm’s length.
“Throw your rods on the floor,” Pharaoh commanded. The magicians obeyed, and tossed their rods down on the carpet between the king and the snake that had come from Aaron’s rod. Again there were gasps of horror. A babble of excited voices came from the onlookers.
Every rod had become a live snake! In spite of so many reptiles crawling around before him, Pharaoh leaned back and smiled triumphantly at Moses and Aaron (v. 11).
“I don’t think,” he told them, “that your God can do any more than our gods can do.”
Handclapping and shouts of praise for Pharaoh and his magicians came from the onlookers. Moses and Aaron could only stand in discomfort before all. But perhaps they knew that it was an ancient trick to press certain nerve centers in snakes, so that they would become as rigid and straight as sticks, only to be brought back to action by the pressing of certain areas to relieve the rigidness caused by nerve control. Thus it could have been that the so-called rods of the magicians were actually snakes to begin with. And Moses and Aaron probably knew that some magicians and sorcerers could show amazing feats because they were helped in their tricks by Satan’s demons – and demons sometime have the power to do some astounding things.
But however Pharaoh’s magicians worked their “magic,” they caused the miracle by God to look like only a trick that could be performed by most any clever magician.
Discouraged and disappointed, Moses nodded to Aaron to pick up the serpent that had come from their rod. Aaron stepped forward to seize the snake by its tail, but at that moment it slithered quickly away toward the other snakes.
What happened then caused the babble of voices to fade away. There were a few gasps of astonishment. Pharaoh’s grin dissolved, its place abruptly taken by an expression of utter disbelief. The snake from Aaron’s rod was darting around and gulping down all of the magicians’ snakes (v. 12).
This was too much for some of the people in the court. They began moving toward the doors. Even the magicians were shaken by what they saw, and they started to file out in defeat, shaking their heads in wonderment.
After all the snakes were swallowed, Aaron seized the devouring reptile by its tail, and it became a rod in his hand. When Pharaoh saw this, he got to his feet and started to leave. Not to be put off so easily, Moses and Aaron moved quickly toward the king.
“We have shown you the sign you asked for,” Aaron called out. “It should be proof to you of our God’s power. Now will you let our people go?”
The king of Egypt turned to stare coldly at the two Israelites. His gaze shifted to that amazing rod in Aaron’s hand, and for a few seconds Pharaoh looked at though he would like to give in on the matter. But then a hard, stubborn expression moved over his face.
“I will not let them go!” he blurted and strode from the court (Ex. 7:13).
There was nothing more Moses and Aaron could do. Guards cleared the room, and the two unhappy Israelites returned to where they were staying several miles down and across the Nile River.
Be watching for our next installment of The Story of the Bible. Follow the Israelites through the Red Sea into the Wilderness.