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. For every man threw down his staff, and they became serpents. But Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs. And Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, as the Lord had said. (Ex 7:10-13)
After struggling from the time of his initial encounter with God at the burning bush, Moses has now become fully committed to God’s calling to be His mouthpiece to call for the freedom of the Hebrews from the bondage of slavery in Egypt. In the next large section of the book of Exodus (7:8-12:32), we will no longer see Moses making any excuses. He will boldly carry out that which God commands of him straight through to the tenth plague that will result in the freedom of God’s people.
Our text for this Sunday, (7:8-13) is the opening salvo of what is to come; it serves as a demonstration to Pharaoh, his council, and all of Egypt, of who the Sovereign God of Israel truly is. Here we encounter the first miraculous sign set before Pharaoh and his magicians, which will serve as a prequel to the ten plagues to come. We see four things take place in these verses: first, the obedience of Moses and Aaron; second, God’s superior power over the gods of Egypt; third, the counterfeit power of Pharaoh’s court, and fourth, the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart. We will find these four things repeated to varying degrees throughout the larger section, as the plagues are released on Egypt. This first miracle seems like a simple sign – a staff turning into a snake – something which the Pharaoh’s magicians were able to replicate by their satanic powers; but the symbolism of what happens is powerful! Snakes, which in this case were most likely cobras, were feared in Egypt. Pharaoh wore a crown on his head adorned with a cobra – a symbol of his authority. In this miraculous sign of the staff turning into a snake and then swallowing up the magician’s staffs, God is demonstrating from the beginning, who truly has authority. In the end, like the magician’s staffs, Pharaoh and his army will also be swallowed up; as it says in Exodus 15:12 – You stretched out Your right hand; the earth swallowed them. The same word is used in both places.