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Did the sorcerers and magicians at the time of Moses perform real miracles? If so, what is the significance for us today?

During one of the early encounters of Moses and Aaron with Pharaoh, “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 (or soothsayers); so the magicians of Egypt, they ALSO DID IN LIKE MANNER with their enchantments. For every man threw down his rod, and they became serpents. But Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods” (Exodus 7:10-12).

In the New Testament, Paul identifies the two leading magicians of Egypt as Jannes and Jambres, stating: “Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, disapproved concerning the faith;  but they will progress no further, for their folly will be manifest to all, as theirs also was” (2 Timothy 3:8-9).

After God had instructed Moses to say to Aaron to stretch out his staff and strike the waters that were in the river, “all the waters that were in the river were turned to blood. The fish that were in the river died, the river stank, and the Egyptians could not drink the water of the river. So there was blood throughout all the land of Egypt” (Exodus 7:20-21).

Now notice what we read in the next verse:

“Then the magicians of Egypt DID SO with their enchantments [or: secret arts]; and Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them [Moses and Aaron], as the LORD had said” (verse 22).

Following these events, God instructed Moses to tell Aaron to stretch out his staff over the waters of Egypt, and after doing so, “the frogs came up and covered the land of Egypt” (Exodus 8:5-6). But again, we read, “the magicians DID SO with their enchantments, and brought up frogs on the land of Egypt” (verse 7).

However, when God used Moses and Aaron to bring the third plague of lice or gnats on Egypt, by apparently changing the dust into lice, as the dust “became” lice (Exodus 8:16-17), “the magicians so worked with their enchantments to bring forth lice, but they could not” (verse 18). They recognized that their powers were limited, and they told Pharaoh: “This is the finger of God” (verse 19). From that moment on, we do not read that the magicians tried to copy or duplicate the additional wonders and miracles that God brought on Egypt.

We see, then, that the powers of the magicians, which were obviously derived from Satan and his demons, had limits. We understand, of course, that Satan and his demons, let alone their human instruments, can only do what God allows them to do. In the case of the magicians of Egypt, God allowed some magical enchantment to harden the heart of Pharaoh, and to show His superiority over the dark powers of Satan and his servants.

The question is, did these magicians perform real miracles—albeit “lying,” “deceitful” or “deceiving” wonders—or were they just illusions?

Some feel that they were only man-made illusions and trickery. For instance, the commentary of Barnes’ Notes on the Bible states:

“Enchantments – The original expression implies a deceptive appearance, an illusion, a juggler’s trick, not an actual putting forth of magic power.”

The commentary of Gill’s Exposition on the Entire Bible agrees, stating:

“… the magicians of Egypt… also did in like manner with their enchantments; or by their secret wiles and juggles, making things seem to appear to the sight when they did not really, but by dazzling the eyes of men by their wicked and diabolical art, they fancied they saw things which they did not…”

Gill suggests some form of mass hypnosis and hallucination. But is this an accurate interpretation as to what happened?

The commentary of Jamiesson, Fausset and Brown also tries to give an explanation which is strictly based on human efforts:

“Jannes and Jambres… had time after the summons to make suitable preparations–and so it appears they succeeded by their ‘enchantments’ in practising an illusion on the senses.”

Even though the Bible says nothing of the kind, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary seems to agree:

“The magicians were cheats, trying to copy the real miracles of Moses by secret sleights or jugglings, which to a small extent they succeeded in doing, so as to deceive the bystanders…”

None of these opinions seem to be correct, as they disregard the clear statements of the Bible.

Wesley’s Notes admit that more was involved than just human trickery:

“The two chiefs of them were Jannes and Jambres. Their rods became serpents; probably by the power of evil angels artfully substituting serpents in the room of the rods, God permitting the delusion to be wrought for wise and holy ends. But the serpent which Aaron’s rod was turned into, swallowed up the others…”

The best explanation can be found in Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible:

“They also did in like manner with their enchantments – The word… probably signifies such incantations as required lustral fires, sacrifices, fumigations, burning of incense, aromatic and odoriferous drugs, etc., as the means of evoking… spirits or assistant demons, by whose ministry, it is probable, the magicians in question wrought some of their deceptive miracles: for as the term miracle signifies properly something which exceeds the powers of nature or art to produce… There can be no doubt that real serpents were produced by the magicians. On this subject there are two opinions:

“1. That the serpents were such as they, either by juggling or sleight of hand, had brought to the place, and had secreted till the time of exhibition, as our common conjurers do in the public fairs, etc.

“2. That the serpents were brought by the ministry of a familiar spirit, which, by the magic flames already referred to, they had evoked for the purpose.

“Both these opinions admit the serpents to be real, and no illusion of the sight, as some have supposed. The first opinion appears to me insufficient to account for the phenomena of the case referred to. If the magicians threw down their rods, and they became serpents after they were thrown down, as the text expressly says, Exodus 7:12, juggling or sleight of hand had nothing farther to do in the business, as the rods were then out of their hands. If Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods, their sleight of hand was no longer concerned. A man, by dexterity of hand, may so far impose on his spectators as to appear to eat a rod; but for rods lying on the ground to become serpents, and one of these to devour all the rest so that it alone remained, required something more than juggling. How much more rational at once to allow that these magicians had familiar spirits who could… convey one thing away and substitute another in its place! Nature has no such power, and art no such influence as to produce the effects attributed here and in the succeeding chapters to the Egyptian magicians.”

The Bible states that the rod of Aaron BECAME a serpent, and that the magicians did in like manner. Unless one wants to say that Aaron operated with a trick or performed an illusion (which would be ridiculous), the magicians did not operate in that way, either. Later, God changed water into blood, and the magicians “did so” as well. Also, God brought frogs over Egypt, and the magicians did so as well.

It is obvious that these magicians acted with the power of Satan the devil and his demons. One should not try to diminish or underestimate Satan’s powers, nor try to explain them as man-made illusions or trickery. The Bible shows that in the near future, powerful men will arise on the world scene who will be influenced and empowered by Satan to perform real miracles—not just illusions–but they will do so with the demonic purpose of deceiving mankind.

We state the following in our free booklet, “Angels, Demons and the Spirit World”: 

“Satan and his demons can show great signs and wonders. It is prophesied that Satan will ultimately give his power to a religious leader who will work ‘signs… by which he deceived’ the people (Revelation 19:20). False religious teachers, inspired by demons, might even be able to accurately foretell the future (Deuteronomy 13:1–4; Acts 16:16–19).

“Satan has the power to inspire people to go to war (Job 1:9–15; Revelation 16:13–14; Revelation 20:7–10). He has the power to throw down fire to consume man and beast (In Job 1:16, people felt that God brought this fire, but the context shows that Satan was the power behind it). As the ‘prince of the power of the air’ (Ephesians 2:2), he can bring destruction through mighty winds.

“Though many people don’t believe in the existence of Satan and demons, they are quick to dabble in the occult, being ignorant of the danger therein. Demons are called ‘familiar spirits’ because they want to familiarize themselves with man (Leviticus 19:31; 20:6, 27). Haunted houses, poltergeists, séances, communication with the dead, and contacts with ‘aliens’ are all clearly of demonic origin. Satan and demons are destructive. They love to torment people (Luke 6:18). Once we have made ‘contact’ with demons, we can’t get rid of them anymore, barring a miracle from God (Luke 11:24–26).

“There are many Scriptures that prove that Satan or demons can possess animals and people, forcing them to do terrible things (Luke 22:3; John 13:27). Demon-possessed people can be extremely violent (Matthew 8:28) and self-destructive (Mark 5:2–5). They lose all sense of decency (Luke 8:27).

“The Bible also shows that demons can possess or influence people to make them spiritually, psychologically, and physically sick. Even Paul was sick because ‘a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me’ (2 Corinthians 12:7). Through the influence of demons, people can be mute, deaf and dumb (Mark 9:17, 25), epileptic (Matthew 17:15–18), and infirm (Luke 13:11, 16). When a demon leaves such a person, it may appear as if the person has been healed from a physical sickness.

“Satan and demons have the power to transport a human being from one place to another (Matthew 4:5, 8; Luke 4:5, 9). This explains strange encounters with UFOs, where ‘abducted’ people are sometimes found hundreds of miles away from their residence, without knowing how they got there.

“Sorcery, witchcraft, hypnosis, and certain meditation practices are further methods of Satan to overpower the mind of a human being and to make him or her into a helpless victim. Whenever we give ourselves ‘over’ to another influence, we have become victims of the powers of darkness…

“It appears from Scripture that demons cannot materialize themselves the way that angels can. Demons cannot appear as men. They can, however, create an illusion, or an apparition that might look very real to people…”

Notice also the following excerpts from our free booklet, “The Great Tribulation and the Day of the Lord”: 

“There is another frightening prophecy given in the pages of the New Testament that reveals events to occur just prior to the coming of the day of the LORD.

“2 Thessalonians 2:1–3, 8–9 tells us: ‘Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ [NU: the Lord; “NU” is, according to the New King James Bible, “the most prominent modern Critical Text of the Greek New Testament”] had come. Let no one deceive you by any means: for that Day will not come unless the falling away [apostasy—a falling away from the truth of God] comes first, and the man of sin [NU: lawlessness] is revealed, the son of perdition [the false prophet discussed earlier in this booklet] … And then the lawless one will be revealed [or become manifest] whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming [by throwing him, together with the Beast, into the lake of fire]. The coming of the lawless one is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs and lying wonders.’

“This religious leader—the false prophet—will receive power to do miracles from Satan himself (compare Revelation 19:20). He, and the system that he represents, is described in Revelation 13:11 as a beast with ‘two horns like a lamb and spoke like a dragon.’ He ‘performs great signs, so that he even makes fire come down from heaven on the earth in the sight of men. And he deceives those who dwell on the earth by those signs’ (verses 13–14). This system is also described as engaging in ‘sorcery’ (Revelation 18:23). We are warned in Matthew 24:24 that some of those ‘signs’ will be so convincing that, if it were possible, even the elect of God would be deceived.

“Historical records establish the fact that Simon Magus, who had been baptized but had never truly repented (Acts 8:13–24), became a leader in the early Babylonian system. He had been a sorcerer, regarded as ‘the great power of God’ (Acts 8:9–10).

“Quoting from Millennium Prophecies, p. 59, let’s learn more about Simon Magus and the Satanic powers which he allegedly possessed. This should make us a bit more prepared for what is going to happen in the future and why the false prophet will be able to deceive so many people with his sorcery: ‘The Samarian-born Simon Magus (15 BC–AD 53), son of a Jewish sorcerer, was educated in the cradle of Gnosticism, Alexandria. He was a disciple of Dositheus, who had been a follower of John the Baptist and contended with Jesus Christ for the title of Messiah. Simon traveled widely in Persia, Arabia [and] Egypt to learn all he could about magical lore. He was accompanied by a sorceress called Helena, whom Simon claimed was a reincarnation of Helen of Troy. In Samaria, even Christians spoke of Simon as ‘the great power of God’… Simon Magus performed many miracles, including healing the sick, raising the dead, walking through fire, flying through the air, turning stones into bread, creating phantom banquets, making himself invisible, animating stone statues, changing his own shape and, of course, reputedly commanding elemental spirits or possibly demons to do his bidding.’

“Simon Magus was not the only leader within the Babylonian system who practiced sorcery. Millennium Prophecies tells of another famous sorcerer, Pope Silvester II, who lived at the end of the first century. Quoting from pp. 68 and 69: ‘Tradition has it that he was an advanced student of the black arts… It was said that he regularly conversed with the Devil… he was credited with possessing a “brazen head” that spoke to him and could prophecy future events… [He] learned… to summon ghostly figures from the lower world… [The] demons obeyed him in all that he required of them day and night, because of the great sacrifices which he offered, and his prayers and fastings and magic books and great diversity of rings and candles.’

“The false prophet—the last leader of the religious system called ‘Babylon the Great’ in the Bible—will appear soon on the world scene. He will be able to perform mighty miracles because Satan will give him the power to do so. Many will be deceived by those signs and will follow the wrong teachings of this man. May God protect YOU from doing so.”

In conclusion, it appears that the magicians at the time of Moses did perform real, albeit deceitful and lying, wonders or miracles. However, their enchantments will pale into insignificance, when compared with the powerful actions of the false prophet and other deceivers who are prophesied to appear in the not-too-distant future.

Lead Writer: Norbert Link