Then the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “When Pharaoh says to you, ‘Prove yourselves by working a miracle,’ then you shall say to Aaron, ‘Take your staff and cast it down before Pharaoh, that it may become a serpent.’” So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did just as the Lord commanded. Aaron cast down his staff before Pharaoh and his servants, and it became a serpent. Then Pharaoh summoned the wise men and the sorcerers, and they, the magicians of Egypt, also did the same by their secret arts. For each man cast down his staff, and they became serpents. But Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs (Exodus 7:8-12).
It started long before staffs became slithering snakes in Pharaoh’s palace parlour. The clash between two kingdoms playing out in Pharaoh’s palace started the moment Adam and Eve took the devil’s “did God actually say” question in Genesis 3:1 seriously. At the fall into sin Satan established his kingdom on earth. His kingdom’s mission statement was and is very simple: oppose, with all effort and at all costs, God’s kingdom. Ever since then the battle has been raging.
The intensity of the battle is described graphically by Paul in Ephesians 6 beginning in verse 10. You recall the passage, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers…” And make no mistake, the devil will use every opportunity possible to increase his attack on God’s church.
He was working overtime in the days of Israel’s slavery in Egypt. That new Pharaoh “who did not know Joseph” (Exodus 1:8) was his puppet to destroy God’s people. This was a time of intense effort on the devil’s part. He pulled out all stops to use Israel’s sojourn in Egypt as an opportunity to disable God’s kingdom’s progress.
On the basis of Scripture we all know that today, too, the kingdom of darkness will make the most of every situation to hamper the spread of the light of God’s kingdom. The devil hates truth and light and will smother it with falsehood and darkness whenever he can. That’s what he tried there in Pharaoh’s palace.
God confronts Pharaoh with the reality of His absolute power and authority. Pharaoh (verse 9) demanded that Moses and Aaron produce a miracle to prove their credentials. They perform the miracle God had told them to perform, a miracle that took the symbol of Pharaoh’s authority, the snake, and sent it slithering around on the floor. But what did the devil have Pharaoh and his magicians do? The same thing! Says the kingdom of darkness: “What’s the big deal? I can do that too!” The miracle didn’t look so miraculous anymore, did it?
We need to ask ourselves, is the devil using the current pandemic as an opportunity to attack God’s kingdom? It’s a good question and one that we shouldn’t dismiss too quickly. We know at least this much: if he can he will! 1 Peter 5:8 makes the point: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”
You can imagine Moses and Aaron there in Pharaoh’s palace waiting and watching to see what Pharaoh’s magicians would pull off. We need to be on high alert now too. The kingdom of darkness isn’t allowing the current pandemic to go to waste in terms of seeking to use it to oppose God’s kingdom. It comes out very graphically sometimes. Like when Samaritans Purse, an evangelical charity which sets up a field hospital in New York’s central park to help deal with the COVID-19 victims, gets attacked for not being LGBTQ friendly. Or like when the governor of New York says in front of the cameras, as he’s describing the flattening of the curve, “God didn’t do this. We did it!”
Satan’s attack in Pharaoh’s palace was very upfront and in-your-face too. But at other times he’ll work more subtly. After all, he is the father of lies and deception (John 8:44). That means that we need to have our eyes open during this current pandemic for where the devil is at work seeking to undermine God’s kingdom. We can’t take at face value everything we’re being told. As Christians, knowing not only God’s absolute power but also being fully aware of the devil’s hatred of God’s truth, we need to consider all that’s happening and assume that Satan and his demons are busy. You can be certain that they’re not sitting idly by twiddling their thumbs, just like they weren’t prepared to do that in Pharaoh’s palace.
At the same time, we’re not to despair. We never have to. We never need to! Because (verse 12) “Aaron’s staff swallowed up their staffs.” Here’s gospel, glorious gospel also for the here and now! Reading the text suggests that Aaron’s one staff-snake was outnumbered by the staff-snakes of the magicians. At face value the kingdom of darkness trumped the kingdom of light there on the palace floor. But then, a few quick gulps and the kingdom of light has swallowed up the kingdom of darkness.
Yes, in our present circumstances the devil is busy. But it doesn’t matter how many lying “snakes” he manages to magically produce; he’s already done for. Don’t forget that we’ve just celebrated Resurrection Sunday! The dazzling glory emanating from the empty tomb incinerates the darkness of the devil’s kingdom and sends him and all his “snakes” into the incinerator of God’s wrath.
Does that certain victory mean that we can then just ride this thing out, holding our breath, until we can breathe a huge sigh of relief when it’s all over? No! Moses and Aaron had just had wonderful confirmation of the certain victory of God’s kingdom. But as we read on in Exodus, we see they had plenty more battles to fight. So do we! Keep your eyes open to where the devil is busy so that you don’t get deceived or surprised when he shows up unexpectedly. But even more important, keep in your mind’s eye that picture of Aaron’s staff-snake swallowing those other snakes. More, keep in your mind’s eye the dazzling glory of the empty tomb!