Text for the Week: So Pharaoh Will Know

Scripture: Exodus 7:1-13

The Lord said to Moses, “See, I’ve made you like God to Pharaoh, and your brother Aaron will be your prophet. You will say everything that I command you, and your brother Aaron will tell Pharaoh to let the Israelites out of his land. But I’ll make Pharaoh stubborn, and I’ll perform many of my signs and amazing acts in the land of Egypt. When Pharaoh refuses to listen to you, then I’ll act against Egypt and I’ll bring my people the Israelites out of the land of Egypt in military formation by momentous events of justice. The Egyptians will come to know that I am the Lord, when I act against Egypt and bring the Israelites out from among them.” Moses and Aaron did just as the Lord commanded them. Moses was 80 years old and Aaron was 83 when they spoke to Pharaoh.

The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “When Pharaoh says to you, ‘Do one of your amazing acts,’ then say to Aaron, ‘Take your shepherd’s rod and throw it down in front of Pharaoh, and it will turn into a cobra.’”

10 So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and did just as the Lord commanded. Aaron threw down his shepherd’s rod in front of Pharaoh and his officials, and it turned into a cobra. 11 Then Pharaoh called together his wise men and wizards, and Egypt’s religious experts did the same thing by using their secret knowledge. 12 Each one threw down his rod, and they turned into cobras. But then Aaron’s rod swallowed up each of their rods. 13 However, Pharaoh remained stubborn. He wouldn’t listen to them, just as the Lord had said.

Theme- God initiates a showdown of power with Pharaoh


  1. What is the significance of the staff turning into a cobra?
  2. How should we understand the phrase “momentous events of justice” in verse 4, and how do they fit with Pharaoh’s stubbornness?
  3. How would the religious experts (priests) been able to duplicate God’s sign, and why would God allow this to happen?

Helpful Information

Related texts: 1 John 2:1-11

The designations of Moses as God (or a god) to Pharaoh and Aaron being his prophet are more than simply hype. The Egyptian King viewed himself as divine, verse 1 is indicating that God will make it so that Moses and Aaron can approach Pharaoh and his priests as equals, in Pharaoh’s mind.

In Exodus Pharaoh makes his heart heavy or hard but God consistently strengthens Pharaoh’s heart (resolve). The idioms include both thinking and feeling and relate to a person’s resolve.[1]

The actions of Moses and Aaron are described as “amazing acts” or “signs” these are not inherently plagues of punishment but portents of divine power

The cobra (or perhaps more accurately sea monster) was a representation of Pharaoh’s divine status and Aaron’s cobra eating Pharaoh’s displays Pharaoh’s impotence in the divine realm.

For more background check out the video here

I also made a quick video about the genealogy in Exodus 6 and the issues it presents here


One question I wrestle with and I think most Christians should (and probably do) is what does 7:3 “I will make Pharaoh stubborn” mean? Is God here saying that Pharaoh is a mere puppet which God controls, while some would argue for this I do not think the case. I think that we can at times place far too much philosophical weight on these words without regarding them as pieces which fit into a larger whole. This is one of those times; it is easy to get hung here because we are rightly uncomfortable with the idea that God simply controls people in this way. It is easy (especially in literal English translations) to read God’s words in 7:3 as God controlling Pharaoh, but what the text seems to be saying is that God is going to help solidify Pharaoh’s resolve. But these words are not inherently negative, notice that God says “I’ll perform many of my signs” (5:3); these are not plagues they are signs meant to reveal God to Pharaoh.

Think back to Moses’ first encounter with Pharaoh where Pharaoh says to Moses “Who is this Lord whom I’m supposed to obey by letting Israel go? I don’t know this Lord, and I certainly won’t let Israel go.” (5:2). When Pharaoh says “I do not know” he is not simply saying he has never heard of Moses’ God, he is saying that he refuses to acknowledge this God. It is an act of stubbornness to deny Moses’ request in chapter 5 since it would have been a common enough practice to allow slaves to travel to a sacred site to worship. Yes, God knows Pharaoh is stubborn but God has a plan that will both reveal to Pharaoh and all of Egypt who God is and it will prove Pharaoh’s character. God reinforces that “Egypt will come to know that I am the Lord” reversing Pharaoh’s earlier refusal to acknowledge God.

I think the conflict that follows God’s words (7:10-13) displays that God is not cruelly making Pharaoh abstinent. Pharaoh has indicated he does not believe Moses’ God has power and authority in Egypt, so God responds attacking a symbol of Pharaoh’s divinity. In Pharaoh’s mind he was divine and the serpent was a representation of this status. Aaron’s staff becoming a serpent was a sign to Pharaoh he was dealing with a divine figure who held some power. The question to Pharaoh at this point was how he was going to respond to someone with equal status and he chose to reject Moses. When we read about the challenge between Aaron and the magicians we focus on the fact that Aaron’s serpent devours the magicians’ serpents, we focus on the outcome of the challenge. The reason is we are ready to accept God’s position in relation to Pharaoh, we accept God is divine and Pharaoh is not. Pharaoh, though, sees himself as both divine and on his home turf. Pharaoh takes no notice of the outcome of the confrontation, he seemingly is unimpressed with the fact that his magicians’ serpents are devoured. In reality Scripture glosses over much of this encounter in order to come to the crucial detail Pharaoh’s heart was hard. Now, the translation I used makes it sound like Pharaoh made a conscious decision to remain stubborn like a little child, and there is a level at which that is a good image. But the this interpretation hides one key element here and that is verse 13 is talking about the state of Pharaoh’s heart and mind. I prefer the translation, “But Pharaoh would not listen to them because his heart was calloused”, to me this indicates Pharaoh was not conscious of his decision to reject God’s sign he was simply blind to everything because of the state of his heart. Verse 14 picks up on this with yet another description of Pharaoh’s heart (7:3, 13, 14 each talk of Pharaoh’s hard heart with a different verb). Here we are told Pharaoh’s heart/mind is hard or “heavy”. But this metaphor means something different in Hebrew than it does in English, a heavy heart is weighed down by injustice. Exodus 7 read in reverse reveals the picture that Pharaoh has committed so many injustices (hard v14) that he is unwilling to accept anyone as an equal (hard v13) and so when God provides signs to help Egypt “know” God all it will do is continue to strengthen Pharaoh’s resolve in the paths he has chosen (hard v3). God is not forcing anything on Pharaoh, but the state of Pharaoh’s heart means he will have difficulty seeing God’s authority until the stakes are much higher because of his commitment to injustice.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z5lGJrALNfc Torah Tuesday with Carmen Imes February 21, 2023

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