Pharaoh’s Magicians Were Incapable Of True Miracles

“Then Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers: now the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments. For they cast down every man his rod, and they became serpents: but Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods…. and all the waters that were in the river were turned to blood…and the magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments…. And the magicians did so with their enchantments, and brought up frogs upon the land of Egypt…. And the magicians did so with their enchantments to bring forth lice, but they could not…. Then the magicians said unto Pharaoh, ‘This is the finger of God.’” (Exodus 7:11-12, 20-22; 8:7, 18-19).

William Perkins
The Damned Art of Witchcraft
Works IX, pp. 366-369.

The second part [of Witchcraft after enchantment] is juggling. Juggling is the deluding of the eye with some strange sleight done above the ordinary course of nature. In this description there are two points necessarily required in the point of juggling: (1) delusion of the eye, and (2) extraordinary sleight.

1. Visual Delusion.

Delusion is then performed when a man is made to think he sees that which indeed he sees not. And this is done by the operation of the devil diversely, but especially in three ways: (1) by corrupting the humor of the eye, which is the next instrument of sight; (2) by altering the air, which is the means by which the object (or species) is carried to the eye; and (3) by altering and changing the object, that is, the thing seen (or whereon a man looks).

This deluding of the sense is noted by Paul in Galatians 3:1, “O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you?” Here the Spirit of God uses a word borrowed from this kind of sorcerer, which in full meaning signifies thus much: “Who has deluded your eyes, and caused you to think you see that which you see not?” As if he should have said, “Look, as the juggler by his devilish art deludes the outward eye and makes men think they see that which indeed they do not, even so the false apostles by their erroneous doctrine have deluded the eyes of your minds, and have caused you, Galatians, to judge that to be the Word of God which is not, and that to be truth which is error and falsehood.” Paul gives us to understand, by the very phrase used, that there is such a kind of juggling as is able to deceive the eye, for otherwise his comparison would not hold.

2. Extraordinary Trickery.

The second thing required in juggling is a sleight done above the order and course of nature. This is the point which makes these conveyances to be witchcraft. For if they were within the compass of nature, they could not be rightly termed and reputed sorceries, considering that diverse men, by reason of the agility of their bodies and sleight of their hands, are able to work diverse feats which seem strange to the beholders, and yet not meddle with witchcraft. Again, some by the lawful art of the optics may show strange and admirable things by means of light and darkness, and yet may be free from imputation of magical works, because they keep themselves wholly within the power and practice of nature. But sleights done in juggling, over and above delusion, must pass the ordinary bounds and precincts of nature, and so are made points of witchcraft.

The Wonders of Jannes & Jambres Were Not True Miracles.

One memorable example, for the clearer manifestation of this point, we have in the Scripture, where Moses and Aaron wrought wonders before Pharaoh, turning the rod into a serpent, and water into blood, with many other such like (Exodus 7-9). Now Jannes and Jambres (for so Paul calls them in 2 Timothy 3:8), the magicians of Egypt, did work the same miracles which Moses and Aaron had done. But here was the difference: Moses made true creatures and wrought true miracles, whereas they did all in appearance and outward show. For theirs were not truly real actions, but only magical illusions, wrought by the sleight and subtlety of the devil in the practice of juggling.

And because some think that the serpents and frogs, caused by the magicians, were true creatures, and all their other works as really and truly done as those which Moses and Aaron did, I will here stand a little to show and prove the contrary, that they were only in show and appearance, and not in deed and truth.

First, then, if the frogs and serpents caused by Jannes and Jambres were true creatures indeed, and their other sleights true and real works, then they were made and caused either by the devil or by God Himself (for no man of himself can make a rod to become a true serpent). But this was done neither by the devil nor by God, as shall appear in the sequel.

The Devil Cannot Create.

They were not done by the devil because the devil cannot make a true creature, either serpent or frog. How does that appear? Answer. To make a true creature of any sort by producing the same out of the causes is a work serving to continue the creation and is indeed a kind of creation. Now the devil, as he cannot create a thing at the first, so he is not able to continue the same by a new creation; that being a property belonging to God only. [cf. Satan is Incapable of True Miracles].

For better conceiving hereof, we must know that God creates in two ways: (1) primarily in the beginning when He made all things out of nothing (Gen. 1:1); or (2) secondarily in the government of the world when He produces a true creature in a true miracle, yet not making it out of nothing (as He did in the beginning) but producing it by ministering and informing the matter immediately by Himself without the aid of ordinary means and instruments appointed after the creation. The former is creation properly called; the latter is a continuance thereof. God has reserved both of these to Himself, as incommunicable to any creature. As for the succession and propagation of creatures in their kinds (as of men, beasts, birds, fish, etc.), it is only a continuation of the creatures in their kinds, and is wrought by ordinary means of generation; but it is no continuance of the work of creation. And the devil by his power may make counterfeits of the true creatures of God, but neither by creating them nor by continuing their creation. These two works are peculiar and proper to the Deity alone.

Again, if the devil could turn a rod into a true serpent and water into blood indeed, then his power should be equal to the power of the Son of God Himself. For the first miracle that He wrought was the turning of water into wine (John 2). And that was no greater a work than the turning of water into blood or a rod into a serpent. But this were most horrible blasphemy, to match the devil with the Son of God, and his finite power with the power of the Godhead by which miracles are wrought. And the truth is that Satan can work no true miracles. Neither does the text import that the magicians did that which they did by miracle, but by enchantment and sorcery (Exod. 7:11, 22; 8:7).

God did not create the Magicians’ serpents, frogs, & Blood.

In the second place, I affirm that God did not create these creatures, or cause the works of the magicians to be effected. And this is proved by the words of Paul, who says that Jannes and Jambres (who did these works) withstood Moses and Aaron, whom God had sent, and by whom He wrought (2 Tim. 3:8). If then God had wrought with the magicians also, He should have been against Himself; yea, He should have wrought both ways (for Himself and against Himself) and consequently should have impeached His own glory, for the manifestation whereof He wrought miracles by Moses and Aaron. We may not once think this of God. Seeing, therefore, that these serpents (if they were true creatures) were not created either by Satan (because he could not) or by God Himself (because He would not), it must needs remain that they (and all of the magicians’ other works) were mere illusions, and not otherwise.

Textual Reasons the Egyptian Sorcerers’ Wonders Were Not Real.

Yet for the further clearing of the matter in hand, the text itself yields sundry reasons to prove that these acts of the sorcerers were but appearances and not things really produced.

1. From the Lesser to the Greater.

First, they who cannot do a lesser thing cannot possibly do a greater. Now Moses shows that the Egyptian enchanters could not do a lesser thing than the turning of rods into true serpents, or the waters into blood. For they could not by all their power and skill preserve themselves from the plagues of Egypt, as the boils and other judgments (Exod. 9:11), which was an easier thing than making or changing a creature. Nay, they were not able to bring forth lice by their enchantment, which seemed to be the least miracle, but acknowledged that to be the finger of God (Exod. 8:18–19).

2. Aaron’s serpent devoured theirs.

Second, the text says that Aaron’s serpent devoured their serpents (Exod. 7:12); hence, it follows that theirs could not be true creatures. For in all likelihood they were all of the same kind, and of like quantity, at least in show. And it was never seen that one creature should receive into itself another creature of equal bigness with preservation of itself. Neither has it been observed ordinarily that one creature should devour another of the same kind. It was, therefore, a work of God’s secret power in the true serpent whereby He would show that the others were not true and real, but formal and imaginary.

3. They could not remove Moses’ plagues.

Third, if the magicians had been able to have made true frogs and serpents, then by the same power they might have removed those which Moses brought, for the like ability is required in both, yet this they could not do, but were fain to entreat Moses to pray for their removal. So says the text, “Then Pharaoh called for Moses and Aaron, and said, Pray…” (Exod. 8:8).

4. Their trickery had no tangible effect on the surrounding environment.

Lastly, the frogs which Moses caused, when they were removed, being gathered on heaps, caused great corruption, and the whole land stank of them (Exod. 8:14). Again, the water turned into blood made the fish in the river to die, and the water to stink, so that the Egyptians could not drink of the water of the river (Exod. 7:21). But we read of no such effect of the frogs and waters of the enchanters, which doubtless would have followed as well as the other, if both had been true and real creatures. It remains, therefore, that these were but mere appearances and juggling tricks, and the sorcerers themselves jugglers, yea, all their works but sleights caused by the power and subtlety of Satan, and no true works, as has been said.


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