"WHAT proof do you have that God sent you to lead us out of Egypt?" some of the chief Israelites demanded of Moses and Aaron. "We want to get out of here!" one spoke out loudly. "But we want to choose a leader instead of accepting just anyone who claims he has been sent by God!" Encouraged by this kind of talk, other skeptics added their opinions. Aaron held up his hands for silence.
God Performs Miracles Through Moses
"God expects some to fail to recognize His servants," Aaron told them. "He has given my brother the ability to do unusual things so that you can see for yourselves God working through him." Aaron motioned to Moses, who stepped up and held out his shepherd's rod and tossed it to the ground before all. The instant it touched the soil, gasps of alarm came from the onlookers. They fell back, staring. The rod had turned into a long, coiling, hissing snake! To the astonishment of all except Aaron, Moses walked up to the snake and seized it by its tail. It wiggled furiously, then became rigid as it turned back into the lifeless shepherd's rod. The Israelite chiefs murmured among themselves in a tone that suddenly was different. In the silence that followed, Moses held up his right hand for all to see that it was a normal hand. After thrusting it inside his jacket, he withdrew it to display a white, leprous, decayed hand. There were expressions of horror, especially from those uncomfortably close at hand. Moses then again concealed his hand, and pulled it into sight to show that it had instantly returned to normal. "No one could do these things without the power of God," some muttered. "Not necessarily," said one. "Haven't you heard about the powers of Pharaoh's magicians?"
Ignoring the remark, Aaron called men to bring in a large jar of water. He announced that it was from the Nile, and invited onlookers to examine and taste it. A few did.
The Doubters Convinced
When the examination was over, Moses motioned for the helpers to tip the huge jar over. Many gallons of clear water surged across the ground, wetting the sandals of those who were nearby. At the same time Moses waved his shepherd's rod over it. The onlookers were startled to see the sparkling liquid curdling into a red mass. "Blood!" someone shouted, trying to leap out of the thickening puddle. "It's turned to blood!" After the expressions of horror had died down, someone began to speak out to thank God for sending men to help lead their people out of their misery. The others bowed their heads and silently joined in the prayer. (Ex. 4:31.) Moses and Aaron were thankful that these men accepted them. Later, they and some of the leaders went to the Egyptian city of Memphis to appeal before the king. "If these Israelites are here to ask a favor," Pharaoh told his aides, "they will receive none from me."
"We come in the name of the God of Israel," Aaron declared to Pharaoh when the Israelites were admitted. "Our God has told us to tell you to let our people go to the desert to worship Him." There was a cold silence in the court, broken at first by faint giggling from Egyptian women who were the king's guests for the day. Pharaoh leaned forward from his elevated chair and frowned curiously down on Aaron. "I don't know your God," he muttered. "Whoever He is, He isn't going to cause me to let the Israelites leave!" (Ex. 5:2.) "We must obey our God," Aaron patiently went on. "All He wants is that we be given three days in the desert. If we don't go, we might be punished." (Verse 3.) "I'm aware that you two are scheming to sneak your people out of Egypt!" Pharaoh snapped, glancing darkly at Moses and Aaron. "Go back and warn them not to let up on their work!" Guards herded the Israelites out of the room while amused guests laughed. Pushed along with Aaron, Moses was discouraged because he was so helpless.
Pharaoh Oppresses the People
The more the king thought about the Israelite leaders coming to him for a favor, the angrier he became. He sent orders to his labor gang officers to work the Israelites even longer hours. (Ex. 5:6-9.) The Israelites were slaving on many projects, but probably the brick makers were most seriously affected by the new orders, which required them to walk long distances to widely-scattered fields to gather the straw that was necessary in making bricks. (Verses 10-13.) Production became so difficult that the laborers fell behind in their tasks. Egyptian officers, fearing Pharaoh's wrath, began to beat the Israelite foremen, whom they expected to beat the workers into greater production. (Verse 14.) Instead, the Israelite officers sent men to Pharaoh to complain about matters. They managed to be heard, but Pharaoh took the opportunity to express himself. "You Israelites are lazy!" he stormed. "You beg for time off to worship your God! That's a ridiculous excuse! Get back to work! And remember my new orders!" (Verses 15-19.) The Israelite officers glumly left the palace. Moses and Aaron were outside, anxious to learn what had happened. The officers regarded them without friendliness, muttering as they strode past that it had been a grave mistake to anger Pharaoh by telling him that God required their presence in the desert.
Moses Prays for Help
Moses was discouraged again, and unhappy that God had expected him and Aaron to ask a favor of Pharaoh. As soon as he was alone, he complained to God for allowing the Israelites to fall into greater misery. (Verses 20-23.) "You will see that after I deal with the king, he will be ANXIOUS to get rid of Israel," God assured Moses. "Remember that I am your Creator the One Who made promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Tell your people that I haven't forgotten my promises to them. I will cause great things to occur, and will bring them into the land I told them I would give them." (Ex. 6:6-7.) Heartened by these words, Moses and Aaron went to encourage their people. Unfortunately, the laborers were so miserable that they weren't inclined to listen. (Verse 9.) Not long afterward, while Moses was trying to weather this repeated stress, God again told him to return to Pharaoh to ask for the release of his countrymen. Moses' reaction was to tell God that it would be futile to try to help people who didn't seem to be interested. God firmly reminded him that he and Aaron had the responsibility, and that it had to be done. (Verse 13.)
"You claim that your God has sent you to demand your countrymen's release," Pharaoh smugly repeated when the two Israelites came to him. "How can you prove that? What powers can your God show?" Intending to amuse his court guests, the king settled back in his chair to enjoy the discomfort he expected Moses and Aaron to show. Moses glanced around at the grinning faces. Then he tossed his shepherd's rod to Aaron, who threw it on the thickly-carpeted floor in front of the king. There were sudden expressions of alarm. Grins faded. Pharaoh's bearded chin sagged. His narrowed eyes widened as he stared down.
As it had done before, the rod had turned to a large, wriggling serpent! (Ex. 7:8-10.) Pharaoh straightened up and stared at the creature. He gestured impatiently to an aide, who approached nervously to listen to the king's hasty instructions and quickly leave. Minutes dragged as people gazed uneasily at the coiling, tongue-darting snake. Finally the aide returned to whisper something to Pharaoh.
Egyptian Magicians Appear
"Your display was clever," the king said to Moses and Aaron, "but now you will learn that I have men who are cleverer and can display more power." From behind curtains several richly-robed men appeared, each carrying what appeared to be a shepherd's rod. They lined up a little way from the king, dramatically brandishing the sticks, then throwing them in unison to the floor. Every stick, to the surprise of Moses and Aaron, turned into a live snake!
"My magicians have just sure passed the power of your God!" Pharaoh boasted, leering triumphantly at the Israelites. Applause and shouts of praise came from the court audience. Under the king's amused stare, Moses bent down to pick up his snake so that it would turn back into his rod. But the snake wouldn't hold still to be picked up. It slithered away toward the other snakes. It was then that the applause abruptly ceased. Pharaoh's smirk dissolved to an expression of disbelief. Moses' snake was hastily gulping down the magicians' snakes! (Verse 12.) This was too much for the onlookers, especially the magicians. As Moses snatched up his gorged snake, which turned back into a shepherd's rod, they scrambled out of sight. Even Pharaoh tried to exit nonchalantly. "We have showed you the proof you wanted!" Aaron called out. "Now will you let our people go?" Pharaoh whirled and glowered coldly at the two Israelites, whom he had suddenly come to dislike more than ever. For a moment it appeared that he was about to give in. "I will," he muttered, "do no such thing!" and strode away. (Verse 13.)