on Exodus 7 :11
Pharaoh - called the wise men - חכמים chacamim, the men of learning. Sorcerers, כשפים cashshephim, those who reveal hidden things; probably from the Arabic root kashafa, to reveal, uncover, etc., signifying diviners, or those who pretended to reveal what was in futurity, to discover things lost, to find hidden treasures, etc. Magicians, חרטמי chartummey, decipherers of abstruse writings. See Clarke's note on Genesis 41:8.
They also did in like manner with their enchantments - The word להתים lahatim, comes from להט mor lahat, to burn, to set on fire; and probably signifies such incantations as required lustral fires, sacrifices, fumigations, burning of incense, aromatic and odoriferous drugs, etc., as the means of evoking departed 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, (see Exodus 7:9), hence there could be no miracle in this case but those wrought, through the power of God, by the ministry of Moses and Aaron. 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 assume all shapes, change the appearances of the subjects on which they operated, or suddenly 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.
on Exodus 7 :11
Three names for the magicians of Egypt are given in this verse. The "wise men" are men who know occult arts. The "sorcerers" are they who "mutter magic formulae," especially when driving away crocodiles, snakes, asps, etc. It was natural that Pharaoh should have sent for such persons. The "magicians" are the "bearers of sacred words," scribes and interpreters of hieroglyphic writings. Books containing magic formulae belonged exclusively to the king; no one was permitted to consult them but the priests and wise men, who formed a council or college, and were called in by the Pharaoh on all occasions of difficulty.
The names of the two principal magicians, Jannes and Jambres, who "withstood Moses," are preserved by Paul, 2 Timothy 3:8. Both names are Egyptian.
Enchantments - The original expression implies a deceptive appearance, an illusion, a juggler's trick, not an actual putting forth of magic power. Pharaoh may or may not have believed in a real transformation; but in either case he would naturally consider that if the portent performed by Aaron differed from that of the magicians, it was a difference of degree only, implying merely superiority in a common art. The miracle which followed Exodus 7:12 was sufficient to convince him had he been open to conviction. It was a miracle which showed the truth and power of Yahweh in contrast with that of others.
on Exodus 7 :11