8. And the Lord spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying,
8. Et dixit Jehova ad Mosen et Aharon, dicendo.
9. When Pharaoh shall speak unto you, saying, Shew a miracle for you: then thou shalt say unto Aaron, Take thy rod, and cast it before Pharaoh, and it shall become a serpent.
9. Si loquutus fuerit ad vos Pharao, dicendo, Statuite vobis prodigium: tunc dices ad Aharon, Tolle virgam tuam, et projice coram Pharaone, et fiet in serpentem.
10. And Moses and Aaron went in unto Pharaoh, and they did so as the Lord had commanded: and Aaron cast down his rod before Pharaoh, and before his servants, and it became a serpent.
10. Venit ergo Moses et Aharon ad Pharaonem, et ita fecerunt ut praeceperat Iehova. Et projecit Aharon virgam suam coram Pharaone et coram servis ejus, et fuit in serpentem.
11. Then Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers: now the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments.
11. Tunc vocavit etiam Pharao sapientes et incantatores, et fecerunt etiam ipsi magi Aegyptiorum hoc modo suis incantationibus.
12. For they cast down every man his rod, and they became serpents: but Aaron's rod swallowed up their rods.
12. Projecerunt enim singuli virgas suas, quae fuerunt in dracones. Devoravit tamen virga Aharon virgas illorum.
13. And he hardened Pharaoh's heart, that he hearkened not unto them; as the Lord had said.
13. Et obduravit cor Pharaonis, neque audivit illos, sicuti loquutus erat Jehova.
8. And the Lord spake. No wonder that Moses often repeats the same thing, because he wrote for persons of rude and dull minds. But it behooves us, lest we should be disgusted by his simple and popular style, diligently to examine how little we are inclined to be acute and earnest in our consideration of the works of God. No doubt there is here related what we have already heard respecting the change of the rod into a serpent, except that he now tells us that the miracle which had before been performed in the wilderness of Midian, and afterwards in Egypt, in the sight of the people, was likewise performed once more before Pharaoh. Moreover, we gather from hence that at the request of Pharaoh the servants of God had proved and testified their vocation; and therefore that his pertinacity was the less excusable, since he despised the power of God so manifestly shewn forth. For this is usual with unbelievers, to demand proofs of God's power, which they may still discredit, -- not that they professedly scorn God, but because their secret impiety urges them to seek after subterfuges. The message is disagreeable and full of what is annoying to the proud king; and because he does not dare directly to refuse God, he invents a plausible pretext for his refusal, by asking for a miracle; and when this is performed, he seeks still deeper lurking places, as we shall very soon perceive. Since, therefore, it was certain that he would not pay a willing obedience to the divine command, and would not yield before he had been miraculously convinced, God furnishes His servants with a notable and sure testimony of His power. Moreover, the change of the crook, or shepherd's staff, into a serpent had this object, namely, that the mean and rustic guise of Moses should not be despised. For (since kings are wont to exalt themselves very highly) Pharaoh might have laughed at the audacity of Moses and Aaron, who, forgetful, as it seemed, of their condition, put themselves into conflict with the whole power of Egypt; but Pharaoh knew, although they were not to be dreaded for their splendid appearance, and had nothing magnificent about them, that they were still not destitute of sure and strong help, when he saw the serpent come forth from the rod. In a word, God bore witness that His power is hidden beneath the infirmity of His servants, so that at every season He might render formidable to the greatest monarchs those who otherwise are like earthen vessels. It is not clear to me why Aaron was commanded to cast down the rod rather than Moses, unless, perhaps, because God would designedly humble the pride of the arrogant king, when He did not deign to exert His power by the hand of His superior servant, but only employed the inferior one. Therefore, with reference to this ministration, the rod of God and of Moses is now called the rod of Aaron. Thus Paul boasts of his gospel, the office of preaching which he knew to be committed to him. (Romans 16:25, and 2 Timothy 2:8.)
10. And Moses and Aaron went in. Although they were now fully conscious of their vocation; and knew that they were endued with divine power for working miracles, yet would they never have dared to approach the fierce and cruel tyrant, unless the inward inspiration of the Spirit had armed them to persevere. Hence, then, arose their magnanimity to overcome all terrors; because God raised them by faith above everything that is lofty on earth, and sustained them by this support. Therefore do they come to the conflict with invincible strength, and confirm by a miracle their most hateful mission. But as to the question which is ordinarily raised here, whether the change of the rods was true and substantial, as they call it; with respect to that of Moses, I am confidently persuaded that it was so; for there is no more difficulty with God to change the forms of things, than there was to create heaven and earth out of nothing. Philosophers are not ignorant of the great variety of transmutations which occur in nature, nay, it is patent even to the uninstructed; but, because the rod was changed into a serpent in an extraordinary manner, and contrary to the course of nature, we must form the same judgment of it as of the change of Lot's wife into a pillar of salt; except that the rod soon after returned into its original nature. (Genesis 19:26.) There is more reason for doubt respecting the rods of the magicians, since it is probable that the eyes of the wicked king were deceived by their illusions. But there would be nothing absurd in our saying, that such liberty was conceded to them by God, not that they should create one body out of another, but that they should set forth the work of God as being their own. For assuredly the potency of error far surpasses the bounds of our comprehension. This Paul affirms to be given to Satan for the punishment of unbelievers, "that they should believe a lie," because they will not obey the truth. (2 Thessalonians 2:11.) He says, indeed, that the coming of Antichrist shall be with signs and lying wonders, but by adding the word "power," he shews that the deception or illusion shall not consist so much in the external form of things, as in the perverse abuse of signs. 1 Therefore Christ absolutely pronounces that "false prophets shall shew great signs and wonders." (Matthew 24:24.) It might be, then, that God in just vengeance might choose the rods of the magicians to be changed into serpents; as we shall hereafter see that the waters were changed by their enchantments into blood, that the earth was covered with frogs and lice, that the fields were smitten with hail, and the atmosphere darkened. 2 Still we must be assured, that not even a fly can be created except by God only; but that Satan lays hold, for the purpose of his impostures, of things which are done by the secret judgment of God.
11. Then Pharaoh also called. The impiety of the tyrant, which had before lain hid in the recesses of his heart, now breaks forth; when he does not hesitate to enter into the lists with God. For he was sufficiently instructed in the wonderful power of God, had not his iniquity urged him onwards into desperate madness. In asking for a sign, he thought (as I before said) that he should have had just cause for despising Moses; as the wicked trust that they may do anything with impunity, unless God should openly appear from heaven to prohibit them; but, because inflexible perversity altogether has possession of their hearts, they do not hesitate to resist the manifest power of God. Thus the wickedness of Pharaoh blinded his eyes, that, seeing the light, he saw it not; but, though convinced, still he sought for darkness to hide the sight of the light from him. He received, therefore, the just reward of such impious and diabolical arrogance, when he was deceived by the juggles of his own magicians. This is an example of great use, and well worthy to be noted; by which we are, first of all, taught, that the wicked, whatever disposition to be taught they may assume, still remain inwardly rebellious and stubborn; and, moreover, that they are not only inclined to error, but are eagerly borne towards it with all their heart. This vice is not always conspicuous in every individual; but when God brings His light nearer to them, it is easily detected, and betrays itself. How many, now-a-days, among the Papists are followers of wicked superstitions under the pretext of simplicity? As long as, under the garb of ignorance, they deceive themselves and others, they seem to be worthy of pity; but, as soon as the truth shines forth, they demonstrate their love for the impostures by which they perish, and their delight in falsehoods. Assuredly (as Paul says)they have "received not the love of the truth." (2 Thessalonians 2:10.) Are we surprised at Pharaoh calling for the magicians, in order to repel from himself his sense of God's power? As if there were not many at this time, who hire for themselves certain impious brawlers, 3 by whose fascinating and fair words they may become besotted in their errors. It is remarkable, that they are honourably called "wise men" by courtesy, although they were but inventors of deceit, and destitute of sound learning. For although astronomy flourished among them, and the study of liberal arts was cultivated, it yet appears from the context that they were devoted to many foolish imaginations, nay, that all their degenerate science was but vanity. For Mypskm, 4 makshephim, and Mymtrx, chartumim, are the names of superstitious arts; the former signifying jugglers, or those who deceive the eyes and the senses by their enchantments; but the latter is used for those who cast nativities, telling people's fortunes by the horoscope, and prognosticating by the aspect of the stars. Therefore, although the Egyptian magicians had departed from genuine philosophy, they still retained the name of "wise men," that they might obtain credit for their delusions: as the devil, in order to appropriate God's glory, or to change himself into an angel of light, is wont to conceal his falsehoods by specious titles. Doubtless Pharaoh sought, as in a case of perplexity, to examine it more certainly by comparison; but yet for no other reason than to conceal his impiety under a fresh covering. The word jhl, 5 lahat, although properly signifying the blade of a sword, is here used for enchantment. I think, however, that they mistake, who assign the reason for this to be, that they exercised their sorceries by a sword, or some similar weapon. It rather designates metaphorically the versatile motion, by which the magicians exhibit one thing for another; for it properly signifies "a flame." This severe and terrible vengeance upon Pharaoh ought to inspire us with terror, lest, in our hatred of truth, we should seek after deceptions. For this is intolerable profaneness, if designedly we desire to pervert the distinction between truth and falsehood. Therefore it is not to be wondered at, if God plunges into the deepest darkness of error, those who shut their eyes against the light presented to them; and if He hands those over to be the disciples of Satan, who refuse to listen to Him as their master.
12. For they cast down every man. The number of the magicians is not expressed; and although Paul names two, Jannes and Jambres, 6 (2 Timothy 3:8,) it is probable that they were not the only ones, but the chief, and, as it were, the ringleaders. But I will not dispute this questionable point. The admonition of Paul is more to the purpose, that "as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses," so also there should always be false teachers, who would oppose Christ's true ministers, and indeed should "wax worse and worse." (Verse 13.) It is an awful fact that the reins were so given to these magicians, that they contended with Moses in almost an equal contest. But the ingratitude of the world is worthy of bearing the same punishment of blindness. God elsewhere testifies that when He permits false prophets to work miracles to deceive, it is to prove men's hearts. (Deuteronomy 13:3.) And truly, unless our own hypocrisy were like a veil to take away the distinction between black and white, Satan would avail nothing by such arts and deceptions; but we ourselves, as if devoted to destruction, willingly cast ourselves into his nets; but especially against the reprobate, who obstinately seek for occasions of error, God casts this last thunderbolt, namely, He gives efficacy to the delusion, and so deprives them of their senses at the same time, that they do not guard themselves from manifest destruction. Many indeed would excuse Pharaoh, because, being deceived by his magicians, he did not disentangle himself from the error which he could not escape; for what could he do when he saw the contest equally maintained? But it must be thoroughly understood that none are so hurried away except those whom God would resist; especially the spirit of confusion and mental blindness seizes on those who have been obstinate in their wickedness. Nor must the mark of distinction be overlooked, that the rod of Moses swallowed up the rods of the magicians. How then was it that Pharaoh did not perceive Moses to be victorious? how was it that he rather turned aside to his own impostors? how was it, in fine, that he did not acknowledge God's servant who had been superior in the contest, except that the wicked maliciously close their eyes against the manifested power of God? Whosoever will aim at the right mark shall certainly never be destitute of God as his guide. Therefore blame is justly thrown upon Pharaoh, because through the hardness of his heart he would not attend. Too frivolous is that cavil which the Papists advance, that the serpent is called the rod of Moses, as the bread transubstantiated into the body of Christ retains the name of bread; 7 for they unskillfully confound two altogether different things; because, in the mystery of the Lord's Supper, the analogy between the sign and the thing signified always remains; in this miracle the case is entirely otherwise. Again, because the change was only temporary, Moses properly called that a rod to which its previous form was presently to be restored. Besides, in comparing the true serpent with the fictitious ones, he was unwilling to make a difference in names. But, to pass all this over, the Papists will prevail nothing, until they have shewn that the bread is transubstantiated into the body. 8 Nay, what they foolishly wrest against us, we may retort upon them, namely, that the bread is called the body of Christ although it remains bread, just as the serpent which then appeared is called the rod.
The subject is somewhat more fully discussed by C. himself -- Institutes, Book 4., ch. 17. 15. -- C. Soc. Transl., Vol. 3. pp. 402, 403.