"Then Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers: now the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments." (Exodus 7:11)
The Ten Plagues which came upon Egypt have often been divided into three triplet sets with each triplet being related. The Tenth plague, the death of the firstborn, is such an overwhelming judgment and so dissimilar from the others that it is usually classified by itself. The other nine, however, are each set apart in groups of three. The first three plagues have been labeled loathsome plagues and are primarily emotionally disturbing in their nature rather than directly afflicting the people. The River Nile becoming blood, frogs infesting the land, and lice covering the people and animals were certainly disgusting (to say the least), but these plagues did not really afflict the Egyptians as severely as the later plagues.
Next came the painful plagues, or the physical plagues. The stinging insects, the murrain upon the livestock, and the boils upon the people were physical ailments that caused pain and suffering. Finally we have the appalling plagues, or psychological plagues. The hail, the locusts, and the blotting out of the Sun seemed to indicate that Nature itself had turned against the people of Egypt and their Pharaoh. If even the wind, weather, and sky were behaving so erratically, in what could the people find safety and sanctuary from the wrath of the Living God? Each triplet of plagues struck a little closer to the heart of the people, each new set of three affected them a little more intimately. Before each new triplet was carried out, a warning was given (Ex. 7:17, 8:20-21, 9:13-14). The final plague of each set came without any warning. Something else very interesting happens at the conclusion of the first triplet:
“Then the magicians said unto Pharaoh, This is the finger of God: and Pharaoh’s heart was hardened, and he hearkened not unto them; as the LORD had said.” (Exodus 8:19)
Up to this point, the magicians had been replicating the miraculous signs that God was working in their midst. Yet the third plague (and every subsequent plague) they were unable to duplicate. Beginning with the changing of Aaron’s staff into a serpent, the priests of Egypt were able to imitate the miracles being worked. The changing of their own staffs into serpents, the changing of water into blood, the summoning of frogs. It is left to us to wonder whether or not the actions of the Egyptian magicians were supernatural, authentic sorceries or clever sleight-of-hand tricks. Whichever they were, they were convincing. The plague of lice marked the limit of what these men were able to counterfeit. They attempted to duplicate the lice (v. 18), but were unable (which leads me to believe that there was likely a Satanic supernatural force at work here that they themselves did not fully comprehend). They freely admitted their inability to Pharaoh at this point and recognized that this was the work of God.
“For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.” (Matthew 24:24)
The actions of the Egyptian magicians is a reminder to us that signs of supernatural power, even seemingly authentic ones, are not necessarily the credentials indicating that God is involved. Demonic forces do possess a certain amount of ability to manifest signs of power, even the ability to work “miracles” and “wonders” at times. False prophets, false teachers, and bogus “Christian” ministries rely on deception in order to convince the unsuspecting. We are never told in the Bible to look at the power and abilities of individuals to determine if they are from God or not. Though they use persuasive speech, though they seem to work mighty healings and miracles, these are not the measuring sticks of their genuineness. In fact, we are warned that many will come as did these Egyptian priests, with great shows of seemingly supernatural abilities. So how is it possible to know whether or not these “wonder workers” are of God or not? Is it possible to know?
“Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed:” (2 John 1:9-10)
The doctrine that a person is preaching is the indicator of whether or not they are from God. The Message is what is most important, not the presentation. Is what they are preaching in line with the Word of God? Is their teaching sound and Biblical? Or are they using signs and wonders to distract from the message they are advancing? Many heretical teachers and founders of the cults have historically relied on the supernatural to authenticate their claims. Their reasoning was that there was no possible way that they could do the “wonderful” works they were doing if God was not with them. But the Bible does not suggest in any way that these are proofs that He is involved.
“Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” (Matthew 7:22-23)
The Lord Jesus does not dispute that the people He is referring to did not do the “wonderful works” they are citing. He does not even argue that they did these works in His name. But He does clearly state that He “never knew them.” These are unrepentant sinners, not saved children of God who are using His name and His authority to spread their own message. This is why the Message, the doctrine, is so important in verifying the claims of anyone preaching in the name of God. Even the Apostle Paul, in a passage where he is referring to false teachers and comparing them with the Egyptian magicians (Jannes and Jambres), does not appeal to his own miracle-working to authenticate his credentials (though he certainly worked many signs and wonders himself!). He writes to Timothy:
“But thou hast fully known my DOCTRINE, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience,” (2 Timothy 3:10, emphasis added)
His appeal is to the doctrine that he has preached as verified by the Holy Scriptures (as he goes on to explain in Verses 15 and 16). The Word of God is the standard to which all teachers and preachers must be held: does their teaching line up with it, or are they spreading something else? Are they preaching sound doctrine, or are they twisting the straightforward meaning of the Bible in order to support their own false agendas? There have always been false teachers “working wonders” and persuading many to follow after them. The forces of darkness are able to imitate, to a certain extent, the works of God. They are often able to present a convincing parody of what a servant of God looks like (or at least what people might believe the servant of God should look like), they can touch on some of the outward appearances of what might be mistaken as the hand of God at work. But, just as the magicians of Egypt could only go so far with their own enchantments, the time comes when they can do no more.
The Finger of God at work is not so much displayed in the flashy miracles and showy demonstrations of power as it is in the power of the blood of Jesus Christ to change lives. This is something that the demonic forces of the enemy are not able to replicate. God’s greatest miracles are not the changing of rivers into blood, or the infestation of frogs, or the turning of rods into serpents. It is the miracle of bringing life into a heart that was dead in sin. It is the re-birth of the vilest sinner into a new person, a person who has never existed before. It is the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to save sinners from the judgment that we all deserve; being pardoned of our sins that we might live forevermore in the presence of our Lord and God. Such miracles as these can never be imitated.