January 19, 2004

Spiritual Power
"The LORD said to Moses and Aaron, 'When Pharaoh says 
to you, "Perform a miracle," then say to Aaron, "Take 
your staff and throw it down before Pharaoh," and it 
will become a snake.' So Moses and Aaron went to 
Pharaoh and did just as the LORD commanded. Aaron 
threw his staff down in front of Pharaoh and his 
officials, and it became a snake. Pharaoh then 
summoned wise men and sorcerers, and the Egyptian 
magicians also did the same things by their secret 
arts: Each one threw down his staff and it became a 
snake. But Aaron's staff swallowed up their staffs. 
Yet Pharaoh's heart became hard and he would not 
listen to them, just as the LORD had said" (Shemot / 
Exodus 7:8-13).

The Scripture passage that is being read this week in 
synagogues around the world tells the story of when 
Moses and his brother Aaron began to confront Pharaoh, 
King of Egypt regarding God's demand to let his people 
go.

The people of Israel had originally migrated to Egypt 
to escape the effects of a harsh famine at a time when 
they were numbered only about 70 persons. Through some 
remarkable circumstances, Joseph, the son of Jacob and 
great-grandson of Abraham, had become the Prime 
Minister of Egypt. He was able to bring his father, 
his brothers and their families to Egypt, where they 
prospered, enjoying the kind favor of Pharoah..

Years later a new king came to power, who had no 
regard for Joseph's contribution to his nation. He 
feared that the people of Israel, who had greatly 
increased in numbers, would one day side with Egypt's 
enemies. Through various means Pharaoh oppressed the 
people. In their suffering they cried out to God, who 
responded by sending Moses to release them.

Because Pharaoh was not inclined to let the people of 
Israel leave, God, through Moses and Aaron, determined 
to persuade Pharaoh through the demonstration of 
miraculous power.

As the story goes, Pharaoh was not very impressed by 
the first few miracles. The reason for that was 
because the Egyptian magicians were able to do similar 
acts of power. For some of us reading about such 
things as wooden staffs becoming snakes and water 
turning to blood is the stuff of fantasy and fairy 
tales.

Much of western education over the past hundred and 
fifty years or so has sought to reject any notion of 
the supernatural. Accounts of miracles and other kinds 
of supernatural phenomena including belief in any kind 
of Higher Power became regarded as nonsense.

It is interesting that much of the world has never 
wholeheartedly embraced this modern naturalistic 
notion. By naturalistic I mean an understanding of 
life that doesn't accept the existence of anything 
supernatural. Even in the western world and societies 
that have been influenced by western style education, 
people continue to be fascinated by the supernatural 
in its many expressions.

We now live in a post-naturalistic age. Most of our 
popular institutions, which used to be based on 
naturalism, have come under the influence of new age 
and Eastern philosophies. Western naturalistic thought 
created a spiritual vacuum in people. It was only a 
matter of time before that vacuum would be filled with 
one kind of spirituality or another.

So back to the story of Pharaoh and Moses. Notice that 
the issue at hand was not over the reality of 
supernatural forces, but over which supernatural force 
was greater –Egypt's or Israel's.

There are powerful forces at work in the world today. 
On the surface some appear to be naturalistic: the 
effect of politics and economics, the influence of 
marketing, the lure of pleasure, the threat of 
sickness, and so on. Some are more obviously in the 
spiritual realm: false religions, the occult, 
witchcraft, etc. I believe that much of what we think 
is natural is far more influenced by the spiritual 
than many tend to think, but that is somewhat besides 
the point.

What we learn from Moses and Aaron's encounter with 
the powers of Egypt is that the God of Israel is more 
powerful than any other force, supernatural or 
otherwise.

In the days ahead we will see a greater rise in evil 
spiritual power in all its forms. It will be more and 
more difficult for people to cling to a naturalistic 
point of view.

But we should not fear or be intimidated. Those who 
trust in the God of Israel can rest assured that no 
matter how powerful evil appears, our God is more 
powerful still.