Exodus – Old Testament
Scholars have said that Exodus presents a very accurate description of Egypt before Christ during a time when magic was held in very high esteem. That much of the circumstance refers specifically to the Egyptian customs of the craft, and that the literary text demonstrates an in-depth knowledge of Egyptian history and culture.
In this book of the Bible we learn that God can imbibe human beings with supernatural powers;
‘Throw your staff down to the ground and it will become a serpent.’
If God had taught Moses magic for the sole purpose of making an impression in Pharaoh’s court, the sorcery involved with turning an inanimate object into a deadly living thing would have been practiced in the name of holy goodness, and as part of the overall design to transform human strife.
Sorcery was one of the first components of the plan to free the Jews from bondage even though God had previously told Aaron and Moses that a simple presentation of magic would inevitably fail to bring the Pharaoh to reason. That he would never forsake his affiliation with the ‘swallowing’ and ‘devouring’ magic of the cobra goddess Wadjet protector of Pharaohs for example, to follow the ways of the Lord (Noegel). God’s decision to use magic is evidence in favor of the point that not all magic or at least the type Moses and Aaron were trained to perform is as sinful as previously considered, and that certain types of craft may be different than other forms of supernatural magic.
To further address the question as to whether magic is good or bad, what happens in Exodus might be viewed within a different context. If the practice of magic was similar to ‘defiling;’ for example, in a scenario in which the Pharaoh’s enslavement of the Jewish people had been directly related to his profound obsession with male prostitutes, it would be difficult to imagine the Lord sending Aaron and Moses to Egypt undercover in that capacity, especially, if God knew, as he did about the magic, that seducing the Pharaoh would not succeed.
“Aaron threw his staff down before Pharaoh and his officials, and it became a serpent. 11 But Pharaoh called the wise men and sorcerers and magicians of Egypt, and they also did the same things by their magic arts.”
— Exodus 7:11 – Berean Study Bible
Moses, who it seems had never practiced magic, gains control of his fear and eventually becomes a skilled wielder of the covenant – the power of the Lord, which represents a marriage of one’s life force with that of God’s. Noegel also uses the term magic to describe Moses’ power and discusses the magical words and incantations given to create the various spells. In Moses and Magic: Notes on the Book of Exodus, he cites that there are always precise instructions for bringing about the desired product, ‘The hand must be stretched out to grasp the serpent by its tail.’
The book of Numbers follows Moses as he continues to perform magic and without as much direct conversation with the Lord, among far greater numbers. In one instance and again with his rod after presenting it to the Lord, Moses causes it to come to life, sprouting blossoms and “almonds.” Here the discussion about Moses’ miracle-making might extend further to the much-argued concept of Moses’ radiant appearance, and the exact circumstances pertaining to his presumed concealment of it. Despite the many nuances of translation, most agree that the luminescence of Moses had grown so intense that it deeply frightened and disturbed the Israelites who, it is written, could no longer remain in his presence. Duane A. Garrett Professor of the Old Testament at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville Kentucky, surmises that the glow of Moses was a physical indication of the new impending Covenant that was to come, and which made him too painful to behold.
Covenants of Power
The covenants represent the power of God as wielded by human beings designed to bring about “the forgiveness of sin and the transformation of the heart under the ministry of the Spirit (Garrett).” The nature of a covenant is continual rebirth manifesting in entirely new forms; re-shaped and re-distributed to new masters or “able ministers” (King James), who must deliver (to the best of their ability) its benefits to the people and to act on behalf of the Lord. As these covenants transform within a particular medium, its power may or may not be perceptible to others, since knowledge of certain elements might be kept hidden with the use of this highly contested concept of ‘veiling.’ In the absence of the term “covenant” or references to ‘bonds of power,’ it seems that the supernatural ability to create miracles, regardless of their source, may for some believers, go on to reveal a god-like existence in which prophets walk among humanity as ‘demi-gods.’
“Acts” – New Testament
One of the main problems of sorcery presented in the Bible is that many of the ‘practitioners of the occult,’ like the magician Elymas in the book of Acts for example, were thoroughly opposed to God and Biblical teachings. They denied the existence of the Holy Spirit and actively tried to turn people away from the faith. Unfortunately for Elymas (literal – “magus”) and due to his flagrant disobedience, he is rendered handicapped when Saul performs a spell on the sorcerer, making him temporarily blind. Meanwhile, and to present a kind of sub-plot to this miraculous magic, Saul has ascended or has been initiated to a higher status, which is formally indicated by his re-christening into the name and identity of “Paul.” He is for the most part, “Paul” as he sets out upon his missionary travels. Later Paul will write in Corinthians that the ‘glory’ of condemnation had more to do with the old covenant than with the new, which is focused on the ‘glory’ and acts of righteousness that ‘surpass it.’ So in placing this New Testament and New Power into context with what had presently caused Elymas to become blind, it could also be said of the situation that what has occurred is more akin to a kind of spell than to a miraculous event. It is then apparent that the sudden imposition of a crippling physical handicap in the Bible might still be regarded as the (summoning) of the Holy Spirit if you will, when the ultimate goal is illumination and healing.
The Gospel Coalition disagrees with what they refer to as the frequent exaggeration of Saul’s ‘transformation,’ for the reason that the notion is not scriptural. At the same time, a fallacy seems to have emerged when the word ‘transformation” is made an equivalent reference to the “risen Jesus.” This would mean that Saul had become what might be considered angelic or that he was no longer completely human. Nonetheless, as Saul had ascended to the identity of Paul, miracles and magic were occurring in abundance. Wherever Paul traveled, people were being healed; sight was being restored, women were returning from the dead…
“~Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah.”
— Acts – 9:22
The passage may be referring to political or spiritual influence, but perhaps that is not the entirety of what is being described here. Later in Corinthians, Paul seems to be proclaiming the potency of his own power when he writes, “and not as Moses, which put a [veil] over his face, that the children of Israel could not steadfastly look to the end of that which is abolished (King James).” Here Paul seems to be saying ‘why should Moses hide the light of his divine countenance with a veil, when during that entire time, it had been fading away to make room for me, the only relevant minister of the new power/covenant.’
“Acts” is directly proportionate to a minister’s or practitioner’s relationship to God, performing Acts that may be the Lord’s main form of outreach, all of which are fundamental to establishing the faith. Acts of miraculous magic are, it seems, one of the founding premises of faith, and that may sometimes resemble a spell. At any time Acts might be greatly diminished but for the “witness,” who must take heed of these marvels made to occur directly in front of their eyes.