Egyptian Magicians: Jannes and Jambres

Magicians in Ancient Egypt

Bible References: Exodus 7:8-8:19; 2 Timothy 3:8-9.

Heart of the Story: Jannes and Jambres were Egyptian magicians. They were able to replicate several but not all of Aaron’s miracles.

Story Line: God directed Moses and Aaron to meet with pharaoh and ask that he allow the Israelites slaves to go into the wilderness and sacrifice to their God. In the first meeting between Moses and pharaoh, pharaoh demanded a miracle to verify that Moses was speaking for his god and not for himself. Aaron threw his staff down and it became a snake. Pharaoh summoned the court sorcerers and magicians. Each sorcerer/ magician threw down his staff. By occult arts each staff became a snake; however, Aaron’s snake swallowed sorcerers’/magicians’ snakes. Despite Pharaoh understanding that Aaron’s snake was more powerful than those of his sorcerer-magicians, Pharaoh refused Moses’ request.

Subsequently, God visited 10 plagues on Egypt. The first was that the Nile River changed into blood with the result that fish died. The second plague involved frogs leaving the river, ponds and streams and coming onto the land of Egypt. Pharaoh’s sorcerer-magicians replicated both of these plagues by their secret arts.

The third plague was the plague of gnats. When Aaron stretched out his staff and struck the dust, gnats came upon man and animals. The sorcerer-magicians weren’t able to replicate this miracle. They told pharaoh that the plague of gnats was the finger of God. Bible passages that described the seven other plagues give no indication that Pharaoh demanded his sorcerer-magicians replicate them.

Pondering Relationships: Exodus didn’t name the sorcerer-magicians who opposed Moses and Aaron before pharaoh. By Jewish tradition and in Paul’s second letter to Timothy, their names were Jannes and Jambres. Paul claimed that they were men of a depraved mind who opposed the truth; their folly was clear to everyone (2 Timothy 3:8-9).

Jannes’ and Jambres’ powers were limited. Although they duplicated several of Aaron’s actions, they couldn’t undo them, e.g., return the bloody Nile River to water or stop the frogs from swarming Egypt. Their inability to replicate Aaron’s miracles of gnats made it clear that they could not create life from the dust of the earth. Jannes’ and Jambres’ relationship with pharaoh depended on their doing his will. When they couldn’t produce gnats from dust, pharaoh saw that their abilities were inferior to the god of Moses and Aaron. He dismissed them from his court demonstrating clearly that they had no durable relationship with pharaoh.

The two sorcerer-magicians had no relationship with the true God, the God of the Israelites. Yet, they had sufficient power to change a staff into a snake and the Nile River into blood. The Bible doesn’t identify where Jannes and Jambres obtained their abilities other than that they had knowledge of secret arts. Most likely their powerful actions originated from Satan. Egyptians believed in a pantheon of gods with Heka the ancient Egyptian god of magic. By praying to and worshiping Heka, Jannes and Jambres worshiped Satan who acted on their behalf to oppose God.

Reflection: Both now and in the past, two supernatural powers operate in this world. This story of Moses and Aaron acting for God versus Jannes and Jambres acting for Satan demonstrates who is most powerful. No matter the immediate circumstances, God is sovereign and his plans will prevail on earth and in heaven.

Magicians, witches, sorcerers, were all identified in the Bible and all cases their power was admitted by the Bible writers.  In Lesser Known Bible Characters, I tell the stories of 6 of these unique individuals. The purchase the book, visit

Copyright: September 14, 2014: Carolyn A. Roth



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