"Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also
resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith.
But they shall proceed no further: for their folly shall be manifest unto
all men, as theirs also was" (2 Timothy 3:8-9).
"Jannes" an "Jambres" are the names that tradition gives to the court
magicians who were brought forth by the Pharaoh to confront Moses and Aaron.
Pharaoh, of course, wanted to do more than to prove that his magicians
were as powerful as Moses and Aaron, the prophets of God.
A prophet speaks for another, and Pharaoh did not want to hear what
God had to say to him. He did not want to obey God’s commandment: "Let
my people go." And this is what happened:
There is nothing in the Biblical account to deny that Pharaoh’s magicians
wielded some kind of real power. Furthermore, we know as a matter of fact
that the Pharaohs ruled Egypt by claiming god-like powers for themselves.
The entire Egyptian culture relied on a complex system of superstition
and dark powers, often symbolized by the crawling things that lived in
the earth, such as the dung beetle or the serpent. The Pharaohs even wore
a golden cobra in their crowns.
[And God said] 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. 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. Then Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers:
now the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments.
For they cast down every man his rod, and they became serpents: but Aaron's
rod swallowed up their rods (Exodus 7:9-12).
Thus, when God worked the rather minor miracle of causing Aaron’s rod
to swallow the serpents of the Egyptian court, it was not only the magicians
who were humiliated, but also the Pharaoh himself. The power of his crown
had been eaten up by the power of the God of his Hebrew slaves. After a
series of these humiliations, the magicians simply gave up: "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
An old Jewish legend, of the sort that gives us the names Jannes and
Jambres, goes so far as to say that the magicians were converted by their
failure, and left Egypt with the Chosen People to follow the One True God.
Pharaoh, on the other hand, only hardened his heart against God, until
the final plague of Egypt came—the death of the Egyptian firstborn. Pharaoh
did let the people go, as God had commanded, but only after he had sacrificed
his own firstborn in the name of his rebellion against God. Even then,
Pharaoh hardened his heart further and tried to trap the Israelites at
the Red Sea, where it was his army that was finally destroyed, and not
the people of God.
The pain, loss, and slaughter that Pharaoh inflicted upon his own people
by resisting Almighty God can only be described as "demonic." The Pharaoh’s
actions are so illogical, so unreasonable that we could not understand
them at all, unless we begin with Jannes and Jambres. Those pagan magicians
wielded real power, but it was not the power of the true God. Those magicians,
their Pharaoh, and the Egyptian people were in the thrall of false gods.
It is a dangerous mistake to think that the words "false gods" refer
to things that do not exist. False gods are real, and the powers that hide
behind the idols are real, and they are powerful indeed. What they are
not, however, is the good, eternal, and true God who made all things and
all persons, excepting only himself. Communion with the True God gives
life; and communion with false gods gives death. St. Paul explained the
matter to the Corinthians in these words: "But I say, that the things
which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God:
and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. Ye cannot drink
the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the
Lord's table, and of the table of devils" (1 Corinthians 10:20-21).
"False gods" are not gods at all. They are "devils"—fallen angels who
use their superhuman powers to pretend to be gods. These fallen angels
continue the war of their master, Satan, against the One True God by trying
to corrupt and to enslave the human race, by trying to steal the love and
obedience that belong to God alone.
The tragedy of fallen angels and of fallen men is that both were greater
before they rebelled against God. But while there is no redemption for
the angels, there is for mankind. Jesus Christ died on the cross to redeem
mankind from sin, demonstrating an almighty power just as capable of swallowing
up all of the false gods in the world, as Aaron’s staff was able by God’s
grace to devour the serpent gods of the Egyptians. Men like Jannes and
Jambres can be converted by grace for everlasting life, but only if they
give up their false gods. Meanwhile, those who cling to false gods, whether
represented by the idols of paganism and materialism, or by false doctrines
that deny the revealed Truth of Jesus Christ, have nothing to look forward
to but an eternity of humiliation, of which the humiliation that Jannes
and Jambres received at the hands of God’s prophets was the merest taste.
As St. Paul wrote to St. Timothy, "their folly shall be manifest unto
all men." On the Last Day, there will be a reckoning, as the judgment of
God is made known by Jesus Christ to all men who have ever lived. But we
do not have to wait for the last day to discover whether we have followed
Jesus Christ or whether we have followed false gods. Whenever anyone tells
us of great "spiritual events" and of mighty "powers," or even if we see
them for ourselves with our own eyes, we have the admonition of the Apostle
John to guide us: "Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits
whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into
the world" (1 John 4:1).
And how do we "try the spirits" in a world where power and success are
the greatest and most powerful idols? We don’t look to the numbers that
follow this guru or that false prophet. We don’t conform ourselves to the
latest false preachers, who market an imitation "Christ" to gullible people
and succeed by the power of their false gods as they supply an imitation
miracle or two. We look to the Holy Scriptures, and we conform ourselves
to the Living Word of God.
St. Timothy was a young pastor when St. Paul, waiting to be executed
in Rome, wrote today’s New Testament lesson to him as a kind of farewell
letter. Timothy would have to stand against the false gods and their servants,
and so St. Paul gave him this final reminder: "that from a child thou hast
known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation
through faith which is in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim. 3:15). The heavenly, revealed
wisdom that allows any faithful Christian to "try the spirits," to separate
true religion from false religion, is the gift of God in the Scriptures.
Moreover, that divine gift of Truth is given, not just in "some scriptures,"
but in all of them: "All scripture is given by inspiration of God,
and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for
instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly
furnished unto all good works" (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Today’s equivalents
of Jannes and Jambres "shall proceed no further" if they are always confronted
with the Holy Scriptures by a faithful people. This was true when Moses
and Aaron delivered the Word of God. It was true when St. Paul wrote to
St. Timothy. It was true when St. John warned us to test every spirit for
its obedience to God. It is true now, and we can be completely prepared
for every purpose of God if we fill our hearts and minds with his Word,
and that Word is given to us perfectly, by the Holy Ghost, in the Bible.
We have no "right" to be wrong about God, when God has provided us with
his own Truth so perfectly.