But when the magicians tried to produce gnats by their secret arts, they could not. (Exodus 8:18)
Thanks to dogged persistence, advanced planning, and frequent phone calls to Costco, my wife secured a Wii about a month before Christmas. The Wii (pronounced “Wee”) is an incredible video game system that allows you to physically get into the action of the game. Forget joysticks and buttons that only require the movement of your thumbs. The Wii actually makes you go through the motions of playing tennis or bowling or golfing. You can understand why parents were panic stricken and desperate just days before Christmas, and why so many of them went crying Wii, Wii, Wii, all the way home (sorry, but I couldn’t resist that).
The latest Wii acquisition in our house has been a game called “Guitar Hero.” You actually hold a small guitar in your hands, playing a series of colored buttons which function as the notes or frets of the guitar. On screen an animated band plays these mostly 80s head-banging rock songs as colored notes appear telling you what to play. You play with the band and at the end of the song you see how many notes you hit or missed. There are varying levels of difficulty, and if you miss too many notes, the song stops and you’re booed off the stage.
I’m still a novice at guitar hero. On the “easy” level I can jam with Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me with your Best Shot” or Foghat’s “Slow Ride.” On one occasion, feeling a little too sure of myself, I tried to go the Medium level of the game. More notes, coming at faster intervals, demanding nimble fingers. I lasted about thirty seconds, if that. The game left me in the dust, my ego wounded by a computer-animation audience and their make-believe jeering.
Think of the first two plagues as the easy level of Pharaoh’s confrontation with Moses. When the Nile became blood Pharaoh’s magicians did the same thing. No big deal. When frogs covered the land and got into bedrooms and cabinets and dresser drawers, the magicians did the same thing. By now they’re looking at Moses as if to say, “Is that all you’ve got?” Then came plague three. Gnats swarmed the land. The magicians tried to duplicate this, but could not. It was important for Israel to see the power of Pharaoh’s magicians on two occasions, only to see them left in impotent humility eight times following.
We live in a world where we mirror God's best moves, as if we’ve had a peek into the divine playbook. We’ve exposed the old myths. Yes, God is able, but so are we. God can help, but we should help ourselves. Eventually, however, we encounter plague three. We reach a point where our best isn’t enough, our skills come up short, our capacity to manage is proved inadequate. In a highly developed and technologized culture where we can do so much, it’s easy to believe we can do anything.
There may be days when you sense that you’re matching God step for step. And then something happens that leaves you in the dust, absolutely spent. This is a good thing; it teaches trust and humility. Something significant happens at plague three. There will be days when we face things that force us to step aside and let God be God. What might that be in your life today?
Like the Israelites, O Lord, we claim you as our God. Like Pharaoh’s magicians, we often attempt to do your work in our own strength. Bring us to the end of ourselves and teach us to trust in your great power. As you accomplish your saving work in the world, grant your Spirit that we might participate in what you are doing. Amen.