Some have found difficulty in reconciling a statement in Testimonies for the Church, volume I, page 292, with one in Great Controversy, volume I, page 184. These passages refer to the work of the sorcerers in counterfeiting the miracle performed by Aaron, of turning the rod to a serpent. The testimony says: "The magicians could not perform all those miracles which God wrought through Moses. Only a few of them could they do. The magicians' rods did become serpents, but Aaron's rod swallowed them up." This last sentence, which is the one in question, is substantially the same as the Bible statement: "They cast down every man his rod, and they became serpents: but Aaron's rod swallowed up their rods." The statement in volume I, of the Controversy, is: "The magicians seemed to perform several things with their enchantments similar to those things which God wrought by the hand of Moses and Aaron. They did not really cause their rods to become serpents, but by magic, aided by the great deceiver, made them appear like serpents, to counterfeit the work of God." This statement, instead of contradicting the former, is simply explanatory of it.
There is not, in the Testimony, a full expression of the thought which I wished to convey. On page is a sentence which makes the meaning clearer: "The magicians wrought not by their own science alone, but by the power of their god, the devil, who ingeniously carried out his deceptive work of counterfeiting the work of God." Moses, by the power of God, had changed the rod to a living serpent. Satan, through the magicians, counterfeited this miracle. He could not produce living serpents, for he has not power to create or to give life. This power belongs to God alone. But all that Satan could do he did--he produced a counterfeit. By his power, working through the magicians, he caused the rods to assume the appearance of serpents.
The statement that they did become serpents, simply means that they were such in appearance; such they were believed to be by Pharaoh and his court. There was nothing in their appearance to distinguish them from the serpent produced by Moses and Aaron; but while one was real, the others were spurious. And the Lord caused the living serpent to swallow up the pretended ones.
Pharaoh desired to justify his stubbornness in resisting the divine command; he was seeking some excuse to disregard the miracle which God had wrought through Moses. Satan gave him just what he wanted. By the work which he wrought through the magicians he made it appear to the Egyptians that Moses and Aaron were only magicians and sorcerers, and hence that the message which they brought would not claim respect as coming from a superior being.
Even the swallowing up of the counterfeit serpents was not regarded by Pharaoh as the special work of God's power, but as accomplished by a kind of magic superior to that of his servants. Thus this counterfeit work emboldened him in his rebellion, causing him to fortify himself against conviction.
It was by the display of supernatural power, in making the serpent his medium, that Satan caused the fall of Adam and Eve in Eden. Before the close of time he will work still greater wonders. So far as his power extends, he will perform actual miracles. Says the Scripture: "He ... deceiveth them that dwell on the earth by the means of those miracles which he had power to do," not merely those which he pretends to do. Something more than mere impostures is brought to view in this scripture. But there is a limit beyond which Satan cannot go, and here he calls deception to his aid and counterfeits the work which he has not power actually to perform. In the last days he will appear in such a manner as to make men believe him to be Christ come the second time into the world. He will indeed transform himself into an angel of light. But while he will bear the appearance of Christ in every particular, so far as mere appearance goes, it will deceive none but those who, like Pharaoh, are seeking to resist the truth.