Posted by: mattcolvin | October 27, 2006

The Finger of God in Luke 11:18 and Exodus 8:19

(Reposted from my old Fragmenta blog.)

This is another GNT note that probably falls into the “Duh, where have you been, Colvin?” category. The two passages in question are both in some lectionaries for the same day, the 3rd Sunday in Lent. So someone must already have noticed what just dawned on me. But I’ll share it anyway, in case any of my readers have also been missing this little detail of Luke’s narrative.

In Luke 11:18, Jesus replies to the accusation that he has been casting out demons by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons. This name, of course, means “Lord of the flies”, and is an insulting pun on Beelzebul. But Jesus’ reply is very pointed, and takes the name as a jumping-off point for turning the accusation back on his opponents.

He asks them, “If I cast out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your sons cast them out? Therefore they will be your judges. But if I cast out demons with the finger of God (ἐν δακτύλῳ θεοῦ), surely the kingdom of God has come upon you.”

This is a very direct reference to a prominent Old Testament passage, Exodus 8:17-19:
Aaron stretched out his hand with his rod and struck the dust of the earth, and it became lice on man and beast…Now the magicians so worked with their enchantments to bring forth lice, but they could not. So there were lice on man and beast. Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.”

The connection would have been clear to Jesus’ hearers. His accusers are failing to recognize that He is in the position of Moses and Aaron. They and their “sons” — that is, disciples — are in the place of the magicians of Pharaoh. They cannot do what Jesus has done, so they are discredited as judges — and this in the Biblical sense of the word (think Samson, Deborah, Barak). They cannot save.


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