Jannes and Jambres

Archibald G. Brown, East London Tabernacle

"Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these men oppose the truth men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected!" 2 Timothy 3:8

"Jannes and Jambres whoever are they?" This is a question I can imagine being asked by many, if not most present. Their names only occur in this verse, and nothing is made known about them here except the fact that they were a trouble and obstacle to Moses. All the incidents usually dwelt upon by the biographer are lacking. Nothing is recorded of their birth, appearance, manner of life or time of death. From the fact that they resisted Moses, we know fifteen hundred years must have rolled over their unknown graves. During all this time their names never once appear in inspired history, until they are used in our text as solemn warnings to the professors of Paul's time.

But who were they? Jewish records, and all commentators agree in saying, they were the chief of the sorcerers employed by Pharaoh. They were the men who sought to counteract the influence of the miracles of Moses by apparently doing the same things.

Kindly turn with me to the seventh chapter of Exodus and the eleventh verse, and you will read the history of that opposition, which centuries after illustrated an apostle's appeal. Moses had just commanded Aaron to cast his rod upon the ground, and that rod has just been changed into a serpent, when "Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers; now the magicians of Egypt also did in like manner with their enchantments, for every man cast down his rod, and they became serpents."

Here now was a difficulty, and for a moment Moses must have felt baffled. In the estimation of the beholders, he was nothing more than the magician. The miracle on which perhaps he had greatly depended to give weight to his words had lost all its power. True, he might know that there was reality on his side, and only trickery on theirs but then how about Pharaoh and his court? What effect would the seeming miracle of Jannes and Jambres have on their mind? It could have but one. It would harden them in their sin and take all point and power from the words of Moses.

They doubtless argued "What is Moses more than our own wise men, if he can perform a miracle to get Israel out of Egypt they can perform a similar one to keep them in the land; so what is there to choose between them?" Thus God's handiwork was brought into discredit by man's imitation. The real suffered through the sham. The truth lost its power by the lie. The appearance neutralized the influence of the reality.

Now perhaps some of you are already saying, "But what has this to do with Paul's argument? Jannes and Jambres had rotted in their graves ages before he mentioned their names." True but a new race of them was to rise. Paul, looking into the future, saw the church meeting the same form of opposition as Moses. History was to repeat itself; so he warns of the coming danger.

You and I, dear friends, are living "in the last days" that he speaks about in the first verse of this chapter. The days of Jannes and Jambres so the subject should have special interest to us. Certainly if the Holy Spirit thought it worthwhile to hold up the opposition of these men as typical of the opposition the truth is to meet in our times, the study of their character is worthy our most careful thought.

I will ask you to notice
First, the nature of the opposition offered by Jannes and Jambres.
Secondly, its influence.
Thirdly, its end.

May the Lord help us in preaching on a subject which has long weighed upon my mind. It is a subject more important than pleasant, and one which we believe to be specially adapted to the present state of our churches. Many Jannes and Jambres abound just now.


I. First then, Let us notice the nature of the opposition offered by these men to Moses. It was exceedingly subtle, and had so little show of opposition about it, that onlookers might have been slow to believe they had anything but feelings of respect towards Moses. To them it would seem little more than a trial of skill between Jewish and Egyptian magicians. Here was the power and the danger of the resistance. You do not find that they tried to make light of the miracles of Moses, or call into question their genuineness, or anything of the sort. No, they simply copied him as far as possible, and tried by imitations to depreciate the value of the real. They so surrounded the true diamond with cut glass copies that in the eye of an undiscerning public, it was difficult to tell the difference.

This is the kind of resistance the church has to struggle against in the present day. The old, rough, brutal, physical opposition has passed away. The Inquisition with its horrid tortures, and Smithfield with its blazing victims are things of the past. It would be folly on the part of Satan to try and use such weapons now. Their date is over and he knows it. With changing times, he always changes his tactics. Like a skillful angler, he suits the fly on his hook to the season of the year. Variety, if not pleasing, is profitable to him in this respect.

His first effort against Christianity was to stamp it out, just as his first effort was to slay Moses. All kinds of means were employed. Edicts, prohibitions, fines, imprisonments, individual torturings, and general massacres. These things suited a certain age. We are now or at least are supposed to be more refined, polite and tolerant. The idea of hanging or burning a man for his views, whatever they might be, would be universally discounted, except perhaps by some of the followers of Rome, the members of which church have always shown a great partiality for the burning faggot as an argument for their faith. The times having thus changed, Satan has accommodated himself to them, and instead of seeking to stamp Christians out, he now goes on an entirely different tack. Having failed to do away with Christians, he now seeks to make the whole world Christian after his sort. Stamping out the genuine having proved another failure he now seeks to swamp them with imitations of his own manufacture.

The church in the world but not of the world, having outlived all and every attack is now threatened with a new danger. Satan means to have a Christian world one at least in name and profession. As he cannot altogether do away with the testimony of a Moses, he will antidote it by raising up a number like Jannes and Jambres, who will so closely imitate him that the world will cry "they are alike, their pretensions are equally good, it is six of one and half a dozen of the other."

Satan's last and greatest plan of resistance has been to throw over the world the cloak of a hollow profession, and as far as possible to fill the pulpit with a Jannes, and the pew with a Jambres. In the place of living, breathing Christians, he is giving us Christians on canvas, and the church is half-smothered with the shams crowded into her.

That this is the true teaching of the text I have no doubt, and I am convinced that this is the kind of resistance Paul meant Jannes and Jambres to illustrate, for if you turn to the fifth verse of this chapter, you will find their characters sketched in very few words: "having a form of godliness but denying the power." Yes, that is it formal and powerless. Like Moses in his actions but devoid of the God-given might by which he performed them.

Let us now enter more into detail. We have seen that the resistance was one of imitation rather than obstruction and that this is the kind of resistance we may expect to meet. Let us now notice in what particulars the imitation may resemble the real the empty form appear to be the genuine power.

Observe first that a Jannes or Jambres can do many of the same things as a true Moses; and in the judgment of worldly onlookers, they can do them just as well. Aaron's rod is turned into a serpent! Amazement takes hold of the spectators, until one of the sorcerers with a look of perfect self-assurance casts his rod down, and lo, it becomes a serpent. Others follow his example, until coiling and twisting at Pharaoh's feet, are plenty of proofs that, at least in this respect, the magicians can do the same as Moses.

There need be no great wonderment on our part as to how they accomplished their feat. The Egyptians were masters in the are of conjuring and as great marvels are done by sleight of hand in our own day. The thing was this, they did it or what is the same as far as their resistance to Moses was concerned they appeared to do it. Granting that Pharaoh and his court knew it to be but a clever trick on their part, the opposition was the same, for how was Moses to prove that his was anything better? His rod, or more strictly speaking, Aaron's rod, became, as far as sight could guarantee anything, a serpent. So did the rods of Jannes and Jambres. That was enough for Pharaoh.

Another wonder is done by the rod of Moses and Aaron. It strikes the river and lo, the channel is filled with blood instead of water. Blood blood nothing but blood the whole river stank with blood. Surely now the Egyptians will believe there is power in Jehovah's messengers. They might have, if it had not been for Jannes and Jambres. They turn, or at least they seem to turn, some water into blood, perhaps a small vessel full. Never mind the quantity. "Water into blood is the same thing whether in a large or small measure," say the Egyptians, "so our magicians are a match for God's Moses."

But again Aaron's rod works a miracle. From rivers, streams, pools, swamps, ponds, there comes an army of frogs. The land is full of them. Indoors as well as outdoors, there they are. They leap into the beds, they croak in the ovens, they defile the kneading troughs. Horrible! But Jannes and Jambres are equal to the occasion. They seem to manufacture frogs with perfect ease, although they have no power to remove them. Thus three times the testimony of Moses was lessened, if not neutralized, by men without God doing apparently just what he did with his God. He had to contend with "the form without the power."

So it is now. It is difficult to say what a Jannes or a Jambres cannot do. Can a true child of God, one who has "the power" within him, preach? So can the man who only has the form. O sirs, it is a sad truth to tell but if every Jannes and Jambres were turned out of the pulpit this morning, there would be many congregations without any preacher and a good thing for them too.

Preach! Yes, that they can; sentences as smooth and rounded as beach pebbles, and with as much life, roll over their lips. Preach! Yes, in studied language with flowing measure that makes many a poor stammering Moses envy their ability. Preach, yes, with plenty of "form" and almost perfect delivery, while a congregation that knows and cares nothing about the "power" applauds the eloquence.

Being a preacher is not an infallible proof of being a saved man. He may simply be a conjurer in the pulpit, resisting the truth he professes to love.

Can a true child of God teach in the Sunday school? Yes, and so can Jannes and Jambres. It is a shame to our schools that so little care is taken to keep them out of the classes. One is almost tempted to think that children's souls are of so little value that they may be experimented on. But the worst of it is that Jannes can look so much like Moses, and "the form" can so well imitate "the power" that it is difficult not to be deceived sometimes. If children had no souls, and if the work of Sunday School teaching was not conversion, then the Jannes would often make the best teacher.

These magicians are always clever, their profession requires them to be so.

Can a true child of God take a tract-district and visit the sick? So can either Jannes or Jambres. They can visit as punctually, arrange their districts as methodically, and perhaps draw up a far better report of their work. They can pour into the ear of the sick man all the well-worn bedside platitudes, and to the eye of the public, if not to the eye of God, they do as much good as the Moses who is slow of speech, and only has "the power," and do it in a neater style and in better "form."

Time would fail to tell of all the different things they can do and are doing. They can take the chair at public meetings, and express their unbounded interest in the object that has convened the gathering, with a quiet self-delight that makes the meek Moses in the body of the hall, who is really devoted to the work, feel humbled to think how far he falls below their standard.

They can occupy the honorable position of deacons in our churches they can carry the bread and wine round at the Lord's Supper they can engage in prayer in fact they can do almost anything not quite that the man can do who is commissioned by God.

I know dear friends of no sadder fact than the possibility of a man looking so like a Christian, doing so much of a Christian's work and yet being no Christian at all. Even worse than that, being a resister of the truth, having a name to live and yet being dead and spreading death on every hand in a word, being a Jannes or a Jambres, having all "the form" and lacking all "the power."

But not only can they do the same things but they can speak the same language. Besides the form of action they have the form of speech. I often regret that as Christians we have so many set phrases of speech. I believe it is a help to hypocrites and an assistance to all mere formalists. Why is it that in so many instances, the moment a man becomes a Christian he ceases to speak in a clear outspoken way, and talks in a jargon of set phrases? It would be a difficult thing for Jannes and Jambres to remain undetected, if they had to coin their own language to express their feelings. Unfortunately there is a language already coined for them, and like parrots they repeat what they have heard others say, without understanding the meaning one iota. Religious talk is one of the worst kinds of tests that can be employed, for it is not an uncommon thing for the emptiest vessel to make the most sound.

Many a man who, like Moses, has "the power," also like Moses lacks a ready utterance, and has to say, "I am slow of speech and slow of tongue." Exo 4.10. There are many like the Scotch girl who, when perplexed with a number of theological questions, replied "I cannot speak for Him but I could die for Him."

But a Jannes or a Jambres never finds any difficulty in giving an experience. If he does not have one of his own, he can soon make one up, and what is more marvelous still, he can often persuade himself that what he is saying actually expresses his own feelings. He has repeated experiences that he has only heard, until at last he has fallen into the delusion that he is repeating what he has felt!

I beseech you, dear friends, do not settle down and conclude that you must be a genuine Christian, because you have a rich religious vocabulary at your command. Having it does not prove you are a genuine Christian; far from it; it is a good thing to be able to express easily the feelings and the desires of the heart but at the same time, it does not prove that you are a Christian. You may, with all your flowing speech and wordy piety, be only a Jannes or a Jambres; you may be a good imitation but nothing more polished bronze but not gold.

Thus I have tried to show how close a RESEMBLANCE may exist between the real and the false, the actual and the apparent. Now what was the DIFFERENCE between Moses and Jannes? The answer is soon given.

What he did, he did by a power that was not his own. What they did, they did by themselves. God was in Moses and did the miracles through him. Satan was in them and prompted them to make a copy of Jehovah's works. In the one case there was actual power and that was a divine power performing actual wonders. In the other case there was simply an empty form doing nothing but looking like much. One was a manifestation of God's might. The other was an exhibition of man's cleverness. There was all the difference between them that there is between the flower budding and blooming, and the wax-work imitation that is devoid of scent or life. Or to use another illustration, between the statue and the man it represents.

Doubtless most of you have at some time or another gone through an are gallery. There perhaps you have seen carved in marble a Samson or a Hercules. The figure has been huge, and every part of it was intended to display gigantic strength. The shoulders have been massive. The sinews of the arms have looked like cords, and knotted muscles have stood out in every part.

"What power!!!" you exclaimed. No, there is not. There is a grand imitation of it, nothing more. The sinews are all of stone, and the muscles cannot close one finger of the hand.

Do you see that little child whose head does not so much as come up to the top of the pedestal on which the giant stands, and looks with awe at the great stony monster towering far above him? There is more power in the little finger of that child than in the whole bulky mass he looks at. He has life. The statue does not. There is the difference. One has great "form," the other has true power. Jannes and Jambres are statues of Christians, nothing more.


II. Let us notice the INFLUENCE of Jannes and Jambres. Their influence was great; Moses felt its power, and the king and court grew hardened by it. So it is with these of whom they are the type.

Jannes and Jambres wield an immense power in the present day, and it's no use shutting our eyes to the fact. It is a mark of greatest folly to despise the strength of an adversary, and the surest way to feel it is by experience. Jannes is not to be gotten rid of with a laugh, nor is Jambres gotten rid of with a smile of indifference. Their existence is a source of constant danger, and their presence in the professing church does more to paralyze its testimony than all the outward opposition and persecution it has ever met.

When we remember also that the Holy Spirit declares that "perilous times" will come with them, it is not for us to shut our eyes and live in a "fool's paradise," particularly when the perilous times are to come "in the last days" the days in which we are living.

This form of satanic resistance is an awful proof of the deep-sightedness of the great adversary. He knows that nothing can possibly deaden the power of the church's testimony, more than flooding it with a number of cold and heartless formalists, who in the eyes of the world can do as much, and do that much as well as the genuine Christian.

And then, when the world detects that they are but shams and finds that it has been deceived, so much the better for him, for he knows that the whole church will be judged by the impostors, and all will be put down as belonging to the same family.

Counterfeits destroy confidence. This is true in everything. It is unprincipled rogues that make it so hard for honest men to get their bread. It is quackery that keeps true medicine out of the field. It is bubble stock companies that eat out all commercial trust, and to many, make the very name a synonym for fraud. Everywhere the true and real are suffering through the influence of the false and base imitations.

I heard an anecdote somewhere that so exactly sets forth the idea that I have in my mind, that I cannot help but tell it. One gentleman made a wager with another that if he stood on London Bridge with a tray full of sovereigns and offered them to the public for sixpence each he would not sell half-a-dozen of them in a day. All day long the man cried out "real sovereigns for sixpence," and declared with all earnestness that he could guarantee their genuineness. Of course no one believed him, and he sold none. Why? Because the public had so often seen sham sovereigns for sale, that they never doubted these were the same. The gilt having come first, it had destroyed all faith in the gold.

It is just so in the spiritual world. The existence of Jannes and Jambres eats out all faith in the reality of any Christian life. The world points to them and refuses to believe that they are the exception, and not the rule.

Is there one worker for the Lord here this morning who has not found out the truth of what I am saying? I do not believe so. Go where we will, and say what we may, we will find some miserable Jannes has gone before us, and like a canker worm, he has eaten out all confidence in our word. Their influence resists the truth. This is what we have to contend with now and yet how strangely many seem blinded to the fact.

Roman Catholicism infidelity philosophical atheism all these are looked upon as deadly sins and preached against continually; but it seems as if the evil growing up in our own midst is hardly perceived.

Yet what is the state of the church at large? Is there not a worldly, formal spirit, percolating through and through it? Are not the doors of the church thrown so wide open that almost anyone can become a member? Is there not more of a Christian-world, than a church which, though in the world, is not of the world? Is there not a general tendency to sneer at all decided testimony for Christ, and call it fanatical or puritanical? Instead of the church "going outside the camp" bearing Christ's reproach is there not a very general bringing of the camp into the church? I fear so, far more than many like to believe. Jannes and Jambres are creeping into our pulpits, gliding into our churches; and the "form" without the power is rapidly becoming the fashionable thing!


III. Let us now in the last place notice the END of their resistance. They were put to shame. Their pretensions were proved to be ridiculous, and they had to pass condemnation on themselves. Out of their own mouths came the confession of their imposture, and from their own lips was wrung out the acknowledgment that God was with Moses. Three times they had matched his miracles but the fourth time they miserably failed.

Observe also, how humiliating the subject of their defeat was. You will find it in the eighth chapter of Exodus, the eighteenth verse: "And the magicians worked with their enchantments so as to bring forth lice, and they could not. Then the magicians said to Pharaoh: This is the finger of God!" Ah Jannes, it must have been a bitter moment when you stood convicted before all, of being an impostor! Ah Jambres, how crestfallen you are now! You are compelled to bear testimony for God against your will. You are obliged to confess that "power" has won the day against mere "form."

O what a contrast there is between their looks now, and when they first stepped forward to resist God's servant! How complete is the collapse of their pretensions.

So it shall be with their followers of today. Paul most distinctly states this in the verse following our text, "But they shall proceed no further: for their folly will be manifest to all men as theirs also was." "Folly?" Yes, folly! No other word could better describe their resistance. The hypocrite or lifeless formalist is the greatest of all fools! He is almost certain to be unmasked in time, and even if he were to carry on the horrible deception to the last what will it profit him when God calls for his soul?

Now just as Jannes and Jambres failed to do all that Moses did, so there are some things that the mere formalist can never accomplish. Let him only try, and he will break down, and have to acknowledge that it requires the power of God. I will mention but two.

1. He has no power to bear trouble with joyfulness. His whole life is one of externals; when he is driven by force of circumstances to seek his joy in the life within, he fails, and fails utterly, for there is no life there.

A sham Christianity withers up in the days of trouble. It has no power to give a light in the eye, and place a smile on the lip when every outward comfort is fleeing fast. It has no arms to put beneath a man when the dark waters of sorrow roll and surge around him. It has no power to make the tongue of the bereaved one sing, or give calm serenity to the sick and pain-racked sufferer. No, it can do none of these. It fails like the magicians when it is needed the most.

The "form" may do for bright and sunny days when sorrow and sickness are unknown but it requires the "power" to triumph in the winter night, and to "take joyfully the confiscation of the goods." Heb 10.34.

Put a Jannes or Jambres amidst a number of anxious souls, and tell him to speak to them and point them the way of peace. See how he fails. I think I hear him say, "I could preach but this is more than I can do, and they ask me questions about things I cannot understand. Their very anxiety is a mystery to me. It is not my forte to speak with souls."

No, Sir, it is not. Anything that requires spiritual knowledge, or is beyond the boundary line of "form" is not your work. The finger of God is needed here not your sleight of hand.

Beloved hearers, let me urge this question home upon you, "Could you speak to an anxious soul?" Do you know anything of what being saved means, and therefore know how to show the way to others"? Has there ever been anything more than mere superficial work or heartless form in your professed religion? If not, I pray you to remember that Jannes and Jambres were included in the doom of the Egyptians. When the angel of death walked through the streets of Egypt, there was no exception made. There was not one house without its dead, and for all I know, they were involved in the last awful judgment at the Red Sea.

The form of religion does not save the appearance of piety is of no avail. The Hell of the drunkard and the prostitute will be the Hell of the loud sounding professor who has the form devoid of the power.

Now let no timid soul be frightened and troubled by what I have said. Thank God, there are multitudes whose hearts beat true for Him, and who live in a shallow, cold, and heartless age yet are living a life of "power" and testimony. May the Lord increase their number ten thousand-fold.

Remember, the false but proves the existence of the true. The sham declares there is such a thing as the genuine. The imitation gives unconscious homage to what it imitates. It is the multitude of the true, that makes it possible for the false to pass current.

Do you love Jesus, dear friend? Does His name stir up all the emotions of your heart? Is it your joy to be in fellowship with Him? If you can say "yes" to these questions, then you need not fear. No Jannes or Jambres could say it.

Let us now separate with solemn heart-searching as to whether we are among those who have the "power" or among those who only possess the "form." May God make Jannes and Jambres a warning to us all!