The magicians of Egypt were called Jannes and Jambres. They were Pharaoh’s Magicians Who Opposed Moses’ mission by trying to copy the miraculous signs of God.
But the magicians of Egypt did the same by their secret arts; so Pharaoh’s heart remained hardened, and he would not listen to them; as the LORD had said. EXODUS 7:22 NRSV
When Moses and Aaron confronted Pharaoh in Egypt, members of Pharaoh’s court opposed them and tried to duplicate Moses and Aaron’s miraculous signs. While the book of Exodus doesn’t reveal the names of these rivals, Hebrew tradition preserves their memory as Jannes and Jambres which the apostle Paul also affirms (2 Timothy 3:8).
God had given Moses and Aaron specific miracles to help persuade Pharaoh to release God’s people from their slavery. By trying to duplicate these miracles, Pharaoh’s magicians hoped to keep the people of God enslaved in Egypt.
Although Jannes and Jambres managed to copy many of God’s miraculous signs, they could not do so universally. Exodus 8 records that these magicians failed to replicate the plague of gnats, and Exodus 9:11 records that the plague of boils had affected them so badly that they could not stand before Pharaoh.
Throughout Israel’s history, these men served as an archetype of those who fight against the progress of God’s plan and His gospel message. Paul wrote: “As Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these people, of corrupt mind and counterfeit faith, also oppose the truth” (2 Timothy 3:8 NRSV). Their actions made these men appropriate symbols of opposition to God’s deliverance of His people. These magicians became popular villains throughout Israel’s history.
Not only were their names preserved as the magicians of Pharaoh’s court, but Hebrew tradition also refers to these men as sons of Balaam, as those who incited Aaron to build the golden calf, and as having died at the crossing of the Red Sea. Though physically impossible for Jannes and Jambres to be linked in actuality to each of these episodes, their mention in each reveals the place these men occupied in the Hebrews’ hearts and minds.