A Staff

Exodus 4:1-9

The Lord said to him, "What is that in your hand?" He said, "A staff." Exodus 4:2 ESV

God appeared to Moses on Mt. Sinai in a burning bush and told Moses He was sending him to bring the children of Israel up out of the land of Egypt. Moses had several objections. The first one was, what should Moses tell the people about who had sent him?  God told Moses to tell them the God of their fathers had sent him, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The name and identity of God is trustworthy. We can trust in Him.

However, Moses had another objection. He said:
What if they won’t believe me or listen to me? What if they say, ‘The Lord never appeared to you’? (Exodus 4:1 NLT)

“What if they will not believe me?”

Moses brings out the willfulness of people. Believing is a choice we make. He asks, ”What if they will not believe me?” The ”will not” implies an act of the will, a choice. He asks, “What if they will not believe me?” The “will not” implies an act of the will, a choice. We never believe against our will. We may be convinced, but at some point in the convincing process we make a choice to believe. Moses realizes that some people will not believe him and what is more, he realizes that some people will choose not to listen to him.

The person who chooses not to listen is impossible to convince until he or she can be persuaded to listen. Many, if not most, of our disagreements can be worked through if we choose to listen. However, even the most dedicated lovers will have issues upon which they disagree and choose to agree to disagree. So, I recognize that learning to listen is not the only thing necessary to solve disagreements. But, a willingness to listen is a necessary first step.

People will normally refuse to change their opinion or their chosen course of action. Some change quicker than others, and then, there are those who refuse to change even on the threat of death. Moses expects resistance. He says,
What if they say, “The Lord never appeared to you”?

The Lord answered Moses by giving him three signs to use to convince the people to believe him. Since believing is a choice, these signs have value as evidence that God had appeared to Moses and they also served as warnings not to take the voice of God lightly.

Many of us will change our opinion or chosen course of action if presented with evidence. Evidence is not guaranteed to work, and not all evidence works for everybody. The same sign that convinces you may not convince me. So, God gives three separate, distinct signs.

However, some people show dogged determination not to change their position or stance. For these individuals, the signs God gives Moses hold implied threat.

As much as we would like to think that everybody will automatically accept the truth if it is made obvious, this is just not the way it is. Often, the truth in and of itself is not enough to motivate us. Whereas, the fear of loss or threat of pain, often is.

As God begins to address Moses’ concern, He asks Moses a question. He says,
What is that in your hand? (Exodus 4:2 ESV)

God can see. He made our eyes, and He knew what Moses had in his hand. God is deliberately getting Moses’ attention. Moses had a shepherd’s staff in his hand. He was a shepherd and the staff was the tool of his trade. After 40 years as a shepherd, the staff would have been like Moses’ right hand. It was as common and ordinary to him as a hammer is to a carpenter or a pencil to an engineer or a calculator to an accountant.

The first lesson we glean from the three signs God gives Moses is that God uses the common and ordinary to do extraordinary things. If you are an accountant, God can use your calculator for His glory. If you are an engineer, God can use your pencil for his glory. And, if you are a carpenter, God can use your hammer for His glory. The glory was not in the staff. The glory and power came from God.

Moses tells us:
The Lord said to him, "What is that in your hand?" He said, "A staff." And he said, "Throw it on the ground." So he threw it on the ground, and it became a serpent, and Moses ran from it. But the Lord said to Moses, "Put out your hand and catch it by the tail"—so he put out his hand and caught it, and it became a staff in his hand— "that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you." (Exodus 4:2-5 ESV)

When Moses threw his staff on the ground, it became a serpent. Being a shepherd in the wilderness, this was not the first serpent Moses saw. Snakes are part of life in the wilderness. One of the things the staff was used for was talking to snakes or snake charming. If charmed just right with a crushing blow to the head, a snake will become inert and as docile as a stuffed animal. However, when the staff becomes a snake, the shepherd has no means of charming the snake. So, Moses tells us he fled from the snake. Moses fleeing from the snake causes me to believe that the snake was big and the snake was poisonous.

Changing a lifeless piece of wood into a living creature is a miraculous sign, and enough evidence for a person who is willing to believe. However, the symbolism of this sign is significant. The symbol of the cobra was prominent on the crown of the king of Egypt as a sign of divine authority. So, for Moses’ staff to become a snake was a clear indication of divine sanction of his mission. The implied threat is that to defy Moses is to defy the Deity.

God says He gave this sign for a specific reason. Exodus 4:5 says,
"that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you." (Exodus 4:5 ESV)

The words “may believe” imply and enabling of belief. God does not expect us to believe in the absence of evidence. For example, the Gospel of John was written so that we can believe. In it, we have seven miraculous signs accompanied by seven discourse all given by Jesus so that we can believe. John 20:30-31 says:
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31 ESV)

Here again is the “may believe.” For the one who is willing, the sign is enough. However, God gives Moses a second sign.

Exodus 4:6-8 says:
Again, the Lord said to him, "Put your hand inside your cloak." And he put his hand inside his cloak, and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous like snow. Then God said, "Put your hand back inside your cloak." So he put his hand back inside his cloak, and when he took it out, behold, it was restored like the rest of his flesh. "If they will not believe you," God said, "or listen to the first sign, they may believe the latter sign.” (Exodus 4:6-8 ESV)

“If they will not believe you or listen to the first sign, they may believe the latter sign.”

God knows that not every sign carries the same meaning for every person. After all, we see later in the book of Exodus that the Egyptian sorcerers were able to change their staffs into serpents. Some miraculous signs are faked or mimicked. Satan poses as an angel of light. So, some have trusted in the false and been taken in by liars and thieves. There are multiple strands to the rope on which Moses is asking the children of Israel to hang their hopes. There is the name of God, which gives us hope. There is the character of God which gives us confidence. And there is the power of God, which gives us strength. God is not asking for uninformed blind faith. He gives information and He gives evidence.

However, with the second sign comes an even stronger implied threat. Leprosy was the incurable disease of that day. It was not until the 20th century that we have been able to offer any hope to those with leprosy. This sign clearly signaled God’s ability to touch the body, to give health and to take it away. It is not that God is childishly sulky and bad tempered, but rather to ignore His message and messenger carries with it extremely bad consequences. The children of Israel were in danger of extinction at the hands of the Egyptians, and had lost hope to the point they were not willing to trust even the messenger of God who was sent to deliver them.

It is the same way with people in the world today. They have been lied to and taken advantage of to the point that they are unwilling to believe even the messenger of God who is sent to deliver them. And, without the urgency of impending doom, many will not make a move to be free.

After changing the staff to a snake and giving and curing leprosy, God gives a third sign. Exodus 4:9 says:
“If they will not believe even these two signs or listen to your voice, you shall take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground, and the water that you shall take from the Nile will become blood on the dry ground." (Exodus 4:9 ESV)

This sign is disturbing. Some people faint at the sight of blood. Blood means life, and blood being poured out is a sign of death. With this sign, God makes it clear what is at stake. This is a matter of life and death. To stay in Egypt would be to die. God had sent a deliverer and to ignore him would mean death without hope of rescue.

The picture for us is even more severe or bare in appearance. The blood that Jesus poured out on the cross was not symbolic nor was it meant to imply anything. The blood that Jesus poured out was poured out for our salvation and deliverance. It was poured out to pay for our conduct that breaks God’s laws and standards. It was not symbolic at all. It was direct payment for sin. To ignore His blood is to remain with no hope of deliverance or forgiveness. Hebrews 10:26-29 instructs us when it says:
For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? (Hebrews 10:26-29 ESV)

The three signs that God gave Moses have been given to us today.

We have the authority of law, government and nature that show us that there is a divine law giver. We see the consequences of the serpent’s work in the world around us so that we know that we need a deliverer. We know that we, along with the rest of humanity, must pay for our conduct that has broken the laws of nature, government and God.

We see the brokenness of our bodies by sin and disease and know that this is not right and we long for bodies that successfully heal themselves all the time, like they were designed to do. When we are young, we long for the strength of adulthood and when we are old, we long for the strength of youth. The longing tells us that we were made for so much more.

We have the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Although His blood was poured out, He rose again from the dead. To ignore His blood is to ignore our only hope for deliverance.

Why do we persist in unbelief? Why do we doggedly refuse to change our opinions and ways in view of both the evidence and the great danger?

Please choose to believe, for your own sake.


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