DIG: In light of his previous experience, why would Moses be skeptical that the Israelites would accept him and the message he would bring?
REFLECT: Do you worry about the future? Do you have anxious thoughts about tomorrow? God uses what we have. What do you have that He could use?
The chapter division here is artificial. In reality, the scene at the burning bush continues until 4:17. Moses now raises a third objection: What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say: ADONAI did not appear to you (4:1)? One can understand why Moses would be concerned about this. Forty years earlier, when he wanted to be Isra'el’s deliverer, he was rejected. At that time he was told: Who made you ruler and judge over us (2:14)? Therefore, Moses was not only concerned whether Pharaoh would recognize his authority, but whether Isra'el would.55 As a result, God graciously gave Moses that ability to perform three miraculous signs.
The first sign was the turning of Moses’ staff into a snake. God could have used some mind-boggling trick, like making the sun stand still, but ADONAI merely said to him: What is in your hand? He replied: A staff (4:2). This is the first time we read of the staff by which Moses and his brother later perform miraculous signs and wonders in Egypt. With it they bring the ten plagues on the land and destroy the Egyptian army in the Sea of Reeds (14:16). The use of a staff was a deliberate attack on Egyptian culture and belief. Now Moses’ staff was probably his shepherd’s crook and the Egyptians detested sheepherders. The irony was that Moses and his brother used a symbol of the very thing they detested to humiliate and defeat them.56
God commanded: Throw your staff on the ground. Moses threw it on the ground and it became a snake, and he ran from it (4:3). ADONAI said to him: Reach out your hand and take it by the tail. So Moses reached out and took hold of the snake and it turned back into a staff in his hand (4:4). The purpose of the first sign is given in 4:5, that the people would believe that God had sent Moses. The LORD said: This is so that they may believe that ADONAI, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you (4:5). It was also a sneak preview of the snake confrontation in 7:8-13, where the Egyptian magicians appear to perform the same miracle; however, Moses’ staff swallows their staffs, thereby demonstrating God’s sovereignty over Egypt.
God always begins by using what we have in hand. Page after page of God’s Word reveals that there is a chance for true usefulness, in the consecrated employment of what we already possess. In the Book of Judges, Ehud had a double-edged sword in his left hand, and Shamgar had an oxgoad. Gideon’s three hundred had only jars and lamps, and Samson the jawbone of a donkey. When David went to kill Goliath, he only had a sling in his hand. Elisha needed only a little oil from the widow to fill her pots, six stone water jars were all that were needed for Jesus’ first miracle at Cana, and five small barley loaves and two small fish were sufficient when He fed the five thousand.57 ADONAI will use what little we have to show how great He is if we use our faith.
The second sign was that of the leprous hand. Then God said to His servant: Put your hand inside your cloak. So Moses put his hand into his cloak, and when he took it out, it was leprous, like snow. That must have shaken him up. God then said: Now put it back into your cloak. So Moses put his hand back into his cloak, and when he took it out, it was restored, like the rest of his flesh (4:6-7). The purpose of the second sign is given in 4:8, to cause faith if the first sign was not believed. Then ADONAI said to him: If they do not believe you or pay attention to the first miraculous sign, they may believe the second (4:8).
The third sign was changing water into blood. God equipped Moses with more than one miraculous sign because the people were living by sight and not living by faith. The people needed a physical confirmation and God provided it. Living by sight, and not by faith, becomes a central theme in Exodus from here on out.58 So He said: But if they do not believe these two signs or listen to you, take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground. The water you take from the river will become blood on the ground (4:9). This would have been especially damaging to Egypt because the Nile was considered it's lifeblood.
There were three purposes for these three signs. The first purpose was to strengthen the faith of Moses. The second purpose was to authenticate the mission of Moses to the Jewish people. And the third purpose was to show Pharaoh the superiority of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Now Moses is without excuse. From God’s perspective Moses is fully equipped. But however convincing these miracles are to us, evidently they were not convincing enough for Moses, because he raised a fourth objection.
If you have the tendency to lose hope over lost opportunities or if you worry about the future, ask yourself this question: “What is right in front of me?” In other words, what circumstances and relationships are currently available to you? This question can get your focus off of a past regret or a scary future and back to what God can do in your life.
It is similar to the question ADONAI asked Moses at the burning bush. Moses was troubled. Aware of his own weakness, he expressed fear about God’s call for him to lead Isra'el out of bondage. So God simply asked Moses, “What is in your hand?” YHVH shifted Moses’ attention away from his anxiety about the future and suggested he notice what was right in front of him – a shepherd’s rod. God showed Moses that He could use that ordinary staff to perform miracles as a sign for unbelieving people.
Jesus said it like this: I tell you, don’t worry about your life – what you will eat or drink, or about your body – what you will wear. Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds flying about! They neither plant nor harvest, nor do they gather food into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth more than they are? Can any of you by worrying add a single hour to this life?
And why be anxious about clothing? Think of the fields of wild irises, and how they grow. They neither work nor spin thread, yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed as beautifully as one of these. If this is how God clothes grass in the field – which is here today and gone tomorrow, thrown in an oven – won’t He much more clothe you? What little trust you have!
So don’t be anxious, asking, “What will I eat?” or “What will I drink?” or “How will I be clothed?” For it is the pagans who set their hearts on all these things. Your heavenly Father knows you need them all. But seek first the Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Don’t worry about tomorrow – tomorrow will worry about itself! Today has enough worry already (Matthew 6:25-34 CJB)!
Therefore, do you think about past failures too much? Do you have anxious thoughts about tomorrow? Recall ADONAI’s question: What is in your hand? What current circumstances and relationships can God use for your benefit and His glory? Hand them over to Him. Look at the birds flying about! Aren’t you worth more than they are?
The Teaching Ministry of Jay Mack 2006-2017