Monday, October 22, 2012

What Is That In Your Hand? -- Exodus 4:1-5


Then Moses answered and said, “What if they will not believe me, or listen to what I say?  For they may say, ‘The Lord has not appeared to you.’”  And the Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?”  And he said, “A staff.”  Then He said, “Throw it on the ground.”  So he threw it on the ground, and it became a serpent; and Moses fled from it.  But the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand and grasp it by its tail” – so he stretched 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.”

Matthew Henry says this is the chapter that concludes God’s discourse with Moses by the burning bush, at the time of giving him his great assignment – to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.  As we delve into the fourth chapter of Exodus, we are again confronted with Moses’ own lack of confidence in both himself and God’s plan.  He asks God, “What if the children of Israel you’re sending me to don’t believe me or don’t listen to me?”  Here come the seeds of doubt.  God is asking him to do something the successful results of which would require an intervention of the Almighty, but Moses can only perceive it from a human perspective.  And so, he doubts its likely success. 

Sometimes I wonder if we all do not have a little bit of Moses in us.  We sense God telling us to do something, but we immediately forget Who it is that is telling us, and we consider the possibility from our own human limitations.  And that often results in our not venturing forth for and with God.  We are, in that sense, as Charles Price once said, “prophesying Christians, but practicing atheists”.

Moses thinks he can meet God’s argument with a fairly strong one of his own.  He asks Him, “What if the people say ‘The Lord has not appeared to you.’?”

I remember a situation in my own activities that required a type of deliverance from someone who was being uncooperative and destructive on a team we were supposed to be working together on.  After prayerful consideration and attempts to reach out to the individual personally, as well as a failed effort to meet with them and one or two others, the matter then had to go before the whole team.  But the Enemy continued to try and work his way into my mind, saying, “What if the team does not believe you?  What if they don’t agree?  What proof do you have that your way is the right way here?”  That is not too unlike what Moses was thinking as he contemplated the meeting between himself and the children of Israel first, and then Pharaoh.

It is interesting to note here that the proof Moses believed the people would be looking for was evidence that God had appeared to him.  They wanted to know that God was in this.  As leaders, when we come up with a plan or a project or a decision, people want to know that somehow we have assurances that this is God’s will or God’s plan or the decision God led us to.  Moses knew that just like those we feel we have to satisfy today, his people needed to have signs.  God knew it too and He agreed.

But we also need to point out as Matthew Henry and others do, that this request for a sign for the people was perhaps unnecessary for Moses to make as God had already told him in chapter 3, verse 18, that “They shall listen to your voice.”  But before we criticize Moses for insisting on a sign, however, we need to ask ourselves how we may have acted.  Would we have taken God at His word the first time He said something like that to us?

So God shows Moses what was available to him to overcome the objections anyone might raise.  “Take that walking stick, that shepherd’s crook, in your hand and throw it on the ground.”  Notice the ‘stick’ was already in Moses’ possession.  He just had to use it.  God had already given him the means by which to show His presence in his life.  But it was in following God’s words that the tool became powerful.  As Moses threw it on the ground in response to God’s instruction to him, the staff became a serpent, a living creature, an object of fear.  Imagine a dry, dead stick had become a living thing.  Even Moses fled from it.  Just like the Israelites would do when Moses did this before them.  It was not the sight of the snake that would scare Moses or the children of Israel, but the fact that God changed a piece of ‘dead’ wood into a living organism.  This God of ours could take something that has no life in it at all and give it breath.

Sometimes when we use the tools that God has given us – prayer, fasting, His word – God brings about outcomes that amaze and surprise, often to the point of frightening, even us.  So much so that sometimes we want to shrink or treble a bit behind the results we had asked for.  Thus it was with Moses.

And God had a solution for that as well.  “Moses,” He said, “Stretch out your hand and grab the snake, by its tail.”  Oh no, not the tail – that’s the most dangerous way to grab a snake.  Moses, who had been a shepherd for many years, knew that.  Yet here he demonstrates his faith by reaching out and grabbing the snake in just that manner.  As Moses did that, the serpent became his walking stick again.   Yet he himself was not harmed in any way.   Moses here learns a lesson that we all need to learn – we can complete what God tells us to accomplish or undertake, no matter how uncomfortable it may seem to us.  For me, going into that meeting with the whole team to confront the conflict in our group, could not be imagined to be a comfortable experience, yet if it were of God, as Charles Stanley says, “that trial does not make one a victim, it does not stop one from being a child of the King”.  Difficult? Yes.  Uncomfortable?  Yes.  Impossible?  No.
 
And then God said, “That’s how they’ll 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.”  They want signs and miracles?  They’ll get them.  And God again used His all-time most common name, “the Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob has ”.  His name has not changed.

Let us also not lose sight of the fact that these miracles, as it was with the miracles in the New Testament, were done for a purpose – “that they may believe”.  If you and I are to expect miracles in our life, they need to be for that purpose and that purpose alone – that others may believe in the Lord.

Moses’ current objection is overcome, but will that be sufficient?  We would do well to ask ourselves the same question.  When God answers our first hesitation in such a powerful way, do we accept His direction, or do we put up more objections?



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