Meditations in Exodus: 15. Facing Unbelief of Others
Ex 4:1 Moses answered, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, `The LORD did not appear to you’?”
Moses is facing another problem – other people. The Lord has said to him, “Say to the Israelites, `The LORD, the God of your fathers–the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob–has sent me to you,” (v.15) and then, “Go, assemble the elders of Israel and say to them, `The LORD, the God of your fathers–the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob– appeared to me,” (v.16) and “The elders of Israel will listen to you. Then you and the elders are to go to the king of Egypt and say to him, `The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us.” (v.18) Moses first step is to go and talk to Israel in captivity, specifically to the elders. But they are elders and he is just a shepherd, and here he will be claiming to have had a special encounter with God, the God who has been quiet for over four hundred years, the God who only appears in the tales of the Patriarchs, so the odds are that they are going to query what he says.
It is a good concern, a right concern and it is only in the light of the ongoing “Send someone else” that we can see it in a negative light. So, yes, what does he do if the elders turn round and challenge him? The Lord has an answer but it is not comfortable: “Then the LORD said to him, “What is that in your hand?” (v.2) Well that is easy to answer: “A staff,” he replied.” No problem there. “The LORD said, “Throw it on the ground.” (v.3) Er, right. “Moses threw it on the ground and it became a snake, and he ran from it.” Whooah! What has happened? The daily part of his life that he uses to care for his flock has become an enemy!
“Then the LORD 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.” (v.4) What was all this about? Well, it was fairly obvious in one sense, it was a supernatural act of God: “This,” said the LORD, “is so 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.” (v.5) Now liberal commentators really struggle with this and the sign following because there is no doubt that it is an impossibility naturally but it seems to have happened. I have read these verses and wondered over them for over forty years, and they are still not easy to understand. Yes, it is a simple and straight forward ‘sign’, a miracle that says this is God in action, but beyond that it starts getting difficult because there is no explanation and as for asking how this can apply in our lives today….well!!!
But God doesn’t do irrational things. What He does He does for a reason. There is always purpose in His actions, so what can He possibly be saying in this ‘sign’? Well first of all let’s recognize again that this ‘staff’ was shepherds staff, a stick that Moses used on a daily basis to beat off predators, possibly kill snakes in the desert, and use to steer the sheep into the fold at night and to tap them to keep them away from briars and other things. It was, if you like, the tool of his trade, the thing that made him a shepherd.
So you hear God speaking about a new ministry, a new life ahead serving Him? Then put down and surrender your past to Him. When Elijah called Elisha, Elisha went straight home and we read, “So Elisha left him and went back. He took his yoke of oxen and slaughtered them. He burned the plowing equipment to cook the meat and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he set out to follow Elijah and became his attendant.” (1 Kings 19:21) Elisha got rid of his past to follow Elijah. To move in to new things with God we have to let go the old things. We cannot rely on the past to achieve new works of the Spirit tomorrow.
But the staff turned into a snake which, as we said, was an enemy of the desert dweller. It is of course, also a picture of Satan as seen in the Garden of Eden, tempting Eve (see Gen 3). To move on by faith into new ministry means relying utterly on the Lord and not on your past experience. That past experience will certainly have made you the man or woman that you are, but it will not help you when tomorrow you are confronted by an impossibility that needs the working of God. Indeed so strong is this as a lesson, so vital is it for us to understand, that we are to recognize that past experience as something that could actually be a source of temptation to use my human efforts and abilities instead of God’s. It can become a tool in Satan’s hands to hinder me in any new work or ministry.
So two principles so far: first, if we are to move on in faith we must let go past experience and reliance on my abilities, and second, the past may become a source of temptation to rely on self-effort to do the work of God. So, having said that, what are we to do about that? Just kill it off and ignore it? No, God is in the redemption business. Once you realise it is not to be relied upon and that it can become a source of temptation to self effort, He wants you to take hold of it and with His power transform it back into something useful. But more than useful! Yes, this staff is going to be divinely supernatural if we may put it like that. It’s going to eat up the staff of the magicians of Egypt, it’s going to be held out over the Nile to bring blood and…. well, it’s going to be used in a big way in his future ministry!
As we let go reliance upon the past, as we let go our fears and our failures that lurk in the shadows of the memory and we refuse to place reliance on ‘my abilities’ but place them on ‘His abilities’, refusing to be tempted to look backwards for inspiration for tomorrow but instead looking to Him to come with power THEN we will see the transformation and deliverance of our countries that we so need. “Not by might nor by power (nor by my experience or ability) but by my Spirit, say the Lord” (Zech 4:6) Will we have any problem convincing others? Some, yes, but those with eyes to see will see the work of the Spirit and will know. You may have to throw your past on the ground in front of them, giving it up yet again, but it will be then that the power of God is released, as you let HIM do what only He can do. Hallelujah!