Meditations in Exodus: 16. God of Transformation
Ex 4:6 Then the LORD said, “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.
There are those who don’t like these verses for, they say, it seems like God is doing magic, these are like parlour tricks, what is this all about? When they say that they indicate they have lost the big picture. The Lord is introducing Moses to the idea that He is a God of power who has the ability to change things and when it comes to His judgements those things can be pretty spectacular! What is about to follow is all about judgement on Pharaoh and on Egypt and it IS going to be spectacular.
Previously we saw Moses introduced to this sort of thing by his staff being turned into a snake and then back again and we pondered on the significance of that . That was scary enough but now it gets closer. The Lord tells Moses to put his hand inside his cloak and when he withdraws it, it has turned white as if afflicted with a skin disease. The Lord tells him to put it back inside his cloak again and when he withdraws it, it was restored. Magic or genuine power?
I suspect that it is the remnants of sin in each of us that makes us struggle with unbelief. The sceptic grumbles at this incident and the rest of us just wonder, but when we come to the question of healing (or inflicting with illness for that matter) the vast majority of us verge on the sceptical. If we are not sceptical, we link healing with holiness and put conditions on our healing – “IF I am a good person, then God might heal me.” But then we struggle with the ‘IF’ part and concluding that we are not holy we don’t see how God can heal us.
Now what this incident does, if you like, more than anything else, is detach the sickness and healing from any outward condition or detach it from Moses behaviour. The sickness comes and the sickness goes and Moses has done nothing to contribute to either. It is simply an act of God and it did not depend on anything in Moses. I have thought long and hard about the question of healing, especially over the last five years when I have had various physical afflictions. During that time I have known ALL of the following experiences. I have prayed for hearing with no effect. Others have prayed for me for healing with no effect. At other times I have prayed for and seen healing as I have prayed. Others have prayed for me and I have been healed. I have been healed just sitting in a meeting with no one praying for me- it was just a sovereign act of God. I have sat in a prayer group praying for one another and had a rebellion of several people who insisted that “issues” be dealt with before they could pray for healing for someone, and I have prayed in that same group and seen the Lord just turn up without condition.
When it comes to the Gospels, they are completely unnerving. I recently had an old friend I came across, tell me that he believed that miraculous healing was rare and was a sign that God was giving and that’s why it didn’t happen often. And then I go back and read Jesus in the Gospels, the Son of God to whom crowds came and he healed them all. There is no indication that he took them all through some sort of counselling surgery to get their lives right first of all; no, he just healed them. God is not limited by our frame of mind. It does seem that the only thing He expected was faith, and when that was there, he healed.
But the point of these two mini-miracle-signs we are considering here, apart from the things we considered before, is that God is a God of power and He can change whatever He likes, however He likes. A stick into a snake and back again, and a whole arm into a leprous arm and back again; whether it be an inanimate stick or a living arm, He has the power. Moses are you starting to understand this? Did you not realise the burning bush not being consumed was His starter demonstration and, because He has already spoken of doing ‘wonders’ (3:20) haven’t you realised He is going to be doing a lot more?
But this is all preliminary stuff, the stuff that changes people’s minds and helps them believe. It seems that so many of Jesus’ healing miracles were done with this in mind and so it is true here. God is not ashamed to put on a display if He thinks it will release faith. So we’ve had a burning bush, a transformed stick, and a transformed arm; let’s have one more demonstration: “Then the LORD said, “If they do not believe you or pay attention to the first miraculous sign, they may believe the second. 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.” (v.8,9) Now when it came to it there is no record of Moses performing the miracle with his arm before Pharaoh but it appears clear he did both miracles before the elders and people of Israel: “Moses and Aaron brought together all the elders of the Israelites, and Aaron told them everything the LORD had said to Moses. He also performed the signs before the people, and they believed. And when they heard that the LORD was concerned about them and had seen their misery, they bowed down and worshipped.” (4:29-31) Later Moses performed the miracle with his staff before Pharaoh but when it came to the Nile, by then his faith had risen and he did not merely pour out water from the Nile, he stretched out his staff over the Nile and all the water turned to blood.
The outworking, fitting the circumstances, were slightly different than we have seen here but the overall lesson was exactly the same: this God who is confronting you, is the God who is all-mighty, all-powerful. As we progress we will see Pharaoh who can believe in a multitude of gods of the land but who struggles to face the reality of the One Supreme Being who is so much more powerful than him as to make his opposition a joke! I suspect that many Christians today, have a similar struggle. We can believe in the things we can see and we can even go beyond that into the Gospel, but after we have been born again, we struggle to cope with a God who can move with revelation and power to bring change and so despite the Scripture declaring, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever,” (Heb 13:8) we struggle to believe he can do the same things today through ‘his body’, the church, as he did on earth two thousand years ago. Pick up many a commentary and you find this same unbelief in the evangelical writers of this past century. Dare we believe in a supernatural Saviour? If not, we are in unbelief and are in serious trouble in this day of unbelief.