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Moses 3rd Excuse of Unbelief
Then Moses answered, "But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, 'The LORD did not appear to you.'" (Exodus 4:1)
This statement demonstrates Moses’ heart of unbelief. Moses was focused on self by stating they will not believe him. Was it about Moses? One can understand why Moses would be concerned about the elders not believing him. Forty years earlier when he wanted to be Israel’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 Israel would.
At the end of the day, do we convince people of what we can do or what our God can do? Moses is yet to grow in his faith with the LORD God of Israel. He used the Hebrew word H539 אמן 'âman for belief, which is where the English word “Amen” comes from. In essence, when we say “Amen” we acknowledge that we believe what is being said to be true. This form of the word is 1st mentioned in Genesis 15:6:
“And he (Abram) believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.”
In the preceding verses, God promised that the leaders of Israel would listen to Moses. He said, "They will heed your voice.” (Exodus 3:18) When Moses made this protest of unbelief he may as well have said, "But what if you are wrong, God?". Thus, Moses is still concerned with the possibility and failure of the people not listening to him. Moses didn’t just doubt but he also expressed yet another failure when he used the word H8085 שׁמע shâma‛ or shema for the word listen. It is the same word used in Deuteronomy 6:4 “"Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” Is Moses listening to God and obeying His instruction or is he doubting himself and refusing to obey? Belief comes from us listening and heeding first; thus, Moses is not listening himself to God and he questions the proposed plan. How often in our own lives do we do that?
Are we choosing to listen and heed God’s word? Do we submit ourselves to God and to His word? Do we trust God with all areas of our life?
How often do we come up with made up scenarios regarding a situation and later we find out how far off base we were? In like manner, Moses is coming up with a statement that is not relevant to the situation but is based on his past experiences. Moses’ supernatural experience of the burning bush brought him to listen to God but now he must apply what he has heard to his current situation in order for it to make a difference in his life. What brings us to God is not what will keep us with God. We believe God because His word is true and from the very beginning to the very end it remains consistent. What brought us to His saving grace is not what keeps us. We may not have seen Yeshua being crucified yet we believe in His resurrection and in God’s promises being fulfilled in Him. Regardless of Moses’ doubts he is a quick learner. In the previous verses, Moses didn’t even know God’s name but now we see him using it in this verse. Our Heavenly Father is patient and loving so let’s see what response He is going to give Moses for his 3rd excuse.
The 1st Sign: A Staff to Represent God’s Authority
The LORD said to him, "What is that in your hand?" He said, "A staff." (Exodus 4:2)
God asked Him a question. He asked what Moses had in his hand not because God didn’t know what he had but because Moses needed to realize what he had was more than enough to accomplish the mission God was preparing to send him on.
The Hebrew word H4294 מטּה maṭṭeh – means rod, staff or a branch and the root word for the branch or staff is to bend. It is 1st mentioned in Genesis 38:18 where Judah gives his staff to Tamar in a pledge:
He (Judah) said, "What pledge shall I give you?" She (Tamar) replied, "Your signet and your cord and your staff that is in your hand." So he gave them to her and went in to her, and she conceived by him. (Genesis 38:18)
The staff was a representation of authority in the Middle East as we can see in the 1st mention of this word; Judah’s identity and authority was in his staff. It wasn’t just a stick that herdsmen walked around with and directed their flock with. A staff might have been an everyday object that Moses himself used and didn’t even think twice as being used by God. Here we see God is implying to Moses that He is going to use an ordinary object of Moses’ but in an extraordinary way for His purposes. In like manner, God has called ordinary people like ourselves to serve and represent Him. Paul eloquently encouraged the congregation in Corinth with these words:
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (1 Corinthians 1:26-29)
To build on the subject of the lowly and despised, the Egyptian culture looked down upon herdsmen and did not hold them in high esteem. When Josef brought his family into Egypt from the Promised Land, they were given pasture lands by Pharaoh.
When Pharaoh calls you and says, 'What is your occupation?' you shall say, 'Your servants have been keepers of livestock from our youth even until now, both we and our fathers,' in order that you may dwell in the land of Goshen, for every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians." (Genesis 46:33-34)
As we can see, the Egyptians detested sheepherders and now Moses’ staff is going to be used as God’s authority and a sign of God’s power. The irony was that Moses and his brother used staffs every day and the object that Egyptians despise God will use to bring defeat on Pharaoh and his people. While Moses had the staff in his hand it was just that - an ordinary object.
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. (Exodus 4:3)
Once Moses obeys God and throws it on the ground God then performs a miracle and his ordinary, everyday staff is transformed into a serpent. This didn’t happen until Moses relinquished his authority of the staff. It is not clear what type of serpent it was but the original Hebrew word for snake is H5175 נחשׁ nâchâsh and was 1st mentioned in the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:1-2). Other scripture points to the fact that a serpent can bite with a deadly sting and in Numbers Chapter 21 we see God send a plague upon the Israelites as a result of their disobedience - as punishment. It is interesting to see how the Egyptian headdress for Pharaohs had a cobra-like headpiece. The Uraeus was a cobra in an upright position worn as a symbol of Pharaoh’s authority. It was a message not only for the Israelites that they were under Pharaoh’s authority but also a direct message to Moses of who is ultimately in authority. Our natural instinct is to ran away from danger and this is exactly what Moses does. The text doesn’t reveal how far and how long Moses was gone, but what is clear is that Moses obeys this next command.
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 (Exodus 4:4)
If you know anything about snakes, you would know that a person generally doesn’t handle a snake by its tail unless of course, you would like to be bitten by it. Here, God is testing Moses faith. Will he believe His command and do as God asked of him? Will He accept God’s ultimate authority over his life and obey?
Moses obeyed God and picked up the serpent by its tail. Not only would this encourage Moses that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had greater authority than Pharaoh, but also over the gods of Egypt. As believers, we are reminded of Yeshua’ s words:
Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall hurt you. (Luke 10:19)
His power is always for His purposes. How are we doing with our obedience to God? Are we willing to step out of our comfort zone? Moses not only stepped out of his comfort zone but he also grew through this experience to rely on God’s word and not on his feelings. We see Moses being transformed from fearful man to man who walks by faith. It certainly required faith to pick up the serpent by its tail. It went against everything Moses knew about snakes up to this point but it taught him a valuable lesson regarding the power and authority of God. God wasn’t yet done with the miracles He would perform that would further prove His sovereignty to Moses and to His people.
The 2nd sign: The Infliction and Cure of Leprosy
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. (Exodus 4:6)
While the staff was an external object and was used to demonstrate God’s sovereignty over the world, the next miracle of a leprous hand would demonstrate His sovereignty over human life. There are two key words in this verse: the hand and leprosy.
The Hebrew word for “hand “is H3027 יָד yâd – a hand at times indicates power and direction. It is 1st mentioned in Genesis 3:22 “… Now, lest he (Adam) reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever." We can use our hands for good or for evil and it presents our authority and ability.
The Hebrew word for “leprosy” is H6879 צָרַע tsâra‛ - to scourge, that is, (intransitively and figuratively) to be stricken with leprosy.
Leprosy was the plaque of the ancient world. Nothing evoked more fear, more dread, or more revulsion than the sight of these walking dead. This is what a leper was called, a walking dead man. The smell of his decaying flesh would announce his coming long before the tattered scraps of his clothing could be seen or the declaration of "Unclean! Unclean!" that he was required to pronounce over himself, could be heard. Our sins are the same way before God; they are a stench to Him. Leprosy is a vivid and graphic physical picture of the spiritual defilement our sins bring. Sin is ugly, loathsome, incurable, and contaminating; it separates men from God and makes us an outcast without the atoning blood of our Saviour Yeshua’s.
God is the Creator and He was able in an instant to turn Moses’ hand into a diseased limb. But the miracle didn’t stop there.
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. (Exodus 4:7)
When Moses placed his hand back into his cloak, his hand was restored. This was physical proof of God’s sovereignty over Moses. God was with him. God was providing Moses with proof of His power and authority. In like manner, when Moses’ sister Miriam rebelled against God’s vested authority of Moses by challenging it God struck her with leprosy (Numbers 12) and Moses interceded on her behalf bringing about her ultimate healing. Leprosy might also have been a sign and a demonstration to the Elders of Israel that God was going to punish Pharaoh for his sins against God and His chosen people. There is an important principle being revealed here. Nothing occurs without God’s knowledge. He alone is sovereign over our lives. The real question is do we believe this truth? Do we strengthen ourselves in the middle of a health crisis? Or a financial crisis? Of our wayward children? Do we believe that God is the healer, the source of all that we need of not only our physical needs, but most importantly, of our spiritual state of being?
Are the Signs Really for the Children of Israel?
"If they will not believe you," God said, "or listen to the first sign, they may believe the latter sign. (Exodus 4:8)
God’s promise is that people will believe and listen to Moses. The signs and miracles will help in the process but they are not a replacement for God Himself. We must be careful not to place our hopes in signs, in wonders, in objects but instead in the living God who has power over them all. When Yeshua walked on earth He encouraged His excited disciples with the following words:
Nevertheless, do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven." (Luke 10:20)
The signs were as much for Moses as they were for the children of Israel. Isn’t it interesting that God uses the same words “believe” and “listen” in conjunction with the first sign for Moses? How do you listen to a sign? The original Hebrew word for listen is “Shema” and can also be translated as heed (not just to hear but to take action). We are to heed God’s instruction by living them out in our lives. Moses had been trained by God through his obedience by heeding God’s instructions. How are we doing in God’s training camp in our lives?
The 3rd sign: Water Turned into Blood
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)
This sign is not to be confused with the latter sign that Moses performed for Pharaoh in Exodus 7:19. This miracle was supposed to be for the Elders of Israel and a part of the proof that God had commissioned Moses to be His instrument of deliverance for Israel. This miracle wasn’t in connection with Moses at all but in connection with the land where the Israelites had lived for the last 400 years. Believers today, like the Israelites of old, are influenced by the culture we live in. Egyptians worshipped the Nile river and its god “Hapi” as their source of life. Moses and the Israelite needed to renew their minds and have a refresher course on Who is really in charge. In addition, the water sustains life, especially in the desert, but in reality, it is God Who gives sustenance to His creation and it is only God who can give us True life in Himself.
The Hebrew word for “water” is H4325 מַיִם mayim – meaning water. It is 1st mentioned in Genesis 1:2
“The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”
Yeshua also said during the Festival of Tabernacles:
On the last day of the feast, the great day, Yeshua stood up and cried out, "If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'" Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Yeshua was not yet glorified. (John 7:37-39)
From the very beginning, God’s spirit and the waters were mentioned together and Yeshua connects them together once again. There is no life apart from the God of Israel. What a wonderful reminder it is to our hearts.
Why did the water have to be turned into blood? We find our answer in Leviticus 17:11:
For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.
The life of all flesh is in the blood, and there is no forgiveness of sin without the shedding of blood (Hebrews 9:22). We find our lives by accepting the perfect sacrifice of Yeshua. We are reborn again and no longer leprous in God’s eyes because of Yeshua’s righteousness and not our own. So, what give us credibility in our witness? Is it how good a life we live?
Is it how much Scripture we’ve memorized? It is not our own power but the power of God working in us and through us as we yield our lives to God!
The signs were given to Moses to assure him and also to prove to the Elders of Israel that he was indeed sent by God to act as their deliverer. The serpent, from the very beginning of the Scriptures, represented Satan (HaSatan), God’s adversity, and was used to demonstrate that God’s power is more than enough to overcome the adversity Moses would face. By turning the staff into a serpent large enough to frighten Moses and then to have him pick it up by the tail (something no snake handler in his right mind would do since this left the head free to swing round to bite him), God demonstrated His power over Satan – a kind of power only He has. It was God who had the situation under control and Moses needed to submit himself to Him in order to be an instrument of righteousness.
Throughout the Bible, leprosy is a model for sin. In his gospel to the Jews, Matthew had Yeshua heal a man of leprosy as His introductory miracle. Curing leprosy was symbolic of forgiving sins - something only God could do.
Blood is the symbol of life - something only God can give. So we find ourselves as believers having something only God has, something only He can do, and something only He can give symbolized in these three signs. To the Jewish mind, these three things alone would have clearly identified God as the Almighty Power behind Moses.
How are we doing as men with God’s promises to our lives? Are we applying our head knowledge in everyday situations? Let us strive to become lifelong learners in God’s school of the Holy Spirit.