Exodus 4:1-17 - Paul Blackham
How does the Living God identify Himself to us?
What are the unmistakable signs of the LORD Jesus, sent from the Father in the power of the Spirit?
I remember years ago when I was in a bank and my identity needed to be confirmed. They rang the branch in my home village and asked them to describe me. They referred to the scars on my head and then I was told to speak down the phone so that they could confirm my voice… and my identity was confirmed.
How would your own identity be confirmed? What is unmistakable about you? Are there things you might do that would conclusively prove your identity to anyone who really knew you?
Moses was faced with a problem. There are always plenty of people who claim to speak in the name of ‘God’. History is littered with such claims. Even throughout the Christian church there are more ‘prophets’ than ever who claim to have been told things by the LORD God. Others simply claim to have been given messages from this Living God and expect us to receive them as if we were being addressed by the LORD Jesus Himself.
Moses realises that not all the saints in the Egyptian church would be ready to listen to his claims to speak for the LORD Jesus. Why should they? What distinguishing signs or actions could he present that would unmistakably identify the One who had sent him?
The LORD Jesus saw an immediate solution. Moses was carrying a wooden pole, designed to support him. As the LORD Jesus saw this anointed man leaning onto this wooden pole, He could see a strong way to reveal His own identity to the Egyptian church. Just as He Himself would one day be supported on the wood, lifted up in order to crush the Serpent… so Moses could be given the profound privilege of enacting that future victory before the very eyes of the ancient church.
Verse 3 shows us the profoundly godly reactions of the great apostle Moses. The very sight of the snake causes him to recoil in horror. He knew what happened when Eve got drawn into a conversation with such a creature [whether Moses was skilled in parsiltongue we may well doubt]. Better to run from such a confrontation… or so he thought. Rather than run from the devil, giving him the power of fear over us, the LORD Jesus shows Moses that in His Name the saints may have victory over that ancient dragon.
Rather than teaching Moses special snake catching techniques, rather Moses is commanded to treat the power of the snake with disdain. Rather than catch it around the head, to prevent it from striking, Moses is to calmly take it by the tail, allowing it to bite and threaten all it can! Yet, when grasped by this servant of Jesus, the snake is transformed back into the wooden staff.
This reminds us so much of Acts 28 when that much later apostle, Paul, also showed how the snake is crushed by Jesus. The snake lashed out and pumped out its poison into Paul’s veins. Holding it up, without fear, for all to see, the great apostle calmly passed judgement upon it casing it into the fires of destruction. It is no wonder that the islanders were utterly amazed, assured of a divine presence among them!
The same moment of recognition was predicted by Jesus for Moses when he would perform this sign:
“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.”
My favourite sign is the second one. Moses is to put his hand over his heart and draw it out. The diagnosis is serious indeed – a heart diseased and desperately wicked. Surely such a holistically corrupted heart is beyond cure! Surely nobody can cure a heart whose putrefaction extends out to the whole body, spirit and mind!
Yet, when Moses puts his hand back over his heart, as instructed by the Divine Physician, the disease is impossibly healed. Throughout the Scriptures the unmistakable proof of the divine identity is His ability to save. Only one of the ‘gods’ is able to bring new birth and new creation. When the saints in Egyptian captivity saw this sign, they would have fallen on their knees with shouts of praise and worship to the Divine Angel – the very One who was on His way to deliver them.
The final sign is solemn and fearful.
The Nile was [and still is] the great river of life, making Egypt into the great bread basket of North Africa. If the Egyptian gods needed to exercise their power over anything at all then it had to be over the Nile. Surely this was the very heart and soul of the Egyptian Empire.
Yet, even here they could not withstand the Living God. His total power over His creation is demonstrated in His ability to turn the river of life into the river of death. Blood flowing through our veins is our life, but when we see the blood before us, poured out, then it is the sign of death.
It hardly need be said that we must laugh at or be enraged at the ludicrously offensive suggestions that the blood is nothing more than the stirring up of red silt. To those who have lived with and worked with the Nile, viewing all its colours and silts throughout the seasons, it would hardly have caused any alarm to see some water poured onto red coloured silt. Anybody who would have been deceived by such a simple ‘conjuring trick’ would hardly be worth convincing of anything at all.
No, in turning the water into blood the LORD Jesus was pronouncing a judgement on the empire of the Nile. Before this story had finished, the land of the Nile would feel the fatal judging hand of the Divine Angel Himself.
Moses was richly equipped to bear witness to the unmistakable identity of the LORD Jesus – the sign of the snake, the leprous heart and the blood would all reveal His identity in wonderful ways.
Yet, Moses was still full of nervous fear. As an 80 year old man he was looking forward to retirement on a Mediterranean island, with his yacht and villa. He had tried to offer redemption to the ancient church 40 years before and they had not been ready to receive it – Acts 7:24-25. Now it was time for others to speak up and take responsibility. Moses had spent 40 years [the symbolic time of testing] far from the civilised and cultured realms of human society. He had spent his time at the Mountain of God, leading Jethro’s sheep to safe pasture.
How could this have prepared him in any way for this impossible challenge of leading his Father’s flock to safe pasture in a promised land!?
No, as far as Moses was concerned, he was not, and never had been, capable of doing this. To speak to the leader of the world’s super power, it was clearly necessary to have strategic connections, academic qualifications, rhetorical training! How could one man, trusting only in the power of the Almighty Spirit, be able to make any difference?
The LORD said to him, “Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”
What is striking about this rebuke to Moses is not only that the Cosmic Christ is clearly the source of all human ability, but that He is also the one who makes us deaf, mute and blind. Yes, even our lack of ability is also under His control. This could open up a whole Pandora’s Box of pointless questions if we allowed it to go in a useless direction, but rather we should see the point He is making to Moses. Even if it were true that Moses had little ability, even this is entirely under the control of the LORD Jesus. In fact, the very lack of power in the flesh may be a necessary precondition for the power of Jesus to be displayed. Could we really see His identity and glory if a brilliant and renowned speaker were to deliver His mighty message? Do we not see and hear Him so much more when the clueless, mumbling saint speaks nothing but the pure Word of God?
Not many with degrees, still less with PhD’s; not many rich, still less ‘successful’; not many gifted and strategic, still less admired and loved…
Those of us who have read or listened to someone like Joni Eareckson Tada can see this so well. How could it possibly be an occasion for divine glory for her to be denied so much physical ability? Yet, how many thousands of people have been drawn to Jesus’ glory precisely because His own power and majesty have been able to shine through her unhindered by the thick clouds of human ability?
Natural ability can be given or withheld by Jesus, the LORD over the whole creation. Do we trust Him when He denies us the abilities we wish we had? Are we ready to do what He asks us especially when we are convinced we do not have the ability to do what He asks us to do?
The LORD Jesus sends Moses away. Aaron has plenty of natural ability and would be eager to use it in this opportunity. Yet, with hindsight, as we review their two careers – who was most useful? Who brought most glory to Jesus? Were the leadership gifts and eloquence of Aaron well-used in Exodus 32:1-6?
Moses would have to train this apprentice – verse 15. This was a ticking timebomb. The fire and passion of Jesus’ glory was filling Moses’ heart and mind – Hebrews 11:26. As soon as Moses began to instruct Aaron on what he had to say, Moses would be overcome with zeal for Jesus. We see this happen so that it is not long before Moses pushes Aaron aside and takes up the responsibilities that Jesus had given him to do.