This blog is the second in a series titled: “Signs of Redemption”
Have you ever wondered if God cares? If He actually sees what is going on, or if He is going to do anything about it? As crazy as it sounds, a story in the book of Exodus was written down to encourage you, right now, in this generation, in this season of your life. It’s a story of a people who were embittered not only by physical slavery but by the lies told about them. They woke up every day, crying out to a God who never seemed to hear. But… God did! And, He began working on the plan.
The plan began with God piquing Moses’s curiosity with a bush that was on fire but was not being consumed. Moses could’ve just shrugged it off because another desert bush was on fire; no big deal, but he didn’t. Moses stopped. When was the last time your curiosity got the best of you? When you took the time to stop, listen, read or ask a question? I wonder how many times God is wanting to communicate with us, and we just don’t get it because we aren’t eager enough to know Him or to learn something new. Maybe that’s why we dismiss “strange” stories in the Bible. We aren’t asking, “Why was this written? What did it teach them then? What should it be teaching me now?”
What happened next in the story is certainly strange. God gave Moses a sign that would speak so individually to the people of Israel that it would cause them to believe God was willing and able to do something about their own situation. To bring redemption to each person and to the entire nation. The sign was a staff that turned into a snake and back again into a staff. Weird, I know. But, aren’t you a little bit curious?
The story is begging us to inquire, “What does it mean? How is a staff turned into a snake a sign that God would save them?” Though the sign might seem random to us, it wasn’t. It was a deeply personal sign between the Creator and His people who were being treated like nothing more than snakes to be trampled upon. It was like a husband who brings his wife a dozen roses. If he walked up to a stranger and gave her the flowers, it wouldn’t mean the same thing at all. The roses are a sign that convey a very deep and personal message.
This burning bush sign was meant to show the Israelites who they really were, the value they had as a people and to reveal the lies told about them. It was meant to show them that God saw every injustice, every hurt and that He was prepared to defend and bring justice to their situation. Let’s unpack it a bit.
When we are hurt, we internalize a message, which most often is really a lie about ourselves. Until about a year ago, one central lie I believed was that I was not worth it. Not worthy of being loved, protected or known. It took awhile for me to discover that was my message because after all, lies don’t like to be revealed. But, once I realized what I believed about myself and took it to God, He began redeeming it.
God gave Moses the staff/snake sign to reveal the lie Egypt told about Israel: that the Israelites were nothing more than snakes. Within the Hebrew language, we learn the Egyptians viewed the Israelites as a pesky problem. It gets totally lost in translation into English. The words used to describe Israel’s population explosion (like “fruitful,” “increased” or “multiplied”) are words used to describe creepy, crawly things, like snakes. In Hebrew, these words are not used to describe human beings. Read the passage with this in mind. (I’ve italicized the pertinent words.)
“But the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them. And he (Pharaoh) said to his people, ‘Behold, the people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us.’ But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad. And the Egyptians were in dread of the people of Israel.” (1)
Just like I dread being surprised by snakes lying in the sun on the stone wall at my Grandmother’s house, the Egyptians were afraid of Israel, and therefore oppressed her. When God told Moses to throw down his staff, it was symbolic of how Egypt had treated Israel. When Moses saw that his staff was a snake on the ground, he ran. I don’t know about you, but sometimes when I am hurt or feel “thrown down,” I sense that people just want to get away, and that hurts too. But, God instructed Moses to do something counter-intuitive. He said, “Pick the snake up by the tail.” I think Moses’ curiosity helped him to obey, and when he bent over to pick it up, it proved the “snake” was really just a staff. Held once again in the hands of its true Creator and Master. You and I are not disgusting vermin. We are made in His image; we just need Somebody to pick us up.
In the Scriptures, a staff is a symbol for the nation of Israel. (2) The Hebrew word for “staff” can also be read as “tribe.” Israel was created to live each day with dignity as a nation of tribes. With strength. With their heads held high. With purpose. But the Egyptians threw them down to the ground because of their fear. They beat Israel. Harassed her. Ran from her in terror, in dread. As if she did something. As if it were her fault, not theirs.
The redemption began when the people saw the sign and understood God’s message that would replace the lie, “I know they treat you like snakes. Something to run away from. Less than human. Your neighbors have turned on you. The people you once had conversations with are willing to make you slaves. They’ve ripped your baby boys from your arms and tossed them into the river. They don’t hear your screams or your anguish, because you don’t sound human in their ears. But I hear. And… I will redeem you.” (3)
God used the sign of a staff because it was packed with meaning. Being shepherds, the Israelites understood all the nuances of this sign. In my research, I discovered a staff was used in three major ways, and the imagery is powerful in light of this story. #1 A staff was used to draw sheep together into an intimate relationship. Sometimes a ewe would lose her lamb, and the shepherd would use his staff to hook the lamb around its neck and carry it back. He could not touch the lamb because then the ewe would not suckle it. #2 A staff was used to reach out and grab a lamb for close inspection, to make sure it was alright. And #3 A staff was used to guide the sheep as they were moving along, because sheep tend to wander off. (4)
“The staff is essentially a symbol of the concern, the compassion, that a shepherd has for his charges.” (5) The snake represented how Egypt saw them (something to be dreaded, to run away from, not at all human or worthy of compassion.) But, the staff represented how God saw them. I wonder how it felt to hear this message, “You, Israel, are not their slaves. You are not the snake they’ve made you out to be. You are mine. I will restore you to your rightful place, right in the center of my palm. You will walk with me, with your head held high.”
One of the questions this story is begging us to ask is, “How will you choose to see yourself: as your abuser sees you or as your Creator sees you?” God longs to draw us into intimate relationship with Him, to make sure we are alright, and to guide us as we move along in this life. But first, He must redeem us.
The Scriptures tell us “the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel – and God knew.” (6) God knew. Powerful. That is one of my favorite verses in the Bible. God knew, and, then He answered. Not with lightning bolts of retribution. He answered His people with a simple sign: Moses’ staff turning into a snake and then back again.
Will you be a Moses? Will you let your curiosity get the best of you? Maybe through stopping to examine what God is trying to communicate to you, you will be able to kill the snake that slithers around in your own life.
Questions for Reflection:
• What are the lies you believe about yourself? ( I am not worth it. I am unloved. etc.)
• If you could hear one message directly from God, what would it be?
• How could you reject the untrue messages and allow God to breathe His truth over you?
• What would change about you if you no longer listened to the messages of your wounds?
1. See Exodus 1:7,9,12.
2. See for example Numbers 17:1-11
3. I learned what the teaching of the burning bush signs represent from: https://www.alephbeta.org/course/lecture/staff-into-snake
4. Found at: http://www.bibletools.org/index.cfm/fuseaction/Topical.show/RTD/CGG/ID/14587/Shepherds-Staff-Used-for-Inspection.htm
5. Found at: http://www.antipas.org/commentaries/articles/shepherd_psa23/shepherd_07.html
6. See Exodus 2:23-25.
For each sign, we’ll outline these three aspects:
1) How the sign revealed a crime against Israel.
The staff turning into a snake illustrates the crime: the dehumanization of Israel.
2) How the sign revealed a lie.
The snake Moses ran from revealed Egypt’s lie: You are not human. You are like a snake to be trampled on.
3) How the sign gave hope for the future with the truth.
The snake turned back into a staff illustrates this truth: You will become who God created you to be.
Summary of the Three Signs of Redemption (Exodus 3:1-4:31)
The angel of the LORD appeared to (Moses) in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
Then the LORD said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land…
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.’” The LORD said to him, “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A staff.” 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. 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 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.” 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. 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. “If they will not believe you,” God said, “or listen to the first sign, they may believe the latter sign. 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.”