Summary: God proves to Moses that he is in complete control and convinces him to return to Egypt to free Israel from Pharaoh’s bondage.
We’re back in our study of Exodus, and we’ve come to chapter four. God commanded Moses to go to Egypt and lead the people out, but Moses isn’t so sure this is a good idea. He doesn’t think he’s the right man for the job, but God rejects his argument saying, “Certainly I will be with you;” the command stands. But Moses isn’t finished protesting yet:
And Moses answered and said, But, behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice: for they will say, The LORD hath not appeared unto thee. 2And the LORD said unto him, What is that in thine hand? And he said, A rod. 3And he said, Cast it on the ground. And he cast it on the ground, and it became a serpent; and Moses fled from before it. 4And the LORD said unto Moses, Put forth thine hand, and take it by the tail. And he put forth his hand, and caught it, and it became a rod in his hand: 5That they may believe that the LORD God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath appeared unto thee.
Up until now Moses seems to have had a fairly “natural” life. It hasn’t been normal, but it has been natural. He could explain being put into the basket, and found by the woman, and raised in Pharaoh’s household. Killing the Egyptian, fleeing to the wilderness, meeting his wife, having children, and keeping sheep are all simple to understand and explain. But then one day he sees this burning bush that won’t stop burning, and I’ll bet about right now he’s wishing he hadn’t been so curious. First he’s sent on this terrible mission, and then his rod turns into a snake. His natural life turned supernatural in a hurry, and he’s supposed to go tell everyone about it.
Of all the miracles God could have performed, it’s curious that he turned the staff into a snake. Instantly we think of of Satan in the garden, but there are other references to snakes as well. Don’t forget that the people are bitten by snakes in the wilderness, and they have to look upon the bronze serpent for healing. Jesus shows in John three that this shadow points towards him, and everyone injected with sin’s poison must look to him for salvation.
Another reference is in Exodus seven when Pharaoh commands Moses to do a miracle to prove his authority. Aaron’s staff becomes a serpent, but the Egyptians don’t worry about it a bit. I picture them smirking as Pharaoh's magicians throw down their staves too, and those also become serpents. But the smirking only lasts a moment before Moses’ snake eats theirs. It should have convinced Pharaoh then that his gods and magic were inferior to God’s power, but instead it says that he hardened his heart even further (v. 13).
So, I think the point of this miracle is, number one, to convince the people, but also to prepare Moses for what he’s about to face. Pharaoh will stubbornly reject God’s commands, but God will win out in the end. There’s no reason to fear Pharaoh’s tight-lipped stare or to worry about the future; God has it all in control. Compare to Exodus 15:11.
6And the LORD said furthermore unto him, Put now thine hand into thy bosom. And he put his hand into his bosom: and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous as snow. 7And he said, Put thine hand into thy bosom again. And he put his hand into his bosom again; and plucked it out of his bosom, and, behold, it was turned again as his other flesh. 8And it shall come to pass, if they will not believe thee, neither hearken to the voice of the first sign, that they will believe the voice of the latter sign.
This second sign is at least as strange as the first, and it might even seem to have no point. But consider Leviticus 13 and 14 with all the regulations on leprosy, and how serious it was to those people. They were called unclean, and they had to shout that out as they walked, and they weren't allowed to live within the cities. It sounds harsh, and it was, but that was God’s law, and it shows us how serious uncleanness really is.
Moses was a fair child, and I presume he grew up to be a fair man. When he stuck his hand into his robe I’m sure he had no idea what would happen, and he must have reeled in horror when he drew it back out. But he didn’t have to live with it for long, because as soon as he put his hand back into his robe he was healed and whole once again.