|After forty years in the backside of the desert,Moses was visited by the Lord, who declared that it was His purpose to send him unto Pharaoh (3:16). Instead of bowing in wonderment and gratitude at the condescension of the Almighty in deigning to employ him in so important and honorous an errand, he answered, "Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh?" In response to this God assured Moses that He would be with him. Moses next inquired in whose name he should address Israel, and then it was that God revealed Himself as the great "I am", the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. The Lord promised that He would deliver His people from the affliction of Egypt and bring them unto the land of Canaan, and bade His servant appear before Pharaoh with the demand that the king allow the Hebrews to go a three days’ journey into the wilderness that they might hold a feast unto the Lord their God. But the Lord informed Moses He was sure that Pharaoh would not grant this request, yet, notwithstanding, He would show forth such wonders that in the end the king would let them go; and not only so, but that He would give His people favor in the eyes of the Egyptians so that they would be enriched and go not out empty-handed. Yet notwithstanding these gracious re-assurances Moses continued to be occupied with difficulties and to raise objections: "Behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice; for they will say, The Lord hath not appeared unto thee" (4:1). Our present lesson resumes the sacred narrative at this point.
In response to the third difficulty raised by Moses, the Lord endued His recalcitrant servant with the power to perform three wonders or signs, which were to be wrought before his fellow-countrymen for the purpose of convincing them that Moses was Jehovah’s accredited ambassador. That there is a deep meaning to these three signs, and that they were designed to teach important lessons both to Moses, to Israel, and to us, goes without saying. At the beginning of Israel’s history it was God’s method to teach more by signs and symbols, than by formal and explicit instruction. The fact, too, that these three signs are the first recorded in Scripture denotes that they are of prime importance and worthy of our most careful study.
"And the Lord said unto him, What is that in thine hand? And he said, A rod. And 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. And 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 hands: That 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" (Ex. 4:2-5). The first of these signs was the turning of the rod into a serpent, and that back again into a rod. But three verses are devoted to the description of this wonder, but marvelously full are they in their spiritual suggestiveness and hidden riches. We purpose to study this miracle from seven different angles, considering in turn: its practical lessons, its doctrinal meaning, its evidential value, its evangelical message, its historical significance, its dispensational forecast, and its typical purport. May the Lord give us eyes to see and ears to hear.
(1) There can be no doubt that the first design of God in connection with this sign was to teach Moses himself a practical lesson. What this was it is not difficult to discover. The sign had to do with the rod in his hand. This rod or staff (as the Hebrew word is sometimes translated) was his support. It was that which gave him aid as he walked, it was that on which he leaned when weary, it was a means of defense in times of danger. Now in the light of Psalm 23:4 we learn that, spiritually considered, the "rod" speaks of the upholding, strengthening, protecting grace of God. Here, then, is the first lesson the Lord would teach His servant: while Moses continued dependent (supporting himself) on God, all would be well; but let him cast his "rod" to the ground, that is, let him renounce God’s grace, let him cast away his confidence in Jehovah, let him attempt to stand alone, and he would at once find himself helpless before that old Serpent, the Devil. Here, then, we say, was the great practical lesson for Moses, and for us: the secret of overcoming Satan lies in Leaning in simple dependency and conscious weakness on our "staff", i.e., the power of God!
(2) But this first sign was also designed to teach Moses, and us, a great doctrinal lesson, a doctrine which as the priority of this sign suggests is one of fundamental importance. Nor are we left to guess at what this may be. Just as the twenty-third Psalm enables us to interpret its practical meaning, so the second Psalm supplies the key to its doctrinal significance. In Psalm 2:9 (cf. Rev. 2:27) we learn that during the Millennium the Lord Jesus will rule the nations with a rod of iron. The "rod", then, speaks of governmental power. But what is signified by the "casting down" of the rod to the ground? Surely it speaks of God delegating governmental power to the rulers of earth. And what has been the uniform history of man’s use of this delegated power? The answer is, Exactly what the "serpent" suggests: it has been employed in the service of Satan! Thus it proved with Adam, when his Maker gave him "dominion" over all things terrestrial. Thus it proved with the nation of Israel after they became the conquerors of Canaan. So, too, with Nebuchadnezzar, after earthly sovereignty was transferred from Jerusalem to Babylon. And so it has continued all through the Times of the Gentiles. But it is blessed to note that the "serpent" no more succeeded in getting away from Moses than the rod had slipped out of his hand. Moses—as God’s representative before Israel—took the "serpent" by the tail (the time for its head to be "bruised" had not yet come) and it was transformed into a "rod" in his hand again. This tells us that Satan is no ‘free agent’ in the popular acceptation of that term, but is completely under God’s control, to be used by Him in fulfillment of His inscrutable counsels as He sees fit. Thus would Jehovah assure His servant at the outset that the enemy who would rage against him was unable to withstand him!
(3) This sign was to be wrought by Moses before the Hebrews as a proof that God had called and endowed him to be their deliverer. The evidential value of this wonder is easily perceived. To see the rod of Moses become a serpent before their eyes would at once evidence that he was endowed with supernatural power. To take that serpent by the tail and transform it again to a rod, would prove that Moses had not performed this miracle by the help of Satan. Moses was to show that he was able to deal with the serpent at his pleasure, making the rod a serpent, and the serpent a rod as he saw fit. Thus in performing a wonder that altogether transcended the skill of man, and a wonder that plainly was not wrought by the aid of the Devil, he demonstrated that he was commissioned and empowered by God.
(4) This sign which Moses wrought be-fore the children of Israel also carried an evangelical message, though perhaps this is more difficult to discern than the other meanings it possessed. The rod cast to the ground became a "serpent", and we are told "Moses fled from before it". Clearly this speaks of the helplessness of man to cope with Satan. The sinner is completely under the Devil’s power, "taken captive by him at his will" (2 Tim. 2:26). Such was the condition of Israel at this time. They were subject to a bondage far worse and more serious than any that the Egyptians could impose upon them, and what is more, they were as unable to free themselves from the one as from the other. Nothing but Divine power could emancipate them, and this is just what this sign was fitted to teach them. Moreover, this power was placed in the hands of a mediator—Moses, the one who stood between Israel and God. He, and he only, was qualified to deliver from the serpent. His power over the serpent was manifested by taking it by the tail and reducing it to nothing—it disappeared when it became a rod again. Beautifully does this speak to us of the Lord Jesus, the One Mediator between God and men, of whom Moses was a type. In Him is your only hope, dear reader; He alone can deliver you from the power of that old Serpent, the Devil.
(5) Let us consider next the historical significance of this wonder. The "sign" itself consisted of three things: a rod held in the hand of Moses (God’s representative), the rod thrown down to the ground and becoming a serpent, the serpent transformed into a rod again. These three things accurately symbolized the early history of Israel. From the Call of Abraham to the going down of his descendants into Egypt, Israel had been held (miraculously supported) in the hand of God, until, in the person of Joseph, they had attained to the position of rule over Egypt. But then a king arose who "knew not Joseph", and the Hebrews were then "cast down to the ground"—humiliated by severe and cruel bondage, until at the time of Moses it seemed as though they were completely at the mercy of Satan. But the time for deliverance had now drawn nigh, and the Lord assures them by means of this "sign" that they should remain in the place of oppression no longer, but would be delivered. And not only so, the last part of the sign gave promise that they should be raised to the place of rulership again. This was realized when they reached the promised land and subjugated the Canaanites. Thus the sign prefigured the three great stages in the early history of Israel.
(6) But this sign also provided a dispensational forecast. Not only did it accurately prefigure the early history of Israel, but it also anticipated in a most striking way the whole of their future history. The rod held in the hand contemplated them in the position of authority in Canaan. This portion Judah (the ruling Tribe) retained till Shiloh came. But following their rejection of Christ the "rod" was cast down to the ground, and for nineteen centuries Israel have been the prey and sport of the Serpent. But not forever are they to continue thus. The time is coming when Israel shall be raised out of the dust of degradation and, in the hand of a greater than Moses, shall be made the head of the nations (Deut. 28:13). Thus did this marvelous sign prefignre both the past and the future fortunes of the Chosen Nation.
(7) Deeper still lies the typical purport of this sign. We believe that its ultimate reference was to Christ Himself, and that the great mysteries of the Divine Incarnation and Atonement were foreshadowed. In Psalm 110:2 the Lord Jesus is called the Rod of God: "The Lord shall send the Rod (it is the same Hebrew word as here in Exodus 4) of Thy strength out of Zion: rule Thou in the midst of Thine enemies". The reference in Psalm 110 is to the second advent of Christ when His governmental authority and power shall be fully displayed. But when He was on earth the first time, it was in weakness and humiliation, and to this the casting-down of the "rod" on the ground points. But, it will be objected, surely there is no possible sense in which the Rod became a "serpent"! Yes there was, and none other than the Lord Jesus is our authority for such a statement. The "serpent" is inseparably connected with the Curse (Gen. 3), and on the Cross Christ was "made a curse" for His people (Gal. 3:10-13). Said He to Nicodemus, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up" (John 3:14). But blessed be God that is all past: the Lord Jesus (the Rod) is now exalted to God’s right hand, and soon will He take to Himself His power and reign over the earth. Marvelously full then was the meaning of this first sign. Equally striking was the second, though we cannot now treat of it at the same length.
"And 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. And 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. And 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" (vv. 6-8). The significance of this second sign is not difficult to discern. "Leprosy" is the well-known emblem of sin—its loathsomeness, its contiguousness, the terrible rapidity with which it spreads, its insidious nature (commencing with a seemingly harmless spot), and its incurability so far as the wisdom of man is concerned, all witness to the accuracy of the figure. Leviticus 53 and 14 are the two chapters of the Bible where leprosy is treated of at greatest length. Here in the passage before us we read that Moses put his hand into his bosom—the abode of the heart—and when he drew it forth, behold, it was leprous. In response to God’s command he replaced his hand in his bosom, and on plucking it thence the leprosy had disappeared. This second "sign" also admits of various applications.
(1) The sign of the leprous hand was, no doubt, designed first for the instruction of Moses. It was intended to teach him the marvelous power of his Lord: that he should be thus smitten instantaneously with leprosy, that it should be confined to his hand, and that it should be cured immediately, without the use of means, was an astounding wonder. It manifested the perfect ease with which God could suddenly inflict such a disease and as quickly cure it: and this evidenced how simple a matter it was for Him to deliver His people out of the hand of the Egyptians.
(2) The "hand" speaks of energy: it is the instrument for work. Moses was God’s instrument for doing a wonderful work in Egypt. But the Lord here shows him that the flesh is set aside; it is not the energy of the natural man which is the mainspring of action in God’s service. How can it be, when the flesh is corrupt and under God’s curse?—here symbolized by the hand becoming leprous. By nature, man’s "hand" is unfit to be used by God. But Divine grace interposes in cleansing power, and that which is weak becomes strong; yet in such a way that what, under God, is now accomplished by that band is manifestly because of the Lord’s power.
(3) But the principal effect which this sign was calculated to have on Moses himself was a humbling one. Lest he become puffed up by the power of the rod, he is forcibly reminded of the sink of iniquity, the corrupt heart, within him. Therefore whatever Jehovah was pleased to accomplish by him must be attributed alone to sovereign grace.
(4) Moses is also to be viewed here as the representative of the Hebrews, for he was one of them, and what was here enacted before his eyes, vividly portrayed the condition of his people. In themselves they differed nothing from the Egyptians. They too were defiled and needed cleansing. No mere outward reformation would avail, for the seat of the trouble lay within their bosoms. Strikingly accurate were the details of this sign. It was not the hand which affected the heart, but the heart which affected the hand! How this disposes of an error which has been popular in every age. How often we hear it said that such an one may be weak and wayward, but he has a good heart. Not so: "Out of the heart", said the One who alone knew it, "proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies". So too, cleansing must begin with the heart—here signified by the leprous hand being thrust into the bosom before the loathsome disease was removed. And how is this brought about? By the power of God. True, from the Divine side; but what of the human? The answer is at once to hand. The leprous heart symbolizes sin hidden, the leprous hand, sin exposed (F. W. G.) It was the hand plucked out of the bosom which made manifest what was within! And it is precisely this which God demands from the sinner. What is so hateful to Him and so fatal to us, is for the sinner to deny his ruined and lost condition. As long as man seeks to conceal the iniquity within, as long as he disguises himself and pretends to be other than a guilty, undone sinner, there is no hope for him. Seeking to hide their shame was one of the first acts of Adam and Eve after their fall. All the false religions of human devising have the same object in view. But to come out into the light, to own our lost condition, to confess our sins, is the first essential (from the human side) in salvation. This is evangelical repentance.
(5) Once more we are shown a solemn foreshadowing of that which was vital and central in the great work of Redemption. Moses here prefigures the great Deliverer of God’s people. First, Moses is seen as whole, then as leprous, then whole again. Precisely such is the view which Scripture gives us of the Savior. Ineffably holy in Himself: He had no sin (Heb. 4:15), did no sin (1 Pet. 2:22), knew no sin (2 Cor. 5:21). But in infinite grace He took our place—all praise to His peerless name—and "was made sin for us" (2 Cor. 5:21). "He bare our sins in His own body on the tree" (1 Pet. 2:24). Because of this He was, at that time, in the sight of God what the leper was—defiled, unclean; not inherently so, but by imputation. The leper’s place was outside the Camp (Lev. 13:46), away from where God dwelt. And on the Cross Christ was separated for three terrible hours from the holy God. But after the awful penalty of sin had been endured and the work of atonement was finished, the Forsaken One is seen again in communion with God—"Father into Thy hands I commit My spirit" evidences that. And it was as "the Holy One" (Ps. 16:10) He was laid in the sepulcher. Thus, after Moses thrust his leprous hand into his bosom, he drew it forth again perfectly whole—every trace of defilement gone. In their foreshadowings of Christ, then, the first sign intimated that the great Deliverer would "destroy the works of the Devil" (1 John 3:8), while the second signified that He would "take away our sins" (1 John 3:5).
"And it shall come to pass, if they will not believe also these two signs, neither hearken unto thy voice, that thou shalt take of the water of the river, and pour it upon the dry land: and the water which thou takest out of the river shall become blood upon the dry land" (v. 9). Upon this verse Dr. Urquhart has some helpful comments: "The Nile was Egypt’s life. Its waters, in the annual inundation, pouring over its banks and spreading the fertilizing mud over the ground, prepared the way for the harvest. But the sign shows that God could turn that blessing into a fearful scourge. Instead of life he might make the river bring forth death: instead of fruitfulness, corruption. The unusual form (in the Heb.) ‘shall be and shall be’, conveys the strong and solemn assurance that this means of blessing shall certainly be turned into a vehicle of judgment—a threatening which was afterwards fulfilled in the first two plagues."
"And it shall come to pass, if they will not believe also these two signs, neither hearken unto thy voice, that thou shalt take of the water of the river, and pour it upon the dry land: and the water which thou takest out of the river shall become blood upon the dry land" (v. 9). This third "sign" is unspeakably solemn. Its position in the series supplies the key to its interpretation. This third sign was to be wrought only if the testimony of the first two was refused. It therefore tells of the consequences of refusing to believe what the other signs so plainly bore witness to. If man rejects the testimony of God’s Word that he is under the dominion of Satan and is depraved by nature, and refuses the One who alone can deliver from the one and cleanse from the other, nothing but Divine judgment awaits him. The water turned into blood speaks of life giving place to death. It anticipates "the second death", that eternal death, "The Lake of Fire", which awaits every Christ rejector. Be warned then, unsaved reader, and flee to Christ for refuge ere the storm of Divine wrath overtakes thee. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved".