The Upraised Rod
By using the parable of the rod and the serpent, God communicated to the proud Egyptian ruler exactly how he would be acting in the coming devastations of the land. Thus he assured Pharaoh that the impending plagues would be neither by His decree nor by his administration. Their advent would be occasioned by His withdrawal from the scene, not His intrusion into it.
Before each plague began, God instructed Moses as His direct agent and representative, to perform an act with the rod. Before the river turned to blood, Moses was directed to strike the water; before the frogs covered the land, Moses was to hold the upraised rod over the waters of Egypt, and so on, through each succeeding calamity. These actions are usually interpreted in the wrong way.
In the initial demonstration, the rod was separated from Moses’ hand and control, indicating that powers would descend on the hapless heads of the Egyptians because God no longer had command of them. But before each plague came, Moses held the rod firmly in his hands and control while he touched or indicated with it the place where the trouble would come. This made it appear that God decided just where each should stride, what its nature would be, and then personally directed the blow. Here, for instances, is the inspired description of the coming of the first plague.
So the Lord said to Moses: “Pharaoh’s heart is hard; he refuses to let the people go. Go to Pharaoh in the morning, when he goes out to water, and you shall stand by the river’s bank to meet him; and the rod which was turned to a serpent you shall take in your hand. And you shall say to him, ‘The Lord God of the Hebrews has sent me to you, saying, “Let My people go, that they may serve Me in the wilderness”; but indeed, until now you would not hear! Thus says the Lord: “By this you shall know that I am the Lord. Behold, I will’ strike the waters which are in the river with the rod that is in my hand, and they shall be turned to blood. And the fish that are in the river shall die, the river shall stink, and the Egyptians will loathe to drink the water of the river.’””
Then the Lord spoke to Moses, “say to Arron, ‘Take your rod and stretch out your hand over the waters of Egypt, over their streams, over their rivers, over their ponds, and over all their pools of water, that they may become blood. And there shall be blood throughout all the land of Egypt, both in buckets of wood and pitchers of stone’” and Moses and Aaron did so, just as the Lord commanded. So he lifted up the rod and struck the waters that were in the river, in the sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of his servants. And all the waters that were in the river were turned to blood. The fish that were in the river died, the river stank, and the Egyptians could not drink the water of the river. So there was blood throughout all the land of Egypt.
Then the magicians of Egypt did so with their enchantments; and Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, as the Lord had said. And Pharaoh turned and went into his house. Neither was his heart moved by this. So all the Egyptians dug all around the river for water to drink, because they could not drink the water of the river. And seven days passed after the Lord had struck the river (Exodus 7:14-25).
There was a sharp contrast between the way the rod is used at this time and how it was handled in the King’s court when it turned into a serpent. Whereas on the former occasion it was separated from Aaron’s hand and control, here it remained firmly in his grasp, and while under his control and direction, it descended upon the water. The moment the water was smitten, it turned into blood.
Without question, God was again communicating a message to Egypt’s leader; otherwise the whole drama would never have been deliberately enacted in his presence. God determined that he should be eyewitness to it. The matter is on record in Scripture as a message to us as well. God expects that we shall rightly understand what He was doing there and why?
On the surface of it, this use of the rod seems to be contrary to the enacted parable of the rod and the serpent. Does God announce on one day what He will do then on the next do the very opposite? This is, does He on the first day declare that only when the powers of nature pass out of His control do they become destroyers, and then on the second proceed to take those power and use them as instruments of devastation?
Is that consistency? Is that the kind of God we serve? Most certainly not!
Therefore when God had Moses smite the water with the rod firmly held in his hands. He was neither saying nor doing anything different that day from what He had announced the previous day.
First, let reference again be made to the earlier discussion on the Bible being its own interpreter in which it was clearly shown how such expression as “the Lord sent fiery serpent,” and He (God sent out His armies, destroyed those murderers, and burning up their city,” and “He (God) killed him (Saul) are to be understood.
By careful comparison of Scripture with scripture, letting the Bible be its own dictionary and interpreter, it was learned that the Lord expects us to under such pronouncements as meaning that he had been obligated to withdraw His protection and leave the sinner to his or her fate. Admittedly, this is the opposite meaning from what it would be if human beings were using those words to describe their activities. But when the Lord indicates that this is how they are to be understood, then truth can be known only if His directions are following unerringly.
The expression “the Lord had stuck the river” is another such statement and must be understood in the same way, for the Bible is consistent in its use of language. Only confusion would result if certain word combinations were to be understood to convey one idea in one place and something different in another.
We have previously given careful consideration as to how the words of Matthew 22:7 were to be understood. This verse reads: “But when the king (God) hear about it, he (God) was furious. And he (God) sent out his armies (The Romans), destroyed those murderers (the Jews), and burned up their city (Jerusalem).”
The matching of this verse with an inspired explanation of its meaning plainly reveals how God expects it to be understood. That explanation is found in the book “The Great Controversy” pages 35, 36.
By stubborn rejection of divine love and mercy, the Jews had caused the protection of God to be withdrawn from them, and Satan was permitted to rule them according to his will. The horrible cruelties enacted in the destruction of Jerusalem are demonstration of Satan’s vindictive power over those who yield to his control.
God’s own explanation of what He meant by Matthew 22:7 is opposite from what humans would expect of those words. It is made clear that the Lord was not present there but that He had been obliged to depart, leaving them in the unmerciful hands of Satan and the Romans.
Therefore, the identical phraseology found in Exodus 7:25, “the Lord had struck the river,” is to be understood exactly as the Lord has shown how Matthew 22:7 is to be comprehended. “these words inform us that the Lord had released his grip upon the forces around Egypt, and for this reason the Nile turned to blood.
Herein is demonstrated the importance of being established in correct principles of Bible interpretation. It is vital that the tendency to interpret these things according to our human senses is resisted and the mind be disciplined to read them according to God’s directions. In this is complete safety.
A friend of mine recently gave me this illustration which firmly impressed on his mind and mine what we are trying to say. He was engaged in a flying lesson, which involved flying strictly on instruments. So, a hood was placed over his head, shutting out the view of all but the instrument panel. He was then instructed to hold a course due north. Soon he had the plane flying north and gaining altitude to 3000 feet. The compass indicated he was headed north and the other instruments all showed correctly. But he said, “I had this compelling feeling I was not flying straight north but was instead turning left. Every instinct called on me to deny the instruments and fly by my feelings. It required a decided act of will to resist this deadly influence and fly by the instruments.” It is a lesson that needs to be learned by every pilot and that is to trust his instruments. Many pilots have gone to their death because they did not overcome their feelings in favor of the readings on the gauges.
Likewise it is essential that every Bible student learn to ignore their feelings and instincts and discipline their mind to accept only the method of interpretation that the Lord has revealed as being the correct ones. It takes training to achieve this, but it can be mastered.
While God was showing the haughty ruler what he was about to do when He directed the rod and serpent demonstration, the next day, when the water was struck, He was saying something further.
It is important for the ruler’s own good that he should understand the connection between the withdrawal of the presence and protection of God and the onslaught of the plagues which immediately followed. Therefore, God sent Moses to use the rod to designate the exact time and place from whence God would step back. It was an impressive demonstration. There stood Aaron with the pointer in his hand. The river flowed on as usual with no indication of brooding trouble. Aaron brought the rod down to strike the surface of the waters, by so doing declaring to the king that the time had come and this was the place from whence the presence of God would be withdrawn. Horror blanched the defiant face of the royal observer as he saw the waters turn to the ghastly color of blood. Thus he was deprived of any opportunity to rationalize the claim that all this was but a happenstance that had no connection with Moses’ predictions and would have happened anyway. It was love that directed the action, and it was love that the king spurned.
The succeeding plagues all came as did the first one, with God continuing to play his stipulated role. Once the fist one is correctly understood, no problem should be encountered until the last one is reached. Then the question must arise as to why the last one was so selective. If God’s protection had been removed from every house but those upon whose doors the blood was sprinkled, why did only the firstborn die? How did the rest escape?
God said: For I will pass through the land of Egypt on that night, and will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgment: I am the Lord (Exodus 12:12).
There is no problem now with the language of this verse for we have learned how God intends us to under stand these words. The problem of selectivity remains.
First, let it be established that it was not God, the Saviour, but Satan the destroyer, who took those lives.
At least three times in Patriarchs and Prophets the one who slew the first born is named. Here are the sentences.
All who failed to heed the Lord’s directions would lose their firstborn by the hand of the destroyer. The sign of blood the sign of a Saviour’s protection was on their doors, and the destroyer entered not. All the firstborn in the land, “from the firstborn of Pharaoh that sat on his throne unto the firstborn of the captive that was in the dungeon; and all the firstborn of cattle,” had been smitten by the destroyer (pp. 278-280).
Who is the destroyer? The answer is clearly found in Testimonies for the Church, volume 6. It states:
Satan is the destroyer. God cannot bless those who refuse to be faithful stewards. All He can do is permit Satan to accomplish his destroying work. We see calamities of every kind and in every degree coming upon the earth, and why? The Lord’s restraining power is not exercised. The World has disregarded the word of God. They live as though there were no God. Like the inhabitants of the Noahic world, they refuse to have any thought of God. Wickedness prevails to an alarming extent, and the earth is ripe for the harvest (pp. 338, 389).
Therefore it was the destroyer, Satan, who slew the firstborn. But why did he select one in every family?
The killer found a barrier of protection around all the first born, which could have been provided only by God. He would also have protected the firstborn, but for some reason, they were situated where this had become impossible. What was it then that had exposed the eldest child to the malice of the destroyer while the rest could not be touched by him?
No direct revelations in Scriptures tell the answer, but there is information to strongly indicate what could have caused this to be. From this earliest moment, the first child in the family was dedicated to Satan’s service. Following this dedication, he was continually trained to fill the office and role of the priesthood in his own family at least. Others of them went on to fill national positions. Thus they were joined to Satan and separated from God more than any other person in the land. As such they were definitely the ones who would be found without God’s protection even when He was still able to extent it to the rest of he family, though marginally so.
Finally, those who escaped the silent death that deprived them of their firstborn plunged with blind and senseless stupidity after the Israelites as they crossed the Red Sea. Where the Israelites were, the power of God operated to withhold the tremendous forces of nature, but the rebellion and defiance of the Egyptians was so total that there was no possibility of their permitting the Holy Spirit to remain where they were. Thus they forced the powers of the water out of the hand and control of God with only one possible result. Unmeasured tons of water rolled over them, destroying every last man.
The whole experience is a revelation, paid for at terrible cost by those idolaters, not of what God sent upon the Egyptians but of what they brought upon themselves despite God’s best efforts to preserve them from it. No blame can be laid to God who emerged from the scene as impeccably perfect as ever:
A perfect law keeper Who did not break the law in order to preserve it: A loving and complete Saviour Who was not the destroyer: Nor the one who executed the impenitent. He was exactly what Christ later revealed Him to be.
On our next post we will explore: “The Showing of God’s power.”
We will discuss and answer the questions, Why was God so anxious to give a demonstration of His power to the people of that day?
How was the revelation of that power given?
In what way did God place the hardened monarch upon the throne just at that time?
Why did god wait so long before delivering His people?
Is it God’s will that despots come to rule over others?
Does He specifically manipulate events to get men such as Pharaoh, Nero, Hitler, and Stalin into power?
If you have not had the opportunity to read the previous posts in this series, I invite you to click on the links below.
|01 He Wanted to Teach Respect||05 Approaching the Study of God|
|02 Why a Tree to Teach Respect||06 The Constitution of the Government of God|
|03 The End of the Great Controversy||07 A Perfect Law|
|04 Isaiah’s Wonderful Prophecy||08 God’s Principles Tested|
|09 A Summary of God’s Constitution||13 The Supreme Revelation|
|10 Contrasting Statements||14 Urged to Destroy|
|11 Statements and Principles||15 Magnifying the Law|
|12 Does God Destroy – But How||16 Go the Second Mile|
|17a An Eye for an Eye||18 The Mystery of Iniquity|
|17b An Eye for an Eye||19 The Mystery-Unfolding Cross|
|17c An Eye for an Eye||20 The Way of the Cross|
|17d An Eye for an Eye||21 God is Not a Criminal|
|22 Rods and Serpents||26 Great Changes|
|23 The Upraised Rod||27 Concepts Reviewed|
|24 The Showing of God’s Power||28 Sodom and Gomorrah|
|25 The Flood||29 An Execution|