“Then Moses answered and said, ‘But suppose they will not believe me or listen to my voice;’ suppose they say, ‘The LORD has not appeared to you.’”
Moses’s reluctance is understandable. When he was in Egypt, he lived in comfort, wearing soft clothes, and lived in the lap of luxury. Moses fled from Egypt and had now been gone forty years. The people of Midian had did not speak the same language as the Egyptians. By being a sheep farmer, there would have been little contact between himself and the Egyptians. So Moses had some reasons for concern. Would he still be able to talk with the Egyptians? Would his life be in danger even though all those who sought him were now dead? Could he trust in God?
The Lord said to Moses. “What is in your hand?” Moses responded, “A rod.” Logically the rod would be a shepherd rod or staff used to guide, direct, and protect the sheep. God then directs Moses to cast his rod upon the ground. “He cast it on the ground, and it became a serpent, and Moses fled from it” (Exodus 4:3b).
The word used for the serpent, in this case, is “naw-khawsh.” Naw-khawsh means serpent or snake. The word does not specify the type of serpent or snake it was. The implication from the text is it must have been poisonous because Moses attempts to flee from it. We will see later in the Exodus story that the word used for serpent will momentarily change. With that change will come a completely different meaning. But for now, Moses threw his rod or staff down. It became a serpent, and he began to run from it.
God said, “Moses, reach out your hand and take it by the tail.” You don’t grab a serpent by the tail, for when you do, it will turn its head toward you and bite you. But the instructions by God was to “Reach out your hand and take it by the tail.” Moses did as commanded, and it once again became a rod (Exodus 4:4). God continued talking, “That they may believe that the LORD God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.”
God then instructed Moses to put his hand in his bosom, and when he took it out behold, his hand was leprous, white like snow. This must-have scared Moses terribly. Leprosy was a long, slow death, and now Moses had it. But God was not through. “Moses, again, place your hand in your bosom. Moses did, and when he again removed his hand, it was healed. The leprosy was gone.
“Then it will be, if they do not believe you, nor heed the message of the first sign, that they may believe the message of the latter sign. And it shall be, if they do not believe even these two signs, or listen to your voice, that you shall take water from the river and pour it on the dry land. The water which you take from the river will become blood on the dry land (Exodus 5:8, 9).
Why these two signs? Why would God have Moses pick up a serpent by the tail and cause his land to become filled with leprosy?
Moses has resisted answering God’s call to lead God’s people out of Egypt. A humble sheepherder has replaced the courage of Moses’s youth. God had Moses trained in Egypt for such a task and then refined him as he leads sheep. But at 80, Moses no longer felt qualified. Therefore, God was trying to show Moses that He, the Great I AM that I AM, will protect you in all ways. The poison of Egypt and the sickness of the people will not affect you. I will be with you and will guide you and direct all that you do. Yes, the Israelites who have been groaning under the burden of sin might reject you. The choice is theirs, and if they do, that is not upon you, it is upon Me as their God.
The last part of verse 9 is very interesting. “The water which you take from the river will become blood on the dry land.” If they reject you, Moses, it is on them and their choice. Since blood is the source of life, by pouring the water from the Nile upon the dry land and it turning to blood would indicate that these people have made up their minds to die in the country of Egypt rather than to live in the land which I promised to their Father Abraham. They have chosen to be slaves rather than enjoy the freedom that trusting in God brings.
Moses should have gotten the meaning himself. It should have woken him up. But once more, he has an excuse. An excuse we will look at in our next post.