Rods and Serpent
It is time, time to start looking at some of these tough stories or illustrations in the Bible where it appears God dished out punishment which resulted in death and destruction. So, this post is devoted to the study of what really happened in Egypt. It will be a radical departure from the traditionally accepted concept. But it will be in harmony with the life and teaching of Christ, the principles of God’s character, and God’s eternal upholding of His sacred law, which we have come to understand is a reflection of God’s character.
In sending Moses and Aaron to enact the parable of the rods and the serpents, God detailed before Pharaoh exactly what was about to transpire. The Lord would have spelled it out in words, but the monarch’s mind was so darkened by sin that it was necessary to tell it in the clearest and most dramatic way – in pictorial form, because as it is today, it was in times past, most people learn best by means of visual aids.
Millions of other darkened minds since have failed to read correctly the message God sent to the king that day. It has been almost universally read as the ultimatum of an all-powerful executioner who had come to personally administer His judgments.
But God does not stand toward the sinner as an executioner of the sentence against transgression; but He leaves the rejecters of His mercy to themselves, to reap that which they have sown.
Correctly read, this was the message delivered to the haughty monarch. God had ever looked with saving love upon the land of Egypt. It was not alone for the salvation of Israel that Joseph had been kidnapped to the southern kingdom. It was that Egypt might also hear the tender voice of mercy.
While God was working for their salvation, Satan masterminded a plot for their total destruction. He knew he could touch neither them nor the Israelites while they remained obedient to God, so he worked with unflagging diligence to turn the eyes of Egypt to their marvelous, God-given prosperity, diverting their attention from God who had blessed them to the blessing received from God. As usual, he was successful. Egypt became proud, self-confident, self-serving, and oppressive. This led to their becoming taskmasters over the Israelites through whom all their blessings had come.
Thus Satan engineered a situation wherein the Israelites were not able to serve God fully except at the direct cost of their lives. Their daily sacrificial system ceased, the Sabbath was hardly kept, if at all, and the people became degraded in sin.
This was just as Satan wanted it, for he knew that once he had led Egypt into the full practice of self-service and utter rejection of God they would move outside the circle of God’s mercy and would be in his destructive power.
As generation after generation of Egyptians descended more deeply into the mire of abandoned iniquity, Satan saw the day drawing nearer when there would be none of God’s protection left. He exulted in the increasing depravity of the Israelites, for this meant they had less and less of God’s protection also.
Plotting every move with calculated care, he proposed to involve the land of Egypt in a destructive cataclysm of such proportions as to exterminate every Israelite, thus certifying that the redeemer would never be born. If this necessitated obliterating every Egyptian as well, Satan would not hesitate.
It must be emphasized that, as the day of Egypt’s doom approached, God did not wish to withdraw His protective presence from them. Instead they were taking themselves outside it. They were making it impossible for God to remain.
Meanwhile, Satan was marshaling destructive forces that encircled the whole nation. The stage was set so that when the Egyptians finally dismissed God from His position as Protector the plagues would begin.
It would be well if every person on the earth were to know that all nature, from the instant Adam and Eve rejected the law as their savior, is deranged and poised to collapse into all-obliterating devastation.
The reason it has not done so is because “Christ, the Son of God, stood between the living and the dead, saying, “Let the punishment fall on Me. I will stand in man’s place. He shall have another chance” (The SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 1, p. 1085).
When humanity rejected the law as their savior, God gave Himself to be the Savior. Ever since the fall in Eden Christ by His personal power has been holding under control that fearsome wrath all around us.
Should sinful, defiant, desperate human beings, during any period of history, make a total rejection of that Savior, then they dismiss Christ from His post, His restraining power is removed, and the flood of death pours upon the unprotected.
But the Egyptians neither understood nor believed this. They had advanced from one depth of wickedness to an even-greater level and had come to the point of making the final dismissal of Christ from their world.
It was now that Moses and Aaron appeared with the rods. This was God’s last love message to the haughty king. It was futile attempt to explain to him the principles laid out above. The message was given in the simplest possible form – pictorially, in an acted parable.
The symbols of God used were Moses, Aaron, the rods and the serpents.
Moses was the representative and symbol of God. He portrayed before the monarch God’s role in the coming time of terrible trouble. This is certified in God’s own words.
So the Lord said to Moses: “See, I have made you as God to Pharaoh, and Aaron your brother shall be your prophet” (Exodus 7:1).
Moses had not become God. By no means could this be true. He was still Moses, but he portrayed God’s role to Pharaoh. He demonstrated God’s behavior and appealed to the rebel to recognize and accept the petition of love being presented to him.
The rod in the hand of Aaron, who held it on Moses’ behalf, was the symbol of the powers God had given to humanity for their blessing, which because of sin, were poised to destroy, but which, because of Christ’s interposition, still remained in God’s hands and under His control.
“In place of a shepherd’s crook the rod of power had been given him (Moses) . . . (Patriarchs and Prophets, p. 396).
It is important to distinguish between the powers that God gives to human beings and the powers of God himself. The distinction is well illustrated by this parable wherein Moses stand as symbol of the Almighty. Allowing the rod to symbolized the powers given by God to human beings, it is not difficult to distinguish between that and the powers in Moses. The rod of power could be separated from him and pass out of his control and direction, but not so the powers within him. While he lived, they were inseparable from him.
So with God. The mighty powers given to humankind can and have passed out of His control, but the powers within Himself can never be separated from Him. This distinction must be clearly seen for the Egyptian incident to be correctly evaluated.
Finally, there was a serpent into which the rod turned. No one will have any difficult in recognizing the serpent as a symbol of the destroyer.
Now that the symbolism has been established, we return to the story.
So Moses and Aaron went in to Pharaoh, and they did so, just as the Lord had commanded. And Aaron cast down his rod before Pharaoh and before his servants, and it became a serpent. But Pharaoh also called the wise men and sorcerers; so the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments. For every man threw down his rod, and they became serpents. But Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods. And Pharaoh’s heart grew hard, and he did not heed them, as the Lord had said. (Exodus 7:10-13).
As the brothers stood before the king, the rod was held firmly in Aaron’s hand and was under his personal control. While that rod remained thus, it never became a serpent. Only when it passed out of his hands and control did it change and instantly so. As long as this situation remained, it continued to be a serpent, but the moment it returned to his hand it again became a rod. (Note that when Aaron handled the rod, he did so only on Moses’ behalf and at his direction, therefore, we will refer to Moses’ rod rather than to Aaron’s in these pages.)
With what simple and beautiful clarity, the Lord sought to communicate to Pharaoh the vital truth that at no time whatsoever, while the powers of nature were still in God’s hands and under His control, could they be agents of destruction. Only when out of His hands and control could they be such.
This truth is not limited to those days or to that particular situation. The Lord does not change. Ever since Adam and Eve fell until today and beyond to the final annihilation at the end of the thousand years, the truth revealed in the rods and the serpents is the same. Never while the powers of humanity and nature are in God’s hands and control can they be destroyers. That is impossible.
This is beautifully illustrated in the experience of Elijah at Horeb. He had fled from Jezebel in fear and discouragement to take refuge in a cave.
And there he went into cave, and spent the night in that place and behold the word of the Lord came to him, and He said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
So he said, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts, for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.”
Then he said, Go out, and stand on the mountain before the Lord,” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind tore into the mountains and broke the rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice.
So it was, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood in the entrance of the cave. And suddenly a voice came to him, and said, “What are you doing here Elijah?” (I Kings 19:9-13).
Do not miss the point. Had God been in the elements, that is, had those forces been in His hands and under His control, no storm would have been possible. There would have been only peace and blessing. This truth needs to become forever settled in the minds of every child of God.
This is the message with which God sought to convict and convert the heart of the king of Egypt. This picture showed that despite the many decades during which Egypt had sunk into deeper iniquity, the mighty powers of nature were still under God’s control and direction.
But the time had come when, unless immediate steps were taken in repentance and obedience, the powers of nature would pass out of God’s hands and from His direct and complete control. Instantly, they would then become fearful scourges of destruction, even as the rod released from Aaron’s hand turned into a serpent. What those powers did to Egypt while out of God’s hands and control were not God’s work or responsibility. He had exhausted every possible means to keep them from coming to this point.
The king’s response was revealed the extent to which self-sufficiency had become his. He simply called in his magicians who threw down their rods. Satan, through witchcraft, made it appear that they were also turned into serpents.
The magicians did not really cause their rods to become serpents; but by magic, aided by the great deceiver, they were able to produce this appearance. It was beyond the power of Satan to change the rods into living serpents. The prince of evil, through possessing all the wisdom and might of an angel fallen, has not power to create, or to give life; this is the prerogative of God alone. But all that was in Satan’s power to do he did; he produced a counterfeit. To human sight the rods were changed to serpents. Such they were believed to by Pharaoh and his court. There was nothing in their appearance to distinguish them from the serpent produced by Moses. Though the Lord caused the real serpent to swallow up the spurious ones, yet even this was regarded by Pharaoh, not as a work of God’s power, but as the result of a kind of mafic superior to that of his servants.
Thus the monarch displayed a terrible and dangerous ignorance of the extent and magnitude of the powers that had, to this point, been held under control by a merciful and loving God. Knowing nothing of the might of those powers, he was likewise ignorant of the strength of the God who held them in check. Therefore, he had no fear, no realization of the awful danger he was in, no sense of his need of God, and no trust in Him.
This is a revelation of self-sufficiency at its very worst. It had been developing in the king and his kingdom for a very long time until it had reached this state of maturity, Having rejected any sense of need of God, the king and thus subjects were in effect, and in fact, rejecting all connections with any dependence upon Him.
Filled with an altogether false and grossly exaggerated view of his own powers, and a terrible deficient concept of the magnitude of the powers around him, the king was confident that he could easily handle anything God might release. The sight of his numerous serpents advancing against one reinforced that conviction.
It was not possible for the king to have a more misleading or dangerous self-assurance. His puny power could never withstand the onrush of the mighty forces of nature out of God’s hands, direction, and control. Such ignorant and foolish thinking in the face of this loving appeal from God could only serve to separate him entirely from God and to place himself outside the circle of God’s protection.
Even though the king rejected God’s call, God did not abandon him to his errors but continued to seek to save him. To accomplish this, the Lord demonstrated the futility of the king’s forces to contain the powers symbolized by one serpent. Though to all appearances hopelessly outnumbered, the one serpent busily swallowed the rest, This was a message to the king, if he could only see it, that no matter how great an effort he might put forth to hold in check and redirect the forces released against him, he would be unable to do it. He and his people would be consumed while the mighty powers remained as undiminished as if they had not been touched at all.
This was the message brought to him through the rods and the serpents. It was a message of love designed to soften and save.
The king resisted the loving appeals of the Holy Spirit, who was there to bring home God’s message with convicting power. By so doing, he took the final step, whereby he placed himself and his nation outside the limits of god’s protection. Having cast aside God’s law as his savior, he now cast aside Christ, the Savior too.
There was no more God could do. The control of these assembled forces of destruction passed out of His hands and the plagues began. Yet, even so, God’s love for Egypt and His reluctance to see the people suffer was so great that He only released His grip as far as He was compelled to. He could have taken Himself completely away and left the land to be swamped with all the plagues at once, but instead He went back only one step at a time, each move being forced upon Him by Pharaoh’s increasing stubbornness.
While Israel was the primary target of Satan’s wrath the plagues did not consume them for the simple reason that, even though they were far from fully righteous, there were at least a goodly number among them who loved and served God the best they could under those circumstances. They had not cast aside either the law of Christ. Consequently, Christ who will always protect even sinful, ungrateful people as long as possible, was able to shield the house of Israel from that successive pestilences.
Those plagues that devasted the Egyptians were the forces out of the hands and control of God. Furthermore, they were taken from His grasp, not because He had chosen to release them but because the Egyptians themselves had displaced Him from His position as their Protector.
Thus the plagues were not what God did to the Egyptians. They were altogether what they did to themselves.
So it will every be. God never changes. He does not do one thing to the sin-cursed Egyptians and something rejecters of His mercy n another age. Therefore, whenever we are witness to the desolating march of plague, fire, earthquake, tempest or pestilence across the land are tempted to think god is at work, let us remember the message of the rods and the serpents. Then we will know the real truth of what is 8happening.
Why Not Before
To believe that God forcibly subdued the Egyptians in order to affect the release of His people is to level, by implication, a terrible indictment again the Lord. It is to charge Him with deliberately and callously leaving the Jews to suffer for centuries when they could have been released long before they were.
He who is in possession of omnipotent power and uses it as the means of executing his will can do what he wishes when he chooses. If this is God’s way, as so many suppose, then every day that the Israelites continued in servitude, every searing lash received across the back as they made bricks in the hot sun, could be attributed directly to God’s will for them simply because He chose to not yet release them. God could not be a God of love and at the same time behave in his fashion.
The Truth is that God has committed Himself never to solve problems by the use of force. Therefore, the timing of the Israelites’ release was determined, not by God’s own personal choice, but by the effects of the Egyptians’ deepening apostasy. This brought about a separation from God that released destructive power upon them until they had destroyed their capacity to hold their slaves. Then and only then could the Israelites go free. When these principles are understood, no problem will be seen in their being left servitude for so long.
God will not deviate from His ways, for He knows that the use of force is self0defeating. Had it been His principle to rule by force then He would have stamped rebellion out of existence as soon as it manifested itself initially. There would have been no long period of sin in this world.
But sin must be allowed to run its course until it ultimately destroys itself and all who cling to it. Then the Lord will be free to make a new heavens and a new earth with no danger of their defilement.
Christ and the Scourge
The same message that God sought to convey to the stubborn Egyptian ruler, Christ endeavored to impress upon the minds of the traders in the temple when He cleansed it for the first time.
The declaration given by Christ when He held the scourge is the exact counterpart in the New Testament of what Moses did in the Old Testament when he held the rod in his hands. The symbolism is identical.
As has already been established, the rod Moses held symbolized God’s powers in nature still under His control and direction. As Moses gripped the rod, so Christ held the scourge, which likewise symbolized God’s powers in nature. Just as Moses’ rod could not, and did not, turn into a serpent while it remained in his hands, so the scourge could not and did not strike a single person while it was in Christ’s control.
The story can be as easily misinterpreted as the Egyptian episode. Most would argue that, while it is true that Christ did not actually strike the offenders in the temple, He most certainly threatened to and would have done so if they had resisted Him. To adopt this view is to regard the character of Christ as being identical with that of human beings, while missing the message that the Saviour desired to convey.
He had come jupon them while they were practicing serious iniquity. This could only serve to separate them from the protection of God so that they would be left exposed to the terribly destructive forces surrounding them. Christ desired to save them from this, so He portrayed before them the situation which was developing. He wished them to understand that the usually mind and beneficent forces of nature were being transformed into a punishing scourge. That they had not yet been smitten by this whip was due alone to the fact that Christ still held in under His control and would continue to do so until the period of their probation ended.
For them, that was still several years away. During the ensuing interval of time, God’s presence was progressively withdrawn from the land. Christ announced His eternal departure from the temple in the sad words. “see! Your house is left to you desolate” (Matthew 23:38). This was just before His final suffering and death. In AD 34, probation closed on the nation as a while in accordance with the prophecy of Daniel 9, but the retribution still tarried. Christ still held the scourge in his hands until in AD 70 He laid it down and wrath was released in the form of the unrestrained passion in the hearts of the roman soldiers as they unleashed that range upon the unprotected heads of the Jews.
Some may argue that Christ overturned the tables and scattered their money thereby establishing the fact, as they see it, that He would destroy their possessions. But again, He was only giving them an object lesson of the real truth that all the earthly treasure in which they were putting their trust would be no support to them in the hour of trouble. Instead, it would be swept away, even as the coins were scattered in hopeless confusion across the floor.
Rightly considered, in the temple Jesus Christ did exactly what He and His Father had done in the land of Egypt. He came to both with the offer of forgiveness, protection, and life. He showed each of them the terrible consequences of their continuing in their present course, in the hope that the realization of their need would prompt them to reach out for god’s solution to it.
In both of these situations, God and Christ lived out the maxim of their lives, in the contrast to that of the devil who is the destroyer. Christ expressed the truth of this in these works: “The thief does not come except to sea, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly (John 10:10).
Christ’s sorrow remains in the fact of the realization;” but you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life” (John 5:40).
In our next post we will explore the subject of “The Upraised Rod”
In that post we will attempt to answer the following questions: The rod figurers in the record of the enactment of many of the plagues that came upon Egypt, as it was apparently used to smite or release the elements for the purpose of destruction. How is this consistent with the lesson of the rod turning to a serpent, where we previously learned that it symbolized the release of God’s protective control over the powers?
What are invited to take up the challenge to come to the Scriptures and see the language in the consistent fashion. If, as in one example, we read that “God slew Saul” and realize by the same scriptures that he died by suicide, we have a key to interpret this. “God-did-it” language. Is it therefore valid for us to go to another instance of destruction and read the same language, yet interpret it differently only because we aren’t given the exact mechanism of destruction?
If you have not had a chance to read the other posts in this series on the Character and Law of God, I invite you to click on the links below.