One of the tools that God gave his prophets was signs. Let me explain why. How would it be if I came up to you and gave you some tremendously big calling? What if I said, “You’re going to be king of a nation that has never had a king before”? You would probably look at me like I’m a blithering idiot, but this is exactly what happens when Samuel confronts Saul and says, “Hey, you’re going to be king!” (1 Samuel 9) It’s a crazy message from God and Samuel used signs to confirm that it was authentic.
Give Me a Sign
You get the same thing with Gideon. God tells Gideon that he’s going to deliver the people from the oppression of the Midianites. Gideon promptly informs God that he’s a nobody who couldn’t possibly deliver the people, but God says, “Yeah, that doesn’t really matter because I am going to be with you.” (This is the same thing God said to Moses when he called him to deliver the Hebrews from slavery and Moses protested..) God proceeds to give Gideon some signs to prove this is an actual, real, legitimate message from the Lord. That’s the purpose of signs. They authenticate the message.
Similarly, in Exodus 4 God gives Moses some reassurance. First, he talks to Moses in a burning bush, a sign to Moses that this is the real deal. God is calling Moses to go before Pharaoh and declare the very words of the Lord. Moses knows that unless he can give some sort of sign to confirm that his message is actually from God, Pharaoh will not believe him.
Moses answered, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘Yahweh did not appear to you’?” Then Yahweh said to him, “What’s in your hand?” “A staff,” he replied. Yahweh said, “Throw it on the ground.” Moses threw it on the ground and it became a snake, and he ran from it. (Exodus 4:1-3)
Why a Snake?
Have you ever wondered why God decided to use a snake as a sign to convince the Egyptians that Moses was actually sent by God? I think the choice was quite intentional. In Egypt, snakes were a big deal. If you look at a statue of Pharaoh, you’ll notice that often times he’ll be wearing a headdress that has a snake. That snake was called a uraeus. The uraeus was viewed as a source of protection for Pharaoh. In fact, Pharaoh believed that his uraeus went into battle before him. A text called the Qadesh Chronicle records a battle against the Hittites. Ramses II, who many think is the Pharaoh of the Exodus, says, “I entered into the battle-lines fighting like the pounce of a falcon. My uraeus-serpent overthrowing my enemies for me, she spat her fiery flames in the face of my foes.” In light of Pharaoh’s view of the serpent, isn’t it interesting that God is going to attack Pharaoh right where he believes he’s strongest?
The Battle Lines are Drawn
If we fast-forward to Exodus 7, we see that it actually happens. Moses is before Pharaoh and Aaron takes his staff, throws it on the ground and it turns into a snake. God has set up an intentional play against the very thing that Pharaoh considers to be his protector.
What happens next is critically significant. Pharaoh calls upon his Egyptians to perform the same trick through their magical arts and they somehow manage to get a snake on the ground, and the text tells us that Aaron’s snake eats, or swallows up, their snakes. This is hugely significant polemic where scripture is informing us that God is hitting Pharaoh right where he’s at. The lines of a cosmic battle have just been drawn.
I am With You
So think about this: Moses, some guy who spent the last forty years wandering around in the wilderness of Midian with sheep, is sent to stand before Pharaoh, the most powerful man in the world at that time. And God uses signs to help confirm that Moses’ message is actually from God. Think about what it would be like to be in a situation where you are called to stand before the most powerful man in the world and say, “Hey, what you’re doing is wrong. You need to let my people go.”
Moses is well aware that Pharaoh would be within his rights, from an Egyptian point of view, to simply look at Moses and say, “Yeah, you’re dead.” Imagine the fear and the trepidation that Moses would have felt. This is actually part of the reason why Moses initially argues when God calls him to go to Pharaoh. Moses says, “Ah, come on. I can’t do that! I don’t know that I can go before Pharaoh. You should send someone else.” God gets angry at Moses, but not because Moses is afraid. Moses’ fear makes perfect sense. He gets angry because Moses is not grasping what God is saying, which is “Moses, it does not matter what you think you can do. What matters is I am with you.”
God is With Us
For us, the message is that there are going to be times when God puts us into some uncomfortable situations, or puts us into scenarios where we realize, “Oh man, I am way over my head!” But God—the most powerful God, the God who is more powerful than Pharaoh, the Creator Ruler of the Universe—is with us, and that allows us to have confidence.
When I’m having a conversation with my co-worker and I’m afraid that I’m going to say the wrong thing, or turn him off toward the Lord, or when I somehow try to talk about Jesus but so badly misrepresent him, God is with me. When you have an interaction with your boss and you’re kind of afraid, and it’s a little bit uncomfortable but you know that you need to do it, God is with you.
In our daily lives, we are regularly confronted with things that make it easy for us to operate out of fear. The message from Exodus 4—and God even gives signs to show it—is that you can face the most daunting most intimidating circumstances when God is with you.