The context revolves around the call of Moses to be the deliverer of Israel. He is 80 years old. He is a fugitive from Egypt, Ex. 2:11-15. He lives with his father-in-law Jethro and keeps Jethro’s sheep, Ex. 3:1. He does not appear to be a likely choice for the ministry God has in mind. When the call of God comes, Moses gives every excuse he can think of to get out of what the Lord has for him to do. 1.) He says he doesn’t feel worthy, 3:11-12. 2.) He says he doesn’t even know God’s name, 3:13-14. 3.) He says the people will not believe him, 4:1-9. 4.) He says that he is not good with words, 4:10-12. 5.) he says, “Send another”, 4:13-17. After all the excuses, Moses goes to do what the Lord has told him to do, 4:18-31.
In the middle of this account, God asks Moses a question. That question is found in verse 2 of our text. It is that question that I want to investigate today. That question, and the answer to it, has importance for our lives right now. The question is rather simple. It is, “What is that in thine hand?” Moses answered, “a rod”. All he had in his hand that day was a simple shepherd’s staff. To Moses, all he had in his hand was a dry, dead stick. That’s all it was to him, but in the eyes of God, it was so much more than that. Let’s examine this text today and see what Moses really had in his hands that day. As we do, let’s take the time to look at our own lives to see the things we also carry in our hands. I want you to see that just as God used what was in the hands of Moses for His glory, He desires to use the things we carry in our hands as well. Let’s notice these truths together as I preach on the question, “What Is That In Thine Hand?”
MOSES HELD HIS PROBLEM IN HIS HAND
When Moses heard the Lord’s question, it must have stabbed his heart. “What is that in thine hand?” is the question. “A rod” is the answer. Moses must have remembered a time when his hands held a scepter instead. Surely his mind went back to those days in the palace in Egypt when he was being trained and educated to be a Pharaoh. He may have remembered a time when he held the world in his hand, now he has nothing but a dry, dead stick.
God knew what Moses had in his hand. God was not asking for information. God was asking for instruction. God was asking Moses to carefully consider the thing he held in his hand. In Moses’ life, the thing he held also held him!
That rod identified Moses and that rod also represented all the problems in his life! That rod reminded him that he used to be a prince. That rod reminded him that he was just a servant. That rod reminded him that he was poor and owned nothing. That rod reminded Moses that his life was filled with vast potential at one time, but that now, he was merely a has been, a washed-up nobody on the backside of the desert. All the things I mentioned before, have the ability to define us. Our sins, our past, our hurts, our negatives feelings about others, all impact who we are and how we relate to those around us. They even determine how we serve the Lord. If I allow the negative aspects of my life to control me, then I will stand in the way of the Lord and of His will being done in my life. Even the positive aspects of our lives, like our talents and abilities, become liabilities when we depend on them instead of the Lord.
I would remind you that we are to be controlled by nothing and no one but the Lord Jesus Christ, Eph. 5:18; Gal. 2:20; Rom. 12:1-2.
What do you have in your hand? What are you clinging to today? Is there some attitude, some activity, some action, that defines your life? The only thing that should identify the child of God is “Christlikeness”, Phil. 1:21. Paul could say, “For to me to live is Christ…” if you made that statement, how would it come out of your heart? What do you live for? Whatever it is, it reveals your personality. Whatever it is, it controls your life! Some people can’t even worship because they are filled with bitterness over something someone said or did to them. Some people won’t serve the Lord because everything in the church hasn’t gone their way. Some people are hindered by their sins and some by their self-righteousness. Others are hindered because they think they are the best at what they do. They are filled with pride over their abilities and their accomplishments. They don’t even recognize the fact that their achievements have become liabilities in their lives. “What is that in thine hand?”
MOSES HELD HIS POTENTIAL IN HIS HAND
When Moses objects to God’s call on his life, God uses a series of miracles to teach Moses the truth that God will go with him into Egypt and that God will work through him. First, the rod becomes a serpent and then it becomes a rod again, v. 3-4. Second, Moses’ hand becomes leprous and then clean again, v. 6-8. Third, God tells Moses that he will be able to turn water to blood, v. 9. All these miracles are designed to comfort Moses and teach Israel that Moses is indeed a man sent from the Lord.
Moses is commanded to take the rod and “cast it on the ground”. When he does, it turns into a serpent. Moses runs from the serpent. This tells us that it was probably not an ordinary snake that Moses might have encountered day by day in the wilderness. Most likely, it was a cobra. Cobras were worshiped as gods by the Egyptians. Pharaoh even wore a golden cobra around his neck. Seeing Moses take a stick and turn it into a cobra would be a commentary to both the Israelites and the Egyptians. It would tell both that the God Moses represented was more powerful than the gods the Egyptians worshiped. Here’s the point, to Moses that rod was nothing but a tool, a weapon, a necessary part of his life. In his hand, it helped support him. It helped protect and guide his flock. It helped him in many ways day by day. But, in his hands, it was still just a dead, dry stick.
When that stick was given over to the Lord, it became a living thing. It became a thing of power that God used to defeat Israel’s enemies and to glorify God. God took that insignificant stick and worked wonders with it. In verse 4, Moses was commanded to “put forth thine hand, and take it by the tail”. People who work with snakes will tell you that this is a recipe for disaster. If you are going to pick up a snake, you should always grab it behind the head. (Ill. My encounter with a timber rattler.) Moses was commanded to take the snake by the tail to teach him that he could trust the Lord to take care of him. When Moses obeyed, the serpent became a dead stick once more. But, I guarantee you that Moses never looked at that stick the same way again!
God took that stick, that weak, powerless, dead, dry stick and used it in a mighty way, simply because Moses yielded it to the Lord. Had it remained in Moses’ hands, it would have held no power for God, but it would have held all power over his life. Because he yielded to the Lord, he was freed from its power over him and he was free to use its power for the glory of God. I do not know what you hold in your hand today. But, I do know this: If what you hold in your hand is not yielded to the Lord, it is a hindrance in your life! It holds you back from being everything you could be for the Lord. Not only does it hold you back, but it also affects everyone around you! It affects your family. It affects your church. It affects everything you touch in your life and everything that touches you. That sin you refuse to abandon to the grace of God is a dead stick in your hand; but when you give it to God in confession and repentance, it becomes an opportunity for Him to display His grace, His forgiveness, and His restoration.
That bitterness over some past wrong you feel you have suffered is a dead stick in your hand; but when you bring that thing to God, He is able to deliver you from the bondage you are in and restore you to a place of blessing. That negative spirit you possess that causes you to look for the bad in everyone and everything is a dead stick in your hand; but when you bring it to the Lord, He is able to give you His perspective on people and events. He is able to bring you out of that bondage. That sorrow that you have allowed to shape your life and steal your joy is a dead stick in your hand, but bring it to God and He will teach you that He has a purpose even in your pain, and He will teach you the truth of Rom. 8:28. That ability you have that you are so proud of can be a dead stick in your hand; but when that ability is surrendered to the Lord, it becomes a channel of blessing whereby He is able to use your life in greater ways. Those accomplishments in your past that you continually look to are a dead stick in your hands; but when you yield them to the Lord, He will enable you to see that He has even greater things in your future.
I am trying to get us to understand that everything we hold in our hands is either a burden or a blessing depending upon what we do with it. When we hold on to it, it is a problem. When we yield it up to the Lord, He is able to release its potential for blessing in our lives. Sometimes we wonder why God isn’t working in the church and saving souls like we think He should be. It may be that there are some people here who, like Moses, are holding dead sticks in their hands that need to be surrendered to the Lord. It may be that some here are like Achan, Josh. 7, there is sin buried deep within us that needs to be brought out and dealt with. Moses climbed that mountain that day with a dead stick. He has been carrying around that dead stick for forty years. In all that time, he has used that stick, but that stick had also used Moses.
That stick identified him. That stick controlled his life. That stick said, “All you will ever be is a shepherd keeping another man’s sheep”. That stick was a problem for Moses and he didn’t even realize it. He believed that it was an indispensable part of his life and work. Moses never knew until he yielded that stick to God, that the stick he held in his hand was the key to God’s power in his life. Moses yielded the stick he carried that day to the Lord. When he did, he was released from its power. When he did, it ceased to define him. When he did, it became the power of God in his life. “What is that in thine hand?” what do you carry today? What defines you? What are you holding on to that holds you back and keeps you from being everything God saved you to be?