“Stretch Out Your Hand” — the first sign

“Stretch out your hand and grasp the serpent by the tail.”
Uh… no thanks. I’m not looking for Death right now. But if I see him, I’ll tell him You called.

I mean, come on. Moses fled from the serpent for good reason. How and why does this sign address the question Moses asked?

Moses said, “What if they will not believe…?”
So God answers with a staff turning into a serpent?

Well… anymore I think God’s answer begins with the phrase, “Stretch out your hand.” Or rather six verses earlier when He says, “I will stretch out My hand…”

Signs of the Trinity

Now, we’ve been going through this Moses meets God encounter, looking for signs of the Trinity. And I’m running with the idea that the Trinity shows up:

  1. in the “memorial name” God gives Himself – The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”
  2. in the actions/actors that represent each of the Godhead based upon the history He established with those after whom He has named Himself (the God of Abraham speaks promises and tells the future; the God of Isaac rescues from death, foreshadows Jesus’ redeeming act, and miraculously fulfills/embodies God’s promises; the God of Jacob accompanies and multiplies)
  3. and actually “in” the burning bush itself: the angel of the Lord (embodiment), the fire (accompanying), and God’s voice (speaking).

God speaks to Moses, giving him instructions, telling him the future troubles with Pharaoh, and promising to act.

“But I know that the king of Egypt will not permit you to go, except under compulsion. So I will stretch out My hand and strike Egypt with all My miracles which I shall do in the midst of it; and after that he will let you go. I will grant this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and it shall be that when you go, you will not go empty-handed…”

Future, promise, future, promise. I’m voting this is the God of Abraham speaking.

Hands and Fingers

Now, what about “My hand”?

Let’s jump to

Exodus 8

All the dust of the earth became gnats through all the land of Egypt. The magicians tried with their secret arts to bring forth gnats, but they could not; so there were gnats on man and beast. Then the magicians said to Pharaoh, “This is the finger of God.”

Finger of God. Finger of God. There are two stories that come to mind for me. First, when Jesus answers those who say He was casting out demons by the prince of demons.

Luke 11

“…if I by Beelzebub cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? So they will be your judges. But if I cast out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.”

There’s also the time that Jesus was confronted with the woman caught in adultery.

John 8

“But Jesus stooped down and with His finger wrote on the ground.”

Great. Everybody has a finger, Dave. So what?

I’ve heard many times that people think Jesus was writing the Ten Commandments in the dirt based upon His answer, “He who is without sin among you, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.”  But what about John including the detail “with His finger”? John could have written “stooped down and wrote on the ground” and we could have assumed it was with His finger. But by including “with His finger” the picture stands out to me. John’s Gospel is full of proof for Jesus being God. Does God ever use His finger?

Ding! Ding! The Ten Commandments.
Yes, Exodus 20 begins, “Then God spoke all these words…” and the commandments begin. But the end of Ex 31 says,

Exodus 31

“When He had finished speaking with him upon Mount Sinai, He gave Moses the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God.”

God spoke, and the finger of God wrote.
Jesus (God) “stooped down and with His finger wrote.”
Jesus (God) “cast out demons by the finger of God.”
Can we equate Jesus and the finger of God?

First, let’s remember that God has promised, “I will stretch out My hand and strike Egypt with all My miracles…”

Now let’s go to

Ex 4:1

Moses asks, “What if they will not believe me or listen to what I say?”
Before we read verse 2, let’s jump to verse 8 where God says, “If they will not believe you or heed the witness of the first sign, they may believe the witness of the last sign.” Whatever happened between verse 2 and verse 8, God has called them signs. Signs that are meant to inspire belief and get people to listen.

The First Sign

God starts right off with Moses’ hand. He commands Moses, “Stretch out your hand and grasp [the serpent] by its tail…” “Stretch out your hand…” “I will stretch out My hand…”
So Moses “stretched out his hand and caught it, and it became a staff in his hand.”

Why a serpent? In His curse against the serpent from Genesis 3—“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, and you shall bruise him on the heel”—God promised His people deliverance. Genesis 3 is a classic Messianic reference.

For Us

Now in our time, we get to to see that reference fulfilled completely in Jesus. Jesus came, grabbed certain death by the tail, and yet still lives. I like that. That works for me.

For Them

But what could this sign–this grabbing of the serpent–have meant to the Israelite people? Living in the context of Egypt, the Israelites might have understood things like this:

Apep (/ˈæˌpɛp/ or /ˈɑːˌpɛp/) or Apophis (/ˈæpəfᵻs/; Ancient Greek: Ἄποφις; also spelled Apepi or Aapep) was the ancient Egyptian deity who embodied chaos (ı͗zft in Egyptian) and was thus the opponent of light and Ma’at (order/truth). He appears in art as a giant serpent….Ra was the solar deity, bringer of light, and thus the upholder of Ma’at. Apep was viewed as the greatest enemy of Ra, and thus was given the title Enemy of Ra, and also “the Lord of Chaos”. As the personification of all that was evil, Apep was seen as a giant snake or serpent leading to such titles as Serpent from the Nile and Evil Lizard. (source)

So MAYBE when Moses stretched forth his hand against the snake God was showing that He was above chaos and would bring order. MAYBE God was pointing at one of the Egyptian gods and saying, “You think he’s a major player? I can take him out.”

Personally, I like to think that God was foreshadowing Jesus, reiterating His own promise to His own people. If He first needed to address their fears of all the Egyptian gods, …okay. Maybe.

But God’s big picture, the coming Messiah conquering the fear of death, that’s what I’m calling the sign within this “first sign.”

More next time…

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