|Series Theme: Meditations in Lessons from Israel|
Meditation No. 9
Meditation Title: God of Transformation
Ex 4:1-4 Moses answered, "What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, `The LORD did not appear to you'?" 2 Then the LORD said to him, "What is that in your hand?" "A staff," he replied. 3 The LORD said, "Throw it on the ground." Moses threw it on the ground and it became a snake, and he ran from it. 4 Then the LORD said to him, "Reach out your hand and take it by the tail." So Moses reached out and took hold of the snake and it turned back into a staff in his hand.
Moses is scratching around looking for reasons why he can't do this thing. He now comes up with his third question: what if they won't believe me? Hold on, Moses, the Lord has already said they will listen to you (implying acceptance because they will then go to Pharaoh with you) so you haven't been listening or certainly you haven't taken in what the Lord says. However, to be fair to Moses, I note this sort of behaviour is common in Christians when God is saying something completely new to them. In our confusion or wondering we just don't take in fully what the Lord is saying.
Now note that the Lord doesn't chide him. We might expect the Lord to tell him off after not having listened properly but perhaps we should identify the Lord as the God of understanding. We said in the previous meditation that He knows us and knows all about us, so He understands Moses and simply encourages him. The Lord gives him a visual demonstration of His power that is available to Moses, and turns Moses' attention to what it is in his hand – his shepherd's staff, the tool of his trade if you like. Throw it on the ground He tells Moses and when Moses does it turns into a snake – and Moses runs! It is obviously a big snake, possibly a cobra, and we'll say why we make this suggestion in a minute. Moses has seen a miracle and it can be described in no other way.
Now comes the tricky bit. The Lord tells him to take it by the tail. You fancy taking a cobra by the tail? It's likely to swish around a bit (to say the least) and you may get bitten. But Moses is beginning to realise that this God is a supernatural God, One who turns on miracles at a word and so if He says pick it up, it's OK to pick it up. Now I want to suggest that this is a major learning step for Moses. He's still going to stumble all over the place in his mind, but picking up this snake was a pretty big act of faith. When he does it turns back into his staff. Wow! A double miracle!
So what does all this say to us as we ponder it? Well, the staff was, if you like, an emblem of Moses' calling. He doesn't realise it yet, but this is his calling, to be the Shepherd of Israel. At the moment he's a literal shepherd but he's soon going to be the shepherd of a nation! Where is the right place for the staff? In his hand! If he let's go of it, it will get transformed into a sign of the world. Now of course the first picture of Satan in the Bible is as a serpent (Gen 3). If you see pictures of the Pharaoh's of that period, you will usually see they have a bronze cobra's head as part of their headdress. Some suggest this symbolises Wadjet, who was a Lower Egyptian god, one of the oldest Egyptian goddesses, and was considered a protector of Egypt. Wadjet was revered as the goddess of childbirth, and protector of children, and in later years she became the protector of kings. This serpent is thus likely to be a picture of one of the key goddesses of Egypt. Let your ministry go and it gets absorbed by the spirit of the age and dissipated.
But what else does this visual aid suggest? It suggests that when you obey God you can take the spirit of the age by the tail and transform it! That's what the Gospel does. It transforms our lives. Do you remember how Paul referred to our old pre-Christian lives: “ As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.” (Eph 2:1,2). We were subservient to the spirit of the age. If you read through Ephesians you see how Paul talks about how we have been transformed by the Gospel and are now part of the body of Christ with Christ-given gifts and ministries, with which we bless the church and the world.
Oh yes, the clear message here is that God is a God of transformation. He has the power by the work of Jesus on the Cross, and the Spirit within us, to transform lives. Have you ever seen the wonderful picture of transformation that comes through Ezekiel's prophecy in chapter 47 of his book? It is of a river that flows out from the Temple of God and as it flows it gets deeper and deeper, but the really thrilling thing about it is that where it flows it brings transformation (47:8 on).
Consider two other pictures of transforming activity that we so often take for granted – salt and light (Mt 5:13-16). Salt purifies and light reveals. Both are transforming agents. The history of the Church is the story of millions of lives that have been transformed for good. Yes, we still get it wrong but essentially it is all about lives being changed for good. Bad lives, evil lives, messed up lives, that encounter the wonderful news of Jesus Christ, that they are loved and that he has died for THEM, and they are transformed!
I watch this transformation taking place on a regular basis as we see people coming to the Lord through Jesus Christ. The poor atheists cannot understand this and so argue on bad intellectual grounds, not realising that they are fighting against an impossibility. They can say what they like, but the truth is that the Church, for those who have unprejudiced eyes to see, is a story of simple transformed lives, wonderful lives. And it's all of God! Hallelujah!