<< Exodus 4 : Moses Rod Turned into a Serpent >>
And it shall come to pass, if they will not believe also these two signs, neither hearken unto thy voice, that thou shall take of the water of the river, and pour it upon the dry land; and the water which thou takest out of the river shall become blood upon the dry land. Exodus iv. 9.
IT seems something of an exceedingly unaccountable and extraordinary character, that after the divine presence to His servant, Moses in the burning bush, and after the promise of so great a blessing, that even Moses himself should be found hesitating, fearing lest he should not be delivered, and rather anxious to be excused from the mission to which he was invited by Almighty love and wisdom. Yet such is the evident fact. It is clear, both from the Old Testament and the New, that the Divine Being who manifested Himself to Moses by means of an angel, was the Lord Jesus Christ as He was known before the incarnation. You remember that when his name was asked by Moses, the Divine Speaker said, I AM THAT I AM. Say unto the people, I Am hath sent me unto you. And this term is one of such super-excellent majesty, that one may well say it is perhaps the grandest and most appropriate appellation to unfold to us a sublime idea of the Divine Being. I AM hath sent me unto you. A simple but inconceivably grand and glorious name. It exhibits this Divine One as the Being to whom time and all things are intimately present. I AM--to whom there is no past, no future, no distant; all is nowI am. All ages are under my gaze; eternity is as it were a moment under my glance,I am.
To Thee theres nothing old appears,
To Thee, Great God, theres nothing new.
This term and the idea which it incloses, were also known as expressive of the majesty of the Deity in the very early times of Egypt. It was expressed in the hieroglyphics of that remote age by a veiled form in a temple in Upper Egypt. There was an image of Deity with this inscription, I am all that is, and that has been, and that will be. This sacred appellation is claimed by our Lord Jesus Christ you will remember in the Gospel: Before Abraham was, I am.--John viii. 58. He intended to teach us by this appellation which He Himself used, in His character of Jehovah, the Divine Deliverer of the Israelites, and again, as Jesus the Divine Deliverer of the soul in all ages, that He was the Omnipresent, and when He appeared to John the revelator after His resurrection, you will remember He said, I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, who is, and who was, and who is to come--the Almighty. The same glorious person was meant in all these cases.
It is this glorious Divine Being then, who appeared to Moses, and who appeared in that most lovely and affectionate character in which the glow of the holy fire about him exhibited the splendor of unutterable love, without destruction; and yet here is Moses hesitating, flinching from all that was thus offered to him, and rather wishful to decline the offered work and offered mercy.
Can we conceive of folly more transcendent, can we conceive of conduct more inexplicable, than that of Moses appears to have been, even of Moses,--the man of God? Yet, this folly is our own. To every one of us it is promised that he shall be brought into freedom. The truth will make us free, inwardly free, free from sin, from self, from fear, and from bitter sorrows; through the trials of life we shall be gradually purified, gradually made holier and happier, having in the meantime the highest blessings of earth; and then, as a reward for co-operating with the Lord, while He makes us happier than others on earth, we shall become angels in His glorious kingdom. All this is offered to us, and promised to us, and has been realized in the experience of good men in every age, yet we stand ever hesitating, doubting, fearing, standing back, saying they wont believe; we would rather not undertake it. Precisely as Moses did on this occasion.
Happily, the Lord in His infinite love, when we thus stand back, perseveres with us. We hesitate, as if there was something valuable we had to sacrifice, and we do sometimes talk of the great sacrifices we have to make, as if there were something good we had to give up, something great, something transcendently noble; whereas all the sacrifice we have to make is to sacrifice the sins which are our curse. We give up our bad tempers, our lusts, our passions, we give up vanities, woe, and misery in order that we may be truly blest and happy, today and onwards.
Such is the folly found in human beings. But the divine mercy does not quit us. Happily, God is our Father, and so He condescended to the weakness of Moses, and He condescends to ours. He proceeded to prove to Moses His divine power.
The higher laws of the spiritual world were brought into play in this. By the divine might, the staff was turned into a serpent and restored. He next shewed that disease and health were under His divine control; a hand was made leprous, and then was healed. The created elements are His; the water of the Nile was turned into blood. These wonders were evidences, Just as the miracles of our Lord were, that the Creator of the world was there, and offering Himself to man as his leader.
There is not only power, but wisdom and love, in everything done by the Divine Being. And let me invite your attention now to a little close consideration, while we endeavor to ascertain what these remarkable signs meant. There were three signs given. First the turning of Moses rod into a serpent and back again; then, his hand being made leprous and healed; and thirdly, the turning of the water into blood. This was the mode by which the Divine Mercy fortified Moses, and at the same time teaches us eternal things.
Notice first, there is a question put by the Divine Being, What is that in thine hand? Moses answered, A rod. It should be more strictly rendered, A staff. There is a difference in the Hebrew language between a rod, which is really a scepter, and a staff, which is a stay for the pilgrim, to enable him to walk more firmly. In the 23rd Psalm both terms are used, Thy rod and Thy stall they comfort me. The term used here is that which signifies a staff, an assistance to the feet; and it is all-important to know this, because in the spiritual lesson derived from sacred history here, the staff is the symbol of that which directs mans spiritual feet, which helps him in his spiritual walking--that is to say, the letter of the Word of God. Do not suppose that there was not really a staff on this occasion, and not really a person named Moses; but bear in mind that these outward literal realities are recorded as symbols of spiritual realities that are the same to us now in our spiritual journey, and in our efforts after spiritual freedom, as the literal things were to the literal Israelites, and to the literal Moses.
Moses himself, in spiritual things, is the symbol of Gods law in the soul, when it has become, a conscience, an inward law, an inward power of goodness and truth, an epitome as it were of all religion, and of the whole Word of God. This is expressed by our Divine Savior when He says, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.
On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
There is, in every history, in every narrative, in every portion of the different laws that the Israelites were under, and in their whole history, an inner essence, and this essence is,--the Law of God when it is received and implanted in the human soul, which is to us what Moses was to the Israelites, our leader, our inward guide. This inner power of the Word, this inner light which is the soul of all divine revelation, has a staff: that staff is the letter of the Word. The letter of the Word is to us what Moses staff was to him; it is an assistance to our feet. How beautifully this is described in the Psalms, in these expressive words:--Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. Here the lamp unto the feet means the instruction which the letter of the Word gives us, to tell us how to live. The letter of the Word is thus a staff, and hence, in the passage already quoted, when I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil; for Thou art with me, Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.
Whenever any miracle was wrought, representative of the divine miracles which are wrought during our spiritual regeneration, Moses was there; not Moses alone, but Moses with his staff; because it is by the Word of the Most High in the letter, in harmony of course with the spirit, that all divine strength is given. We may have trouble, we may have difficulty or danger, we may feel our weakness, yet if we are but sincere, divine power will be given to us; but always in some divine words. These divine words are the sword, the staff, the delivering power. The sword of the spirit, the Apostle says, is the Word of God. Is not my Word like as a fire, and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces.--Jer. xxiii. 29. This power of the literal sense of the Word when truly understood, and in the hand of one who also feels that the spirit of the Word is love to the Lord and love to the neighbor,--is signified by Moses with his staff in his hand. The Divine Being further said, Cast it on the ground, and thus the staff becomes separated from Moses, and then it represents the letter of the Word separated from its spirit, not having regeneration for its aim; the letter of the Word looked at merely as an earthly composition, not having for its object the conversion of the human heart from sin to righteousness. It is then food for wrangling, for vanity, and for self. In such cases, the staff, lying separated from Moses, turns into a serpent.
You remember that remarkable declaration of the Apostle Paul, The letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.
Moses himself was horrified at it, and fled from before it. And is it not so? Has not all history taught us the same truth? What was it that the Bishop of Natal found so great a serpent, that it induced him to give up all confidence in the divine authority of the written Word of God? Was it not taking those records of the Scriptures which are intended to foreshadow to us the new and inward creation, and regarding them as scientific descriptions? He esteemed the Divine book only as a merely earthly book. Thus he laid the staff on the ground. When he tried it by arithmetic and geology, and declared it false, it turned out to be a serpent. Every part of the Word of God treated in the same way will yield similar results. What wars have been so destructive, what were so cruel, as religious wars, and what has been the origin of them? Why, taking the outward wars and cruelties which are recorded in the letter of the Israelitish history as patterns for us to follow, instead of understanding them, as spiritual types, to teach us to struggle against the giants of sin,the lusts and passions, the stubborn foes within us. When men have been turned from fighting against their evils, to fight against their fellows and to destroy those who opposed them, the staff has become a serpent.
The Lord said, further, Put forth thine hand and take it by the tail, and Moses did so, and it became and rod again. This act is representative of taking the Word again in its exact letter, taking it in its exact literal sense and making it the instrument of the spiritual sense. This is done when we discern the correspondences of the very terms of the letter, with those spiritual and divine things which live within the letter. Then the serpent becomes a heavenly rod again, a staff to the Christians feet, a help for his pilgrimage. When it is insisted that the Lords words, except ye eat my flesh and drink my blood ye have no life in you meant that we are somehow or other to get hold of the very body of the Lord which suffered on Calvary, and eat the flesh and drink the blood, thus becoming cannibals, in order to enter into the kingdom of heaven; or when we are told that a little bit of wafer,a small proportion of flour from the bakers shop, could be transformed into the very same body and blood; when this dogma is accepted, the soul gives up its noblest powers, confesses to the falsehood of its senses and of its rationality, and leaves the spirit of the Word of God,the staff is turned into a serpent. The enfeebled and blinded soul surely becomes the slave of its priestly seducer, and prostrates itself before a man, instead of standing erect in the light of God.
Would he but take the serpent by the tail, lay hold of the exact expressions, and apply them to the soul, he would see that by the flesh is meant, that divine flesh of holy goodness, which is the substance of our Lord; and by the blood, the liquid part of the body, the holy blood of divine wisdom, which it; the outflowing of the Spirit of our Lord. Let these be received into the heart and the intellect, And you will have eternal life; the life of all that is good and true. The serpent is gone, the staff is there. And so it is with every one of these divine lessons, they teach us this,--live for eternity, and then the whole Word will be to you a staff. Live for self, continue in evil, and then, even the Word of God, which is lifes highest blessing, will be to you a serpent and a curse.
The next command was, Put now thine hand into thy bosom, and he put his hand into his bosom and it became leprous. By the hand, in the spiritual sense, is represented power for goodness. Hence, the hand of God means the power of God. Thy right hand, O Lord, hath dashed in pieces the enemy.--Ex. xv. 8.
Before regeneration, when man is carnally minded, with his heart deceitful above all things, when he will not come out of Egypt and enter upon his march toward the spiritual Canaan, all the power for good that the Lord has given him is merely the power of a decent courtesy, a cover to an inward selfishness. There can be no real goodness within, and hence the hand is leprous and profane. Leprosy was a very horrible disease that used to be much more common here than it is. It prevailed largely in the East, and does so still. It is a rottenness of the body, in which there is a disgusting and exceedingly painful corruption of the parts, fatal to comfort, beauty, strength, health, and life. There are chapters in the book of Leviticus entirely taken up with the treatment directed to be used by the priests, in relation to this awful disease. Time will not permit us to go into the particulars, but we may easily perceive what is meant by the representative disease. It is that condition of soul when there is an appearance of religion, of amiability, but underlain by a heart corrupt, selfish, rotten, and hypocritical.
This profanation of good and heavenly things and its removal, as represented by leprosy and its cure, is very strikingly brought before us, in the account of the leprosy and the cure of Naaman the Syrian. He was cured, you will recollect, by washing in the Jordan seven times-representative of the way in which spiritual health is given to every one who has got into this corrupt state of soul. The Word of God must be used to purify the soul again and again, until it is healed as Naaman was. On the seventh time of his ascending out of Jordan, it is said, his flesh came again like unto the flesh of a little child.
The servant of Elisha, on the other hand, prostituted the position which he had near his master, and went afterwards to make money out of the prophets powers, and to get Naaman to give him what his master had rejected. The result wets, that, having thus prostituted and profaned his position, the prophet said to Gehazi, The leprosy therefore of Naaman shall cleave unto thee and unto thy seed for ever. Leprosy, then, in the sacred Scriptures, is representative of the profanation of religion, to selfish purposes. And when the hand of Moses was first of all put into his bosom, and then drawn out, and was seen to be leprous, it was to teach us, that, before regeneration, even our admirabilities and courtesies have selfishness in them. It is not from charity, but from the love of self, that we do things genial, generous, and noble. There is leprosy right through us, and out of the corrupt heart there come hypocrisies which corrupt everything else.
The Almighty next said, Put thine hand into thy bosom again, for now is represented the healing which comes from regeneration. Let religion, let faith, let obedience be thine, and thy leprosy will disappear. Put thy hand into thy bosom again. Be born again. Thou wilt find there is balm in Gilead; there is a physician there.
Lastly, it is said, If they will not believe also these two signs, thou shalt take of the water of the river, and pour it upon the dry land, and the water which thou takest out of the river shall become blood. This water of the Nile has a very interesting signification. In the Word of God, water corresponds to truth, because truth is heavenly water, and does for the soul, that which earthly water does for the body, and for the earthly life. The river of Egypt is peculiar; the waters of other lands generally descend right from the sky, and refresh the countries upon which they fall. There are rain, dew, and snow, and all the various ways in which water is given to the earth. But in Egypt, although the whole of the country depends upon its river, it so seldom rains, that ordinarily speaking, it is said to be the land in which there is no rain. All its water is derived from rains which fall on the mountains and plains at an immense distance away, in the interior of Ethiopia and other parts of Africa.
The river of Egypt in the spiritual sense, is representative not of the direct teaching of the most High, not of spiritual wisdom direct from heaven but of that indirect teaching which we call scientific truth, which is really obtained from the Lord, but remotely.
Everything scientific comes from heaven, as well as every truth of the most spiritual and celestial character. It comes indirectly, through great minds which have been opened to the Lord, and have grasped spiritual things, and embodied them in beauty and in use.
There is a great river of science and art, around which the mental Egypt is formed. Art, literature, and science, make all the glories which compose THE WORLD. They are but the inner world brought out, the shell surrounding that which really lives. The last miracle of taking of the water of the river of Egypt, and pouring it upon the ground, and its becoming blood, was intended to teach, that, without regeneration, all our science is vitiated and darkened.
What is all science when it is not leavened by religion? Ask those, who, possessing some of the mightiest of human endowments, possessing unequaled scientific knowledge, have yet had such aching of heart, such pain from inner vanity, such voracity for vain applause, that life was no life to them, or but a bitter mockery, and even suicide itself is accepted. What is the worth of poetry, when the poet is unblest by religion? Ask Byron, who, in his last days, at the age of thirty-six, though still in early manhood, uttered the melancholy cry,
My days are in the yellow leaf
And all the life of Life is gone,
The worm, the canker and the grief,
Are mine alone.
He had poured the Niles waters on the ground, and they had become blood. The Egyptians loathe to drink of the water. We must live for heaven, or life is an utter mockery. Science separated from heavenliness is perverted, broken, withered, and dead. This is what the divine mercy teaches by the third sign: and when we understand this, can we not go forth as it were from the presence of God, and say, I will live for heaven, I will dare to be good, I will dare to conquer all those impulses in me, which promote the reign and government of self and the world. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? I will not let my staff become a serpent; I will not live so as to have a leprosy entering all I do; I will not turn water into blood; I will obey my God and Savior, and go and say to the Pharaoh of every sin that rules within me:--The Lord says, let my people go. I will march out of my Egypt, pass over my Red Sea, and advance onwards and upwards, until I come into that Canaan-like state, of which it is said, The kingdom of God is within you.
Author: Jonathan Bayley --- From Egypt to Canaan (1869)