The Lord said to [Moses], “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A rod.” –Exodus 4:2
Before God revealed himself to Moses on the backside of the desert around Mount Horeb [Sinai], he caught his attention through a burning bush. And Moses turned aside to look at the burning bush, this was not simply a glance, Moses beheld the sight. And that made all the difference for Moses and eventually for God’s enslaved people. To behold is to gaze and discern–I kindle to that. We could say Moses clapped his eyes on the burning bush and entered into a stunned suspension of thought at the mystery of God revealed! “When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here am I.‘ Do not come near; put off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground. And he said, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.”
God waited for Moses to behold the theophany and once he did, God revealed himself to Moses! By rights, Moses could have been consumed by the fire of God in that moment, but God invited Moses into the posture of anticipation, indeed, of worship! In spite of Moses’ fear and trembling at the sight, he proceeded to tell Moses where to go! Of all things! Moses, a fearful man, reluctantly ask God a question, “’Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?’ [God replied], ‘But I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought forth the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God upon this mountain.’” Follows is another comeback from Moses about his doubts about this mission God had in mind. Me thinks God must have been wearing thin on patience by this time, yet there’s no indication of that, in fact, God reveals more of himself to Moses by revealing his holy name.
God’s holy name, “I am who I am” discloses the penultimate, up to that point, nature of himself, we could spend so much time mining the depth of his revealed name here, but let’s move on to what that name exposed about the nature of God in that moment. He instructed Moses to speak for him in what would become one of the most fascinating revelations of the lengths God will go to to keep his covenant with his creation. He tells Moses to say for him, “I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt; and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt, to the … land flowing with milk and honey.”’
The LORD knows Moses–he’s intimately familiar with Moses’ doubt, fear, and his speech impediment. He, too, sees Moses’ afflictions and he want to bring him out of the slavery he has to those afflictions. Not only does God plan to free the Hebrew slaves, he plans to transform Moses. God’s love for Moses is so great that he seems to concede when Moses puts up his arguments about what he has in mind. In response to Moses’ doubts: The Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A rod.” The rod was most likely a staff or walking stick but more importantly to Moses the rod defined his own limitations–“Who am I but a shepherd?”
Moses story is my story, it’s everyone’s story. I like Moses can doubt my own abilities, I can fear change. I find myself sometimes questioning the LORD about his providence and my role in it. I am reminded of something Sister Ruth Barrows wrote about the position we find ourselves in from time to time:
“… God is always working to bring us to an awareness and acceptance of our poverty, which is the essential condition of our being able to receive him, and the petty frustrations, the restrictions, the humiliations, the occasions when we are made to feel poignantly and distressingly hedged around, not in control of the world, not even in control of that tiny corner of it we are supposed to call our own, are his chosen channel into the soul. It is the one who has learned to bow his head, to accept the yoke knows what freedom is.”
—Sister Ruth Barrows, o.c.d.
The LORD used a the burning bush to draw Moses into his presence, and in doing so invited him to learn to bow his head, to accept the yoke he had for him. Freedom would follow in the moment he was willing to reveal what was in his hand. In one fell swoop he let Moses set him free. He worked with what Moses was able to hand over to him. In the same way, the LORD sees me in my tiny corner as he did to Moses–infinitely patient yet stubbornly persistent in his great love for me and for his great providence to be accomplished through me. He waits for me to turn aside and behold him! The LORD asks of me, too, “Lois, what is in your hand?……What identity do you hold onto?…..What limitations have you put on yourself because you are afraid of what I might ask from you?….What is hedging you in that keeps you from trusting that I know what I am doing?”
Eternal Burning Bush, you patiently wait for me to turn aside and to fix my gaze upon you, forgive me for the time I’ve wasted chasing after a burning twig.
Sovereign God, the ground around me is your holy ground, it is not MY ground to protect. Teach me to move, and live, and have my being on your holy ground!
Great Shepherd, I open my hand to you, releasing the walking stick of my existence. I accept the yoke your desire to place on my shoulders. Lead me toward freedom.
In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
*To learn more about what the LORD does with what we have in our hand, see my post, “Nothing But A Walking Stick”