What if…?

Exodus 4:1-9

Sometimes can be fun little exercise to think about possibilities – what if we went that way? …tried this approach? …use this ingredient instead of that? Beside being entertaining, can also be useful approach to problem-solving. What if we do this first instead of that? List of possibilities can be endless, and under right circumstances, a harmless diversion or at times positive benefit.

At other times and in different circumstances, playing the “what if” game can get child of God into serious trouble. What if stock market crashes again? …Person A instead of Person B gets elected? Maybe your habit to pray at bedtime: “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep; and if I die before I wake… wait, what? If that happens, what about…?” Before long, end up way out on small limb, a not good place to be.

Yet what does Moses do? Asks God a “what if” question. Remember where Moses is – there with sandals off, next to bush on fire but not being consumed. Hears a voice, cannot see who is speaking, is told who it is he’s talking to… God. Pretty far along in conversation by now; in fact, is one of the longest conversations God ever had with any mortal human since the Fall. Moses keeps it going, asks God question most everyone asks at some time in life; God graciously responds to Moses; and with God’s help will gain some insight on what God was communicating about himself to Moses.

A. a frequent question v.1

Moses question: “What if they don’t believe me? What if they don’t listen to me?” – next logical question would be “what am I supposed to do then?”

reasonable question, you might think – planning ahead, if it goes well then… if not then… – good to be prepared either way

long silence

when last time God even spoke audibly to person – several centuries! – to one from oldest generation who resettled in Egypt

not an everyday occurrence, definitely extraordinary to see visible manifestation of God himself – only select few ever experienced that, and they didn’t brag about it

for a time, was going to change – for next 40 years God would say a lot, be seen a lot by his people – modern world so accustomed to special effects, hard for us to even imagine live special fx of God

easy for children of Israel, thoroughly immersed in idolatrous Egyptian culture to wonder why God would speak right then

those who retained knowledge of ancient promises made to Abraham 700 years earlier would have some idea what God was doing

natural skepticism

not clear how much Hebrew people knew about Moses… if anything at all – especially true given circumstances of his leaving Egypt

Moses had no status within Jewish community, whatever status he had in Egyptian culture long gone, esp. coming back as most despised sheepherder

no obvious reason from human perspective why God would choose to reveal himself to Moses, appoint him to leadership role

would not be surprise when Moses appears back from desert, starts to act as leader, if people questioned his credentials / authority

previous experience

I’m sure Moses probably having flashbacks about now – had tried the leadership thing before, total flop, put him on the run

his countrymen questioned his authority, his method, perhaps even motives – certainly not response to give great confidence

what’s missing

seems to be reasonable questions, seeking reassurance that this time would be different, some indication of success

but wait: what has God just told Moses – read Ex. 3:16-18 – keep in mind, was God himself speaking, face-to-face with Moses

for Moses to ask “what if” of God… we can’t hear tone of voice, so give benefit of doubt, not whining – means God’s personal word to Moses not enough!

at this point in Moses’ career does not have faith that God meant what he just said – pretty rude / inconsiderate to God

how often do we act same way? God moving us in particular direction, we ask the “what if’s”, don’t believe what God said is true

don’t be too hard on Moses… now, or later on in his role as God’s appointed leader – all guilty of sin of unbelief… when question God, when fret and worry

B. God’s answer

not like ours

if God dealt with children like we often do, would have asked Moses “what did I just tell you? Aren’t you listening to me? Don’t you believe me?”

we get easily frustrated, especially with hard of hearing children! …and we give God reason to be frustrated with us who are hard of hearing

yet God patiently, graciously, lovingly saw this as teachable moment for Moses – demonstrates what God can accomplish even with reluctant servant

and see how God treats Moses – keeps him engaged in conversation by asking question, not shutting him down

first sign v.2-5

what’s in your hand… a rod – precisely so: wasn’t a magic stick, simply the shepherd’s staff his primary tool as herdsman for Jethro

cast on ground… became serpent… Moses (like many of you) ran from it – probably had encountered numerous snakes during 40 years in desert, didn’t intend to be a hero

reach out… catch the snake… by the tail – about the last thing to do with real venomous snake… absolutely vulnerable when you’re holding one end, poison is at the other end

safest way to handle snake – grasp close behind head, not tail; but this real but not just any snake – under authority of God, became harmless rod in Moses’ hand

God assures Moses this dramatic sign will be persuasive – demonstrate to Hebrew children that Moses really saw God, sent by him

second sign v.6-8

put your hand inside your robe… now look at it… covered with leprosy – Moses couldn’t run away from his hand like he did snake

do it again… now look… restored just like his other hand – same kind of sovereign authority God showed over piece of wood has power over rational creature

not Moses who has the power, is God’s power working through Moses to perform signs and wonders – rod in Moses’ hand merely visible means God was pleased to use to bring about his divine purpose

second assurance from God – if any unpersuaded by first sign, second sign would persuade them… perhaps hinting Moses ought to be persuaded by now!

third sign v.9

this one promised but not demonstrated like first two – required river water for its operation, and would achieve what other two signs might not

also precursor of what would happen to entire river if Pharaoh did not heed God’s “request” for his people

no explicit promise that would be effective in persuading Jewish people but strongly implied, and would be certain because God would make it so

C. what’s the point?

–remember: God had multiple “audiences” in view when giving signs to Moses – Moses himself, children of Israel, subsequent generations of God’s people in all the world

God is greater than Egypt

serpent symbol common throughout Egyptian culture and worship – was part of Pharaoh’s crown, symbol of his prestige and power

represented national god of lower Egypt, pictures and symbols of cobra nearly everywhere you looked in Egypt, “snake swallowing its tail a symbol of …eternity, an endless cycle of beginnings and endings.”

God greater than all that was represented by serpent, including Pharaoh… most powerful ruler in world of Moses’ day

God will use whoever he chooses

whether Moses already knew or not, he experiences God’s power and authority over him personally – instantly contracting incurable disease, just as quickly being totally healed from it

God would by means of the rod exercise his power to do incredible things… but only in the hand of Moses – both together made up God’s instrument

God is the sole source of life

God, not Nile River the source of life; means God is also sustainer and director of life… throughout all his creation

notice, too, God left some for Moses to take on faith… that when he took some Nile water and poured as God instructed, would actually change to blood

God today still more powerful than any opposing force, inclcuding Satan and all his allies. God has purpose for those he calls, provides everything necessary to carry out his calling. And God ultimately has power of life and death, seen by God numbering our days (Job 14:5) – no one dies early or late according to God’s plan. Don’t need to look anywhere else for provision or protection than God – in fact, for Christian to do so is to sin against God.

Don’t need to know answer to our what if’s, don’t need to know what tomorrow will bring. Only need to know that Lord Jesus is sufficient – for all our needs, for all our days, for all our circumstances.

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