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Rod of Moses: How Comfortable are You?

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herd of sheep with shepherd carrying a rod staff on a cold day

We are looking at the instruments that God uses and then sometimes takes away as he works with us. Today, we look at the Rod of Moses. If you missed the introduction to the topic, go on back and check it out: How Comfortable are You?

The topic will also cover:

The Fiery Serpent (Part 3: How Comfortable are You?)

The Temple of God (Part 4: How Comfortable are You?)

Or if you want it all at once: download the free article as a whole: How Does God Work with Mankind?

The Rod of Moses

God has given helps to His people so we could see and know Him, especially as we start on our journey with Him. When God introduced Himself to Moses, He alleviated Moses’ doubts by asking him,“What is that in thine hand? And he said, A rod. And he said, Cast it on the ground. And he cast it on the ground, and it became a serpent; and Moses fled from before it. And the LORD said unto Moses, Put forth thine hand, and take it by the tail. And he put forth his hand, and caught it, and it became a rod in his hand.”(Exodus 2:2-4)i Can you blame Moses for running away? I certainly do not. But Moses was the kind of man who would actually put forth his hand and through the power of God turn the serpent back into a rod. God used Moses’ rod so that Israel would believe, “that the LORD, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath appeared unto thee. (Exodus 4:5) God gave Moses his brother Aaron as a spokesman, but He told Moses to “take this rod in thine hand, wherewith thou shalt do signs.”(Exodus 4:17) As Moses wrote the book of Exodus, he stressed the importance of his rod. “And Moses took his wife and his sons, and set them upon an ass, and he returned to the land of Egypt: and Moses took the rod of God in his hand.”(Exodus 4:20) The rod is no longer just the rod of Moses, but the rod of God.

Although The Ten Commandments is a great movie, it deviates from scripture in some important points, but not when it comes to the rod of Aaron. In the movie, Aaron takes the rod from Moses every time. Aaron does not have a separate rod. In the seventh chapter of Exodus we read:

When Pharaoh shall speak unto you, saying, Shew a miracle for you: then thou shalt say unto Aaron, Take thy rod, and cast it before Pharaoh, and it shall become a serpent. And Moses and Aaron went in unto Pharaoh, and they did so as the LORD had commanded: and Aaron cast down his rod before Pharaoh, and before his servants, and it became a serpent. Then Pharaoh also called the wise men and the sorcerers: now the magicians of Egypt, they also did in like manner with their enchantments. For they cast down every man his rod, and they became serpents: but Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods.”(Exodus 7:9-12)

There can be little doubt that the rod of Aaron here has to be the same rod that became a serpent in Exodus 2, the rod of Moses, which became known as the rod of God in Exodus 4. So why is the rod called the rod of Aaron? Kiel and Delitzsch write:

Aaron threw down his staff before Pharaoh, and it became a serpent. Aaron’s staff as no other than the wondrous staff of Moses (Exo_4:2-4). This is perfectly obvious from a comparison of Exo_7:15 and Exo_7:17 with Exo_7:19 and Exo_7:20. If Moses was directed, according to Exo_7:15., to go before Pharaoh with his rod which had been turned into a serpent, and to announce to him that he would smite the water of the Nile with the staff in his hand and turn it into blood, and then, according to Exo_7:19., this miracle was carried out by Aaron taking his staff and stretching out his hand over the waters of Egypt, the staff which Aaron held over the water cannot have been any other than the staff of Moses which had been turned into a serpent. Consequently we must also understand by the staff of Aaron, which was thrown down before Pharaoh and became a serpent, the same wondrous staff of Moses, and attribute the expression “thy (i.e., Aaron’s) staff” to the brevity of the account, i.e., to the fact that the writer restricted himself to the leading facts, and passed over such subordinate incidents as that Moses gave his staff to Aaron for him to work the miracle.ii

So the rod of Aaron and the rod of Moses were the same rod, the rod of God. It is simply called the rod of Aaron when Aaron is acting as Moses’ spokesman and Aaron takes the rod from Moses.

After the comeuppance given to the Pharaoh’s magicians, Moses carries out God’s orders by turning the Nile’s waters to blood. Notice the importance of the rod:

Thus saith the LORD, In this thou shalt know that I am the LORD: behold, I will smite with the rod that is in mine hand upon the waters which are in the river, and they shall be turned to blood. And the fish that is in the river shall die, and the river shall stink; and the Egyptians shall lothe to drink of the water of the river. And the LORD spake unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Take thy rod, and stretch out thine hand upon the waters of Egypt, upon their streams, upon their rivers, and upon their ponds, and upon all their pools of water, that they may become blood; and that there may be blood throughout all the land of Egypt, both in vessels of wood, and in vessels of stone. And Moses and Aaron did so, as the LORD commanded; and he lifted up the rod, and smote the waters that were in the river, in the sight of Pharaoh, and in the sight of his servants; and all the waters that were in the river were turned to blood.” (Exodus 7:17-20)

God continues His onslaught on the power of Egypt, again focusing attention on the rod carried by Moses. “And the LORD spake unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Stretch forth thine hand with thy rod over the streams, over the rivers, and over the ponds, and cause frogs to come up upon the land of Egypt.”(Exodus 8:5)

The third plague upon pharaoh and his Egyptian subjects was also initiated through the rod of Moses. “And the LORD said unto Moses, Say unto Aaron, Stretch out thy rod, and smite the dust of the land, that it may become lice throughout all the land of Egypt. And they did so; for Aaron stretched out his hand with his rod, and smote the dust of the earth, and it became lice in man, and in beast; all the dust of the land became lice throughout all the land of Egypt.”(Exodus 8:16-17)

God used the rod of Moses as the focal point to initiate most of the plagues, but not all of them. To spread the plague of boils, God chose another physical instrument. “The LORD said unto Moses and unto Aaron, Take to you handfuls of ashes of the furnace, and let Moses sprinkle it toward the heaven in the sight of Pharaoh. And it shall become small dust in all the land of Egypt, and shall be a boil breaking forth with blains upon man, and upon beast, throughout all the land of Egypt. And they took ashes of the furnace, and stood before Pharaoh; and Moses sprinkled it up toward heaven; and it became a boil breaking forth with blains upon man, and upon beast.” (Exodus 9:8-10) In the sight of Pharaoh, Moses took physical ashes and as the soot flew through the air, the boils flew onto the skin of the Egyptians.

Again, in the plain sight of Pharaoh, God has Moses use his rod to call down thunder and hail. “And Moses stretched forth his rod toward heaven: and the LORD sent thunder and hail, and the fire ran along upon the ground; and the LORD rained hail upon the land of Egypt.”(Exodus 9:23) After the thunder and hail had ceased, God again told Moses to use his rod to bring destruction upon Egypt, but not upon Israel. “And Moses stretched forth his rod over the land of Egypt, and the LORD brought an east wind upon the land all that day, and all that night; and when it was morning, the east wind brought the locusts.” (Exodus 10:13) With the coming of the ninth plague, the plague of darkness, God focuses the attention not upon the rod of Moses, but upon his hand. “And the LORD said unto Moses, Stretch out thine hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, even darkness which may be felt.”(Exodus 10:21)

Perhaps the most powerful scene in The Ten Commandments is the parting of the Red Sea. Moses, powerfully played by Charlton Heston, bellows out that Israel needs to stand and see the deliverance of the Lord their God. That deliverance is given when God tells Moses to lift “up thy rod, and stretch out thine hand over the sea, and divide it: and the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea.”(Exodus 14:16) Notice how God focuses the attention of the Israelites upon both the rod and the hand of Moses.

After beginning their journey out of Egypt, but before they are offered to covenant with the God of creation, Israel is shown the God is their provider. He brought them bread and meat in Exodus 16 and used the bread to teach them about the creation ordinance of the seventh day Sabbath. But He also gave them water to drink.

And the LORD said unto Moses, Go on before the people, and take with thee of the elders of Israel; and thy rod, wherewith thou smotest the river, take in thine hand, and go. Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink. And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the name of the place Massah, and Meribah, because of the chiding of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the LORD, saying, Is the LORD among us, or not?”(Exodus 17:5-7)

God has Moses use the rod, but He is introducing Himself by standing on the rock from which the waters required for life would flow.

God not only gave the people food and water, but gave them the battle, again making sure the people focused upon the rod of God:

Then came Amalek, and fought with Israel in Rephidim. And Moses said unto Joshua, ‘Choose us out men, and go out, fight with Amalek: tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in mine hand.’ So Joshua did as Moses had said to him, and fought with Amalek: and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. And Joshua discomfited Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.”(Exodus 17:8-13)

When the rod of God was raised high, Israel could not lose, but without it, they lost.

Forty years later the unbelieving generation of Israelites were nothing more than bleached bones left in the dessert. God is ready to re-introduce Himself to this new and chosen generation. The stories of the rod of Moses and bringing water from the rock must have been stuff of legend by this time.

And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Take the rod, and gather thou the assembly together, thou, and Aaron thy brother, and speak ye unto the rock before their eyes; and it shall give forth his water, and thou shalt bring forth to them water out of the rock: so thou shalt give the congregation and their beasts drink.”(Numbers 20:7-8)

Notice the God insists that Moses bring the rod, the mystical, magical rod which had crushed Egypt and parted the Red Sea. This is the rod that brought water forth from the rock for the Israelites parents. But God also insists that Moses not use the rod, but instead simply to speak to the rock to bring forth water.

And Moses took the rod from before the LORD, as he commanded him. And Moses and Aaron gathered the congregation together before the rock, and he said unto them, Hear now, ye rebels; must we fetch you water out of this rock? And Moses lifted up his hand, and with his rod he smote the rock twice: and the water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their beasts also. And the LORD spake unto Moses and Aaron, Because ye believed me not, to sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore ye shall not bring this congregation into the land which I have given them.”(Numbers 20:9-12)

Many have speculated why the sin of Moses was so heinous that he would not be allowed to enter the Promised Land, but taken in context, it is plain to see. God knew that the people needed a physical instrument to help them focus upon God. He chose the ash from pharaoh’s furnace to initiate the plague of boils. He had used the very hand of Moses to bring darkness upon Egypt, except in the land of Goshen, the land given the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and Joseph. But God had used the rod of Moses as He had used nothing else. But there comes a time when God’s people need to refocus from the tool God has used to God Himself. Perhaps the greatest miracle performed by Moses was when he struck the rock and water sprang forth. God had orchestrated events so that forty years after the miracle of water springing forth from a rock, as the people prepared to enter the Promised Land, the water would spring forth from a rock again. But this time the people were to be made to see that it was not some magical rod that brought forth the water, but that is was God that brought forth the water.

God is so upset because Moses did not “sanctify me in the eyes of the children of Israel.”(Numbers 20:12) Moses had allowed the idea of a magical rod to stand between God and His people by disobeying God and using the rod rather than using just his voice to bring forth water. Of course the rod never performed a single miracle. It was always the power of God. But God used the rod as a point of focus so that physical human beings could try to understand a spiritual God. But there comes a time in God’s relationship with His called out people that the physical instruments He used to introduce Himself to us must be put aside, at the very least, because they begin to hinder our walk with Him.

If God’s intent was to show the people that He was God and that there was no magic in the rod, why did God allow water to spring forth from the rock? I believe there are two reasons. The first is that God is a god of free will. He has chosen to allow us to exercise that free will, even when it means going against His. A second probable reason is if God had allowed Moses to strike the rock and no water had come forth, the people, who were still transfixed on the power of the rod, would have not only not have been introduced to God as the water giver, but would have had cause to doubt the power of God just before they were to enter the Promised Land.

Although this analysis of the rod of Moses is logical, some may think of it as nothing more than conjecture. But this conjecture fits exceedingly well with the pattern of scripture, as can be seen with “Nehushtan” – the fiery serpent, which we will look at in Part 3 of How Comfortable Are You?

And if you missed it:

How Comfortable Are You? Part 1

The Fiery Serpent (Part 3: How Comfortable Are You?)

The Temple of God (Part 4: How Comfortable Are You?)

Or if you want it all at once: download the free article as a whole: How does God Work with Mankind?

lake and mountain with words rod of moses

i Since most of the Bible references in this post are from Exodus, I will link once to it and you can jump around from there. Exodus 2

ii Commentary on the Pentateuch, Kiel, Karl and Delitzsch, Franz, From E-sword, Commentary Ex. 7:8-13