The next big question comes at a time of failure. The story of Moses and the Burning Bush is familiar to most of us. For our purposes, we are only going to consider a narrow part of the story, when God asks Moses – “What is in your hand?” “Then Moses said, “What if they will not believe me or listen to what I say? For they may say, ‘The Lord has not appeared to you.’ ” The Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?” And he said, “A staff.” Then He said, “Throw it on the ground.” So he threw it on the ground, and it became a serpent; and Moses fled from it. But the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand and grasp it by its tail”—so he stretched out his hand and caught it, and it became a staff in his hand—” (Exodus 4:1–4, NASB95)
In a way, the staff that Moses was holding was a symbol of his failure. Adopted as a prince of Egypt he was well familiar with the symbols of leadership held by the pharaohs, a shepherd’s crook, and a flail. He may have even aspired to hold them himself one day. The shepherd’s crook or staff was symbolic of leading and caring for the people, the flail, which is used to thresh grain, is a reminder of the punishment and justice that pharaoh wields. Moses, having seen the desperate slavery of his birth heritage, decides to take matters into his own hands and fails. Driven to exile in fear of his life, Moses marries and becomes a shepherd for his father-in-law. Many years later, when Moses encounters the burning bush, he still does not shepherd his own flock but that of another man. It is possible that Moses saw the staff in his hand as a mark of failure instead of a symbol of responsibility. That’s exactly what God wanted.
We know the rest of the story, how God demonstrated his power to Moses and the importance of the staff in the many miracles that follow. But before all of that happened Moses had to lay down his staff, the symbol of his aspirations and failures, before God. From that point on it was no longer Moses’ staff but the staff of God. “So Moses took his wife and his sons and mounted them on a donkey, and returned to the land of Egypt. Moses also took the staff of God in his hand.” (Exodus 4:20, NASB95)
Like Moses, we all carry something that symbolizes our aspirations and failures. Our staff could be anything, a spatula, a guitar, a plow, a pen, a brush, a rake, a suit and tie, a yardstick, a key, a wallet, a shovel, or a baseball bat. It is possible that we may have more than one. For instance, my “staffs” are a guitar and writing. Many times I have laid these at the feet of Jesus in recognition that they belong to Him and are to be employed at His direction. I have gone through seasons where they lay dormant, the Lord knowing that I needed to come to the end of myself before I could pick them up again. But in each case, having picked them up again, I found that my use of them to be more fruitful and effective than before.
There is also a warning in Moses’ use of the Staff of God that comes later in the Israelites journey. His one sin, the one thing that keeps Moses from entering the promised land, is when he used the staff in a way that God did not direct. The people being thirsty needed water. Previously, God had told Moses to strike a stone with the staff and water gushed out. This time, God told Moses to speak to the rock, but Moses, in his anger and frustration, struck the rock instead. (Numbers 20:1-12) Even after fruitfully obeying we can misuse the tools God has placed in our hands.
What is in your hand? Is it time to lay it down or to obediently pick it up?