by Edward Smith
My dog, Scout, and I had a sudden encounter with a snake yesterday. We were quietly going through our routine while he was taking care of his business when he suddenly jumped back. I heard a rather distinct rattle and saw a snake aggressively swaying back and forth and flexing its jaw, ready to strike. Scout and I made a hasty retreat, startled and very thankful that the warning had been given.
I have never been one who likes snakes. I understand that they have an important place in the ecosystem and that of the 34 species in Tennessee, “only four” are venomous. But that is four more than I want to encounter, and just to be safe, I avoid them all.
So when I read Exodus 4:3, I can identify with Moses.
“And He said, ‘Cast it [the staff] on the ground,’ and it became a serpent; and Moses fled from it.”
As a wilderness shepherd, I like to think that Moses had a healthy respect for and understanding of serpents. There is no indication that he knew God’s plan when he cast his staff onto the ground, but judging by his reaction, he clearly did not assume that this was a non-venomous breed. I would have shared his exact reaction – if it turned into a footrace, I wonder which of us would have won?
But if casting the staff down was an act of obedience, what happens next is an incredible act of faith!
“Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Reach out your hand and take it by the tail.’”
The man who had just fled is told to go back and grab the serpent by the tail … and he does!
Anyone who watches snakes as warily as I do knows that you should grab near the other end: control the end that bites! So, I am astonished at the great faith of Moses as he returns to the serpent and grabs it by the tail. God is in control.
And that is the point. When we respond to God in obedience, we may not be ready for the unexpected challenges that result. We may be overwhelmed and afraid. We may find that our obedience can cost us a job, our family, and our friends. We may be “canceled” for insisting there are only two genders, that marriage is between a man and a woman, and that it is intended to last for life. The struggle may take more effort than we ever anticipated. But with great faith, we can see things through to the end as we deal with the unexpected.
God will strengthen us to the point that we can do things we never imagined. The challenges of faith make us stronger when we allow this kind of testing to work in our lives (James 1:2-4). The next time a staff was turned into a serpent, Moses held his ground (Exodus 7:10).