What Is In Your Hand?
Listen to “What Is In Your Hand?” by Fred Smith
Since childhood, I have read the story of Moses at the burning bush and his reluctance in returning to Egypt and bringing the people of Israel out of slavery and into the Promised Land.
“What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you’?”
Then the Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?”
“A staff,” he replied.
The Lord said, “Throw it on the ground.”
Moses threw it on the ground and it became a snake, and he ran from it. Then the Lord said to him, “Reach out your hand and take it by the tail.” So Moses reached out and took hold of the snake and it turned back into a staff in his hand. “This,” said the Lord, “is so they may believe that the Lord God of their fathers – the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob – has appeared to you.”
Like many, I have taken that to mean God intends for us to use whatever is in our hand for his purposes. But, lately I have been rereading the passage and I don’t think it is about that at all. I believe it is not about the humble offering of loaves and fishes that miraculously fed thousands. It is not about God turning a common shepherd’s staff into a miracle. It is something else entirely.
What was the question the people were sure to ask? What did they really want to know? They wanted to know with whom he had been. They wanted to know who had sent him.
We see from the chapters following that many of the miracles could be reproduced by Pharoah’s wise men and sorcerers. Egypt was filled with magicians doing extraordinary things by their secret arts. The world of the Israelites was probably populated with well-intended saviors and others stirring up the people to revolt. There were no doubt well-intentioned elites like Moses had been forty years earlier, who were outraged by the injustice endured by the enslaved. But, while righting an individual wrong it only made things worse for the people. I can imagine them saying, “We’ve had more than one coming to save us in 400 years. There have been charlatans, hucksters, opportunists, do-gooders, philanthropists, planners, and revolutionaries. We have seen them all come and go…and we are still in slavery. Why should we believe you are any different?”
The question was not about miracles or justice. It was deeper than that. It was asking who Moses had been with – not what he could do with what was in his hand. It was why they should believe anything he had to say. It was probing the source of his credibility because the biggest obstacle to their freedom was their cynicism and disbelief. Everyone else came on their own. Why should he be an exception?
Taking what is in your hand is not doing something for God. The sign was not showing what Moses could do for the people. It was a sign that he had been with God and that he had come from God. That is what all of us are looking for, aren’t we? We are looking not for miracles but for a sign that someone has been with God and been sent. It is not about what we can do with what little is in our hand but people believing that we have been with God.
This is the question of the world today. It is the question of the church as well. “How do we know you have been with God? Are you the one who can be trusted or are you only another one with good intentions, solutions, and plans?”
Too often the messenger becomes only another magician doing wondrous things and the sign creates ever increasing desires on the part of the people for more. Soon, the answer to the most important question, “Who have you been with?” becomes “What more can you do for us?” We think our accomplishments and wisdom will give us credibility, but it doesn’t. Only one thing alone will answer that most basic question people have for us today. “How do we know the Lord has appeared to you?” What is it in our character, our spirit, our demeanor and our actions that say to people who are cynical and hardened that we have been with the Lord? What is our sign for today that will say to people we are not just another wave of do-gooders, opportunists, ideologues, and partisans who have come on our own to do what we think is best?
Chuck Colson said years ago after his experience with partisan politics in the Nixon White House:
“Christians should never have a political party. It is a huge mistake to become married to an ideology because the greatest enemy of the gospel is ideology. Ideology is a man-made format of how the world ought to work, and Christians instead believe in the revealing truth of Scripture.”
The pressing question for us today is not which ideology is right or how the world ought to work. Rather, it is the one asked thousands of years ago by slaves. “How can we know that you have been with God?”
What is in your hand? Not, what we can do for God or others. Instead, before we do anything else how will people know that we have been with God? What is the sign they have been looking for?