The fear of failure is a great deterrent in the ministry. The fear of rejection stops believers from witnessing. Fear of failure gives young pastors cold feet when it comes to pioneering. Fear of failure keeps men out of the ministry. And fear of failure caused Moses to say, "They will not believe me, for they will say, 'The Lord hath not appeared unto thee.
Now fear is justified if the Lord, indeed, has not appeared unto us. We cannot witness to what we have not seen. We cannot minister something we have not received. To hear from the Lord and to receive from the Lord is the first requisite for those who go with the gospel.
But having received and having heard the voice of God, our concern centers around the response of those we go to tell. And it is here where the fear comes in. We know we have heard. We know that we have received. But will our hearers recognize and believe that God has spoken to us?
Moses was convinced that he would be rebuffed. He did not question his own experience. Never would he forget the burning bush. It was an "out of this world" experience. It was a revelation. How could he ask those who had not been there to believe that God had spoken to him? It was too much to ask. He was sure they would not believe.
So, despite God's assurance that He would go with him, Moses was afraid.
If they would believe, he would go. But to go and not be believed ... that was a different matter. Moses wanted no part of it.
How patient God is with our unbelief! How understanding of our pride! How loving despite our concern about what people think of us.
God knew that Moses had reason to doubt. Once Moses had tried to deliver the children of Israel. The people had rejected him saying, "Who made thee a prince and a judge over us?" Now God was asking Moses to go back to those same people who had rejected him.
So God gave Moses three signs he could use to make the people believe.
The first sign was the sign of the anointed rod.
The second sign was the sign of the cleansed hand.
And the third sign was the sign of the water turned to blood.
The third sign was the final sign. There was no fourth.
God said, "What is that in thine hand."
Moses said, "A rod." God told Moses to throw it down. When Moses did so, the rod became a serpent, and Moses fled from it. "Take it up again," God said. So Moses took it by the tail, and it became a rod again.
What can we learn from this sign?
Each of us have abilities and gifts that God has put in our hands. Some are natural abilities, and some are supernatural gifts. These abilities and gifts are God given ... yet we control them.
Abilities and gifts can be a great blessing. They can also become the believer's downfall.
When Paul was about to introduce the ministry gifts in Romans 12, he prefaced his remarks with a warning. He said, "I say to every man that is among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly as God has given to every man the measure of faith." Paul was speaking of gifts that God gives to believers, and he tells his readers not to let it go to their heads ... not to act as if what they received was the result of their own wisdom or doing. It was as though Paul was saying, "So you have a rod in your hand ... remember, your gift is not a measure of your faith in God, but rather a measure of God's faith in you ... He has given you a gift because He believes in you. He sees your potential, and He dares to trust you ... don't let Him down!" What responsibility! What potential!
But here is the danger. If we think too highly of ourselves ... if we think that what we have we did not receive ... then God's faith in us will become unfruitful. It will never reach its full potential. On the other hand, if we despise and minimize what we have received ... if we take the attitude of the one-talent man and bury our gift, we are just as guilty as the man who thinks too highly of himself. We are guilty of making light of God's confidence is us.
So what should we do?
The Lord said to Moses, "Throw your rod down."
And this is what God is saying to both the man who thinks too highly of himself and to the man who belittles what God has given him. To the man with a "superiority complex" He says, "Throw your rod down." To the man with an "inferiority complex" He says, "Throw your rod down."
In other words, relinquish your claims. Recognize that it is a measure of God's faith in you. Don't spoil it by being haughty or possessive. Throw it down!
So Moses threw his rod down and it became a serpent... and Moses fled from it.
This shows what abilities and gifts can do to us if they are uncommitted to God. It shows that they can become our downfall. They can be the serpent that bites us if we become possessive and use our gifts for our own glory rather than for the glory of God.
How often the abilities and gifts of God are misused by those who have received them. They are to be found singing in night clubs, playing in dance bands, preaching for popularity, and ministering for money. To all of them, God says, "Throw your rod down."
The next thing God told Moses to do was to pick up the rod again.
But the rod Moses picked up was not the rod he threw down. What had been just an ordinary rod now became an anointed rod. What a difference!
The dried up stick that was so limited in its use, now became an instrument of power and miracles. With it he confronted Pharaoh. With it he parted the Red Sea. With it he closed the waters over Pharaoh and his hosts. And with it he brought water out of the rock.
The anointed rod is the first sign that will make people believe.
It is the first to get people's attention. It represents the gifts of the Spirit whose primary function is to confirm the Word with signs following. Anointed rods do not save, but they attract people's attention and cause them to listen to the message of the preacher.
Unanointed rods do not convince. They may entertain, but they do not confirm the Word. But the man of God who "lets go" ... who throws down his rod ... will take it up again at God's command ... an anointed rod with which he will do spiritual exploits!
The second sign that was given was a sign of the cleansed hand.
This sign concerns more the wielder of the rod than the rod itself. It speaks of the character of the Christian that is so essential to fruitful witness.
In fact, though we have the gifts of the Spirit... though we have natural talent and abilities ... though we have all faith so that we can remove mountains, yet have no love ... we are a sounding brass and a tinkling symbol.
God said to Moses, "Put now thy hand into thy bosom."
Moses obeyed the Lord, and when he took his hand out it was leprous. At God's command, he put his hand in his bosom a second time and when he took it out the leprosy was gone. The miracle of the cleansed hand was a sign to those to whom Moses was sent "that they might believe."
But I see a deeper significance. I remember the night I was saved. It was during a revival campaign in Egeland, North Dakota. I was eleven years old and no one thought of me as a sinner. Yet I knew I was. The Holy Spirit convicted me. It was as though I had put my hand in my bosom and, on taking it out, had found it leprous. I knew I was a sinner. I knew I needed God. So one evening, at the close of the service, I responded to the altar call and cried out to God to save me. I can remember when my crying turned to laughter. It was as though I had withdrawn my hand from my bosom and had found it to be pure and clean! I was saved!
What a sign to the unbelieving world! What a necessary sign for Christians! The sign of the rod is not enough. It must be followed by the sign of the cleansed hand. A holy life must back a miraculous ministry ... otherwise they will not believe. The fruit of the Spirit must accompany the gifts of the Spirit. Without the character to go with the ministry, the ministry will cease to be a witness. But miraculous ministry backed by a Christlike character is a powerful combination to make men believe. Both the first sign and the second sign confirm the third and last sign. God said, "If they will not believe the first and second sign, then:
Take water from the river and pour it out upon the ground, and the water will turn to blood upon the dry land."
I see great significance in this sign. Like the first two, the sign itself was given to make the children of Israel believe that God had spoken to Moses. However, for us who have the revelation of God's Word, we can see spiritual truth pictured in the miracles.
For forty years my wife and I have been associated with Africa. It is a beautiful and diverse continent with deserts, mountains, forests, savannas, rivers, lakes, and great herds of game animals. East Africa is a paradise, and one of the more spectacular areas is the mountainous country just west of Africa's chain of lakes that follow the Great Rift Valley.
Down from those mountains flow rivers that feed into Lake Victoria, the largest of the lakes. At the north end of the lake, the White Nile begins ... flowing out of the lake ... on through the Koga Swamp ... to the Murchison Falls ... into Lake Albert... out again moving northward to the Sudd region which is a swamp the size of the state of Indiana covered by a floating bog on which grows papyrus plants, making the swamp look like a sea of green.
For years the source of the Nile was unknown because the river disappeared into the swamp as explorers approached from the north, and it was not until a man named Baker cut a channel through the bog that the river was found that flows into it from the south.
After the Sudd region the White Nile flows north through the Sahara Desert until it comes to the city of Khartoum where the Blue Nile, flowing out the mountains of Ethiopia, joins it and the two rivers become the Nile and flow on south to Egypt.
The Nile is the life of Egypt. Without it, there would only be desert. But annually the river floods as the rains fall in the heart of Africa, and the parched desert land is covered with silt-laden water that brings fertility to the soil and moisture for abundant crops.
What a picture of redemption! Out of the Ivory Palaces, into a world of woe ... only His great eternal love made my Savior go! He who is the Water of life laid aside His glory and came down to a lost and dying world, bringing life and hope.
Then, in accordance with the plan and purpose of God, the Water of Life was poured out on a wooden cross and, in death, the water turned to blood!
This is the sign of all signs. There is no other.
If men will not believe that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us ... if men will not believe that He died, was buried, and rose again ... if they will not believe the sign of the incarnation, the crucifixion, and the resurrection ... then there is no other sign. They will die in their sins. Abraham made that clear to Dives as they talked together in Hades. "If they will not believe Moses and the prophets, neither will they believe though one were to rise from the dead." Resurrection is not believed by those who reject the written Word of God. It was true then, and it is true today.
God gave Moses these three signs that the children of Israel might believe.
He gives the same signs today. The gifts of the Spirit... the fruit of the Spirit... and the Word of God.
Miracles, character, and truth ... that they might believe.
Many, like Pharaoh, harden their hearts. But those who see the signs and believe, experience deliverance from sin's bondage, and start their pilgrimage to the promised land!