Moses was minding his own business in the desert hills when a noise came from a bush nearby. As he turned, he was startled to see the bush on fire. Even more startling was that it was not burning up. Then, the most alarming of all things happens -- a voice comes from the bush. I guess it should be no surprise since he was standing on Mount Horeb, the "mountain of God." If God were going to speak, this seems as good a place as any since this mountain is already named after Him.
After the fear and shock of the God of the universe introducing Himself to Moses, God tells Moses about the mission He has for him to free the people of Egypt. Moses is not at all interested in His proposition. He says Pharaoh will not take him seriously and argues with God about the whole idea. I am sure Moses remembers He is a wanted man in Egypt. Then God does something remarkable. He asks Moses an important question:
Then the LORD said to him, "What is that in your hand?"(Exodus 4:2). A few verses later, he explains the importance of what is in his hand.
But take this staff in your hand so you can perform miraculous signs with it."(Exodus 4:17) A few verses later, we discover Moses' staff is no longer his staff, but it is the "staff of God." So Moses took his wife and sons, put them on a donkey and started back to Egypt. And he took the staff of God in his hand (Exodus 4:20).
The Importance of the Staff
Why did God come to Moses and make his staff the object of power and freedom for the people of Egypt? There are many reasons for this.
First, the staff represented Moses' calling in life as a shepherd. It was his vocation. God said, "I am going to take your vocation and perform miracles through it" (paraphrase). He changed Moses' paradigm about the way he looked at his staff.
Recently I heard a message from a speaker who was speaking at a conference in England regarding the significance of the staff in the life of the Hebrew. The speaker had been in a pastor's study who had just returned from Israel. A staff was sitting in the corner that was believed to be a replica of the type of staff a Hebrew would have owned in Biblical times. It seems that the staff was considered to be more than just a staff. When a shepherd received a staff, it was made to last a lifetime. The wood had a creosote-type substance added to it to insure its hardness, giving it a long life. Also, the staff in the pastor's office had marks up and down it. These marks represented dates in which something significant happened in the life of that person. It was like a personal diary, if you will.
This is why the staff of Moses was more than a simple shepherd's staff. That staff represented his work and his very life. It was a very personal tool. Sure, he kept sheep in line with it. He probably killed a few snakes with it. He even leaned on it overlooking the hillside. But, most importantly, it represented his life.
The word staff, which comes from the Hebrew word, "Matteh" is mentioned 250 times in the Old Testament. It equates to spiritual power.
Let me ask you something at this point. When you think of a symbol that represents your vocation, do you see it as spiritual power? This is what God was doing with Moses. He was transforming his view of his staff - his vocation. No longer was it something to be viewed as a source for money. It was now representative of power and authority from God.
Lay It Down
In order for Moses to see his staff as something that now had power, he had to do something. He had to lay it down. God said to lay that which represented his life and calling, down. Upon laying it down, God changed it. He changed it into a snake.
"The turning of Moses' staff into a serpent, which became a staff again when Moses took it by the tail, had reference to the calling of Moses. The staff in his hand was his shepherd's crook, and represented his calling as a shepherd. At the bidding of God, he threw it upon the ground, and the staff became a serpent, before which Moses fled. The giving up of his shepherd-life would expose him to dangers, from which he would desire to escape. At the same time, there was more implied in the figure of a serpent than danger, which merely threatened his life. The serpent had been the constant enemy of the seed of the woman (Gen 3), and represented the power of the wicked one, which prevailed in Egypt. But at the bidding of God, Moses seized the serpent by the tail, and received his staff again as 'the rod of God,' with which he smote Egypt with great plagues. From this sign the people of Israel would necessarily perceive, that Jehovah had not only called Moses to be the leader of Israel, but had endowed him with the power to overcome the serpent-like cunning and the might of Egypt; in other words, they would believe that Jehovah, the God of the fathers, had appeared to him." [i]
Moses had to pick up the snake by its tale, something we are told never to do. God was changing his paradigm about old views of things. God was now Moses' protector. He is our protector too.
God says He also has a staff. Isaiah describes God's staff:
The LORD Almighty will lash them with a whip, as when he struck down Midian at the rock of Oreb; and he will raise his staff over the waters, as he did in Egypt. (Isaiah 10:26 emphasis mine).
Moses' staff would be the instrument of transformation for the people of God. It would transform a people from slavery to freedom. It would be used to demonstrate Moses' authority given to him by God.
God is calling forth a people today to see their staff's as instruments of transformation. The people of God have seen their staffs as mere instruments for accessing finances. He is now changing our paradigm. Our staffs represent much more. They are instruments that He desires to use to transform the very cities of our nations into places of freedom and love.
Using the Staff to Gain Provision
During the latter part of the journey of Israel into the Promised Land two strategic events took place in the lives of the Israelites. First, water was scarce in the desert. The people were about to stone Moses, holding him responsible. As Moses cried out to the Lord He told him to use his staff to bring water out of the rock. Notice here that he told him to strike the rock. God used his staff to provide for the people.
The LORD answered Moses, "Walk on ahead of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink." So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the LORD saying, "Is the LORD among us or not?" Ex 17:5-7
The Rod of God as Our Protector
The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. Moses said to Joshua, "Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands." Ex 17:,9
Moses now faces one of his enemies in the new land, the Amalekites. God tells him to go to the top of the mountain and hold his staff up to heaven. As long as his staff is outstretched to heaven, Israel would win the battle. But if it is not uplifted, they will suffer defeat.
So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. When Moses' hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up--one on one side, one on the other--so that his hands remained steady till sunset. 13 So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword (Ex 17:10-13).
Isn't this an interesting picture? When we raise our "staffs" up to the Lord, He becomes our protector. He is our defender. As long we offer up our staffs before the Lord, He can work through it. He works on our behalf. When we lower it, we lose the blessing of God. Friend, the lesson for us is to continually offer up our work lives to the Lord and see His protection and blessing upon it.
Aaron's Staff Represented Affirmation of His Call When It Budded
God used the staff as the object lesson for resolving a rebellion among the people in Numbers 17. It seems that an uprising took place against Moses and Aaron that was led by Korah. He questioned the spiritual leadership of Moses and Aaron and said he and the others also had the favor of God and did not feel Moses and Aaron should be singled out for leadership. Finally, the Lord intervened on Moses' behalf and instructed Moses to do something unusual.
The LORD said to Moses, "Speak to the Israelites and get twelve staffs from them, one from the leader of each of their ancestral tribes. Write the name of each man on his staff. On the staff of Levi write Aaron's name, for there must be one staff for the head of each ancestral tribe. Place them in the Tent of Meeting in front of the Testimony, where I meet with you. The staff belonging to the man I choose will sprout, and I will rid myself of this constant grumbling against you by the Israelites."
So Moses spoke to the Israelites, and their leaders gave him twelve staffs, one for the leader of each of their ancestral tribes, and Aaron's staff was among them. Moses placed the staffs before the LORD in the Tent of the Testimony
The next day Moses entered the Tent of the Testimony and saw that Aaron's staff, which represented the house of Levi, had not only sprouted but had budded, blossomed and produced almonds. Then Moses brought out all the staffs from the Lord's presence to all the Israelites. They looked at them, and each man took his own staff. (Aaron's remained in the presence of God)
The LORD said to Moses, "Put back Aaron's staff in front of the Testimony, to be kept as a sign to the rebellious. This will put an end to their grumbling against me, so that they will not die." Moses did just as the LORD commanded him. (Num 17:1-11 emphasis mine).
God used something very personal that identified their very lives - their staffs. One of the wonderful things we see here is the creativity of God. Not only was there a bud on Aaron's staff, it blossomed and produced almonds. God made a huge exclamation point for the rebellious Korah and his followers. There was no doubt now who the spiritual leaders were. This too is a lesson for us all. God will confirm the anointing and leadership of others in our midst.
Satan Desires to Steal Your Staff and Your Destiny
We learn more about the importance and value of the staff in the story of Judah. Judah was one of the twelve sons of Jacob. Judah's son Er was married to Tamar. Er was a wicked man, which the Lord judged and killed. In this day and time, the custom was that the brother was to lie with the deceased brother's wife to insure the lineage would continue. Onan, the brother, did lie with Tamar but spilled his seed on the ground, which angered the Lord greatly. He lost his life because of God's judgment of him. Tamar is now left with no relative to carry on the seed. Judah, her father-in-law, fails to make any provision for Tamar through one of his grandsons. Tamar is told by Judah to remain a widow. This was evidently devastating to Tamar and brought shame upon her.
A Business Trip Turns Bad
Judah's wife died and he went through a period of mourning. After this period of mourning, Judah takes a weekend trip to the nearby town of Timnah. He takes a buddy with him and they decide to live it up a little. When Tamar learns of the trip she goes to Timnah and poses herself as a prostitute in the street. She propositions Tamar, whose head is covered and cannot be recognized. Now comes the importance of the staff.
Payment for his sex with the thought-to-be prostitute is going to be a young goat. But, Judah did not have the goat with him, so he said he would bring it the next day. Tamar, seeing the opportunity, asks for a pledge. What was the pledge? It was Judah's staff. His staff had his seal on it. His staff represented his rank and honor. It was something of great value.
Will you give me something as a pledge until you send it?" she asked.
He said, "What pledge should I give you?" "Your seal and its cord, and the staff in your hand," she answered. So he gave them to her and slept with her, and she became pregnant by him. After she left, she took off her veil and put on her widow's clothes again (Gen 38:17-19).
Here we see the power of sexual temptation and what is required from those who fall to it. Judah's sexual indiscretion required him to give up something of great value as collateral. Not only did Judah commit fornication, but it also cost him something dear.his staff. He had to sign over what represented his very life to the woman who now had the goods on Judah.
Sexual failure is like this. It requires everything from you. Later, Judah hears that Tamar is pregnant and is the first to accuse her of prostitution. Tamar reveals the owner of the staff and the cat is out of the bag. Judah must confess and repent.
Friend, Satan wants to steal your inheritance. He wants to destroy your calling. Beware of sexual indiscretions. Your destiny may be changed forever should you fall to Satan's schemes.
The story of Jacob also has some relevance to the staff. He too was a shepherd who became wealthy after leaving the employment of his uncle Laban. Jacob had a long history of being a manipulator and controller. Jacob had not seen his brother Esau since the early days when he manipulated Esau to gain the family birthright inheritance. He was now launching out on his own and during his travels learns that Esau and his clan are coming towards him. He believes it is for revenge. During the night, the angel of the Lord comes to Jacob. Jacob wrestles with the angel. The angel overcomes him by removing his hip socket. It is here that Jacob receives a blessing from God and his name is changed to Israel, one who strives with God. From now on, Jacob must walk with a limp. His staff represented his dependence upon God and was now used to help him walk. Later we read that his staff was beside him at his death.
By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed each of Joseph's sons, and worshiped as he leaned on the top of his staff. (Hebrews 11:21 emphasis mine)
My friend Bob Mumford says, "Beware of the Christian leader who does not walk with a limp." You see, each of us must see that the staff is not something to yield power and influence inappropriately. It is something that reveals our weaknesses and our struggles and even the power of God. The staff for Jacob became a reminder of the encounter he had with God. For it was this encounter that changed his staff from a symbol of striving and manipulation to a symbol of brokenness. .
Gideon is yet another person we see who had a staff that was used by God. Gideon was busy about his work crushing grapes with his staff in a winepress when he had a visitation by an angel of God. The angel came to him to enlist him in a mission appointed to him by God. He addressed Gideon as "Oh mighty warrior." Gideon had no military experience, but God was talking prophetically about his intentions for his life. God always looks at our potential, not our shortcomings.
Gideon, like Moses, argued with the whole idea. Gideon asked for some signs and the angel gave him what he needed to believe this angel truly was from God. Then we see an interesting thing that happens. Gideon offers a meal offering to the angel of God. The angel of God receives this offering using Gideon's staff.
With the tip of the staff that was in his hand, the angel of the LORD touched the meat and the unleavened bread. Fire flared from the rock, consuming the meat and the bread. And the angel of the LORD disappeared (Judges 6:21)
The Lord used Gideon's staff, that which was used in his vocation and calling, to receive the offering made by Gideon.
Elisha, like Moses, had a staff that had great power in it. One day a woman's boy was sick and died. The woman came to Elisha for help. Instead of going himself to the woman, he sent his servant, Gehazi.
Elisha said to Gehazi, "Tuck your cloak into your belt, take my staff in your hand and run. If you meet anyone, do not greet him, and if anyone greets you, do not answer. Lay my staff on the boy's face." But the child's mother said, "As surely as the LORD lives and as you live, I will not leave you." So he got up and followed her.
Gehazi went on ahead and laid the staff on the boy's face, but there was no sound or response. So Gehazi went back to meet Elisha and told him, "The boy has not awakened." (2 Kings 4:29-31 emphasis mine)
God's anointing is not transferable to others. The staff did not work for Gehazi because it was Elisha who had the anointing. That staff was inseparable from Elisha. It was not a magic stick, it was Elisha 's life that had the anointing of God upon it because of God's work in him. Each man must receive the anointing from God for the mission and purpose God has for his life. Elisha's staff represented his life and the anointing received from God.
Each man or woman must go through his own personal circumcision of heart experience to receive God's anointing. Gehazi had not experienced this.
My Broken Staff
In 1996, the Lord allowed me to go through a devastating experience that brought me to my knees. I recall the event so well. The news almost led to a nervous breakdown. I buckled at the knees, weeping as I heard this news. That day became a defining moment. I spent half a day in the woods crying out to God. I recall sitting on an oak tree that was broken from the base. After cursing God and asking for reasons why these events were happening, I got no answer. Only silence. Finally, I was ready to leave the mountain without any answers.
As I turned to leave, I looked at where the broken oak tree fell. At the end of that broken oak tree was the base of a huge oak tree. Then, the Lord spoke quietly to my heart. "You had to experience them in order for me to make you like this mighty oak tree." When I got back to my home the Lord gave me this verse.
They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor (Isaiah 61:3).
Two years later, I would see how the Lord would use the metaphor of trees to speak to me personally. In 1995, I was in a church in Washington state when three people came over to me and prayed for me. They described my life as a series of trees that I had eaten from over my life, but there was one tree that I had not yet eaten from that would change my life forever. (I believe the experience above was that tree.) In 1997, the day before the first marketplace leader's summit I hosted, another man prayed for me and described a picture that he was seeing in his mind. He saw a small tree that had been replanted. "Your life is that tree," he said. Finally, a year later I was on the island of Cypress in the Mediterranean and yet another man prayed for me. He too saw a vision of a tree. This time it was a large orange tree that had luscious fruit hanging from it limbs and was now beginning to fall to the ground. He looked at me and said, "You are the tree." I began to weep as I recalled the two previous visions. It was only a few months later that I began writing TGIF Today God Is First devotional.
The day I came out of the woods I innocently grabbed a walking stick made from the oak tree. I wrote the date on it so I would remember that day. I still have it in my office. It represents my broken staff.
Thy Rod and Staff
Now that we have a better understanding of the importance of the staff, we see why David wrote in the psalms why the rod and staff comforted him.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me (Psalm 23:4 emphasis mine).
The rod was a prodding instrument and often represented the prodding hand of God and even became a source of judgment. David's staff was his very life, work and calling. But David's refers to it as God's staff.
Misusing Our Staff
The staff has not always been used as God designed.
Moses achieved great things. God described him as a man who was the friend of God who could speak to God face to face. He became the leader God wanted him to be, except for one major failure toward the end of his life. He made the mistake of using his staff inappropriately. God told Moses to speak to the rock to provide water for the people of Israel. Moses, in his anger at the grumbling of the people, struck the rock instead of speaking to it. God was displeased that Moses disrespected Him in this way. The punishment? He would not be allowed to enter the Promised Land.
Moses almost failed to enter Egypt in the early stages of his journey to Egypt to begin his mission. This was due to another act of disobedience when he failed to circumcise his child. God was ready to kill Moses, even though he had invested so much preparation time in him. We must learn from these examples that God's leaders must be in total submission to the ways and instructions of the Lord. Otherwise, we are disqualified from leading.
At a lodging place on the way, the LORD met [Moses] and was about to kill him. But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son's foreskin and touched [Moses'] feet with it. "Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me," she said. So the LORD let him alone. (At that time she said "bridegroom of blood," referring to circumcision.) At a lodging place on the way, the LORD met [Moses] and was about to kill him. But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son's foreskin and touched [Moses'] feet with it. "Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me," she said. So the LORD let him alone. (At that time she said "bridegroom of blood," referring to circumcision (Ex 4:24-26).
You and I can use our staffs inappropriately too. When we use it for our own ends, we displease God. When we fail to lay it down for the purposes of God, we displease Him. When we yield our staffs for power, pleasure and greed, we displease God. Like Moses, we must respect the power that lies in the staff and allow God to use it in our hands. God entrusts the staff to us to be stewards of what it can do. He wants that staff to bless others.
We should note that Moses' staff achieved what he wanted - to bring water from the rock - even though he misused it. But, because he did it in his anger, or his flesh, he failed to enter the Promised Land. You and I can achieve many things through the power of our staffs. But if we use it in ways that God never designed for us, we will achieve only things of the flesh. And, works that are born from the flesh result in burned up works. God is all about God-things, not good things. This is the great danger for entrepreneurs - doing what seems right in our natural minds.
There Are Counterfeit Staffs
Have you ever bought a product that looked like the name brand, only to discover the quality and usefulness was far inferior? It may look like the real thing, but it is not.
The result? Very limited life and usefulness. Oswald Chambers described counterfeit Christianity this way:
"Much of modern Christian enterprise is "Ishmael." Born not of God, but of an inordinate desire to do God's will in our own way - the one thing our Lord never did." Oswald Chambers
There is always a counterfeit to the real thing.
Pharaoh had a counterfeit staff to Moses' staff
Each one threw down his staff and it became a snake. But Aaron's staff swallowed up their staffs. Yet Pharaoh's heart became hard and he would not listen to them, just as the LORD had said (Exodus 7:12-13).
Professional Christianity, as I call it, has its own counterfeits. It is born of the flesh. It looks like the real thing, but it is shallow. There are Christians in business that are counterfeits. How do we know the real thing? Jesus said we would know the real thing by its fruit. Is there fruit coming from the life? Are there signs and wonders that follow the life?
His Strength, Our Weakness
God warns us against depending on our own strength to live the Christian life. Jesus modeled a life born out of weakness, not strength. God works through weakness.
Look now, you are depending on Egypt, that splintered reed of a staff, which pierces a man's hand and wounds him if he leans on it! Such is Pharaoh king of Egypt to all who depend on him (Isaiah 36:6 emphasis mine).
When you and I depend upon our own strength, it becomes a splintered staff. A splintered staff creates a painful infliction. One little splinter has the ability to cripple you if it is not removed. So too, our staffs, when used through our own strength becomes a source of pain.
Unless the LORD builds the house ,its builders labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.
In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat--for he grants sleep to those he loves (Ps 127:1-2).
John the Baptist learned what it meant to receive from God versus sweat and toil to receive things. He knew why he was made. He knew his purpose in life. He was a forerunner. However, when the disciples asked if he was the Messiah, he answered:
To this John replied, "A man can receive only what is given him from heaven (John 3:27).
The Promised Land
We enter the Promised Land and receive our inhertiance through obedience, not sweat.
"So I gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build; and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant." (Josh 24:13).
Friend, do you know how to walk with God in such a way as to receive from God out of your obedience, not your sweat and toil? This is where you will see the activity of God in your life and work - your staff.
Finally, let us close with the words of Jeremiah when he said: This is what the LORD says:"Let not the wise man boast of his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD, who exercises kindness, justice and righteousness on earth, for in these I delight," declares the LORD. "The days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will punish all who are circumcised only in the flesh-- Egypt, Judah, Edom, Ammon, Moab and all who live in the desert in distant places. For all these nations are really uncircumcised, and even the whole house of Israel is uncircumcised in heart" (Jeremiah 9:23-26).
[i] (from Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament: New Updated Edition, Electronic Database. Copyright (c) 1996 by Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.)