“Then Moses answered, “But suppose they do not believe me or listen to me, but say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you.’” 2The Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A staff.” 3And he said, “Throw it on the ground.” So he threw the staff on the ground, and it became a snake; and Moses drew back from it. 4Then the Lord said to Moses, “Reach out your hand, and seize it by the tail” —so he reached out his hand and grasped it, and it became a staff in his hand— 5“so that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.”
Moses has just encountered the burning bush and God has called him to the sacred task of freeing the people of Israel. He asks of the Lord many questions; some require just answers, like the name of God, and others are responded to by signs of power. One being the transformation of a staff to a snake. The Hebrew word (nachash) for snake, here at this encounter of a miraculous transformation of a rod to snake, is a word believed to be implying a less harmful snake. Like the words we’ve derived for the garden snake versus a rattle snake. Both are snakes, but one is much more deadly to humans. The original Hebrew bears this out in the later story of Moses, Aaron, and their encounter with Pharaoh’s sorcerers in Exodus 7:8-15. When Aaron’s rod transforms it, it becomes ‘tannin’, the fearful and dangerous serpent. While the Pharaoh’s men are able to the same, theirs are nevertheless eaten by Aaron’s rod/serpent. Yet when Moses is asked by God, with Pharaoh’s heart hardened, to stand at the riverbank for the first plague to take place in verse 15, his staff again is transformed to a snake. This snake was rendered harmless and returning to staff form once Moses grabs its tail. In a world where snakes were also used to depict their gods, I wonder if God was displaying just a bit more than literal snake charming.
God of all of creation, we remember anew your promise of presence and love for the ancient Israel people as you molded them into your people as our own story. In remembering your miraculous acts and deeds of power, may we trust you to be with us as well. As Christ’s resurrection power transforms our hearts and minds, give us strength to tame our own snakes in our lives. Amen.