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 that they may believe that the LORD,
the God of their fathers --
the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob --
has appeared to you.' "
However, it is the living God who is speaking to him. Clearly, God would know exactly what was best in this situation. God gives Moses an assurance and a test, all in the same incident. God asks Moses what he has in his hand. Moses has a staff, and God directs him to throw it onto the ground. It becomes a snake, and Moses, having plenty of experience in the desert lifestyle, runs away from it. Apparently Moses has no desire to be bitten by the creature. [I would run, too.]
Then comes the test: God directs Moses to pick up the snake. And not from the head either, so he could somewhat control the snake's ability to bite him. No, God directs Moses to pick it up from the tail end, which is generally not the way to avoid a snake-bite. Since Moses has been hiking around in the desert after his father-in-law's sheep for about forty years now, with plenty of experience in avoiding such encounters, I'd think that it would be extremely difficult for Moses to follow that last direction. Yet Moses obeys, and the snake turns back into an ordinary staff in his hand. This was to be one sign to the Israelites that the God of their forefathers was truly speaking through Moses.
What was God teaching Moses in this incident? I think that there is a lot about control in this portion of Scripture. In Moses' upcoming mission, God will be calling him to do some very unusual things. Moses needs to know that God, not Moses, is in charge and that He can do whatever He wants to do -- like changing a staff into a stick. After all God is the Creator of the Universe. Staffs turning into snakes and back again is nothing difficult for the One who speaks galaxies into existence. Moses can have great confidence in God's power in difficult times ahead.
Moses also learns that it is important to obey God, even when everything in him is telling him to do the exact opposite. Moses' prior experience was of no help in this situation; in fact, this time, it just made things more difficult. Moses needs to be willing to obey God even when His directions seem to be counter to common sense.
God also has another sign for Moses, which we will speak about in the next post.