September 23, 2018: "What Is That In Your Hand?"

What is That in Your Hand? 
Exodus 4:1-17 

Rev. Rhonda Blevins

Then Moses answered, “But suppose they do not believe me or listen to me, but say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you.’” The Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A staff.” And 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.  Then 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—“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.” Again, the Lord said to him, “Put your hand inside your cloak.” He put his hand into his cloak; and when he took it out, his hand was leprous, as white as snow. Then God said, “Put your hand back into your cloak”—so he put his hand back into his cloak, and when he took it out, it was restored like the rest of his body—“If they will not believe you or heed the first sign, they may believe the second sign. If they will not believe even these two signs or heed you, you shall take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground; and the water that you shall take from the Nile will become blood on the dry ground.” But Moses said to the Lord, “O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” Then the Lord said to him, “Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak.” But he said, “O my Lord, please send someone else.” Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses and he said, “What of your brother Aaron the Levite? I know that he can speak fluently; even now he is coming out to meet you, and when he sees you his heart will be glad. You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth; and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth, and will teach you what you shall do. He indeed shall speak for you to the people; he shall serve as a mouth for you, and you shall serve as God for him. Take in your hand this staff, with which you shall perform the signs.”


 One day Charlie Brown was talking to his friend, Linus, about the pervasive sense of inadequacy he feels all the time. Charlie moaned, “You see, Linus, it goes all the way back to the beginning. The moment I was born and set foot on the stage of life, they took one look at me and said, ‘Not right for the part.’”

 Poor old Charlie Brown. “Not right for the part.” Have you ever landed in a situation where you felt you were simply “not right for the part?” 

 That’s where we find Moses early on in the book of Exodus.

·      Moses—the one placed in a basket and put in the river and left for dead only to be found, kept, and raised by Pharaoh’s daughter, with his own birth mother as his nanny. 

·      Moses—the one who killed an Egyptian for mistreating his fellow Israelite. 

·      Moses—who ran from his murderous deed to the desert where he spent the next 40 years working for his father-in-law. 

·      Moses—the one to whom God appears in a burning bush and calls to lead God’s people out of slavery in Egypt.

 Listen to God’s call upon Moses there at the burning bush from Exodus 3:

Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians . . . I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”

 Wow! God appears to Moses in a most unusual theophany and tells Moses that he has been chosen to lead the Hebrew people out of slavery in Egypt. What an honor, right? Not. For the next twenty-nine verses, Moses resists this call. He tries every way he can think of to convince God to let him off the hook. Each of his five excuses give us insight into Moses’ pervasive sense of inadequacy . . . of believing he was “not right for the part” for which he was called. Five excuses. Let’s look at them one by one.

Excuse #1

But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Ex. 3:11) 

Excuse #1: “But God, I’m nobody.” They say that one of the main characteristics you need to be a candidate for President of the United States is a healthy dose of ego. Who in their right mind imagines that they can effectively be the leader of the free world? So here’s Moses, being called by God to be the leader of his nation, and he’s missing the key ingredient—ego. But I wonder if that’s exactly why God chose him. “Who am I?” pondered Moses. “But God, I’m nobody.”

Excuse #2

But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” (Ex. 3:13)

Excuse  #2: “But God, I don’t know enough about you.”  If the first excuse pointed out Moses’ feelings of inadequacy related to his inherent worth, this excuse points to his perceived spiritual—perhaps even intellectual shortcomings. Here’s how I’ve seen this lived out in life and ministry:

·      I would teach Sunday school, but I just don’t know enough Bible.

·      I would take a stand, but I just don’t know enough facts.

·      I would become a part, but I just don’t know enough people.

I think we’re all like Moses at some point in our lives, saying “But God, I just don’t know enough.”

Excuse #3

Then Moses answered, “But suppose they do not believe me or listen to me, but say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you.’” (Ex. 4:1) 

Excuse #3: “But God, what if I fail?” Have you ever not attempted something because you thought you might fail? I’d say that’s pretty common. You never asked out that girl in high school, because you thought she might say no. You didn’t apply for your dream job because you thought you were under qualified. You never started that business, because you thought it might never get off the ground. What if failure was not an option? What might you do even now, if you had the confidence to just try? “But God, what if I fail?”

Excuse #4

But Moses said to the Lord, “O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” (Ex. 4:10)

Excuse #4: “But God, I don’t have what it takes.” This is a common excuse. Sometimes it’s realistic to realize we just don’t have what it takes. I never went out for the high school basketball team, for instance. Something to do with being 5’2” with zero athletic ability. They told me to dribble and I let a little saliva slide out of my mouth. Other times, it’s not realism but simply low self-esteem. “But God, I don’t have what it takes.” 

Excuse #5

But [Moses] said, “O my Lord, please send someone else.” (4:13)

Excuse #5 is “But God, someone else could do it better.” I’ve used this one. Like some of you, I’ve discovered the most difficult job I’ve ever had is being a parent. And one of my kids, some of you know, has some unique challenges that tests his mama’s patience more often than I’d like to admit. And sometimes, when I’m at my wit’s end, I’ll suggest to God that I’m not up to the task—that another women could do a better job with this amazing, albeit challenging, kid. Maybe you have faced or currently face a challenge that prompts you to say, “But God, someone else could do it better.”

 Five excuses—five responses from God:

1.     When Moses said, “But God, I’m nobody,” God promised to be with Moses.

2.     When Moses said, “But God, I don’t know enough about you,” God revealed, for the first time in human history, God’s personal name, YHWH.

3.     When Moses said, “But God, what if I fail?” God transformed an ordinary staff into a tool with miraculous powers.

4.     When Moses said, “But God, I don’t have what it takes,” God promises to give him the words.

5.     When Moses said, “But God, someone else could do it better,” God gave him Aaron as a spokesperson.

 You may recall, by this fifth excuse, God was pretty angry with Moses. He tells Moses: 

“Take in your hand this staff, with which you shall perform the signs.”

And that was it. Twenty-nine verse conversation over. God drops the microphone and exits the bush. 

I want to go back to something in the conversation . . . to the question God poses to Moses. “What is that in your hand?” It was a staff—just a simple shepherd’s crook. Nothing fancy. Just a stick. What Moses discovered in that moment is what I want us to consider today: “when we make available to God whatever we are holding in our hands, we will always be astounded by what God can do with it.”[1] And each of us holds at least three things in our hands right now.  

The first thing we hold in our hands is our abilities . . . whatever they may be: running a business, using the computer, managing projects, resolving conflict, working with figures, managing money, offering hospitality, and so on. When we place these abilities . . . even though they may not seem special or significant . . . when we place them in the hands of God, God can infuse our abilities with untold power and use them for the sake of the common good.

A couple of years ago a friend of mine was making really good money at a job she just didn’t love. She was good at it, but she felt God was calling her to something more. So she quit. Fortunately, her husband was able to support the family, though they would have to cut back their lifestyle considerably. 

Now unemployed, my friend was asked one day by a friend of hers if she’d be willing to visit with an elderly relative one day a week—take her to run errands and whatnot, for a little bit of money. She said, “Sure!” And she started spending one day a week with a delightful older lady. One day turned into two, two turned into three. They went to movies together, they got pedicures together, they had the best time. Along the way she was asked to do the same thing for another elderly lady. My friend discovered she absolutely loved this work, and found herself amazed to get paid for doing the very thing she was most naturally gifted to do . . . being a good friend. 

You see, that ability, though it has served her well in life, wasn’t something she found special or unique. She didn’t perceive that God could use that to bring healing to others. It wasn’t until her life opened up—until she stopped working so darn hard—that God showed her how God most wanted to use her . . . by being a friend to the friendless.   

“When we make available to God whatever we are holding in our hands, we will always be astounded by what God can do with it.”2 

The second thing each of us holds in our hands is our life experience. Look around the room. Each life is a story unto itself. Our life experiences are so unique, so varied, so personal. No one has the same life experience as you. 

Think about Moses. Who would have thought God could use this man—this murderer—who had been tending sheep for 40 some-odd years, to be the leader of the Hebrew nation. But think back on his life experience: raised and educated in Pharaoh’s house, nursed by his own Hebrew mother, 40 years of tough work in the desert—the same desert through which the Israelites would travel. Not to mention the spiritual preparation . . . all of that solitude tending sheep during those long, lonely years. What a unique story! And just exactly the life experience God needed for the leader of the Israelites.

It’s the same for you and me. From the moment we were born, through all the troubles and tensions of growing up, the adventures of young adulthood, through all our different jobs, all the joys and sorrows we have known, God has been forming us to be a difference-maker within the human family. All we have to do is offer God the life experience we hold in our hands. 

Finally, the third thing each of us holds in our hands is our own inadequacies. Now, this shouldn’t make us feel bad. The tasks to which God calls us sometimes seem impossible—just like it did to Moses. Can you imagine how he must have felt to be given such an untenable task? But think of it this way: one of the clearest marks of God’s call is that it leaves us feeling at least a little inadequate. What matters, though, is how we handle our inadequacy. We can allow it to paralyze us. Or we can let our inadequacy lead us into a greater dependence on God. This is what Moses eventually chose to do. He took seriously God’s promise to be with him and, staff in hand, began to follow God’s call—one step at a time. 

Is God calling you to something? If so, what excuses have you offered in response? “I’m nobody?” “I don’t know enough?” “What if I fail?” “I don’t have what it takes?” “Someone else could do it better?” More importantly, what is that in your hand? What abilities, what life experience, what inadequacies are so much a part of you that you forget you’re even carrying them around with you? Recognize that God can work in and through the ordinary things of your life. Offer whatever you hold in your hand to God, and find yourself living into God’s deeper calling for you. And always remember, Charlie Brown, if God calls you, you are right for the part.


[1] Trevor Hudson, Questions God Asks Us, p. 39.

Rhonda Blevins