old indian man with stick in hand sitting on stairs
Real Relationship, The Wilderness

The Staff: Leaning on the Hand of God

Who is that coming up from the wilderness, leaning on her beloved? Song of Solomon 8:5

Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariots and in the great strength of their horsemen, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel, or seek help from the Lord. Yet he too is wise and can bring disaster; he does not take back his words. He will rise up against that wicked nation, against those who help evildoers. But the Egyptians are mere mortals and not God; their horses are flesh and not spirit. When the Lord stretches out his hand, those who help will stumble, those who are helped will fall; all will perish together. Isaiah 31:1-3

For my people have done two evil things:
They have abandoned me—
    the fountain of living water.
And they have dug for themselves cracked cisterns
    that can hold no water at all!
Jeremiah 2:13

God is raising up a generation who will not trust in horses and chariots of Egypt (income, wealth, politics, and alliances with evil), nor in idolatry, divination, and witchcraft of Canaan (spirit worship, fortune telling, demonic abilities, lawlessness, drug-induced visions, spiritual mediums), but in the power and authority of God alone and His Holy Spirit for our future and present provision, healing, protection, and Kingship.

The story of the staff of Moses is the story of Israel’s loyalty to Jehovah over all other gods, including those of Canaan and Egypt. We see in the wilderness an attempt to teach His people to lean on Him, to truly learn reliance and dependence on the one true God. As we read the stories of the staff, we are faced with the life or death question: “what do you rely upon to accomplish what God said to do?” This is where understanding the staff comes in. If you look at the staff of Moses, we see a beautiful story of Moses and the people being invited to rely on Jehovah’s power and leadership. The staff represents the hand of God, for direction, judgment, protection, and provision. It is simply about faith in God’s ability to accomplish what we cannot, and is this not the definition of the miraculous?

What’s more astounding, is that what Moses held in His hands made Him an extension of God’s power, and yet, eventually, Moses was simply invited “to command” the rock to pour out water, not by the extension of the staff, but by the simply spoken word. The same Word that called out light from darkness, dry land from sea, everything from nothing at all, was meant to call out water from a rock from the mouth of Moses! Why? To show God’s love and power, and His desire to use His people in miraculous ways to extend His will and dominion in the earth.*

You might be asking, “Well then, but why was he not commanded simply to speak in the beginning?”

Well, he was! God told Moses to speak to Pharoah, but Moses objected saying how will they know YOU said it and not just me?!

He had a point. And God responded by showing Moses His miraculous power, by turning Moses’ staff into a snake.

“Throw your staff on the ground.”

Moses releases the staff, the tool of his trade, the tool of a shepherd—and it falls on the ground, a writhing serpent. Yet, it was miraculous, not strategized. It was an act of obedience according to the purpose and pathway of Jehovah. Remember this.

“Pick up your staff again, Moses.”

He picks up the snake and it firms up again in his hands. He holds something that is not just a stick, not just a serpent. He holds something that is mutable, transformational to accomplish God’s purposes, to set free and shepherd people, not whenever He wants, but according to the will of God. The staff, though firm enough to uphold, was flexible in use and purpose. One day it turned into a snake, the next, it parted a sea. This was not just a staff that turned into a snake. It was unpredictable what God would do with it. There was no playbook. No directions. No Torah for understanding protocol—just the wild, powerful, love and holiness of a mighty God. That God was the support, the staff, of His people.

Who is that coming up from the wilderness, leaning on her beloved? Song of Solomon 8:5

I remember how eager you were to please me as a young bride long ago,
how you loved me and followed me even through the barren wilderness.
Jeremiah 2:1

Moses must have walked with a renewed confidence leaning on that staff, because it was no longer just a dried-out branch to hold up old legs and steady his physical gait. It was a branch of God’s power, a stabilizing uplifting tree of life for the whole Jewish people. With it, he stood before Pharoah and tried to convince him by the miraculous power of God supporting him, not just speech.

God shows his power through the staff, turning it into a snake and turning the water into blood. Pharoah relents only after more plagues, each which would demonstrate the power of God over the specific false deities of Egypt. Then, God uses the staff to split the sea! The people walk across on DRY LAND with walls of water on either side! (Exodus 14:22,29) This is the moment where God’s power given to Moses goes public before the people and all of Pharoah’s army as he holds the staff in the air over the water. It is not Moses that splits the sea, it is not the staff that splits the sea, but the hand of God. In a land writhing with magicians and evil power, God gave Moses the staff so there would be no doubt. It was not Moses’ hands that split the sea, but the arm of God.

We come to the bitter springs of Marah. The people are thirsty. Interestingly no staff is used here. While God could have told Moses or Aaron to put the staff in the water, God tells Moses to pick up a different piece of wood and throw it into the water. Why? This shows the people that the staff is not magical, it is the power of God that heals and sets free. And God spends the forty next years trying to woo this people away from witchcraft and other gods with His love, provision, and power, to follow Him alone.

The people of God struggled with trust in the wilderness. Humans would rather see our provision in advance than get it last-minute, supernaturally. Why? Because not knowing the source of our provision makes us nervous. We can only be confident in our provision, when we are confident in our provider. Feeling even the slightest bit hungry or thirsty or uncomfortable arouses an anxiety in us that quickly turns to grumbling and complaining.

We come to Meribah and God tells Moses to strike the rock to quench the thirst of the people again. As he does, water comes forth, not because Moses touched it, but because the hand of God did. In this way God was training the people to not desire human leadership, but to ask God for what they needed. Moses was simply a mediator who held the stick! At the beginning, the staff was about relying on God’s power outside of Moses to do what Moses could not do. When he struck the rock at Meribah, this was evidence that God could provide for His people by His power.

But when God told Moses to SPEAK to the rock the next time…what was God saying? He was saying that neither Moses nor the people needed the staff anymore.

The staff was a physical prop and proof to Moses and the people until they could be weaned from Egypt, trained in confident in Jehovah and filled with power to simply trust and SPEAK the word of Jehovah, in the authority of Jehovah, and see living water come from a rock. This is prophetic leadership. And this was actually the invitation in the beginning. To simply speak on God’s behalf in obedient partnership with Him.

The staff had served its purpose. If Moses had spoken to rocks to pour out water at the beginning, people would have thought the power originated in Moses, not God. God had given a staff so people would know HIS power. The staff represents His hand to a people who do not know Him. Like Moses, we are all too well aware of our inability and shortcomings and weaknesses. But God is telling us to depend on an unseen hand of power to show through miracles, and signs, and wonders the unexplainable power of God to people who do not know Him! God loves to work in the miraculous, by faith to build our faith. Even Jesus says, with faith like a mustard seed, we will simply speak to the mountain and it will be moved. This is true authority. Our words aligned in power with His word. His purposes.

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. 2 Peter 1:3-4

God had proven Himself a capable king and provider for His people. He would enable those who spoke for Him and did His will to be deputized with His power. Moses never stepped into that final moment of empowerment. He used the staff instead, striking the rock, putting his trust in the staff more than in the loving, living and active word of God for that moment in time. Though the staff was the tool used in the past, it was not the end goal. The end goal was for Moses to simply speak and for God’s glory to be revealed.

Remember what God told Moses, when they first met and Moses did not want to speak to Pharoah?

Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord? 12 Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say. Exodus 4:11-12

Now, Moses is asked NOT to use the staff of power, the indirect tool of the miraculous, but to directly speak to the rock. God is bringing him full circle back to operate out of his weakest place so the glory of God could be revealed even in His weakness. But Moses hits the rock instead.

What a tragic moment. What sadness in the heart of God, that He used Moses mightily and intended to sustain Moses like a staff, holding him up until the promised land, but Moses never entered the kind of trust where he could let his weakness show God’s glory and power. He never entered the rest of true trust. He never got to enter the promised land. He had confidence in God, but he lacked confidence in his mouth, and that lack of confidence unsubmitted to the truth of God’s choosing him, became arrogance and disobedience against God. And this from the most humble man on the earth! (Numbers 12:3)**

Because Moses hit the rock instead of speaking to it, we never saw the fulfillment of kind of empowered trust in Moses’ life, or in the story of God’s people, since they asked for a human king instead.

“Give us a king to judge us like all the other nations have.” Samuel was displeased with their request and went to the Lord for guidance. “Do everything they say to you,” the Lord replied, “for they are rejecting me, not you. They don’t want me to be their king any longer. Ever since I brought them from Egypt they have continually abandoned me and followed other gods. And now they are giving you the same treatment. 1 Samuel 8:5-8

Remarkably, after the kingdoms of men, of Saul, David, Solomon, and others, we see God’s people returning to ask Egypt for help, entrusting their future to the same leadership and chariots that chased them down to kill them! In a prophecy against Egypt God says:

‘You have been a staff of reed for the people of Israel. When they grasped you with their hands, you splintered and you tore open their shoulders; when they leaned on you, you broke and their backs were wrenched. Ezekiel 29:6

And in critique of leaning on this “staff of reed” representing wealth and prosperity, God says to His people,

Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariots and in the great strength of their horsemen, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel, or seek help from the Lord. Yet he too is wise and can bring disaster; he does not take back his words. He will rise up against that wicked nation, against those who help evildoers. But the Egyptians are mere mortals and not God; their horses are flesh and not spirit. When the Lord stretches out his hand, those who help will stumble, those who are helped will fall; all will perish together. Isaiah 31:1-3

In essence, the story of the staff is quite literally about what we lean on. Do we actually rely on His hand? Or do we lean on a “staff of reeds?”

Now, why delve so deeply into the despair of this cautionary tale of the staff? Because there is learning, faith, and hope on the other side. We can enter into a life of wild and radical reliance on God as followers of Christ because of the Holy Spirit.

And the LORD brought us forth out of Egypt with a mighty hand, and with an outstretched arm, and with great terribleness, and with signs, and with wonders. Deuteronomy 26:8

As spirit-filled believers in Jesus, we have been given power inside us, to lean on, to comfort us, to guide us, but also to accomplish His purposes, to escape from bondage to sin, and to move into the freedom and lighthearted living of full reliance on the provision of our Father. We can listen to Him and then speak and see things God is doing come to pass, not relying on any staff, but the power and authority given to us by the very sword of the Spirit, the word of God, Christ in us, the hope of glory. We have the authority to ask for that which is the will of God, expecting it to come to pass, and we have the ability to discern His will when we offer our bodies as living sacrifices holy and acceptable to God. (Romans 12:1)

We know that we have not seen the end of the story of the staff, this tool that was used by Moses and Aaron, because the staff bloomed! God is resurrecting His people from death to life, to remember Him as their Beloved. And we are walking into this with eyes wide in amazement, because we who walk this way see miracles all the time, water in the wilderness, and daily bread as manna. Come into trust again!

The staff is God’s hand. God gave it as a physical thing for Moses to hold to show Jehovah’s power to challenge the magicians and the chariots. God will stoop to what we need to understand Him accurately. He loves to be known by us. God used the staff to wean the Jewish people from idolatry and witchcraft and from the crushing weight of Egypt. God used other things besides the staff (like the log at Marah in Exodus 15) so people would not think of the staff itself as magical or Pharoah as provider. God used the staff to show his “hand” of provision at the rock of Meribah when Moses struck the rock. It was neither Pharoah nor Moses, but the hand of God who brought what they needed. And at the last time Moses was supposed to speak at Meribah to call forth water in the wilderness, God was deputizing Moses to simply speak His word on His behalf. To speak in God’s will and authority and see the hand of God move. We see Jesus, the second Moses, giving us permission to speak to the rock (the mountain), according to what little faith we have, and it will be moved. Jesus gave us the Living Water of the Spirit, something the Jews resisted, which is prophetic ministry and leadership in a temple not made with human hands. The testimony of Jesus is the Spirit of prophecy, and through reliance on His Spirit, we will see His wonders, but mostly, we will see people coming to really know Him and rely upon Him, to be a part of what He is doing in the world. We will see a generation of those who relied on horses and chariots (wealth and governments) passing away and a new generation of those reliant on the Spirit of God for deliverance and provision and we will be given an entrance into and inheritance in the promised land of God’s rest and Kingship.

What are you leaning on?

* This is not the same thing as the false teaching of Dominionism which says Christians will establish a theocratic rule over governments and authority and retain power there welcoming the reign of Jesus directly into a kingdom Christians have established. I do not see that foretold anywhere in scripture. Rather, we see Jesus returning into a “time like Noah,” a time of great evil. We WILL, however, see a great building up of the beauty and body of Christ to come into her inheritance and power and righteousness through Christ. And THAT will lead to a persecution that the world has never known. We must be prepared by walking in righteousness and filled with the oil of the Spirit, the experience and expectation of His coming. Then we will see an evil false savior come and deceive many, then Jesus will return to gather His bride to Himself and kill all evil kings and their armies once and for all, that this earth will be burned, and that He will create a new heaven and earth upon which He will ascend His throne in the New Jerusalem.

Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. 8 But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. 11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.  That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. 14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. 1 Peter 3:3-13

** There is a kind of humility that breeds arrogance. It is the humility that says, I’m not good enough. Such humility refuses to be submitted to the life of faith and the empowerment of God. May God rescue us in this generation from this kind of humility and move us into true reliance, not simply poor self-esteem!

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