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It’s safe to say that the greatest mission ever accomplished, in the history of the world, is that which was accomplished by the Lord Jesus Christ in the redemption of His people from sin. But the second most important act of redemption ever accomplished in history, and the second most difficult mission ever given by God to a human being, was the mission God gave to Moses. Most Christians are so familiar with the story that they miss the existential agony that Moses went through as the enormity of the task that God set before him struck his consciousness.

After God had revealed to Moses His sacred name, He then said:

Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, “The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying, ‘I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt, and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.’ ” And they will listen to your voice, and you and the elders of Israel shall go to the king of Egypt and say to him, “The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us; and now, please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God.” But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand. So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go. And I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and when you go, you shall not go empty, but each woman shall ask of her neighbor, and any woman who lives in her house, for silver and gold jewelry, and for clothing. You shall put them on your sons and on your daughters. So you shall plunder the Egyptians. (Ex. 3:16–22)

The point of the exodus was not simply to redeem people from oppression, but to redeem them to something: from slavery to worship. That’s true in an even higher manner in the redemptive work of Christ in the New Testament: we are not saved simply because we need to be saved, but so that we might worship Him. That’s the point of your salvation—to worship the Lord your God. That’s why, for example, the author of Hebrews said we are never to neglect assembling together as saints (Heb. 10:25). We don’t come to church just to have our attendance taken; we come to church because the Lord has redeemed us, and the people of God should have their hearts filled with reverence and adoration and should come into the corporate assembly of the people of God to worship Him.

Yet, even after God gave His assurance that He would reveal His power to Pharaoh, Moses might have thought, “Is that all I have to do? I’m going to tell these people that you appeared to me in a burning bush, that they’re supposed to follow me on the largest strike in the history of the world against the most powerful king on the face of the globe—and they’re going to follow me?” Scripture shows us that Moses struggled with God’s instructions: “Then Moses answered, ‘But behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice, for they will say, “The Lord did not appear to you” ’ ” (Ex. 4:1). This is the question that Moses had: How am I ever going to convince anyone, the people of Israel or Pharaoh, that I am speaking Your Word? How can I prove that this message is not something I dreamed up in the heat of the desert, but that I am speaking the unvarnished truth that You gave to me?

The point of the exodus was not simply to redeem people from oppression, but to redeem them to something: from slavery to worship.

Was Moses supposed to say to the people, “That’s the experience I had; you have to just take it by faith”? Or, “Pharaoh, you may not believe this, but jump into the abyss in a leap of faith, and perhaps you’ll come to the conclusion that indeed the Lord God omnipotent is the author of this message.” That’s not what God told Moses to do. It’s very important to understand how God answered this question:

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 it on the ground, and it became a serpent, and Moses ran from it. But the Lord said to Moses, “Put out your hand and catch it by the tail”—so he put out his hand and caught it, and it became a staff in his hand— “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.” (Ex. 4:2–5)

God caused Moses to turn a stick into a snake so these people might believe that he was truly communicating God’s word. Sometimes people will say, “If I could just see a miracle, then that would prove to me that God exists.” But the miracles in the Bible were not given to persuade people of the existence of God; God’s existence had been established long before there were any kind of episodes of the miraculous. The purpose of the miracles in the Bible was to prove the legitimacy and the validity of an agent of revelation—someone whom God had commissioned to speak His word. We have a tendency to read the Bible as if miracles were occurring every other day, to everyone in history. Actually, a close look at the appearance of miracles in the Bible reveals that they’re clustered. There were miracles that attended Moses in his mediatorial office, but then very little miraculous activity took place for centuries.

The next redemptive-historical period that had a cluster of miracles was with Elijah. God verified the law, and then the prophets, through miraculous works. After that, we don’t read about miracles from Jonah, Habakkuk, Ezekiel, or any other prophets of the Old Testament, until a blaze of miracles attended the appearance of Jesus. There was a special focal point for the clustering of miracles in biblical history: all of them surrounded the issue of the proclaimed Word of God.

In the burning bush we see the revelation of the person of God, of the power of God, and of the eternality of God.

After the first miracle that God gave Moses, He added another:

Again, the Lord said to him, “Put your hand inside your cloak.” And he put his hand inside his cloak, and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous like snow. Then God said, “Put your hand back inside your cloak.” So he put his hand back inside his cloak, and when he took it out, behold, it was restored like the rest of his flesh. “If they will not believe you,” God said, “or listen to the first sign, they may believe the latter sign. If they will not believe even these two signs or listen to your voice, 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.” (Ex. 4:6–9)

This is exactly what happened. Then the series of plagues that fell upon the Egyptians, designed to demonstrate to Pharaoh that Moses was not some dreamer with a crazy vision, but that he spoke the words of the Lord God omnipotent.

Do you know who really understood the principal reason why Jesus did the miracles he did? His name was Nicodemus, and he came to Jesus at night. He said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him” (John 3:2). Beyond that point, the theology of Nicodemus was pretty suspect. But at that moment, his theology was absolutely sound—so much more than the enemies of Jesus, like Nicodemus’ fellow Pharisees, who didn’t deny the miracles of Christ but who came perilously close to blasphemy against the Holy Spirit when they attributed the power of Jesus’ miracles not to God but to Satan.

Satan cannot perform miracles. The Bible warns us against the signs that Satan will perform, deceiving even the elect; but those signs are described as lying signs and wonders. That doesn’t mean that they are true miracles that are performed for satanic purposes. Rather, they are false signs or tricks; they might be more astonishing than the most impressive magic acts, but they are still tricks. Satan is not God. He cannot do the things that God can do. Real miracles that authenticate God’s messengers are acts that only God can do, such as creating something out of nothing or raising people from the dead. Satan can’t control the laws of nature; he’s just a magician. He’s good at his craft, but his craft is altogether evil.

We see how that took place in the confrontation that Moses had with the magicians of Pharaoh’s court (Ex. 7:10–13). Moses took that rod, threw it on the ground, and it turned into a snake. But the magicians of Pharaoh just yawned and threw their sticks on the floor too—and they all became snakes. It was the oldest trick in the history of sleight-of-hand: inside each of their sticks was a snake. The sticks collapsed, so the snakes that were already in there could come out. Pharaoh’s court thought that was all Moses was doing, too. But Moses’ “trick” was real; his snake ate all of their snakes. Those magicians were no match for Moses—because they were no match for God. All the trickery and machinations that Pharaoh’s court magicians had could not really turn the Nile into blood or bring about the plagues. They certainly did not have the power of the Passover.

The miracles in the New Testament had an immediate purpose: healing people who were sick, raising people from the dead, ministering to suffering, and many other acts of compassion. But in the final analysis, those miracles authenticated and validated that Jesus was and is the Word of God, that Jesus spoke the truth. Likewise, in the burning bush we see the revelation of the person of God, of the power of God, and of the eternality of God. We see the revelation of the compassion of God, the redemption of God, and now, finally, the truth of God.

Taken from Moses and the Burning Bush by R.C. Sproul, © 2018, pp. 93–101.

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