The LORD said to him, “What is that in your hand?” – Exodus 4:2
12 Now I want you to know, dear brothers and sisters, that everything that has happened to me here has helped to spread the Good News.
13 For everyone here, including the whole palace guard, knows that I am in chains because of Christ.
14 And because of my imprisonment, most of the believers here have gained confidence and boldly speak God’s message without fear.
Regrettably, the curse of fallen humanity living in a fallen world persistent is tragedy. Via modern media, hearing about or viewing tragic occurrences has become an almost daily reality. The question is not if we will face personal tragedy but when. Recognizing the inevitability of tragedy, the challenge becomes how to prevent tragedy and trauma from defining our lives.
Tragedies such as the loss of a loved one, a broken relationship, or devastating injury, or news of a terminal disease are traumatic. Handling loss, pain, and confusion with grace is no easy task. We want to numb ourselves. We wish it will go away.
There has got to be a better way. As children of the King were able to allow the Father into our wounded places and find solace, help, and healing.
It begins with the recognition that the Father is in control of circumstances
The Father regards tragedy in light of the final outcome it accomplishes. He uses it to achieve His purpose in our lives and through our lives to others. The Father has a delightful way of turning negatives into positives. He loves to take things that Satan means for our harm and use them instead for His glory and our benefit (Stanley).
Paul’s circumstances were planned and executed by a sovereign God. The Father was in control. His work in and through Paul rather than coming to a halt achieved His desired purpose.
Philippians 1:12 I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that my situation has actually turned out to advance the gospel.
The term advance translates the Greek term prokopen. It was used to describe blazing a trail before an army. It is from the verb prokoptein, which means to cut down in advance. “The verb which is used for cutting away the trees and the undergrowth, and removing the barriers which would hinder the progress of an army” (Barclay). In the New Testament, it is used only figuratively for progress, advancement, or furtherance.
Paul’s imprisonment did not bring his efforts to a standstill or even slow his progress. Rather his imprisonment resulted in the advancement of the Father’s program. It brought Paul new opportunities to share the gospel. As a result, many others entered into the Father’s forever family. Paul’s joy and enthusiasm were contagious. When other children of the King saw his response to his circumstances, they became emboldened to share the message of the Lord Jesus Christ. The rest is history.
REFLECT & PRAY
The Father is always at work. He arranges and uses the circumstances of life to accomplish His purposes.
Father, help me view my circumstances as you do. You are welcome in my wounded places.
Consider Moses. When the Father meets Moses at the burning bush, He calls out to him. Moses responds, “Here am I.” The Father then introduces himself to Moses.
4 “Moses! Moses!” “Here I am!” Moses replied.
6 “I am the God of your father – the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” When Moses heard this, he covered his face because he was afraid to look at God.
After the brief introduction, the Father tells Moses His plan. He has chosen Moses for a very special task. Moses is overwhelmed with the Father’s plan and objects. He tells the Father that he is not up to the task. He feels inadequate.
10 “Now go, for I am sending you to Pharaoh. You must lead my people Israel out of Egypt.”
11 But Moses protested to God, “Who am I to appear before Pharaoh? Who am I to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt?”
We are tempted to think how audacious of Moses to question the Father’s judgment and plan. However, when children of the King object, it never bothers the Father. He already has the answer in advance. First, He tells Moses not to worry, He will be with him (Exodus 3:12). But for Moses, even the Father’s presence is not enough to allay his fears and concerns.
1 But Moses protested again, “What if they won’t believe me or listen to me? What if they say, ‘The LORD never appeared to you’?”
2 Then the LORD asked him, “What is that in your hand?” “A shepherd’s staff,” Moses replied.
3 “Throw it down on the ground,” the LORD told him. So Moses threw down the staff, and it turned into a snake! Moses jumped back.
4 Then the LORD told him, “Reach out and grab its tail.” So Moses reached out and grabbed it, and it turned back into a shepherd’s staff in his hand.
5 “Perform this sign,” the LORD told him. “Then they will believe that the LORD, the God of their ancestors – the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob– really has appeared to you.”
Moses had a simple, ordinary shepherd’s staff. The Father miraculously transformed it into a living, squirming snake right before his eyes. Moses was put off and frightened. He had never seen anything quite like this before.
This was no magic sleight-of-hand illusion like the Egyptian magicians performed. They had a magic snake trick. When they grabbed a serpent by the head in just the right way, it would enter into a trance-like state and become rigid (ZIBBC). Then they would walk with them as though they were scepters or walking sticks. Whenever they wanted to perform the trick, they simply let go of the snake and drop it to the ground. No longer stunned and paralyzed, it slithered about. But when the priests wanted to retrieve the snake, they had to pick it up by the head, not the tail, to avoid being bitten. They would then employ their “magic” grip to stun it and make it rigid once again.
Notice that the text is quite specific. When Moses is told to grab the snake the Father tells him to pick it up by its tail. Immediately it turned back into a shepherd’s staff.
The transformation of a shepherd’s staff into a snake and then back again into a staff was a miracle, a sign. It functioned somewhat like a business card, a mark of authority. It provided Moses with the necessary credentials to stand boldly before the unbelieving Hebrews and Egyptians and proclaim the Father’s message.
“The same God who used Moses’ rod, Gideon’s pitchers, and David’s sling, used Paul’s chains” (Wiersbe).