Moses was a basket case.
That's not just a quip about his first cruise as a baby on the Nile River, his mother's bold strategy to save him from the Egyptians.
Decades later, when the grown-up Moses was called by God to help deliver the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt, it would be generous to say he was an emotional wreck.
Moses was terrified.
He asks God, “What if they [his own countrymen] do not believe me or listen to me and say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you’?” (Exodus 4:1)
So God asks a question of his own: “What is that in your hand?”
God's knowledge is infinite, is it not? So he knows that Moses is holding a staff. This question, therefore, is for Moses' sake. God is challenging the vision of a frightened person.
"Moses," he says, " will you begin to see what you have in your hand the way that I see it?" God is endeavoring to transform Moses’ vision of the ordinary.
“What is that in your hand?”
Literally, it was just a stick. God says, “Throw it on the ground.” Moses complies, and his staff turns into a writhing snake.
"This," says God, "will be a demonstration to people that I am the Lord, and that I am the one who is leading you."
God takes the ordinary and does the extraordinary. God takes what we think is nothing, things we already have in hand and take for granted, and asks us to throw them down, so they can be used for his purposes.
God can take the job that we might think is small-time, or the savings account that appears to be disappearing before our eyes, or the SAT scores that seem to brand us an academic underperformer, or the marriage that seems to have grown cold, and turn it into something alive with his power and his purpose – if we lay it down to become his instrument.
"What is that in your hand?"
Vocationally, what Moses is holding is a sign of failure. A staff, after all, is what a shepherd uses out in the boondocks. For Moses it must have felt like proof that he was a leadership flop. He had made an abortive attempt, 40 years earlier, to save his people all by himself.
Moses says, "All I've got is this piece of dead wood, this dead vision, that’s part of this dead-end job." Through a burning bush, God is trying to re-light a fire in Moses’ heart. “Trust Me,” he says, “your mission isn’t over."
Do you feel as if you are stuck in the desert? God is not finished with you, either.
“What is that in your hand, Moses?”
Psychologically, it was protection. It was a crutch. Moses leans on it. He uses it to discipline sheep that are out of line and to swing at wolves coming in for the kill.
“This is a real tool of the trade, Lord. It protects me. I need this.” God answers, “Throw it down, Moses. Let me be your security.”
What Moses cannot conceive is that one day he will hold that staff above his head, and by the power of God the Red Sea will part.
What are you holding in your hand?
What has God already placed in your life that, if surrendered to him, will open up somebody else’s way through the wilderness?