From a Staff to a Scepter
This week, I have been feeling that God wants to bring discouragement, disappointment, and hope-deferred off people. Today’s post is also shared with that in mind, once again using the symbolism of Mt. Horeb, where the Lord renewed Moses’ calling. Horeb means “desolation.” It was also called Sinai.
Though often disputed, it is reported that Michelangelo, when asked about the difficulties he must have encountered in sculpting his masterpiece, David, replied with the following description of his creative process:
“The sculpture is already complete within the marble block before I start my work. It is already there; I just have to chisel away the superfluous material.”(1)
Whether spoken by Michelangelo or not, it certainly describes the way in which God used the chisel of adversity to remove the “superfluous material” hiding the David He had hidden inside him. Whether it be Joseph in prison, Moses on a desolate hillside, or you and I facing our challenges, God makes the chisel called "Horeb" serve us, chipping off our “rough edges,” that which doesn’t look like what He destined us to be. Our weaknesses will leave us, our strengths will remain, and we will leave Horeb better equipped than when we arrived. God doesn’t create our desolation and pain, but He certainly uses it.
It was on this mountain that God asked Moses, "What is that in your hand?" (Exodus 4:2). Rest assured that when God asks us a question, it isn’t because He doesn’t know the answer. He is setting us up for a lesson. Moses had asked what would happen when Pharaoh and Israel didn’t believe God had truly given him this assignment. He was about to give Moses the answer, and more.
“A staff,” Moses replied, holding a simple stick he had fashioned for walking hills and tending sheep.
“Throw it down,” Yahweh commanded. When Moses did so, the staff became a poisonous serpent, causing Moses to flee from it. The Lord stopped him with a ludicrous demand, “Pick it back up…by the tail!”
Don’t tell me God doesn’t have a sense of humor. “Hey, if we are going to have a sign here, we may as well have a really good one!”
Obeying this was going to require some serious assurance in Moses that this was indeed God speaking to him. But I suppose his reasoning was, if He can burn a tree without burning it, speak to me from the “unburnable” burning tree, and turn my staff into a snake, I guess He can protect me from it. So Moses picked up the snake by the tail, and it became his staff once again. “Repeat this miracle, and they’ll believe you, Moses.”
God had bigger plans than this regarding the staff, however. The Hebrew word for staff is matteh, which is also the word for a “scepter,”(2) which represents a ruler’s authority. And God was planning to use this staff as Moses’ “scepter” of authority!!! A crooked, knobby, dead piece of wood, shaped by the elements on the mountain of desolation, would become the scepter Moses used to release God’s miracle working power (Exodus 4:17). Ultimately, it would become known as "the staff of God" (4:20). Now there's some serious irony for you: the staff of Horeb became the staff of God.
God didn't want Moses carrying a polished, gold-plated, gem-studded scepter from Egypt as the symbol of his heavenly authority. Yahweh wanted something depicting the strength of character that only the wind, sun, rain, and hardship of Horeb could create. "I replaced the golden scepter of Egypt," God was saying, "and gave you one symbolizing humility, meekness, and no confidence in the flesh. It will be your reminder that I AM your source of authority and strength.
In Exodus 4:17, God declared, "Take this staff in your hand so you can perform miraculous signs with it" (NIV). And with that old stick, once representing failure and desolation but now picturing meekness and confidence in God alone, Moses judged nations, parted seas, and brought forth water from a rock.
On one occasion, when Israel was attacked by the Amalekite people (Exodus 17), God's plan for victory was for Moses to take "the staff of God" onto a nearby mountain and simply hold it up over the battle. The divine authority symbolized by this staff enabled Joshua and his army to defeat their enemies. God used the Horeb-produced "weapon" to conquer Israel’s enemies. Hope-deferred mountains can become weapon factories!
What might God want to put in your hands through your place of brokenness? Character? Courage? Understanding? Tenacity? Revelation of God’s faithfulness? When you have conquered this mountain, you will find that God used it to release revelations of Himself and His ways, shaping you into what He had hidden inside. And you’ll know Him more intimately. As you do, the new revelations of his heart and nature will become sustaining forces for your future.
Consider the following examples of God revealing Himself on Horeb:
Moses received the revelation of God as "I AM THAT I AM" on Horeb (Exodus 3:14, KJV).
Israel received the revelation that He is Jehovah Nissi, which means the Lord is our banner and victory, the One who fights our battles for us (Exodus 17:15).
Later, the Lord visited Moses again, showing him His goodness and glory on this mountain (Exodus 33:19-23).
Exodus 19:17 states, "And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain." What a thought - stand at the bottom of Desolation Mountain and meet with God!
Consider Joseph's journey through hope deferred: slavery and imprisonment in Egypt. Though forgotten by those he helped, God was faithful, and Joseph became the second most powerful man in Egypt. "Your brothers intended to dislocate you; I used it to relocate you," was God's final verdict. Only on the other side of hope deferred, however, did this revelation come.
Perhaps satan has intended to make you an outcast - God will make you a healer of outcasts. Maybe a deathbed robbed you of a loved one - God will use you to bring healing to those in grief. There are always two plans for your difficult times - satan's plan to cause them and God's plan to redeem them. Though God's purpose often isn’t seen until you emerge on the other side of the pain, He has one.
It is doubtful that Susanna Wesley, in the midst of her horrible circumstances, could have ever imagined the incredible purpose God had for two of her children:
“Susanna Annesley was born in 1669, the last of twenty-five children. She gave birth to nineteen children, nine of whom died in infancy. Her life was turbulent, frequently unhappy, and filled with trials.
“Samuel was often gone from home, leaving her alone and almost penniless to care for her family. Unable to properly manage his small salary, he was put in debtor's prison for a time.
“At one point, their home burned to the ground. Susanna suffered from many illnesses and was often bedridden, requiring household help. Many of her children were so errant that they caused her considerable grief.
“Yet, her sons John and Charles became two of the greatest evangelists of all time, and their ministry shook the world.”(3)
Your Horeb may seem so devastating and painful that you can't see how anything good could possibly come from it. But God can do so, and He will bring about His redemptive purposes in your life. Don't give up. One day, you will find the scepter He's shaping for you - and the you he is shaping for the scepter - on your mountain of desolation.
Pray with me:
Father, You are amazing! You can work all things for our good, and for Your redemptive purposes. You delight in converting our hope-deferred mountains of desolation into weapons factories. You reward our mountain conquering with greater understandings of Your heart and ways, with new strength, and new levels of authority. We are so grateful for the redemptive, sustaining work You are performing in and through us.
We agree together for the full recovery of those who have found themselves at Horeb, whether through their mistakes, like Moses, or through the actions of others. Your grace and power are greater than either. We ask that strength be given them, that broken hearts be healed, weapons and scepters of authority be discovered, and that destiny be realized.
And for America, we ask that You would turn our mistakes into learning lessons. Forgive our sins and heal us. Deliver us also from the inappropriate leaders we have empowered. Restore us, we pray, in Jesus’ name.
We decree that God is greater than our failures, the injustices inflicted on us by others, and our pain.
Click on the link below to watch the full video.
James Strong, The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, s.v. OT: 4294.
Adapted from Sandy Dengler, Susanna Wesley, Servant of God (Chicago: Moody Press, 1987).