Moses was given three attesting or miraculous signs to convince the elders and the people of Israel (Ex 4:1-9, 30-31) that God had sent him and Aaron; the first and the third were repeated for Pharaoh (Ex 7:9-21).

However, the first two with his staff and his hand were Messianic prophecies. While these may not be immediately obvious, Jesus taught the two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:25-27) and the entire Early Church (Luke 24:44-49) to recognise His death and resurrection as prefigured throughout ‘the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms’.

As the psalmist wrote:

The unfolding of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple. (Psa 119:130)

Sign 1 – Moses’ Staff
First was the transformation of Moses’ staff or rod into a serpent and back again

2.  The LORD said to him, “What is that in your hand?” And he said, “A staff.”
3. Then He said, “Throw it on the ground.” So he threw it on the ground, and it became a serpent; and Moses fled from it.
4. But the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand and grasp it by its tail” – so he stretched out his hand and caught it, and it became a staff in his hand (Ex 4:2-4)

Moses was then to use this staff to “perform the signs” (Ex 4:17) and it became ‘the staff of God’ (Ex 4:20). However, with Moses not wanting to speak, the staff was given to Aaron to perform the transformation for Pharaoh (Ex 7:9-12) and Aaron then used it, as we considered in Chapter 7, to curse the Nile (Ex 7:19-20) and multiply the frogs (Ex 8:5-6) and the lice (Ex 8:16-17). Moses then used it to bring down the hailstones (Ex 9:22-23) and the locusts (Ex 10:12-13).

After leaving Egypt, Moses used it to part the sea (Ex 14:16), to strike the rock to produce the water at Rephidim (Ex 17:5-6), and to intercede for Joshua and the Hebrew army (Ex 17:8-13).

Lastly, this staff was used to vindicate Aaron as God’s choice of High Priest when overnight it miraculously sprouted, blossomed, and produced ripe almonds (Num 17:8) and it was then to be kept by the ark of the covenant as a permanent reminder (Num 17:10-11).

(i) The metaphor of the staff

We do not have to guess at what any of this signifies because, some 800 years after Moses, God gave Jeremiah a vision and the explanation:

11. The word of the LORD came to me saying, “What do you see, Jeremiah?” And I said, “I see a rod of an almond tree.”
12. Then the LORD said to me, “You have seen well, for I am watching over My word to perform it. (Jer 1:11-12*)

As The Jewish Study Bible notes, in Hebrew this is actually ‘a pun upon the word shaked, almond tree, and the verb shoked, watching’, explaining the symbolism as:

The almond tree is one of the first trees to blossom in the spring, signifying God’s resolve to bring about the divine word regarding Judah and Jerusalem… The image also appears in Num, ch 17, where the sprouting of almond blossoms on Aaron’s and the Levites’ staffs marks them as the divinely chosen priests of Israel…

The Levitical priests were to be the teachers of the word of God (Deut 33:10) so they needed to be the first to understand it.

Isaiah also used the metaphor of the rod in regard to Messiah:

But with righteousness He will judge the poor,
And decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth;
And He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth,
And with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked. (Isa 11:4*)

Moses’ staff/rod therefore prefigured the word that God would “perform”, just as He demonstrated during Israel’s Exodus.

It also prefigured Jesus as the Word of God (John 1:1), bringing about our Exodus from our sins (Matt 1:21).

(ii) The metaphor of the serpent

14. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up [i.e. crucified];
15. so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.” (John 3:14-15*)

The serpent that Moses lifted up was a bronze replica of the serpents that been killing the Hebrews, and all who ‘looked to the bronze serpent lived’ (Num 21:6-9).

(a) Jesus in His death

Bronze symbolises judgement and the bronze serpent illustrated God’s completed judgement; in the same way, Jesus was saying, all who look to Him dying on the cross as the atonement for our sins will “have eternal life” (v. 15).

Paul explained to the Corinthians how this transaction works:

He [the Father] made Him {Jesus] who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Cor 5:21*)

He also explained it to the Romans:

God… sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh (Rom 8:3*)

So the bronze serpent prefigured Jesus being judged ‘in the likeness’ of our sinfulness.

(b) Jesus in His life

Jesus bore this ‘likeness of sinful flesh’ from His birth in Bethlehem and when He began His ministry with extraordinary wisdom and miracles, many listeners said:

“Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?” And they took offense at Him. (Mark 6:3*)

The Pharisees openly denounced Him:

“He casts out the demons by the ruler of the demons.” (Matt 9:34)

At His trial before the Sanhedrin:

…the high priest tore his robes and said, “He has blasphemed! What further need do we have of witnesses? Behold, you have now heard the blasphemy; what do you think?” They answered, “He deserves death!” (Matt 26:65-66*)

(iii) Completing the picture

When God commanded Moses (Ex 4:3) and later Aaron (Ex 7:10) to throw the almond rod to the ground to turn into a serpent, He was giving them a starring role in an extraordinary prophetic drama, prefiguring His own sending of Jesus, the Word of God, born ‘in the likeness of sinful flesh’ to be judged, ‘condemned… in the flesh’ as guilty instead of us.

When they then picked up the serpent and it became the rod again, this prefigured Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, and John sees Him returning as ‘the Word of God’ (Rev 19:13).

As Jesus told the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, it was “necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory” (Luke 24:26).

(iv) Misusing the staff

We can also now see the fuller explanation of why Moses and Aaron were not allowed to enter the Promised Land.

At Rephidim, when the people complained about there being no water,1 Moses was commanded to “strike the rock” at Horeb to miraculously produce water (Ex 17:1-6) but a year later at Kadesh2 (Num 20:1), God told him:

“Take the rod; and you and your brother Aaron assemble the congregation and speak to the rock before their eyes, that it may yield its water. You shall thus bring forth water for them out of the rock and let the congregation and their beasts drink.” (Num 20:8*)

Tragically, Moses and Aaron ignored His explicit command to “speak to the rock” and struck it again:

11. Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation and their beasts drank.
12. But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.” (Num 20:10-12*)

When I read this as a new believer, I was really shocked – why would God deal so harshly with Moses and Aaron after they had faithfully served Him throughout the forty years in the wilderness, only to stumble at the end? Nevertheless, I accepted the text at face value, assuming their simple disobedience was enough to justify their punishment.

(v) Completing the picture

Later, though, I read Paul’s inspired typological explanation to the Corinthians:

4. …and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ. (1 Cor 10:4*)

It is this spiritual application that explains why God was so specific and we need to follow this as the events unfolded, step by step:

(a) Striking the rock

When Moses struck the rock at Horeb with the staff, he was striking Christ with the word of God, i.e. the rock prefigured Christ while the staff prefigured the word which, in this instance, was God’s command to strike Him. This striking demonstrates that the crucifixion was always God’s plan (John 1:29, Acts 2:23).

(b) Producing the water

Jesus had to die to make us able to receive the Holy Spirit from Him:

37. …Jesus stood and cried out, saying, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink.
38. “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.'”
39. But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive; for the Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. (John 7:37-39*)

(c) Speaking to the rock

At Kadesh, Moses and Aaron were only to “speak to the rock” – which again ‘was Christ’ but this time, not the Christ who was to die but the risen Christ! When we are “thirsty” for the Holy Spirit, we too are to come to Jesus and ask.

This was why Moses and Aaron were not to strike the rock at Kadesh – overly familiar with the staff, they misused it. We therefore see a whole new depth in God’s rebuke:

“…you have not believed Me [i.e. the command to speak rather than to strike], to treat Me as holy [i.e. to despise Christ as deserving to be struck again] in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not [enter]… the land…” (Num 20:10-12*)

Sign 2 – Moses’ Hand

The second sign Moses was to perform for the elders and people of Israel must have initially been terrifying for him:

6. The LORD furthermore said to him, “Now put your hand into your bosom.” So he put his hand into his bosom, and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous
like snow
.
7. Then He said, “Put your hand into your bosom again.” So he put his hand into his bosom again, and when he took it out of his bosom, behold, it was restored like the rest of his flesh. (Ex 4:6-7*)

In those days, leprosy was incurable and considered a living death (Num 12:10-12) so Moses must have been horrified to see his hand like this and vastly relieved to see it restored to health.

The Messianic sign, however, is in the significance of the hand and the bosom.

(i) The metaphor of the hand

Here Moses is starring in another prophetic drama, playing the role of God again. Isaiah prophesied of God’s “hand” in creating everything:

“Surely My hand founded the earth
And My right hand spread out the heavens;
When I call to them, they stand together. (Isa 48:13*)

(a) In Creation

His “right hand” here is a metaphor because we know from Genesis that He literally spoke the heavens and the earth into existence: ‘God said, “Let there be…”, and it was so’ (Gen 1:14-15) – when He called, they came. The “hand” simply means His handiwork is visible in His creating everything from nothing.

Well, Jesus is the creative hand of God made visible, ‘for in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form’ (Col 2:9):

In the beginning was the Word… All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. (John 1:1-3*)

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible… (Col 1:15-16*)

(b) In Redemption

Isaiah also prophesied of God’s “hand” in redemption:

And He saw that there was no man,
And was astonished that there was no one to intercede;
Then His own arm brought salvation to Him,
And His righteousness upheld Him. (Isa 59:16*)

Jesus is therefore the redemptive hand of God because:

God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself (2 Cor 5:19*)

God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life. (1 John 5:11-12*)

(ii) The metaphor of leprosy

Moses’ miraculous sign therefore prefigures Jesus coming as the visible ‘hand of God’ to become leprous for us, again as predicted by Isaiah in the most famous of his prophecies:

3. He was despised and forsaken of men,
A man of sorrows [lit. pains] and acquainted with grief [lit. sicknesses];
And like one from whom men hide their face
He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.
4. Surely our griefs [lit. sicknesses] He Himself bore,
And our sorrows [lit. pains] He carried;
Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten of God, and afflicted.
5. But He was pierced through for our transgressions,
He was crushed for our iniquities;
The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him,
And by His scourging we are healed. (Isa 53:3-5*)

Matthew quotes the literal translation of v. 4 (Matt 8:17); Peter quotes v. 5 (1 Pet 2:24).

(iii) The metaphor of bosom

John explains who Jesus is and where He came from:

No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him. (John 1:18*)

This expression may seem odd to us today but John’s audience would have known it referred to the position at the dining table of the closest, most intimate companion to the host. In those days, rather than sitting on chairs, they reclined leaning on their left elbow and eating with their right hand. The one immediately on the right therefore heard most clearly whatever the host said:

23. There was reclining on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved.
24. So Simon Peter gestured to him, and said to him, “Tell us who it is of whom He is speaking.”  (Joh 13:23-24*)

This is how Jesus’ audience would have understood Lazarus’s being in “Abraham’s bosom” in Hades (Luke 16:22).

(iii) Completing the picture

Returning to Moses then, when he acted in the role of God the Father, putting his right hand into his bosom portrayed Jesus as ‘the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father’.

When his hand emerges leprous, however, we do not see Jesus in all His glory but in ‘the likeness of sinful flesh’ in which He was condemned (Rom 8:3), ‘smitten of God, and afflicted’ (Isa 53:4), ‘despised and forsaken of men, a man of pains and acquainted with sicknesses’ (Isa 53:3). This portrays the crucifixion and death of Jesus, when ‘our sicknesses He Himself bore, and our pains He carried’ (Isa 53:4).

When Moses puts his hand back into his bosom and brings it out miraculously restored, he is portraying Jesus as risen and restored to His proper place ‘in the bosom of the Father’, just as Jesus prayed at the Last Supper:

“Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was. (John 17:5)

Again, as Jesus told the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, it was “necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory” (Luke 24:26*).

Sign 3 – Water into Blood

Whereas the first two attesting signs the Lord gave to Moses promised redemption for the Hebrew slaves, the third sign warned of judgement for unbelievers:

8. “If they will not believe you or heed the witness of the first sign, they may believe the witness of the last sign.
9. “But if they will not believe even these two signs or heed what you say, then you shall take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground; and the water which you take from the Nile will become blood on the dry ground” (Ex 4:1-9*)

As I showed in Chapter 7, the Egyptians saw the Nile as their lifeline as they were wholly dependent on it for water in their desert, to annually renew and fertilise their land, and for transporting building materials. If the river died, Egypt died.

(i) The magicians’ counterfeiting

Pharaoh, however, was unconvinced because ‘the magicians of Egypt did the same with their secret arts’ (Exo 7:22). Trusting in his ‘wise men and sorcerers’ (Ex 7:11), he was not convinced until the tenth plague, when he lost his first-born son (Ex 12:29-32).

The magicians were certainly impressive, replicating two of Moses’ signs by turning their staves into snakes (Ex 7:12) and water into blood (Ex 7:22). Their ‘secret arts’ may have been illusory sleight of hand but were more likely supernatural.

Paul named two of the magicians as Jannes and Jambres (2 Tim 3:8-9) in warning Timothy:

1. But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come…
13 …evil men and impostors [Grk, goes] will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. (2 Tim 3:1 & 13, NAS)

The KJV translated the Greek, goes, as seducers while most others have either impostors or charlatans. However, as Dr Derek Prince taught, the Greek, goes, literally means ‘magician’.

This is consistent with Paul’s description of the final Antichrist:

8. Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming;
9. that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders,
10. and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved. (2 Thess 2:8-10*)

Jesus came with the attesting power and signs and wonders of God; the Antichrist will come with counterfeit miracles of Satan.

(ii) Completing the picture

It is also significant that the magicians were able to replicate the first three signs performed for Pharaoh before admitting defeat and acknowledging ‘the finger of God’ from then on (Ex 8:19)

(a) Staffs into serpents (Ex 7:12)

Moses’ first Messianic sign prefigured Christ as the Word of God becoming flesh in the 1st century; Satan and the spirit of antichrist have been setting up counterfeit antichrists ever since. As I showed in my exposition of Revelation 13:11-15 in Book 2, Slouching Towards Bethlehem: The Rise of the Antichrists, John’s 1st century audience were all too familiar with the Romans’ emperor-worship. We should be too, from observing the 20th century’s rise of , Hitler in Germany, Hirohito in Japan, Mao Zedong in China, Fidel Castro in Cuba, Mussolini in Italy, Stalin in the USSR et al.

(b) Water into blood (Ex 7:22)

The second sign for Pharaoh was the first of ten plagues and we should not be surprised that the magicians could replicate the turning of water into blood on the ground because Satan and the two beasts, i.e. the feral, corrupt state and the spirit of antichrist, have been allowed to kill until the Lord returns (Rev 13:7 & 10).

(c) The frogs (Ex 8:7)

The third sign for Pharaoh, the frogs, were the second of the ten plagues and, as I showed in Book 5, Threshing Hour: Armageddon & Babylon the Great, they are today setting up the world for the last battle:

13. And I saw coming out of the mouth of the dragon and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits like frogs;
14. for they are spirits of demons, performing signs, which go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them together for the war of the great day of God, the Almighty
16. And they gathered them together to the place which in Hebrew is called Har-Magedon. (Rev 16:13-16*)

(iii) Jesus’ astonishing reversal

In April 2013, I led a tour to Israel and we visited Cana. Our amiable and very knowledgeable Australian Jewish tour guide Joe took me aside to tell me that the site is a tourist trap where they try to sell you wine and replica oil lamps. He could not think of anything to say about it other than this is where Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding (John 2:1-11). I could, however, and Joe loved it. I explained to our group that this very first of all Jesus’ miracles illustrated an essential difference between Him and Moses, and the Old and the New Covenants, as follows:

(a) Moses and the Law

The purpose of the Law was to be “a witness” to all of Israel’s sins (Deut 31:26), to the consequent death penalty (Num 18:22, Ezek 18:4), and therefore the need for atonement (Lev 16:30). Moses’ third sign of turning the water into blood, which symbolises death (Lev 17:11), was to warn of God’s judgement to come. This is why Paul summarised the Law as ‘the ministry of death’ (2 Cor 3:7) and ‘the ministry of condemnation’ (2 Cor 3:9).

(b) Jesus and the New

Jesus, however, came that we “may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10) so He turned the water into wine, which symbolises gladness and joy (Psa 104:15). He gives us the wine which symbolises His blood of the New Covenant (Matt 26:27-29) which symbolises His atoning death in our place so that we can live eternally.

John sums it up perfectly:

For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ. (John 1:17*) 


Serpent on pole: By Philip De Vere – https://www.flickr.com/groups/the_phillip_medhurst_collection_of_bible_prints/pool/phillip_medhurst_bible_pictures, Philip De Vere is owner and curator of the prints in the User:Phillip Medhurst Collection of Bible illustrations. Medhurst's purchase and collation of prints illustrating the Bible ("The Phillip Medhurst Collection"), now housed at Belgrave Hall Leicester, was made possible by (and was within the terms of) the Kevin Victor Freestone Bequest. See https://www.flickr.com/groups/the_phillip_medhurst_collection_of_bible_prints and https://www.flickr.com/groups/phillip_medhurst_bible, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44936584

Split Rock of Horeb.  Jabal Al-Lawz – Photo: Balchin

Leprosy: By https://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/obf_images/a3/77/2b528f9e5c003ff89939b087573d.jpgGallery: https://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/image/L0032810.htmlWellcome Collection gallery (2018-04-06): https://wellcomecollection.org/works/n9sqqkra CC-BY-4.0, CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=36056619

Reclining at table: Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=66061

  1. Rephidim was thereafter known as ‘Massah and Meribah’ (Ex 17:7, Deut 33:8), i.e. Quarrelling and Testing.
  2. Kadesh was also referred as Meribah (Num 20:13, 27:14).