“The Lord said to him, ‘What is that in your hand?’ He said, ‘A staff’” (Exodus 4:2 ESV).
Anthropologists and other scientists tell us that the two physiological features that most clearly differentiate human beings from the rest of the animal kingdom are the size (and complexity) of their brains and the unique capabilities of their hands, especially because of the opposing thumbs that only humans possess. These hands allow for the efficient use of inanimate objects (i.e., tools) which almost infinitely extend the power and efficiency of human endeavors. Note that the ability of the hand to grip and use tools is paired with the ability of the brain to invent and adapt their use.
When Moses argued with God that he was a poor choice for the leadership and delivery of Israel from slavery in Egypt, God drew attention to his hand and the tool which it held. The point was perfectly clear – Moses already possessed all that God would need to use him as deliverer of God’s chosen people. He was not unique, maybe not even “special.” But he was human and God chooses to use humans to accomplish his purpose within humanity. He always has, and so long as creation continues, he always will.
His question to Moses is no different from what he might ask any one of us who shrinks before a spiritual responsibility. What is in our hands? That is, what resources do we already have that God may use in order to achieve his purpose?
Moses held a staff. This was at least one of his primary tools as a shepherd. It could be a weapon to fight off predators, or an aid to steady or rescue vulnerable sheep from peril. As the shepherd of God’s people this staff would continue to be his principle implement.
In his service to Israel and its God, Moses would lift up his staff to turn water into blood (Exodus 7:14-24); part the waters of the Red Sea (Exodus 14:16); bring water out of a rock (Exodus 17:5-6); and assist Israel in battle against her enemies (Exodus 17:8-13). During forty years in the wilderness many of God’s miraculous acts of deliverance began with the instruction, “Take in your hand the staff. . . .”
Today God uses ordinary people with everyday resources to do great things. Peter and others of the Twelve Apostles were fishermen, handy with nets. Jesus told them, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men” (Luke 5:10). They did not need elaborate new equipment to serve God’s son. They continued to think like fishermen and to redirect their tradecraft toward the Lord’s mission.
We in the Church today tend to think of special gifts and skills as being necessary for any significant role in the Lord’s business. Like Moses of old, if we are not polished speakers (Exodus 4:10), or highly accredited scholars we feel inadequate for most offices or tasks. But we have hands which can use tools and minds which can direct that use. Paul spoke of all of our individual resources when he instructed: “Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them” (Romans 12:6).
Our gifts include material resources, general abilities, refined skills, and opportunities. As the song teaches, “There is much to do, there’s work on every hand.” Jesus reminds us, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few” (Luke 10:2). Every member of Jesus’ body is called upon to help in that harvest (Ephesians 4:15-16).
Perhaps we all need to answer the question, “What is in our hands?” What are our tools? How have we learned to use them, and how can we adapt that skill to the Lord’s work? Moses finally came to recognize that he was not as inadequate as he had believed. Great things resulted. God can use us in much the same way as he used the ancient Hebrew. But first we must learn to think of ourselves “as we ought to think” so as to appreciate our gifts (Romans 12:3).