The Three Signs Given to Moses
Issue No. 221
God gave Moses three signs while he was at the burning bush. They are recorded in Exodus 4. They are:
The sign of the law and the cross
The sign of resurrection
The sign of blood
These three signs prophesied the manner in which the people would come to believe in the true God. If they did not believe the first sign, they would believe the second. If they did not believe the second, they would believe the third. But in the end, all would believe.
The First Sign: the Law and the Cross
Exodus 4:1-5 gives us the first sign.
1 Then Moses answered and said, “What if they will not believe me, or listen to what I say? For they may say, ‘The Lord has not appeared to you’.” 2 And 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— 5 “that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.”
Moses’ rod was a staff of authority. Authority has the force of law, for that which a person decrees by authority carries the force of law to those that it affects. And so, Moses’ staff first represents divine authority and the law that proceeds from it.
Secondly, Moses’ staff was made of wood, and in that sense, it represents the cross. This can be seen when we understand that Jesus died on the cross in order to pay the penalty for sin that was incurred under the law. So there is a close link between the law and the cross.
In fact, the message of the cross is a message of both law and grace. It is a message of the law because it tells us the penalty of sin according to the law. It is a message of grace in that we see Jesus Christ dying on our behalf in order to extend grace to us.
When God revealed this sign to Moses, He told Moses to throw his staff to the ground. Why not implant it in the ground so as to represent the cross? Because this is about the people believing the word of the cross, not the cross in and of itself.
To throw the staff to the ground is to turn the law into a “serpent.” To reject the word of the Lord is to bring correction so that we are not blessed and confirmed in our rebellion. This correction is part of the “curse” of the law. It is ultimately a blessing, but it appears as a curse to those who are being corrected.
The law itself tells us that we are blessed for obedience and cursed for disobedience. Deut. 28:1, 2 says,
1 Now it shall be, if you will diligently OBEY the Lord your God, being careful to do all His commandments which I command you today, the Lord God will set you high above all nations of the earth. 2 And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you will OBEY the Lord your God.
Conversely, we read about the curses of the law for disobedience in verse 15:
15 But it shall come about, if you will NOT OBEY the Lord your God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statues with which I charge you today, that all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you.
The same law that brings blessings for obedience also brings curses for disobedience. In other words, Moses’ staff can either be a serpent or an aid in our walk.
When the staff becomes a serpent, the solution is to reach out and pick it up by the tail. Pick up the law and use it lawfully. To pick up the serpent by the tail is to stop running in fear from the curses of the law and deal with it.
Insofar as the cross is concerned, there are many who reject the cross for various reasons. Some reject it because it represents the law, which they also reject. Others simply do not recognize Moses’ authority, or they do not see that sin is really such a bad thing. They do not see the seriousness of sin. But Jesus’ death on the cross shows us just how seriously God takes sin.
This first sign was illustrated in the experience of Israel in the wilderness. In Numbers 21, the people began to complain and rebel. The Lord then sent “fiery serpents” (Num. 21:6) to judge them. Many died.
When the people repented of disobedience, the Lord said in verse 8,
8 . . . Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he shall live.
This became a type of the cross, and Jesus became a type of the serpent in the wilderness. John 3:15, 16 says,
14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; 15 that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.
The fiery serpents represent the judgment of the law upon the disobedient, including the unbelieving believers in the Church in the wilderness. They had cast down the law and rejected the authority and word of Moses. Thus, the law became a serpent to them.
The solution was to SEE the serpent. When they looked upon the bronze serpent on the pole, they lived. Likewise, Jesus took upon Himself the judgment of the law and became a serpent in the eyes of the people, so that whoever sees Him and the penalty for sin may also live.
This story in Numbers 21 shows us the connection between the serpent, the law, and the cross. John then shows us the fulfillment in Jesus’ death on the cross.
Whatever reason people give for not believing the word of God or submitting to the authority of the messenger carrying the message, part of the revelation given to Moses was that not everyone would recognize the first sign. And indeed, there are many today who do not believe either Moses or Jesus. Thus, they must be given a second sign by which they might believe.
The Second Sign: Resurrection
Exodus 4:6-8 gives us the second sign.
6 And 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. 8 “And it shall come about that if they will not believe you or heed the witness of the first sign, they may believe the witness of the last sign.”
Leprosy is a symbol of death (mortality) in the Bible, because it was a disease in which people died a slow death. Some have said that leprosy is a symbol of sin, but that is not precisely the case. When the mortality was translated into action (i.e., Moses hand), then and only then did it represent sin. Sin is the action that proceeds from death in one’s heart.
As I explained in chapter 9 of Creation’s Jubilee, we sin because we are mortal. Mortality is the “disease” or weakness on which we sin. We read in Rom. 5:12 (C.V.),
12 Therefore, even as through one man sin entered into the world, and through sin death, and thus death passed through into all mankind, on which [eph ho] all sinned.
Paul tells us here that sin entered the world through Adam’s sin, and that His sin was imputed to all of us, making us all liable for his sin. Therefore, the penalty for his sin was passed down to all of us, and that penalty is death, or mortality.
To put it in more formal terms, Adam’s sin was imputed to us; but death was infused into us. Thus, we do not have a sinful soul that dies; we have a mortal soul that sins. And then, as a result, the wages of our own personal sin is the second death, for we are judged by our works.
The law of lepers in Leviticus 14 provides us with the explanation of this second sign given to Moses. No doubt when the revelation first came, Moses did not understand its meaning. But later, when he was given this law, surely he remembered that frightening experience when he saw his own hand leprous.
The leprosy is associated with the heart, for Moses’ hand did not become leprous until he had put it into his bosom. His heart was in the condition that was passed down to him from Adam. His heart was death-ridden, mortal, or leprous. It translated into action—his hand—as sin.
God was showing Moses the condition of all mankind.
In the law of lepers in Leviticus 14, we find the basic principles by which we are able to overcome death and come into immortality. If a leper is healed of leprosy, he was to show himself to the priest for inspection—that is, a double witness on earth. The purpose of this double witness was to confirm his healing so that he could become part of the congregation (Church) on a fellowship level.
It required two birds, usually doves, to cleanse lepers. The first one was killed in an earthen vessel. The second dove was dipped (smeared) in the blood of the first one and let loose into the open field. See Lev. 14:1-7.
The leper himself was to be baptized seven times with water, as we read in verse 7,
7 He shall then sprinkle seven times the one who is to be cleansed from the leprosy, and shall pronounce him clean, and shall let the live bird go free over the open field.
We are given only one actual illustration of this law in the Old Testament. It is the story of Naaman the Syrian general, who was a leper. He came to the prophet for healing, and the prophet told him to follow the law by being sprinkled seven times with water from the Jordan river (2 Kings 5:10).
Naaman was angry at first, but when he complied, he was healed (5:14).
We find people being healed of leprosy in the New Testament as well. In Matthew 8:3, Jesus healed a leper. Jesus then told him in verse 4 to comply with the law,
4 And Jesus said to him, “See that you tell no one; but go, show yourself to the priest, and present the offering [the two birds] that Moses commanded, for a testimony [witness] to them.”
Jesus healed a group of ten lepers in Luke 17:11-19, and again He told them to show themselves to the priest for a witness of their healing. Part of this ceremony, as we have read, was baptism—being sprinkled seven times with water, even as Naaman was baptized in the Old Testament.
Also, keep in mind that the priest would not have presumed to baptize them or to pronounce them clean unless God had already healed them of leprosy. That was the purpose of the inspection. This was the rule so that the priest did not baptize or pronounce anyone clean unless God had already healed him.
Hence, Jesus sent the lepers to the priest “for a witness,” not so that the priest could heal them. So also, baptism does not save a person, but is a witness to a work that God has already done within a person. Baptism is a double witness that the ex-leper has been transferred from death unto life by the power of God. Baptism merely tells other believers in a public way that this person is a fellow believer and is part of the fellowship of saints.
Not understanding the law is a source of much false teaching in regard to baptism and its purpose.
In regard to the second sign given to Moses, we find that Moses was told to put his leprous hand back into his bosom. When he withdrew it, he found that it was whole again. What does this mean? It is a sign of resurrection, passing from death into life.
It comes in two forms or phases: the first is when God imputes life to us, even as He imputes righteousness to us. Imputation is defined in Romans 4:17, “calling those things which are not as though they were.”
In other words, God calls sinners righteous, and He calls mortal ones immortal. He calls what is NOT as though they were. This establishes our legal standing before God as righteous and immortal, even though we continue to sin, to sicken, to age, and to die.
The second phase is where the legal standing becomes fully appropriated into actual experience. This is the point where actual resurrection from the dead takes place, and where corruption puts on incorruption (1 Cor. 15:53).
And so, if the people do not believe the first sign, which was given to mankind at the cross, they may believe at the time of the second sign—the resurrection of the dead. In that day, the overcomers will be raised incorruptible and immortal. The work of evangelism will take a quantum leap, as these overcomers bear witness of the Word to all parts of the earth.
In that day, the Word will go forth from the new Mount Zion and from the New Jerusalem (Isaiah 2:3; Heb. 12:22). Representatives of all nations will come to learn of His ways, and the kingdoms of this world will become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ (Rev. 11:15). The great Stone Kingdom will grow until it becomes a great mountain and fills the whole earth (Dan. 2:35).
In that day, many will believe this second sign that was given to Moses. Though most of the people did not believe the first sign, they will believe the second. But this is not all, for many throughout history have lived and died without ever hearing of Jesus Christ or having opportunity to believe either sign. Is there no sign for them? Yes, that is the third sign given to Moses.
The Third Sign: Blood
The third sign is given in Exodus 4:9,
9 But it shall be that 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.
In the actual outworking of this sign in the days of Moses, he turned all the water of Egypt into blood. This was, of course, a judgment of the law upon Egypt, and the Egyptians saw this as a disaster. But nonetheless, it was a positive sign, for it signified the blood of Christ covering the land of Egypt.
Egypt represents the world, and the blood throughout the land of Egypt represents the blood of Christ. It is true, of course, that it was a mixed blessing. It prophesied of the ultimate salvation of the world, but yet this salvation came only through the judgment of the law.
The law is corrective, and is therefore a blessing, even if it appears to be painful to those being corrected.
The Three “Squadrons” in Their Own Order
When we study the way in which God is reconciling the world to Himself, we see how these three signs of Moses coincide with the three “squadrons” that Paul mentioned in 1 Cor. 15:22-25,
22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive. 23 But each in his own order [tagma, “squadron”]; (1) the anointed first fruits; (2) after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, 24 (3) then comes the end when He delivers up the Kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. 25 For He must reign until He has put all enemies under His feet.
The first group are the anointed first fruits, because they are the barley company, the first of the first fruits, who are presented to God. This is typified by the wave-sheaf offering on the first Sunday after Passover (i.e., what most people know as Easter). The barley first fruits were to be anointed with oil (Lev. 23:13).
Afterward, “those who are Christ’s” are next in line to be made alive, or immortal, in the second resurrection. This is the general resurrection of the dead which Jesus talked about in John 5:28, 29,
28 Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice 29 and come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.
This is a resurrection that includes both believers and unbelievers, “all who are in the tombs.” This is obviously not the first resurrection of Rev. 20:4-6, which is limited to only a few—the overcomers. Verse 5 says,
5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection.
And so from this we see that there will be believers in the general resurrection at the end of the thousand years. In other words, not all believers will be raised in the first resurrection. Whoever is NOT raised in the first resurrection, whether they are believers or unbelievers, will be raised at the Great White Throne judgment. The believers will be “saved yet so as through fire” (1 Cor. 3:15), facing whatever minor judgments are deemed appropriate, as Jesus described in Luke 12:47-49.
The unbelievers, however, who are the main focus of the third sign of Moses, will be given the sign of blood that will turn their hearts to God, so that they may be saved in the great Creation Jubilee at the end of time.
Perhaps the main thing that characterizes this third sign of Moses is the fact that the Egyptian unbelievers were forced to drink blood or die of thirst. In an Old Testament context, this sign is quite negative. But what is negative in the Old Testament is positive in the New. It was against the law to drink blood (Lev. 17:10-14; Acts 21:25), because blood was to be used as atonement for our souls. But yet in John 6:53 Jesus says,
53 . . . Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. 54 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.
In that day, all will eat His flesh and drink His blood, for that is the third sign of Moses for all ex-unbelievers. They will do this, because there will be no other “water.”