In Exodus 4:1, Moses tells God that the people Israel will not listen to him. Let us just for a moment think about it. Why might it be that Moses would have this consideration? Is there anything in the history we’ve already been given in Exodus that helps us to understand why he would think this? In Exodus 2, Moses killed the Egyptian. He tried to show Israel that God was going to use him as deliverer (Acts 7:25). Yet, the people Israel refused him that opportunity.
We come now to forty years on the backside of the desert. Moses has had another lifetime for himself. He fled Egypt and forty years old, and now he is eighty. For a whole second life, Moses has now built himself a family, an identity, a lifestyle, etc. And now God calls him to go back to Egypt. Why would God not use Moses when he was in Egypt forty years ago? It could have to do with the fact that Moses was rejected. God saw the heart, that the people in that time were not willing to accept the deliverance of God.
Now God calls Moses again. He wants to send him to Pharaoh. Moses is probably looking back on his own testimony. They didn’t listen to him, but that in no way determines whether Israel will listen to him now. What I want you to realize is that Moses isn’t simply disobeying God. I can’t tell you how many times people will see this as a flaw in Moses, and use that to degrade him, accusing him most horrifically simply because they want the message that “preaches good”.
God does not get angry with Moses at this point. He understands. Let us not mock or accuse Moses (which is something an ancient serpent does) when God sees Moses as a righteous saint.
Now, the reason that God points out the rod, or staff, is because of Pharaoh. Moses is going to Pharaoh, who holds a staff in his hand. The reason that Pharaoh carries that staff is to say that he rules over the people of Egypt the same way a shepherd rules over the flock of sheep. Here God is putting before Moses, Israel, and Pharaoh the question of who truly is the Shepherd of the flock.
Because God gives Moses these signs to perform so that Israel might believe, the question is pressed upon Jesus over and over for a sign that they might believe.
The miracle of the rod seems to reflect the way that Pharaoh has treated Israel. He has “dealt shrewdly” with them, and so forced them into the dust. Similarly, the serpent is called “shrewd” (Matt 10:16), and is cursed to eat dust all the days of his life (Gen 3:14). Then, God tells Moses to grab the serpent by the tail. If you know anything about snakes, you know that you grab it by the neck, just behind the head, so that it can’t pivot and bite your hand. But, God tells Moses to grab it by the tail. This requires faith to even reach out your hand, let alone to grab the tail of the serpent. Likewise, it is through the faith of Moses to go unto Pharaoh, and the faith of Israel to believe Moses’ testimony, that they shall come out from their oppression and be relieved from their slavery.
The second miracle, where Moses puts his hand in his cloak, and his hand becomes leprous, could represent that Moses shall be the bearer of these sore plagues upon Egypt, but upon his prayer they shall be relieved. Another could be in the significance of Moses and Jesus’ parallels. Moses is the savior of Israel from Egypt, and Jesus is the Savior of the world. By coming “into the bosom” of Moses (so to speak), Israel shall be made clean and delivered.
The third sign seems to signify a profound foreshadowing of the first plague. God gives this third sign to Moses that he pours out some water upon the dry ground, and it becomes blood. Later, God will command that Moses shall strike the Nile with his staff, and it shall turn to blood.
I’ve heard Carter Conlon preach a message titled “Blood Upon Dry Land”, where he went through these three signs. In it, he came to the conclusion where he mentions that this third sign represents the blood of Christ. Just as the blood upon dry land is a sign for Israel to believe, so the blood of Christ was poured out for us, and as Hebrews 12:24 says, speaks a better word from the dry ground than the blood of Abel.