“What Is That in Thine Hand?”

“Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb. And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed. And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.” —Exodus 3:1-3

THIS LESSON CONCERNS the point in Moses’ life, forty years after he had fled from Egypt. Moses had been reared as a member of Pharaoh’s family, and had received the benefits of education and position which would be available to such. Stephen, the martyr, reported this in his speech before the Sanhedrin when he stated, “Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and was mighty in words and in deeds.”—Acts 7:22

However, in spite of the position and honor Moses enjoyed as a member of Pharaoh’s family, his interest and sympathies were with his people—the Hebrew people. So strong was this feeling that it prompted him to slay an Egyptian whom Moses saw brutally mistreating an Israelite. Realizing the seriousness of his act, he sought to conceal it by hiding the body. But the slaying became known, and we read in Exodus 2:15 that “Pharaoh … sought to slay Moses. But Moses fled … and dwelt in the land of Midian: and sat down by a well.”

While resting at this desert oasis, Moses watched seven young women bringing a flock of sheep to the well for watering. But when they started to fill the troughs, certain shepherds began to interfere. Their actions aroused the ire of this just man, and he successfully interceded on behalf of the young women. Then he also assisted them in the task of watering the sheep, performing the most difficult part—that of filling the troughs with water.

Because of this help, the seven grateful and impressed young women returned home much more quickly than usual. When their father, Jethro, learned of all this he insisted that Moses be brought to his home as a guest. And as one would expect, in time, Moses took to wife Zipporah, one of the young women.

How different was Moses’ life in Midian from what it had been in Egypt! From the comforts of the civilization and the ‘rich life’ of Egypt he was suddenly transferred to the raw desert, and to the humble task of herding sheep under primitive conditions. Broken, too, were the tender ties of family and friends which had meant so much to him. In the forty years between the incident at the well and the scripture which opens our lesson, Moses must have wondered much and often about his people, Israel, yet enslaved in Egypt.

But we know Moses had not been forgotten by God. These forty years had been developing a rich growth of character. He had been learning well the lesson of humility which would be very necessary for the one whom God would lift to a high position among the children of men. And in a practical way he had been roaming over the very wide expanse of desert which God knew would be the route to Canaan that Israel later would tread, learning how to survive under such difficult conditions. We can receive untold benefit by observing the hand of God working in the lives of the Ancient Worthies.

We also have ‘desert’ experiences. By force of circumstance we may be set aside for a while, and to outward appearances, be forgotten by God. But the hand that led Moses to the burning bush in the wilderness of Midian continued with him the entire forty years he served there as a shepherd. And God’s gentle leadings for us may be from triumph to testing, from abundant fellowship to lonely days, but in it all he will be there to direct, however strange the circumstances.

The particular day in Moses’ life which is recorded in Exodus 3:1 must have begun in what seemed to him to be just ‘another’ one in that long succession of lonely years. In our mind’s eye we can visualize him as he arose that day to begin his normal activities. As he stood outside his tent how different he appeared than when in Egypt. His garments were of rough homespun cloth—adequate, but not necessarily appealing to the eye. His feet were shod with sandals that, in all probability, his own hands had fashioned. In his hand was the shepherd’s rod, which was later to become so important in his life. As he stood gazing over the vista before him, he little realized how momentous would be that day, and many yet to follow. That day, in a special sense, he was to begin a career as an highly honored servant of God.

We, too, who are children of God, can look back to a similar point of time in our lives. Once we were in the world, just flowing with the tide of men, and quite unmindful of our God or of his plan. But there came that day—that special day—when we heard a discourse, read a tract, talked with our neighbor, heard a “Frank and Ernestradio program, watched “The Bible AnswersTV program, or in some other way, God’s message of truth reached our hearts, and our lives were changed forever. We heard the voice of God!

As Moses walked with the sheep on that unique day, he was startled by the appearance of a burning bush. And as he looked he realized that, although burning furiously, the bush was not consumed. When he went closer to inspect it, he heard, coming from the bush, a deep, resonant voice speaking his own name: “Moses, Moses.” Instinctively he answered, “Here am I.”—Exod. 3:1-4

Then it was that he heard the voice identify itself by the majestic words, “Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground. Moreover he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”—vss. 5,6

Fear gripped Moses, and he covered his face with his hands, turning away from the strange sight! But then Moses heard God recount the sad plight of his people in Egypt, and also the welcome assurance that they were to be delivered from bondage and guided into their own land, which was a land flowing with milk and honey. Then the voice of God spoke to Moses in a most direct manner saying, “Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh that thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt.” These words must have shocked Moses, but when he recovered he attempted to argue with God against the suggestion.

No doubt Moses recalled the pomp and grandeur of Pharaoh’s court, and just as quickly contrasted his own rustic appearance. The long years of menial work under primitive conditions, had taken away Moses’ youthful self-assurance and he felt inadequate for the task God had given him. “Moses said unto God, Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?” We can sympathize with Moses, for was not this our attitude when we were first invited to become a son of God, to be used in delivering the world from bondage? As we realized the grandeur of the call, its lofty purpose, the holiness of our God, did not we say, “Who am I that God should call me?”

God told Moses that Pharaoh would resist, but that he, the Lord, would force compliance by a demonstration of wonderful power. Moses replied, “Behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice: for they will say, The Lord hath not appeared unto thee.”—Exod. 4:1

Suddenly God asked Moses an unusual question: “What is that in thine hand?” Moses knew what he had in his hand—it was a shepherd’s rod, useful in herding sheep, killing harmful snakes, or in climbing difficult places. His rod represented nearly all Moses possessed. The sheep he tended belonged to his father-in-law. What an abrupt change in thought was introduced by this question! God had been outlining his plan for freeing Israel from slavery, and now he asked Moses, “What is that in thine hand?” Puzzled, Moses answered simply, “A rod.”

Moses finally agreed to return to Egypt as God desired. We read, “Moses took his wife and his sons, … and he returned to the land of Egypt: and Moses took the rod of God in his hand.” (Exod. 4:20) Notice the latter part of the text—now, it was the rod of God. Indeed, such is the case with us who have become disciples of Jesus. That which we had in our hands at the time of consecration—great or small—that which represented all we had and were, now belongs to God. And, as Moses used the rod thereafter at God’s direction, so we, as stewards, are to use our time, talents—our all—as God directs.

If we do this, God will bless our efforts. The results of his blessing our efforts may not be as readily seen, or be as great, as was the case with Moses. We may need to wait until the kingdom to see all that is accomplished by this power on our behalf. But whether results now are great or small, matters not. What does matter is our willingness to be used.

In Gideon’s Hand

In looking back over the long history of God’s dealings with his servants, we can see many instances which illustrate how God’s power blessed some small item in the hand of a servant. Our minds go to a long-ago time in Israel’s history. The Israelites were cowering fearfully in mountain hideaways. They had been driven there by a ruthless enemy who was wantonly plundering the farms of the defeated people. Israel’s position seemed hopeless because the conquering nation greatly outnumbered them, and were warlike by nature. From the heights above one could look down upon the enemy’s well-disciplined and well-equipped army numbering one hundred and thirty-five thousand. (Judges 8:10) Israel had no army at all at this time, and there seemed no possible solution for the hopeless situation, unless one would look to God obediently with faith.

If we were there at that time we would see a young, determined man of Israel in earnest conversation with a few men. We would draw near to hear what they were discussing. The young man was asking them, “What is that in thine hand?” They replied, “An earthenware pitcher, a lamp, and a trumpet.” How strange that the young man insisted that with just such meager implements he and the three hundred men with him could rout the mighty host below! Such was the case when Gideon and his band of three hundred defeated the Midianites.

We read that during the night the young man, Gideon, deployed the three hundred Israelites in the hills, surrounding the Midianites who were in the valley below. At a given signal from their leader each blew a trumpet, then shouted the words, “The sword of the Lord, and of Gideon.” (Judges 7:18,20) Then they broke their pitchers to reveal the lamps inside, and panic broke out among the enemy, which had bedded down for the night.

It appears that the enemy mistook each light to be the leader of a troop, holding up the torch for his men to follow him. Historians indicate it was the custom in that day for each torchbearer to represent six thousand warriors. The Midianites had concluded they were surrounded by a force larger than their own. In the darkness, confusion reigned, and the Midianites’ swords were turned against each other, and they were defeated.

All that Gideon and his men had in their hands were a pitcher, a lamp, and a trumpet. But in their hearts was a willingness to serve God, and faith that he would provide the victory. And he did. Once more the question comes to us, “What is that in thine hand?”

In David’s Hand

We leave the memorable time of Gideon’s defeat of the Midianites and travel down to another troubled point in Israel’s history. At this time Israel had an army, well-trained and ready for battle. A valley separated them from a formidable army of Philistines, and the Israelites were afraid.

In addition to being fearful, the Israelites were being daily humiliated by a personal challenge from a monstrous giant. His daily taunt was, as recorded in I Samuel 17:10,11, “I defy the armies of Israel this day; give me a man, that we may fight together. When Saul and all Israel heard those words of the Philistine, they were dismayed, and greatly afraid.”

Biblical history records that at the time when Israel was being subjected to the taunts of evil Goliath, the boy, David, came on the scene. This boy was shocked to see the army of Israel flee from the presence of the giant, and in dismay he proclaimed, “Who is this … Philistine, that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (I Sam. 17:26) David’s very statement does much to reveal his faith. To him this was not Israel’s army, or Saul’s army, but it was the army of ‘the living God’. This active faith in the heart of youthful David prompted him to speak of his willingness to accept Goliath’s challenge.

When word reached Saul concerning one in the camp willing to battle for Israel in single combat, David was called before him. “David said to Saul, Let no man’s heart fail because of him [Goliath]; thy servant will go and fight with this Philistine. And Saul said to David, Thou art not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him: for thou art but a youth, and he a man of war from his youth.” (I Sam. 17:32,33) But young David was not to be denied his opportunity to exercise his faith. With enthusiasm, and displaying great faith, he recounted previous deliverances he had had by the hand of God while doing battle with wild beasts. In conclusion he said, “The Lord that delivered me out of the paw of the lion, and out of the paw of the bear, he will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine.”—I Sam. 17:37

It appears that David’s strong faith in God so impressed King Saul, to the point that he agreed to David’s fighting as a representative of God and of Israel. Saul’s sympathies were with David to such an extent that he made arrangements for the youth to wear his own armor. However, after David tried on the helmet and coat of mail, and had placed the sword on his side, he decided against wearing the protective gear. He said concerning the armor and the sword, that he had “not proved them.” He felt untrained to wear Saul’s armor because he had not previously tried them in combat.

If we had been present at that time we would have wondered greatly as David began to remove the coat of mail. Especially would we have been concerned because it was apparent that David actually intended to do battle. We would have watched as the unarmed youth, with only his slingshot in his hand, headed down the valley and toward mighty Goliath.

We would have been interested to see him stop at the brook and, for a moment, busy himself. And as he arose we would have seen that he had gathered five smooth stones. He had with him his staff, a shepherd’s bag, and a slingshot, and five smooth stones, and he was walking toward a huge, fierce giant to do battle. But in his heart was faith in God—he knew the battle was the Lord’s.—I Sam. 17:40

The account indicates that Goliath disdained the youth, and said, “Am I a dog, that thou comest to me with staves? And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. And the Philistine said to David, Come to me, and I will give thy flesh unto the fowls of the air, and to the beasts of the field.”—I Sam. 17:43,44

But young David, with complete faith in God, was unafraid. Note the courage in his words that he flung at the approaching giant: “Thou comest to me with a sword, and a spear, and with a shield: but I come to thee in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom thou hast defied.”—I Sam.17:45

So the boy, with merely a few stones and a sling in his hand, marched out as the opposing armies watched, and with his sling he hurled just one stone, which slew mighty Goliath. This demonstration of faith in God has, throughout the centuries since, stirred many hearts. May we who are now servants of God keep it well in mind. As we engage the hosts of evil in battle, let us not think of their might, or of our own weakness. Instead, let us think as did David, whose final words to Goliath were, “All this assembly shall know that the Lord saveth not with the sword and spear: for the battle is the Lord’s.”—I Sam. 17:47

Yes, that which we have in our hand may be only a smooth stone and a slingshot, but if the Lord indicates it is acceptable in his service, it will be blessed abundantly. Just what do we have in our hand?

In Mary’s Hand

In reverie, let us once more go back the many years to the time of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Imagine ourselves in a home in Bethany where Jesus and his disciples are gathered at a meal. We behold this scene, and among those at the table we note Lazarus, who had been raised from the dead. As we stand watching, we see a woman in the doorway, manifesting great agitation of spirit, as though uncertain about a decision. We reach her side and notice something in her hand, but before we can inquire concerning it she moves quickly toward our Lord. When she reaches him, we see that it is Mary. She anoints Jesus with the costly ointment from the alabaster box we had previously observed in her hand.

Some of the disciples expressed indignation, saying, “To what purpose is this waste?” (Matt. 26:8) But Jesus defended her, saying that she had poured this ointment on him in preparation for his burial. Of course this was meaningless to them at that time; they did not know that he was shortly to die on the cross. Nevertheless, the tone of his remarks was such that she felt commended, and the disciples felt reproved. All Mary had in her hand was the ‘alabaster box of very precious ointment’. (vs. 7) Probably this was Mary of Bethany, so desirous of showing her love for the Lord, because he had awakened her brother, Lazarus, from the dead.

Did the Lord bless this simple act of devotion? Indeed he did! When the alabaster box was broken the perfume quickly filled the room. Its fragrance is with us to this day, wherever we are, as we recall her act of devotion at this very moment. This is true because Jesus said, as recorded in Matthew 26:13, “Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this Gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her.”

How beautifully this illustrates the Lord’s approval of our serving one another. But one may ask, in doubt, “What can I do to be a blessing to my brethren?” To such we would reply, “What is that in thine hand?” If the Lord so appreciated Mary’s act of simple devotion that he decreed it should be told wherever the Gospel was preached, would he not be mindful of each thought of love one of us has toward another? And if an attempt is made to express this love, asking the Lord’s blessing, it shall surely be blessed.

How often a pen in the hand of a saint has been used by the Lord to bring blessings to someone. We can so easily, without much expense of time or money, be the source of encouragement to our isolated brethren. It matters not if our hands are gnarled with arthritis. Our aching fingers can reach out to others with messages of love and encouragement, which the Lord will surely bless. It may be that in our hand is just a stick, or stone, perfume, or pen, but by the Lord’s grace these can be used to bless others if our hearts are willing. What is that in thine hand?

In Paul’s Hand

Once again our minds go back to the period of the Early Church. In Corinth we walk close by the water’s edge and there behold men at their several tasks. Fishermen are coming in from their night of toil. Laborers are bending their backs as they unload the ships from distant ports. And then we note two men in animated conversation while still hard at work. Of the elder we inquire, “What is that in thine hand?”

The hand held out for us to inspect had, grasped between the thumb and forefinger, a needle strung with cord. We ask of him, “What kind of work do you do?” The answer, clear and forthright, comes back, “I serve God with this needle and cord.” This imagined conversation could have taken place if we had there talked to the Apostle Paul. Because, when he was called of God and had to leave his high position as a Pharisee, all he had in his hand was the needle and cord which he had learned to use as a sail and tentmaker. It was all he possessed at the time, but he was willing to use it to earn the money with which he paid for his pilgrimage. And how wondrously God blessed him in the service of the church.

In Acts 18:1-3 we read, “Paul departed from Athens, and came to Corinth; and found a Jew named Aquila. … Because he was of the same craft, he abode with them, and wrought: for by their occupation they were tentmakers.” Paul’s time and talent was consecrated to God, and he considered himself merely the steward of these things which God could and did bless. His trade, which could be a laborious one, was, nevertheless, a means of livelihood. By engaging in it, his ministry to the Early Church could be financed by himself, without putting a burden on anyone else.

Note well Paul’s love for, and dedication to, his brethren as we read 1 Thessalonians 2:7-9: “We were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children: so being affectionately desirous of you, we were willing to have imparted unto you, not the Gospel of God only, but also our own souls, because ye were dear unto us. For ye remember, brethren, our labor and travail: for laboring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the Gospel of God.”

In Our Hands

What is in our hands? Some of us may be salesmen, mechanics, gardeners, homemakers, or one of many other occupations. But do we consider it a means of serving God? Have we prayed that God open our eyes to our privileges, and seeing them, have we joyfully attempted to fulfill God’s will? To a true child of God, only such a course can bring full joy and peace of heart.

To Moses of old, God blessed a stick in his hand; and with Gideon it was the earthen pitcher and lamp. God blessed young David’s efforts with the pebble from the brook; and Mary used her precious perfume. Faithful Paul wrought ‘night and day’ with his needle and cord, so that he could preach the Gospel. We must have something in our hand which we can use to praise the Lord.

Our prayer is just this: “Dear Lord, Help us to recognize what tools or talents we possess, with which we can serve and praise thee. And, humbly, we ask thy blessing to be upon our efforts to faithfully use these tools that you have put into our hands, to serve thy people, and thy truth, and thus to serve thee. Amen.”

Dawn Bible Students Association
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