Then Moses answered, “But suppose they do not believe me or listen to me, but say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you.’” The Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A staff.” And he said, “Throw it on the ground.” So he threw the staff on the ground, and it became a snake; and Moses drew back from it. Then the Lord said to Moses, “Reach out your hand, and seize it by the tail”—so he reached out his hand and grasped it, and it became a staff in his hand—so that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.” - Exodus 4:1-5
We are what we repeatedly do. Moses carried a staff. Moses leaned on his staff when he climbed Mt. Sinai to talk with God. Moses probably used the staff to kill the Egyptian and also to save Jethro’s flock in the land of Midian. The staff is part of his identity. It is the symbol and tool of who he is.
But what God has done is send Moses on a mission of proclamation before a man who considers himself a demigod. So it’s no surprise to find out that Moses would rather not go. But when Moses tries to make a lame excuse why he will not proclaim God’s word to Pharaoh, God tells him, if you want to lay aside the staff and all that comes with it, go ahead. Get rid of it. Throw it on the ground and see what happens.
The staff, thrown down, turns on Moses. It turns into a snake—and snakes in Egypt are unlikely to be garter snakes. Egyptian asps kill. And this one stays close. It is coiled, looking for an opportunity to strike. Moses’ staff, his comfort, his strength, and his responsibility, thrown down on the ground, becomes poisonous. Indeed, it turns into the serpent, the tempter that brought sin and death into Eden. It will kill him if it can, in body and in soul.
Now, Moses catches the snake by the tail—which is not a good way to grab an asp if you desire to live a long life. Moses is not stupid; he knows this. But he trusts God enough to grab it as God tells him, and see what happens. This is an act of colossal trust; having the presence of mind even to hear and obey God in this moment of fear and adrenaline must have been quite a feat.
But Moses learned, in a moment, that he could not throw down his identity, or his mission, so easily. He has to proclaim—it’s not really his decision. Moses is what he repeatedly does—and he wields his staff, wherever he goes.