Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
February 10, 1955

"Take It By The Tail"


"And the Lord said unto Moses, Put forth thine hand, and take it by the tail. And he put forth his hand, and caught it, and it became a rod in his hand." (Exodus 4:4.) These startling words are taken from the familiar story of God's appearing to Moses from the burning bush to commission him to go into Egypt to deliver Israel from her bondage. Moses was reluctant to undertake the task. He felt his own insignificance and unimportance, 'Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt.' But God would not be stayed from His purpose. And to convince Moses that he would have the help of heaven in his task, a number of signs or miracles were wrought. Among them was the casting of the rod upon the ground, to see it become a living snake, and then the command to "Put forth thine hand, and take it by the tail."

Moses was afraid of the serpent. Whatever his astonishment at the miracle may have been, there can be no doubt of his terror when he "fled from before" the snake. It was at this moment that God gave him a command contrary to all reason, prudence, judgment, and human wisdom — to pick up a live serpent by the tail. Certainly in that land of open country and uninhabitated mountains, there must have been many varieties of snakes. Moses was familiar enough with them that he knew a snake was not to be treated as a pet. He "fled" from the presence of the living serpent which a moment before had been a harmless rod in his hand. And if at any time a snake needed to be taken alive, no man of any wisdom or experience at all would have so little sense as to try to take one "by the tail." Rather, a forked stick would be pressed down firmly on the snake's body just back of the head; and with the utmost care the reptile would be caught and firmly held with a tight grip as close to the head as possible. Never, no, never! by the tail.

The simple act of faith demonstrated by Moses when "he put forth his hand, and caught it" should be a lesson to all men in all ages thereafter to whom the story might become known. For it is right here (the act of complete and unquestioning faith) that we have the battle-ground of nearly all religious controversy in every age. Men are not willing to trust God's wisdom, God's way, and God's word. They desire always to inject their own ideas, their own desires, and rely on their own wisdom. One of the most obvious ways in which this can be done is seen in the age-old controversy about baptism.

What could be more obvious and more plainly stated than the Lord's command in this matter? "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned." (Mark 16:15, 16.) The early disciples had no disposition to question and dispute this simple requirement. Those who believed "were baptized"; all who "gladly received the word" were baptized; the very fact of belief in Christ implied baptism. (Acts 19:1-3.) But how many millions there have been since those days who have used their own human judgment and wisdom to declare that "baptism is non-essential," "baptism does not save," and "baptism is only an outward sign of an inward grace," etc., rejecting the counsel of God, and belittling the divine wisdom which predicated our salvation in part upon baptism.

Man has always been inclined to follow his own ways rather than God's. Isaiah pointed this out long centuries before Christ was ever born, when he declared, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:8, 9.) This same human failing led the Holy Spirit to state through Paul, "For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God . . . . Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men." (1 Cor. 1:18, 25.)

There are not many commandments of God which men have not questioned at one time or another. The very circumstances by which the early church was surrounded led the "wise men after the flesh," the "mighty" and the "noble" to hold Christianity in derision and contempt. That a group of "ignorant and unlearned" Jews could have any message to which a cultured and highly educated Greek or Roman ought to listen was to many unthinkable. To argue for such was calling upon them to abandon reason and common sense, and to give themselves over to fanaticism and superstition!

In our own day we have abundant evidence that human nature has not changed. The simple gospel of Christ, with its plain and unpretentious ways, has little appeal for the "mighty" and the "wise men after the flesh." The very organization (or lack of it) of the church is a stumbling-block to many. They cannot see how any thing so completely devoid of centralized authority or power can ever hope to succeed in reaching the whole world. Even among our own brethren in the church there is not lacking evidence that the wisdom of this world dictates centralized combinations of power and authority and resources. Man has always found power and effectiveness in centralized organizations; the Lord's way must seem weak and ineffective almost to the point of foolishness if not foolhardiness.

When we can have the sort of faith that Moses showed — a complete willingness to obey the Lord, regardless of how unreasonable or foolish his commands may appear — then and only then can we have assurance that our lives are acceptable before him. Just so long as we follow human wisdom, just that long are we in danger of having "a righteousness of our own."

— F. Y. T.