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Why did God turn Moses' staff into a snake?

The snake (or Uraeus) was a symbol of “Wadjet” – an early Egyptian goddess who was said to control and protect the land. The imagery came to symbolise Pharaoh’s sovereignty, royalty, deity, and divine authority in ancient Egypt. It was used in the headdress of the king of Egypt.

Using the symbolism of the snake God was showing Moses that He alone is God in control over Egypt – Not Pharaoh. He is the one true God who is sovereign over the land of Egypt and a higher authority than Pharaoh himself!

If you take all three of the signs God gave to Moses it is reasonable to see them as God showing His control over Egypt compared to Pharaoh’s false claim to be a god.

  • Sign 1 (Ex 4:3) - The snake shows God is sovereign over Pharaoh.
  • Sign 2 (Ex 4:6) - The leprosy of Moses hand. Leprosy was often a punishment for pride when individuals acted as if they were God; (see Numbers 12:1–12; 2 Kings 5:22–27; 2 Chronicles 26:16–21). So the second sign shows that God intends to punish Pharaoh.
  • Sign 3 (Ex 4:9) – The water turning to blood. God is in control even over the physical land/water of Egypt. So the third sign shows that the goddess Wadjet is not even able to protect Egypt’s water from Moses’ God. It is a sign of God’s deity over Egypt.

The signs were given to Moses to explain what God was planning to do for the people – in order to build their confidence and trust in God (see Ex 4:29-31).