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The First Sign

2 And Yahweh said unto him, What is that in thine hand? And he said, A rod.

3 And he said, Cast it on the ground. And he cast it on the ground, and it became a serpent; and Moses fled from before it.

4 And Yahweh 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:

What if it be a strange thing to turn a rod into a serpent and a serpent back again into a rod: is it impossible? Impossible to man, granted; but where is the man having the least glimmer of the resources of the universe, or the least acquaintance with the subtle constitution of nature, who would declare such a thing impossible in the abstract? A man can only say it is a thing he never saw happen, or heard of any other living person having seen happen. He can only say he cannot do it, and does not know how it could be done.

He might even go as far as to say he does not believe it could possibly happen without the intervention of a higher exercise of power than is ordinarily at work in nature. Further than this, a man in reason could not go, unless indeed he were to add, as he might easily add, if he were a reflective student of nature, that it would be presumptuous in him to set bounds to the possible transmutations of nature in view of what he sees at work every day in the field.

Does he not see any year an immense production of food substance from the soil, which, when produced, is a combination of subtle materials derived from the earth, the atmosphere, the rain, sun, etc.? Does he know how manure and loam and water are transformed into grain and garden stuff?

He does not know. He is familiar with the fact, and some mistake familiarity for understanding. If our supposed critic is a wise man, he will not perpetrate this confusion. He will allow to himself that the chemical (or whatever other adjective he may use to qualify the process) operation by which muck is changed to bread, is to his mind inscrutable, although an every-day occurrence.

But let him follow the bread and the fruits of the field. What becomes of them? "Eaten, of course," you say: but what becomes of the stuff eaten? Eaten by cows, they turn into cow; eaten by horses, they turn into horse; eaten by men, they turn into man; and suppose some of the men are serpents (which they are), then they turn into serpent.

Now, here is the mould that you would sweep out of your house; water that you would prefer rather to be outside your house than in; air that you cannot see; and light that enables you to see all things, but that cannot itself be seen-I say, here are all these things (much more unlikely than the vegetable fibre of a rod) turned into a serpent: and why are you to say that a rod cannot be turned into a serpent? The one serpent is made by the slow transmutation of substance, and the other by the quick transmutation of substance. Are we going to make a difficulty of the quickness? If so, to whom is it a difficulty? To us? Granted.

The work would be a great difficulty to us-quick or slow; for we cannot do it slow if we had got a million years to do it in. It is not man that makes the grain by slow agriculture. He but supplies the conditions by which God does it by means of the nature He has given things.

But to God? Shall you say the quickness is a difficulty to Him? If so, can you object to be charged with presumption and extremest folly in measuring the eternal by the mortal? - the possible by what you have seen? - the power of God by the weakness of man?

Visible Hand of God Ch 10