"Signs" play a major role in Old and New Testament accounts. The Hebrew word for "sign" is 'ot [pronounced "oath"] and the Greek word for "sign" is semeia [pronounced "suhmayyah"]. The word "sign" occurs 79 times in the Old Testament. This word has different nuances in different contexts, so it is very important to pay careful attention to the meaning of this term in each text. Broadly speaking, a "sign" is some kind of "indicator" or "pointer" beyond itself to something more important or greater. Occasionally, a "sign" is a "superhuman" or "miraculous" act of God, but often it is a statement or a promise or a symbolic name or a gesture which one encounters normally in daily life.
As we continue our journey through the Book of Exodus, in the story of the encounter between God and Moses at the burning bush on Mount Horeb [=Sinai],Exodus 3:1-4:17, God gives Moses and the Israelites FOUR "signs." Let us examine each of these signs.
1. When Moses offered his first excuse: "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?", God replied: "I will be with you; and this shall be THE SIGN for you that it is I who sent you: WHEN YOU HAVE BROUGHT THE PEOPLE OUT OF EGYPT, YOU SHALL WORSHIP GOD ON THIS MOUNTAIN." (Exodus 3:11-12).
This "sign" is not a miraculous act of God, but a simple, straightforward assurance or promise to Moses that when Yahweh through Moses has brought the people of Israel, Moses and the Israelites shall worship [note that the word "YOU shall worship" is PLURAL in the Hebrew text here] God on this mountain [Mount Horeb=Sinai]. God expects Moses to believe and accept God's assurance. This "sign" will not occur until the Israelites return from Egypt to Mount Sinai. But God charges Moses to BELIEVE God will bring this to reality.
This is the same kind of "sign" which Yahweh gave Eli to instruct Eli that Eli's priesthood would come to an end and be replaced by Zadok. Yahweh said to Eli in 1 Samuel 2:34: "The fate of your [Eli's] two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, shall be THE SIGN to you--both of them shall die on the same day." This "sign" is not a miraculous act of God, but a simple, straightforward statement that Hophni and Phinehas [Eli's sons] will die ON THE SAME DAY. 1 Samuel 4:10-11 relates that Hophni and Phinehas died on the same day when the Philistines routed the Israelites.
This is also the same kind of "sign" which Yahweh gave King Ahaz when Ahaz was faced with making a decision about whether he would trust in Yahweh or send to Tiglath-pileser III, the king of Assyria, to protect Ahaz and Judah against the forces of Rezin of Syria and Pekah of North Israel during the Syro-Ephraimite War in 734-732 B. C. (Isaiah 7:1-2). Isaiah 7:14 says: "Therefore the Lord will give YOU [plural--the Judeans with and under Ahaz] a SIGN. Look the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanu-el." This "sign" is not a miraculous act of God, but a simple, straightforward promise that within the next twelve months [733-732 B. C.], an anonymous young pregnant woman to whom the prophet Isaiah points will have a SON [not a daughter, not twins or triplets], and this anonymous woman will call this newborn son "Immanu-el," "with us [the Judeans in the days of Ahaz] is God." So, this "son" is a "sign" to Ahaz and the Judeans that God is with the Judeans and therefore must trust in him and not in Tiglath-pileser III.
2. When Moses offered his third excuse, "But suppose they [the Israelites] do not believe me or listen to me, but say, 'The Lord did not appear to you,'" Yahweh gave Moses three signs to prove or demonstrate the Israelites that the Lord did indeed appear to Moses at the burning bush: (a) God changed Moses' staff into a snake, and when Moses picked up the tail of the snake God changed it into Moses' staff; (2) God told Moses to put his hand into his cloak and it became leprous, then when Moses put it into his cloak again it was restored; (c) God told Moses to take some water from the Nile and pour in on the dry ground, and when Moses did this it became blood. (Exodus 4:1-9). Exodus 4:8-9 specifically designate each of these divine acts "signs." In this case, God's "signs" to Moses for the Israelites are miraculous deeds. And yet, the "signs" themselves are not important. Rather, these "signs" are designed to convince the Israelites to "believe" that Yahweh was with Moses and that Yahweh will be with the Israelites and bring them out of Egyptian bondage. Note that the word "believe" repeatedly appears in Exodus 4:1, 5, 8, 9.
There is a striking parallel to this understanding of "signs" in the account of Jesus' feeding the 5000 in John 6. The day after Jesus fed the multitudes with five barley loaves and two fish, the crowd found Jesus and asked him: "Rabbi, when did you come here?" "Jesus answered them, 'Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, NOT BECAUSE YOU SAW SIGNS, but because you ate your fill of loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you." (John 6:25-27).
"Signs" are NOT goals for which God's people should seek or achieve, BUT RATHER "indicators" or "pointers" to God's greater truths and goals in life.
What are some of God's "signs" which he offers you for your life? Share this with others.