At Christmas time, we often think of the Good News announced to lowly shepherds in the hills of Bethlehem. Today, we go back to a similar setting. The setting is the wilderness, and Moses’ vocation is that of a mundane shepherd. God chooses a desert mountain named Mt. Horeb (meaning “wasteland”) as the place to reveal His Good News of coming deliverance for Israel. In this desolate place, Moses is about to have a face-to-face encounter with the living God far removed from the sights and sounds of the world. Exodus 3:1—
Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.
Forty years have passed since Moses murdered the Egyptian and fled Pharaoh’s wrath. Forty years—day in and day out—Moses tended another’s flock. A foreshadowing of his guiding, guarding, feeding, and caring for the LORD’S wandering flock—Israel—in same desert for 40 years. But who would have guessed it? Surely, not Moses! His faith has taken a wrong turn. But behind the scenes God is overruling and making his road straight.
This prince instructed in all the wisdom of Egypt must have felt as if he wasted his life in this wasteland. He had so much going for him and he blew it. Nevertheless, there on the far side of the desert (typical of his barren life), there awaited a mountaintop experience—an encounter with the living God of all creation. He was about to know Yahweh through personal experience!
A new day dawned and everything had to change for Moses. When he went out with his sheep that morning, he had no idea that he would meet God. It pays to be ready, for we never know what God has planned for us.
GOD APPEARS TO MOSES. Exodus 3:2-6—
There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses
saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”
When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.” “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.
There was a God to be seen. Why was Moses afraid to look at God? Staring into the raw power of God struck terror in Moses’ soul. He felt unworthy to stand before a holy God and, by looking away, demonstrated his reverence for Him. Here we have Proverbs 9:10—
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
The bush was on fire, but it did not burn—a strange sight. The appearance of God in the fire anticipates His appearance in the pillar of fire that leads the people in the desert and His appearances on Mt. Sinai.
While the bush is a divine attention-getting device, it is not simply that. There is a threefold-significance in THE BURNING BUSH.
First, it was a picture of God, for it revealed His glory and power, yet it was not consumed. Moses needed to be reminded of the glory and power of God, for he was about to undertake an impossible task.
Second, the bush symbolized Israel going through the fire of affliction, but no consumed. How often nations have tried to exterminate the Jews; only to fail!
Finally, the bush illustrated Moses—a humble shepherd, who with God’s help would become a fire that could not be put out!
Notice how God identifies Himself—I AM THE GOD OF YOUR FATHER, THE GOD OF
ABRAHAM, THE GOD OF ISAAC AND THE GOD OF JACOB. God specifically ties into the faith of Moses’ own family. Moreover, the naming of patriarchs demonstrates continuity in God between Moses and his ancestors. God’s history with Israel is of one piece. His identification harkens back to the Covenant promises made in Genesis. Moses is about to be apprised of the fact that He will be instrumental in the fulfillment of these promises.
GOD APPOINTS MOSES. Exodus 3:7-10—
The LORD said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them
crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I
have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”
I HAVE SEEN; I HAVE HEARD, I AM CONCERNED; I HAVE COME DOWN; I HAVE SEEN; I AM SENDING YOU. What a message of grace! Certainly, Moses often had wondered about the condition of his beloved people, and now he was assured that God was coming to their rescue.
The LORD called Moses as He did with every true prophet. He repeats his name for emphasis, “MOSES, MOSES.” Possibly, God had Moses take off his sandals because his service would not be commonplace. Certainly, Moses who had been brought up in Pharaoh’s court is now being taught manners. He is not to become so familiar with God that he does not stand in awe in the presence of His holiness.
We might easily apply these verses to the situation when Christ was born. It was a time of bondage, trial, and sorrow, yet God came down in the Person of His Son, to deliver men from sin.
God had a definite plan, to bring the Israelites out of Egypt to the Land promised to the descendents of Abraham in the fourth generation of their bondage. What God starts, He finishes! Moses must have rejoiced to hear God was about to deliver Israel, but then he heard the news that he was the deliver!
SO NOW, GO. I AM SENDING YOU TO PHARAOH TO BRING MY PEOPLE THE ISRAELITES OUT OF EGYPT. MY PEOPLE is an indication that God’s relationship to this people is not established at the Red Sea or at Sinai; they are MY PEOPLE for God before any of these events takes place.
There is to be no debate, Moses is simply to obey God’s clear-cut command “GO.” The key word of Chapters 3 and 4 is GO. It occurs 18 times in these two chapters.
Unfortunately and unlike Isaiah, who saw the glory of God, Moses did NOT reply, “HERE AM I, SEND ME.” Instead, Moses reached into his excuse bag and pulled out five objections that he thought might work! On the surface, it appears that Moses is merely raising objections, but they turn out to be well-concealed excuses. But for each excuse God has an answer.
MOSES’ FIRST EXCUSE and GOD’S ANSWER. Exodus 3:11-12—
But Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”
HERE AM I of verse 4 has become WHO AM I? of verse 11. Initial readiness turns into reluctance once the task is outlined.
This excuse concerns Moses’ OWN SIGNIFICANCE—“WHO AM I?” What a dramatic change has taken place. Forty years before Moses thought that all the Israelites would rally around him—the prince of Egypt. Then he was proud, now he is humble—a mere hired man, the shepherd of another’s flock. All the cockiness and arrogance have been kicked out of Moses—He is ready to worship and serve God.
The LORD’S all-sufficient answer was “I WILL BE WITH YOU.” When Jesus gave the GREAT COMMISSION to His disciples, He assured also them— “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age”.
What a promise! What an assurance! Jesus was called “IMMANUEL”—GOD WITH US and He affirmed that name. He is with us through His Spirit, in His Word, and by His providential care, and with His divine presence. This is promise that carried Dr. David Livingstone into the heart of darkest Africa and that encouraged and enabled messengers of Christ down through the years to go with the Gospel.
Moses is assured of a constant divine presence; in all that he does he will not be left to his own resources. His “I” will be accompanied by the divine “I.” His “Who am I?” will be under girded by the God who knows who he is. This gives Moses possibilities he would not have in himself.
God’s personal presence with Moses would be the SIGN, a visible guarantee that what He promised He would surely fulfill. The promise “I WILL BE WITH YOU” sustained Moses for forty years, as it later did Joshua. Certainly, Christ’s same promise help His disciples win over impossible odds. One should not be a pastor if he does not have the assurance of God’s calling and Christ’s presence in the Holy Spirit to sustain him.
Who we are is not important; that God is with us is important, for without Him we can do nothing. Jesus said in John 15:5—
I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.
WHEN YOU HAVE BROUGHT THE PEOPLE OUT OF EGYPT, YOU WILL WORSHIP GOD ON THIS MOUNTAIN. In this purpose statement by God, we have the overall movement of the Book of Exodus—FROM BONDAGE TO WORSHIP.
Whenever and whomever God redeems—whether they are OT Saints or NT Saints, He expects them to worship Him. That is the goal, purpose, objective of REDEMPTION. Many people who claim to be redeemed fail miserably to satisfy God’s purpose in rescuing them from the bondage of the world, the flesh, and the Devil.
MOSES’ SECOND EXCUSE and GOD’S ANSWER. Exodus 3:13-17—
Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, `The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, `What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: `I AM has sent me to you.'” God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, `The LORD, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation.
“Go, assemble the elders of Israel and say to them, `The LORD, the God of your fathers— the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—appeared to me and said: I have watched over you and have seen what has been done to you in Egypt. And I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—a land flowing with milk and honey.’
Moses continues the conversation with a question. His “WHO AM I?” now becomes “WHO ARE YOU?”
We admire Moses for his humility, for forty years before he would have told God who he was! He was learned . . . and mighty in words and in deeds.” But the years of discipline in the desert changed Moses. Now he wants to know “WHO IS SENDING ME?” His human openness is met by divine openness.
The answer is YAHWEH—I AM WHO I AM. The name YAHWEH denotes I ALWAYS WAS, I AM, I ALWAYS WILL BE. I am the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. “I am the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end”—the ETERNAL ONE.
I AM the God who relates to you, the God who is with you. I AM really and truly present, ready to help and to act. I AM all-sufficient declares God. I AM sovereign, all-powerful, all-knowing—I AM WHO I AM! God can be counted on to be who God is; God will be faithful. The divine name YAHWEH shapes Israel’s story, and the story gives greater texture to His name.
Our Lord Jesus added to the texture of the divine name in the Gospel of John where we find the seven great I AM statements. We can readily understand why the Jews of Christ’s day thought our Lord was blaspheming when He said to them, “Before Abraham was born, I AM.” Their reaction was to reach for rocks in order to stone Him. Our response should always be to fall at His feet in order to worship Him.
If God is I AM, then He is always the same, and His purposes will be fulfilled. God promised that he would see to it that the work was done, in spite of opposition from Pharaoh. God guarantees Moses success based on the fact the He is YAHWEH—I AM WHO I AM. Exodus 3:18-22—
“The elders of Israel will listen to you. Then you and the elders are to go to the king of
Egypt and say to him, `The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us. Let us take a three-day journey into the desert to offer sacrifices to the LORD our God.’ But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him. So I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will perform among them. After that, he will let you go. “And I will make the Egyptians favorably disposed towards this people, so that when you leave you will not go empty-handed. Every woman is to ask her neighbor and any woman living in her house for articles of silver and gold and for clothing, which you will put on your sons and daughters. And so you will plunder the Egyptians.”
God has given Moses the agenda and course to follow—the plan of deliverance. God tells Moses that Pharaoh will refuse to let Israel go. Pharaoh’s refusal will open God’s campaign against the gods of Egypt. God will then bring plagues that will cause Pharaoh to change his mind and send Israel on its way from Egypt.
God has a plan to deliver Israel, and deliver them He will with Moses help. Neither Moses nor God acts alone in bringing Israel out of Egypt. The activity of both is crucial for what is to happen. God needs Moses as an instrument in and through whom to work.
MOSES’ SECOND EXCUSE and GOD’S ANSWER. Exodus 4:1-9—
Moses answered, “What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, `The LORD did
not appear to you’?” Then the LORD said to him, “What is that in your hand?” “A staff,”
he replied. The LORD said, “Throw it on the ground.” Moses threw it on the ground and it became a snake, and he ran from it. Then the LORD said to him, “Reach out your hand and take it by the tail.” So Moses reached out and took hold of the snake and it turned back into a staff in his hand. “This,” said the LORD, “is so that they may believe that the LORD, the God of their fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has appeared to you.”
Then the LORD said, “Put your hand inside your cloak.” So Moses put his hand into his
cloak, and when he took it out, it was leprous, like snow. “Now put it back into your cloak,” he said. So Moses put his hand back into his cloak, and when he took it out, it was restored, like the rest of his flesh.
Then the LORD said, “If they do not believe you or pay attention to the first miraculous
sign, they may believe the second. But if they do not believe these two signs or listen to you, take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground. The water you take from the river will become blood on the ground.”
To paraphrase, Moses answered, “THEY WILL NOT BELIEVE ME.” But God had just said that they would believe him, so this statement was nothing but open unbelief. Moses was certain of uncertainty. Fear of failure tightened its grip around him. How many never step out in faith because they are afraid that they might fail? Or, that God will fail them?
From Moses’ perspective, getting the people to believe him is a more serious issue than God suggests. As it turns out people both listen and do not listen. God does not chide in any way, Moses for his response.
Instead, God gave Moses two miracles—the staff changed to a serpent and the hand made leprous—to encourage him. These would be credentials before the people also. Notice that God takes what we have in our hands and uses it, if we but trust Him. Of itself, the shepherd’s staff in Moses’ hand was nothing, but in God’s hands, it became power.
Moses’ own hand had killed a man, but in the second miracle of leprous hand, God shows him that He could heal the weakness of the flesh and use Moses for His glory. His own hand was nothing, but in God’s hand, it would do wonders!
Then God added a third sign—turning water into blood. These signs did convince God’s people, but they were only imitated by the godless Egyptians. The signs seem to have little effect on Moses. Signs may dazzle, but they may not lead to belief. Belief cannot be compelled by evidence or external signs no matter how unusual. John 12:37 reports—
Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him.
This exchange reveals something about the nature of God’s relationship with Moses. God does not adopt a take it or leave it attitude. He is open to disagreement, argument, even challenge on Moses’ part. God is clearly the authority, but God’s approach to Moses within relationship is not that of an absolute dictator. God’s way into the future takes into account the human perspective. Even though, Moses is beginning to try God’s patience.
MOSES’ FOURTH EXCUSE AND GOD’S ANSWER. Exodus 4:10-12—
Moses said to the LORD, “O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.” The LORD said to him, “Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”
God said, “I AM”—and all Moses could say was, “I AM NOT!” He was looking at himself and his failures instead of to God and His power. In this case, Moses argued that he was not a gifted speaker. But the same God who made the mouth could use it. God does not need eloquence or oratory to teach His great truths.
In fact, Moses is the great lawgiver of the OT and Paul is the great theologian of the NT. Neither would have won a public speaking contest, tickled the ears, or entertained those who listened. Paul writes of himself in his Letters to the Corinthians—
When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God . . . For some say, “His letters are weighty and forceful, but in person he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing . . . I may not be a trained speaker, but I do have knowledge. We have made this perfectly clear to you in every way (1 Corinthians 1:1, 10; 2 Corinthians 11:6).
God simply accepts that Moses has a speech problem; in fact, God has been involved in this physical development. God does not always call “perfect individuals” to leadership positions among His people. God calls people to tasks with warts and all. Human giftedness is irrelevant to God. Fear of the LORD, wisdom, knowledge and understanding of the Holy One are far more important. Moses’ excuse holds no sway. Again, God gives a direct command—NOW GO; I WILL HELP YOU SPEAK AND WILL TEACH YOU WHAT TO SAY. Yet, Moses is still not convinced.
MOSES’ FIFTH EXCUSE AND GOD’S ANSWER. Exodus 4:13-17—
But Moses said, “O Lord, please send someone else to do it.” Then the LORD’s anger
burned against Moses and he said, “What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you, and his heart will be glad when he sees you. You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do. He will speak to the people for you, and it will be as if he were your mouth and as if you were God to him. But take this staff in your hand so that you can perform miraculous signs with it.”
Now it becomes evident that Moses objections were merely well disguised excuses—O LORD, PLEASE SEND SOMEONE ELSE TO DO IT. “Send anybody, but not me!” “I don’t want to do it!” “There must be someone else better suited for this job than me!”
Patience exploded—Yahweh’s anger burned against Moses. God had shown him that He was able to accomplish the impossible, but Moses wanted no parts of God’s calling. Did Moses’ attitude of unbelief anger God? YES! Did God get angry to impress Moses about the seriousness of His call? YES! God is not to be trifled with. There is nothing worse than to have God angry with you!
An angry God gave Aaron to Moses to be his helper. It is not surprising that more than once, Aaron turned out to be more of a hindrance than a help! He led the nation into idolatry and murmured against Moses. How tragic that Moses was willing to trust a weak man of flesh instead of the living God of heaven.
Was it just chance that Aaron was coming to see his brother at this moment in time? Or was God working at both ends of the line to bring two brothers together to serve Him? Did He know Moses’ heart so well that He knew what his response to His calling would be? Did God have Plan B in reserve in case Plan A failed?
God had announced that Moses and the elders would bring a message to Pharaoh. Yet the elders are never said to go to Pharaoh. Apparently, Aaron replaces the elders. This is an important observation for understanding God. Events subsequent to God’s statement about the future occasion a change in the way things proceed. The goal is reached, but not always, the way God would have accomplished it alone. He allows man to exercise free will and then overrules his mistakes for His purposes. The greatness of His sovereignty is even more majestic when we understand that God is not pulling the strings like on a puppet.
Here we a clear illustration of how God’s possibilities are related to what God has to work with in the world. God has determined to work in and through people in bringing Israel out of Egypt. God’s best option in this situation is the choice of Moses alone to carry out the task. Given human nature, God resorts to other options.
God is going to use Moses warts and all. This means that God will move with Moses, even adapting original divine plans. God’s way into the future is not simply dictated by His divine word and His will. God places His Word and Will into the hands of another for him to do with what he will. That is for God a risky venture, fraught with negative possibilities. God will now have to work in and through Moses’ frailties as well as strengths. This will mean something less than what would have been possible had God acted alone; God is not in total control of ensuing events.
All of God’s persuasive powers are brought to bear on Moses and he remains unconvinced. God’s best efforts do not meet with instant success. God must resort to plan B, calling Aaron to be Moses’ voice.
Obviously, God is not delighted with this option. In fact, God is angry! But God goes with what is possible; using Aaron is now the best option available to God. God always aims for the best in every situation, but God must often work with options that are less than best. God often has to accept what people do with the gifts and talents they have been given.
Moses is eighty years old. He is a very old man for his time. Amazingly, Moses never used the excuse that I often hear. “I am getting too old! I need to wind down. I choose to do other things, but not the LORD’S work.” I am sure Moses would have used age as an excuse if God had told him that it would take forty years to get the Israelites to the Promised Land. Do you know what? God gave Moses forty years more years of good health because he served him according to Deuteronomy 34:5-7—
And Moses the servant of the LORD died there in Moab, as the LORD had said. He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is. Moses was a hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyes were not weak nor his strength gone.
How many Christians cut short their life because they refuse to be used of God while blessed with good health?
On the other hand, one of the reasons many people are not used is because they are too strong. God could not use Moses at age 40, but He could at age 80. Paul makes a similar observation in 2 Corinthians 12:10—
That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
When Moses learned that he could not deliver Israel, but that God could do it through him, God was ready to use him. It is out of weakness that we are made strong. It is amazing what God can do through a weak vessel.
God’s creative work in Moses’ life to this point has shaped a human being with endowments suited for the tasks ahead. He is lumpy clay who has been shaped by the Potter’s hand. Moses is suited for God’s purposes and he is told to “GO!”