Exodus 3:1-15

Jimmy JoExodus, O.T. Survey, SermonsLeave a Comment

In a Nutshell…

Read the passage here.

Today, we are looking at the calling of Moses. If you recall, Moses was living as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter presumably with a great deal of privilege.  But he ran away from Egypt after he killed a man and found himself living as a shepherd in Midian.  He had been living there for some time (40 years?) when we come to today’s passage.

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 wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 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.”

Once again, as we’ve seen repeatedly in the O.T. narrative so far, what we see is that God reaches out to humanity. This is one of the key themes that we saw in the story of Abraham (we also see it particularly in the story of Jacob).  Abraham wasn’t chosen because he was particularly great.  We spent an awful lot of time discovering how flawed Abraham was.  We don’t see anything spectacular in Moses – at least not yet.  Based on our story so far, we don’t know why God would choose him – He just does.  What we see is the faithfulness of God in spite of the fallenness of humanity.  God reached out to humanity, God chose Abraham, and God speaks to Moses, not because the Israelites deserved saving, not because we deserve saving, but because God is faithful.

But that’s also something that we’ve already talked about a lot. And not that we can talk about that enough, but that’s not really what we want to talk about today either.  Where we really want to focus our attention is on verse 14.  In their conversation:

13 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?”

14 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 tells Moses to communicate to the Israelites his name: I am.

We’ve already seen a little bit about the significance of names in the Bible. In the story of Abraham and again in the story of Jacob, we see God changing their names (From Abram and to Israel, respectively) as is fitting to the calling they receive.  We can infer, then, that the person’s name is not just a label, the change of name indicates a change of identity.  It says something about who they are.

It feels like names are pretty arbitrary.  It’s something that shouldn’t be a big deal, but it kind of is. Even though our names are arbitrary, they still communicate something of who we are.  To think about it from another angle, how important do you feel to someone if they can’t even remember your name?

Quite a lot has been written about God’s name, given here as “I am” or Yahweh. The Hebrews recognized that it was so important that they wouldn’t even write it or say it out loud.  Instead, they would often use “Adonai” which means “my Lord.”  The theory is that the vowels from Adonai were added to YHWH to give us Jehovah.  At any rate, the point being simply that the Israelites recognized the significance of receiving the name of God.

There’s a certain line of thinking that equates the name YHWH, I am, to the notion of God’s eternal present-ness. In other words, we can understand God as being eternally in the present.  There is no past or future for God, there is only is-ness.  This is one way to frame God’s omniscience – that God knows everything.  We can conceive of God’s foreknowledge, including predestination, from the perspective that it’s not future to God – everything simply is.  Or rather, God always is.

I think this is a useful framework. But I also think it doesn’t get at everything the name might mean or communicate.  I think that I Am also says something about being.  For each of us, being is contingent.  To be depends on a host of factors over which we have no control.  Each of us is because our parents did stuff.  Each of us has become who we are because of a host of influences, circumstances, reactions, etc.  Our being is contingent – it depends on things.  But God’s being is absolute.  God’s being depends on nothing external to Himself.  He is not who He is or what He is because of anything but purely because He is.

And this isn’t just a philosophical exercise, I think. Understanding this is a huge part of understanding who God is and, therefore, who we are.  Understanding this helps us conceive of God, not as someone who exists to serve us, not as someone who’s sole responsibility is to make us happy, but as one who is, in some way, completely other – entirely beyond.

And yet, God is not entirely beyond. God is not completely other.  God is the one in whom we find our being.  And so this is one other sense in which we might understand the name of God, I am.  Inasmuch as we might think of God as eternally in the present, we can also know that, for us, God is eternally present.  God is eternally with us.  Presence is a key aspect of the character of God for the people of God.

We are reading through the book of Exodus – following a (seemingly) 400 year absence to the people of God, from Joseph to Moses, all of a sudden God speaks. And in that 400 years, the people of Israel found themselves as slaves in a foreign country, oppressed, abused, and apparently forgotten.  But Exodus 2:23 tells us that God did not forget – God had not abandoned his people.

23 During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. 24 God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. 25 So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.

So What Now…?

We live in a world where it’s easier than ever before to communicate with people around the world. We have email, we have text messaging and instant messaging, we have video calling.  We can put our entire lives on Facebook or Instagram or Snapchat.  People today have thousands of friends on social media (and I can’t even keep more than a few relationships going in real life).  But it seems to me that many people are lonelier today than they’ve ever been.

What’s missing is presence. What’s missing is real people and real relationships.  Too many people are more interested in the appearance of relationships than the real thing.  Too many people are more interested in the appearance of life than the real thing.  And so, are we really even present in our own lives?  We’re rushing from activity to activity, our minds are filled with so many things, but are we really ever just here?

Have you ever been with someone, having a coffee, sharing a meal, whatever, and you could tell that they just weren’t engaging with you. Their mind was somewhere else.  Maybe you’ve been that person.

God is never that person. God is never half-way here.  God is never half paying attention with His mind and heart somewhere else.  God is always fully with you.

In our passage today:

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.

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. 10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

The Israelites probably thought that God was absent. That God had forgotten them.  That He had moved on to more important things.  But God was always present.  God is always present.  And presence matters.  God’s presence matters.

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