Moses did not know, when he got up that morning, dressed, broke his fast, kissed his family goodbye, and went to work that his life would never be the same again. His family did not know that the man leading the flock sheep to the other side of the desert would return to lead the Children of Israel out of Egyptian bondage. No clue that this day was any different than any other.
Even though Moses did not know what was in store for him that day, he was ready. He did not even know he was ready. God did! As we heard last week, God has his own time. It had been forty years since Moses had slain the Egyptian and fled from his home. Forty years since Moses had thought himself ready to be the deliverer. I don't know what the significance of forty is in the Bible. Some of you theologians may know that. Please share it with me. It seems like forty is often associated with preparation: getting ready for something. It rained for forty days to prepare the world for a new generation. The children of Israel wandered for forty years before they were given the opportunity to enter the promised land to start a new people. Well, they failed so God chose to send them out there for forty more years. There is something about forty. When Jesus was baptized and before He started His official movement, He spent forty days in the wilderness. Here we find Moses thought that he was ready, but forty years later God thought he was ready. It took Moses forty years to be ready to say "Here I am," and "Who am I."
Turn with me to Exodus 3:1 Now, Moses was tending his the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, Now that's a good thing to do: marry the pastor's daughter. That's what I did. and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. You know, Moses was taking the sheep further and further from home to find food. Being a nomadic family it was probably about time to move their whole home to greener pastures. But before that, Moses is going far afield and I can just picture the sheep on their way across the desert nibbling at this little tuft of grass and maybe it's the same one they had nibbled on the past three days. It's getting shorter and shorter, but finally Moses finds a place at the foot of Mount Horeb, more commonly know as Mount Sinai.
Verse 2 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. When was the last time you saw a burning bush? I saw one last Tuesday. Actually, I saw many of them because I was burning a brush pile in my back yard (yes, I had a permit). My problem was that my bushes would not burn up either - they were green. I had just put them there. Its amazing what a little diesel fuel will do. But the bushes in the desert were known for burning up easily. Lightning strikes in the desert and poof, like flash paper that bush is gone. Dry twigs, nothing can stop it. A Pathfinder in a fire building contest would love to get hold of one of these bushes! In fact, our Pathfinders last week at Camporee weren't allowed to do their fir-building contest. They couldn't get a permit: too much wind and hot weather.
In fact, when I was a Pathfinder, we had a contest during a Camporee. This contest required that a Pathfinder unit to work as a team by starting a fire using one match, no paper, whatever wood could be found in the forest, while other members of the unit mixed pancake batter, getting it ready to cook it over the fire that was to be built. When the pancake was half done the person that was cooking it would run twenty yards, flip the pancake over a wire, catch it in the skillet and run back to finish cooking it. The unit whose counselor finished eating the pancake first (complete with butter and syrup), won the contest. Many a counselor walked away with burned lips, including my father, who was our counselor.
We had a boy in our unit that was all thumbs. He was hard to like and easy to pick on because of his diminutive stature. He was even smaller than I was. We didn't want him near the fire because he would either put it out or burn himself. or somebody else. We didn't want him near the pancake batter for fear of him spilling something. So we sent him after wood in the forest with the secret hope that he would get lost. We didn't give him a compass or anything.
It had recently rained and none of the competing units were having success at finding dry wood for the fire, including ours. The other boys we had sent out were bringing handfuls of wet sticks. We were wondering how we were going to get this thing going. But where was that boy with the thumbs? Maybe he did get lost. Then we heard a rustle in the bushes. He emerged scratched and dirty, but he was pulling along behind him something we have no idea where he got it: a large dry brittle fir tree. came straggling in after everyone else. To our, and everyone else's, amazement, he was dragging behind him a large, dead, dry Fir tree with all of its branches intact. He drug that up to our fire that we were trying to get going. The other units looked at us. And weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. "it is not fair!" We liked that boy a lot better after that weekend. We did not share with them! Those branches blazed with a consuming fire and we won the contest! The bush that Moses saw was just as flammable as that fir tree, but was not consumed.
Verse 3 So Moses thought, "I will go over and see this strange sight--why the bush does not burn up." After all, there's not a lot of entertainment in the desert. This was indeed a strange sight! Now, we have heard this story, most of us since before we can remember hearing the story. It was just ingrained into our minds and maybe we've become so familiar with it that it no longer holds the awe and respect that it deserves. Let's modernize it just a bit. Say we sing our closing hymn today, shake hands and you walk out and you find your car in the parking lot burning with a raging fire! You notice that it does not explode and that the paint does not even blister! And you walk up to see this strange thing and it calls you by name and carries on a conversation with you. Now, that's strange. But no more strange than this bush in the desert burning with a voice coming from it. This is even more strange than one of my favorite stories: Balaam's Donkey talking to him. The burning bush doesn't even have a mouth.
Revelations of God to His people are strange, exciting, and often enough, accompanied with fire. Fire can mean purification. Fire can mean judgement. And a number of other things. Those of you who didn't make plans for the rest of this day, your home work for this afternoon is to discover how many times fire and God appear in the same place in the Scriptures. You'll be amazed. All the way from the tongues of fire over the apostles' heads. God is there. Let me know how many times, okay? The significance of a lowly bush that is not consumed has been greatly debated by theologians. The best explanation that I have come across is that God was showing Moses that He understood the humiliation of His people. God could have chosen a great tree to reveal Himself but He chose a thorny old scrub-brush of a bush. The fact that the fire did not consume it could represent the fact that even though God's people were suffering great trials, they also would not be consumed. Refined but not exterminated.
Verse 4 When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, "Moses! Moses!" You know, God is amazing. He not only knows where to find Moses there in the desert, e calls him by name. With the vast multitudes of people on this earth, God knows who you are. He knows where you are today. He knows what you went through this morning to get here. He knows about little Johnny who didn't cooperate in getting his shoes on. He know all of that. He knows your name. If He met you on the street, He would call you by name. God is awesome. And this is the very point that God wanted Moses to know. This is the point that God wanted the children of Israel to know. "I know who you are. I understand you. I know more about you than you do. And Moses said, "Here I am." "Here I am." Not, "I'm out of here!" Or, "I must be hearing things." Moses had been prepared for this moment.
Verse 5 "Do not come any closer," God said. "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground." Reverence and awe should fill each of our hearts when we enter into the presence of God! We should have that feeling every time we come through the doors of this sanctuary, this place that we call God's House. Do we really believe that God is here? That's an awesome thought. We are on holy ground.
What is "holy ground?" Why is it important to "stand" there? Simply stated, it is turf that has come under the touch of God, and it cannot be produced by human actions. Only God can make anything holy. We built this building. That didn't make it holy. God entered this building; it became holy. Anything that we do of ourselves cannot make us holy. But the fact that God enters our lives makes us holy. We have a human habit of designating some Bible characters as holy men. But we must not loose sight of the fact that they are not holy because of anything in themselves. They have simply experienced the touch of God's grace. Someone entered their lives. Nothing good of themselves made them ready to meet with God. God prepared them for that. God covered them.
Moses stepping out of his sandals has more meaning than an Eastern custom of respect and reverence. For Moses to step out of his shoes was an action with clear implications! I step out of what I have produced into the possibilities that You have created. It is more than likely that in that nomadic family, Moses would have made his own sandals. They were man made. If the place you stand is the realm of your own creation, you will always remain limited to your own capacities. God's message is; "Come, taste, and test the potential of walking in My creative possibilities."
He didn't know it yet, but Moses was about to be called to face a number of impossibilities many years long and a wilderness wide: An unyielding Pharaoh, an army in hot pursuit, a sea blocking escape, a desert journey with thousands upon thousands of mouths to feed. The list goes on. Only a God with an infinitely larger degree of capacity than man at his best can provide the assistance that Moses would need!
Take off your shoes. Step onto holy ground. And you'll se what God can do. The call to become barefoot in the presence of God is a call to honesty. It called Moses to a declaration of dependence upon God.
Verse 6 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. Moses was now sure of who this was. Moses knew his history. In fact, He had written it. The book of Genesis had already been written. Moses knew of God's leading in the past. He knew God was capable of leading in the future.
Verses 7 and 8 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. "Now the cry of the Israelites has reached me. I have indeed seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. Yes, Moses, I have been paying attention. I am aware of what is going on. I know you have had questions of where I am, but I'm here. I know what my people are going through. I have indeed seen, Moses. Yes, Moses. I've been paying attention." Notice it says here: "I have come down to deliver my people. Bethlehem is not the first time that God came down to rescue His people. "I have come down to this earth to do something about this."
Verse 9-11 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."
But Moses said to God, "Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt?" Forty years earlier he would have said, "here I am! Come Lord, let's go! What are you waiting on? Can't you keep up?" God has His own time. Now, Moses said, "Who am I?" What a revealing question. A great change had come over Moses. Forty years earlier he had volunteered as a deliverer. He had gone to his people and slain one of their oppressors, thinking that they would understand that he would deliver them. But, at that time, he was not qualified for the position of leadership that he desired, and the children of Israel were not ready to be delivered. The forty years in Midian had taught him humility and distrust of himself. The adopted prince of Egypt had become a shepherd, an occupation despised by the Egyptians. What influence could he expect to have with the mighty king of the strongest nation on earth? What influence would he have over his own people who had rejected him when he was strong and self- assured? Now he would be seen as a returned fugitive. All these thoughts must have passed quickly through his mind when he asked, "Who am I?"
I have often found that people who don't feel worthy to fill a position do a better job than those that crave the position. Those who feel unworthy seem to have a better realization of the awesomeness of the task.
Verse 12 And God said, "I will be with you. That's the answer to his question: "Who am I?" "I will be with you. It doesn't matter who you are. I will be with you. It doesn't matter anything about you. I will be with you. That's who you are." If you are a Christian you've taken on the name of Christ. Christ- like. Christ is with us. "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." I'm going to bring you back here and the people will see that, yes you did see the burning bush. This is where you did meet God.
Verse 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?"
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 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."
"I Am who I Am." Some have said that this was a kind of flippant answer to Moses. Others have said that God was playing games with Moses with semantics and so on. This passage must be seen in its larger context. Moses has just received a powerful promise. God says He is about to deliver the Israelites from the most powerful nation in the world who has had them in bondage for many years. How is it possible for deliverance to happen now? Why, after all these years, does their God suddenly become active? Why should they believe this is real? These questions need answering, and the response should be easily understood by the Hebrews.
God replies by using a Hebrew verb in the imperfect form which refers to incomplete or unfinished, ongoing action. It could be translated as "I Am" and "I will be." What God means is that you should know Me as the God who is active on your behalf now and will continue to be in the future. God adds in Verse 15 points to God's past action with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Putting it all together, God is saying, "I have been, am now, and will continue to work for your deliverance. I have never been anywhere. I have always been there in my time. Call Me Yahweh (a name based on this verb form) and it will continue to remind you of My ongoing saving action on your behalf. That is how you are to identify me to Israel, and that is how I desire to be known." This was a name that the Hebrew mind could easily wrap itself around and understand. They would get the message very quickly and very clearly.
The rest of this chapter goes on to explain exactly how God will actively work in Israel's behalf. He will cause the elders of Israel to listen to Moses. He will work with His mighty hand on Pharaoh to let Israel go. This will all be proof of the truth of His name.
The enslaved Israelites are not interested in great philosophical speculations about God's nature. They don't want theological discussion. They are not consumed with splitting hairs over law and grace, or justification and sanctification. What they want is help, deliverance, salvation, and NOW! They want God to be there for them. The name is given to convince them that this is the kind of God that they have.
In many ways, these few verses are the theological center of the book of Exodus if not the entire Old Testament. The rest of the book of Exodus is commentary and proof that God is who He says He is--active in a real way in the lives of real people.
After this revelation of God to Moses, He is motivated to service. He loves his people. I doubt that a day in the wilderness has gone by where he did not pray for his people in Egypt, where he did not desire above all else their deliverance. He is now set apart and prepared for this task. Actually, the direction of his life did not change that day. He was following God all along, and God was leading in this very direction. This was simply motivation to continue in a greater way in that same direction.
That was Moses. That is us! If we are following God, no matter what happens to us this afternoon, no matter what happens to us this week, next year, or the years after, the direction of our lives, our destinies are in His hands. We have been called to be like Moses to be deliverers. God has a people that is in bondage to sin in this world and we have been given the commissioned to go to the entire world delivering them from this bondage by telling them about Jesus and the escape from sin. We too have been called to face humanly impossible tasks of this commission. We too have been called to do what we are unworthy to do. "who am I?" We too have the promised land to look forward to. We too have a God who knows us by name and who says I will be with you. We too have a God who came down to save us and who is coming again to take us to that promised land! We too are called to step out of the shoes of our own making onto holy ground and to walk as a barefoot army to do the impossible, relying on the great "I AM!"
Major Sources: Bible Amplifier: Exodus Destiny and Deliverance Patriarchs and Prophets
Opening Hymn: #73, Holy, Holy, Holy Scripture: Exodus 3:13,14 Closing Hymn: #326, Open My Eyes That I May See
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last updated 4/24/99 by Bob Beckett.