This week, we continue our series on the life and ministry of Moses. Last week, we began by looking at the roots of this man God called to liberate his people from bondage. As we read the story of Moses’ birth and his own deliverance from death as a Hebrew male infant, we noted the thrilling ways in which God’s sovereign hand was controlling the events surrounding his early life. We saw that God used the training Moses received in the finest Egyptian academies to partially prepare him for his later role as the leader of the Jews. We also noted however that, with all Moses training and his “power in word and deeds,” the schooling he received in Egypt left him still unprepared for his ministry in the most important aspect. The best Moses could do to liberate the Jews with only his education and natural abilities was to murder an Egyptian and run away to Midian as a fugitive. Moses was still lacking the most important ingredient to be a leader God could use, character.
We also looked at what God used to develop Moses’ character in the second 40 years of his life spent on the backside of Midian. We noted that God doesn’t say hardly anything in Scripture about the first 80 years, the first two thirds of Moses life. The crucial 40 year period of training Moses received in Midian can be totally summarized by saying that he took a wife, became a father and worked as a shepherd for his father in law. That’s the extent of the biblical record regarding Moses’ leadership training in Midian. We wondered why, given the importance of character development and leadership training, God didn’t tell us more about his preparation of this man who is probably the greatest leader in the Bible apart from Christ. The answer, we saw is because character is worked out, not in the heroic or noteworthy circumstances of life, but in the daily trials and tests we encounter in the utterly unremarkable context of daily living. Moses’ character—his heart, was shaped by the private decisions he made in his day-to-day existence as a husband, a father and a shepherd in Midian.
This week, we move to God’s call of Moses into ministry. When God had prepared Moses and the time came for him to liberate the Jews from the bondage of Egypt, God, as he did with so many of his greatly used servants, issued a formal call to Moses into this ministry of liberation and leadership. From the text we just heard, we could not say that Moses received this call with any enthusiasm. As we said last week, the man who, forty years earlier had been more than willing to take the initiative to liberate the Jews, here in Exodus three, is anything but a “take charge” guy. Moses’ initial response to God’s call is NOT his finest hour. This opening chapter of Moses’ ministry is ironic because the hallmark of his life, as it unfolds in the next four books of the Pentateuch, is his nearly unwavering dependency upon God. Moses trusted God and God did amazing things through him. Yet, here in Exodus three, we just don’t see the trust in God that will later characterize his ministry. In fact, this is one of just a few recorded instances where Moses provides a negative example for us.
As we examine Moses’ failings in this call narrative, we can see by implication some of the prerequisites or building blocks for trust in God that would later make Moses a man God used so mightily. Before we see that, we must understand the nature of God’s call to Moses. What was it that God was calling Moses to trust him for? In his call to Moses, God was calling him to go back to a people whom he hadn’t even seen in 40 years and, as an outsider, tell them God had called him to LEAD them. Moses was not only an outsider, but he was also a man whose only previous liberation experience had been to murder one Egyptian and then high tail it out of the country. Not only that, but Moses was going to tell the Jews God had chosen him to lead them out of the bondage of slavery they had known for 400 years. No Hebrew knew anything other than slavery. Their national identity was defined in large part by the fact that they were an enslaved people. The Hebrews were a slave race farther back than any one of them could remember.
God calls Moses to go back to these people and tell them they were not going to be slaves any longer and the reason they weren’t going to be slaves anymore is because God was going to use him to set them free. What’s more, Moses was going to convince Pharaoh, the leader of the most powerful nation in the world, to release the slaves that accounted for so much of the economic wealth in Egypt. Pharaoh, this Machiavellian butcher, who was part of a dynasty that had mercilessly killed thousands of Hebrew babies, was going to be told to do something that would radically compromise his nation’s economic strength and permanently alter his people’s way of life. And he will be told the reason he should do this is because the God of the Israelites, who hadn’t seemed to mind his people being enslaved for the past 400 years, will tell him through a Midianite shepherd to let the Hebrew slaves go. To say that Moses would face opposition when he brought all this back to Egypt is a gross understatement. Moses knows that and in the face of that opposition folds up like a cheap card table when God calls him to begin this ministry of liberation.
Notice how God progressively reveals just where Moses fits into his mission to liberate the Hebrews. First, just after Moses encounters the bush and is informed it is God in the fire, God tells him of his liberation of the Hebrews in verse eight. He says; “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,” Notice how he puts that. “I have come down to rescue them…” GOD is the rescuer—it is going to be HIS work—HE will do it—it is his responsibility. That must thrilled Moses. “God is finally going to do it. He’s going to liberate his people. No wonder my efforts 40 years ago were a disaster. It’s no wonder I couldn’t set these people free--this is a GOD-sized mission and he has taken up the task, Go to it Lord—blessings on you!” That’s verse eight. But two verses later he says, “So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt." Can’t you just hear what must have shot through Moses’ mind? “Whoa—stop the ox cart. WHAT did you say? You want ME to bring your people out of Egypt? I thought you said YOU were going to rescue them.”
Finally, in verse 12 he brings to a conclusion this progressive revelation of where Moses fits in his plan to liberate the Jews to its conclusion. He says, “…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." This tells us so much about the way God works through his people. For a ministry to honor God and count for eternity, God must be the One doing the ministry, but he uses people who are filled with Him to do it—He does it, but He does it through them. We see an example of this later on in salvation history. When the Jews prepare to cleanse the promised land of all the wicked idolaters there, he promises the Jews through Moses in Deuteronomy 20:4, “For the Lord your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory." God commits himself to “fight for you against your enemies” but we know when we read the battle narratives that he fights through men with swords and knives and slings. God fights, the Israelites could never have defeated these nations larger and stronger than they were. But God fights and wins the battles through his people.
This cooperation between God and his children is also true of sanctification—the process wherein we become more and more like Christ. Philippians 2:12-13 spells both sides of this process. He says, “…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” We MUST work it out, but the only reason we can work it out is because God is giving us the will and the ability to do so. All throughout Scripture, we see God reassuring people he calls to do impossible thing by telling them, “I will be with you.” In Deuteronomy 31:23, he tells the new leader of the Jews, Joshua, “…Be strong and courageous, for you will bring the Israelites into the land I promised them on oath, and I myself will be with you." He reassures Joshua this way several times.
The reason Moses failed so badly here is because he failed to see the opposition to his ministry in the light of God’s character. Moses hears this call to this ministry with all the opposition and God is drowned out of the picture. Even though God has assured him of his presence and power, Moses is looking at all these obstacles in light of his own inability. Even at the end of the call narrative, when Moses tells he is completely wrong for this ministry because (v.10) “I have never been eloquent…I am slow of speech and tongue.” Moses is focusing on Moses and God says, in essence, “Moses, its not about you, its about ME.” His actual words were, “Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? How gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I, the LORD?” God repeatedly reveals his character to Moses to build faith, but Moses can’t take his eyes off his own limitations. One thing Moses does right here is, he understands he can in no way do what God is asking him to do. If we ever do a ministry with any confidence that we are capable of doing it ourselves, then we can be assured that God will have no part of it and it will be of no eternal consequence. We need to see clearly our own inability, but Moses stopped there. He heard God’s provision as a whisper, while his own weaknesses screamed at him and that’s backwards.
If Moses had maintained the same miniscule level of faith throughout his ministry that he displays here at the burning bush, he would never have taken the Jews out of Egypt. Moses clearly learned to trust God but we don’t see the fruit of that learning here. God revealed his character to Moses in at least three ways but Moses failed to draw confidence from these revelations. The first way God revealed his character to Moses is in his own experience of God. Here, at the bush, Moses has a profound experience with God that only a few people in history have shared. This experience was doubtless given to Moses to build faith in him.
First, we see Moses experience God in the bush that burns but isn’t consumed. Now, to an age jaded by digital special effects, this might not seem like a big deal but to even most people today, it is axiomatic that fire has a very destructive effect on organic matter, especially humble desert bushes. Also, notice the inconsistency between Moses response to God and his lack of trust in God’s ability to take care of his opposition. In verse five, when God tells Moses to stop in his tracks and take off his sandals because he is speaking to God, what is Moses’ response? He “hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.” Moses believed what the patriarchs before him believed--that it was nothing short of a miracle if, when you actually saw God, you survived the experience. In Genesis 32, when Jacob wrestled with God, he was amazed he was still alive. The Jews quite rightly believed that the actual presence of God was generally lethal to human beings and Moses did what any good Hebrew would do if God actually showed up, he hid his face. We must remember that this conversation between God and Moses took place with Moses hiding his face.
So here is Moses hiding his face from this God, whose presence he believes to be lethal to humans, and yet he is unwilling to trust that this lethal God couldn’t dust off Pharaoh. His own intuitive understanding of God’s holiness which he displays right here should have been enough to cause him to trust God against the opposition. Beyond this, God does some other fairly remarkable things to establish his credibility with Moses. In 4:4 he turns a walking stick into a venomous snake and the snake scares Moses. Again, we see the irony of Moses running from a snake while arguing with the Lord of the universe. What’s wrong with THAT picture? Moses never seems to go there. In 4:7, God turns Moses’ hand leprous and the fear of leprosy was a huge fear in the Ancient near east. It basically ruined your life. It essentially eats your flesh away and along the way, you end up infecting your family with it or at least being permanently separated from every one you love. Yet, God not only showed his power to give someone this dreaded scourge, he also shows that he is able to heal this incurable ailment. He also promises to turn water into blood, which isn’t a bad trick either. So Moses had what should have been a remarkable faith-building experience with God. God showed himself in a very brief time to be a God full of awesome, opposition-defeating power.
Second, God reveals his character to Moses by citing his record of past workings.
He tells him in 3:6, “I am the God of your Father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” This is actually when Moses hid his face because this told him this was the God who worked among his kinsmen 400 years ago. He clearly didn’t die like people did—He was alive and talking through a bush four centuries later, long after the Patriarchs and all their children and great, great, great grandchildren had died. This was the God who had called Abraham out of paganism and made him wealthy. This was the God who had enabled Sarah to become pregnant in her 90’s. This was the God who miraculously blessed Isaac and Jacob. This was the God who had taken a spoiled son of Jacob and sovereignly worked to make him the prime minister of Egypt. This was the God who had promised the Hebrew people the Promised Land. This God had an incredible RESUME and Moses knew all that. This was a God who had never failed to do what he had attempted. True, He hadn’t said much lately, but the lesson of history is clear--when he was openly active, he was unstoppable. And now, as C.S. Lewis would say, He was on the move again. By referring to his past, with all the miracles that revealed his character, God was giving Moses a powerful reason to trust him in the midst of the opposition he would face.
God reveals another aspect of his character in verses 13-14. “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.” The third way God reveals his character to Moses is, He reveals his name to Moses. And there is so much in the name of God to instill tremendous, opposition-crushing confidence.
When God says he is “I AM” he is saying, I am the origin, source and beginning of being. The most essential quality anyone or anything has is being—They ARE—they exist. God uses this most essential quality, the quality of being to describe himself because part of what he is communicating is his all-encompassing nature. He is saying, you will never be able to put me in a box; you will never be able to contain me. You can describe me, but even your most in depth descriptions will only scratch the surface of who I am. You can see my hand at work, but my works are only incomplete expressions of who I am. I am the origin, source and beginning of the most basic, essential quality of the universe—I AM. God is speaking of his transcendence—he is not going to fit any of our finite categories. You can’t say contain God in words like “I am holy” or “I am omnipotent” or “I am omniscient” or “I am love” All those are true, but they don’t do it. SO God says, “I AM.”
As it related to Moses and this call to ministry, what God wanted Moses to know was, all the power you need, all the wisdom, all the knowledge, all the resources, spiritually, mentally, materially, militarily, emotionally are found in me. I AM. God is the answer to every question Moses had as it related to this ministry. God is the answer to every need the Jews in their desire for liberation. Who is able to break the strangle hold the powerful Egypt has on these enslaved Hebrews? I AM. Who is able to destroy these Canaanite nations who now occupy the land promised to Abraham and his descendents? I AM. Who is sufficient to wrestle these stubborn, rebellious Jews into a place of submission? I AM. The name of God, Yahweh or I AM says it all. Who is the ground of all our confidence? HE IS. Who is the source of all hope? HE IS. HE is the supply of our every need—HE IS.
What does all of this mean to us? This lesson is so crucial to all of us because, although we will not be called to do something of the magnitude God called Moses to, anything we ever do for God will be done in the face of opposition and that means we will need to see the opposition in the light of his character. This is faith, seeing the obstacles to our life in Christ and our ministries in the light of God’s character. We must know that anything God calls us to do is utterly impossible in part because the Christian life is filled with opposition. Our flesh, which is lazy and hates to be stretched beyond our comfort zones, opposes us. We are opposed by the satanically governed world, which provides a hostile context for anything that honors God. This world is no friend of grace and if we are doing anything that counts for God, we are swimming upstream, against the current of this dark world. Finally, we have the opposition of the adversary who hates God, hates the church and who, according to Christ, comes to “steal, kill and destroy” us. I think its safe to say that “stealing, killing and destroying” qualifies as opposition.
Even though the opposition we face is not as glaring as that which Moses stared into, we cannot overcome even the slightest bit of opposition unless we must view it though the lens of a glorious God who has promised to be with us as we carry out his mission. The good news is that God is still in the business of giving his servants confidence-building revelations of his character and he expects us to live faith-filled lives in the light of how he has revealed himself to us. When God calls us to do something we know we are in no way capable of doing, we must do what God did for Moses, call to mind our past experiences of God’s work in our lives. Each person here has a laundry list of God’s faithfulness—times when God delivered you from trouble, when he supplied your needs monetarily, emotionally or spiritually—times when he met with you powerfully in prayer or on some other mountain top experience with you, a conference, a message, a bible study—times when he did for you what ONLY HE could do for you. We should keep a running record of God’s faithfulness to draw on during those times when opposition confronts us. We have faced opposition before and God has always been with us, even when we didn’t feel like he was. Its sad that so often when God calls us into a context where opposition abounds that we act as if our life is a sterile vacuum where God has never been. God works in our life, in part, to instill confidence in Him so we will have a basis of faith to draw on when future opposition arises.
Second, we have it all over Moses when it comes to drawing strength from God’s former acts in history. Moses had only the events recorded in Genesis to draw faith from, but we have the complete, inspired revelation of God—66 books of God’s miracles, 1189 chapters of God’s flawless provision, magnificent might and overcoming power. The resume of God’s workings Moses had was the greatly abridged version—we have the entire canon of sacred scripture. When God calls us into contexts where opposition is present, we should soak our head in this book—in the stories of God’s deliverance, God’s provision, God’s protection and God goodness. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.” The book is a boundless reservoir of faith-building stories about the workings of an opposition-crushing God.
Finally, Moses had the Great Name of God to instill confidence—Yahweh, I AM, which communicates in broad strokes God’s glorious majesty. But we have through the word dozens of other names of God that unpack God’s glory in ways that address whatever specific opposition we may face. When we are so weak it feels like we will faint, the God who is with us is El Shaddai, God Almighty. We should look to him and not the opposition. When we are greatly outnumbered and the demonic horde is assailing us, the God who is with us is Jehovah Sabaoth, the Lord of hosts, the commander of all the heavenly armies who can dispense whatever angelic protection we need. Our focus should be on him, not those who seemingly outnumber us. When we are tempted to be anxious and emotionally overwhelmed by the flood of opposition, the God who is with us is Jehovah Shalom—the Lord is Peace who calms the storms in our soul. We should look to him and not allow ourselves to become anxious. When we don’t know what direction to turn in the midst of a spiritual fight, the God who is with us is Jehovah Rohi, the Lord my Shepherd who will lead us beside the still waters. We should look to the Shepherd of our souls when we feel lost. When we feel so condemned and beat up by the Accuser of the brethren, the God who is with us is Jehovah Tsidkenu—the Lord who is our righteousness and who makes us acceptable to a holy God by the blood of the Lamb. We should train our eyes on God and not listen to the voice of the accuser.
No matter what opposition comes against us as we face the opposition that comes with being a child of God and serving the king, I AM has promised to be with us and to work through us in his manifold mercy and grace. May God give us grace to learn from the lessons of Moses at the bush and see our opposition in the light of God’s glorious character.
Page last modified on 1/1/2002
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