Beating Around the Burning Bush
|Exodus 2:23-25; 3:10-15; 4:10-17|
Our journey through the story of the Old Testament this fall has taken a giant leap forward. Jacob, the stealer of the blessing from his brother, Esau, and his father, Isaac, has married four women and sired 12 sons, 10 of whom conspire to sell one of them, Joseph, into slavery into Egypt. With God’s help, Joseph rises in prominence and helps save Egypt from a devastating famine. The famine forces Joseph’s family to Egypt where he is ultimately reconciled with his brothers and reunited with his father. The whole clan moves to Egypt where they flourish as a people, that is until a king who does not remember Joseph fears the Israelites and makes them slaves. Enter Moses, who is saved from infanticide by Pharaoh’s daughter, raised in her household, but flees because he has been seen killing an Egyptian and now makes his livelihood tending sheep. Ok, let’s take a breath.
23During 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. 24God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. 25So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them (Exodus 2:23-25).
The story of Exodus really begins with our passage this morning. The situation of the Israelites in Egypt has become progressively worse until it has become unbearable. The text says they “groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God” (vs. 23). What strikes me here is that it’s been four hundred years since Jacob and his family moved to Egypt. Now, I know that the famine didn’t last for four hundred years—so, why did they stay in Egypt? Why didn’t they go back to Canaan after the famine ended?
The reason, I think is, that they had become comfortable in Egypt. After all, life was hard in Canaan. There they were surrounded by enemies, but in Egypt they were honored guests (at least at first). They were taken care of and given the best land, so why not stay in Egypt? And over time, Egypt became more home to them than Canaan.
I not one to spiritualize every Old Testament passage, but it’s difficult not to see here a parallel with the Christian life. When we become too comfortable with the ways of the world, this world will eventually enslave us. Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias said, “Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay.” It was only when the Israelites realized their need and cried out that God began to act.
It doesn’t say that they cried out to God. Did they even remember, after 400 years in Egypt, the God of their ancestors? It’s possible that they had forgotten Him and had begun to worship the Egyptian gods. Joshua 24:14, “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord.”
There are three verbs in vss. 24-25 that describe God’s activity: He heard. He remembered. He looked. Now, I don’t think this implies that God had forgotten them, but that because of their crying out, he determined to act on their behalf according to the promises he had made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—to bless them, give them the land and bless all people through them. We see grace here. God would deliver them from slavery in Egypt, not because they were so faithful in worshiping him, but because of his own nature.
Next, God will appear to the person he has chosen to be the deliverer of his people, Moses. God could have delivered his people b himself, but he didn’t choose to do so, for some reason he chooses to act through a person.
10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”
11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
12 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.”
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.’”
15 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,
God appears to Moses in the burning-but-not-consumed-bush calling him to active duty. What follows is one of the most interesting exchanges in the Bible. Most commentators are pretty hard on Moses. His responses to God have been called everything from “reluctant” to “conniving.” However, I don’t think Moses is acting unreasonably; he is simply asking good questions. And even though 4:14 tells us “the Lord’s anger burned against Moses” God, nevertheless answers all of Moses’s questions and objections.
First, Moses protests that he is unworthy. Moses asked, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (3:11). Moses had been raised in the household of Pharaoh, but he had killed an Egyptian overseer that had been abusing a Hebrew and had to flee for his life. “I’m a murderer, Lord, a condemned criminal. I’m not the sort of person that should be going before the king.”
We all have things in our pasts or present that we may feel makes us unworthy to serve God.
God answers, “I will be with you.” Moses, I’m not sending you there alone. We’ll be a team. You may be nobody, but I am Somebody.” Remember what Paul told the Corinthians:
26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong (1 Corinthians 1:26-27).
Next, Moses declares that he is unknowing. Moses asks, “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?” (3:13). Moses is saying that he doesn’t know anything about this God. Nowhere in the story does it indicate Moses has had any contact with the God of his ancestors. In fact, we don’t know if he, or the Israelite for that matter, knew this name for God. I think he has every right to ask who it is that is calling him to do some pretty outrageous things. God answers,
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’” (3:14).
“I am who I am.” There has been a lot of discussion about what exactly this means. It can be translated “I am who I am,” or “I am who I will be,” or “I will do what I will do.” The one way I know it cannot be translated is, “I will be who you want me to be.” You see, we all want God to be what we want him to be—to fit our ideas and fulfill our desires—but this is precisely what God refuses to be. “I am who I am—live with it.”
That name I AM is the Hebrew word YHVH. It is considered so holy by the Jews that they will not pronounce it. To protect the name of God from profanation, they added the vowels from another name for God, Adonai, and came up with YaHoVaH – Jehovah – a made-up word. (Take that, JWs!) By the way, it is this name that Jesus refers to in John 8:58 when he said, “Before Abraham was born, I am!”
For the sake of clarity, however, God does add,
“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’ (3:15).
We do this. When we introduce ourselves someone we might say, “I’m a friend of John’s,” using somebody we both know. God is telling Moses, in effect, “I’m a friend of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. You know those guys.”
We may argue, “God I don’t know enough to serve you. I’ve never taken a course in theology.” But God isn’t looking for people with perfect resumes, he’s looking for people willing to step out for him.
10 Moses said to the Lord, “Pardon your servant, 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.”
11 The Lord said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord? 12 Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”
13 But Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.”
14 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 he will be glad to see you. 15 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. 16 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. 17 But take this staff in your hand so you can perform the signs with it” (4:10-17).
Next, Moses objects that he is unqualified. “This job requires someone who can speak well. Lord, you know I am not eloquent” (4:10). To which God answers,
“Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord? 12 Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”
I know it’s trite, but it’s true, “God doesn’t call the qualified, he qualifies the called.” God enables us to do what he has called us to do. Most of the people God has called have been unworthy, unqualified or unknowing. In fact, being unqualified is practically a job requirement for those who would serve God.
“I’m unwilling,” was Moses’s final excuse.
But Moses said, “Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else” (14:13).
God has patiently answered all of Moses’s questions, he has met all of Moses’s objections with promises of his presence and to teach him what to say, and yet Moses still is unwilling to go. And the text says, Then the Lord’s anger burned against Moses (vs. 14). In other words, God got ticked off. And yet, he doesn’t just destroy Moses. Once again, he concedes to Moses’s need. He gives Moses two things: a helper and a tool.
The helper is his brother, Aaron:
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. 16 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 (4:15-16).
Moses, I know you can’t talk well, but your brother, Aaron has a way with words, so I’ll let him do the talking.
We all have different gifts, and serving God is not a one-person show. That’s why we need each other. Your gifts complement my gifts. God sends Aaron to help Moses and later he will give him more helpers—his sister, Miriam, Joshua, Hur, Caleb. It’s good to know that when God sends us, he usually doesn’t send us alone.
The tool God gave Moses was his shepherd’s staff. Earlier, God had asked Moses,
What is that in your hand?”
“A staff,” he replied.
3 The Lord said, “Throw it on the ground.”
Moses threw it on the ground and it became a snake, and he ran from it. 4 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. 5 “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” (4:2-5).
God took an ordinary shepherd’s staff and used it to work a miracle. The ordinary, when given to God, becomes extraordinary. This reminds us that God equips those he sends. He can take the ordinary talents and abilities you have and use them in ways you never believed possible. I ask you, as God asked Moses, “What’s in your hand?” What abilities or resources do you have that you can dedicate to God’s use?
I found this on the internet this week:
The next time you feel like GOD can't use you, just remember...
Noah was a drunk
In spite of their weaknesses or what their current situation was, God called and equipped them. We can trust God to provide for us. He is the one who came down to meet with Moses in the burning bush, and God came down to meet us—to be with us—in the Person of Jesus Christ.
God promised Moses that he would be with him, and Jesus promised never to leave us. He said, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).
When God calls, you can come up with as many excuses as you like, but God’s promise is real. He promises to be with you, he promises to bring you people to help, and to equip you to do the work he has planned just for you.
It probably won’t be a wooden staff that God will give you. But, it may be a musical instrument, it may be a pen, it may be a job, it may even be a checkbook. Whatever he calls you to do, he will equip you.
Despite the protest of Moses or you and me, God is faithful. He calls unworthy, unknowing, unqualified people to serve and to love in his world. When he calls, he equips.