Encounters with God is a sermon series about the theophanies or divine appearances and how they reveal the stunning character of God and his heart for a world that is lost without him. Encounters with God: Moses, pt 1 — In Moses’ classic encounter with God in the burning bush, we clearly see that God is faithful to save. But will we trust in God’s plan AND his timing? Recorded on Nov 7, 2021, on Exodus 3:1-15, by Pastor David Parks.
All year, we’re focusing on The Greatness of God. And today, we’re continuing a sermon series we started last week called Encounters with God. In the Bible, when God appears to someone it’s known as a theophany or divine appearing. And these encounters are wild stories, full of surprises. God never seems to act how we would expect. However, again and again, these stories reveal the stunning character of God and his heart for a world that is lost without him. Today, we’ll consider Moses’ encounter with God in Exodus 3. Last week we saw God’s heart to do whatever it takes to have a relationship with people, starting with the family of Abraham and Sarah. Today, we’ll see God’s faithfulness to keep his promises to Abraham in his commitment to rescue and redeem his people from Egypt. God is faithful to save. If you have a Bible/app, please open to Exodus 3:1.
Exodus 3:1-6 (NIV), “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. 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. 3 So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.” 4 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.” 5 “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” 6 Then he said, “I am the God of your father,[a] 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.”
Let’s pause here. So first, a little context. Last week, we looked at the passage where God promised to give a people and a place to Abraham and Sarah. But God had promised that it would be long after Abraham had passed away. Now here, Moses was an Israelite, a member of Abraham and Sarah’s family, who was born in Egypt when the Israelites were slaves there. And in Moses’ day, they were being harshly oppressed and abused. But in the providence of God, Moses wasn’t raised as a slave, but by Pharaoh’s daughter, in Pharaoh’s household, with all the wealth and prosperity that would bring. So if there was anyone who had the education and the political relationships to lead God’s people out of captivity in Egypt, it would’ve been Moses. But it didn’t seem to work out initially. When Moses was 40 years old, he was pulled into a dispute between an Israelite and an Egyptian and wound up killing the Egyptian. So afterward, Moses was forced to flee from Egypt to Midian (Saudi Arabia). And Moses was accepted as a refugee there. He got married, started a family, and worked as a shepherd for his father-in-law. Now here, some 40 years later, at what Moses was likely believing to be the end of his career as a shepherd, he was on a journey several weeks from his home in Midian. And he found himself on Mount Horeb, the mountain of God, which was also known as Mount Sinai, when all of a sudden, he has this theophany, this encounter with God.
So first observation: God’s appearance is different. Last week, we saw that God’s word appeared to Abraham in a vision and then as a smoking firepot with a blazing torch. Here, God appears to Moses in a burning bush. This is one thing we’ll see again and again in this series. Every time God shows up, the details are a little different. Fire is often present, but not every time and in different ways. Of course, the burning bush catches Moses’ attention because it’s on fire but it doesn’t seem to be burning up. And he drew near, God spoke to him saying, “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(s), 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.” Second observation: the person’s response in their encounter with God is again one of fear. Last week, God immediately said, “Do not be afraid.” to Abram. And then later a think, dreadful darkness appeared when God came near. Here, when Moses hears the word of the Lord, he’s afraid to even look at God. This suggests to me that if we imagine God as one who is tame and unthreatening, one who is more like a kindly old grandfather in the sky, we might be shocked if we actually came face to face with the true and living God. He is alive and powerful. His holiness is often perceived as a threat to the sinner, not a comfort. If this makes you uncomfortable, I have to remind you of a quote from C.S. Lewis that, “We have to take reality as it comes to us. There is no good jabbering on about what it ought to be like or what we expected it to be like.” (CS Lewis, Mere Christianity, chapter 5) And this is the reality of who God is. So why does God appear to Moses in this way? How will God respond to Moses’ fear? Let’s keep going with v. 7.
Exodus 3:7-10 (NIV), “7 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. 8 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. 9 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.”
So here we get so much good news. God doesn’t draw near to Moses, he doesn’t use his theophany to condemn him or to try to make him afraid. However, God doesn’t bend over backward to reassure Moses or to coddle him either (after all, Moses isn’t a child). In this encounter, God jumps right to the point saying that he is about to deliver/rescue his people from Egypt. He is there to help and he is faithful to save. And look at what God says motivated him to intervene: I have seen their misery/oppression, I have heard their cries, I am concerned about their suffering, so I have come down to rescue them. Third observation: Many, many people find it hard to believe in God because of the great pain and suffering of this broken world. How could God exist, how could God be both good and powerful, and let the evil and misery of this world continue? For individual situations of suffering, which some of us have had direct experience in our own lives or with our loved ones, we may not get an explanation of why God allowed it to happen. This broken world is full of cancer and car accidents, suffering that we cause or that happens to us. And these painful situations may indeed cause us to question God’s power or his goodness or even his existence. But here, and in many places in the Bible, we clearly see that God does in fact care about the suffering of people, and is moved to do something about it. God actually draws closer to the suffering. As the psalmist writes in Ps 34, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” If you are struggling today, if you’re dealing with the pain and suffering of this broken world, your life/cries/struggles are not invisible to God. He is moved to help, he is faithful to save.
My fourth observation from this text is about timing. God’s plan unfolds according to God’s timing, not according to our timing. So often I wish this were not the case, I wish that God operated according to our timing, but this is simply not the case. Let’s do this little thought experiment. If God’s plan and the promises that he made to Abraham that we looked at last week, had happened according to Abraham’s preferred timing, when do you think they would’ve happened? I would guess that Abraham would’ve made the timing so that he could’ve seen the fulfillment of God’s promises happen in his lifetime. But that’s not how it worked, right? From our text last week, we clearly saw that this whole situation of the people of Israel in Egypt and needing to be rescued was part of God’s plan from at least when he entered into a covenant relationship with Abraham and Sarah, if not earlier than that. God knew that he would need to save Israel from Egypt from the beginning, but it was his wisdom that guided his timing. He would do whatever it took to be faithful to his promises for them, but other details needed to come together in order for the timing to be right. What other details? Well, remember from last week that God wasn’t going to displace the Amorites and other peoples from the land of Canaan until their sin had reached its full measure. Also, God wanted to demonstrate his power to the Egyptians as a judgment against their gods. Also, God wanted to provide for his people both in their knowledge and in their wealth as they left Egypt. Also, God wanted Israel to learn that God was faithful to save and so on. The Lord, in his infinite wisdom, unfolded his plan according to his timing so as to weave countless threads together in just the right way to demonstrate his glory and according to his goodness for all to see. “So now, go, Moses.” God says, “I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” I have heard the cries of my people and the timing is right to save them. Well, how does Moses respond to God? How would you respond to God if this were happening to you? Look at v. 11.
Exodus 3:11-15 (NIV), “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, the name you shall call me from generation to generation.”
Remember, that Moses had tried to lead his people in Egypt, but it resulted in a 40-year exile in Midian. Now here, toward what he must have thought was the end of his life as a shepherd, it was this moment that God chose to send him back to Egypt to lead Israel. But after all this time, Moses had learned humility (or maybe had developed a little insecurity in his leadership gifting). “Who am I that you should send me, Lord? Who am I that I should be the one to go? Who am I that people would listen to me or follow me?” And what does God say? How does God respond? God, the one who sees the suffering of people and is moved to intervene. The one who is faithful to save. God says, “I will be with you.” Do not be afraid, Moses. Why? I will be with you. My presence will go with you. I will not abandon you. I will never leave you or forsake you. Now, a great question after this statement is how Moses responds to God. Well…who are you? “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?” Who are you, Lord? Who is going with me to Egypt? 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.’” This is where we get the name of Yahweh. Yahweh sounds like the Hebrew phrase “I am.” God says in effect, you want to know who I am? I am, I exist, I am reality, I am eternal, I am everywhere, I just am. The “I am” is both sending you and is with you. Then God says to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord (Yahweh, in the Hebrew), 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 you shall call me from generation to generation.” Nothing could be more of an encouragement, nothing could be more helpful to Moses to know that the one who had promised to establish a people and give them a place was the one who was calling him now and the one who would even go with him to accomplish this task. This God had appeared to his ancestors. This God had made the heavens and the earth. This God was now concerned about his people and had come near to keep his word to rescue them in their time of need. He was faithful. He was faithful to save.
So what does this mean for us today? How does this relate to us as followers of Jesus? Well, first, if you’re not a Christian here today, understand that this is who God is. God is not far off and removed from our circumstances or our lives. He is near. He hears the cries of those who are oppressed or abused or are suffering. And he is a God who cares for those in need. And if you were to believe in Jesus and seek to know him and follow him as Lord, this is what he is like. Second, if you are a Christian, how are you doing with trusting in God’s plan and his timing for your life? So many things happen in this broken world that are so not what we want to happen. So many things happen and we feel like we’re picking up the pieces of our hopes or our expectations for what God will do in our lives. Do you remember that God is good and God is faithful, but God’s timing might be completely different than what we would want? Are you ok with that? Are you ok to be like Abraham and wait 400 years for God to do what he promised to do? Are you ok with the fact that God might be weaving together hundreds or thousands of threads together in a way that is good and right and true when we might only see 3-4 threads on any given day? God is faithful. And he is faithful to save. How many of us would’ve expected what God did in his greatest act of salvation? How many of us would’ve expected the cross of Christ? Not many, I would guess. If, in the fullness of time, God was faithful to save through the death and resurrection of Jesus, will he not be faithful to save us in our time of need? Indeed, he will. May we turn to him and trust in him all the days of our lives.