Exodus 3:7-4:17 - Listen to the Signs
February 9, 2014 Speaker: Series: Exodus
Topic: Sunday Worship Passage: Exodus 3:7–4:17
[Text: Exodus 3:7-4:17] “Listen to the Signs”
Last week we heard how God introduced Himself to Moses in the burning bush. God provided for him through the mediator in the fire so that Moses was not consumed. We won’t have time to go over all of that again (it will be online soon), but today builds on that grace as God calls Moses – commissions Moses – for the work God had for him. Through Moses, God was going to rescue His people.
[Pray – Guide us, O God, in the reading of your Word, and by your Holy Spirit, that in your light we may see light, in your truth find freedom, and in your will discover peace; through Christ our Lord, Amen.]
[Read Exodus 3:7-4:17]
Sometimes more readily than at others, like when there’s been another abuse scandal or another bomb in a distant land, most people you meet would agree with you if you told them that things aren’t the way they’re supposed to be. And you don’t have to get too far below the surface in anyone’s life to know that they themselves have experienced the wrongness of life first-hand. At times the wrongness of life has wounded us. At other times, we ourselves have wielded the weapon and wounded others.
Ancient Israel was wounded. They knew life wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. For 400 years they’d been slaves building the cities of the Pharaohs. That’s 146,000 days of constructing monuments to the ruthless power of Egypt. So, at the end of chapter 2 we hear them groan because of their slavery and cry out for help. But I wonder; what did ancient Israel think would help. What would make life right for them? Would freedom fix everything? Has mere political freedom made life right for us?
And so we come to the problem. We’ll readily agree with the idea that things aren’t right. But where people begin to radically disagree is how things can be made right. “If we just had the right political party in power…; if the economy could just be shored up…; if the right gun laws could be passed…; if we could just get a good education for every child…; if we could just have less religion…; if we could just have a little more religion…” people say, “then things will get better.” If I can just have more/have less (you fill in the blank), then things will be the way they’re supposed to be.
Persistent in the story of humanity is a sense that things aren’t right. But what if our solutions aren’t really solutions? What if they’re only addressing the symptoms of something deeper and by focusing on them we’re missing the plan God has already set into motion to make things right?
This passage in Exodus 3 is about God hearing His people cry for help and answering. But when He moved to act, He didn’t act in the way they might have expected. He could have torn the sky open and come down. He could have spoken a word and destroyed Egypt in a spectacular cataclysm. But He didn’t. He sent Moses. Weak Moses. Unsure-of-himself Moses. Doubting Moses. Not-really-eager-to-go Moses. He’s hardly a heroic figure – an eighty year old, exiled shepherd?!? But God sent Moses as His appointed representative. And this passage is his commissioning. From this point onward, Israel needed to recognize that God was acting through Moses. And they needed to embrace that reality no matter what. They would need to cast aside their plans, their ideas for how to make things right and listen to Moses, following him as He followed the LORD.
But as the Story goes, we see that Israel didn’t really like God’s plan. They thought this Moses guy was the worst and God’s plan was terrible.
Throughout the Story of Redemption – from the promise in the Garden to the Exodus; from the Cross of Christ to the promises of the age to come – throughout this Story we hear about God’s plan to rescue His people from curse that came into the world when humanity rebelled against the LORD. We shattered our relationship with Him by running away in disobedience. We shattered ourselves in the process, breaking life as it was meant to be and making it the fractured, painful reality we see. But God had a plan to make things right. For ancient Israel, the solution – their salvation – would come through Moses as God’s appointed representative. They had to listen to him or be found rejecting YHWH himself.
For our time in the Story, salvation comes through faith in Jesus, trusting him and resting in his death and resurrection. Jesus is God’s appointed representative to lead His people out of slavery to sin and into life as it is supposed to be. God’s plan involves weakness and crucifixions and suffering and self-denial. It means I have to lose my life if I’m going to find it. So, if you’re like me, there are plenty of times when I’d really rather God follow my plan. I might not say it out loud, but my actions say that I think His plan is the worst.
A friend summed it up; “I know that I am often tempted to think that God's plan for me is shaky or ill informed. His way of salvation can look foolish…and we want to tell God how to do things better.” How wise we feel. But what has the collective wisdom of humanity achieved so far?
But for all our failings and rejection of Him, we still see God going ahead with His plan anyway. Even though Israel would often reject Moses, God still used him to lead His people to Himself. And even though we rejected Jesus, God still sent him to die for our forgiveness. So, let’s look together at this passage to learn more about this loving and gracious God. As He sent Moses to Israel with a plan that looked like foolishness, He sent Jesus to us with a plan that appeared the same. But at both times in the Story, faithfulness to God looks like embracing the one God sent, listening to him and following him out of slavery and into life.
In 3:7, when God met Moses in the burning bush, God said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people…have heard their cry. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them…and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”
It’s a comforting thing to hear that God sees and hears His people. To know that He is ready to act on our behalf is a truth we can hang on to in our darkest times.
But see what He says to Moses in v.10? “Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people…out of Egypt.” Moses is invited by God to join Him in this work of redemption. Moses’ reply is an honest one; “Who am I?” 40 years before Moses had been willing to take on the role of deliverer by himself. But Moses’ time in Midian has humbled him, it seems.
But God wasn’t sending Moses by himself. When God sends the deliverer, God goes with him. God said in v.12, “But I will be with you.” And then God gave him a sign so that Moses would know God was with him. When they came back from Egypt, Moses and the people of God would serve (or worship) God on this mountain. Now, Moses would have to accept the promise of God’s presence with him by faith since this proof wouldn’t come until after the exodus happened. But for the people of Israel hearing this story for the first time – themselves possibly standing at the foot of the mountain on the far side of the Red Sea – for them the sign had already appeared. The proof had been shown. They were serving God at the foot of this mountain, so God must really be with Moses! And if God was really with Moses, then they needed to listen to him and follow him.
As the text goes on, Moses has more questions, he sees some obstacles to God’s plan. Some of his questions are just plain honest; they are questions that need answering. Others seem to rise from doubt and unbelief. But God graciously answers them and keeps going.
In v.13, Moses asks his second question; “Who are you? You said you’re the God of my fathers. But what is your name? Your people will want to know.”
When introducing a new person to a group, it’s always polite to make introductions. Now, whether or not people remember your name (or you remember theirs) is always questionable. But still, formalities must be observed. The introduction game is a ritual that keeps us civil.
But Moses’ question about God’s name isn’t a concern for making a polite introduction. It’s a question about God’s character. Knowing His name will tell them what He is like.
So, God tells him in v.14, “I AM WHO I AM.” Grammatically, it’s connected to the name He gives in v.15, translated in our English Bibles as “the LORD” (with small capital letters). In Hebrew it’s YHWH and seems to come from the verb “to be.” Now, we’ve talked about this before so I won’t spend much time here. The name isn’t so much a formal statement of existence. He isn’t just saying, “I exist. That’s who I am.” Given the context of what comes before and after, it’s more likely to mean the God who identified Himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is telling Moses and Israel, “I will be with you as I was with them. I will be to you what I was to them. I am always the covenant-making, covenant-keeping God. I am always the God who sees; I am always the God who acts; I am always the God who identifies Himself with slaves but doesn’t leave them as slaves; I am always the God who leads His people into a beautiful land where we will live together in peace. I AM WHO I AM.”
In v. 18, God says that when Moses tells the elders of Israel the name and plan of YHWH, they will listen to Moses. Together they’ll go to Pharaoh and tell him that YHWH wants His people to come a three days’ journey into the wilderness to worship Him. That’s not an attempt at deception as some have supposed. YHWH knows that this request will expose the heart of Pharaoh. If he wouldn’t even let them go for three days, then of course he wouldn’t let them go for good. Pharaoh’s hard heart and rejection of YHWH will be stubborn. But the mighty hand of God will compel Pharaoh to do what he doesn’t want to do. And Israel will plunder the Egyptians as they leave. For these Israelites, the gold in their hands and in their ears – the wealth of Egypt sitting in their tents – was evidence of the faithfulness of God. Whatever they had, whether much or little, was proof of His faithfulness to His promises. And it would be further proof of Moses’ role as deliverer!
But then came the third scene, opening in chapter 4. Moses challenges God. Such a plan, Moses thinks, won’t fly. Here we see doubt in Moses. God said (in 3:18) that the elders will listen to Moses. But in 4:1 Moses says, “No, they won’t.” But here’s the point. Look what God does in response to Moses. God gives signs to show His power. And YHWH will show His power through Moses, through these signs to encourage the faith of both Moses and Israel. We can talk about what the signs might mean some other time. But the effect they would have had on Israel was to convince them that their God had indeed come to begin making life the way it’s supposed to be. And seeing the signs would convince them that Moses was the one through which God was rescuing them.
But then again they’re confronted with the weakness of this one sent by God. Twice more they see him fumbling and reluctant, looking for a way out. Moses says, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent.” And the gracious God said, “I will be your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.” That was good because the people of God don’t need the words of men. They need the word of God and they would hear it through Moses.
But then Moses said, “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.” At his unwillingness the anger of the LORD was kindled, but then he graciously gave him Aaron to help. But take a look at vv.15-16; even with Aaron’s inclusion Moses’ position doesn’t change. God would speak to Moses. And Moses would speak to Aaron. And as God was with both of them, the message of God’s deliverance would reach His people. But the staff – the shepherd’s staff, the staff with which the signs would be performed – was kept by Moses. Though reluctant and weak and full of doubt, YHWH had established him as His representative. Moses was the commissioned deliverer to whom Israel needed to listen. The plan of God to bring His people out of Egypt and into life with YHWH always had Moses out in front.
And so, faithfulness to God for these Israelites of the exodus would always include listening to Moses. If he really was speaking the word of God, then to reject him would be to reject YHWH himself! But as the story goes on, we see Israel rejecting Moses again and again. (Just read Numbers 12 and 14, for examples. There are many others.) They didn’t listen to the signs; the one appointed to save them was doubted and rejected. Israel wanted to go their own way out of Egypt because after the shine faded the plan of God had them following a weak man into the wilderness. They wanted a better deliverer, one more to their tastes. But they rejected Moses to their harm. Because there isn’t any other way to live with God than by following the representative He provides.
Can you see where this is going? If God did send Jesus, saying that he is the only way to rescue us and make life the way it’s supposed to be, then there isn’t any other way (Acts 4:12). If he is the appointed representative, then God’s way – as foolish as it seems with the cross and death and sacrifice and losing-life-to-find-it – God’s way is the best way, the more glorious way, the only way to find forgiveness and wholeness and healing and peace and restoration. Because God has given us a better deliverer than Moses. And in him we find satisfaction. We can rest in him.
We can rest because when Jesus came, all the promises of God to Moses found their fullest expression in him. Jesus came claiming the name of God saying, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father except through me” (John14:6). God was with Moses, but Jesus is Immanuel – Jesus is “God with us;” YHWH in the flesh come down to us (Matthew 1:23, John 1:14). Through Moses God revealed Himself as the God who willingly identifies with slaves, but Jesus came and identified himself with sinners; he who knew no sin became sin itself for us (2 Corinthians 5:21), so that by trusting in him we might be counted as righteous before God!
And in Jesus, God gave signs to bolster our faith, pointing to the Good News that the Deliverer had come. Jesus said and did many signs confirming his role – he healed the blind, calmed the sea, turned water into wine to show that the feast of the kingdom was beginning. But it all culminated in one, grand, over-arching sign, which proved Jesus was sent by God and vindicated him against all lies. Jesus who died for our sins was raised from the dead. So, he lives now to lead and care for His people.
The apostles were convinced and died for their belief that the risen Jesus was God’s appointed representative. Peter spoke of the resurrection of Jesus to the religious Jews saying, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12). Paul said to the wise Greeks, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31)
So, how do we respond to God’s appointed one? Will we embrace him and trust him? Or will we continual say with our actions that we think God’s plan to make things right is the worst?
That’s basically what we’re saying each time we run after things that aren’t God, hoping they’ll fix us. For some it’s pleasure– real or fantasy. It can be an escape from the pain of loneliness. It’s a distraction from broken relationships. But just ask those who have made pleasure their god – are they happy? Are they at peace? Or do they remain enslaved to an insatiable desire?
For some it’s pleasure, for others it’s control or being comfortable or the approval of others. We think, “If I can just get others to like me then I’ll be okay” or “If I can just get people to listen to me, they’ll life would be so much better.” We can take good things – like kids and jobs and marriage – and make them everything, thinking they’re the way to make life right. And we can take dark disobedience as a way of selfish escape. But both ways are simply asserting our plan in place of God’s plan. And when we run after these things, we’re putting our trust in them to make life right, to fix the hurt, to heal the wounds, to give us life the way we think it’s supposed to be. They become our functional gods.
But in Christ we have hope because unlike Moses (who didn’t want to go to rescue his brothers since he assumed they wouldn’t listen), Jesus came willingly knowing that we would reject and despise him and prefer our plans to God’s. Still he came to doubters and rebels like us, simply calling us to repent and trust him. And when we see our wandering hearts, we repent and trust him. And when we rebel, we repent and trust him. That is what faithfulness looks like to God’s deliverer. We keep coming back to him and trust him to do what he came to do – to save us because we can’t save ourselves.
So, worship this Deliverer. Trust him when his plan doesn’t seem to make any sense. And listen to him in his word as he tells you how life works best. Confess your need and he will never cast you out. Rest in the hope that he means to take care of you and bring you safely to himself. And then, with fearless, grateful hearts we can answer the commission – the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) – he has put on us to be his witnesses in this world, testifying to His mercy and grace toward us.
[Pray – Father, when you sent Jesus he came to the first disciples and simply said, “Follow me.” And by your grace they did. Grant us such grace, O God, that we might ever follow our Lord wherever he leads us. Though it look like foolishness to the world, let us be unwavering. Though it be through the valley of the shadow of death, let us be comforted that our Deliverer is near to us, living within us in his Holy Spirit. And use us, Father, to be your witnesses in this place – speaking the word of your Gospel and doing deeds of love and mercy. Use us here to tell others of the hope we have in your appointed Deliverer, who came to save even rebels like us. With our hope only in the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ our Lord, we pray. Amen.]
[Benediction, from Numbers 6]
“The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.”