By Simon ManchesterSunday 4 May 2014Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 0 minutes
St Thomas’ Anglican Church
Glory and Fear – Exodus 3-4
We do pray our gracious God that we would see you more clearly as we think about this portion of your word and we trust you to show yourself to us with fresh power,mercy and grace –
And we ask it in Jesus name – Amen.
When George Whitfield was being called to the Christian Ministry,a very able preacher in the 18th Century,he wrote in his diary these words – “God alone knows how deep a concern entering the Ministry is to me. I have prayed a thousand times till the sweat has dropped from my face that God would not let me enter the work before he called me. I know the window,the bedside and the floor on which I have lain saying ‘Lord I cannot go’ “.
And as the day for ordination drew near for George Whitfield,gifted and very able as he was,nevertheless he lost all powers of concentration,went forward by the grace of God and was ordained and wrote in his diary afterwards – “It is true that I have a difficult task but God is all sufficient to whose almighty protection I commit myself”.
Now this morning we come to a very famous passage,we’ve heard about it many times already where God revealed himself to Moses at the Burning Bush and gave him a call,a very strong challenging call,to a very big task. God said to Moses in the Book of Exodus chapter 3 “I have come down to rescue my people”. You can imagine how pleased Moses would have been to hear that – wonder – go ahead.
And then God says to Moses in chapter 3 verse 10,”You go to Pharaoh – I’m sending you to bring my people out”. And we know from the scriptures that Moses was overwhelmed with fear and dread at that particular prospect. And so he joined a long queue of nervous servants of the Lord of whom Whitfield was one and you may be one and I may be one.
Now what I want you to notice this morning as we come to this very wonderful and famous part of scripture is that God is going to do the exodus work – he will do the work – he is the rescuer. Moses does not have the power to do the rescue,he does not have the ability or the courage or the wisdom or anything that is required to do the exodus. God will do the exodus,Moses will be his instrument,and Moses will bring the word which of course still terrifies Moses.
So this morning we are going to come to the portion where God confronts Moses and shows himself to be fiery and personal and sovereign and comforting and holy and a wonderful rescuer and many,many great attributes but as Moses came face to face with God,there is a sense in which we are going to come face to face with God as well as we look at this portion of the scripture.
The same God who used Moses for a crucial moment in salvation history is sufficient for his people in every generation. Jesus used this particular portion of the Old Testament when he was being challenged by critics in the gospels who were basically saying ‘when you are dead you are dead’ and you remember Jesus used this portion and showed them if God is your God if you belong to God he will be your God always the way through the resurrection which is into eternity and that of course is very comforting.
It is also very demanding because God will not become for us like our winter slippers – he will not become all sort of cosy and soft and flexible and elastic and harmless and cute – he is a very demanding God and that’s why as we look at this section this morning we are going to think of it under three headings.
First – The Task that God sets – Chapter 3:1-10,the second The Sufficiency that God is – Chapter 3:11 – 4:17 and the third point this morning The Devotion that God requires – Chapter 4:18-31.
So please turn up your Bibles,if you haven’t already,Page 56 we are going to think of it under these three brief headings this morning.
The first of the headings is The Task that God sets 3:1-10.
Last week if you were here we saw God very carefully prepare a people,a nation,building them up over a few hundred years into a huge crowd and we also saw him chose and preserve a servant,a leader,Moses and give him 40 years in the palace of Egypt and then 40 years in the desert of Midian in order to make him a man equipped for usefulness. If you ask the question ‘why is this all happening so slowly?’ I suggest that part of the reason is that God is in no hurry whatsoever. He could have easily taken his people from Egypt immediately around the corner into Canaan just as he could take a believer immediately into Heaven but it seems clear that God is at work through a process of teaching us what he is like and what we are like and transforming us into the likeness of the Lord Jesus. And it doesn’t seem to worry God; in fact it suits God,to give people quite a long time in a desert-type of place.
So Moses in the Bible has time in the desert and Joshua has time in the desert and David has time in the desert and John the Baptist has time in the desert and even Jesus a little time in the desert and Paul has time in the desert which perfectly suits God to move at a pace which may be slower than we would like.
And in this section of Exodus 3 one morning,we don’t know what it was – a Tuesday morning or a Wednesday morning,suddenly Moses is wandering with his flock and he is confronted by God in the flames of a bush. We are told in chapter 3 that it was actually the angel of God but that is almost certainly a phrase which means “God”.
As one Commentator has said ‘this is God appearing in form that sinners can cope with’. God is revealing himself not only in a symbolic flame but also calling in the guise of an angel. Malachi chapter 3 we read God says “I will send my angel” and then he says “the Lord will come”. So this angel God seems to be very closely tied.
And here is God at the burning bush taking the initiative with Moses,appearing in fire and flames. Not bright red flowers as some of the old liberal Commentators used to say. This was just a very fiery bush but Moses would not have been gripped by some bright red flowers – no he’s gripped by the fact that here is a tree,a bush that appears to be on fire and yet it is not combusting,it’s continuing to burn.
And fire of course,a very appropriate symbol for God because at Mt Sinai God will come down on the mountain as fire and then after Sinai,he will lead them at night in a Pillar of Fire and we are told in the Book of Hebrews chapter 12 in the New Testament – our God is a consuming fire.
And what I say gets Moses’ attention is that the bush is not burning but the flames are burning. We know that this is teaching a very profound lesson which is that God sustains himself,that he is reliant on himself,that he nourishes himself,he doesn’t need any outside help to be sustained. And because Moses is now facing this very great God,or the appearance of God,it’s right for him to take off his sandals. How do you express reverence that you are standing before the great God of the Universe? Well it’s appropriate for you to take off your sandals because God is holy.
Now whenever we talk about God being holy,it’s hard for us to enter into this properly and so I thought I would remind you that if you were to have God confront you this week or perhaps this afternoon,if God were to appear visibly and astonishingly and amazingly in front of you,your reaction is probably not going to be just feeling small. Your reaction will probably be not just feeling ‘I’m a creature He’s the creator’. The reaction,according to the Bible,is that you and I if we came face to face with God in some visible and extraordinary way,is that we would feel ourselves to be endangered by our sinfulness. See we may not feel it right now but when we come face to face with sinless,holy God,that’s the reaction,that’s the reaction in the Old Testament.
Isaiah says “Woe is me I am in big trouble”. Then in Luke’s gospel Peter says in chapter 5 “Lord depart from me,I am a sinful man”. We need distance from us. And you see it here in chapter 3 verse 6 “Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God”. And he’s afraid even while God is saying to him “I am the God of Abraham,the God of Isaac,the God of Jacob,I am the covenant God” – I stick with my people even if they’re sad I stick with them,even if they cry I stick with them,I’m going to rescue them,I’m going to get them out of Egypt,I’m going to get them into Canaan,I’m the covenant God.
Still Moses is afraid and then God says,and makes him even more afraid – “you’re going to tell Pharaoh,you’re going to be my spokesman.
Now this humanly is an absurd request,isn’t it? Old man go to Pharaoh – powerful dictator – tell him that you are instructing him to release the whole slave labour of Egypt. Humanly absolutely absurd.
If somebody was to say to me this morning “I want you to go and rescue this girl who is stuck 4,000kms off the West Coast of Australia,I want you to rescue her – go and do it” – I am absolutely helpless to know what to do – what will I do?
Rent a put-boat down at Balmoral and head out the Heads and put-put over – absolutely beyond me,I do not know what to do – I can’t get there and I don’t know what to do.
But if a man called Russell Crane was to tell me to go and rescue this girl,he’s the Chief of the Navy under the Defence Force of Australia and if he tells me to go and rescue this girl,I imagine that he’s putting at my disposal all the powers and forces and the resources of the Navy in which case it will happen.
And as Moses looks at this commission to go and get the people out of Egypt,humanly it is an impossible task but supernaturally God will do it,God says he will do it and therefore what Moses needs to do is to go with the confidence of God. Moses,as we often say,needs to focus not on himself but on God.
That brings me secondly this morning to The Sufficiency that God is. Now it’s a cold morning – are you OK this morning – are you sitting there absolutely freezing? Just move closer to the people you don’t know and look pleadingly at them! Wriggle your toes,do something to keep you awake. I’m preaching and I’m cold.
The second point this morning The Sufficiency that God is. Remember this famous series of excuses from Moses – it’s a dialogue. He has three questions for God. He has a statement for God. He has a request for God. And the three questions that Moses asks are basically this – Who am I to do this? Who are you so I can tell people who sent me? What if my people don’t listen to me? Those are my questions.
It is astonishing I think that God even allows him to have this dialogue but of course not only is God majestic and holy,but he is also very patient and very gentle. He deals with frail children.
And the first question which is Who am I? We see this in chapter 3 verse 11 “Who am I,that I should go to Pharaoh”? God doesn’t say “well Moses you are actually a very,very able guy,don’t put yourself down,you’ve had 40 years in the palace,you’ve had 40 years in the desert,and you’re perfect”. He doesn’t do that.
He says verse 12 “I will be with you”. I will be with you and that will cause a successful mission – that’s all you need,I will be with you.
To the second question which comes up in verse 13 “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?” In other words – what if I need more information to persuade them,what if I need fresh information,will you please give me your name to use – I need your reference – I need your CV – I need your name on my CV!
And God’s answer comes back verse 14 very powerfully “I am who I am”. In other words I am the one who is,I am the one who is real,I am the one who exists,I am the one who lives,and this is the one who sent you.
And you notice that God in a very remarkable way announces himself to be beyond interrogation. In some sort of subtle way he says I’m just not going to fit into your filing system. I just don’t have a pigeon hole that I can put myself into for you.
But the real answer comes in verse 15 where he says “I am the Lord”. You notice in your Bibles spelt Lord (capital Lord). That’s because whenever you have Lord in the NIV bibles and many other bibles it means – “Yahweh”.
In the original just four letters “YHWH” – the famous Tetragrammaton and here is God announcing himself in just four letters and people of course have stuck in the vowels to come up with something like YAHWEH as if this is the best way to pronounce his name. But he is announcing himself to be The One Who is and who always will be.
Matthew Henry,the old commentator many centuries ago,says very quaintly that when we announce ourselves we have to say ‘by the grace of God,I am what I am’. And God says ‘I am’.
You can see when Jesus came and began to use this phrase “I am” what a big impact it was having. When he said to the Pharisees in John chapter 8 “Before Abraham was born I am” – no wonder they picked up stones to stone him as he was making such a clear claimed deity. And every time he said “I am the Bread of Life,I am the Good Shepherd,I am the Resurrection,I am the Way,the Truth and the Life” it just hammer blows teaching that he is God.
In case you think this is just a piece of academic information he says in chapter 8 verse 24,”if you do not believe I am,you will die in your sins”. In other words to come to grips with the person of Jesus Christ is so vital your eternity hangs on it.
When they arrested him in John chapter 18 verse 5 and they said “we want Jesus of Nazareth”,he stepped forward and you remember he said “I am” and the evangelist John records when Jesus said ‘I am’ in the garden at his arrest,they (and I guess we could put in brackets Judas,the soldiers and the Jews) ran behind one another and fell to the ground. Astonishing – imagine filming that. And a little preview of course what will happen when Jesus appears and announces himself to be God – ‘all will bow’ says Paul.
So the name is not a cryptic name – this is the sovereign person behind the mission,the one who knows what’s going to happen and the Lord says in chapter 3 verse 18 “you know what will happen – Israel will listen to you”. Verse 19 “Pharaoh will not listen to you”. Verse 20 “then he will listen to you” and verse 21 “the Egyptians will help you”. I know what’s going to happen says God.
Well Moses third question shows that he has not been listening. God had said ‘your people will listen’ and look at chapter 4 verse Moses says ‘what if my people don’t listen?’ and God with extraordinary patience gives Moses three extra signs which he is able to perform – three miracles which would have been very meaningful to the Egyptians – staff becoming snake,leprous hand become clean and then water from the Nile becoming blood.
These are miracles which undoubtedly would have been very impactful to the Egyptians. You notice that they are not able to convert people. They point the way but they do not force the way and please note also that miracles in the Bible do not come all the way through the Bible.
I know some people very casually think the whole of the religious life is meant to be miracles but actually the miracles of the Bible come very much with Moses and then around the time of Elijah/Elisha and then much with Jesus and then with the Apostles because those four groups or those four clusters,bunches,are really times where the word has come and to authenticate the work,miracles are given as an extra.
Here is Moses bringing the word and then eventually of course the Law,and then there is Elijah/Elisha bringing back the word and Jesus coming as The Word and the Apostles bringing the word and God reinforces the word with these miracles.
And then of course in chapter 4 verse 10 Moses makes a statement which is basically ‘I am hopeless at talking’. And the old RSV used to say ‘I am not eloquent either here to for since thou hast spoken’. It’s a great line – you can almost imagine the Lord saying ‘I see what you mean’ !!
And God rebukes him – God says ‘I made your mouth – it’s not going to be a problem for me’. And then in verse 13 Moses gives a request,he’s fed up and he says ‘please send someone else’ and God is nearly fed up and he’s angry and he decides that he can have Aaron come with him.
Now friends,the most important thing in this dialogue is that every time Moses comes up with a fear or an excuse,God answers by talking about himself. God continually presents himself as All-Sufficient. It’s almost as if God is pleased to see us come to the point where we can’t do stuff,so that we will turn back and remember that HE CAN. He doesn’t ask us to do things without giving the supply.
When I was on Beach Mission many years ago in the 70’s,I had the privilege of leading a Beach Mission and we had about 45 people on the team but there was one guy on the team called Chris and he was just a multi,multi,multi gifted guy. Did you want somebody godly? – find Chris. Did you want somebody humble? – find Chris. Did you want somebody friendly? – find Chris. Did you want somebody who is artistic? – find Chris. Did you want somebody who could play music? – get Chris. Do you want to win the soccer on the afternoon when you have the day off? – get Chris on your team. And it was almost at the point where I thought to myself you know if 43 people ring me on the day before the Mission and say ‘we can’t come’ – that’s OK as long as Chris is there – we will be OK !!
Now if I might say reverently God is saying to Moses “I am the team – if you have me and you there is a majority,there is a sufficient team for the task”. He is holy,he is powerful,he is unbeatable,he is also merciful,relational and communicative and getting people out of Egypt is like for you and me,lifting a marble out of a sand-pit. It’s not a big problem for God.
And we come to our senses of course not when we look at the task we’ve been given and call it impossible,of course it’s impossible for us,and then fall into despair,or look at the task which we’ve been given and says ‘it’s easy and I’m terrific’. We come to our senses,we become wise people,in fact we become joyful people when we focus on the fact that God is sufficient and he is sufficient. That’s why the mature Christian knows that there comes a time when you have to put despair away and you’ve got to put cleverness away and you’ve got to turn to him and ask him to be sufficient.
And of course the worldly person never really gets to the point. The worldly person keeps on thinking ‘I’m clever,I’ll be clever again’. Perhaps the depressed person thinks it didn’t work so it will never work. But the mature believer steers between those two and says ‘I couldn’t do it but he can do it’. God is the sufficient One.
The third and last point The Devotion that God requires – 4:18-31. We read in 4:18 that Moses heads off for the task and he goes to his father-in-law and you’d expect his father-in-law to say ‘you are not leaving,I need you,you are certainly not taking my daughter with you,you are not taking my grandchild with you’ and Jethro,the father-in-law says “God bless you”.
And if ever Moses needed some encouragement that God would bless his journey,this must have been very encouraging because when he gets to meet with Pharaoh it’s going to be very difficult. We will discover that God is going to harden Pharaoh’s heart (4:21) and Pharaoh of course is going to harden his own heart and we read elsewhere that his heart will be hardened and Moses has got a very unpopular message for Pharaoh which is ‘you are going to lose all your slave labour’ and so this encouragement on the way is very special.
We also see in chapter 4 verse 27 another encouragement and that is Aaron his brother who is older than him and probably has not seen him for a few decades just basically turns up and says ‘I’m going to help you’. What an encouragement.
And then we see in verse 31 that the Israelites when they hear from Moses what’s happening,they say “we believe you” and they bow down and they worship God for being concerned for them. What a series of encouragements that God is already beginning to do what he said he will do.
But there is a bizarre incident in verse 24. Some of you may have read this before which proves again that God is not a cosy pair of slippers; you can’t domesticate God and turn him into your own personal mascot. Moses we discover in 4:24 has obviously forgotten or neglected in the desert years to circumcise his son. Maybe his wife,the Midianite didn’t really care about it that much. Maybe Moses was just lazy but now here is Moses heading off to Egypt to do this great task and he is heading off as if nothing really matters about it.
Suddenly this casual disobedience is not good enough for God. God demands strict obedience,especially if somebody has got a responsible position. And Moses we discover is not able to play with God – God is deadly serious and Moses needs to learn that God is more dangerous than Pharaoh.
So we read in this very strange incident that the wife quickly does what God has told them to do and gets this boy circumcised and then she symbolically covers Moses guilt and she refers to him as either her troublesome husband or her covenant husband (it’s hard to work out which it is) and God spares them and on they go. It’s just a little incident which not only tells us that the Bible recorders did not leave out stuff which was challenging and perplexing,but it also reminds us that when you are dealing with God,you cannot bend him into the elastic version of what you would like him to be.
No,you and I will bend to him because he is God.
Now all the answers we see in these two chapters come from God – he’s got the power but he’s also got the mercy and I therefore want to urge you not to read Exodus 3 & 4 which is so easy to do and focus on Moses and then focus on yourself – that would be a big mistake.
What I want you do to is to read Exodus 3 & 4 which we’ve just done very briefly together and I want you to focus on the one who is going to achieve The Exodus and then look after them in the travel and then make sure they get to Canaan. God you see,is the Saviour and as you begin to look at the Saviour God it will remind you most clearly of all of the Lord Jesus who is the Saviour God who doesn’t need our help in the work of salvation,he’s done it all himself. What he asks us to do is to gratefully receive it and then with a brand new life to live for him faithfully and joyfully.
So I close with a practical question to you. Today is a new day; there are certain things that as a Christian God wants you to do. The week is ahead of you. You may have certain things this week which are daunting,perplexing,discouraging,and worrying. Here’s my couple of questions:
First of all – how do you know that you are resting in the rescue of Christ,how do you know that you are resting in the rescue of Christ? The answer is you won’t be anxious to win his acceptance. You’ll have received his acceptance. You won’t be disinterested in the sacrifice of Jesus – that would be very bizarre. The sacrifice of Jesus should be increasingly significant to you. You’ll know you are resting in the rescue of Christ if you are confident that he has provided all that is necessary for you to be his child.
And the flip-side of the question is – How do you know that you are serving him with joy in the sphere where he has placed you? The answer is that it’s not going to be because you are leaning on your own cleverness,though you may be clever. Nor are you going to be depressed and desperate as though the case is hopeless,that would be to be godless. But you are going to be confident that he will provide all that you need to do what he’s asked you do – he will not ask you do to things without giving you what you need to do them.
The most important thing that God said to Moses “I will be with you,I will be with you”. And Jesus echoes exactly the same doesn’t he to the disciples of all generations – I will be with you.
Lets thank him – let’s bow our heads –
Our Father we pray this morning this morning that you would help us to rest in the rescue of the Lord Jesus and we pray that you would help us to serve in the sufficiency of the Lord Jesus.
We pray it in his Name – Amen.