As I read and reread Exodus 3, I am often struck with the tenderness of the Lord. I am reminded over and over again how YHWH cares for His people, and how I want to live my faith with the Lord out in the arena of my family and my ministry.
This chapter records the calling of Moses for the ministry that God has for him. Moses is God’s chosen instrument to deliver Israel, an enslaved and oppressed nation, from the yoke of her Egyptian enslavers. God’s revelation of Himself to Moses is in the form of a theophany of the burning bush. This bush is unlike any other in that though it burns, it is not consumed. (I am not sure why the image of the burning bush is the medium through which the Angel of the Lord makes himself known to Moses.)
God calls Moses by name, and Moses responds by acknowledging Him, “Here I am.” It was in this desert that God met with Moses. There are many desert moments in the lives of God’s servants. Moses was a man of means and education as a son of Pharaoh (Acts 7:22). However, before Moses could be the man that God would use, He would take him out of Egypt to reshape his character. In the desert, while herding sheep and goats, humility was the main course at every meal. Therefore, when YHWH reveals himself, Moses responds.
YHWH treats Moses with grace by a prohibition from approaching too closely into the presence of YHWH. Moses was no longer standing on a piece of Midian real estate, he was now standing in the presence of the one who created the mountain, the bush, the herds, the one who had created Moses himself. Be careful Moses, the place you are standing is holy ground. YHWH is in the midst, and when He is in the midst–be careful.
The God of Your Fathers
YHWH begins first by introducing himself by way of the Patriarchs (3:6). “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Most likely, Moses had grown up worshiping his father’s household gods. More so, Pharaoh himself as the god of Egyptian empire. Therefore, YHWH distinguishes himself from those gods he had formerly known. YHWH’s disclosure of himself to Moses seems to imply that Moses was familiar with the names of the Patriarchs, and the significance of their relationship to YHWH. There is no discussion about Moses inquiring, “God, who are they?”
Moses was trained and educated by Pharaoh (Acts 7:22), but he was also raised by his own mother. The movies paint a misleading picture by portraying Moses as a man who thought he was an Egyptian until he stumbled upon his true identity as an adult. However, it seems to be more likely that he grew up with both identities–the benefits of the palace life as well as the instruction of his mother reminding him that he is an Israelite. However, we are also told in Scripture that Moses came to a point in his adult life when he chose to divorce himself from his Egyptian upbringing, and chose rather to be “mistreated with the people of God” (Hebrews 11:25, 26). If he was aware of his Israelite heritage, then he would also have been aware of the covenant YHWH had made so many centuries earlier with Abraham. That familiarity with the patriarchs and the covenant left Moses with no doubts that he was encountering the One True God.
As YHWH commissions Moses to go back to Egypt, he commands Moses to tell the Israelites that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (3:15, 16). The elders of Israel are expected to be familiar with the Patriarchs and YHWH, the God of the Patriarchs the same as Moses.
YHWH’s deliverance of Israel has a two-fold aspect. First it is a deliverance from bondage of Egyptian oppression. Second, it is a deliverance to Canaan, a land of their own. The acts of God’s deliverance have always included these two elements of deliverance from and deliverance to. So it is for every Christian, that we have been delivered from an empty way of life to an eternal family with God as our Father, and His Son, Jesus Christ as our brother and co-heir. So often, we think of ourselves as having been saved from sin and death, but think so little of the life to which God has saved us to belong.
Israel’s suffering at the hand of Pharaoh is not passively observed by YHWH. He has intimate concern for Israel, and He will get involved in their suffering. Therefore, YHWH is described as a loving God who cares intimately for His people. YHWH’s redemptive acts toward his people are described in the following ways:
- (v.7a) “I have seen their affliction”
- (v.7b) “I have heard their cries”
- (v.8) “I have come down”
- (v.10) “I will send you”
This is not a God who is ignorant of human suffering. Nor is He uncaring about human injustice. However, from the human perspective of pain and suffering, it can seem that God is silent or distant. Human perceptions can be, and often is, very short-sighted when it comes to God’s providence over human history. We can wonder, “Why did God allow Pharaoh to become so powerful in the first place?” or “Why did so many have to suffer for so long before God chose to act?” However, such questions can only serve to trivialize the sovereignty of God. What we do know is that God did act, and when He chose to act, it was the right time. The only thing I can infer as to why God waited till this point in time is that the promise God made to Abraham was the God would make a nation out of him. The Hebrews arrived in Egypt 430 years earlier as a family, they are now leaving Egypt as a nation.
Though from our human perspectives, it can seem that God is distant, but the truth is that God has never left. In that is the greatest of comforts, not that God takes us out of our suffering, but that he is with us, as it states (3:12) “I will be with you…” Our God is Immanuel. He is with us and we are not alone. He is on our side, and just as He contended with Pharaoh, He is still with His people through Jesus Christ His Immanuel. Christ in our hearts is a eternal blessed hope of a final deliverance for all those who are harassed and helpless by the enemy.
The Great I AM
YHWH’s disclosure to Moses, Israel, and to Pharaoh is ultimately for the sake of His own glory.
(v.6) To Moses He is, “I am the God of your father”. Whether due to fear of facing Pharaoh, feelings of inadequacy, or simply stubborn unwillingness, Moses questions God by asking “Who am I…” YHWH’s reminder of His own name to Moses, which he’ll carry into Egypt is “I Am Who I Am.”
(v.14) To the Israelites He is, “I Am Who I Am”
(v.15) To the Israelites He is, “The LORD the God of your fathers”. Again, they would be reminded of the covenant God made with Abraham and would understand that YHWH is a faithful God who keeps His covenant.
(v.18) To Pharaoh He is, “The LORD the God of the Hebrews”. YHWH’s deliverance of Israel out of the hand of Pharaoh means that Pharaoh will be treated as His “satan,” an adversary. Pharaoh will see that YHWH is God, not he. And such a lesson of God’s revelation will come at a severe cost to him and to his nation.
Slave of Pharaoh or Servant of YHWH?
Israel is an enslaved nation, however, their enslavement was one of bondage and oppression. They are suffering unjustly at the hands of a cruel tyrant. The description of Israel’s predicament is such that they are in affliction (v.7), and are crying out for deliverance, and they are under oppression (v.9). Pharaoh has unjustly enslaved the Israelites and they are his slaves. His economy is dependent on their slave labor.
YHWH delivers His people in order that they may “serve God on this mountain.” Though in a sense Israel is never truly “free”, the difference is that they can be enslaved by a cruel tyrant king who supposes that he is god. Or, Israel can serve a benevolent God who is King over all the earth. When a slave is rescued from the most cruelest of life, and the severest of environments, any service he can render to his liberator is gladly and lovingly given.
God’s acts of deliverance is good news to the Israelites, but it is bad news for Pharaoh because God will deliver His people with a “mighty hand” (3:19), and will “strike Egypt with all the wonders” (3:20), so that Pharaoh will be forced to release the Israelites, and furthermore, Egypt will be a “plundered” (3:22) nation. This is a war between two superpowers of the day, and in the end, there will be only one victor. That victor will not be Pharaoh.