E100 Moses and the Exodus

Sermon Date: 
14 Oct 2012
Bible Base: 
Ex 3: 1-15 Luke 9: 28-36

David Jeans

Recognising that the Bible is a collection of books is really important. It reminds us that when a book was written and to whom it was written is important. But in the story of Israel it’s important to remember that the books form a continuous story.
I greatly value the insights of John Goldingay (Old Testament for everyone). He had me hooked when he uses my favourite ever TV series (the West Wing) to describe the transition between Genesis and Exodus. He says that the different books are like different series of long-running TV dramas. So – previously on Genesis to 2 Kings .....
Genesis ends with the people of Israel in Egypt. The start of Exodus speaks of them being about 70 people, and then that generation dies. Exodus 1:7 says that the people of Israel were fruitful and increased greatly; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them. This is not just part of the story. It is Israel keeping God’s command of Genesis 1:28 to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth – the language is precisely the same. It is also God keeping his promise to Abraham to make from him a great nation. But of course they are still in Egypt; they are not yet in the land that God promised to Abraham. And as they grow more numerous and powerful they arouse jealousy and fear in the Egyptian people and rulers. So they are controlled by being made slaves. There really is nothing new under the Sun is there? These immigrants were God’s people. Perhaps there are lessons for us here.
The Exodus story is important in the Big Story for several reasons. It is the story of how the Big Story gets back on track with the people of Israel settled in the Promised Land; it is the story of God giving them the Law so that they know how to live as the people of God. More of that in this week’s readings and next week’s sermon.
But it is also the crucial story in the formation of Israel as a nation, and it is the story of their rescue from slavery. It is the story through which Israel came to know God as Saviour, as Redeemer, as Deliverer. It’s probably true to say that in their experience they knew God as Deliverer and Saviour before they knew him as Creator. The story is also a powerful prequel to the story of Jesus rescuing, redeeming and delivering us from our slavery to sin, to evil and to death. 
At the heart of the story is Moses. His story has echoes of Joseph’s story from last week. His life is threatened by the actions of Pharaoh. But through the actions of faithful Israelites he is resued from the Nile and brought up in Pharaoh’s household – where he would have been prepared for leadership of God’s people, and for speaking to a later Pharaoh himself. He then goes into exile in the desert – again preparation for leading God’s people through the desert. So in spite of the fact that it would seem that God only starts getting involved when he hears the cry of the people of Israel, God was already at work in the life of Moses without Moses realising it. Often as we look back it’s easier to see the hand of God than when we are in the midst of things.
Nevertheless, the story really begins to take off in chapter 2 verse 23. The people groan because of their slavery and cry out for help. What does God do?
First he listens and hears their cries.
Second, he remembers his promises.
Third, he sees their situation
Fourth, he knew – Goldingay translates that as he acknowledges their situation.
Out of his hearing, remembering his promises, seeing their situation and acknowledging that it is dreadful God then acts. He responds. He does something.
What does God do? He calls Moses – Moses whom he had been silently preparing for so many years for this moment .
So there is Moses in the wilderness seeking good grazing for his sheep, when he sees this burning bush. And he turns aside. Goldingay says “I like to imagine Moses reflecting over coming years that he would have saved himself a lot of trouble if he had simply thought ‘that bush is weird. Must get on to find some grass, though’.[1] If he had done that he would have missed the moment. Here he was at a place which some like to call a ‘thin place’ where heaven and earth come close to each other. A place where we meet with God. A place where God changes us and our lives. Watch out for thin places. When they come turn aside and listen. Don’t miss the moment.
God speaks to Moses out of the burning bush. Moses has to take off his shoes for he is standing on holy ground. ‘Be still for the presence of the Lord, the holy one is here....In him no sin is found, we stand on holy ground; how awesome is the sight, our radiant King of light, be still for the glory of the Lord is shining all around.’
Because of the work of Jesus we have learned to meet with God as our friend and our brother. Because of the Holy Spirit at work within us we have come to know God in the intimacy of our own hearts. But the amazing truth that God is Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit is that we experience God as both intimate and beyond. Our worship needs to reflect both.
Here Moses initially meets God as beyond – you are standing on holy ground. But its amazing where the encounter with God ends. First of all God says that he wants Moses to go to Pharaoh, demand the release from Egypt of the people of Israel, and then lead them through the desert to the promised land. Quite a job description. ‘Only the archangel Gabriel should apply’. ‘Who me?’ says Moses. In fact, later on he says (Exodus 4:13) ‘Oh my Lord, please send someone else’! At which point God gets cross with Moses, but does give him Aaron to do the speaking.
But I want to concentrate for the rest of this on God’s response to Moses’ cry of ‘who am I to do this?’ First of all, it’s a healthy reaction. I am much more comfortable with reluctant leaders than with those who think they are God’s gift and God should be pleased that they have agreed to be on God’s side. In the early church the liturgy for ordaining bishops included them being dragged to the front as if against their will. I like that!
What God says to Moses is this. ‘I will be with you’. Just as he says to Joshua, and to Jeremiah. Just as he says to the people rebuilding the temple in Haggai 2: Be strong, all you people of the land. Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord. Just as Jesus says at the end of his ministry on earth. Go and make disciples of all nations, for I will be with you to the end of the age.
And then Moses asks God who he is. The first thing God has told Moses is that he is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – and as readers we know that that means one thing – the Big Story. This is the God who has promised to bless all people through this people.
But then Moses asks for God’s name – and God gives this response. In most translations it is ‘I am who I am’. But many Hebrew scholars today (including Goldingay) say that it can also be translated (and perhaps in the context is better translated) ‘I will be who I will be’.
This is a God on a journey. And God has just told Moses ‘I will be with you’. The astonishing thing here is that the name God gives himself is a name that implies that God sees his identity as bound up with his future. And that identity is to be with us. That identity is to be on a journey with us. A journey which culminates in the Book of Revelation with ‘the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.’ There will be no temple in the heavenly city for its temple is the Lord Almighty.
Yes we need to be ready for those thin places. Yes we need to experience the beyondness of God and to remember that we stand on holy ground. But the astonishing thing about God’s promise to be with Moses, and his naming of himself as ‘I will be who I will be’ is that he is saying that where we walk will become holy ground, because he will be with us. The Beyond becomes the Intimate.
Whatever you face, whatever God is calling you to do, whatever journey you are on – God pledges himself to be on that journey with you. And to finish with a good theological word – Wow!!!

[1] Exodus and Leviticus for Everyone (SPCK 201) p 15