Sunday, January 23, 2011

Exodus 3:1-6, 13-15
“I Am”

Have you experienced surprise at the sound of an unfamiliar voice calling your name? Perhaps across a crowded room or on your phone? It can be a disconcerting experience: Who knows my name? Why are they calling me?
What excuses can I make to avoid their call? Within the flurry of questions and objections is a desire to know the caller's identity. When Moses heard God's call, he responded hesitantly. Yet, in responding to the call, Moses learned more about the God of his ancestors.
Moses' encounter with God offers clues for our investigation into God's identity. As we proceed we will learn that God will be known as God chooses to be known. We cannot know God apart from God's self-disclosure. The good news is that God still calls us today!

The Israelites were suffering as slaves in Egypt. Moses himself had been forced to flee Egypt because he murdered an Egyptian slavemaster. He settled in Midian (on the Sinai Peninsula), where he met and married Zipporah (zih-POR-uh) daughter of Jethro (or Reuel). Back in Egypt, Pharaoh died and the Israelites cried out to God to help them. But Moses didn't know this. He was content taking care of his father-in-law's sheep. Moses has lead the sheep into a region "beyond the wilderness" (in the middle of nowhere). The place is called Horeb (Ex. 3:1), "the mountain of God." This mountain is also sometimes known as Sinai (Ex. 19). Horeb/Sinai may have been a Midianite (MID-ee-uh-nite') sacred high place; it is possible that the people of Israel and Midian worshiped the same God in the same location for a time (see Judg. 1:16; 4:17-22; 1 Sam. 15:6).

Moses sees a bush aflame and hears a voice. Back then, fire was a sign of God's presence. (see Gen. 15:17; Ex. 19:18; Ps. 104:3-4; and Ezek. 1:27). Then Moses hears a voice calling his name from the strange bush. The voice doesn't just say “Hey!” God calls him by name, "Moses, Moses!" God knows Moses, who acknowledges the voice: "Here I am." Moses humbly and obediently removes his shoes and hides his face. According to Ex. 33:20, the vision of God certainly arouses fear: "you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live." If Moses has any thoughts about stepping closer to the bush with the voice, the next words he hears put an end to that. Moses is about to find out who is speaking to him. The God of Moses' father speaks from the flame; the God of his ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob calls Moses by name. As a child Moses heard stories about God; but now he has a personal encounter.

The Lord announces that Moses will lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Moses wonders, What makes me qualified to do this? The Lord responds to this objection with a promise and a sign. The Lord promises to go with Moses all the way back to Egypt. The sign is that the people shall worship God on that mountain; Moses will bring them to Horeb to worship God.

How would you have responded to God's call to go back to Egypt? Would you have had questions? Would you have had objections? Moses had both. Moses' first question (3:11) has to do with his identity in relation to the mighty pharaoh; the second (3:13) concerns God's identity. He wonders whether the people will believe that he speaks for God. What credentials can Moses present to verify this call? He asks for the divine name. Who shall I say has sent me? "God of your ancestors" probably won't cut it.

God says, "My name is Yahweh" or "I AM WHO I AM." YHWH (the transliterated Hebrew consonants without the vowels) is derived from the verb "to be." The NRSV translates YHWH as "Lord." Exodus 6:2-3 says: "God . . . spoke to Moses ... 'I am the LORD. I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name The LORD' I did not make myself known to them.' " So although in the past God had appeared to Abraham, Issac and Jacob, He didn't tell them His Name. Now He's telling us His Name!

What does this encounter reveal about God's identity and character? The Lord God is free and cannot be manipulated or controlled. God is not created; rather Yahweh creates all that has ever or will ever exist. The name Yahweh points to a God who can be counted on for divine consistency. Not a "wishy-washy" God who toys with people out of boredom, Yahweh takes a genuine interest in all creatures great and small. And among those creatures are the Israelite slaves. God has seen their misery and heard their cry. God knows—personally, intimately— their suffering. God will free them from their misery. Moses, a shepherd of sheep, has been called to shepherd the people Israel. Moses is reassured in his new vocation because Yahweh promises to shepherd him. This will be a great adventure with the Inescapable God leading the way.

God's call to Moses happened a long time ago. Sometimes we may think, “Well, things like that just don't happen anymore.” As people of faith, however, we retell this story because it reminds us of important things. We are reminded of the nature of the God we actively worship and serve. We are reminded of our relationship with God. As we are reminded of our relationship with God, we are also challenged to listen for God's call to us today. Some people, like Moses, experience God's, call in dramatic ways. Some people literally hear God's voice. But for most of us, God's call comes in quieter, less dramatic ways. Sometimes its a nagging thought that we can't get out of our heads. And often our lives are so busy and noisy that we may have trouble hearing God calling our names. When we do listen, we may be like Moses and our first response is “Lord, send someone else, someone who can do a better job.” An important thing to remember about God's call to Moses is the assurance that if God calls us, then God will make sure that we are equipped. God will be with us. God did not abandon Moses; the inescapable God will not abandon us.


Have you experienced God speaking or communicating with you?
What has God called you to do?
What does it mean to you that God hears your cries?
What might have happened if Moses had said no?

Gracious God, thank you for hearing the cries of your people and remembering your promises. Thank you for calling Moses and others through the ages. Help us to hear and live out your call. Amen.

Compiled from The Present Word and Congregational Ministries Publishing is not liable for for the content of this Bible Study and Blog.

From The Present Word © 2011 Congregational Ministries Publishing. Used by permission.

1 comment:

  1. Bill Bailey (an Associate Pastor at Grace Covenant a few years ago) had a phrase "While watching your father-in-law's sheep" to refer to the ordinary activities we are doing when God reveals Himself to us in our lives.