Called For Deliverance
Moses was taking care of the flock for his father-in-law Jethro, Midian's priest. He led his flock out to the edge of the desert, and he came to God's mountain called Horeb. The Lord's messenger appeared to him in a flame of fire in the middle of a bush. Moses saw that the bush was in flames, but it didn't burn up. Then Moses said to himself, Let me check out this amazing sight and find out why the bush isn't burning up. When the Lord saw that he was coming to look, God called to him out of the bush, "Moses, Moses!" Moses said, "I'm here." Then the Lord said, "Don't come any closer! Take off your sandals, because you are standing on holy ground." He continued, "I am the God of your father, Abraham's God, Isaac's God, and Jacob's God." Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God. Then the Lord said, "I've clearly seen my people oppressed in Egypt. I've heard their cry of injustice because of their slave masters. I know about their pain. I've come down to rescue them from the Egyptians in order to take them out of that land and bring them to a good and broad land, a land that's full of milk and honey, a place where the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites all live. Now the Israelites' cries of injustice have reached me. I've seen just how much the Egyptians have oppressed them. So get going. I'm sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt?" God said, "I'll be with you. And this will show you that I'm the one who sent you. After you bring the people out of Egypt, you will come back here and worship God on this mountain." But Moses said to God, "If I now come to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,' they are going to ask me, 'What's this God's name?' What am I supposed to say to them?" God said to Moses, "I Am Who I Am. So say to the Israelites, 'I Am has sent me to you.'" God continued, "Say to the Israelites, 'The Lord, the God of your ancestors, Abraham's God, Isaac's God, and Jacob's God, has sent me to you.' This is my name forever; this is how all generations will remember me. -Exodus 3:1-15 (CEB) Read the whole chapter.
We're going to be looking at the book of Exodus over the next few weeks as we pick up in the lectionary in the Old Testament readings. The story, or the segments, that we're going to be looking at is this deliverance. This diving deliverance that God is enacting for the people of Israel out of their captivity. So we begin in chapter 3 today. Moses is an adult. But prior to that if we look at Exodus 2, we get kind of the condensed version of Moses' life. Up until that point, you may remember that it was as a child that Pharaoh was concerned about how prolific the Israelites were. So he had ordered the midwives to basically drowned all of the male-born Israelite babies in the Nile. So when Moses was born, his older sister put him in a basket and took him down and sent him down the river in this basket. Pharaoh's daughter happened to find this baby floating by and she took him in. Moses, an Israelite child, grew up in Pharaoh's palace. Well fast forward into his early adulthood and Moses is out walking through the cities and watching the slave masters of the Israelites forcing them to do their work and being cruel. In doing so, Moses acts out in anger and violence and kills one of these Egyptian work masters. So he runs away and goes out into the wilderness. There he counters some young women having some problems with some shepherds. He comes near the fence and the father of these girls offers one of them as his wife.
Well, that picks us up where we're at in chapter 3 with Moses tending the flocks of his father-in-law Jethro. Now, mind you here's a newly married man who has a newborn child at home who is asked to take care of the flocks. While we may have some romanticized ideas of what it is to be a shepherd, being a shepherd was not glamorous work. Being a shepherd was one of those essential worker jobs that everybody needed to be done but very few people actually wanted to do. So his father-in-law says 'Moses, oh boy, I got a job for you! Go and take care of the sheep.' Now again, this is not a glorified, romanticized version of being a shepherd. This is not the Disney version where Moses is skipping along with songbirds fluttering around his head. This is probably Moses dragging his staff behind him, kicking at the stones on the path ahead of him thinking, 'Why am I out here? Dirty sheep, smelly sheep, dumb sheep', grumbling about his father-in-law. As he's walking along, this burning bush is in front of him. Now the bush was there to get Moses' attention. It clearly did because Moses in the text it says that he stopped and said, 'oh my word! What is this? I need to go and see what's happening.' Here this bush is burning but it's not being consumed. So as he approaches, Moses hears his name from the bush. The voice of God calls out, "Moses! Moses!" And Moses responds by saying "Here I am." This had to have been the high point of all of this shepherd tending business that he was engaged in. 'Oh my word! I'm not out here by myself! Somebody's actually talking to me.' And he said, "Here I am." And God says, "Don't come any closer. You're on holy ground. Take off your sandals." And then Moses hears, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob." And immediately Moses understood who it was that was speaking to him. As if the burning bush wasn't enough, as if hearing his name mysteriously out of the air, as if being told you're on holy ground take off your shoes, knowing who this God was caused him to hide his face. He said he didn't want to look upon God.
Now the text doesn't necessarily tell us that God was there visibly, but yet the fact that Moses responded as he did would indicate that God's presence was so strong, so real, so palpable, so present that it must have been something that required Moses to respond as he did. To hide his face that this God that he had heard about had come so close that the very presence, the very space, the very ground where Moses was had become holy simply because God was there. And God begins to tell Moses a little bit about what's going on. Moses, as you remember, grew up in Egypt. Moses apparently knew that he was of Israelite birth. Moses had murdered that Egyptian and run away. And now God is saying 'I've observed the misery of my people. I've heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed I know they're suffering and I've come down to deliver them from the Egyptians." Now there's a number of verbs in here. God is laying out his divine plan for Moses. He's telling Moses, 'Here's what's going on. Here's what's going to happen. I've observed. I've heard. I know. But more than that I have come down. I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians and to bring them out of the land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey and all those things that he continues on with. That would have been a point where if God had stopped there Moses would have said 'Wow, sounds like you got a plan, let me know how that works out. I'll be watching from a distance.' Yet God, the God of his father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob doesn't stop there. After telling Moses what his plan is, he then says, 'And guess what Moses? I've got a job for you because you, not me, are going to be the one who goes to Pharaoh. You are the one who is going to bring my people, the Israelites out of Egypt.' Now if the whole experience hadn't been enough, Moses is saying 'wait a minute, what this is your plan? What do you mean I have a role to play? What do you mean I have something to do?' God says, 'you're the one for this time, in this place. You are the one.' And Moses says, 'why me? I'm nobody. Why me?'
We didn't cover all of them in our reading but there are five different things that Moses brings up for reasons why maybe it should not be him. Why maybe it should be somebody else. Moses offers his critiques, excuses, responses, whatever we want to call them, to God's plan. Because he's stuck in the past, he's stuck in his old way of thinking and God is seeking to have Moses transformed, to look to the future, to look to a new way, to look with new eyes on this circumstance. So this very first question says 'why me? I'm nobody.' And God says, 'you don't need to worry about it because I am going to be with you.' And then he says, 'This will be a sign once you've done all of this. You're going to be right back here on this spot worshiping me with all of those people that you have delivered.' Well, Moses still isn't convinced. And he says, 'God if I come to the Israelites and say to them, the God of your ancestors has sent me to you. What if they say to me, what's his name? How do we know you're telling us the truth? Moses are you sure? So what's this God's name?' Well, the irony of that question is they didn't know that God's name either. Moses recognized who this God was based on exactly what he said he would tell them: the god of your ancestors has sent me. If you remember it was when God said 'I'm the God of your father, I'm the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.' And immediately Moses knew who it was and recognized and his face. Yet when he goes to the people of Israel and offers them the same thing he says, 'what if they ask me what's your name?' Well God doesn't give him a very direct answer. We could spend a lot of time sorting through what all of this might mean. But he gives him this statement that for me, as a child anyway, sounded like Popeye. "Tell them, 'I Am who I Am.'"
What does that mean, "I Am Who I Am"? Moses could have said the same thing kind of flippantly, ' who are you I Am who I Am and I Am who I Am sent me?' Well, it gets kind of confusing and muddied in there. But if we look at some of the words and the way that all of that fleshes out, another way of looking at it is that God says 'I Am the one who is'. 'I Am the one who is. I Am the one not only who is but it is because of me and in me and through me that everything else is. Because I exist all of this exists. Because I am, you are and she is and he is. Because I am this very world is here.' This is the God who leaves this kind of open-ended question and a statement saying, 'I am the very ground of being everything exists in and because of me that who has come. So if they ask you, tell them the I Am person, the one who exists and therefore we exist, that is who has sent me.
Well, Moses later in chapter 4 offers some other excuses, as often people who are called do. Moses says, 'well you know what if they're not convinced? What if they don't believe me?' And God says 'I've got that covered too. I will equip you. I will give you the tools that you need to convince Pharaoh.' And so later in chapter 4 is when God tells Moses, 'throw your staff on the ground,' and it turns into a snake. And 'pick it up by the tail' and it turns back into his staff. Then Moses a little bit later in chapter 4 says, 'God, I'm not that good of a speaker. I'm slow of speech and slow of tongue and I'm not going to be able to convey this message well.' And God says, 'don't worry about it. Take your brother Aaron with you.' God supplied the people that Moses needed to come alongside of him.
When God calls, we often forget that promise as well. That when God calls us to a task, to a job, to a purpose, to a mission, God already has the plan. God already knows what needs to happen. God is calling us to be a partner and to participate alongside God in carrying out and fulfilling this plan. Because it's God's plan. And at the end of the day, this God who created everything doesn't need us. God didn't need Moses. God could have delivered those people all by himself. And yet, God wanted and invited Moses to be a part of that work. Likewise, God could accomplish any of the things that need to be done in this world. And yet, this God of all creation wants you and me to respond to specific invitations to be involved in some way of bringing deliverance to God's people. well? The thing about calls from God are that they're fairly consistent. In that God calls us specifically. Very seldom is God putting a callout saying, 'I need somebody to feed the hungry. Who's it going to be? Anyone? Anyone? How about you? No? How about you? Anyone, please?' God comes to us specifically and lays things on our hearts. We may not hear our name from a burning bush like Moses did. But boy, have you ever had a conviction come upon your heart? Of, 'man, I really need to do this, don't I?' But then we have those inner wrestlings about 'why me? Somebody else will take care of it, right? Somebody else will speak up. Somebody else will step in. Somebody else will show up and take care of that problem. I'm not smart enough. I'm not good enough. I'm nobody. Maybe there's somebody better suited than me.' And we fall into that same trap that Moses did because we too forget that promise that God made to Moses. That he wasn't telling Moses, 'Alright Moses, those Israelites over there in Egypt, they need to be delivered from that slavery. Go and figure it out.' God laid out his plan. God said, 'I have a plan. I have a plan to deliver them from their slavery. I have a plan to lead them out of that place. And not only that place but into a better place, into a great place that I've already prepared for them. Don't worry Moses, I will be with you.'
When God calls, we often forget that promise as well. That when God calls us to a task, to a job, to a purpose, to a mission, God already has the plan. God already knows what needs to happen. God is calling us to be a partner and to participate alongside of God in carrying out and fulfilling this plan. Because it's God's plan. And at the end of the day, this God who created everything doesn't need us. God didn't need Moses. God could have delivered those people all by himself. And yet, God wanted and invited Moses to be a part of that work. Likewise, God could accomplish any of the things that need done in this world. And yet, this God of all creation wants you and me to respond to specific invitations to be involved in some way of bringing deliverance to God's people.
Now, we might not be called to free a nation fo people enslaved but deliverance means freedom of being unbonded, of being set free. There are all kinds of bondage we see in the world around us today. People that are oppressed by poverty. People that are under the weight and the pressure of addictions. People that struggle to make ends meet. People that are dealing with issues of racism, inequalities, because of their gender or identity, or whatever it is. God isn't calling us each to do something about everything. But rather God probably is calling you right now to a specific purpose. A way in which whether you recognize it or not, you have some passion, you have some ability, you have some interest in seeing things set right. And God is calling you to those things. To trust. To allow that promise that God will be with you in it. To step forward and know that God will be going before you. God will be equipping you. God will be bringing the people alongside you that you need to help you see this through. God's call for the deliverance of the people of Israel was the task that he had for Moses. But God continues to call. God calls people each and every day to tasks both great and small that are a part of God's plan and God's purpose of setting things right in this world.
How is God calling you? How will you respond? Do you truly believe that God will be with you through whatever it is that lies ahead? The answer is yes, he will. The next answer needs to be 'yes, here I am.' May we be a part of God's plans and purposes to see his goodness and love spread to the ends of the earth.