Redemption rests on God, not us

Chatswood Baptist Church https://www.chatswoodbaptist.com.au

Exodus 2:11-4:18

 

Exodus: the Story of our salvation

Last week we started a new series in the Old Testament book of Exodus, which retells the events of God rescuing the people of Israel out of slavery in Egypt. This event – the Exodus, or the great ‘going out’ from Egypt, which the book is named after – this event is the defining moment in the national life of Israel.

The story of Israel, as many of you know, began back with Abraham. God graciously chooses this man and makes promises to him – to make him into a great nation, to bless him and to give him a land flowing with milk and honey – a land of their own. At first the story focuses on God turning an old, childless couple into a nation. There’s ups and downs, and along the way, Abraham’s grandson Jacob, who gets renamed Israel, and his twelve sons end up in Egypt. It’s all about creating and preserving this family – turning them into a numerous people.

As we saw last week though, as time goes on and generations pass, the people of Egypt begin to look with fear and scorn on the Hebrew people, the descendants of Israel. The kings of Egypt, the Pharaoh, begin to oppress the Hebrew people and use them as slaves. This even evolves into measures to cull the Hebrews – to kill off baby boys lest the Hebrews become too powerful for them. And in the midst of all this, we’re introduced to a baby boy, named Moses, who is spared death and ends up being raised in the Egyptian court by Pharaoh’s daughter. As we’ll see over the weeks to come, God ends up using this man to carry out a great act of judgment on Egypt and lead his people out of Egypt into freedom.

And throughout their history the people of Israel look back on this event, the Exodus, as the beginning of their life as a nation; not just because it meant they could live in freedom rather than slaves for the Egyptian hosts, but because of what it meant for their identity as a people – it declared them to be the people of God. The Exodus declared Israel to be the chosen and redeemed people of the LORD God – rescued out of slavery to serve him and live in his land as his people.

And why are we reading about it and preaching about it in church? Because it’s not just interesting history for the nation of Israel. It’s our history as people who have been included in God’s story of salvation. In fact, this story itself is ultimately about the great rescue of people from all nations out of slavery to sin and its effects in the world. The Exodus of Israel out of Egypt points us to the great Exodus of humanity out of slavery to sin and into the kingdom of God through his redeemer, Christ.

So what we learn here about God and about his plans and promises and his power, it’s all relevant to us and our situation today.

And what I think the section of the story we’re exploring today highlights is that salvation belongs to the LORD. We’re reminded that our redemption rests on who God is, not on who we are. He is the one who’s promised to do it, and he is the one who will do it.

You see, things might look they’ve fallen off the rails. It might seem like circumstances are telling a different story, and it might look like the plan depends on people who don’t quite have what it takes. We might feel like we can’t do anything to really make a difference – who are we? What can we really do?

But this section of Exodus, which sets the rest of the book in motion, highlights that God’s plans depend ultimately on him – who he is, not who we are. In the end, there are no excuses for not embracing God’s plans and the role he calls us to play in his plans. In the end, it’s about him, not us, and God is going to make it happen.

 

1) Don’t be discouraged when plans seem to fail

The first section we’re going to look at helps us appreciate that looks can be deceiving. Things can look bad. Plans can seem to fail. But it doesn’t mean God has lost control or that he doesn’t care. Don’t be discouraged when plans seem to fail, because God is still working…

 

Moses, the rising star who crashes and burns

We pick up the narrative from where we left off last week in chapter 2, verse 11.

We read, “One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labour. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people.”

This verse comes with a lot of expectation. The scene has been set in chapter 1 – the suffering and slavery of the Hebrews under the hand of the Egyptians. And we’ve been introduced to the likely hero in the first half of chapter 2. A special baby who’s spared death through the cunning of his own mother and sister and the compassion of Pharaoh’s own daughter, but ultimately we suspect, through the providence of God. And now we’re ready for action – we’re ready for the hero to step up and play the role he’s destined to play. This Hebrew man, whom Pharaoh wanted dead at birth, ironically raised in Pharaoh’s own household… This man will surely be the one to bring relief for the Hebrews.

Just like a thousand years later Queen Esther realised she had been ‘raised up’ to her position for the very purpose of sparing her people, surely Moses has been given this privileged position so he can bring about freedom and prosperity for the Hebrew people in the land of Egypt… Moses, the prince of Egypt (according to Disney at least), goes out to watch his people at their hard labour. He sees them suffering. And in particular, he sees an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his own people. Now it’s time for action. It’s time for Moses to use his position to shake things up.

 

But what happens? Well Moses acts – we get action! But it doesn’t seem to help. In fact, the wheels fall off the wagon pretty darn quickly…

Looking around, Moses kills the Egyptian and hides him in the sand.

The next day, he goes out again, and tries to intervene with two Hebrews fighting, and one of them retorts, “Who are you? Who made you ruler and judge over us!? Are you going to kill me like you killed that Egyptian?”

Moses is freaked out, realising that his moment of violence wasn’t so secret after all. And his fears are confirmed. Pharaoh hears of it and wants Moses himself killed. However Pharaoh saw Moses up till now – this boy pulled from the river and raised in his own house – it’s clear to him now that Moses is going to be trouble. His sympathies lie with the slaves. So his time is up. And so Moses flees the wrath of Pharaoh to hide in the land of Midian – to the East.

Now you can mount arguments either way as to whether it was a good thing for Moses to personally intervene and kill the Egyptian. We’re not given much detail about how it went down. Are we meant to see this as Moses standing up to the abuser and rescuing one of God’s own people, doing what’s necessary in the process – perhaps even as a foreshadow of God’s judgement on Egypt to come? Or is this just Moses losing it and acting rashly and sinfully? Flying into a rage and killing another human being, ultimately squandering his position of power.

You can mount arguments either way, but the outcome is the same. His actions seem to ruin his chance of making a difference. Moses, the rising star – the insider, the one destined to liberate the Hebrews – crashes and burns before he even gets going. It seems like the ‘Moses plan’ has come to nothing.

 

Confirming the failure

And the events to follow, described in verses 15 to 22 really just seem to reinforce and confirm that Moses was a ‘false start’.

Off in Midian, sitting down by a well, no doubt wondering how his life so quickly spiralled out of control, Moses then gets caught up in a struggle between locals.

He rescues some Midianite women, seven sisters trying to get water for their sheep, from a bunch of nasty shepherds. He then gets invited back for dinner when the Father hears what he did, which turns into a little more than dinner, and Moses ends up marrying one of the daughters. He even ends up having children! And just to underline how his life has turned out, he gives his son a name that basically sounds like ‘foreigner’.

Whatever else you might want to say about this passage, there’s no doubt it leaves you feeling like the Moses plan has come to nothing. It lasted about 5 seconds. After all the set up – the basket in the reeds, being spared death, being raised in Pharaoh’s household… after all this, he’s rejected by his own people and wanted dead by the Egyptians. He’s an exile in a foreign land with no plans to come back. And God’s people continue to groan under oppression and slavery.

 

But, don’t give up too soon

But we would be wrong to conclude that God’s plan had failed. Despite how things appear to be working out with Moses and the Israelites, God is aware of what’s going on and God is determined to act.

At the end of Chapter 2, from verse 23, the narrator tells us:

During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. 24 God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. 25 So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.”

God hasn’t forgotten the suffering of his people. He sees, he hears, he knows what’s going on. And he is conscious of his promises – his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. God is determined to keep his promises and is about to step in and make things happen, despite how badly things seem to have gone so far.

 

God is at work in all things for his good purposes

In fact, what we will come to appreciate as the story of Exodus unfolds is that what has seemed like a terrible failure all works towards God’s good plans.

God has been at work in the apparent failure of the Moses plan, not just despite the failure of these plans. You see, God was not ultimately content to have Moses just ‘improve’ the circumstances for his people in Egypt as an insider to the royal court. That isn’t good enough for God. Moses’ rejection and exile were all part of a bigger picture, where Moses would return to redeem Israel out from Egypt to bring them into God’s promised land, so that God might fulfil his kingdom promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It was necessary for Moses to first be rejected, to share in the situation of his own people, even be rejected by his own people, before God would use him to free the Israelites once and for all. God was at work in surprising ways to bring about his kingdom promises.

This passage reminds us that God works in all things for the good of his people. People do evil things of their own accord. People make mistakes and act rashly. Things seem to fall apart. But God is at work in all thingsfor the good of his people – to bring about his good purposes. Don’t be discouraged when things don’t seem to go to plan. Know that God is at work, and God is determined to bring about his good plans.

 

2) God Steps In…

And so we get to chapter 3, where God steps in and starts to make things happen.

 

God reveals himself to Moses

Moses is tending the flock of sheep belonging to his father-in-law Jethro, and for one reason or another, he ends up on a particular mountain – Horeb. And there, we read, the angel of the LORD appears to Moses in the flames of fire from within a bush. The angel of the LORD is a figure that represents God himself – he manifests God within the world and speaks as God.

At first all Moses sees is something he can’t explain – he sees a bush on fire, but not burning up. So he goes over to investigate.

And at this point, God calls out his name. But still Moses doesn’t really know what’s happening or who he’s hearing from. He just replies, “Yeah? Here I am.”

And so now God makes things clear. “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” 6 Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

Moses has now realised this is more than a freakish event of nature – he is seeing and hearing from God – the one in control of nature. And naturally, he’s afraid…

 

God reveals the reason he has appeared to Moses

But whilst Moses hides his face, God goes on to reveal why he has appeared to Moses.

In language that is very similar to what we read at the end of Chapter 2, God explains he is aware of the suffering of his people – he sees, he hears, he knows. He is concerned about their suffering. And God explains, he’s coming to do something about it. “I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”

God is very aware of the cries of the Israelites under the oppression of the Egyptians. He is concerned and he’s going to do something about it. But He’s not just coming to ‘make their situation better’. He’s coming to bring them out from Egypt and give them a land of their own – a land he promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

This declaration here from God, right at the outset, gives the bigger picture of what is really happening through Exodus 1-15. It’s not just about God making things better. It’s ultimately about God keeping his covenant promises and bringing this people, his people, into his land to live under his rule.

 

God reveals there is more to the plan…

But He isn’t quite done yet. Having explained to Moses why he has ‘come down’ – why he has appeared to Moses, he fills Moses in on an important fact. God is going to do it through him.

Verse 10, God finishes by commanding, “So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

If Moses was wondering why God had gone to the trouble of appearing to him to tell him all this, now he knows. Oh. You want me to go and do it. I see…

 

3) Moses Steps Back (the reluctant redeemer)

So how does Moses respond to this call from God?

He steps back. He’s not keen.

Moses responds with a series of objections. They begin as legitimate questions and end up as unashamed begging to please just send someone else.

 

Objection 1 – But who am I?

Moses’ immediate response, his first question, is why me? “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

Now, in a sense, who better suited than Moses – the one who was raised as an Egyptian, as Egyptian royalty no less, and yet identifies as a Hebrew? Who else would be better placed to speak to Egyptian authorities on behalf of the Hebrews? (Even taking into account his fall from grace 40 years earlier!)

So even this humble sounding objection – little old me? Who am I to do such a thing? – Even this humble sounding objection is not as reasonable as it first seems…

And God is quick to point out that in the end, it’s not about him anyway. “I will be with you.” Says God, “And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”

God explains, I might be sending you, but you’re not going alone. I will be with you. The point is that God is redeemer. Moses doesn’t need to question whether he is worthy or capable of such a task, because he’s not really the one doing it – God is. And he will know it in the end, because it will happen! Moses will lead them out and they will all worship God on this very mountain – then there won’t be any more room for doubts.

 

Objection 2 – But who are you (really)?

Moses realises that he’s not going to get out this mission by claiming he’s not worthy of it, and so he flips the question back at God – ‘Ok, but just who are you, really?

In verse 13, Moses poses this second objection to God: “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?”

Now, on the surface it seems like Moses is saying one of two things. Either he’s saying that the Israelites don’t know God’s name, and so he imagines they’ll ask Moses who this God is that’s sent him to them. Or, he’s saying that he doesn’t know God’s name because he was raised an Egyptian and is now effectively a Midianite, but he suspects the Israelites do and so they’ll ask for God’s name, kind of like a password. ‘Oh the God of our fathers sent you did he? Tell us his name then!’

Now both could make sense of what Moses says here, but I don’t think either is the case. I don’t think that this is the first time that God has revealed his personal name, which is represented by ‘the LORD’ in capital letters below. You can see in Genesis that God clearly revealed himself previously to Abraham and Jacob as ‘the LORD’ (Gen 15:7, and 28:13). In fact, it seems so well known that it would be hard to imagine even Moses not knowing it, or that him mentioning the name ‘the LORD’ would give him any real credibility to the Israelites.

So no, I don’t think Moses is asking for God to give him a name he’s never heard before, or that he thinks the Israelites don’t know either. I think this is about who God really is and why they should assume he can do what he’s saying. In a sense, it really is the flip side of Moses’ question, who am I to go? And just who are you to do this? Moses is essentially saying, What should I say to the Israelites about who is sending me to do this?’What do you want me to tell them about you?

And so God responds. ‘I’ll tell you who I am. “I AM who I AM!” That’s who I am! This is what you are to say to the Israelites, “I AM has sent me to you.”’

Now, it gets weird pretty quick saying ‘I am’ too many times. Like reading Dr. Zeus or something… What’s God really saying here? Is his name ‘I AM’?? What kind of a name is that? And why does he then immediately also go on to say, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’

“This is my name forever, the name you shall call me from generation to generation.”

Is his name “I AM”, or “I AM who I AM”, or is it the ‘The LORD’??

Well, the short answer is that ‘The LORD’ is his name, but as some of you know, that’s not really his name. The Hebrew underlying the name ‘the LORD’ (when it’s got little capitals like that) is actually the personal name Yahweh, or YHWH. Basically the reason our Bibles use ‘the LORD’ instead of Yahweh is because for a long time the Jewish people felt God’s personal name was too sacred to actually say, and so whenever they read ‘Yahweh’ in the text, they would say ‘Adonai’ which is the Hebrew word for ‘Lord’. And so this tradition carries over into the Greek Old Testament, into the New Testament and into Christian history.

And what’s important to understand here is that God’s personal name, Yahweh, is very closely linked with the phrase ‘I AM’. It’s basically a form of the same root word ‘to be’.

So when God first responds to Moses and says, “I AM who I AM”, and tells him to say, “I AM has sent you…” He’s not changing his name or revealing a new name. He’s revealing what’s behind his name. He’s answering Moses’ real question. Say this about me – I AM. That’s what my name means.

You see the Israelites might know the name Yahweh. They might know about the God of their fathers, who apparently made grand promises about people and land and blessings. But from their point of view, it all seems like old stories. All they really know is that this God of their fathers doesn’t seem to be doing much.

And so God is emphasising that he’s the God who IS. He is the eternal being. The One who was and is and is to come. He’s the one who will be what he will be. He is ultimate reality. That’s what is expressed in his name, and that’s what lies underneath his promises to redeem his people and bring them into the promised Land. That’s why this name, Yahweh, or the LORD, is linked again and again with his personal revelation to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Yahweh is the covenant God – the God who promises and delivers, because HE IS. The LORD God will be and do as he wills. Don’t be fooled by my apparent inactivity, God is saying. I AM the LORD and I will deliver on my promises.

 

Objection 3 – But what If they don’t believe that you really appeared to me?

Well Moses gets the picture. Ok, that’s who you are, that’s what I should say. That should be enough for them. But there’s a problem. What if they don’t believe that you really appeared to me? We get to this third objection at the beginning of chapter 4.

And at this point, God is happy to keep fielding questions and dealing with Moses’ concerns. So God then enables Moses to perform a series of miracles which will demonstrate that he’s not a nobody just making things up – people will sit up and listen when they see what God will enable him to do.

“See that staff in your hand?” Says God, “Throw it to the ground.”

So Moses threw it on the ground and it became a snake, and he ran from it.

4 Then the LORD said to him, “Reach out your hand and take it by the tail.” So Moses reached out and took hold of the snake and it turned back into a staff in his hand. 5 “This,” said the LORD, “is so that they may believe that the LORD, the God of their fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has appeared to you.”

6          Then the LORD said, “Put your hand inside your cloak.” So Moses put his hand into his cloak, and when he took it out, the skin was leprous —it had become as white as snow.

7          “Now put it back into your cloak,” he said. So Moses put his hand back into his cloak, and when he took it out, it was restored, like the rest of his flesh.

8          Then the LORD said, “If they do not believe you or pay attention to the first sign, they may believe the second. 9 But if they do not believe these two signs or listen to you, take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground. The water you take from the river will become blood on the ground.”

God will show to the people of Israel that they should listen to Moses – that he has indeed appeared to him. This is the beginning of God’s personal revelation through the prophets. This is the beginning of God establishing Moses as his representative – one authorised to pass on his words as one who has met with God.

And these particular signs are not random. They foreshadow the plagues to come that God will perform through Moses. They are little signs of the great signs God will do through Moses as he rescues his people from Egypt.

 

Objection 4 – But I’m no good at public speaking! How can I go?

At this point Moses is running out of legitimate excuses and so he starts to get desperate… From verse 10:

Moses said to the LORD, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.”

Moses is sure God has picked the wrong guy. He really doesn’t feel up to the task. ‘I’m no good at public speaking God! I’m not right for this!’ And whilst Moses is starting to come across as a bit of a whinger, I think a lot of us would feel the same. I’m not up to this God! We don’t feel we have the skills, the confidence, the natural ability to do what God is calling us to do. Whether it’s simply talking to people about our faith in Jesus or taking on responsibility to lead and teach others. Who am I? I can’t do that! I don’t have what it takes…

And how does God respond? Verse 11, The LORD said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the LORD? 12 Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”

In the end it doesn’t matter whether Moses thinks he’s a good public speaker or not – whether he feels he’s quick on his feet, ready to whip out a smart reply. It doesn’t matter, because it’s not about Moses – it’s about God. God created our mouths. He’s the one who sustains this world, who gives and takes away sight and hearing and speech. If God wants Moses to do something, he’s more than capable of enabling him to do it. There really is simply nothing to worry about. No valid excuse.

“Now go!” Says God, “I will help you speak”. Or literally, “I AM with your mouth”. Moses doesn’t need to worry because God, the great I AM, will be with him. With his mouth even. God’s plan rests on who God is, not on who Moses is.

As I said at the start, this is really the key point this section is driving to. Salvation belongs to the LORD. Redemption rests on God – who he is. We have a role to play under God, but it’s not about us. We don’t make things possible or impossible. God does.

And so, when Jesus, about 1400 years later, tells his followers to ‘go and make disciples of all nations’, he says, just as God does here, “And I AM with you, to the very end of the age.” In many ways, Moses represents Jesus himself and the role he plays as the one God speaks and works through to redeem us from sin. But here Moses also represents each one of us who called, not just to put our faith in Christ, but to join him in his mission and to speak in his name. We’re called to go and make disciples of all nations, trusting in his power and presence to work through our feeble efforts – through our lack of eloquence and our slow speech.

 

Objection 5But I don’t wanna go!

Well Moses has no more excuses – whether legitimate or not. So he just comes right out and begs God to ‘please send someone else.’ No questions or problematic scenarios to hide behind. He just doesn’t want to go and do this. Whether it’s fear or apathy or he really is concerned about his speech – the simple truth is that he’d rather keep minding his sheep than get caught up in all this. He’s happy for God to rescue his people, that’s great. But he just doesn’t want to get involved himself.

I know that feeling. And I think you might too. We make questions, we point out issues and problems, because deep down we’d rather keep out of it. We’d rather remain comfortable and safe. It seems so reasonable in our circumstances, but we see it for what it is laid out in front of us with Moses. It’s resisting God out of fear and apathy, plain and simple.

And God’s not impressed is he. “Then the LORD’s anger burned against Moses.” After all his objections have been answered, Moses still chooses to resist rather than accept his call and obey God. And God is not happy about it.

But instead of striking him with lightening or going off to choose someone else, God sticks with his reluctant redeemer and simply explains that it’s going to happen one way or another. ‘If you’re really worried about your speech Moses, well, I’ll take that issue away – your brother Aaron is on the way as we speak. You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do.’ Moses will be like God to Aaron, speaking God’s words to him, and Aaron will speak to the people – like the human mouthpiece. “But,” God finishes, “take this staff in your hand so you can perform the signs with it.” Moses will remain at the centre. He will go to the people and to Pharaoh as the one who has met with God and who has come to lead the people out of Egypt. “You are going to go, Moses, so stop fighting it.”

And so, finally, Moses gives in. Verse 18, He tells his father-in-law that he wants to go return to his own people in Egypt to see if any of them are still alive. Not quite the whole story, but he’s accepted that he has to go.

 

Redemption belongs to the LORD

Now, the analogy kind of breaks down between Moses and our own situation in this final speech from God. Moses had a very particular role to play, and God was determined to make it happen, despite Moses’ reluctance and fear.

But whether we are considering our role as the people being rescued, or the fact that as God’s redeemed people we are also called to go and make disciples in his name, either way, we need to hear the message loud and clear from this back and forth between God and Moses – redemption belongs to the LORD. It’s not about us, it’s about him. He is going to make it happen. We trust in him, not in ourselves or in any other person or power. And so in the end, there is no excuse for not embracing his plans and our role in them.

Circumstances might not look good. We might have questions about what God’s been doing all this time. We might think, frankly, the plan seems to have gone off the rails. We might not feel we’re up to the task. But God, the great I AM, is with us always, and salvation belongs to him. We need to know that our redemption and God’s plans for redemption rest on who he is, not on who we are.