GOD REVEALED TO MOSES
Exodus 1–4 “This is My name forever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation” (Ex. 3:15).In these chapters we meet Moses. But most important, in these chapters we meet God, and learn His most personal name, I AM.
The Israelites multiplied in Egypt, but were enslaved (1:1–22). Moses was found and adopted by a princess (2:1–10), but as an adult he identified with his people and was forced to flee (vv. 11–25). When Moses was 80 years old, God revealed Himself to Moses as I AM. Bearing the divine name, Moses was sent to Pharaoh to win Israel’s freedom (3:1–22). Equipped with miraculous signs, a reluctant Moses returned to his people (4:1–31).
Understanding the Text
“The Israelites . . . multiplied greatly” Ex. 1:1–7. A family of 70 persons entered Egypt. Based on the number of men of military age reported in Numbers 1:46, there must have been between 2 and 3 million Israelites at the time of the Exodus! “Multiplied greatly” suggests God’s reason for Israel’s sojourn in Egypt. Canaan served as a land bridge between Egypt and great northern empires. Armies marched across it and fought in its hills and valleys. If the Israelites had remained in Canaan, they could never have grown the population base needed to establish a nation. “They put slave masters over them” Ex. 1:8–22. Initially the Israelites enjoyed a favored position in Egypt. They were settled in “the best part of the land” and many were employed by Pharaoh himself (cf. Gen. 47:5–6). Some time after Joseph’s death, however, the Israelites were enslaved. This passage emphasizes the terrible conditions under which God’s people were forced to live. Words and phrases like “oppress,” “forced labor,” “worked ruthlessly,” and “lives bitter with hard labor” are used. The ultimate oppression is seen in Pharaoh’s command that Hebrew boy babies be thrown into the Nile to drown! The Israelites’ situation in Egypt is intended to mirror the spiritual condition of the human race. As Israel was in bondage to Egypt, so all humanity is in bondage to sin. Only the miracle-working power of God, which forced Israel’s release, can break the bonds forged by sin and make us truly free. Moses Ex. 2:10. Moses is the dominant figure in Exodus and the next three Old Testament books. He was 80 years old when God commissioned him to deliver the Israelites, and he led God’s people for 40 years. We can learn much from Moses’ life, and will do so as we read Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. The New Testament says Moses was “faithful as a servant in all God’s house” (Heb. 3:5). We can discover much about faithfulness in such revealing stories about Moses as are told in Exodus 32–33, Numbers 12, 16, and 21. “He became her son” Ex. 2:1–10. This simple phrase reminds us that Moses, found by a princess, was adopted into Egypt’s royal family. As the princess’ son, Moses may even have had a claim to Egypt’s throne! Stephen repeated an accurate oral tradition when he said that “Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action” (Acts 7:22). Despite his advantages, Moses identified with his oppressed people and their God. Hebrews 11:24–25 says that “by faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time.” This surely is one source of Moses’ greatness. His priorities were not shaped by wealth or privilege. He truly cared about God and about God’s people. “He killed the Egyptian” Ex. 2:11–24. Despite Moses’ concern for his people, he apparently wavered until he was 40 years old. Then when Moses saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew he first glanced “this way and that and seeing no one” he then killed the Egyptian (v. 12). Moses was unready to take a public stand with the Hebrews, or to lead a slave uprising. We can sympathize with Moses. How can anyone represent an oppressed people to their oppressors? Still, when even righteous anger is expressed in hostile acts, little is accomplished. “Who am I?” Ex. 3:1–22 When God spoke to Moses from a bush that burned without being consumed, the 80-year-old seemed a very different person from the angry firebrand of age 40. Four decades of life in the desert had humbled Moses. The one-time prince of Egypt who dreamed great dreams had learned his limitations. When God said, “I am sending you to Pharaoh,” Moses replied, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” The rest of the passage, which reports Moses’ dialogue with the Lord, shows how hesitant Moses was. Moses brought up difficulty after difficulty—a pattern that continues into Exodus 4 despite God’s repeated promises to be with Moses and bring him success. Again we can identify with Moses. As we grow older, and discover our limitations, the dreams of youth fade away. We won’t be famous. Or rich. Or find the cure for cancer. Or become a well-known evangelist. As our early self-image shrinks, we find ourselves less willing to risk. Instead of opportunities we see problems. Instead of trying, we think of all the reasons why we are sure to fail. This is what happened to Moses. Even promises from God weren’t quite enough to change a view that had developed over 40 years of failure. Yet in a sense it was Moses’ awareness of his weaknesses that made him suitable for God’s purpose! Moses had finally realized that there was nothing he could do. Now all Moses needed to learn was that God can do anything! It’s the same with you and me. It’s healthy to acknowledge our weaknesses. But we need not dwell on them. What we really need to do is to fix our eyes on the Lord, and remember that there is nothing too hard for Him. Any task God may call you or me to do is a task that He can accomplish through us. “What is that in your hand?” Ex. 4:1–9 Moses continued to object, focusing on his weaknesses rather than on God’s strength. Finally the Lord gave him three miraculous signs to serve as evidence to the Israelites that God truly had sent Moses. The signs weren’t spectacular. And God chose simple things—the shepherd’s staff Moses carried. His own hand. Water from the river. But what strikes me as special is the phrase “in your hand.” God took what Moses already had and transformed it. We may not perform miracles. But God still takes what we have at hand and uses it to convince others that He is real. “I will harden his heart” Ex. 4:18–23. Earlier God had given Moses repeated promises. Now He gives Moses a warning. Why? Sometimes human beings misunderstand the promises of God. We assume that God will make our lives easy and remove all the obstacles in our path. But God’s promises never imply that! Instead the promises of God express His commitment to be with us and help us when the obstacles are greatest! It is only in facing, and living through, pain and tragedy that we experience God’s faithfulness. “The Lord . . . was about to kill him” Ex. 4:24–26. This puzzling event teaches an important lesson. Centuries before, God had commanded that male descendants of Abraham should be circumcised as a sign of their membership in the covenant community (Gen. 17:9–14). Moses had not yet circumcised his own sons. It seems likely Zipporah, his wife, had objected, for when Moses was taken deathly ill she apparently knew the reason, and acted immediately to circumcise her two boys. Her subsequent anger (Ex. 4:25) suggests she had been against the rite. But why was it so important that Moses’ sons be circumcised? Because Moses was to be a leader. A spiritual leader in any era must himself be obedient to God. If we are to be used by God, we must first be responsive to Him. “And they believed” Ex. 4:27–31. The Israelites welcomed Moses and believed his promise of deliverance. It must have been encouraging to Moses. But this early response, as is often the case, would soon turn into angry accusations as things didn’t work out as the people of God expected. Faith that counts is faith that persists, even when things seem to go wrong.
God Reveals Himself (Ex. 3)
When Moses held back, fearful, on the doorstep of commitment, God told Moses His name. In biblical times names had meaning. They were intended to convey something of the identity, the essence, of the thing or person named. So when God told Moses the name by which He was to be known “forever”—the name “by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation” (v. 15)-that revelation was significant. The name the Lord revealed was “I AM.” We know it as Jehovah or Yahweh. Wherever most English versions have Lord, the Hebrew reads “I AM.” That name is constructed on the Hebrew verb “to be,” and is best taken to mean “The God Who Is Always Present.” God, who was with Abraham centuries before, was present with Moses and the Exodus generation. God, who delivered them then, would be present with every coming generation as well! In the past, in the present, and in the future, GOD IS! He who was with Moses is with you and me even today. These Exodus chapters help us see why this name of God is so important. When Moses hesitated to respond to the Lord, God gave him a series of promises. Note each of these in the text. “I will be with you” (v. 12). “The elders of Israel will listen to you” (v. 18). “I will stretch out My hand . . . and [perform] wonders” (v. 20). “I will help you speak and teach you what to say” (4:12). How could Moses know that God would keep His promises? The name told him. God is the great I AM. Because He is always present with His people, God is able to fulfill in our present every promise He made in our past. When God told Moses “this is My name forever,” God was speaking to you and me as well as to His prophet. God truly is The One Who Is Always Present. He is with you today. He will be with you tomorrow. And because God IS, every promise He has made us in Christ will surely be fulfilled.
Is there a time or situation in which you need to hold on to the fact that God IS, and that He is present with you?