A sermon on Exodus 2&3 by Rev Richard Keith on Sunday 8 November 2020
Moses was lucky to enjoy the best of two worlds. He was born a Hebrew, one of the people of Israel, the descendants of Abraham. As a little boy from his mother’s knee he would have learned of God’s great promises. They would be a great nation. They would have a land of their own. They would be blessed in order to bless the whole world. Moses was born one of these people.
But he grew up an Egyptian. Although the king of Egypt ordered that all Hebrew boys be thrown in the river, his daughter found him, floating in a basket. She felt sorry for him and decided to adopt him. So Moses grew up in the palace. He would have been given the best education in the world of his time. He would have learned how to count, how to read and write, how to fight and how to speak. While the rest of fellow Hebrews were treated harshly as slaves, building the monuments for the king, Moses lived like a prince.
But a time would come when Moses would have to choose. Was he a Hebrew or was he an Egyptian? Would he go on enjoying his privileges or would he throw in his lot with God’s promises?
In Exodus chapter 2, verses 11 to 15, we see a false start. Moses made his choice. He went out to where his own people were and watched them at their hard labour. You see, his people were the Hebrews. He was one of them, but he was the only one of them who was not a slave. Moses saw an Egyptian beating one of his people, and he felt a call to action. He couldn’t just stand there and watch. He couldn’t just turn and walk away. He had to do something. He looked one way and he looked the other. And when he thought no one was watching, he hit the Egyptian and killed him and hid his body in the sand. Moses had found his calling. He was going to be a saviour and he was going to save his people, one Egyptian at a time.
The next day, however, was more complicated. He went out again to try his luck, but instead of finding more nasty Egyptians, he found two of his own people fighting. One of them was assaulting the other. Moses tried to intervene, but the one in the wrong challenged his right to get involved. “Who died and put you in charge? Are you going to kill me like you killed the Egyptian?” And with that Moses ran for his life. What he had done had been discovered and they knew that he was responsible. He turned his back on Egypt and never intended to return.
Although we can admire Moses’ courage and good intentions, it was a false start. He had no authority, except his own. No plan. No power to make much of a difference. And no perseverance when it started to go wrong. The people of Israel needed to be saved, but this Moses was not the kind of Saviour they needed. He murdered one murderer, but ran away when he was caught. He couldn’t save Israel. He could only save himself by abandoning his people.
It is a good reminder that we cannot save ourselves. We too live in bondage. It’s a slavery to selfishness and to wilful disobedience. We are slaves to our desires, to our ambitions, to our fears and to our prejudices. Jesus said,
Everyone who sins is a slave to sin.
And we can no more save ourselves than we can pick ourselves up by our shoelaces or make a sailing boat move by blowing in the sail. Like the people of Israel, we need to be saved, but we are not the saviour we need. Nor is our church or any politician or any sporting team. Solutions to our problems that rely on our own strength and authority will only end in false starts, regardless of our courage or good intentions.
In chapter 2, verses 16 to 25, we see a new start. Moses ran away to Midian, east of Egypt. He sat down by a well. Seven sisters came along, all daughters of the priest of Midian. They tried to water their sheep, but the other shepherds drove them away. Moses stood up for them against the bullies and watered their flock. Again we are drawn to admire his courage and strength. It reminds us that it is not true that Moses couldn’t save the people of Israel because he was a bad man, but that he couldn’t save them, even though he was a good man.
Moses settled down in Midian, married one of the priest’s daughters and raised a family. It’s a new start, but it is not the end. Now I don’t know how old you are, but I’m 55 years old. And Moses lived in Midian as a shepherd until he was older than me. But God’s hadn’t finished with him. He had only barely begun. It’s a reminder that God isn’t finished with any of us.
Chapter 2 ends with God remembering his covenant with Abraham. When God remembers, it does not mean that he forgot. It means that he has decided to do something new in order to change the present conditions, because of commitments he made in the past.
In chapter 3 we see the true start, when Moses received the call of God. He was tending the flock of his father-in-law. He went far in search of pasture and ended up at Mt Horeb, a place we know better as Mt Sinai. And there Moses saw a bush. It was on fire, but it wasn’t burning up. He went to look closer and he heard God calling his name. Moses said, “Here I am.”
And the Lord said,
Do not come any closer. Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.
I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.
I have seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So 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, flowing with milk and honey. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.
Here we see that God is the saviour of his people. He had seen their misery. He had heard their cries. He would act because of his promises. And he would act by sending Moses to Pharaoh. He would send Moses instead of going himself, but he would send Moses in the power and spirit of his own name.
It reminds us that however much Moses seems to be the hero of Exodus and that the great conflict to come seems to be between Moses and Pharaoh, Moses is just the middle man. The go-between. The ambassador for the king who only speaks and acts at the great king’s will and direction. Israel needs saving, but the saviour they need is their God.
Moses said, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
It’s not a stupid question. But it is the wrong question. It is not about who Moses is. God said,
I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will all worship God on this mountain.
It is not about who Moses is, but who is with him. I mean, who are you? Who am I? Who are we? We are nobodies, living in the middle of nowhere. But who is with us? Who is with us? If God is with us, it doesn’t matter who we are.
Moses had received his call. Go to Egypt. Bring them out. And the proof of the pudding would be in the eating. In actions, not words. The proof that it was God who has sent Moses would be when Israel repeats Moses experience. Escaping Egypt and meeting God on the mountain. Nothing short of the true and living God could pull it off.
It’s a reminder that we walk by faith not by sight. We can’t prove God by science or by mathematical formulas or by clever arguments. God has already done his best. He has revealed himself to us in Jesus Christ. But in Jesus’ name God calls us to action, to service, to ministry. Not always to do great and grand things for God. But most often to do the small and unnoticed things every day. To have the courage to do the things that anyone could do, but no one is. The unpopular things that are right, but everyone else is too afraid to do them. And sometimes the only proof that God is with us to do his will, is the fact that we can pull it off and it brings us closer to him. Like Moses, we walk by faith, not by sight.
Moses said 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, quite reasonably, “What is his name?” Then what shall I tell them?
For some strange reason, to us our names are meaningless. We aren’t called Strength or Beauty or Intelligence. We are called Tom and Harry and Richard. But we glimpse the power of a name when someone calls us Dad or Mum or My Best Friend. Names give us access. To know someone’s name is to have the right to speak to them and to ask them for something. People who don’t know me call me Reverend. The children in my school Scripture classes call me Mr Keith. But the people who know me call me Richard. And three people call me Dad. To know my name is to have the right to speak to me and to ask me for something.
So how can we call on God? How can we be heard? How can we know that he will listen? We must know his name. God said to Moses,
I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: “I am has sent me to you.”
This is his name. Not Bob or Charlie. But I am who I am. He is the true and living God. The real live God. The God who proves himself. The one who is. The one who gave us eyes to see. The one who gave us ears to hear. The one who is the genuine start of everything, who began us, who began this new day, who began our salvation when he came to us, because we could not go to him. Who saved us, when we could not save ourselves.
God is a person. Not a thing. Not a power. Not a force. But a real person. And he has a name. You might know it as Jehovah, although it probably wasn’t pronounced that way. Or you might know it as printed in your NIV Bible as the LORD, with capital letters. See it in verse 15. Find it if you have it in front of you. He is the Lord. It means I am or He will be. There is no other God. And no one and nothing else can do what he can.
And at the right time, there came a man sent by God who said, “I am.” I am the good shepherd. I am the light of the world. I am the bread of life. Before Abraham, I am. Not I was. Not I already existed. But before Abraham, I am. I am the resurrection and the life. I am the way. Not a way to God. But the only way. I am the truth. Not an opinion or a belief. But the truth. I am the life. Not just one way of life among many other equally good and desirable lives. But the life. No one comes to God except through me.
It reminds us that we need to be saved. But what is the name of our saviour? To whom can we call for help. How can we have access to his assistance? His name is Jesus. Jesus is the saviour we need. He is not a new Moses. He is the Lord. And we can call on his name. And he will rescue us and he will bring us to himself.