This is a copy of the first sermon I preached. The year was around 1992. I have done some very light editing. Reading back over this sermon thirty years after its appearing, I would be happy to preach it today. That can’t be said for all of my sermons!
Exodus 3:1-20 “What’s in a Name?”
Read through the newspaper…
Watch the television…
Listen to the radio…
Within a short time you’ll discover (if you haven’t already) that Australia is in a recession1 – the world is in a recession.
High unemployment - the highest for 60 years. Low business and consumer confidence. An expanding national debt. The list can go on.
And there’s only one solution – I’ll become the Prime Minister. If I held a press conference tomorrow and the front row was filled with illustrious political journalists there would be three questions I’d be sure to be asked.
- Who are you?
- What are you going to do?
- How are you going to do it?
In Egypt about 3,500 years ago, the Israelites were also in a recession. But it was worse than that - they were in slavery.
At that time God announced that He was going to do something about the situation. And in Exodus chapter 3, we find answers to those same three questions.
Who God is,
What He’s going to do, and
How He’s going to do it.
(1) GOD’S NAME
(1a) I AM
If you look at your pew Bibles, this passage of Scripture is entitled “Moses and the Burning Bush”. If you talk to almost anyone in the street, they will have heard about “Moses and the Burning Bush”. But even a cursory read of the passage will tell you that the bush pales into insignificance when you look at the real subject of this passage.
The most significant character is God, followed not too closely by Moses and, in racing terminology, the bush is the unplaced favourite!
In Exodus 3:9 Moses has been given a fairly big job - to go to the Pharaoh and ask him to let the Israelites go. There were about half a million Israelites, you couldn’t sneak them out one night and hope nobody sneezed.
And Egypt was a pretty powerful nation - by today’s standards we’d call it a “super power”. The Israelites had been enslaved there for 400 years and Moses came along saying he would lead them out. But before that happened, Moses had to convince the elders of Israel that it was possible - that it could work!
Moses saw a problem here, he had run away from Egypt many years before and he realised that the elders wouldn’t believe him and so he needed something a little more convincing. He said to God - “what will I say when they ask about You - when they ask what is your name?”.
Now, to us, our name is primarily what we call ourselves, it’s a means of identifying us, it’s the way we are addressed by other people. Our first name - our “Christian” name, or our given name, is generally:-
- one our parents liked,
- wasn’t too long or too short,
- didn’t rhyme with our surname and
- didn’t leave us with embarrassing initials.
But to the Hebrew, a name was different, someone’s name basically meant someone’s character- it told you something about the person.
The question “what is His name?” is a loaded question. In effect, Moses was anticipating the elders’ questions. The questions they would be sure to ask like:
- Do we know this God?
- What is He like?
- What did He say?
- What did He say?
- Can He deliver?
- Can He do what He says?
- Can we trust Him???
God’s reply answers all of these questions. He says “I AM who I AM. Tell them I AM has sent me to you.”
The name “I AM” is from the Hebrew “Yahweh”. The word Yahweh can be translated in a number of ways, including: “I am who I am” - “I will be who I will be” or - “I am the one who always is”.
In subsequent parts of the Old Testament and through the New Testament it is written as LORD in capital letters and so if you see LORD in capitals it means Yahweh, or “I AM”.
The Hebrew is intentionally open-ended in its translation - but the meaning of the name is clear …
The name of God is a perpetual name, not abstract, but concrete and ever-present.
It is an assertion of God’s authority - God has answered all of Moses’ questions in one answer - “I AM”.
The name implies absolute power, authority and presence.
The name is dynamic–it implies a dynamic presence behind the name and dynamic relationships for all who call on the name. To know the name of God is to be able to approach Him and call on Him as He has revealed Himself.
Psalm 99:6 tells us that “Moses and Aaron were among His priests, Samuel was among those who called on His name, they called on the LORD and He answered them.”
This name of God was a name that was given to Israel alone. The giving of the name opened up the relationship between Israel and God that had formerly begun with the covenant with Abraham.
When the Israelites called on the name of God they were acknowledging a relationship that already existed and were committing themselves to maintaining that relationship.
As this relationship progressed, God’s name took on new meanings and grew in its significance.
The increasing significance of the name of God to the Israelites can be traced through the Old Testament.
In Exodus 20:2 at the giving of the Ten Commandments He says “I am the LORD (capitals) your God who brought you out of Egypt.”
Exodus 34:6 and 7, God says “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.”
Psalm 84:1 - which was preached on three weeks ago begins with “How lovely is Your dwelling place O LORD almighty.”
As was pointed out to us, this Psalmist was one who had thought about God, had pondered over and sought God - he was a man who knew God.
And many of the Psalms reveal great things about Yahweh. The depth of His love, the greatness of His mercy and His compassion.
(1b) The God of Your Father, of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob
But what else do we learn about God’s name? In verses 6, 15 and 16 God says “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”
This is not a new name for God, it is an expansion of the name we already have.
“I am the God of your Father” – what does that mean? It means that the God that Moses’ family worships in Egypt is the same God who now is talking to Moses.
God is trying to make the connection in Moses’ mind that God is a God who relates to families. He’s not a God picking people at random to frighten with burning bushes.
He also says He is “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” Who were these people? What did Moses know about them?
We call them the “Patriarchs”. These three men of history were in many ways alive in the Hebrews’ minds. Abraham was the Father of Israel.
God had met with Abraham and made a covenant with him. Abraham was a great man to the Israelites. In Genesis 26:5 God talks about Abraham. He says “Abraham obeyed me and kept my commands.” Abraham was a man who met with God, he was a man to look up to.
Isaac and Jacob too, were great men of Israel. They too, walked with God and they too were men to look up to.
How does Moses react? He’s speechless, he’s awestruck – verse 6 “Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God”.
God who is now talking to Moses is the God of his father, and the God of his fathers. We see a God who relates. God has a relationship with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and also Moses’ family in Egypt.
But the appeal to Moses’ ancestry is not limited to Moses only. In verse 15 and again in verse 16, God commands Moses to go before the elders of Israel and say to them that the LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had sent Moses to them.
The repetition here is to reinforce to the Israelites in Egypt that God remembers them and they are in relationship with Him.
When God appears to Moses, it’s not a one-off event, it is part of the process of God revealing Himself throughout history. It continued throughout the Old Testament and into the New.
The greatest revelation of God is Jesus.
We read in Colossians 1:15 that Jesus “is the image of the invisible God.” And Paul in Romans 16:26 tells us that Jesus has been revealed to us.
The same God who revealed Himself to Abraham, to Isaac, to Jacob and to Moses is also revealed to us.
(2) WHAT GOD WILL DO
(2a) God’s Concern
Now let’s go back to the Israelites for a moment. The Israelites were suffering. In Joseph’s time - about 400 years earlier, the Israelites had gone into self-imposed exile in Egypt.
And Exodus 1 details some of their suffering. It tells us they were oppressed, they were worked ruthlessly and their lives were bitter.
In many ways, the Israelites could be forgiven for thinking God had overlooked them. 400 years is a long time.
But God hadn’t forgotten them. He says in verse 7 that “I have indeed 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.” Again in verse 9 He says that He has “seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them” and verse 16 He has “seen what has been done to you in Egypt”.
God has heard. God has seen, and God is concerned.
God, too, knows suffering. He suffered on the cross. In the Nicene Creed we say that we believe that Jesus “was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried.” And in the Apostles’ Creed we say that we believe that Jesus “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried.”
God knows suffering, God’s Son knows suffering. And God is concerned – and His concern at what is happening will lead to Him action!
But the Israelites enslavement in Egypt is no surprise, we can see from Genesis 15:13 that it is a part of God’s purposes. The Lord says to Abraham “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years.”
Gods concern for Israel’s suffering is not purely sentiment, it is a real concern that leads to action.
God had already initiated His plan to redeem Israel before they had gone into exile. It can seen in the covenant He made with Abraham. The covenant is actually made in Genesis 15 and restates promises made by God in Genesis 12.
In Genesis 15:18 we read part of the covenant where God says to Abraham “To your descendants I give this land”.
This idea of covenant is a very strong theme that runs through the book of Exodus. God acts on His promise to Abraham and begins to fulfil His promises.
We can see in Exodus 3 verse 8 where God tells Moses about the land He will give them that it will be a good land. The primary reason that it will be a good land is because God is with them.
The Israelites deliverance from Egypt into this land is not an end in itself. The end is that the Israelites can be in a relationship with God - that they can be His people and He can be their God. It represents the turning point for Israel where they are set apart by God to be His people.
(3) HOW GOD WILL DO IT
So far we have concentrated largely on God, we have learnt His name and glimpsed at something of His purpose, that is, redemption. The third issue facing us is “how will God achieve this redemption?”
This brings us to the person of Moses. Moses is very much a larger than life character. His name dominates the Old Testament through the 4 books from Exodus to Deuteronomy.
But Moses didn’t get off to a particularly good start. In verse 10 God tells Moses to go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt. Moses responds with the question “Who am I?” Moses is saying “I can’t do that!” But God replies with the statement that applies to each of us. He says “I will be with you.”
What then begins to develop between Moses and God is a type of partnership – where God is definitely the senior partner.
Moses is called to be God’s agent for deliverance. His question of “Who am I?” is largely irrelevant because God says “I will be with you.” The question is not who is Moses, but rather, who is with Moses. God will be with Moses as he talks to the elders and as he talks to Pharaoh.
The call of Moses is a prelude to the call of Israel. Moses will become the mediator between God and Israel.
As we look at the character of Moses, we see someone who is concerned with his peoples’ plight in Egypt. But when he meets with God, God reminds him of the past and gives him and his people a future. We see Moses perspective and horizon expand greatly after his meeting with God.
(3b) God’s Sufficiency and God’s Power
In addition to the call of Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, we see in the background how God will effect this deliverance – God will bring His power to bear against Pharaoh in Egypt.
In Exodus 3 we find three references to answer this question as to how God will bring the people out.
In verse 18 we read that “the elders of Israel will listen to you.” Not that elders might listen, or that they’ll think about it, but that they will listen to Moses.
In verse 19 God says “I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him.” And in verse 20 God states that is exactly what He has in mind. He says “I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians, after that he will let you go.”
These 3 verses give us insight into how God will achieve His purposes for Israel.
The first one relates to the idea that God knows what will happen.
He knows that the elders will listen to Moses, He knows that Pharaoh will not let the Israelites go, and He also knows that eventually Pharaoh will change his mind.
The second aspect we glimpse here is of God’s power. God will stretch out His mighty hand and perform wonders amongst the people of Egypt.
God’s sufficiency is again proven in verse 12 when He says that the Israelites will worship Him at Mt Sinai after their deliverance.
We’re probably at something of an advantage to Moses because we can look back at these events and see exactly what did happen.
The elders did listen to Moses. Pharaoh didn’t release the Israelites when first asked to. God did bring His mighty hand against the Egyptians, and Pharaoh did let the Israelites go. The Israelites did make it out of Egypt, and They did worship God at Mt Sinai.
But we can do more than that. We can see that God’s purposes continue to be fulfilled. He has reconciled us to Himself through the death and resurrection of Jesus, and His Holy Spirit continues to be at work amongst us when we seek to glorify Him.
In Romans 8:31 Paul asks “If God is for us, who can be against us?” It’s obviously a rhetorical question, because there is no answer. God is sufficient – and His power and His presence are enough.
In Exodus chapter 3 we’ve seen three features of God as He reveals Himself to Moses.
We’ve learnt God’s name, but His name is not just stated, it is explained, illustrated and demonstrated.
God’s name is given as Yahweh - it means “I AM who I am” or “I AM the one who always is.” The significance of the name is that it describes God’s eternal presence. His name is further given as one who relates to us. He is in a relationship with us, and He calls us to be in a relationship with Him.
The significance of the name of God is central to an understanding of His nature and character. The “God who always is” has a plan. It began from the formation of creation and was first revealed to Abraham. It involves us being in a relationship with Him – of us being His people and Him being our God. This relationship was initiated by God and involved the deliverance of Israel from Egypt.
This idea of deliverance can be placed in perspective by seeing that the primary driving force behind the Israelites is God’s Presence. They are being called out of Egypt to the land God will give them so they can enjoy the blessings of God and respond to Him in worship.
As God called the Israelites to freedom into the promised land, so He is calling us to freedom through His Son, Jesus Christ.
We next examined the method God uses in achieving this redemption. Part of the process involves Moses. He is the agent of God’s deliverance. When Moses touches the eternal, his perspective began to change.
In the same way, when we meet with God, we begin to get a grasp of eternity and our horizons begin to expand. We are no longer concerned purely with the here-and-now but begin to see life with different purposes.
God’s method in achieving Israel’s deliverance is further seen throughout the passage when it refers to His knowing what will happen – and His mighty hand compelling Pharaoh to release the Hebrews.
The sign that God has been with the Israelites is that when they have been delivered from Egypt, they will worship God at Mt Sinai.
This theme of deliverance has obvious parallels with Jesus. He came to Earth to deliver us from our sins. The ultimate aim of this is to worship and glorify God in the new land He has promised.
As we begin to get a grasp on the name, purpose and methods of God, we start to see the expansive nature of God’s character. This progression continues through the Old Testament, culminates in Jesus and then continues through the New Testament.
In John 8:58 and 59, Jesus is being asked about His authority and He replies “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was born, I AM.”
Jesus is the ultimate word in God’s revelation to man. The love of God, the mercy of God and the purpose of God find their absolute expression in Jesus. What Moses heard and saw is nothing compared to what we can see and hear because of Jesus.
This was ‘a recession Australia had to have’ per PJ Keating. ↩︎