READ : Exodus 3:1-14
God reveals his personal name to Moses at the burning bush, and calls him to help save his people. But Moses doesn’t want to go. Sound familiar?
The Burning Bush
When we turn from Exodus chapter 2 to Exodus chapter 3, we discover that Moses, the
Hebrew baby raised as Pharaoh’s grandson, has undergone a rather dramatic change of
circumstances. He is 80 years old now, and he’s working as a shepherd in the arid
wastelands of the Sinai peninsula. Forced to flee after killing an Egyptian slave-master,
Moses ran eastward into the desert. There he met a group of nomadic tribesmen, married the
daughter of one of their priests, and took up the life of a wandering herdsman.
Now after forty years of tending his father-in-law’s flock – time that God used to
humble him – Moses is ready to be used. And the Lord calls him to his life’s work in
a most unusual way. Here’s the story:
Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian,
and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of
God. And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a
bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses
said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” When the
Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!”
And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your
feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” And he said, “I am the God
of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid
his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
So here’s Moses, just going about his business in the wilderness. It’s another typical
day on the job, until he looks up to see an amazing sight, a burning bush that isn’t
burning up. It’s an interesting curiosity, but that wasn’t the most important thing. What
really mattered was the voice Moses heard when he turned aside to investigate this strange
sight. God himself spoke to Moses out of that fire (v. 4). He hadn’t forgotten his people;
he would not abandon them forever to their enemies. He was not blind to their needs or
deaf to their cries; the Lord would not fail to keep his promises. But as always with God,
his word would be fulfilled in his way and his time. Now that time had arrived, and Moses
would be the instrument through whom God would deliver his people.
The Sacred Name
There’s just one small hitch, though, to the divine plan: Moses didn’t want to be part
of it. He wasn’t interested in being God’s chosen servant. As soon as the Lord commissions
him, Moses begins to make excuses.
He starts by arguing how insignificant he is. “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh?”
(v. 11). “I’m just a nobody out here in the desert,” Moses is saying; “I really think you
should find somebody more famous, more important to do such a big job.” “That’s alright,
never mind,” the Lord replies, “it doesn’t matter who you are because I’m going with you
and I will be there behind you, around you, in front of you.” Then Moses claims he doesn’t
really know enough to do this job. “What if I go and talk to the Israelites and tell them
I’ve come from God and everything, and then they don’t believe me? What if they say, `God
sent you, did he? Well, tell us his name then’? Then what do I say?”
So God proceeds to reveal his name, that is, his nature, his character, to Moses. And
so we read in one of the great verses in all the Bible:
God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. . . . Say this to the people of Israel, `I AM has
sent me to you.'” (v. 14)
And with that verse, we’ve truly reached one of the high points of the Bible – the
revelation of the personal name of the living God. The name in its biblical sense means so
much more than just an identifier. The Lord isn’t trying, in fact, to identify himself
here; he’s already told Moses who he is: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham,
Isaac and Jacob” (v. 6). Rather, when God tells Moses his personal name, he does it in
order to reveal his inmost nature: he is Jehovah, the Great I AM. The Lord is the God who
is. He is the eternal one, self-existent, constant, always the same. All other things in
existence, from the greatest galaxy in the universe down to the tiniest subatomic
particle, are derived from God. But he alone is. Everything else changes; it grows old,
slows down, dies, then decays. Even the universe will do that some day. But God always is
what he is; he always has been and always will be exactly who he is now.
“And what is that?” we might ask. What is God’s essential character, his unchanging
nature? There are many ways of answering that question. Long books have been written.
Theologians traditionally talk about the attributes of God, often using long Latin words:
omniscience, omnipotence, omnipresence. God is infinite, eternal, all-powerful,
all-knowing – he is all those things. It’s all true. But later in Exodus, when Moses
asks the Lord to reveal even more of his inmost self, this is what God offers him:
I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name,
the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have
compassion on whom I will have compassion.
More than power, more than infinity, more than any other quality – don’t you see – the Lord’s name proclaims, “I am compassion and mercy.” He is the Lord who is
gracious; that is what never changes about him.
Moses is, I think, without question, the most privileged and important person in the
Old Testament. I don’t think even Abraham had a more powerful encounter with God than did
Moses at the burning bush. But do you realize that you and I have been given something
greater than anything Moses knew?
Jesus once remarked that no one up until his time was greater than John the Baptist;
not even Moses, we presume. But then he said that the least person in the kingdom of
heaven was greater even than John (Matthew 11:11). The coming of Jesus into the world
brings a whole new order. The humblest believer in Christ has a greater position than the
giants of the Old Testament. We have been given such an opportunity. We who live in the
light of the gospel are so incredibly privileged. We know even more about the Lord than
Moses did. We truly know God’s personal name; that name is Jesus. He is the Great I AM. In
fact, that’s what he said, “Before Abraham was, I am.” It’s the most audacious claim Jesus
And more than that, it’s true. God himself confirmed it. The Bible says that God has
been pleased to bestow upon Jesus “the name that is above every name, that at the name of
Jesus, every knee shall bow . . . and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to
the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9 ff.). Someday everyone who is saved will
worship and confess that Jesus is the Lord, and only those who confess his name will be
saved. For those who know already that Jesus is Lord, our great privilege is also our
great responsibility. We can make the Lord’s name known to everyone. We can share with
people everywhere better news than Moses did, about a wider and deeper and more lasting
salvation. We can offer people, not just rescue from bondage in Egypt, but rescue from
slavery to sin, redemption even from Satan and death. We can promise, not a home in
Canaan, but a home in heaven, with eternal life in Jesus’ name.
We can do all those things, but are we? Though Moses had been specially called to
deliver the people of Israel from their bondage, he didn’t seem too interested in obeying.
He didn’t want to have to confront Pharaoh. He preferred his quiet life in Midian, content
to tend his sheep and enjoy his family and keep his knowledge of the Lord to himself. So
the excuses just kept on coming.
What if they don’t believe me when I tell them about you? . . . What if they think I’m
making up this wild story about seeing you in a burning bush? . . . Come to think of it,
I’m not all that good a speaker. Maybe it would be good if you found somebody who was
better with words.
You get the feeling that Moses will never run out of excuses, that he’ll just ramble on
and on until he piles up an insurmountable barrier to simply obeying God’s call.
But God doesn’t let him. The Lord has an answer for every one of Moses’ excuses, and he
offers them one by one, up to and including the ultimate answer to any possible excuse
– “I will help you” (v. 12). If that’s true for Moses, it must be true for us too. So
what’s our excuse for not telling everyone we know the name of the Lord?