Old Testament Exodus Moses the Reluctant Messenger

Moses the Reluctant Messenger

It was any other day for Moses the shepherd, or so he thought. Before the sun had risen over the dusty horizon he was up. Counting his sheep, without falling asleep. He was watching over his father-in-law’s flock. Over the past forty years or so he had become part of the Priest of Midian’s family. His wife Zipporah had given birth to two boys, Gershom and Eliezer. He had been rescued from the sword of Pharaoh and he was a foreigner in this land. At eighty years old

I am sure he thought this is how he would live out his days tending flocks and wandering in the wilderness, he was right to some degree. Over the last forty years, he would have roamed over this mountain many times. Little did he know how important this mountain will be for his people. This mountain will be the place where the people who are enslaved will see the glory of God. They will hear the God who hears them. They will know the God who knows them.

The Lord appears (1-6)

Verse two is a critical point in the timeline of the Bible. What I mean by that is that this has not happened in a long time. For over 400 years the Lord has not spoken to his people. The last thing that is recorded is when the Lord speaks to Israel/Jacob when he tells him to go down to Egypt (Gen 46:1-4). Now four centuries later the Lord appears to Moses who will be the man to bring God’s people out of Egypt. In Genesis we see the Lord appear to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God tells Abraham in Gen 12:7 giving him the promise of the promised land, then they go into Egypt, the Lord rescues Abraham and Sarai by sending plagues on Pharaoh’s household and he leaves Egypt with great possessions. In Genesis 26:1-4, the Lord appears to Isaac and tells him not to go down into Egypt but to remain in the promised land, where the Lord blesses him. Then in Genesis 35:1-15 the Lord appears to Jacob and renames him Israel as he promises to make him a great nation and give his offspring a land to dwell. Fast forward another few chapters and the Lord tells Israel to go down to Egypt. God voluntarily condescends to his creation to make and keep his promises. After four hundred or so years The Lord appears to Moses. Now what we often get caught up in the story of Exodus is the flame of fire coming out of the midst of a bush. That this burning bush is not being consumed. However, the most important thing that we need to notice is not the means God appears to Moses, but what the Lord says to Moses. The New Testament calls this the passage about the bush (Mark 12:26; Luke 20:37). Now we can go down a rabbit hole of theophanies, Christophanies, or angelology. Briefly, I believe this is a theophany, mainly because the triune God is the one who redeems the people of God from slavery. As we will see throughout Exodus but is repeated in Isaiah 63. I also struggle to understand what it means to have a pre-incarnate Christ appear. A great book on this subject is Vern Poythress’s book titled, “Theophany” he has a helpful appendix on this particular question regarding the Angel of the Lord.

Moses is intrigued by this burning bush that is not consumed so he changes directions to be able to have a closer look. Stephen says that Moses was amazed at the sight. Finally, after centuries of the Lord not speaking, he speaks. Moses hears the voice of the Lord. Moses responds when the Lord calls out his name twice, he says “Here I am.” The Lord tells him that he is to take his sandals off because the place he is standing is holy ground. We see the foundation of an important principle that we will see as we continue throughout the book of Exodus. The Lord reveals himself to sinful creatures, but they are still sinful. They are unable to enter into his presence as they are. This is a holy place in Exodus, it is not because of the geographical location of this place but the God who dwells in this geographical sphere. We see that Moses is unable to enter without direct command from God. More than that we then see God introduce himself to Moses as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We will speak of this in the coming weeks but the theological implications of this are pointed out in the Gospel accounts, that he does not introduce himself as the God who was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. That He is still their God. He is not the God of the dead but the living (Mark 12:26; Luke 20:37). Even more than that, “God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.” (Heb 11:16). These men lied, were not great husbands, Abraham didn’t trust God could give him a child through Sarah, Isaac as his father lied about Rebekah being his wife, and well there’s Jacob who dressed up in goat skin to pretended to his blind father that he was his brother, Esau, and yet God says I am their God and they are my people. The third thing we see in this passage is that even Moses knows of his sin as he hides his face and is afraid to look at God. Moses goes from the amazement of a burning bush to covering his face. This is the response of the seraphim, the perfect creatures made to stand in God’s presence every day, and yet they are made with wings to cover their faces. How much more as Moses a son of Adam covers his face. God would tell Moses that no one has ever seen his face and lived (Ex 33:20).

Now how often do we have this reaction when we draw near to God? Evangelical theology says that God is merely a person to talk to, a man like one of us. However, as we see through the Bible the reaction of anyone who has an experience like Moses is thrown to their knees in dread and fear of a heavenly being that is before them or in Moses’ instance the Angel of the Lord. The author of Hebrews explains that we should “offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Heb 12:28–29). The Gospel does not change God for he is unchangeable, the Gospel changes us so that we can worship God truly. We approach the throne of grace through Christ. Worship has shifted over the years to be about us. AW Tozer who died in 1963 wrote about the change in songs. He said songs had changed from “Thou art” to “I am” songs.[1] Hymns shifted from being about who God is and what he has done to being about us. We have made God like the man behind the curtain in The Wizard of Oz, who speaks in a big booming voice but is a small powerless man. Yet the gospel does not make God less holy, less powerful, mighty, or sovereign. The Gospel changes us so that we might be able to stand in the presence of the Holy, powerful, mighty, sovereign God. The one who made the heavens and the earth in the space of six days, with the power of his words. The one who showed the world his holiness through the worldwide flood during the days of Noah. As we will see God changes his people to worship him, his way. As we will see the people get to understand who God is, not their false notions of the god they invent in their minds.

God intervenes (7-12)

Now we have spoken of what is found in these verses before, mainly that God hears the cries of his people, the promises he made to his people, God sees the affliction of his people, and that God knows his people. I want to see another important aspect that we see here in this verse, mainly that God tells Moses that “I have come down to deliver them.” There is a connection between the end of chapter 2 and these verses in chapter 3.  We see the movement of God’s redemption, that God makes a way for his people to be able to worship him. God steps in to be the deliverer of his people. Again, God does not change. He is still the God whom Moses sought to hide his face from.

God intervenes to save his people, but notice it is not that they are to be saved out of slavery and the land of Egypt, but into a new land a better land. This land is defined as good and broad, taking us back to the land that God called good in creation (Gen 1:31). In Deuteronomy we find out more about this land, “For the Lord you’re God is bringing you into a good land, a land of brooks of water, of fountains and springs, flowing out in the valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig trees and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey, a land in which you will eat bread without scarcity, in which you will lack nothing, a land whose stones are iron, and out of whose hills you can dig copper” (Dt 8:7–9). Now let us consider how different these two lands are; the Israelites are currently working for Pharoah making bricks from the dirt. Now when in the wilderness they explain, “We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic” (Num 11:5). They say it cost them nothing, but that is too true, they had no freedom. But the lists are not even comparable. How often do we seek to settle for second best, under slavery? We think that the leaks and onions of this world taste good compared to vines, figs, and pomegranates. However, let’s not get sidetracked.

The Lord calls Moses to go before Pharaoh so that Moses can lead the sons of Israel out of Egypt. The call that Isaiah responds with great enthusiasm, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here I am! Send me.” (Is 6:8) The Lord continues and tells Isaiah that his words will fall on deaf ears and blind eyes. Moses is not as enthusiastic. You see in chapters 3 and 4 Moses’ reluctance to go and speak to Pharaoh. He asks a series of five questions, which are more like excuses. 1) Who am I?; 2) Who are you?; 3) What if they don’t believe?; 4) I am not eloquent; and 5) send someone else. Moses’ first excuse is who am I that I should be the one who talks to Pharaoh and delivers your people. Notice, God’s response, Moses is asking about himself and sees insecurities in himself. But God does not seek to encourage Moses, “You are going to be great Moses…” or “Moses I have been preparing you for your whole life to do this one task, being raised in Pharaoh’s house and now in the wilderness, you are ready…” God does not seek to boast about Moses’ self-esteem. God points Moses to himself. God tells Moses, that he will be with him. The exact thing he had told Isaac (Gen 26:3) and Jacob as he left for Egypt (Gen 28:15). Moses is merely a conduit God will use for his glory.

God tells Moses that he will see this is God’s work. He does speak directly to Moses, saying God will be with him, God will show him by giving him a sign, to confirm that he has been sent. After it is all finished, Moses leads the people out of Egypt. They (not only Moses) will serve God on this very mountain. Notice the aspect of faith at this point, God will show Moses some signs later while he is on this mountain, but the first point is that after you have gone to Pharoah and after you have led the people out, you will know because they will worship me. Moses needs to trust God’s word and obey God’s word (but we will see this is not his first response). You see in Moses that he is just like the Israelites. Moses in the wilderness does not obey God’s command to go. He complains and questions God. But also notice, that not only the people are called out of the land into the promised land, but they are called from slavery to service. They are called out to worship God. They are not only saved but saved to serve. As we continue to consider how the Book of Exodus is not merely a nice story about the Israelites but a great story of the life of a believer. That we are saved from the slavery of sin so that we might worship God. We as believers are saved to serve, but Christ came down to serve so that we might be saved. Unlike Moses who is reluctant to go, Christ willingly and joyfully came down to save us.


[1] A. W. Tozer and David E. Fessenden, The Attributes of God: A Jouney into the Father’s Heart (Camp Hill, PA: WingSpread, 2003–), 14.

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