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< 020301 > EXODUS In our last chapter we contemplated Moses in Midian and pondered the significance of God appearing to him in the burning bush. It was there he received his call and commission to act as Jehovah’s favored instrument in delivering His people from their hard bondage. As Moses turned aside to behold the amazing sight of the bush burning and yet not being consumed, the voice of God addressed him. First, God reminded Moses of His holiness (v. 5). Next, He revealed Himself in covenant-relationship (v. 6).
Then, He expressed His compassion (v. 7). Then He declared His purpose: “I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians”, etc. (v. 8). Finally, He addressed Himself to His servant: “Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth My people the children of Israel out of Egypt” (v. 10).
Ere considering Moses’ Call, let us weigh what is recorded in verses 7 and 8: “And the Lord said, I have surely seen the affliction of My people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows; And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey.” Notice the completeness of this statement.
First , the Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of My people which are in Egypt.”
Second , “And have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters.”
There were no “perhaps’s” or “peradventure’s.” It was no mere invitation or offer that was made to Israel. Instead, it was the unconditional, emphatic declaration of what the Lord would do — “I am come down to deliver. ” So it is now. The Gospel goes forth on no uncertain errand. God’ Word shall not return unto Him void, but “it shall accomplish that which He pleases, and it shall prosper in the thing whereunto He sends it” ( Isaiah 55:11).
Finally, admire the blessed typical picture here, a prophetic picture of the Divine Incarnation. First, the Divine compassion which Prompted the unspeakable Gift: “I have surely seen the affliction of My people which are in Egypt” — God contemplated the wretched condition of sinners and their need of deliverance. Second, the Incarnation itself: “I am come down. ” Thus it was fifteen hundred years later, when Jehovah — Jesus left His Father’s House on high and came down to these scenes of sin and suffering. Third, the Purpose of the Incarnation: to “deliver” His people and “bring them up out of that land”, which symbolizes the world. Fourth, the beneficent design of the Incarnation: to “bring them into a good land and large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey” — to bring us on to resurrection ground, where there would be everything to satisfy and rejoice the heart. “Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth My people the children of Israel out of Egypt” ( Exodus 3:10).
Notice the little word which we have placed in italics. God is not to be rushed: our business is not (irreverently) to seek to hurry God, rather is it to wait on Him and for Him. For many long years had the groans and cries of the distressed Hebrews gone up; but the heavens were silent. Forty years previously, Moses had become impatient at the delay, and thought to take matters into his own hands, only to discover that the time for deliverance was not yet ripe. But “now.” Now the four hundred years of servitude and affliction ( Genesis 15:13) had run their ordained course. Now the hour for Divine intervention had struck. Now the time for Jehovah to deal with the haughty oppressor of His people had arrived. Now the children of Israel would be in a condition to appreciate the promised inheritance. The pleasant pastures of Goshen and the carnal attractions of Egypt had, no doubt, quelled all longings for Canaan, but now that their afflictions were fast becoming unbearable, the land flowing with milk and honey would be a pleasing prospect.
And now that the time for deliverance had arrived, what is the method of Divine procedure? A captive people is to be emancipated; a nation of slaves is to be liberated. What, then, is the first move toward this? Had God so chosen He could have sent forth His angels, and in a single night destroyed all the Egyptians. Had He so pleased He could have appeared before the Hebrews in person and brought them out of their house of bondage. But this was not His way. Instead, He appointed a human ministry to effect a Divine salvation. To Moses He said, “I will send thee..... that thou mayest bring forth My people..... out of Egypt.” There is little need to apply this to ourselves. God’s way then, is God’s way now.
Human instrumentality is the means He most commonly employs in bringing sinners from bondage to liberty, from death to life. “Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth My people the children of Israel out of Egypt” (v. 10).
What, then, is the response of our patriarch? Surely he will bow in worship before the great I am at being thus so highly honored. Surely he will ask, in fullest submission, “Lord, what would’st Thou have me to do?” But how did Moses reply? “And Moses said unto God, Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (v. 11).
Moses at eighty was not so eager as at forty. Solitude had sobered him.
Keeping sheep had tamed him. He saw difficulties in himself, in the people, and in his task. He had already tried once and failed, and now for long years he had been out of touch with his people. But while all this was true, it was God who now called him to this work, and He makes no mistakes. “And Moses said unto God, Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (v. 11).
This brings out a principle in connection with Divine service which is strikingly illustrated in Luke 9. In verse 57 we read, “And it came to pass, that, as they went in the way, a certain man said unto him, Lord, I will follow Thee whithersoever Thou goest.” In response our Lord said, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man hath not where to lay His head.” Then we read, “And He said unto another, Follow Me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. Jesus said unto Him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God. And another also said, Lord, I will follow Thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house.” The principle is this: When the will of man acts in self-appointed service, he does not feel the difficulties in the way; but when there is a true call from God these are felt. Thus it was with Moses. When he went forth in the energy of the flesh ( Exodus 2:11, etc.) he was full of confidence in the success of his mission. This comes out clearly in Acts 7:25: “For he supposed his brethren would have understood how that God by his hand would deliver them: but they understood not.”
The Lord, therefore, graciously encourages him by promising to be with him and assuring him of the ultimate success of his mission. “And He said, Certainly I will be with thee; and this shall be a token unto thee, that I have sent thee: When thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve God upon this mountain” (v. 12).
This was very comforting. God did not ask Moses to go forward alone: an all-mighty One would accompany him. And this is still the Divine promise to each Divinely-called servant. I doubt not that the apostles must have felt much like Moses when the risen Savior commissioned them to go and preach the Gospel to every creature — Who am I that I should go? If so, their hearts were reassured with the same promise Moses received — “Lo I am with you alway.” And fellow-worker, if the Lord has manifestly called you to some task for which you feel utterly insufficient, rest on this precious promise — “Certainly I will be with thee.” This is a word that every one engaged in Christian service needs to take to heart. When we think of what is involved in bringing a soul out of darkness into light; when we encounter the fierce opposition of the devil; when we face the frowns and sneers of the world, little wonder that we hesitate, and ask, “Who is sufficient for these things?” But take courage faint-heart, and remember the unfailing promise, “Certainly I will be with thee.” “And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is His name?
What shall I say unto them?” (v. 13).
Let us not be too quick to condemn Moses here — the Lord did not! This was no small difficulty for Moses. No visible presence would accompany him. He was to go alone to the enslaved Hebrews and present himself as the Divinely-sent deliverer. He was to tell them that the God of their fathers had promised to free them. But, as we shall see later, this was not likely to make much impression upon a people who were, most of them at least, sunk in the idolatries of the Egyptians. He felt that they would quickly want to know, Who is this God? What is His character? Prove to us that He is worthy of our confidence. And does not a similar difficulty arise before us! We go forth to tell lost sinners of a God they have never seen. In His name we bid them trust. But cannot we anticipate the response — ”Show us the Father, and it sufficeth us” is still, in substance, the demand of the doubting heart. Moses felt this difficulty; and so do we. “And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and He said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you” (v. 14).
At first sight this may strike us as strange and mysterious, yet a little reflection should discover its profound suggestiveness to us. “I am” is the great Jehovistic name of God. Dr. Pentecost says, “It contains each tense of the verb ‘to be’, and might be translated, I was, I am, and I shall always continue to be.” The principle contained in this word of Jehovah to Moses contains timely instruction for us. We are to go forth declaring the name and nature of God as He has been revealed. No attempts are to be made to prove His existence; no time should be wasted with men in efforts to reason about God. Our business is to proclaim the Being of God as He has revealed Himself in and through Jesus Christ. The “I am” of the burning bush now stands fully declared in the blessed Person of our Savior who said, “I am the bread of life”, “I am the good Shepherd”, “I am the door.” “I am the light of the world”, “I am the way, the truth and the life”, “‘I am the resurrection and the life”, “I am the true vine. He is the eternal “I am” — ”the Same, yesterday, and today, and forever.” “And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and He said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you” (v. 14).
There is a depth here which no finite mind can fathom. “I am that I am” announced that the great God is self-existent, beside whom there is none else. Without beginning, without ending, “from everlasting to everlasting” He is God. None but He can say “I am that I am” — always the same, eternally changeless. The apostle Paul could say “By the grace of God I am what I am” — what grace has made me, but he could not say “I am that I am.” “And God said moreover unto Moses, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, The Lord God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is My name forever, and this is My memorial unto all generations” (v. 15) This was most blessed. Here was indeed something which ought to win the hearts of the Hebrews when Moses repeated it to them. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, was the God of sovereign grace, who had singled out these men from the mass of fallen humanity, and made them His high favorites. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, was the God of unconditional promise, who had pledged to give to them and their seed the land of Canaan for their inheritance. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, was the covenant-keeping God; for with Abraham God entered into solemn covenant, and with Isaac and Jacob He confirmed it. Note, also, the threefold repetition of God — “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Was there not here something more than a hint of the Holy Trinity!
In the remaining verses of Exodus 3 we learn how God further re-assured His servant by declaring what should be the results of his mission (see vv. 16-22). And mark once more the positive terms used: “I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt....And they shall hearken to thy voice.... I am sure that the king of Egypt will not let you go....And I will smite Egypt with all My wonders.... and I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians.” etc. Everything is definitely determined. There is no possibility of the Divine purpose failing. There are no contingencies; no ‘I will do my part, if you do yours’. The Lord has sworn, “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure” ( Isaiah 46:10). Let this be the ground of our confidence. Though all the powers of evil array themselves against us, whatever God hath called us to do will issue precisely as He has appointed.
It is true that these promises of God to Moses were not made good in a day. It is true that there was much in the sequel to severely test the faith of Moses, ere the children of Israel were delivered from Egypt. And it is also true that with two exceptions the six hundred thousand men who left Egypt perished in the wilderness, and thus Moses died without seeing the complete fulfillment of Israel’s actually reaching the land flowing with milk and honey — for God’s promises were made to Israel as a nation, not to any particular generation of that nation. Nevertheless, in the end, every word of Jehovah was made good. So, too, God may commission us to a work for Him, and we may die before the determined issue appears; but notwithstanding, the Divine purpose will be realized. “And they shall hearken to thy voice: and thou shalt come, thou and the elders of Israel, unto the king of Egypt, and ye shall say unto him, The Lord God of the Hebrews hath met with us: and now let us go, we beseech thee, three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God. And I am sure that the king of Egypt will not let you go, no, not by a mighty hand” (vv. 18, 19).
This presented another test to Moses’ faith. Had he stopped to reason about the commission God was giving him, it probably would have appeared foolishness to him. Here was he ordered to go, accompanied by the elders of Israel, unto Pharaoh, and present to Him the message of Jehovah. He was to request that the Hebrews should be allowed to go a three days’ journey into the wilderness that they might worship God. And, yet, before he starts Jehovah assures him, “I am sure that the king of Egypt will not let you go.” He might have asked, What, then, is the use of me wasting my breath on him? But it is not for the servant to question his master’s orders: it is for him to obey. But not yet was Moses ready to respond to God’s call. “And Moses answered and said, But, behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice: for they will say, The Lord hath not appeared unto thee” ( <020401> 4:1).
Were it not that we were acquainted in some measure with our own desperately-wicked hearts, it would appear to us well-nigh unthinkable that Moses should continue objecting and caviling. But the remembrance of our own repeated and humiliating failures only serves to show how sadly true to life is the picture here presented before us. The Lord had favored His servant with the awe-inspiring sight of the burning bush, He had spoken of His tender solicitude for the afflicted Hebrews, He had promised to be with Moses, He had expressly declared that He would deliver Israel from Egypt and bring them into Canaan. And yet all of this is not sufficient to silence unbelief and subdue the rebellious will. Alas! what is man that the Almighty should be mindful of him! Nothing but Divine power working within us can ever bring the human heart to abandon all creature props and trust in God. “And Moses answered and said, But, be-hold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice.” Awful presumption was this. The Lord had emphatically declared, “They shall hearken to thy voice” (3:18), and now Moses replies, They will not. Here was the servant daring to contradict his Lord to His face. Fearfully solemn is this; the more so, when we remember that we are made of precisely the same material that Moses was. There is in us the same evil, unbelieving, rebellious heart, and our only safeguard is to cast ourselves in the dust before God, beseeching Him to pity our helplessness and to keep down, subdue, overcome, the desperate and incurable wickedness which indwells us.
How what has been before us repudiates the modern sophistry that God only uses those who are fully consecrated to Him! How often Arminian teachers insist that the measure of our faith and faithfulness will determine the measure of our success in the Lord’s service. It is true that every servant of Christ ought to be “a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the Master’s use” ( 2 Timothy 2:21), nevertheless, God is not limited by our failure at this point, and clearly does this come out in the passage before us. Moses was timid, hesitant, fearful, unbelieving, rebellious, and yet God used him! Nor does he stand by any means alone in this respect.
God used the mercenary Balaam to give one of the most remarkable prophecies to be found in the Old Testament. He used a Samson to deliver Israel from the Philistines. He used a Judas in the apostolate. If God were to wait until He found a human instrument that was worthy or fit to be used by Him, He would go on waiting until the end of time. God is sovereign in this, as in everything. The truth is that God uses whom He pleases.
Not yet was Moses ready to respond to Jehovah’s Call. There were other difficulties which the fertile mind of unbelief was ready to suggest, but one by one Divine power and long-sufferance overcame them. Let us take this lesson throughly to heart, and seek that grace which will enable us to place God between us and our difficulties, instead of putting difficulties between God and us. In our next paper we shall dwell upon the three “signs” which God gave to Moses; let the interested reader give these much prayerful meditation as he studies Exodus 4, and thus be prepared to test our exposition.