Exodus 3:1-15 Top Ten Bible Series
Elizabeth M. Deibert 26 June 2016
We talked with the children about how the descendants of Joseph and his brothers stayed in Egypt and life under the new Pharaoh was a great hardship and abusive situation. We talked about Moses’ life being spared with the help of his sister Miriam, and we imagined how Moses felt growing up in Pharaoh’s house, when he knew himself to be one of the Israelites, not an Egyptian. We talked about how Moses acted on impulse, and had to run away from Pharaoh to protect himself. Now we will hear how God called Moses back to face Pharaoh and to lead his people out of Egypt.
Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. 3 Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” 4 When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5 Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6 He said further, “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.
7 Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, 8 and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.
9 The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 10 So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” 11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” 12 He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.”
13 But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” 15 God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations” (NRSV)
This is a story about God being faithful, about God rescuing the people God loves. It tells us how God feels about people who are oppressed and how God works to undermine people who wield too much power and abuse it. It is the story of a people interpreting every event as the active hand of God while we in our day are much more likely to see God as accomplishing divine purposes in events in much more subtle ways. It is a story that was told and retold in such a way that the story has some moments of exaggeration to drive the story home. But the fact that we see that exaggeration makes the story no less true as a guide to our faith and trust in God.
So we have heard that God, the mysterious “I Am Who I Am” or “I Will be Who I Will” is a God of protection and providence to those who are bound to God in covenantal love. We hear God’s lament about unjust suffering, and God’s intent to be an Agent for change. We hear Moses’ nervousness with the task at hand. It’s good he has supportive siblings in Miriam and Aaron. Come to the 11:00 skit to hear Moses, Miriam, and Aaron reflect on their life together in Egypt and out of Egypt.
So what happens in the rest of the Book of Exodus, after Moses’ holy ground moment with the burning bush and the voice of God? What happens to the one who is afraid to go back to Egypt? To convince Moses, God demonstrates some miraculous powers. God reminds him that he has a brother, Aaron, who can do the talking. God gives him a wife Zipporah, who protects him from danger, as did his sister, Miriam. And there are few pieces of the story that leave us wondering “Did God really say or do that?”
One such problem is the issue eight times in this story of the plagues, in which God is said to have hardened Pharaoh’s heart. It sounds like God caused Pharaoh’s heart to be closed against Moses and Aaron’s request to let the Israelites go. On initial reading, one might ask why would God cause Pharaoh’s to be hardened, so that God could punish Pharaoh and the Egyptians. That interpretation is not consistent with the God of loving-kindness and mercy that we see elsewhere in the Bible. A better way to understand it is to say that God in sovereignty provided the circumstances and occasion for Pharaoh to demonstrate his unyielding, power-hungry attitude. God gives us occasions to either develop or harden our hearts. We affirm that God does not intend evil, but is always working for good, which often means pushing those who are doing evil into a corner of choice.
When I hear the Israelites singing and praising God for the Egyptian chariots swallowed up in the waters, I have a hard time viewing it only from Israel’s perspective. But then I remember that when the people being abused, it is easy for them to attribute their narrow escape to the active hand of God. That doesn’t mean we will blame the West Virginians for their floods. Although increased flooding might make us all consider our participation in the changing of the climate over time. With texts like these, we have to shift to Apologetics, which is the act of apologizing for what seems like a spiteful God, and explaining why God isn’t. Interpreting the scriptures does require a struggle, a struggle to understand why God’s people would see things the way they did when they composed the Bible, and a struggle to sift through culturally conditioned issues to find the heart of the message that rings true through all generations.
Anyone who says they read the Bible literally is not listening to the voice of God in the very present Holy Spirit, who guides us away from faulty and damaging interpretations of a Holy, inspired, and complicated ancient text.
Even more challenging than the early plagues and the triumph (and disaster) of the Red Sea is the infanticide that happens on both sides. This tit for tat, eye for an eye, you hurt us so our God’s going to help us hurt you, is still a prevalent attitude in our day.
But Jesus demonstrated a new way. Instead of launching an attack on his opponents, he spoke the truth, and then allowed his opponents to defeat him, to kill him. Non-violent resistance was born with Christ. Radical love of neighbor, especially neighbor who is other, was embodied by Christ. And God raised Jesus from the dead, with the promise that all of us can be rescued too. The New Testament goes on to call us slaves to sin and says that Christ sets us free from the evil powers that destroy us.
The God of Exodus is a dramatic God, who performs great wonders, who exercises power against oppressors, and yes, fights with the underdog. But then those who are liberated forget it was God who rescued them and God who will continue to provide for them. So they get into the wilderness and start complaining. We don’t have water. We don’t have food. Legitimate complaints, but in the story, signs of their lack of faith. So God has to keep performing miracles to reassure them of God’s holy deliverance from every trouble. And God establishes a covenant with them to demonstrate that they too have a responsibility to the relationship of love. Is it not interesting that “You shall not murder.” is handed down as a commandment, after the whole story has been so murderous. And “You shall not steal. You shall not covet.” follows a plundering of the Egyptians.
But when you step back and look at the oppression of peoples, you see it does take a dramatic action to liberate them, because even the abused sometimes would rather stay in an abusive relationship than take the risk involved in breaking free. It takes courage to leave your home behind and try to find a new country where you will be free and able to support your family.
Many of today’s refugees have the same courage. At one point, when the people are griping to Moses, saying “Why have you brought us out here to die? We wish we were back in Egypt!” (What?!) Moses says to the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm, and see the deliverance the Lord will accomplish for you today. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.” (Exodus 14:12-14)
While wandering in the wilderness, a new covenant life of faithfulness was marked by ten commandments given to guide their life together. Holiness is about having limits on the use of human power. Holiness is about loving God and others. Those who were graciously liberated from Egypt are now called to be liberators of others, but in the rest of the Hebrew scriptures we will see how they struggle to be faithful, how they fail miserably by abusing power, and then find themselves victims of others who abuse power.
It continues to be true that unbridled power leads people to mistreat others, so we will remember what our Declaration of Faith says: The Lord still acts in the affairs of individuals and nations to set oppressed and persecuted people free. God charged them to respond to his rescuing love by obeying his commandments. Their life together was to express the justice and compassion of their holy God.
So should our life be a witness to God’s justice and compassion. We will aim to keep God’s commands not to earn or compel God’s favor, but to reflect the holiness of our rescuing God. As grateful heirs of this story, we will do our best to be faithful in leading people out of bondage and into freedom by God’s grace.