We’ve seen how the book of Exodus is a continuation of the book of Genesis. And so, the same themes that appeared in Genesis also appear in Exodus. In Genesis, the Lord promised to make Abraham, Isaac and Jacob into a mighty nation by giving them many, many descendants. And he also promised to give them a land to live in. In other words, he promised to make them into a people; and to give them a place where they could live. And Exodus began with the news that Israelites had multiplied. They had been fruitful. They had become a numerous people. But they were in the wrong place; they were slaves in Egypt. And so, in the book of Exodus we read how the Lord brought his people out of Egypt and began to lead them to the right place, the land of Canaan, a land like Eden, flowing with milk and honey. And when God’s people reach the place he has prepared for them they were to enjoy his presence with them.
And in Exodus 2 we began to read about Moses. And Moses, of course, is important, because he’s going to become the leader of God’s people. Now, in chapter 2, the people rejected him. They did not want him to rule over them. And so he fled from Egypt and went instead to live in Midian. But God had chosen him to be the leader of God’s people; and so, eventually he who would lead God’s people out of their captivity and on towards the Promised Land.
And we’ve seen how the Lord was revealing to us through these events what he would do for all his people through Jesus Christ his Son. All of God’s people — his elect people from every nation — are born under the tyranny of the Devil. He holds us captive to do his will. He enslaves us to his power and to the power of sin and we live under the threat of death. But just as God saw the misery of the Israelites in Egypt, so he has seen the misery of his people. And because he is rich in mercy, and when the time was right, he sent us a Saviour. He’s sent us the Lord Jesus Christ. And just as Moses was rejected by those he came to save so that he had to flee from them, so the Lord Jesus Christ was rejected by those he came to save. But nevertheless, despite their opposition, he has done all things necessary to break the power of the Devil. And now, through faith in him, we’re delivered from the tyranny of the Devil and we’re brought into the kingdom of grace; and all of God’s people are on our way to the place he has prepared for us — the new heavens and the new earth — where God’s people will enjoy God’s presence for ever and for ever. Through the history of Moses and the Israelites God was revealing what he was planning to do for all his people by his Son.
And so today we come to chapter 3. And this chapter can be divided into three parts. First of all, in verses 1 to 12, there’s God’s call to Moses. Secondly, in verses 13 to 15, God reveals his name to Moses. Thirdly, in verses 16 to 22, there’s a summary of what God would do for his people through Moses. There’s a lot in this chapter, so we’ll only deal with the first six verses this evening. And really there are three points to make this evening: one about Moses and two about the Lord.
And the first point is Moses’s heavenly-mindedness. Moses’s heavenly-mindedness. This really builds on what we learned about Moses the last time, in chapter 2. Remember how he had been adopted by the Pharaoh’s daughter? And so, he was brought up in the palace, surrounded by luxury, with everything he could possibly want, surrounded by servants who were there to do his bidding. He was the Pharaoh’s grandson — and no doubt he had it all. He had it all. How many of us would like to be in that situation? To be adopted by a rich benefactor so that we could live the life of luxury and not have to worry about a thing?
But what did we read in chapter 2? How Moses gave it all up. Do you remember? When he saw an Egyptian beating, murdering, an Israelite, Moses sided, not with the Egyptian, but with the Israelite. And he stepped in and rescued his fellow Jew from this beating. And when we were studying chapter 2, we saw from what Stephen said about Moses in Acts 7 that Moses somehow understood that God had chosen him to deliver his people from their captivity. He somehow understood that God had chosen him to save his people. But because he tried to save this one Israelite, he provoked the Pharaoh to anger; and he had to flee from Egypt and live for a time in Midian. And that’s where he is at the beginning of chapter 3. Look at verse 1. Here’s this man, Moses, who once lived in luxury; and now he’s a shepherd, minding some sheep. Once he was a prince; now he’s a shepherd. Once he had it all; now he has nothing, because the sheep he’s looking after are not even his own sheep; they belong to his father-in-law. And Stephen, in the book of Acts, tells us that Moses was in Midian for 40 years. So, for 40 years he had to live like this. For 40 years he worked on his father-in-law’s farm, doing what his father-in-law wanted.
How did he manage to put up with it all? Well, the writer to the Hebrews helps us here, because in Hebrews 11, the writer tells us that by faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. Instead he chose to be ill-treated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt. Did you get that? He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt. In other words, he would rather suffer for the sake of Christ and his church, the people of Israel, than enjoy all the sinful pleasures which characterised life in Egypt among all those who did not believe. And why did he think this way? The writer to the Hebrews tells us:
because he was looking ahead to his reward.
He was prepared to give up all the sinful pleasures of Egypt and to suffer for the sake of Christ and his people, because he was looking forwards, and he was looking upwards to heaven and to his eternal reward in the presence of the Lord. That’s what Hebrews 11 is all about: it’s about all these people of faith from the Old Testament. And by faith they were looking beyond this world to the world to come. They were looking beyond the land of Israel to the heavenly country above. They were looking beyond Jerusalem to a heavenly city, whose architect and builder was God. They were prepared to suffer all kinds of trouble and affliction here below, because they were looking forward to what was to come; and they were looking upwards to heaven and to their heavenly and eternal reward. And the writer to the Hebrews tells us that Moses was one of them. And so, here he is at the beginning of Exodus 3. He’d given up the sinful pleasures of Egypt; and he now has nothing. But it didn’t matter, because he was looking beyond this world to the world to come. He had his mind set on things above, rather than on the things of this age which is passing away.
The opposite of Moses is Demas. I’ve mentioned Demas before. Paul mentions him in three of his letters. In two of his letters, Paul mentions that Demas was with him, as one of his fellow workers. But in 2 Timothy, Paul mentions how Demas — in love with this present world — has deserted me. Moses was prepared to forsake the pleasures of Egypt for the sake of Christ. But Demas, because he loved this world and all it had to offer, deserted Paul — and presumably he deserted the Saviour too.
The Devil has many wicked schemes to lead us away from Christ. Sometimes he tries to crush us and our faith by causing the world to hate us. When the world is against us, we’re tempted to give up our faith because it’s too hard. But sometimes the Devil does the opposite; and he makes the sinful pleasures of the unbelieving world seem so attractive to us, so enticing, so enjoyable, that he uses the sinful pleasures of this life to lead us away from Christ the Saviour. He whispers in our ear:
Look at all the wonderful things you could have! Look at all the wonderful things you could enjoy. You can have them all.
But what he doesn’t show us is that the sinful pleasures of the unbelieving world — the sins of this present evil age, as Paul calls them — will only lead us away from Christ. And so, we need to do as Moses did. Instead of looking back to our old life, instead of looking back to this present evil age, and to the kind of lives that our unbelieving friends still lead, we need to look forward to the eternal reward that is waiting for us in heaven. We need to keep our minds on things above, because that’s where Christ our Saviour is, that’s where our eternal reward is, that’s where there is fullness of joy and pleasures for evermore for all of God’s people. But we must wait for it; and we must stand firm; and we must resist the Devil; and we must press on, forwards and upwards to heaven.
That’s the first point today: it’s Moses’s heavenly-mindedness. The second point is God’s holiness.
We’re told in verse 1 that Moses came to Horeb. Horeb, you might recall, is another name for Sinai. And, if you’re familiar with the story of the Exodus, then you’ll know that after the Exodus, the Israelites came to this mountain; and it was here that God made his covenant with them and gave them the Ten Commandments. Well, verse 1 of chapter 3 records how Moses led his father-in-laws sheep to the very same mountain. And we’re told in verse 2 that the angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in flames of fire from within a bush. Now, we’re encountered this expression, ‘the angel of the Lord’ before; and we’ve seen how sometimes the angel of the Lord seems to be distinct from the Lord, but on other occasions he seems to be identical with the Lord. Sometimes he seems to be a different being from the Lord, but on other occasions the angel of the Lord and the Lord are one and the same. For instance, back in Genesis 16, we read how the angel of the Lord spoke to Hagar. But then we’re also told in the same chapter that the Lord was the one who spoke to Hagar. The angel appears to be different from the Lord, but also the same as the Lord.
And it’s the same here. We’re told in verse 2 that the angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in flames of fire from within the bush. But then we’re told in verse 4 that the Lord called to Moses from within the bush. Who was in the bush? The angel? Or the Lord?
It seems that the angel of the Lord is in fact the Lord. But the expression ‘the angel of the Lord’ is used on those occasions whenever the Lord makes himself visible. And that’s the case here: the Lord is a spirit; you can’t normally see him, because he doesn’t have a body like us. But on this occasion, in Exodus 4, the Lord revealed himself visibly to Moses by appearing to him as a flaming fire.
Now, at first, Moses didn’t realise it was the Lord. At first, he thought it was just some strange sight, something odd. And so, we read in verse 3 that he decided to go and take a closer look at this strange sight. But as he went closer, the Lord spoke to him from within the bush. And the Lord told him not to come any closer. And then God told him to take off his sandals, because the place where Moses was standing was holy ground — taking off your shoes was a sign of respect and honour. So, God was saying:
Don’t come any closer; and take off your shoes as a sign of respect.
And then we read how the Lord announced his name to Moses. In other words, he made clear to Moses who it was who was speaking to him. He said:
I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.
And then look at Moses’s reaction when he realised that it was God who was speaking to him. Verse 6:
At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.
This is the first place in the Bible where the idea of God’s holiness appears. You see, the ground where Moses was standing was holy, because God was there. He was the one who made the ground holy, because he himself is holy. And because God is holy, Moses hid his face and was afraid.
The holiness of God refers to the fact that he is set apart from us. Holiness means being set apart. And God is set apart from us because he alone is God; and we are not. He alone is the Creator; and we’re his creatures. There’s God alone on the one side; and then there’s everything else on the other side. And in that sense, he’s set apart and different from us.
But he’s also set apart from us because he is perfect and pure and altogether good; and we are not. We’re sinners who sin against him continually. And everywhere in the Bible it’s made clear that sinners cannot come near to this holy God. We don’t belong in his presence. We can’t approach him and live. His eyes are too pure to look upon evil; he cannot look upon or tolerate what is wrong. And we’re wrong.
So, when Moses started to go near to the flames of fire, which represented the presence of the Lord, God told him not to come any closer. And when Moses realised the Lord was speaking to him, he hid his face, because he was afraid to look upon this holy God.
In the book of Isaiah, Isaiah had that vision where he saw the Lord in his heavenly temple. And do you remember? The angels who were there, and who also covered their faces, because they could not look on the Lord, called to one another and said:
Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty.
And Isaiah cried out:
Woe to me! I am ruined!
Why? Because he knew he was a sinner and sinners do not belong in the presence of the Lord. No one can come into his presence and live because he alone is holy and pure and perfect in every way.
Of course, the good news, the good news, is that through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ who died to pay for our sins, our sins are removed from us; they’re covered over; they’re blotted out; and we’re covered in the perfect righteousness of the Lord Jesus so that, though we’re sinners who may have done everything wrong, and who do not belong in the presence of the Lord, nevertheless we’re now regarded by God as if we’ve done everything right. And so, we can come into his presence in church to worship him and to give thanks to him. And one day, one day, we’ll come into his presence in heaven to be with him for ever and for ever. And, of course, when we get there, we’ll worship God and give thanks to him for Jesus Christ his Son, whose blood has covered over all our sins.
But here’s the thing. God is still holy; he’s still set apart from us. Even though our sins have been covered over, he’s still God; and we’re not. He’s still the Creator; and we’re his creatures. And just as the angels in heaven must bow in his presence and remember that he is holy, holy, holy, so we must bow in his presence and remember that he is holy, holy, holy. And in chapter 1 of the book of Revelation, when the Apostle John saw the Risen and Exalted Lord Jesus Christ, he fell down before him as though dead, because the sight of the Lord Jesus was so majestic and holy. The Lord God is still set apart and different from us. And so, even though we’ve been pardoned for all that we have done wrong, we still need to take care that we approach the Lord with reverence and awe.
Just after Christmas, I went to the cinema with my son. And it’s always an interesting experience to go to the cinema. Everyone is passing sweets around. And over there, two people are chatting and don’t seem to be taking much notice of what’s on the screen. Over there, someone is playing on their phone. Other there, someone looks as if he’s having a snooze. Well, it doesn’t really matter, does it? After all, we’re only in the cinema. If one person isn’t much interested in the movie, what does it matter?
But coming to church is different — isn’t it? — because we believe that when we come to church, we’re coming into the presence of the Lord who is holy. We’re coming to give thanks to him with our praise and our prayers; we’re coming to listen to his word. And when we come before this holy God, who is altogether different and set apart, we ought to take care that we worship him with reverence and awe. We ought to conduct ourselves in his presence in such a way that any visitor will know that the people of Immanuel believe that God is with us when we worship him; and the God we worship is holy.
We’re to remember that the God we worship is holy. And so, the way we behave in church on Sundays ought to demonstrate that we believe he is holy.
My third and final point is God’s faithfulness to his promises. And for this I want to go back to verse 2 where we read how the angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in flames of fire. Now, this is not the first time the Lord appeared in flames of fire; and it won’t be the last time. Think back to Genesis 15 where we read of God’s covenant with Abraham. Do you remember? That was the time when the Lord told Abraham to get a heifer and a goat and a ram and a dove and a pigeon; and he was to kill them; and cut them in half; and lay the pieces on the ground to form a path. And when everything was ready, the Lord passed between the pieces. Well, do you remember? We read that the Lord appeared as blazing torch. In other words, he appeared to Abraham in flames of fire.
And what else did the Lord do that day? Well, he foretold something and he promised something. First of all, he foretold to Abraham what would happen to his people in the days to come. He said that his people would be strangers in a country not their own; and they would be enslaved and ill-treated for 400 years. In other words, he foretold their captivity in Egypt. He said to Abraham:
This is what is going to happen to your descendants.
But then God also made a promise. He said to Abraham that he would punish their captors and afterwards his people would come out of their captivity with great possessions. And in due course, they would come back to the land of Canaan, to the Promised Land. In other words, the Lord promises Abraham that he would one day rescue his people and bring them to the place he had prepared for them. And now, all these years later, the Lord once again appeared as a burning torch, in flames of fire, to say to Moses that the time had come: he was going to rescue his people just as he promised he would.
This passage teaches us that the Lord is always faithful to all of his promises; and we can always rely on him to do all that he has said he will do to deliver his people from captivity to sin and Satan and to bring us at last to the place he has prepared for us. That’s what the Lord was revealing in all of these events: by delivering the Israelites from Egypt he was revealing how he would deliver his believing people in every age from sin and Satan. And by bringing his people to the land of Canaan, he was revealing how he would bring his believing people to our heavenly home. And just as Abraham and Moses could count on him to rescue the Israelites from their captivity, and to bring them at last to the Promised Land, so his people in every age can count on him to call his people out of the tyranny of the Devil through the reading and preaching of his word; and to lead them all the way to heaven. We can count on him, because the Lord is always faithful to all of his promises.
And so, instead of becoming anxious about the future of the church in the world, instead of worrying about how the church will survive when so many around us across the world seem so hostile to the gospel, we can go to our Heavenly Father in prayer and ask him to do what he has promised, because he has promised to multiply his people on the earth, making them like the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. And he has promised to guard us and to keep us and to lead us through every danger, trial and snare, into the new heavens and the new earth and into that place of perfect peace and rest which he has prepared for us. The gates of hell will not prevail; because the Lord has overcome the Devil. And he will do all that he has promised; and he will do it in such a way that he gets all the praise and glory and honour.
The Lord appeared to Moses in flames of fire to re-assure him that he had not forgotten his promise to Abraham; he came to re-assure him that the time had come for him to do all that he had promised he would do. And while the Lord does not appear before us in flames of fire today, nevertheless he speaks to us from his word; and in his word he re-assures us that his promises are true. And so we can trust in him and rely on him and pray to him to do all that he has promised and to gather his people into his kingdom and to bring us at last to glory.