The last time we were studying the book of Exodus together, we spent our time on verses 1 to 6 of chapter 3 where the Lord appeared to Moses in the burning bush. You’ll perhaps remember the background: Jacob and his sons moved to Egypt in the days of Joseph. In the land of Egypt they were fruitful and multiplied greatly and became exceedingly numerous so that the land was filled with them. However, when a new king came to power in Egypt, he was worried that the Israelites might turn on the Egyptians and fight against them and overrun the land. And so, the new king made the Israelites slaves: he put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labour and made their lives miserable.
However, the more the Israelites were oppressed, the more they multiplied; the king’s plan backfired on him. So the king, in an effort to reduce the number of Israelites, ordered the midwives to kill any Israelite boys who were born; the girls could live; but the boys must die. But the midwives would not do what the king wanted; they let the boys live. And so, the king, issued an order to every Egyptian, commanding them to take every Israelite boy who was born and to throw them into the Nile. It was a wicked and desperate plan; and it showed how much the king feared the Israelites and how desperately he wanted to keep them from multiplying any further.
And so, at the end of chapter 2, we read how the Israelites groaned in their slavery. They groaned in their slavery and they cried out. And we’re told that their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his promises to Abraham and to Isaac and to Jacob concerning his people. And we read that God looked on the Israelites and he was concerned for them. That’s how chapter 2 ended. And in chapter 3, God appeared to Moses; and he appeared to Moses, because he was going to use Moses to deliver his people from their captivity.
And, of course, you’ll remember as well, that God’s plan to deliver his people from their captivity meant not only rescuing them from Egypt, but it also meant bringing them into the Promised Land of Canaan. Do you remember? In the book of Genesis, God has promised to make the Israelites into a great nation. Well, they had become a great nation; they had become exceedingly numerous in the land of Egypt; they had become a mighty people. But God had also promised to give them a land to live in. And so, in fulfilment of his promise, he was going to lead them to the Promised Land of Canaan God’s plan was to bring his people to the place which he had prepared for them; And when God’s people where in the right place, they would enjoy his presence with them.
When we began to look at chapter 3 last time, we noticed God’s holiness: he commanded Moses to remove his sandals, because the place where he was standing was holy ground. And it was holy ground, because God was there. He’s the one who made the ground holy, because he himself is holy. And because God is holy, Moses also hid his face from the Lord. And so, we were reminded that the God we worship is holy, holy, holy. And so, we ought to take care that we approach him in worship on Sundays in the right way: we’re not to come before him casually and carelessly, but with reverence and awe because the God we worship is holy.
And the last time we were also reminded that our God is faithful. He’s faithful to his promises. Back in Genesis 15, he appeared to Abraham as a burning torch. And he foretold to Abraham that the Israelites would be slaves in Egypt for a time. However, he promised that, when the time was right, he would punish their captors; and bring his people out of their captivity with great possessions; and he would bring them back to the Promised Land. And now, all these years later, the Lord once again appeared as a burning torch, in a burning bush, to say to Moses that the time had come: he was going to do for them all that he had promised he would do for them. The Lord is always faithful to all of his promises; and so we know we can always look to him and trust in him to do what he has promised and to multiply his people on the earth and to bring us at last to our heavenly home.
We didn’t get very far last time. As I said, we only covered verses 1 to 6. So, this evening we’ll return to chapter 3. And the remaining verses can be divided into three parts. First of all, in verses 7 to 12, the Lord makes clear to Moses that he has seen the affliction of his people and is going to rescue them by Moses. Secondly, in verses 13 to 15, the Lord reveals to Moses his special names. And thirdly, in verses 16 to 22, the Lord promises to defeat his enemies and to deliver his people with signs and wonders. We’ll look at the first and second parts this evening and come back to the third part another time.
Verses 7 to 12
In verses 7 to 12 the Lord makes clear to Moses that he has seen the affliction of his people and is going to rescue them by Moses.
So, look with me at these verses. And notice, first of all, how the Lord describes the affliction of his people. In verse 7 he mentions their misery; in the same verse he mentions how they cried out because of their slave drivers; and he also mentions their suffering. In verse 9 he mentions their cry; and he also mentions that the Egyptians were oppressing them. That was the experience of his people in those days: they were in misery and they used to cry out because of their slave drivers; and they were suffering at the hands of the Egyptians who were oppressing them. And we can imagine their life, can’t we? Getting up early in the morning and being sent out into the fields to work the ground; and onto the building sites to build their cities. All day long, the slave drivers were at their side, driving them on and forcing them to work harder and harder. Presumably there were no days off; so there was no rest or no relief. And at the end of the day, they fell into bed, exhausted. And early the next day, it all started again. That was their lot; that was their life; every day, always the same, working hard for their Egyptians.
But here’s the thing: How did the Lord know that this was their experience? How did he know about this? Listen to what the Lord said to Moses. Verse 7:
I have indeed seen the misery of my people.
I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers.
the cry of the Israelites has reached me.
I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressed them.
How did the Lord know that this was their experience? Because the Lord saw what they were going through; and he heard their groans and their cries. The Lord we worship is not blind so that he cannot see. And he’s not deaf so that he cannot hear. He can see and he can hear. Sometimes when we’re going through troubles and trials, we think that no one knows what we’re going through; no one sees how we’re suffering; no one’s aware of the pain in our heart; no one hears us when we cry in the night. But here’s the Lord, saying to Moses that no, he’s the God who sees all things and he’s the God who hears all things. Our suffering and our distress are not hidden from him, for he knows it all. The Psalmist says:
O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.
He knows all about us. And in the psalm, the Psalmist declares that the Lord knew us even when we were in our mother’s womb and before we were born. We’re never, ever hidden from his gaze.
But, of course, there’s more, isn’t there? Not only does the Lord see us and not only does he hear us, but the Lord is concerned for his people. He cares about what they’re going through. Go back to verse 7:
I have indeed seen the misery of my people…. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering.
One person knows what we’re going through, but doesn’t care. But the Lord makes clear to Moses that he cares about his people and he’s concerned about them.
But it doesn’t stop there either. There’s still more to be said. Yes, he’s seen their misery; yes, he’s heard their cries; yet, he’s concerned about their suffering. But will he do anything about it? Well, verse 8 contains the answer. The Lord said to Moses:
So, I have come down to rescue them from the land of Egyptians and to bring them up our of that land into a good and spacious land….
Isn’t that marvellous? The Lord is highly exalted and he lives in a high and holy place, far above the earth. But he’s prepared to come down, to stoop down, to bend down in order to help his people. Think of a mother or father, who bends down to pick up their little baby who is crying; so the Lord was going to stoop down to lift up his people in Egypt and to carry them away from Egypt and to bring them to the Promised Land.
And look how he describes the Promised Land: it’s a good and spacious land. That mean’s there’s room for all of them. And it’s a land flowing with milk and honey. That means it has everything they could possibly want. It’s going to be a land like the Garden of Eden, where the trees were good for food and pleasing to the eye.
And look: this land, flowing with milk and honey, is the home of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Well, that tells Moses exactly where this land is. It’s as if the Lord is saying to Moses:
Do you know where those people are living? Well, that’s the land I’m talking about.
But it’s also an assurance — isn’t it? — that the Lord will deal with those nations; he will remove them from the land, because he’s promised to give it to his people.
So, the Lord has seen their misery; he’s heard their cries; he’s concerned for their suffering; and he’s going to come and rescue them. But how’s he going to do it? Look at verse 10:
So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.
How’s he going to do it? By using Moses. He’s going to use Moses to confront the Pharaoh; and he’s going to use Moses to lead the people out.
Moses immediately objects:
Who am I? Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?
And the Lord replies:
I will be with you.
Moses wasn’t going to appear before Pharaoh on his own, for the Lord would be with him to help him. And to re-assure him, the Lord promised Moses that when they have been brought out of Egypt, they will worship the Lord in this mountain. You see, the place where the Lord appeared to Moses in the burning bush was at Horeb, which is another name for Mount Sinai, where the Israelites would one day gather to receive his law and where they would worship him.
I’ve said before that in the history of these events, in the history of Moses and the Israelites, the Lord was revealing what he would do for us and for all his people through Jesus Christ. The Lord saw how the Israelites were in bondage in Egypt; he saw the misery of their lives. And out of his great love and mercy, he sent them Moses to deliver them from the hand of the Pharaoh and to bring them to the Promised Land.
And, of course, the Lord saw our bondage. Because of Adam’s sin, we all belong, by nature, to this present evil age, which is destined to pass away. And in this present evil age, we’re under the power of our sinful flesh which causes us to sin against the Lord and to do evil. And we’re dominated as well by the Devil who tempts us to do evil. And then there’s the sinful world which pressures us to conform to its evil ways. And, of course, in this present evil age, we’re under God’s wrath and curse so that we’re justly liable to all the miseries of this life and to death itself and to punishment in hell. This is the way we are by nature: our church’s Catechism calls it a state of sin and misery. And the Lord saw our sin; he saw our misery; he saw our bondage to this present evil age.
And just as the Lord saw the misery of the Israelites, and was concerned about their suffering, and sent Moses to deliver them, so the Lord God saw our misery. And out of his love and mercy, he sent his one and only Son, Jesus Christ, to deliver us from this present evil age by his death on the cross and resurrection afterwards. And all who believe in his Son are delivered from this present evil age with all its sin and shame and misery and we’re raised with Christ to live a new life.
Through all of these Old Testament events concerning Moses and the Israelites and the Egyptians, God was revealing what he would do for us by his Son. And so, if Jesus Christ is your Saviour, if you trust in him, then you can rejoice because God has delivered you from this present evil age by his Son; and he’s leading you, even now, to the place he has prepared for you and for all of his believing people, where we will be with him and will worship him for ever and for ever. And so, we ought to give thanks to the Lord and praise him for his kindness to us and for all that he has done for us in Jesus Christ his Son. Delivering the Israelites from Egypt was marvellous; but delivering us from our sin and misery is far, far more marvellous. And so, we ought always to praise the Lord and rejoice in our salvation.
Verses 13 to 15
Let’s move on, because the chapter doesn’t end at verse 12. In verses 13 to 15 the Lord reveals to Moses his special names
This short section begins with a question from Moses. He asked:
Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you’, and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?
And God replied in verse 14:
I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you.
Before we move on, we should note that Moses’s question reveals something about the Israelites at that time. It reveals that they had become like the Egyptians; and instead of worshipping the Lord exclusively, they had begun to worship false gods and idols. You see, the pagans believed in lots of different gods. We’re familiar with the names of some of them. There was Baal. There was Asthoreth. There was Dagon. And, of course, there were others. And one person might say:
My god is Baal.
And other person might say:
My god is Dagon.
And so, Moses imagines going to the Israelites and saying to them:
God has sent me to you.
And the Israelites, because they’d become accustomed to worshipping other gods, would ask:
Which god do you mean?
And they would have asked that question, because, over the years, the Israelites had turned away from worshipping the one true and living God, and they had begun to worship other gods, false gods. In fact, in Joshua 24:24, confirms this about them, because in Joshua 24:24 Joshua tells us that the Israelites worshipped false gods in Egypt.
This shows us the grace of God — doesn’t it? — his kindness to those who don’t deserve it. The Israelites didn’t deserve to be rescued, because they were sinners who had become unfaithful to the Lord and who, over the years, had turned away from him, so that they were no better than the Egyptians. They didn’t deserve to be rescued. But, of course, the good news is, the good news is that the Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love; and he doesn’t deal with his people according to our sins; and he doesn’t repay us according to our iniquities.
If he dealt with the Israelites according to their sins, and if he repaid them according to their iniquities, he would have left them to suffer at the hands of the Egyptians. But instead he pardons his people for our sins. And so, he was willing to pardon the Israelites for their unfaithfulness; and despite their sin and rebellion, he was going to rescue them. This is God’s grace to sinners. And he treats us in the same way. None of us deserves to be rescued from this present evil age; none of us deserves to be saved from our sin and misery; but the Lord is gracious and merciful and he pardons us for the sake of Jesus Christ; and he delivers us from sin and gives us salvation; and he promises us everlasting life.
Having said that, let’s go back to verse 13 where Moses imagines the Israelites asking:
Which god do you mean?
And the Lord reveals to Moses the name by which he’s to be known. One person would said:
My god is Baal.
Another would say:
My god is Dagon.
But Moses was instructed to say:
My God is ‘I AM WHO I AM’.
It’s an unusual name, isn’t it? What does it mean? What was the Lord revealing about himself when he gave this name to Moses? Well, the commentators are generally agreed that this name, ‘I AM WHO I AM’ speaks to us and conveys to us the idea of God’s independence. It speaks to us of the fact that the Lord doesn’t rely or depend on anyone or anything outside of himself for his existence. One commentator puts it this way:
the greatest and best man in the world must say, ‘By the grace of God I am what I am.
The greatest and best person in the world must say:
I’m utterly dependent on God to sustain me; and whatever gifts I possess have come to me from God; whatever successes I enjoy have been granted to me by God. I am what I am because of God.
But God doesn’t say that. He doesn’t say:
I’m utterly dependent on someone else; and whatever gifts I possess have come to me from someone else; and whatever successes I enjoy have been granted to me by someone else. I am what I am because of someone else.
God doesn’t say that. He says:
I am what I am. I rely on no one else. I am dependent on no one at all.
That’s what this name conveys. That’s what it means. The Lord was saying to Moses that he doesn’t rely or depend on anyone or on anything for his existence.
We discover the same thing in Paul’s address to the Athenians in Acts 17. When he went to Athens, he started to speak to these pagans about faith in the one, true and living God. You see, the Athenians, like the Egyptians, believed in lots of different gods. And Paul stood up and said to them about the true God:
The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.
The Lord does need anything from us; and he’s not dependent on us or on anyone else for life; he doesn’t need us for life; on the contrary, he’s gives life to us. He alone can say, ‘I AM WHO I AM’. And he can say that, because he does not rely or depend on anyone else.
But here’s the thing. This is not the only name by which God revealed himself that day. Look now at verse 15. God said to Moses:
Say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD….
Perhaps I should pause here and explain that when the name ‘the LORD’ appears in our English Bibles in capital letters it means ‘HE IS’ or ‘HE IS WHAT HE IS’. Now, ‘I AM WHO I AM’ and ‘HE IS WHO HE IS’ are obviously connected: they’re both different forms of the verb ‘to be’. You see, God says about himself: ‘I AM WHAT I AM’; and we say about him: ‘HE IS WHAT HE IS’. So, every time we see ‘the LORD’ in capital letters in our Bibles, we should remember that’s it’s related to God’s special name: ‘I AM WHAT I AM’.
But let’s go back to what God said in verse 15. God said to Moses:
Say to the Israelites, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers — the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob — has sent me to you.’ This is my name for ever, the name by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation.
Here’s God’s other name, the other name by which he reveals himself. Not only is he, ‘I AM WHO I AM’, but he’s the God of your fathers. This speaks to us and conveys to us the idea of his commitment to his people. He’s the God who appeared to Abraham and to Isaac and to Jacob. He’s the God who appeared to them and who bound himself to them with a promise. God appeared to Abraham and said, ‘I promise to be your God’. He appeared to Isaac and said, ‘I promise to be your God’. He appeared to Jacob and said, ‘I promise to be your God’. More than that, he said:
I promise to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.
By calling himself, ‘the God of your fathers’, the Lord was revealing to Moses his commitment to his people.
So, we have these two names: one speaks to us of his independence; the other speaks to us of his commitment. And both of them together speak to us of his grace and mercy and his kindness and love. He’s the God who doesn’t depend on anyone or anything; he doesn’t rely on anyone or anything; he didn’t need Abraham; he didn’t need Isaac; he didn’t need Jacob; he didn’t need Moses or the Israelites. He was perfect and glorious without them. But how wonderful, how wonderful: though he didn’t need them, he chose to commit himself to them. He didn’t need them, but he chose them as his people. He didn’t need them, but he promised to help them. He didn’t need them, but he bound himself to them.
One writer has suggested that the burning bush illustrates this truth about God. You see, the fire — which represented the Lord — didn’t need the bush for fuel; the fire was able to burn all by itself, just as the Lord doesn’t need us or anyone else. However, the fire was in the bush. It didn’t have to be in the bush, but it was. And so the Lord — who didn’t need the Israelites for anything — chose to be with them and to help them.
This speaks to us of God’s grace and mercy and kindness and love. He didn’t need the Israelites for anything, but he chose to commit himself to them. And as we’ll see, by signs and wonders, he worked on their behalf to break the power of Pharaoh and to set his people free. And for forty years afterwards, he helped them in the wilderness, protecting them from their enemies, providing them with their daily bread; giving them water to drink; guarding them and guiding them, forgiving them their sin and rebellion; until at last he brought them into the Promised Land where he enabled them to defeat the nations and take over the land. He didn’t have to do any of this, because he didn’t need them for anything; but he chose to commit himself to these people. And having chosen them, he was prepared to do everything necessary to help them.
The Lord doesn’t depend on us. He doesn’t rely on us for anything. He doesn’t need us. There’s nothing we can give to him or do for him that he can’t do himself. We add nothing to him, because he’s already perfect and glorious without us. But here’s the thing: from before the world was made, he chose to commit himself to us and to all his people. And though he doesn’t need us, he said about us and his people:
I want him, I want her, to be with me for ever.
He didn’t have to commit himself to us; he doesn’t need to have us in his presence; he doesn’t need us for anything; but he has committed himself to us. And having bound himself to us by his word of promise, he was prepared to do whatever it took to keep his promise to us. And, of course, what it took, what it took was the death of his Son on the cross; because in order for us to come into God’s holy presence in heaven, it took the death of his Son, who died as a ransom to pay for all our sins.
And so, every day we ought to give thanks to God for his grace to sinners like us. He doesn’t need us for anything; but he graciously bound himself to us for ever. And so, we ought to give thanks to him. And every day we ought to show him our gratitude by living our lives in obedience to him.