We are just beginning a new study through the historical Old Testament account of the exodus. This collection of messages is called “The Wandering Church” and it is intended to help us make connections between the journey of God’s children from Egypt to Canaan and our own journey as the Christian church. There are many lessons that we can learn from the events of the exodus that can be applied to our lives today.
When we concluded our sermon last week, there were two distinct storylines playing out. The children of Israel were crying out to God for help as they labored tirelessly while enslaved in Egypt. Meanwhile, a fugitive named Moses was living in obscure exile over 300 miles away shepherding his father-in-law’s flocks in the Arabian wastelands of Midian. But, in accordance with the divine plan of God, these two stories were about to intersect.
In today's message, the third in this new series, we are going to examine the calling of God upon Moses’ life. We will read about God’s appearance to him, and how Moses initially responds to it. We will discover a man who openly questioned God’s plan for his life and a God who had an answer for his every objection.
I. THE BURNING BUSH - Exodus 3:1-10
It started out as just another ordinary day. Moses was shepherding the flocks, leading them west through the wilderness of Midian to the foot of Mount Horeb. Suddenly in the distance he saw a bush that was on fire yet it was not being consumed. Fascinated, he approached and as he drew near the LORD spoke to him from the midst of the burning bush. Moses took off his sandals, for he was standing on holy ground, and hid his face in fear as not to look upon God.
The LORD told Moses that He had heard the cries of His people and had come down to deliver them from their Egyptian bondage. He then directed Moses to leave his home in Midian, to return to the homeland, to confront Pharaoh, and to lead Israel out of Egypt. God planned to use Moses as the instrument through which He would set His people free.
There is no indication that God had spoken previously to Moses about this. Nor is there any sign that Moses was contemplating a return to Egypt. On the contrary, he seemed quite comfortable living a quiet life hidden away in Midian. This is often how it is when God calls us. While He may have been preparing us behind the scenes for decades, when His call comes it seems sudden and catches us by surprise. We are challenged to leave a life of familiarity and comfort in order to follow Him into the unknown.
The burning bush is quite astonishing. It can symbolize someone who is “on fire” for God. There have been seasons in my life when I would describe myself in this way. This is probably true for most believers. While intense for a while, invariably, my fire begins to fade and flicker away. But in the case of this miracle, the blazing bush was not consumed and the fire did not burn out. May we as Christians pray that our fire for God is not extinguished by this worries of this world, and that we will always burn brightly for all to see.
II. EXCUSES, EXCUSES - Exodus 3:11-4:17
I can only imagine what Moses must have been feeling when God asked him to lead Israel out of their captivity. This was to be a monumental task which would involve confronting Pharaoh himself and the great might of the Egyptian people. Such a thought would have given anyone pause. Is it any surprise that Moses responded by offering several excuses for why he could not obey the LORD's call?
Moses’ first excuse was to question his own credentials. “Who am I to lead the people out of captivity?” he asked. “I am a nobody - a lowly shepherd. Surely there is someone else much more qualified than I am to do this task.” But God replied, “I will be with you. While you might be a nobody in your own strength, with Me by your side you are a somebody!”
Moses’s second excuse was to wonder what he’d say. “Who shall I say has sent me?” he questioned. “By what authority will I speak?” This time the LORD answered, “I AM WHO I AM. Tell the elders of Israel that I AM sent you.” God then proceeded to give Moses further instructions regarding what he was to say and do.
Moses then offered a third excuse. “After I tell them that You sent me and share this wonderful message of deliverance, what if they don’t believe me?” God responds by giving Moses the power to perform three miraculous signs as evidence that he is being truthful. The first sign is the ability to turn his staff into a serpent. The second is the ability to make his hand leprous and then clean again. The third is the ability to turn water from the Nile into blood by pouring it on the ground.
Despite these miraculous proofs, Moses continues with a fourth excuse. “But LORD, I am a poor speaker. I will be unable to convince the people to follow me.” Perhaps you are terrified of public speaking too. Now God reminds Moses that He created the mouth of man, and that He will give Moses the necessary skill to deliver His message convincingly.
Finally Moses says plainly, “LORD, please send someone else.” But thankfully God refuses to let Moses completely off the hook. Though furious at Him, God makes an accommodation for Moses by allowing his brother Aaron to speak on his behalf. Thus, it will be both Moses and Aaron who will carry the message of God’s coming deliverance to the children of Israel.
III. BACK TO EGYPT - Exodus 4:18-31
Having run out of excuses, Moses reluctantly accepted God’s call. He told his father-in-law Jethro that he was returning to Egypt to check on the well-being of his Hebrew brethren. Then he gathered his belongings, along with his wife and children, and set off with his trusty staff in hand. As he went, the LORD spoke to Moses, warning him about Pharaoh. God referred to the children of Israel collectively as His firstborn son, and stated that in return for Pharaoh's murderous treatment of them and his refusal to let them go He would have to kill the Pharaoh's firstborn son. This statement foreshadows the Passover.
Different Bible scholars interpret this next episode differently. Some dispute over who exactly God intended to “kill”. In light of the previous verses, I believe it occurred as follows. As his family was lodging one night on their journey back to Egypt, God sought to “kill” Moses’ firstborn son Gershom. I suspect that LORD was using this as a test or a lesson, such as in the case of Abraham and Isaac. Acting quickly, Moses’ wife Zipporah circumcised the boy and the LORD immediately relented. Though the child had been spared, Zipporah was extremely upset. I am sure Moses was quite shaken up as well. I believe that following this incident, Moses decided to send his family back home to Midian and continued on his journey alone.
At this point God speaks to Moses’ brother Aaron and instructs him to go and join Moses. When the two meet at the mountain of God, Moses tells Aaron everything that God had said to him. Together they return to Egypt and assemble the leaders of Israel. Aaron proclaims the message of God and Moses performs the miraculous signs as supporting evidence. Upon hearing and seeing this the Hebrews are convinced that God has indeed heard their cries, and they begin to worship joyfully because they believe that their deliverance is near.
As we draw this morning's message to a close, Moses has left his family in Midian and returned to Egypt along with his brother Aaron. Together the brothers have made contact with the elders of Israel and have shared God’s plan to deliver them from captivity. By this point the proverbial wheels of the exodus have been set into motion - there is no going back.
Moses was, at least at first, somewhat hesitant to obey God’s calling for his life. He put up strong resistance by making several excuses. He even refused to go without assistance from another person - in this case, his brother Aaron. Moses was slow to act and vocally skeptical of God’s plan. To be honest, I find Moses’ reluctance to be… refreshing. The truth is, everyone who has ever been called of God to leave behind their old life in exchange for a new one has doubts. Whether these are ever expressed or not, it is human nature to question the calling of God. We should take much comfort in knowing that Moses had doubts, just as we all do from time to time. And it's okay!
Still, Moses went. He obeyed. And therein lies an important lesson for us all. Even when we don’t believe in ourselves, we can still believe in God. Even when we doubt our own abilities, we can be confident in God's ability. Even when we have questions about God’s plan, we can trust that He knows the answers. Even when we think that we can’t do it, we can be certain that our God can. It is when our fears succumb to our faith that anything is possible.
I believe that God is challenging us today to stop making excuses. None of them are justified. Simply put, there is absolutely no acceptable reason to say no to Him. The only appropriate response is obedience. Maybe you have questions, maybe you have doubts… don’t we all? I know that I do. Regardless of them, we must follow our Lord wherever He leads us.