Exodus 3:13-22

Exodus 3:13-22

13 Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers 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.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” 15 God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘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 forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations. 16 Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying, “I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt, 17 and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.”’ 18 And they will listen to your voice, and you and the elders of Israel shall go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us; and now, please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God.’ 19 But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand. 20 So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go. 21 And I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and when you go, you shall not go empty, 22 but each woman shall ask of her neighbor, and any woman who lives in her house, for silver and gold jewelry, and for clothing. You shall put them on your sons and on your daughters. So you shall plunder the Egyptians.”

 

Everything is theological.  Life is theological.  By that I mean that everything stands in a certain relation to God and to certain convictions about God.  Life is inevitably lived in reaction to who you think God is, that is, in reaction to your theology.  It is tempting to forget this fact when reading the amazing and dramatic story of the exodus.  It is tempting because the exodus is so filled with amazing human activities that, if we are not careful, we can focus more on Moses than on God.  However, among the great theologically-driven acts of human history, the exodus stands very near the top.

Only this can explain the great pains God took to make sure that Moses had a right conception of who God is in Exodus 3.  This is because God knew that there was not enough human wisdom, human strength, can-do attitude, adrenalin, and street smarts to be mustered for Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.  What is more, the exodus would require acts that would simply go well beyond human agency or possibilities.  Thus, what Moses needed first was a sound lesson in theology, a solid grounding in the person and nature and character and attributes of God.

This is what He gives Moses in our text this evening.  So let us sit in and listen to God’s theology lesson to Moses, considering all the while how these same eternal truths should shape and drive our lives today.

I. God’s Essence (v.13-14)

There is first of all the matter of God’s name.  Last week we saw that God commissioned Moses to go to Egypt and proclaim freedom to the captive Israelites.  Moses asked, then, a very simple question.

13 Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?”

It is simple and it is natural.  After all, one is naturally curious about the identity of one who would give such an audacious charge.  “Who are you,” Moses asks?  It does strike me as humorous that Moses pulls here a variation of the old, “I have a friend who would like to know…” trick.  Do you know what I mean?  When you want to know something that you are uncomfortable asking yourself for whatever reason, you will sometimes say, “Hey, I have a friend who asked me…”  This is what Moses does here. “If I come to the people of Israel…and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?”

The Lord’s answer to Moses is as profound as it is enigmatic.

14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’”

“I am who I am,” God says.  It is a strange answer, and one that is, frankly, hard to grasp.

Terence Fretheim says that this verse “is one of the most puzzled over verses in the entire Hebrew Bible.”  He offers a number of proposed translations of these words:  “I am who I am”; “I will be what (who) I will be”; “I will cause to be what I will cause to be”; “I will be who I am / I am who I will be.”  He suggests that this last translation (“I will be who I am / I am who I will be”) may be the most accurate, and interprets it to mean that “wherever God is being God, God will be the king of God God is…Go can be counted on to be who God is; God will be faithful.”[1]

Perhaps that sounds nonsensical or redundant:  “I will be who I am / I am who I will be.”  However, it is really quite significant.  What strikes me as the most significant thing about the name, “I am,” is that it is a statement concerning pure essence.  If you will allow the word, it is an ontological statement.  It describes something about the “is-ness” of God.

The fact that the essence of God is incommunicable is reflected, I believe, in the paradoxical nature of the name, “I am.”  There is, in the essence of God, something that defies human understanding and human comprehension.  Who God is is unfathomable outside of His revelation of Himself to mankind.  We may thank God that He has revealed to us who He is in many ways but definitively through Jesus Christ.  However, certain revelation is not the same is exhaustive revelation, and we may be sure that though we do know what we do know about God we are simply not in a position to know everything about God.  Our minds would explode if the Lord God poured the totality of His name into us.  Our minds could not conceive of it or grasp it.

So here, God reveals in phrases that we strain to understand a very simple but infinitely deep fact:  God is God.  “I am.”

Behind all human activity and effort, there must be a certainty concerning this fact:  God is God.  It is essentially the same answer He gave to poor Job beginning in chapter 38 of that great book, though there He was saying “I am” primarily by saying the corollary truth, “And you’re not.”

1 Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said:

2 “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?

3 Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me.

4 “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
Tell me, if you have understanding.

5 Who determined its measurements—surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?

6 On what were its bases sunk,
or who laid its cornerstone,

7 when the morning stars sang together
and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

8 “Or who shut in the sea with doors
when it burst out from the womb,

9 when I made clouds its garment
and thick darkness its swaddling band,

10 and prescribed limits for it
and set bars and doors,

11 and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stayed’?

The Lord continues speaking in that way for some chapters, reminding Job over and over again not only that Job is not God but that neither Job nor any human being on the planet can even begin to fathom the essence of God.  However, the God who wants a relationship with His fallen creation gives the answer that we are able to receive even if we are not able completely to understand:  “I am.”

Job needed God’s “I am!”  Moses needed God’s “I am!”  So do you and I.

II. God’s Remembrance (v.15-16)

The second theology lesson that the Lord teaches Moses concerns God’s memory.  In short, the Lord tells Moses that He, Almighty God, is the God who keeps His promises.

15 God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘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 forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations. 16 Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying, “I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt

Moses and the children of Israel not only needed to know that God is, they needed to know that the God who is remembers.  Twice God speaks of Himself as “The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”  This is significant for two reasons.  First, it is an acknowledgment of the promises that God made the patriarchs.  It is a divine recognition that God will do what He said He would do.  Second, by calling Himself “the God of” the patriarchs, the Lord is connects Himself with Israel’s story in particular.  He is not thereby reducing Himself to a mere tribal deity.  He is the one true God of all.  However, He is the God who has His eye and His heart fixed on Israel.  God therefore presents Himself relationally as the God who knows and loves His people.

The remembrance of God was critical for Moses insofar as it assured Moses that God was using him to fulfill His promises.  The remembrance of God was critical for Israel insofar as it gave them a foundation to dare to trust and set their feet on the daunting path of the exodus.  And the remembrance of God is critical for us because it keeps us from despair and crippling fear, reminding us all along that our great God is the God who knows us, remembers us, and fulfills the promises He has given us through Jesus.

III. God’s Knowledge (v.17-19)

God’s remembrance is closely tied to His knowledge.  We speak of God’s omnipotence too casually.  It is, in fact, a staggering truth that God knows, exhaustively, all that has been, all that is, and all that will be.  Consider, for instance, the display of His amazing knowledge in the next portion of our text in which He tells Moses precisely what is going to happen.

17 and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.”’ 18 And they will listen to your voice, and you and the elders of Israel shall go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us; and now, please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God.’ 19 But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand.

The definitiveness of God’s pronouncements are noteworthy:  “I promise that I will bring you up…And they will listen…and you and the elders of Israel shall go…But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go…”

While the particulars of that may not have been encouraging to Moses, the certainty with which God pronounced it certainly was.  God knows everything.  God knows precisely what will happen.

I chuckle a bit when I think of the theological movement from some years back called “open theism.”  Open theism was a movement of theologians who essentially asserted that God did not technically “know” everything about the future because the future was not there yet for Him to know it.  One of the books that came out of that movement was by a guy named John Sanders.  It was entitled, The God Who Risks.  That title is a good summary statement of open theism, because if God does not exhaustively know the future, God is therefore, in a sense, risking a bit when He acts in the presence.  Tragically, that is what these theologians were asserting about God.

A few years ago the New York Times put some ads on city buses in New York City.  The ads said, “The New York Times: Omniscience, Updated Hourly.”[2]  How absurd!  A truly omniscient being does not need updates.  God is not risking and God needs no updates.

It is impossible to read the Bible, particularly passages like ours, and not be struck by God’s exhaustive, definitive, immeasurable knowledge of the future.  There is nothing in our text to suggest that God took a risk in sending Moses.  God knew precisely what God was doing and precisely how it would play out.  God was utterly in control.

Is this not a comfort to you today, the absolute, perfect knowledge of God?  God knows you.  God knows your circumstances.  God knows all the variables.  God knows precisely what will happen.  And God knows how He would like to use you in these circumstances to the furtherance of His glory.

Unlike Indiana Jones in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” God is not “making it up as He goes.”  You can trust that when God calls you to a task He is doing so because He knows precisely what He is doing.

IV. God’s Power (v.20-22)

Perhaps most comforting of all is God’s power.  He not only knows all things, He is able to do all that He desires to do.

20 So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go. 21 And I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and when you go, you shall not go empty, 22 but each woman shall ask of her neighbor, and any woman who lives in her house, for silver and gold jewelry, and for clothing. You shall put them on your sons and on your daughters. So you shall plunder the Egyptians.”

Along with God’s strong name is God’s strong hand.  His hand is His power.  God is able to do what God has willed to do.  So He speaks with certainty once again:  “I will stretch out my hand…I will give this people favor…you shall not go empty…You shall put them on…So you shall plunder the Egyptians.”

God’s omnipotence, God’s “all-powerfulness,” is the bedrock theological tenet of the exodus.  God is God.  God knows what will happen.  God is able to do it.  God will do it.

It is a beautiful truth, the power of God.  It tells us that there is no hand as strong as God’s hand.  There is no might like God’s might.  God alone can do what only God can do.  He will break Egypt with His hand of judgment.  He will free Israel with His hand of might.  He will heal Israel with His hand of mercy.  And He will bring Israel to a new home with His hand of promise and love.

Jonathan Edwards famously preached about “sinners in the hands of an angry God.”  He was right to do so.  We are also right to preach about “the redeemed in the hands of a faithful God.”  For God is faithful and His hand is sure.

In the Reformation, Martin Luther was once threatened by a papal envoy.  They told him that if he did not desist his life would turn very hard and he would be abandoned by everybody and left utterly alone.  “Where will you be then?” they asked Luther?  He answered, “Then as now, in the hands of God.”[3]

So, too, were the Israelites.

So, too, through the blood of Christ, are we.

 

 



[1] Terence E. Fretheim, Exodus. Interpretation (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), p.63.

[2] RJN, “While We’re At It,” First Things.  February 2001.

[3] William Barclay, The Acts of The Apostles (Edinburgh:  The Saint Andrew Press, 1969), p.39.

 

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