The third chapter of Exodus opens with Moses shepherding a flock for his father-in-law, Jethro (also called Reuel in chapter 2). This would be considered a major step down from his lofty position while in Egypt. In Egypt Moses belonged to Pharaoh’s house as a son of Pharaoh’s daughter. Now he is a shepherd in the wilderness. This degradation of Moses’ position is emphasized by something Genesis records for us. Listen to what Joseph tells Jacob when they are about to move into Egypt due to the famine.
When Pharaoh calls you and says, ‘What is your occupation?’ you shall say, ‘Your servants have been keepers of livestock from our youth even until now, both we and our fathers,’ in order that you may dwell in the land of Goshen, for every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians.” (Genesis 46:33–34 ESV)
A shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians. The son of Pharaoh’s daughter is now considered an abomination by Egyptians.
The Call of Moses (3:1-10)
So Moses is in the wilderness of Midian where he comes to Horeb, the mountain of God. This mountain is going to play a very important role in this book. Moses sees a bush that was burning but it was not consumed. Verse 2 tells us that this is an angel of the Lord appearing to Moses in the flame of fire out of the midst of the bush. Moses determines to go see this bush closer because the bush was not burned though it was on fire. Just as Moses is about to approach, God calls to him by name. Then notice the first message of God to Moses.
“Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5 ESV)
The first point that must always be made as we come to understand God is that there is a gap between God and humans. People cannot come near to God. The scriptures reveal that the reason why is because of our sins. God is holy and we are not. So on our own we cannot approach God. We cannot draw near to God. So God tells Moses to keep back and take off your sandals because this is holy ground. To be in the presence of God is to be on holy ground. Moses is in the presence of intense holiness. God now reveals himself further.
And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” (Exodus 3:6 ESV)
Our covenantal God has not forgotten his people. He has not forgotten Moses after these 40 years in the wilderness. I want you to think about this timeline. At 40 years old Moses attempted to deliver his people and they rejected him. Moses spends 40 years in the wilderness. For 40 years Moses does not think he will be the deliverer as the people of Israel continue to be enslaved and distressed. Does it look like God is going to save his people? Think about how many people have suffered. Think about how many people have been born and died during this period. Is God going to do anything? Eighty years have gone by. But now God is going to act. What is God’s message? “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Why say this? This is how God reminds us of his covenant. This is how God reminds us how God keeps his promises. Just because God does not act immediately does not mean that God is not acting. Just because significant amounts of time passes before prayer is answered or promises are fulfilled does not mean that prayers will not be answered and that his promises will not be fulfilled.
We must also see the portrait of the savior here. Before Moses will come to rescue his people he will spend 40 years in the wilderness. Before Jesus begins his ministry to save the people will spend 40 days in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-2).
God describes himself further in verses 7-10. God has seen the affliction of his people who are in Egypt. Stop and consider those words for a moment. What made Israel God’s people? The people of Israel had done nothing to be called God’s people. God had simply chose them to belong to him. God was going to show compassion and save them from his own goodness and for his own glory. We need to see this characteristic of God. Salvation does not come because of who you are or what you have done. God saves because God is a gracious, saving God. This is the very point of Ephesians 1 as the apostle Paul describes who we are because of God, not because of us. Israel was predestined for salvation by God. God was going to have a people to give him glory. In the same way, God has determined that he would save a people who will belong to him and give him glory. This is our purpose and why God saved us.
Verse 7 continues that God knows their sufferings. God has “come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land” (3:8). God has come to deliver and God is going to give them blessings in the promised land because that is who God is. In verse 10 God tells Moses that now he going to bring God’s people out of Egypt. Now is the time for God to act on his covenantal promises.
Who Am I? (3:11-12)
Moses then asks a legitimate question that reveal the humility of Moses. “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” Who would not feel this way before such a great task given? We feel this way, don’t we? We ask who are we that we would do the work of God in his kingdom. I remember asking that very question as I considered doing the work of preaching the gospel. Who am I to do such a task? I ask that of myself every week. Who am I that I should be doing this? I am insufficient. I am incapable. I do not have the talent. I do not have the ability. Who does not feel such insufficiency as we consider our calling?
Now I want you to consider God’s response carefully in verse 12. Notice that God does not bolster Moses’ self-esteem. God does not tell Moses that he is perfect for the task because he grew up in Egypt. God does not tell Moses that he is the right one because Moses has certain abilities and physical resources to be able to do this. God does not tell Moses that he has been a shepherd for 40 years and now he is ready to lead the flock of God. God does not tell Moses what a great person he is and how he should not think like this about himself. This is exactly the heart God wants from his people. We know this because of the way God answers. Look at verse 12.
He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.” (Exodus 3:12 ESV)
God’s answer is that this work has nothing to do with you. God’s answer is: “I will certainly be with you.” It does not matter what you think you can and cannot do. God will be with you. That is all you need. God does not want you looking to yourself and evaluating your own abilities for the work. God wants people who see their insufficiency and depend upon God alone to accomplish the work given.
Moses does not need more self-esteem. Moses needs a greater awareness of God’s presence. We cannot understand who we are until we look to God. God will be will you. Our confidence and worth is found in these words and in these words alone: “God is certainly with you.” This is all we need! What is the answer God gives to every person who fears in the scriptures? What is the hope God gives?
Do not be afraid for I am with you!
God says this very thing to us also.
Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5–6 ESV)
God is with you. This is all you need for the task at hand. This is all you need to walk by faith. This is all you need to proclaim the gospel. This is all you need to teach your friends and neighbors. This is all you need to teach the lost. This is all you need for everything God has called us to do.
Please notice the sign that is given to Moses in verse 12.
This shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain. (Exodus 3:12 ESV)
God’s sign is this: God will save you and bring you to this mountain. God’s sign is that he is going to do exactly what he has promised. This is what it means that God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. What does this mean? Go and obey the Lord and you will see God keep his promises. God is not going to show you something right now. But you know what you will see? You will see God keeping his promises. You just need to go and obey. You just need to get to work. You just need to do what God has called you do. It is not about you or about me. It is about doing what God has told us to do. Then we sit back and watch God working through the fruit. This was the very point Paul made to the Corinthians.
What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. (1 Corinthians 3:5–7 ESV)
God is with us and he is working. Understand that you are nothing but do not let that cause you to not work for the Lord. Rather, only now are you ready to work for the Lord because you are going to depend on God and not on yourself. Obey the Lord and watch him work. God is with us.