E100 – November 12, 2017

“Encounter with God” – Exodus 3 & 4

Pentecost 23 – November 12, 2017


Introduction: Back to E100

For the last 5 or 6 months, we have been working through some of the Old Testament stories that are essential for understanding God’s overall message of the Bible. We took a break during October and spent the month focusing on the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. But now we’re getting back to that Essential 100, and the Essential 50 stories from the Old Testament. We spent a lot of time in Genesis, covering the stories of creation, Adam and Eve, Noah and the Flood, and then landing on Abraham and his family for several weeks. The account of Jacob and Joseph saw the people of Israel end up in Egypt during a time of famine, and staying there for 400 years. At the end of September, we transitioned to the book of Exodus and Moses’ birth. He grew up in the home of Pharaoh’s daughter, but then fled the country after he killed an Egyptian who was mistreating one of his fellow Israelites. The first third of Moses’ life – 40 years – was spent in a life of Egyptian royal privilege. The second third of his life – another 40 years – was spent in exile in Midian, marrying the daughter of Reuel/Jethro, a priest of Midian, and tending the flocks of his father-in-law.


  1. Moses’ encounter with God
    a. The burning bush

Now we come to Exodus 3 & 4, the beginning of the last third – the last 40 years – of Moses’ life. At this point in his life, Moses wasn’t exactly a prime example of leadership, ambition and positive thinking – 80 years old, plodding away in a dead-end job, living with his in-laws, out in the boondocks somewhere. No wonder he wanted to be alone. Exodus 3 begins with Moses leading the flock to the remote far side of the desert, where he ended up at Horeb, the mountain of God.

It was here that Moses had an encounter with God – what theologians call a “theophany,” a visible appearance of God to a human being. In this case, the theophany didn’t showcase a human form of God like when the Lord or angels of the Lord appeared to Abraham or to Jacob as human beings. This theophany was a burning bush on the mountainside, a burning bush that didn’t burn up… it just kept burning. This was so unusual that Moses had to approach and investigate. In the flames, the angel of the Lord appeared to Moses and spoke to Moses. First, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses, Moses!” Then God told him to take off his sandals for this place was holy ground, made holy by the very presence of God. Finally God identified Himself, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” From oral tradition Moses would have been familiar with these big-name patriarchs, and this gave the burning-bush God immediate recognition, credibility and authority. Even though Moses responded by hiding his face, God definitely had Moses’ attention.

b. the call of God

Next came the call of God on Moses’ life. Yes, up to this time Moses had not utilized the gifts and the skills that he had learned growing up in the privilege and prosperity of Pharaoh’s home. He had training that was being hidden as he tended flocks. Moses also knew his Jewish roots yet seemed to intentionally disregard them. After 40 years away – in the boondocks – he maybe hadn’t heard so much news about his own people back in Egypt. So, God provided the “breaking news.” This had been hinted at, foreshadowed, at the end of chapter 2, where the cry of the Israelites for help was heard by God, and their cry caused Him to remember His covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, a covenant that He had actually not forgotten. But like a news reporter the God of the burning bush summarized the Israelite update to Moses: “I have seen the misery of my people. I have heard them crying because of their slave drivers. I am concerned about their suffering.”

God had a plan… to rescue His people and to bring them to the land He had originally promised to Abraham, a promise which He had renewed to Isaac and to Jacob. God’s plan included Moses. “I am calling you. I am equipping you. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

This plan, and especially the call to Moses to be the leader of the Israelites out of Egypt kind of blindsided Moses. He was just minding his own business, enjoying life, tending flocks, hanging out with his wife and in-laws when this curious burning but not burning bush caught his attention. And, well, life was never the same!

c. the objections to God

Not that Moses was chomping at the bit to take on this new assignment in his retirement years. Some of you know what I’m talking about. You retirees get involved in so many volunteer opportunities that you wonder when you ever had time to work. God called, but it wasn’t a “Here am I, send me, send me,” response like the prophet Isaiah offered a few hundred years later. Moses put up some resistance. Moses came up with all kinds of excuses for not leading the people of Israel. He justified himself saying, “I don’t have any credentials,” and then “Who am I supposed to tell them has sent me?” and then “What if they don’t believe me?” and then “I’m not a good public speaker,” and finally “Lord, just send someone else.” At every turn Moses tried to get out of this call of God, tried to justify himself for not accepting that call.

d. God’s responses

But God had a response for every one of Moses’ excuses.

To “I don’t have any credentials, who am I?” God countered with His own strong presence and authority, “I will be with you… oh, and by the way… when you get out of Egypt… you and all the Israelites will worship me on this very mountain.”

To “who am I supposed to tell them has sent me?” God revealed his holy and sacred name to Moses. We’re going to come back to this, because this deserves a little bit of time.

To “what if they don’t believe me?” God equipped Moses with signs and wonders – a staff that turned into a snake, and then back again, a hand that became leprous and then was restored again, and the ability to turn water from the Nile River into blood.

To “I’m not a good public speaker,” God explained that He gave Moses his mouth (and his eyes and his ears), and He would help Moses speak and fill that mouth with the very words to say.

To the last excuse, “Lord, just send someone else,” God agreed to send someone else – Moses’ brother Aaron – but only as a partner in leading Israel, and an encourager, and a voice when Moses’ own mouth and words failed. And God said, “Take this staff so that you can perform miraculous signs with it.”


Finally, Moses was speechless before God. He ran out of excuses, and ran back to his father-in-law. “Uh, Jethro, something’s come up, some God-thing, and I can’t really say ‘no.’ Believe me… I tried… but I couldn’t say ‘no’ – not to God.”

Jethro gave Moses his blessing and off Moses went – with his wife and son – on his new adventure. Meanwhile, God told Aaron to go meet his brother in the desert. Moses told Aaron about the burning bush dialog with God and the miraculous signs. Together they went back and met with the elders of the Israelites. Moses did a little show and tell. They believed. They worshiped God. They tightened up their belts and prepared to do battle with the Pharaoh. And that’s where today’s story ends.


  1. God’s Name

Now we need to get back to God’s name, because this is important and it deserves a bit of time.

Moses asked “who am I supposed to tell them has sent me?” Now, a generic term for God in Hebrew is el or the plural elohim. But God doesn’t use this generic term for a mighty one, a divine being to refer to Himself. He actually answered Moses’ question. God replied “I am who I am… I am has sent me to you.” Wow, that’s kind of mysterious. It’s not really a name at all. It’s really just a form of the Hebrew verb “to be” – either in the present tense “I am” or possibly in the future tense “I will be who I will be.” This short sentence describes the uniqueness of God, the self-existent one, the dependable and faithful God who desires the full trust of His people. In this sense, there is no one like God. That’s why a little bit later, the first Commandment that God would give to Moses on this very same mountain states, “You shall have no other gods before me.” There is no other generic, made up, false god who compares to this true God. The Hebrew word and the likely pronunciation of that name of God is Yahweh. So, that’s our best understanding of the personal name of God – Yahweh… I am who I am.

In Psalm 105:1, God instructs His people to call on Him using His personal name – “Give thanks to Yahweh, call on His name.” But traditions of not saying “Yahweh” arose in Jewish circles before Jesus’ time because people feared pronouncing His name, thinking they might be breaking the Second Commandment – You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God. Jewish writers used the Hebrew word Adonai in place of God’s personal name. In most English Bibles, God’s name – Yahweh – is written as Lord in all capital letters.

The word el is used just 250 times in the entire Old Testament. The plural form elohim is used over 2500 times – 32 times in the Genesis 1 creation account, including where He said, “Let US make man in OUR image.” Who was God talking about? That use of the plural form of the word for God gives us a hint as to the plural-ness of God – that He is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one God… in three Persons. 2500 uses of elohim sounds like a lot, but Yahweh, that very name of God, is used some 6800 times in the Old Testament. Sometimes it is used in combination with other names of God to give us a fuller picture of His nature. So, let’s use those names of God in our profession of faith today… let’s stand…


– Profession of faith –


God’s name is used in people’s names, too, to give them meaning.

Zechari-yah – the Lord remembers.                          Zephani-yah – the Lord hides.

Nehemi-yah – the Lord comforts.                             Eli-yah – the Lord is my God.

Some Bible verses tell us about the nature and the characteristics of Yahweh God – that God is eternal, unchangeable, almighty, all-knowing, present everywhere, holy, just, faithful, merciful, gracious and loving.


This was the God that was now revealing Himself to Moses, and soon to the Israelites, for He had seen their misery, heard their cry, was concerned about their suffering, and was about to rescue them from their slavery and bring them to the good and spacious Promised Land full of milk and honey. Moses’ encounter with God at the burning bush brought him into a trusting relationship with this good, good God. It gave him the assurance that God knew what He was doing and was in control. It revealed God’s plan to deliver His people. It equipped Moses for his service to God and His people. And it led him to a partnership with his very own brother and a reconnection to his very own people.


  1. Holy ground

Let’s finish off by bringing these thoughts to bear on your lives. God said to Moses, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” What is holy ground for you? Where do you sense God’s presence more than anywhere else? For some of you it might be standing on the bow of a boat looking out on an endless horizon of water. For some of you it might be standing on a mountain peak surveying the trees and valleys. For some of you it might be on the flat prairies surveying the land. Even though we may find God in nature (as Moses’ did on the mountain at the burning bush), we must recognize that God is greater than nature, and we find Him more significantly in other places. Your really holy ground may be the prayer closet that Jesus spoke about in Matthew 6, where it’s just you and God. Your holy ground may be a deep conversation with someone about holy things. Your holy ground may be kneeling at the communion rail, bringing all of your sins to Jesus, being fed and forgiven, and walking away with a smile of contentment on your face, rather than hiding your face as Moses did.


  1. Your encounter with Yahweh/God

What are ways that you meet with / encounter God?

For Moses it was an angel of the Lord who appeared to him in that mysterious fire, and who spoke to him in a seemingly audible, and very real and meaningful and, for Moses, life-changing conversation. What are ways that you encounter God?

First of all, I want to caution you about answering this question saying that God speaks to you – whether you understand that as audibly or in dreams or visions. I’m not saying that God can’t do this or doesn’t do this. I am just urging caution because in 2 Corinthians St. Paul says that the devil disguises himself as an angel of light. Just as the devil spoke to Eve through a serpent and deceived her into that first sin and disobedience of God, so the devil may deceive you into thinking that God is speaking through a dream or vision or voice. Be cautious, be discerning, be wise.

We can be much more certain that we encounter God in other ways. We most definitely encounter God in His Word. There we see His interactions with, His words to, and His gracious deeds on behalf of His people, and not just the ancient people of Israel. In His Word God speaks to us, and acts on our behalf. There is nothing we need to know about our salvation that God hasn’t already said in His Word – it’s ALL there!! Every time you pick up and read your Bible, you encounter God. Every time you hear a sermon, you encounter God. Every time you discuss or study the Bible with others, you encounter God. Definitely when you open your Bible you are standing on holy ground, meeting the Almighty.

You encounter God when the promises of God are poured over you at the same time as the waters of Holy Baptism are poured over you. New life, adoption, forgiveness, Kingdom of God, inheritance, faith, washing, rebirth, renewal, grace, salvation – Baptism is a powerful and profound encounter with God.

You do encounter God when you come to the holy ground of the communion rail, bringing all of your sins to Jesus, being fed and forgiven by His true body and true blood in bread and wine, and walking away with a smile of contentment and peace and joy on your face. We teach and believe that Jesus is truly present here in bread and wine, and you encounter His grace – forgiveness, life and salvation – through His promises.

Of course, we also encounter Yahweh God in the person of Jesus. It’s interesting and powerful that many times, especially in the Gospel of John, Jesus connects Himself to that Old Testament name of God by identifying Himself with the phrase “I AM,” implying that He and Yahweh are one and the same, building a bridge between Himself and the Jewish understanding of the Old Testament Yahweh God. (Those statements of Jesus were also captured in our profession of faith.) Indeed, in His birth narrative He is named “Immanuel” – God with us – and He is referred to as the Word made flesh, God in human form. So, when we pay attention to Jesus’ words, we encounter God. When we observe Jesus’ actions, we encounter God. When we notice Jesus’ attitudes to and interactions with others, we encounter God. But more than anything else, we encounter God in Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross – all for our sake – and in His resurrection from the dead – to deliver us from slavery to sin and death just as Moses was called to deliver the Israelites from their slavery. And that encounter with God in Jesus is all about grace for our sinfulness and hope for our salvation.


And maybe one more encounter to leave you thinking about… Jesus, Himself, said that we encounter Him in the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those in prison. Jesus said when we encounter them in daily life and respond to their need with kindness and mercy, we are actually helping Him. Just as Yahweh God called, equipped and sent Moses on his mission to relieve the misery and the suffering of the Israelites, so God calls, equips and sends us on a mission to relieve the misery of people suffering under the burden of sin and evil and to draw them to the holy ground where Jesus stands waiting to deliver them to the ultimate and final Promised Land of heaven. May your encounters with God lead you into encounters with others so that they, too, would encounter the saving grace of a loving God, in Jesus. Amen.

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