Moses, Exodus 3 and 4
This talk was given by Paul Wintle on as part of our worship service over the Internet.
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Our world is a funny place right now. Aside from the lockdown and the hundreds of thousands of souls throughout the world who have lost their lives, and the millions who have been touched by COVID-19, medics have told us that people from black, Asian and minority ethnic groups are more susceptible to COVID. We have witnessed demonstrations about racism, following the death of George Floyd. The Black Lives Matter movement has gained momentum across the globe, and for good reason. During these times, people have been moved to action to try to right the wrongs of injustice. Yet, we know that injustices across the world continue. People are still persecuted for their faith and the work to support folk in need still continues. I know that Dick was talking the other day about UDS and the work of KRDP.
Through all the turmoil and confusion, we are likely at some stage or other to think or even question aloud, “Where is God in all of this? Where is God?” It’s not a bad question. Andrew Basden has put together a couple of documents, papers, documenting some research, and I’m sure he’d be happy to let you have a copy. He’s also written a very, very helpful paper on the benefits of lockdown which I found particularly helpful, but the question about where is God remains. It’s the same question that the Israelites must have been asking when they were taken into slavery to make bricks for the Egyptians in the book of Exodus that we’ll be reading from in just a moment. Away from the homeland this God had promised them. Away from everything that had become normal. They have been taken into captivity and forced to work as slaves. “Where are you God? Where are you?” We have the gift of hindsight, we have the bigger picture, the wider story to help us understand where the Israelites were and where they will be going.
That’s why we’re going to be looking at some Old Testament characters. We started off last week with Abraham, to enable us to see perhaps where God might be as we struggle with being and doing church as we cannot gather in the way that we’ve become accustomed. We’ve looked at Abraham who took God at His Word and just moved on out towards the Promised Land. Maybe it was a simple thing for him to do, but the fact is he went. This week, we look at Moses. A reluctant character who even though he’d been brought up within the Pharaoh’s palace, knew his Hebrew heritage, knew what it was like to be part of an oppressed community. He was called upon by God to a higher calling, to stand up and to act.
Gareth, do you have a Bible reading from Exodus today?
Gareth: Reading is from Exodus 3 and 4. Not all the verses, just various ones. I’ll start in Exodus 3:1, and work through some extracts. It’s Moses and the burning bush.
Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, ‘I will go over and see this strange sight – why the bush does not burn up.’
When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, ‘Moses! Moses!’
And Moses said, ‘Here I am.’
‘Do not come any closer,’ God said. ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.’ Then he said, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.’ At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.
The Lord said, ‘I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. …’
(Exodus 3:1–7 , NIVUK)
But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’
And God said, ‘I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.’
Moses said to God, ‘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?’
God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: “I am has sent me to you.” ’
(Exodus 3:11–14 , NIVUK)
From Chapter 4.
Moses answered, ‘What if they do not believe me or listen to me, and say, “The Lord did not appear to you”?’
(Exodus 4:1 , NIVUK)
Then the Lord said, ‘If they do not believe you or pay attention to the first miraculous sign, they may believe the second. But if they do not believe these two signs or listen to you, take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground. The water you take from the river will become blood on the ground.’
Moses said to the Lord, ‘O Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.’
The Lord said to him, ‘Who gave man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or mute? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? Is it not I the Lord? Now go, I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.’
But Moses said, ‘O Lord, please send somebody else to do it.’
(Exodus 4:8–13, NIV)
Two things about Moses strike me from our reading. Firstly, about holy ground. We can hear more about this or discuss more about this perhaps more deeply on Tuesday in our Bible study here at eight o’clock. We’re going through a series on Christian jargon, and holy will be the word that we’ll be discussing this coming Tuesday. The second thing that strikes me about this is the response that Moses makes when God called him to be part of the answer to the cry of the oppressed. Let’s take these two things in order. We remember that Moses had been a Hebrew boy, growing up in the Pharaoh’s palace with all the privileges which this held. I think Disney called him the Prince of Egypt. He knew his family heritage was from the line of the Israelites so when he saw an Egyptian mistreating another Israelite, he knew he had to act. He killed the Egyptian and then ran away into the desert.
During this time of running, God stops him by turning his attention to the burning bush, the place where Moses removes his sandals, holy ground. Is it only this portion of land where Moses is standing that’s holy? What makes it holy? I wonder. Where are the boundaries for the holy ground to stop? Is it unholy beyond that step? Is there anywhere that is not holy ground? Just a few questions that went around in my little head as I reread this familiar story about the calling of Moses. Looking back to a couple of bits in Genesis where there are already holy spaces. In the Garden of Eden for example, Adam and Eve have all they need, but they’ve sinned, and they hide from God. There seems to be some kind of a gap between them and their creator. Some kind of stepping outside that holy space perhaps. That bit in Genesis 3 where God calls out, “Where are you?” Seems to me that there’s a thin place between where God is, and what is happening in the garden. There’s something more than spiritual hide-and-seek going on here.
In Genesis 28 when Jacob has a dream of angels descending and ascending upon a ladder after he had woken from his slumber, he proclaimed, “Surely, the Lord was in this place and I was not aware of it.” Going on to declare, “How awesome is this place?” Is it a specific physical place where Jacob is standing that makes the place holy or is the presence of God all around? Rob Bell in his book What We Talk About When We Talk About God describes this presence, this sense of God being through the Hebrew word kavod. He says kavod was originally a business term referring to the heaviness of something which was crucial in weights and measures and in the maintaining of fairness in transactions. Over time the word took on a more figurative meaning referring to the importance and significance of something. He goes on, “Kavod is something that happens when you are exchanging the usual ‘How are you?’s with a person that you regularly see. Only on this particular day, she doesn’t respond with the usual, “Fine, and you?” But instead says, “Not good.” Suddenly in that moment, everything changes. You ask why she isn’t good and she tells you and you quickly find yourself in the midst of her pain and the conversation is no longer brief and shallow like it has been for ages because now it weighs something, it is significant, it matters.” The thing that is happening between you both that’s kavod.
When we talk about this being holy ground, there is something in our smallness, something in our frailty as humans, something in our impermanence that tells us, “This is important, pay attention.” That was Moses’ experience I think as he was at the burning bush. Holy ground may not be a physical place which is why some folks find it helpful to be in a church building or a cathedral or a place that somehow matters more, where they feel closer to God like nowhere else. The deep, heavy, serious, sacred, holy place where there’s a sense of God’s glory. We find Moses in this place of holiness where he is sensing the weight of God’s glory around him where God is saying to him that the job He has planned is really, really important. It would be central to the future of His chosen people which will ultimately bring about the presence of the Messiah Jesus to the whole of creation.
Imagine for a moment that sense of God’s presence so tangibly close. You can see it in the burning bush, you can feel it in the soles of your feet on that holy ground, you can hear the voice of God speaking with those instructions so clearly. That sense of kavod that Jacob felt when he said, “Surely God is in this place and I didn’t know it, I wasn’t aware. How awesome is this place?” Jacob goes on to say, “There is no other, this is none other than the house of God. This is the gate of heaven.” This is the gate of heaven. The sense of God’s presence is such that Moses can experience it with the whole of his being. It’s a turning point in not just his life but the life of the Israelites too. The sense of kavod, this weighty presence of God all around him in this holy place. God invites him to take part in His holy plan and Moses tries to wriggle out of what God asks him.
Which brings us on to my second point, my second thought, the replies that Moses gives to God. It’s important for us in our journey as church right now to respond to the question, “Where is God?” We need perhaps to be part of that answer. As people who are loved by our creator God. Who are created to be in relationship with Him, the question “Where is God?” needs to include something about presence. Here at the burning bush, Moses is in God’s presence, that kavod heavy sense of God being right there is palpable. Where is God? The sense is that He’s here right now in this place now. Gosh. God has got Moses’ attention and so the next thing God asks of Moses is to go for Him to Pharaoh to let His people go.
Part of God’s plan is to be present with His people, just as He was with Adam and Eve in walking in the garden. The invitation of God to have Moses lead God’s people into the Promised Land, into a closer relationship where they could walk with one another, with God as their God and the people as God’s people. That special relationship where kavod would be the norm. Moses says, “Well, yes but who are you, God? What’s your name? If the people you are sending to me, what happens if they don’t believe me?” Then a little later with a bit more honesty, “Pardon me, God, but you’ve really got the wrong bloke for this job.” This massive job is not my thing. Moses really didn’t want this job, did he? When we look at Abraham who God had called with a promise to be a great nation, he upped and left. With Moses, there was more caution. He wanted to check out the best route and perhaps even better get somebody else to do the job. What Abraham might have seen as a challenge, Moses sees as an impossible mountain. With extra support from Aaron to speak for him, Moses gets on with the job in going to Pharaoh. He brings down plagues, he listens to God to ensure the Israelites are protected from the angel of death as it passes over the people in Egypt. At last, he brings the people out from Egypt into the wilderness for 40 years. Not directly into the Promised Land. Yet even in the wilderness, even in the 40 years of journeying, there are times where God’s presence is keenly felt. On Sinai where again God speaks, the 10 commandments given. The times where the glory of God, that kavod all over again is visibly seen on Moses’ face so that everyone can see that he has been face to face with God. God’s promise of His presence was through the manna given to the people on a daily basis. God’s presence in the pillar of cloud in the day and the pillar of fire by night. Gosh, can you imagine that as the norm of God’s presence in the desert? The creation of tabernacle takes place, a representation of God’s presence with His people which is taken wherever the people go.
I think that might be one message we can take from Exodus. God is present with His people. He’s present with us even in the wilderness times. The kavod, heavy, deep sense of God’s presence is with us whether we are aware of it or not. Even when we are standing on holy ground and the sense of God is so there and we still try to decide to get somewhere else to do the work. God’s presence is still here. God is still with us and as Main Street Community Church we know that we don’t need our building in that respect. It would be nice to have it as a physical presence of God in our town. We know that the building is not the church. We know that we are where God lives. That’s what the New Testament talks about, us being the temple of the Holy Spirit, not the building. Just as the tabernacle went with the people in the desert and before there was a temple where it would actually reside. God’s presence remains with His people and now in His people. Where is God? God is here in each one of us, in each one of His people and this is holy ground because we are called to be holy as God is holy. That’s the supreme command of God from which the New Testament somehow translates it, love your neighbour. And if God’s holy people are here, what does that mean for us as the church gathered and the church scattered? Our first response, to be holy. As with the Israelites in the desert, we journey together with God as our leader. And now with the Holy Spirit living in us, too, that kavod sense of God is with us and in us today, which begs the question, if God is here, what do we do with our building if God doesn’t reside there? Right now, we will not worship there for a time being. I explained why we’re not going to do that until infection rates continue to reduce because we are called to love one another. That’s in my letter this week. We cannot love if we are potentially causing others to become ill with a life-threatening virus. Perhaps we can think about using this, our building more intentionally in the future for God’s glory, perhaps opening it somehow to the community so that we can help people from it.
As an example, as Sue mentioned earlier and as my pastor’s ponderings resort too as well, as an example, and as a trial, our front toilets will be used for the market traders now that they are back. I received an email from Marilyn just earlier this morning to say that Main Street looks really quite special now that some extra work has been. Our toilets will be staffed and they will be cleaned, but the rest of the building will still be locked up. It’s an example of how we can love our neighbours by sharing what we have, it’s an example of how we can love our neighbours, it’s an expression of saying, in some way, God is here because we want to show some practical help and concern. Gosh, we’ve covered quite a bit today, haven’t we?
Where is God? God is here, on Holy Ground. We, as God’s people beyond the tabernacle, beyond the temple, we are God’s Holy people. We are God’s representatives here on Earth. We know this, we know this. The challenge is to continue doing and being this without a building, for now, the 14th week without being in our building. Moses, the reluctant leader still did a pretty good job for God. I think in the main, in spite of his shortcomings and doubts. God was able to use him and God is still able to do that with, for, and in us. In all the different ways that God calls us to work and serve Him. Let’s allow Him to do that, shall we, as we continue remaining together as the people of God here at Main Street.
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