The Call of Moses (Exodus 3)
God’s story of his people Israel goes all the way back to his call of Abraham and his promise that he will make him into a great nation and lead his descendants into the Promised Land (Genesis 12:1–3). Over half a millennium later, however, we find Israel chafing in Egypt, oppressed as slave laborers for Pharaoh, King of Egypt! So what happened to God’s promise? Had it been forgotten? At the outset of the story of Moses’ call, we read, “But God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob” (Exodus 2:24).
Moses is an 80 year-old man, advanced in age (see Acts 7:30 cf. v. 23) at the time of the call. He is a mere shepherd living in exile, keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, priest of Midian, near Mt. Horeb (Sinai) at the time. Having been miraculously preserved at birth and having grown up in Pharaoh’s (the oppressor’s) court, he later identifies with his people by killing an Egyptian and thus becomes a fugitive sojourner in the land of Midian.
The angel of the LORD manifests God’s presence in a burning bush (a theophany; v. 1). The first miracle we see is that the bush is aflame but doesn’t burn up (v. 2)! This certainly gets Moses’ attention (v. 3). Even more miraculously, God calls Moses out of the bush—by name (v. 4)! God proceeds to impress upon Moses his holiness, telling him to take off his sandals, because the ground on which he is standing is holy (v. 5). Identifying himself to Moses as the “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (v. 6), he tells him that he is aware of Israel’s affliction in Egypt. He has heard people’s cry and will deliver them and bring them to the Promised Land—through Moses (vv. 7–9)!
Moses responds by saying, “Who am I … ?” (v. 11), but God counters, “… I will be with you” (v. 12). This indicates the importance, not of who Moses is in and of himself, but of who it is who calls him! Moses then demands a second ID from the God of Israel’s forefathers: “If … they ask me what is his name, what shall I say to them?” God’s response is this: “I AM WHO I AM.” Tell Israel: “I AM has sent me to you.”
There are many things we can learn from this passage of Scripture (even though this story primarily depicts Moses in the unique role as deliverer of Israel from slavery in Egypt). One aspect of the story with which some of us may identify is Moses’ initial reluctance to follow God’s call. We learn with Moses that it is in God alone that we are able to live and do anything for him. All we can and need to do is to respond to Him and to obey Him. Along with Moses, we are graciously given further truth and confidence in our God when we learn that He is the eternal, uncreated, self-existent being, the one who has no beginning and no end. He is the great “I AM.” What a great God we serve!
How, then, should we apply the truth here that God is faithful to his promises? First, he may delay, but he will never relent. Maybe it would help to allow our perspective of God’s overall plan for humanity to be enlarged based on the delay in the larger biblical story. In all humility, could we possibly be like those in the generations between Abraham and Moses, essentially waiting for a significant work of God? This may be so, as we await the return of Christ. Patience and endurance in a life of less momentous significance may be part of what God has for us, though each and every day should be carefully lived out for him nonetheless.
Also, as we see in this story, Moses experienced exile and was far from perfect, yet God had his hand on him. In the same way, God may humble us through various kinds of learning experiences and suffering. But when God calls to special works of ministry, as he did with Moses, he will also equip and send us with authority and will provide the resources we need to accomplish his mission; and he will certainly also work in the hearts of the people being led.
Thank you, Lord, for your servant Moses and the example of his life by which we can learn many things about serving you. Through your dealings with Moses we learn that you are eternal in your being, ever faithful to accomplish your work through chosen instruments, and merciful in preserving and using imperfect vessels in doing so. Help us to live a life of trust and dependence on you and your power to accomplish all that you have for us to do. Amen.