Exodus 3 God's Name

October 5, 2008 Series: Exodus

Topic: Old Testament Passage: Exodus 3:14–3:14


Exodus 3.1-22 – God’s Call & Self-Revelation

October 5, 2008

Sam Ford


Conversations with God

Have you ever had conversations with God?  I have. I remember reading a book about a guy who mentioned he talked to God.  Typically, when someone says that you’re probably waiting for them to put their spiritual jumpsuit on and offer you some kool-aid.  But what he said resonated with me.  He spoke wrote about the voice in your head, not the voices psycho, the voice that you often dismiss as the inner voice.  This is not he little angel and the devil and its not simply a “gut feel.”  Rather, conversations you have where you know it is something different because tells you things you don’t want to hear.   


Waiting for God to Appear

Personally, I’ve had a lot of “debates of the mind” with God, never won any of them.  But there are also those times when that voice is ‘silent’ or it is such a small whisper that I can easily ignore it.  Those are the times when I cry out to God give me a sign!  Make the wind blow, have the power go out, make my back hair stand up on end…something extraordinary, then I can decide.  Of course, unless you’re really specific it’s not like you know how to interpret the sign—it gives no direction.  Then there are the few times when I wish God would just show up, in person in full on garish shaft of light, with flames, and trumpets through which he speaks with me face to face.  I’d probably pee myself and not know what to say.


From Relationship to Vending Machine

The average person doesn’t appear to have a dynamic, conversation filled, relationship like God.  On the contrary, I wonder if a lot of us really even believe that he hears our prayers.  You pray, every now and then, and if you get what you want it’s chalked up as a response—if not, it’s silence.  I wonder how many people actually listen.  And it seems that communication with God is usually rooted in the routines and needs of life.  People pray for dinner, pray for protection, pray at night with their kids, pray for bills when they aren’t paid, pray for hard time at work, pray for my marriage.  Overtime, what may had been a relationship with God becomes little more than a divine-vending machine where if I happen to have the right change, I’ll get something I want.  Our God becomes less of a person, and more like an impersonal one-way phone line that I pick up if needed—he might be listening.


Walk like the Egyptians

The pagans of Moses time are not much different than that.  Their relationship with their gods were based in fear and need. They were at the mercy of their gods.  The Egyptians had over 2000 gods created out of various needs they experience in everyday life.  When they wanted rain, they prayed to a rain god, when they wanted babies, prayed to a fertility god, when they needed a crops, they prayed to a harvest God.  They had gods and goddesses for everything from beer to digestion, from the high seas to female sexuality.  Egyptians, not unlike other cultures and even our own, created their own gods that were either completely IMPERSONAL (didn’t care) or they were so PERSONAL that they were subhuman.


A God who cares…A God who is God

Today’s text reveals the ONE TRUE God who, unlike any other of the many false gods, is personal. Whatever we imagine God to be like, today God speaks with his own words to tell us.  His word reveals a God who is living, a God who pursues and communicates, a God who is relational and faithful, a God who responds and feels, a God who sees and hears and reacts.  He is a God whom you can question, and he will respond.  He is a God who show incredible humility and patience with the creatures he loves, and terrible judgment on his enemies. 


From Prince, to Shepherd, to Redeemer

Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.


Our shaping (PIC MT. HOREB/MAP)

The narrative opens with Moses shepherding his father-in-laws sheep at the foot of Horeb, the mountain of God.  Mt Horeb, also called Mt. Sinai or Moses mountain, is one of a number of mountains amongst a range in the Sinai Pennisula.  This is the same mountain that Moses will lead the Israelites to camp at the bottom of in Exodus 19 where he will give his Law. 


It has been 40 years since he left Egypt; Moses is 80 yrs old.  He spent 40 years growing into a well-educated and accomplished Egyptian, he has now spent equally as much time being trained as a Shepherd learning how to care for sheep. As a prince, I doubt Moses ever envisioned his life as a Shepherd but  God uses all of our experiences, vocations, and circumstances to shape our character and prepare us for the mission he has called us to. We are never ‘NOT’ in a place that is shaping us.


GOD:  “Moses, Moses”

2 And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. 3 And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” 4 When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.”


God Initiates Contact (PIC BURNING BUSH)

As he leads his sheep through the caverns and hills of Horeb, he notices a small shrubbery enflamed but not burning.  Curious, Moses stops to see investigate.  The Bible says that the Angel of the LORD, often translated a messenger of the LORD was in the fire.  As the “messenger” speaks , it is clear that this Angel is in fact in some sense God himself.  The precise identity of Angel who is the fire here has always been a matter of debate.  The relationship between the God and the Angel of the Lord has led many to suggest that “the Angel of the Lord” is an Old Testament manifestation of the incarnate Christ.   More importantly, we have a God initiating contact with his people when they are NOT searching for him. 


God calls by name

What turns a sign of something miraculous, amazing, and strange into a response to a Holy God?  A call.  You can show a million people a million miracles, unless God calls we will walk away with an explanation for what we saw, or dismissing it all together.  God doesn’t say, “Hey you”, rather, he calls Moses by name just as he called Samuel, Saul, and others.   Moses, Moses.  Saying it twice is a cultural sign of friendship.  Moses says, Here I AM akin to, I am listening.


God appears in a lowly bush, in the wildness.

We cannot deny the fact that God does not first appear in a cloud with fire, lightening, or trumpets.  He appears as a lowly bush.  He does not show up in all of his glory, rather, he transcends to men in such a way as to enter into a face to face conversation with Him.  AND, God shows up in a way we would never predict. His presence is not bound to Sunday mornings or Christian events.  It seems that God appears when we least expect him, in the midst of the mundane, the unimportant, and the ordinary.


GOD’S WARNING:  Do not come near…I am Holy

5 Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6 And he said,  “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.


Do not come near…this is Holy Ground

Immediately we see a God is personal in that he communicates, yet, God he is Holy.  As Moses is drawn toward God’s presence, he is told to stop because the presence of God has made this place Holy. In fact, there is a tradition that the high priest of Israel would enter the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle / Temple with a rope tied to his foot and/or with bells around his waist. Tradition says that when the High Priest went into the Holy of Holies at Yom Kippur during the last couple of centuries of the Temple, a scarlet rope was tied to his foot. A priest in the Holy Place tended the other end of this rope, which had a purpose. If the High Priest's sins were not atoned for properly, he would die in the presence of the shekinah—the glory of God—that filled the Holy of Holies. Since nobody else could enter that part of the Temple without also dying, the priests felt they needed a way to retrieve the body of the High Priest, if necessary. That was the purpose of the rope—to pull the body out. The bells jingling would be the sign that the priest had fallen to the ground dead.


Our grasp of this image is frequently distorted because of our failure to understand what the Bible means by the word holy.  Usually this word brings to mind the image of a super-pious, self-righteous individual, unrelated to real life.  The true word picture behind the O.T. concept of holiness appears to carry two basic images 1) to be burning, glowing, and radiant and 2) to be separate, set apart, and different.  Holiness and holy are used to describe objects and people who were set apart from secular use.  But God here refers to his own presence as Holy. 

·         TheHebrews came to realize that only God was holy.  Objects and persons became holy because they had been set apart for God’s use or because he had taken them over for his particular use.

·         For the Hebrews, Holiness came to describe the very nature of God—what makes God God.  Many of the prophets use holiness as a synonym for God himself like  Isaiah who calls him “the Holy One of Israel.”  (Isaiah 6.3).


Into God’s Presence

Whatever God is, He is holy. Holiness describes the otherness of God, the distinction between what makes him different than his creation.  God’s holiness tempers the fact that he is personal so that we don’t view him like the man-made gods of the Egyptians who were nearly subhuman.  Taking off shoes would have been a commonly understood cultural practice.  The Eastern idea is not precisely the same as the Western. With us, the removal of the hat is an expression of reverence for the place we enter, or rather of Him who is worshipped there. With them the removal of the shoes is a confession of personal defilement and conscious unworthiness to stand in the presence of unspotted holiness. IF, as we see, we are going to have a conversation with God, ask questions, even challenge…best know who we are and who he is.  


GOD’S STATEMENT:  I have come down to deliver…to bring up

7 Then the Lord said,  “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, 8 and I have 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, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.


A Holy God interacts with man

This HOLY GOD then speaks to Moses 13 times between 3.4 and 4.17.  Although we will only tackle the first half, in those times Moses response 6 times in a nonverbal way.  He goes from curiosity, reverence, immediate obedience, to fear, to doubt, to questioning and challenges.  Does this not describe a genuine relationship with God?  This HOLY GOD cares for the suffering of his creation and owns it. 


This HOLY GOD He tells Moses that he is going to not only DELIVER an unholy people, but BRING them up out the land into paradise—a land literally “OOZING” with milk and honey.  We expect at this point that Moses is pretty excited.  It has been 40 years but every time he says the name of his son (means foreigner) he is reminded of his people still in Egypt. 



 9 And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. 10 Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.  11 But Moses said to God,  “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” 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.”


When God shows up…

I find it curious that many of us cry out for God to show up powerfully, to tell us what to do, to save us from our sin, then when he does…all we have for him are questions and doubts.  “I’ve will bring them up and out – Amen!---I’ve heard the cry – yes!—I’ve e seen the oppression – yes!---I will send you – what the @#%$#@$?  


I am here to Who am I?

Moses spent 40 years as an Egyptian prince, loses everything, he practically had a nervous breakdown and he has finally recovered after 40 years spending some quiet time out at MidianHillsSchoolfor the Crazy.  He has overcome his failures as a deliverer, settled into a comfortable life, grown a beautiful family—and God shows up and tells him to back to where he came from.  Now, God says go expose yourself to potential embarrassment, discomfort, and even attack.  In less than 7 verses, I AM HERE has gone to WHO am I? Moses quite simply says, I don’t think I can do this.  I know I can’t do this.   At the core of what is happening here,  He does not question his own ability BUT God’s wisdom in choosing him.

  • I can’t do what God asks, I don’t know how.
  • I can’t do what God asks, I’m not qualified
  • I can’t obey it’s too hard…
  • I can’t obey, it won’t work…I’ve tried it before.


Worldview centered on a response to God’s direction like WHO AM I rooted in my own abilities to think, feel, envision or accomplish will result in a life of faithless decisions, regret and disobedience.  If you only do what you want, what you feel, what you see, what you think you can do, you will live a life of comfort in the world’s eyes, but a waste in God’s.  God doesn’t say much in response like…yes you can!  Where is your self-esteem!  Don’t you know you can do anything you set your mind to!  Come on Moses—rah rah rah.  God says IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU.  You’re not going anywhere that I am not going.  I will be with you.    



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.’”.


Who are you?

Then Moses basically asks, “WHO ARE YOU?  We have to admire Moses for inquiring about his God, for asking more about who He is, for desiring understanding.  Let’s remember, Moses is still before a Holy God whose presence can kill him.  We must always take our shoes off before asking anything.  And whenever we do ask, know that God gives us what we need to know to do what we need to do.  He may not give you more, but he will never give you less.  


Who is sending me?

Moses asks,  WHY WILL THEY LISTEN TO ME? I’m a Shepherd and a fugitive going into a place of idolatry and oppression.  Give me some evidence, credentials, something!  God responds to Moses.  Verse 14 is one of the most puzzled over verses in the Bible.  God says, I AM WHO I AM, basically is a repeated Hebrew verb meaning “To Be”  Other translations include I WILL BE what I WILL BE or I WILL BE WHO I AM or I AM WHO I WILL BE..  In many ways it distinguishes the true God from all of the human-like, unpredictable, and capricious false gods of the Egyptians. This statement is for Moses before declaring his name.  In essence, God says that I AM is consistent, I AM dependent on no one, I AM unchanging, I can be counted on to be who God Is, I will be faithful.

I AM has sent you

Then he says, tell them, “I AM has sent you.” In ancient Hebrew vowels were not written down.  So the name was recorded as YHWH.  In the Greek version of the Old Testament (Septuagint) the divine name was transliterated and the vowels “a” and “e” were inserted giving YAHWEH.  Although this was done centuries after Moses, it is the earliest evidence that we have as to what the actual vowels were. 


In Israel’s later history, out of fear of violating the third commandment (thou shall not take the Lord’s name in vane) they ceased to pronounce the divine name at all.  Whenever they read the Scriptures, they would pronounce the Hebrew word for “Lord” (Adonai) everywhere the name of God appeared.


When they finally starting using vowels, in order to make sure that everyone remembered NOT to use the real name of God, they added the vowels of the word for Lord to the consonants of YHWH.  It was from this that the form JEHOVAH (YEHOWAH) came.  There was never such a word.  It was merely a device to protect people from using the name of God in vain. 


The Purpose of the Exodus

Moses is told the name is he to tell all of Israel.  It is a name that will remind them of the God of their history, but it will also serve as new revelation.  Eventually, when Moses did go before Pharaoh along with his elders to tell them that the God of the Hebrews had appeared, Pharoah asks the same question Moses did…WHO IS THIS GOD.  God spends the rest of Exodus answering that question:  Exodus 6.2 2 God spoke to Moses and said to him,  “I am the Lord. 3 I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by my name the Lord I did not make myself known to them. 


A God with a Name

But God’s name is more than a description, it is a declaration of his personal nature.  God names himself, no one else does.  God defines and declares who God is but, more importantly, God gives men a name to call him by.  In a very real sense, God shares a part of himself. A name makes possible relationship, possible to imagine what the person is like behind the name, allows for a true encounter with someone not something.  A name means having a true encounter with a person; makes possible genuine communication, provides a sense of closeness.  At the same time, by giving a name God allows vulnerability.  We cannot grieve a thing, we cannot make glad a thing, and we cannot hate or love a thing in a truest sane.  In the simplicity of  name, God becomes more than an object.  


A Name with a God

This is the first time God has revealed his name, but it is not the last.  With each step of the journey, we learn more and more about the PERSON behind the name.  After Israel’s deliverance, God reveals more about his name to Moses who had asked, ‘SHOW ME YOUR GLORY”.  Exodus 34.5-7  5 The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. 6 The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”


CONCLUSION /GOD:  Also say to them…


A God with a Face

Just as God said, he did come down.  The great I AM in the form of a burning bush, a cloud, a fire, but eventually God of Exodus came down to save his people in person.  God has come down in the form of a man, his name was Jesus.  And just so there was no mistaking exactly what was going on, Jesus declared his name…the name that is forever.  John 8.56-58 Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.” 57 So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?”  58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.


Why has he saved us?  Called as Individuals, Called as a Community, Called to be worshippers

Jesus came, he delivered us from our burdens, and he has given us his righteousness that we might experience the OOZING of his blessing.  But he does not call us as sedentary OOZE suckers, Jesus calls us as individuals, he gathers us into a community, he sends us out into the world that we might be worshippers in the wilderness!



More in Exodus

July 19, 2009

Exodus 40: God's Dwelling

July 12, 2009

Exodus 37-39: God's House

July 5, 2009

Exodus 35-36: God's Builders