God’s scary promises—Exodus 3:18-19

The Lord was now “visiting” or paying attention to his people (3:16; 4:31), as Joseph had foreseen (13:19; Gen 50:24-25). Scripture also had already used this dramatic language earlier for God enabling Sarah to conceive (21:1). God does not act in equally dramatic ways at all times and in all places, but we must give heed. Sometimes when he has not been acting in a given way in our lives we question whether he has done so anywhere (cf. Judg 6:13; 2 Pet 3:4). Also sometimes when he does act dramatically we are unprepared for this new reality (e.g., Exod 14:12).

Moses himself does not seem particularly enthusiastic about this commission. Asking Pharaoh for a three-day break in the wilderness (3:18) must not sound like a very practical solution, especially when the Lord himself says that Pharaoh will not be readily persuaded (3:19). (That Pharaoh would not let them go [3:19] is fair warning that should prepare them for some difficulties before freedom, but it also would not sound very encouraging.)

A three days’ journey (Exod 3:18; 5:3) would not allow the Israelites to escape Pharaoh’s chariots if Pharaoh pursued. Anyone who knew the story of Jacob’s flight from Laban would recognize that three days was not enough (cf. Gen 30:36) when those fleeing had flocks and small children. Therefore even had Pharaoh granted this request, they could not have escaped his chariots. God thus elaborates his further plans.

For Moses, however, these might sound like merely grandiose plans; Moses has lived through disappointments and might be thinking more of his people’s tribal god at this point than of the universe’s omnipotent creator. That God can take a disillusioned and reluctant servant like Moses and make him a trusting friend of God (33:11) can remind us that there is hope for us. No matter how old or set in our ways or past disappointments we are, the Lord can build us into people of faith with a trusting relationship with him. Happily, God is the initiator; we simply need to respond.

(For other posts on Exodus, see http://www.craigkeener.com/category/old-testament/exodus/.)

Resisting God’s calling—Exodus 4:1-17

When God calls Moses to confront Pharaoh, God not only promises to be with Moses; he also gives Moses a sign to confirm that God is with him. Unfortunately, this first-offered sign will be obvious only once what God has just commanded is fulfilled! The sign is that, after Moses brings the people out of Egypt, they will worship at the very mountain where Moses has met God (3:12). But that won’t happen until AFTER Moses brings them out of Egypt, and Moses’s worry is the logistics that lay before that event.

Sometimes we have to carry out our mission based on the best faith we have. Afterward, though, we can look back and recognize that what God has promised us has been fulfilled. Life is sometimes hard, but the hardships we face for God have their rewards!

Yet Moses’s first objection (“Who am I?” in 3:11) is not the end; he ultimately voices three objections (two more after this first one), each of which God answers. Finally Moses, out of objections, tries to reject the call outright (4:13), at which point God gets angry but appoints someone to help Moses anyway (4:14). God finally has to nearly kill Moses for still resisting (4:24). Others in the Bible, such as Gideon (Judg 6:13-17) and Jeremiah (Jer 1:6), feared their calls; still others, such as Isaiah, recognized their own unworthiness in the face of God’s holiness (Isa 6:5; cf. Luke 5:8). In each case, however, God reminded them that whatever their own inadequacy, God was more than adequate to make up for it (Judg 6:12, 14, 16; Isa 6:6-7; Jer 1:7-10; cf. Luke 5:10; 2 Cor 2:16; 3:5-6). Of those afraid of their calling, Moses—who a generation earlier had tried heroism in his own strength—was perhaps most reluctant of all.

Moses thus objects that he does not have a proper name for this God to give to the Israelites (Exod 3:13); “God” was hardly sufficient, since the Egyptians had lots of those. This is the only true God, the only God worthy of the title, but he answers Moses anyway. This God with no image worthy of him also has no normal name worthy of him, but he is the self-existent one, “I am who I am” (3:14). YHWH, the God of the patriarchs whom they remembered in their stories, was now active among them again (3:15).

If this revelation was difficult for Moses, who was experiencing it, it was surely going to be much more difficult for Moses’s people to accept (4:1). We hear about God’s works in the past and often say we believe them, but many of us are far less ready to expect God’s work among us today. After all, if God really cares about his people, where has he been in all the times of suffering beforehand? God doesn’t always give us an answer about the past, but that doesn’t make his present revelation or demands on our faith any less compelling.

(For other posts on Exodus, see http://www.craigkeener.com/category/old-testament/exodus/.)

Faith and God’s calling—Exodus 3:7-14

God’s promises are good, but sometimes these promises are difficult because they demand that we obey God in faith. Faith can be like a sense that recognizes God’s faithfulness; yet, like a muscle, faith typically also requires some exercise to grow stronger.

The Lord promises that he will come down to bring Israel up into a good land large enough to hold them, a land providing milk and honey (3:8). But God also notes explicitly what they can expect there: the land currently belongs to somebody else, namely Canaanites and other peoples (3:8). That is, what lies ahead will be wonderful, but it will not be easy. Even when God has something good for us, sometimes he requires us to do something. He guarantees our success, but we still have to step out and take his gift by faith.

The first act of obedient faith here, however, must be Moses’s. God is going to send Moses to Pharaoh to bring the Israelites out of Egypt (3:9). Moses, who has already failed abjectly as a deliverer once, rescuing at most a single Israelite (2:11-12), has different ideas. Who is he to stand up against the might of Pharaoh? Who is he even to go to Pharaoh, given that a recent Pharaoh wanted Moses dead (2:15; 4:19). But as Moses is soon to learn, defying the living God is far more serious and dangerous than defying Pharaoh. And God has more faith, or confidence, in what God will do through Moses than Moses does.

“Who am I,” a frightened Moses demands, “that I should go to Pharaoh and that I should bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (3:11). Moses is asking, in effect, Who am I to do the very matters you have just commanded me? God does not answer Moses’s rhetorical protest regarding who Moses is, because that is irrelevant; what matters is that God will be with him (3:12). Moses asks, “Who am I?” (3:11), but God’s ultimate answer is “I am who I am” (3:14).

Someone once introduced Hudson Taylor, nineteenth-century founder of an effective ministry to China, as a very great man. When Hudson got up to speak, he countered that he was a very small man with a very great God. He understood the ministry principle that is also revealed in this passage.

God rarely calls us to do what we’re able to do in our own strength; we don’t need a calling for that. God instead often challenges us to go beyond our own resources. Doing that without God’s bidding can be presumption (cf. 2 Sam 2:18-23); indeed, even with his permission we sometimes have less faith than we think on our own initiative (cf. Matt 14:28-31). But when God truly summons us to faith, he is not asking us to imagine ourselves adequate for the task. Supposing that would be missing the point entirely. The point of Godward faith is not that we are adequate in ourselves. It is that God is more than adequate. He is truly worthy of our trust.

(For other posts on Exodus, see http://www.craigkeener.com/category/old-testament/exodus/.)