The Great I AM

February 11, 2018 Series: Exodus Scripture: Exodus 3:10-22 by Chris Strevel

Who Am I? (vv. 10-12)

God Calls Moses (v. 10)

It is often the case that men emphasize either God’s holy separation from us, or they make him so indulgent that no room is left for his holiness. Our merciful God is both holy and near to us, just and merciful, hates sin and is willing to forgive us. It is by the grace of his covenant that righteousness and peace meet and kiss, and they met gloriously at the cross of our Savior. His grace was particularly manifest to Abraham’s family, who were no better than anyone else. His people enslaved in Egypt had largely succumbed to the idolatries of that land (Ex. 32:4; 2 Sam. 7:23; Ezek. 20:7-8), but he would not forsake them. He had preserved a purer remnant, and he determined to deliver the whole for their sake. It was no worthiness on their part that led him to send Moses to deliver them but his sovereign grace alone. Since he has bound himself to us in a holy covenant, he will be our God and Redeemer. We are very sinful, but we pass through no valley of suffering without his eye upon us; we carry no burden or shed no tear without him carrying us and being afflicted with us, as Isaiah said (63:9). Faith must constantly feed upon these truths of God’s love and compassion, nearness and holiness. All our deliverance from sin and arrival at our heavenly Canaan is because he has sent a Deliverer to us, Jesus Christ, even as he sent Moses to deliver his undeserving people. Let us worship and adore the God of our mercy, the God of our salvation. We are saved by the grace of Jesus Christ alone and must glory in his cross alone (Gal. 3:14).

 

Moses’ Doubting Question (v. 11)

Moses was trembling at God’s holiness, and he now trembled at God’s call to stand before Pharaoh and lead his people out of Egypt. Who am I? Forty years earlier, Moses was willing to kill for his people, but the years in the wilderness had broken him of that delusion. He could not imagine a different way than armed conflict, but he saw its futility. He also knew himself a little better. Time in the wilderness, alone, assessing one’s failures and life, and waiting will do that. Nor are we to assume that the Lord simply left Moses alone all those years, for he was a believing man and knew the old promises. He had thought upon them. Yet, the question also betrays that Moses is unwisely judging God’s call by his personal weakness. I cannot stand before Pharaoh. I had to flee. A different Pharaoh will be no friendlier to me. Moses certainly doubted himself, and this led him to question indirectly God’s power and wisdom in choosing him. He had not yet learned that when God calls us to a task or even to the disciple’s basic obedience, with that call he gives his power so that nothing can prevent us from doing his will. There may be many difficulties, but he will overcome them. We shall be sifted and taught not to trust our wisdom and strength, for the Lord will do valiantly through the weakest means imaginable. As with Zerubbabel, any mountain or obstacle that stands between us and fulfilling God’s calling will become a plain (Zech. 4:7). Moses would have to learn, as we must, not to judge what can happen by our fears and fallen eyes but with the eyes of faith fixed firmly upon God’s promise and power.

God’s Presence Our Confidence (v. 12)

I wish we could say that this wondrous promise settled Moses’ heart and drove away every doubt. “I will be with you” should have that effect upon us. By this promise, the Lord does not promise to make Moses adequate for the task. We read our Savior’s promise, for example, that he will be with us to the end of the age (Matt. 28:20) or God’s promise to the Corinthians to dwell and walk with them (2 Cor. 6:16). These precious promises do not mean that all obstacles will be removed, our path will be easy, or that he will give us superhuman power. They mean that God will be with us. It will be his power, not ours, his wisdom and faithfulness and sovereignty, not our reason or ability to manipulate men and circumstances. The Lord called Moses to look away completely from himself, to take himself or his ability into no account at all. Think of this. Moses is about to undertake a work comparable in historical significance to Noah’s, and the Lord pledges to be with him at each step. Moses needs do nothing but follow God and obey him explicitly. We should be utterly mesmerized by such a promise, such a faithful God, such a holy and near Savior who has pledged never to leave us!

Because this promise was so great and came to Moses suddenly, the Lord condescended to give him a confirming sign. When I bring you out of Egypt, you will worship me on this mountain. This may not seem like much of a sign, but Moses could see Horeb. It was a clear sign that could be easily confirmed and thus strengthen Moses’ resolve. He had no idea how much he would need this sign! When he left Egypt with the unwieldy, complaining mob following on his heels, he would need a polestar to guide him. The verb is plural, which also contained a confirming sign. Moses would not return here alone! The mention of service or worship had the intention of turning Moses’ thoughts away from the difficulty of his task to the glory of God. When God’s signs are observed and encourage us to believe his word, they will carry over every difficulty – like our Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Not that God’s sign to Moses was a sacrament, but as a sign, it had the power to build him up in faith and strengthen him to obey God’s commands.

Calvin said that if God is our leader, it does not matter what our strength is. God’s promise to Moses was to support him in a specific calling and a monumental task. It was completely beyond Moses’ ability to fulfill this calling, and he knew it. God knew it. Israel’s deliverance from Egypt was a type of the church’s deliverance from the bondage from sin. Salvation is all of God’s power and grace; that is the significance of God’s call and promise to Moses. I am about to do this, he said to him. I will use you and be with you, but the work and power and wisdom and plan are all mine. This is the way we should view God’s saving work in our lives individually and collectively. Look what God has done. He used weak messengers to bring us the glad tidings, but he gave a new heart of flesh and new ears to hear and a renewed will and mind to repent and believe the gospel.

As we then pursue holiness and growth in Christ and fight against the world, flesh, and devil, he has promised to be with us. It is his grace that labors in us mightily and his Spirit that sanctifies and fights against indwelling sin (Col. 1:29; Gal. 5:17). Therefore, we must arm ourselves constantly with this promise – God will be with me. He has sent his Son, Emmanuel, who is God with me forever. Is there a conflict that we must face, a sin requiring repentance and mortification, a promise to be believed, or a child that needs patient instruction? We have God’s call to serve him; we have his promise to be with us. If we try to serve in our own strength, all shall go to ruin, and he will show us the folly of relying upon the arm of flesh. If his promise does not inspire us to diligence, we are wicked and lazy servants. Our Savior’s gifts, callings, and talents differ, but the constant is his pledge to uphold us every moment. With this promise, we may face the future, duty, and the world with confidence and even joy and peace. Whatever happens to me, whatever the Lord calls me to do, he will be my shepherd. “Thou will guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory” (Ps. 73:24).

Who Are You? (vv. 13-15)

The People Will Want to Know Your Name

The idea that God’s name had become such a carefully guarded secret among the Israelites in Egypt that Moses did not know it is farfetched, as is the conjecture that they had forgotten it. Nor should we think that Moses did not know God at this point. By “name” is meant who God is more than an assemblage of letters that identify and distinguish him. The “name” God gives Moses makes this clear. I think Moses was really asking, “Who are you?” “What are you doing in all this?” “How can we ever understand your purposes and dealings with us?” Remember that Moses knew the promises. At least in some of the families of Israel, the sacred history, fathers in the faith, and covenant promises were carefully passed down, and this is clearly the case in Moses’ family. But why, Lord have you left us in bondage for so long? When I come to the elders of Israel, Moses surmised, and tell them, “The God of your fathers has appeared to me,” they will want to know who you are and some explanation for the present situation. It is sad that most of them did not want to know, and all that generation died in the wilderness except for Joshua and Caleb. Like the Jews when Jesus came, they wanted food in the belly and deliverance from tyranny, but they did not want to know God’s name – who he was. Only a few did. Moses wanted to know. He will want to know more about God’s name – “Lord, show me your glory” (Ex. 33:18). Where true faith is present, God’s name, his glory and character, are desired above all else. Paul was of the same heart – “That I may know him” (Phil. 3:10).

 

 

My Name Is Who I AM

The Lord gives him a no-name name: “I am that I am.” We vocalize this today as Jehovah, but Yahweh is closer to the traditional pointing. It is a verbal name, a name of independence or self-sufficiency, an active and timeless name, a covenant name. My name is who I am, the Lord says. My name is my attributes – my holiness, goodness, truth. There is nothing magical about this name, as if we should superstitiously worship the letters, as the Jews foolishly did. God said to Moses, “You want to know my name? My name is what I am doing for you, how I have been faithful to you, my covenant and my presence, my love and my grace.” I am who I am, so do not try to pigeonhole me with names, as if you can control me by assigning letters to me. Learn of my glory, and you will know my name. Of course, God had already given many specific names – I am your provider; I am your shield; I am the Almighty.” He has revealed more names in Christ – Emmanuel, Wonderful, Word, Mighty God. The point is that God’s name cannot be exhausted because his glory cannot be. He is known by his works and his word. Now that he has drawn near to us familiarly in his Son, Jesus Christ, we know him as the God of amazing grace, great love, and abundant mercy. These names were known in the older covenant, but they are now emblazed brightly because of the cross, where the great I AM incarnate suffered and died for us. For us, it is most important to remember that God’s name is who he is, what he does, and who he is toward us. Unlike our unidimensional names, his name is multifaceted because his glory is! We have many names for the triune God because one name cannot exhaust him. Everything that he is and does he is and does absolutely, with all his fullness as God.

The Covenant Name of God

The Lord went on to say what was more important to know. The God speaking to them was the God of their fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. When he said, “This is my name forever,” he banished all speculation about himself and said, “Hear my word; remember my covenant; follow the example of your fathers in their faith and obedience.” This is my name and memorial forever. I keep covenant forever! Moses was thus commissioned to make a revelation about God’s name as faithful, God’s name as covenant, and God’s name as the God of your fathers. I have not altered, he said, or forgotten you or my promises. I will never break my covenant. The elders of Israel were not told how to reconcile this with their present afflictions, and neither are we. God is not our God because he is doing everything we would like or understand. If our affection and fidelity to him are based upon such petty selfishness, we do not know him at all. We are to serve him in our afflictions by calling upon his name and trusting that he has not forgotten us or his promises. We are to desire to know his name, especially the sustaining power of his word in our afflictions. He is absolutely faithful and cannot fail to keep his promises. This is the only name Moses or the people required to trust the Lord and move forward – I am the God of your fathers, and I keep my promises. We learn this name more clearly by looking at the cross. Bow your head and worship, when you recall the faithful God crucifying the Lord of glory, his Son, to keep his promises. Then, resolve never to doubt him again but to trust and serve him with a joyful and trusting heart.

Who I AM to My People (vv. 16-17)

I Care for You and See Your Afflictions

No small effort would be required for Moses to leave his father-in-law’s house, return to Egypt, and gather the elders of Israel, but this is all passed over. When we set out to obey the Lord, he will make the rough places plain or carry us through them so that we can obey him. To the gathered elders, Moses proclaimed the name of the Lord – the covenant God of their fathers. “I have visited you;” the Lord had made his survey of the situation and knew what he would do. Even more, he had seen what was done to them in Egypt. He saw their afflictions. To a believing heart, this is enough, even if the afflictions continue – that God knows my soul in adversity (Ps. 31:7). Certainly we shall praise him for delivering us and turning our mourning into rejoicing, but there is something simply about trusting God. The very act of trust, of yielding ourselves to him and returning to the soul rest of knowing that he knows and loves us, that helps us endure afflictions patiently, even to press on with a lighter heart (Ps. 28:7). This is because he has made us for himself. To enjoy him and to walk with him is the joy of life that cannot be completely quenched even by the worst of troubles. In fact, they are often the very means by which we come to know him better and to rejoice in him more fully!

I Will Deliver You

It must have amazed those men to hear these truths – it was like a light shining to men who had always lived in a dark cave. But had God not spoken? Can he forget his people whom he has chosen for himself? Can he break his word?  No, but we are very weak. Are we any better than those men? We have God’s much richer and clearer promises; we have Jesus Christ the great A-men and Seal of God’s promises, but we are usually half-asleep. When God does something wonderful for us, we barely believe it and rarely expect that he will. “O fools and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken” (Luke 24:25). God promised to Abraham that in four hundred years, he would bring his people to the land of promise and judge the Canaanite nations (Gen. 15:13-16). They should never have forgotten his promise. This teaches us that we must abide in our Savior’s word and hold his promises near to our heart at all times. We shall lose them if we do not build our lives upon them. Now, the Lord announced to the elders of Israel, I will bring you up from the affliction of Egypt. You have been in the furnace long enough. Now it is time for me to bare my holy arm and to keep my holy word to your fathers.

They Will Hear Your Voice

Does it not often seem that God commands are too hard or unbelievable to undertake? His words to Moses – still speaking in the desert, from a burning bush, to a forgotten shepherd – must have seemed this way to Moses. When he compared his weakness to God’s command, he could not imagine how these could be brought together. To encourage him, the Lord said, “And they shall listen to your voice.” I am uncertain how this registered with Moses, and he will soon voice more objections to the Lord’s calling upon his life. He was a chronic self-doubter, or perhaps even at this stage, a bit of a God-doubter. Yet, the Lord patiently removed every objection raised. Yes, this will be quite a first sermon for my people to hear, but they will listen to you. I will open their hearts. Thus, Moses would have immediate confirmation of the promise to be with him when Israel’s elders believed his word.

 The Lord gives us like encouragements in our particular callings and duties, and we should often think of them when we are discouraged. To parents, he gives covenant promises about your children (Gen. 17:7-9; Acts 2:38-39; 1 Cor. 7:14). To spouses, he likens you to Christ and the church so that you will aspire to see Christ do great things in your relationship and seek his grace to be faithful (Eph. 5:21-33). Since we live at war with the flesh and the devil, he gives us invincible armament (Eph. 6:10-18). We must take his encouragements to heart. “Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises” (2 Pet. 1:4). To us all, God promises a crown of life to those who endure, the constant power and fellowship of his Spirit, and an open throne through an interceding Jesus! Because God is our strength, we cannot fail, but we must lay hold of his encouragements and always consider our duty in the light of the graces and helps God has already promised to us

Who I AM to Egypt (vv. 18-22)

A Moderate First Request

God was one thing to his people, but something entirely different to the Egyptians. He has visited his people to deliver them; he will visit Egypt to destroy it. The Lord was the governor of the nations then, raising up one and destroying another (Ps. 22:29); he is much more so now, for he has set his Son at his right hand as the Prince of the kings of the earth. After Moses meets with Israel’s elders, together they are to approach the king of Egypt and request a three day’s journey into the wilderness to worship the God who has met with them. This was not deception but a moderate first request. It was something of a warm-up for both parties. It would be difficult for the Jews to leave immediately; it would be difficult for the Egyptians to allow them to do so. Although the Lord intended to humble Egypt, he would give Pharaoh opportunity and incentive to respond to his warnings. Hardness on his part would be met with increasing judgment. Even with this merciful and gentle treatment, the Lord told Moses honestly that Pharaoh would not let them go (v. 19). The Lord often warns his prophets of their stubborn audience. This is not to discourage them, but his servants must understand that God sometimes sends his word to destroy his enemies (2 Cor. 2:16). The Lord always strikes the wisest balance. “I will certainly be with you; and I am sure that the king of Egypt will not let you go” (3:13, 19). The former promise supports us in our conflict so that we do not lose heart; the latter warning reminds us not to forget that God has declared enmity between himself and Satan (Gen. 3:15). Therefore, we are combatants in this war and must not expect a trouble-free pilgrimage (Acts 14:22).

I Will Smite Egypt and You Will Spoil Them

The Lord told Moses to prepare for a divine siege against Egypt. It is dreadful to hear the Lord say that he is about to smite an entire nation with all his wonders. Most today would simply laugh, for most think we have insulated ourselves against God, his judgments, and his Son. The older commitments respecting Christ’s kingship over all are forsaken, except for a thin remnant that holds fast to God’s word. This is not an unusual position for the daughter of Zion. Do men wish to hear of a God who judges the nations? The world rejects the resurrected Prince who is marching forward to defend his gospel and judge his enemies with a sharp sword coming out of his mouth. And yet, God’s smiting of his enemies is the historical reality. Over 100 million men dead in the last century through war and disease and tyrants. Economies are faltering everywhere through deficit spending that is opposed to God’s holy law, which is the scepter in Christ’s hand. God will not be mocked. The Lord was preparing Moses for the conflict ahead of him. He was not to think that he would march into the royal palace, give God’s demands, and leave a few days later with Israel in tow. God was about to go to war with Egypt, and he must expect it.

We must also expect it. The Lord always warns us of the realities of this conflict, of which Moses against the gods of Egypt was but one campaign. He constantly tells us to “fight the good faith” and to arm ourselves with the mighty weapons of the Spirit. If we do not take him at his word on this, our expectations of earthly life will be askew. We are not in heaven but on a battlefield. There are seasons of respite and even relative peace, but the evil one is lurking for his next assault. “Watch and pray” is his word to us (Matt. 26:41). When we sleep, the enemy sows tears; we sleep when we are not being renewed by God’s word, seeking his strength, trusting his promises, and living to please him. I know that we would rather have it easier – like a 9 to 5 job with three weeks of paid vacation. This is not the Lord’s way, and it would be dangerous for us. We fight now in anticipation of his reward.

In this instance, for the church was then in infancy and needed strong material encouragements to pursue his kingdom, the Lord made a more immediate provision. God’s wonders will break the hearts of the Egyptians. They will give their treasures to Israel. Consider it repayment for more than two centuries of enslavement or money to leave. Either way, the Lord will humble and spoil Egypt. It will be a voluntary spoiling, which is yet another of God’s wonders against Egypt. Who ever heard of one nation giving its wealth to a nation of unarmed slaves? God will completely break the spirit of Egypt, and he will recompense his people for their afflictions. Sadly, this will be lost upon them, and they will soon develop a complaining spirit. We must always stand in awe of God’s provision for us in this world. No less than his people in Egypt or in the wilderness, God is providing for our needs. He is governing the nations that hate his church and preparing his throne for judgment. Our whole sustenance and protection in this world thus depends completely upon the largesse of our merciful Father. We must stand in awe of him and never doubt his faithfulness. He will take care of us. He that “spared not his only Son but delivered him up for us all, will he not much more with him freely give us all things” (Rom. 8:32). This is the gospel of the great I AM, the God of our fathers (Gal. 3:29), and the God of our salvation.

Never must we doubt, therefore, that our God will take care of us in this world. Moses seemed to have been forgotten in the wilderness and Israel in Egypt. God remained ever faithful to his promises. He is I AM; he needs nothing, possesses all things, and cannot deny himself. Whatever enemies we face in this world, we need fear the God of the bush, the Christ of the bush, not man. The Lord does not often raise up a Moses, but he has now given us his Spirit. We have power untold and untapped, if we would but take the Lord at his word. He is with us more immediately and permanently than with his people of old. Let us not be foolish virgins, unfaithful stewards of his grace, disciples who have lost our first love. We see this Angel of the Lord much more clearly than Moses. We behold him upon the cross. He was burned up for us as our sacrifice so that we might be his forgiven, reconciled, and consecrated disciples and friends. He is with us by his Spirit and will not leave us. We can do all things through his strength. Let us be not fearful and unbelieving but ready and courageous to serve him in all things.

Profiting from the Word and Searching Our Hearts

1. How does Moses’ question (v. 11) reveal a different man after the forty years in the wilderness?

2. In what way did Horeb serve as a confirming sign to Moses?

3. How should God’s promise to be with us encourage us? Lead us away from trusting our strength? Settle us?

4. What did Moses likely mean by asking for God’s name?

5. What does the name God gave Moses teach us about God’s character and dealings with us?

6. What is meant by saying that “God is his attributes?”

7. How is Moses’ desire to know God’s name clarified in Exodus 33:18? What did Moses want to know about God?

8. What does “the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” teach us about God’s name?

9. How should Moses have been encouraged by “they shall hear your voice?”

10. Why did God tell Moses that Pharaoh would not let the people go?