17 June 2017

Exodus 3:1-15

“Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Reach out your hand, and seize it by the tail’—so he reached out his hand and grasped it, and it became a staff in his hand” (v. 4)

Psalm: Psalm 100


Moses was a humble shepherd from the region of Midian, leading his sheep across the hill country in the wilderness of the Sinai Peninsula. His job is an uncanny metaphor for his vocation to come. But he hasn't always been a shepherd. In fact, his life-story (in biblical tradition) is divided neatly into three eras of 40 years. Born into the persecuted Hebrew people in Egypt, he was rescued by some quick and rebellious thinking by his midwives and his sister (Exodus 2:1-10). He was raised as a prince, in the household of Pharaoh, although his birth mother was close at hand as his nursemaid. He was privileged while his people suffered. When he was around 40, he went out to the Hebrews and saw their suffering. When he saw a man being mistreated, he killed the slave-driver in his anger, but then had to flee from the royal family which raised him, and left Egypt altogether to start a new life in Midian, finding a wife and an occupation in the meantime (Exodus 2:11-25). He was a fugitive with a colourful past, seeking the quiet life. So it was for many years, until he was approaching the age of 80. But there was to be no comfortable retirement. The third age of Moses' life began when he saw something unusual on Mount Horeb (often thought to be the same mountain as Sinai). God appeared to Moses through an angel, a burning bush (that wasn't burning), a divine presence, and a powerful voice. His hopes of the quiet life were over!

Here we have a 'vocation' in the truest sense of the word: a calling, a summons. Moses was reluctant and didn't seem to have a lot of choice in the matter. This isn't always how God works, but sometimes a particular job is required, and the true calling of God is very hard to resist. In this passage, however, Moses and his feelings are less relevant than what is revealed about God.

First, we learn that God is one who hears the cries of the oppressed and identifies with their suffering (verse 7). But God's answer comes within God's time and purposes.

Secondly, God appears not to have been in a relationship with Moses previously, because the connection with Moses is given in relation to his Father and the great ancestors of his people (verse 6). God is one who knows us and is active in our lives before we know or accept God's purposes in our lives.

Finally, we are given the name of God (verses 13-15), which has been used by the Hebrew and Christian people ever since. It is Yahweh, Jehovah, often translated 'the LORD'. It means "I am", "I am who I am", "I am what I am" or "I will be what I will be". It's not surprising that the personal name of God Almighty should be difficult for us to translate and understand! God is not one who can easily be pinned down by our language, but only understood in relationship with the LORD. If we are to accept this relationship, it is one that is loving and life-affirming, but not on our terms. Perhaps we struggle to translate the name because God is not just "I am", he is the one who is holy, holy, holy: who was, who is and who is to come. When we relate to the LORD, we can be sure that God has been active in our past, is with us now, and always goes before us into the future.

To Ponder

  • After this experience and all that followed, as Moses looked back over his life, he would surely have seen God's greater purposes at work. When have you ever been able to 'trace' God's hand at work, even through difficult times in your past?
  • The Methodist churches in the UK have a majority of people in the retired category. What does the Bible tell us about how God uses older people? How far is retirement really a time to step back, or actually a time when God can put you to the greatest use?
  • How do you understand the name of God? Do you ever meditate on or pray through the holy names of God and Christ? What does it mean for you that God's name expresses a presence and permanence that is everlasting? How do you relate to the holy and almighty LORD?

Bible notes author

The Revd Andrew Murphy

Andrew Murphy is married to Emily and they have two children, Phoebe (aged 4) and Benjamin (aged 18 months). Andy is the superintendent minister of the Market Harborough Circuit (a small circuit in the south of Leicestershire, and over the border into Northants). Previously, Andy’s ministry was based in Barwell in the Hinckley Circuit for eight years. And before that, he trained at the Wesley Study Centre in Durham, close to his home-town of Consett. Andy has a passion to help God’s people grow in faith, and occasionally writes hymns, sketches and songs. Spare time includes trips to play parks, watching Disney films or Postman Pat, reading Mr Men books, visiting Middle Earth, and reminiscing over the good old days of supporting Newcastle United. In the picture, Andy is the one in blue (and the snowman’s name is Olaf)!