Let My People Go!, Exodus 3:1-15
Plymouth First United Methodist Church, August 30, 2020
Pastor Toni Carmer
Through the next 2 months, we are continuing the narrative that began in the book of Genesis, continues through Exodus and is completed in the Old Testament books of Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. These first 5 books of the Bible are known as the Pentateuch and they take us from creation, through the Patriarchs and into Egypt. According to Exodus 12 (v. 40-41), God’s people remained in Egypt a total of 430 years before being led out of captivity and into the promised land, though a study of the time-frame would suggest their residence in Egypt as being something closer to 300 years. In slavery, it surely felt like 430. Leviticus offers laws and regulations for worship, Numbers is an accounting of the 38 years God’s people spent wandering in the wilderness, and Deuteronomy literally means “a repetition of the Law.”
As we read over these next couple of months (spending most of our time in Exodus), we will discover more about the nature of God, about God’s faithfulness, and about God’s desire for justice, truth and mercy.
As I read these stories, I’m reminded of the time we spent in 2017 reading through and studying The Story together (written by Randy Frazee). I remember that we had to cover a lot of ground and some major stories in a very condensed time frame. I look forward over these next weeks to journeying a bit more slowly and taking time to reflect on how God’s word to these ancestors of our faith speaks to what’s happening in our lives and world today.
We’re continuing the story of Moses this morning, who is now a grown man. Though he’d been found in the River Nile by pharaoh’s daughter, he had been given back to his Hebrew mother to be nurtured through his infancy, then was taken to Pharaoh’s household where he received all the education and benefits due the offspring of a princess in a ruler’s household.
One day, while watching the Hebrews work, he saw an Egyptian overseer beating a slave. The way the text leads up to this happening makes it clear that Moses is aware of his Hebrew roots: within 2 sentences, scripture states that Moses was watching “his own people” and that the Hebrew being beaten was “one of his own people.”
Moses responds by killing the Egyptian and hiding him in the sand, after looking around and making sure that no one would see. But someone did see. The following day, he tries to break up a fight between two slaves, asking the instigator, “why are you hitting your fellow Hebrew? To which the man responds, “Who made you ruler and judge over us? Are you going to kill me like you did the Egyptian?”
Moses rightfully fears that the word is out—and it is. Pharaoh learns what has happened and tries to kill Moses (I don’t think this is “Grandpa” Pharaoh, but the Pharaoh that followed Grandpa, if that concerns you like it did me). Moses flees Egypt and goes to Midian, where he sits down at a well, and we’re familiar now with what happens at wells. They seem to be a gathering place for young women who need to water their father’s flocks. This time, a certain priest has 7 daughters who in trying to complete their chore, are shooed away from the well by some shepherds. Moses intervenes and helps the young women take care of their animals. They thank him surely, and head home, telling their father that an Egyptian had helped them, and he wonders why they didn’t bring him home for supper. They fetch him, he eats a meal, stays on, marries one of the man’s daughters, and raises a family.
Moses was about 40 years old when he escapes to Midian, and he lives there for about 40 years. During this time, the king of Egypt dies, but the Hebrew people have continued to live in captivity. God hears their cries and remembers the covenant he made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
The scripture verse immediately preceding today’s reading says, “God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.”
While Moses tends his father-in-law’s flock, at Mount Horeb, Moses sees a bush that is on fire, but doesn’t burn up. It’s such an unexpected sight that he goes to it, and God calls to him from out of the bush. “Moses, Moses,” God says.
“Here I am,” Moses replies.
God warns him from coming closer, tells him to remove his sandals, tells him that he is standing on holy ground. God tells him that he is the God of his father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Moses takes all this in, perceives its truth, and realizing that he is in God’s presence. Knowing that looking into God’s face could cause his death (in the Old Testament, God’s face is beyond human ability to take in/perceive/survive), Moses hides his face.
God explains to Moses that God has seen the misery of his people in Egypt and tells Moses, “I am sending you to Pharaoh, to bring the Israelites out of Egypt.” I want you to bring my people home.
Moses’ brain is definitely engaged: I agree with all that. I have seen what you’re talking about. I know they need rescuing! I know YOU can do it, God. But me?
Moses has 5 objections as to why he shouldn’t be the one to lead this mission.
Here’s the first one:
“Who am I?” (I’m no warrior. I have no specific skills. I’ve worn Egyptian clothes, I’ve slept in an Egyptian bed and wouldn’t mind nibbling on some of that good ole’ Egyptian cooking that I haven’t eaten in years, but truly, who am I that you would ask me to do such a thing?)
God responds, “I’ll be with you.”
That doesn’t exactly answer the question, but it’s still a good answer, isn’t it? I may not believe that “I’m the one” but knowing you’re with me is very helpful.
Okay, 2nd question Moses asks: “Okay, let’s say I go back to the Israelites, I tell them that the God of your fathers has sent me to you. And they say, Okay, so what’s his name? What do I say to that one?”
God responds: “I AM who I AM. Tell them, I AM has sent me to you.” But God doesn’t stop there. “Tell them, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you. This is my name forever, the name you shall call me from generation to generation.”
This name takes in the mystery of who God is now and the unpredictability of who God will be in the future. God is telling Moses that his request is too difficult to answer, the greatness/the fullness of who God is, is without limit. God cannot be named or fully known. So, God gives Moses a shortened version, and open beginning to God’s name: I AM. I AM sent me.
God continues, giving Moses details of what to do, who to talk to, how they’ll respond. But Moses isn’t done asking questions.
Question number 3: “What if they don’t believe me? What if they won’t listen to me? What if they say, God didn’t appear to you!” (4:1)
God responds by giving Moses signs: his staff will become a snake, his hand will turn leprous and then back to normal again as he pulls it in and out of his cloak, and when he pours water from the Nile onto dry land, it will become blood.
That should do it.
Moses still isn’t convinced: “I’ve never been particularly eloquent. Sometimes, the words just don’t come!” (4:10)
Who gave you a mouth to begin with? Who gives you words or not? Go! I will help you speak! I will give you the words!”
Moses objects a 5th time, and here we’re given evidence of God’s patience. Moses says, “Pardon, me, Lord. I don’t want to be rude, but please. Send someone else.”
Patience doesn’t totally remove annoyance. Scripture tells us that at this point the Lord’s anger burns against Moses, but he does give him a bit of an out. “Okay, fine. Your brother Aaron speaks well. You will speak to him and put words in his mouth. I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do.” Now, go do it.
And he does.
It’s a fascinating story, isn’t it? We’ll continue to work through the escape of the Hebrew people from Egypt as they make their way toward the promised land, but I’d like to talk a bit about some things that have come to mind as I worked through today’s scripture.
The most important thing is the reminder that God sees the plight of God’s people. God hears the cry of the oppressed, the lost and the alone. God has compassion, God listens, and God chooses and calls people to respond. To do God’s work. To speak out when there’s injustice. To turn toward, and not away. I will be with you, God says, as you make the hard decisions. As you step out into unfamiliar territory. As you do this new thing in my name.
Our world has been in a difficult place now, for about 5 months so far. The Pandemic has been hard, frightening. Some of us know folks who have been sick, a few of us have lost loved ones. My mother-in-law is now Covid + and we don’t know what’s ahead, but it’s frightening. We don’t want her to suffer. We don’t want any of our loved ones to suffer.
But our nation has been dealing with another challenge, one that has perhaps been easier for us to turn away from. To say that it doesn’t have anything to do with us. Nothing to do with my life. I love all people. We might say, of course Black Lives Matter. Wasn’t that all dealt with in the 60’s?
We might like to think that it was, but it wasn’t. It’s hard for those of us who are white-skinned to know, to understand. One of the most important phrases I learned in seminary was “Position yields perspective,” and I realize that my position and my perspective is not lived by everyone. But it’s time for us to open our eyes and to consider how God might be calling us to see and live and welcome and experience one another in a new way.
God has seen the plight of God’s people and calls us to respond.
The letter I’ve written to you in our September newsletter outlines a very basic first step that I’d like to invite you to consider. I’m calling it the September Challenge. It involves taking an inventory (it’s free!), and reading a book or some articles that will challenge you to think in some different ways. I have read one of the books I’ve suggested so far, and parts of it keep coming to mind. It has challenged me. I know that reading a book isn’t enough, but it’s a start.
The results of the inventory and your thoughts as you read one of the books is for your own consideration. It’s not necessary to share the results of what you experience with anyone else. But, if you would like to talk about what you’ve read, I’d then like to invite you to come participate in a conversation sometime in October. We’ll meet once and decide if we want to meet again or study further together. That is our October Challenge! To talk about what we’ve read, what we’ve learned, what we’ve done well or what we haven’t done well. To talk about what makes us angry or sad. To talk about what brings us hope.
I hope you’ll read the article and join me in trying to see ourselves and all God’s people in a new way.
I love it how Moses thinks he isn’t the one to carry out this important assignment. Perhaps you, too, think, that this isn’t your call. It’s not your task. But I hope you’ll listen to the call more than once. That you’ll ask God questions and that you’ll listen for God’s response.
God is patient.
And God’s will will be done.
I’d like to be a part of his will, wouldn’t you?