As promised, here is the text of my sermon…..
How many of you have a big family? So, for Thanksgiving how many people are there usually?
When I picture the Israelites, I see a big extended family. When they arrived in Egypt, there were 70 descendants of Jacob. They did well in their new home. After a while, things changed. Joseph and all his brothers died. By then, they had gone from a big extended family of 70 to a people group of several hundred thousand. The Egyptians were afraid that such a large foreign group would align themselves with other groups in the area and overthrow Egyptian rule. Strangely, the Egyptians did not deport them. Perhaps they wanted to keep them around so they could control them. So, they put them in hard jobs with little or no pay—jobs that privileged Egyptians would not want to do. When that didn’t work, they resorted to infanticide.
The Israelites cried out to God to help them. At first their prayers were probably confident. Surely the God who had delivered their ancestors from trouble would rescue them as well. Surely he would keep His promises to the children of Abraham right? As generation after generation suffered though, their prayer may have become more distraught. I cannot imagine suffering for that long, crying out for deliverance and getting no relief. I get discouraged after a few weeks! Maybe they decided God had forgotten them and His promises to them….or worse, He never existed in the first place.
Then there’s Moses. He was born Israelite but raised in Egyptian aristocracy. He had led a privileged life. But then he stuck his neck out. He defended a Hebrew that was being beaten by an Egyptian. Moses tried to do the right thing, and it blew up in his face. Not only did he get in big trouble with Pharaoh, but the very people he was trying to help, the Hebrews, treated him with contempt for what he had done. As a result, Moses had to leave the home he ever knew. He soon was stuck out in the boonies with a bunch of stinky sheep that weren’t even his. Like the Isrealites, maybe Moses wondered if He had been cast aside, or if God still had a plan for him. Chapter 3 of Exodus is God revealing to Moses that He has not cast them aside, and that He absolutely keeps His promises. But God has more on His mind than property.
The name God uses for himself here –the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob–was a familiar one to Moses. It’s a name that has been evolving since the beginning of the Old Testament. To Isaac, He was the God of Abraham. To Jacob, He was the God of Abraham and Isaac. At the end of Genesis, he was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And He is the God of Moses’s father. Imagine how that sounds to someone who finds himself in such humble circumstances, whose people have been in bondage for 400 years. There is a feeling of comfort and familiarity in hearing the voice of the God your people have served for hundreds of years, speak after so many years of silence.
In verse 7, God says he has “indeed seen” the suffering of His children and “heard” their cries.
Now I am not a Hebrew scholar, nor do I play one on TV, but I have what I call the “Bible languages for dummies” Bible. “Indeed seen” is more than just a casual observation. It implies the one observing feels the experience of those being observed. “Heard” means to give undivided, focused attention.
In other words, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who has been caring for them since even before Abraham, is intimately aware of all that has happened. He did not leave them or forsake them. He did not forget them. He heard every shriek to the core of his being. He has felt every lash of the whip as if it were his own back tacking the stripes. And God has had ENOUGH. Verse 8 says God has come down. Dad is on the scene.
Let’s continue reading….(8-9) God is going to rescue them—and bring them from Egypt to a new land. God is concerned with more than just the immediate crisis. He has the long term in mind. He is not going to just get them out of a bad situation and dump them somewhere for them to figure out the rest on their own. Further, they are not going to be crammed into some refugee camp in the desert with poor sanitation and bad food. He is going to see them all the way to their new life in a new home. It is a land flowing with milk and honey. These are two things which are produced with very little human effort. Feed the cow and she will make milk. Bees make honey all by themselves. Think about how this would sound to a people who have been in slavery, doing backbreaking labor for four hundred years. They will have room to spread out. Their needs will be met. They will finally be able to rest.
Where is this land? The land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. This is not some random clump of dirt. This is the land promised to Abraham way back in Genesis 15! Even when God was talking to Abraham, He knew this day would come. God has not forgotten His promise. He is going to bring it to pass, and the time is now.
God makes clear that His promise is about more than property, however. Moses is listening as God expresses His concern and unveils His plan, and Moses is right there. God is going to rescue them—Amen, LORD! He is going to give them a new home—Halleluiah! And you are going to go down and talk to Pharaoh—Wait, who me?! Then we see another part of the promise: God said, ‘I will be with you.’ We see variations of this phrase throughout the Old Testament. He said “I am with you” to Joshua, to David, to Jeremiah. Jesus said it to His disciples. The Lord said it to Paul in Acts. This promise is for us today. How do I know? Even Jesus is called Emmanuel, God with us. Whatever our location, whatever our circumstances, God promises to be with us. It may seem like we are all alone, but we are not.
Immediately following, we see the third part of the promise: The sign, that once the Israelites are safely out of Egypt, Moses will worship God on the very mountain where this conversation is taking place. God desires to have a relationship with us. He wants to communicate and be present, but He wants us to reach out to Him and worship Him and love Him.
In Verse 14, God refers to Himself in a new way. He uses the phrase, I AM WHO I AM. God has many names throughout the Bible, most of which describe what He does or aspects of His character: The LORD will provide, the Captain of the Hosts….but this name is different. It doesn’t describe anything about what God does. But it fits with what God has been saying all along. It says God is God. That He exists. That He is personal, not some vague cosmic ooze. More than that, He is timeless. In Revelation He is the Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. He is the God who was, and is and is to come. He is always present. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the God of Moses and the Israelites. He is also the God of Diana, and the God of Tiffiney, and the God of Samuel. He will still be God long after we are gone.
Sometimes I feel like I have been forgotten, or that what I am doing doesn’t have any purpose. Some years back I was leading a singles ministry. I believed I was in the center of God’s will. We had a solid community and we were growing in our faith. But than things changed. There was serious conflict between some of the members. It was serious enough that I felt the singles’ pastor needed to know, and I needed his input. The church took a “he said/she said” stand and the group was shut down. Many of the women involved left the church and I lost them as friends. I ended up leaving as well. Like Moses, I took a risk and tried to defend people who I thought were being mistreated, and it blew up in my face. I lost my church, my friends, and a ministry I was passionate about. I found myself wondering if I had been cast aside. I started to question what I believed to be God’s call on my life, and if God was even still around. I didn’t understand. But God did. God used my change in circumstances to bring me to a church that loves me and that is like family, that supports women who are called to serve, and that is passionately reaching out to a community where people need to know Jesus. God did not abandon me; He did not change. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, is the God of Diana. He brought me to a good and spacious place. He showed me He is faithful to His promises. I don’t know what will happen next but I am walking in God’s promises every day. God is with me, and I am worshipping Him.
When we read the story of Exodus, we focus on the deliverance of an entire people group from bondage. But there is a side to the story we often overlook. What about the Israelite who lived between years 100-200 of captivity? He started and ended his life in slavery. These folks in chapter 3 and following, they get to see deliverance! But what about the poor guy who was born waiting and died still waiting? We don’t like to talk about him, because that guy could be us. Sometimes I feel like that guy. I have been praying for healing and deliverance and restoration for my family and my body for over 20 years, and I am STILL WAITING. This side of heaven I may not see deliverance. I do not like to think about that. But this is what I know: Whether I see my family healed or not, whether I see my body made whole or not, I am walking in God’s promises every day. God is with me, and I am worshipping God.
Are you stuck on the backside of a mountain in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of stinky sheep? Have you been crying out to God for a really really long time and you are STILL WAITING? Do you wonder if you have been cast aside? Well He has not forgotten you. He still has a plan for you. A plan that goes all the way back to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and will continue into eternity. Do you know Jesus? If so, than you are walking in God’s promises, too. God is with you, and every moment is an opportunity for you to worship Him!
Many of our neighbors came here in search of a better life, like the Israelites did when they went to Egypt. Maybe this life is better than the one they left, but it is still hard. They are stuck in low-wage jobs, at the same time hearing on the news they are a threat because they are taking away jobs from more deserving people. Maybe they know God. Maybe they gave up on Him a long time ago. God has a message to deliver to His kids. Maybe we who are stuck on the back side of a mountain, who are waiting, are the ones to deliver it. Maybe the message God has goes something like verse 15: “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 by which I am to be remembered from generation to generation.” God has not forgotten us, and He doesn’t want us to forget Him. No, He wants us to know Him and worship Him. Because just like He promised, He is with us.