It’s a long ways from the palace of Pharaoh to the wilderness of Midian. And I’m not talking about miles. Moses had been raised in Pharaoh’s house as the son of his daughter. However, after killing an Egyptian while he protected an Israelite, Moses had to flee for his life.
He had gone to Midian, a land to the southwest of Egypt. There he had met Jethro, the priest of Midian, and his family. He had married Jethro’s daughter Zipporah and together they had a son. As we find him at the beginning of our text Moses is herding the flock of his father-in-law in the wilderness near the mountain Horeb. Formerly Moses had lived in the luxury of Pharaoh’s palace. Now he was sheep herder in the wilderness.
Israel’s status had changed too. They had gone down to Egypt as seventy people. There God had blessed them – he had multiplied them into a nation. But in response, Egypt had enslaved them. Our text begins by saying, “During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel--and God knew.”
Israel groaned and cried out to Yahweh for help. This is not the first time in Exodus that we hear about Israel’s enslavement. It is however the first time that we hear about Israel crying out to Yahweh for help. Had they not done this in the past? In the midst of all the good times, had they forgotten about God? Was it finally the severity and length of oppression that prompted them to turn to Yahweh?
The text doesn’t explicitly address this. I suspect it is an implication that we are to draw from it. I know for sure that it is something that is true for us. In good times we find it easy to forget about God. When things are going well you can enjoy life and focus on all the wonderful things, while God takes a back seat. And so because of our old Adam, God uses times of difficulty to turn us back to him.
We’ve all dealt with toddlers. You tell them not to do something. And then five minutes later, it’s like you had never said anything at all. They are right back at it, and you have to go, pull them away, and tell them not to touch that or pick that up. For God, dealing with us is just like dealing with toddlers. He has to get our attention continually. He has to redirect us. And so he allows hardships, difficulties and challenges to enter our life. These are not pleasant things. They are things that crucify the old Adam – the flesh. But this action is something that is good for us because it turns us back to God.
God heard Israel’s groaning, and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel--and God knew. He was not oblivious to the problems of his people, just like he is not about ours. And he remembered the covenant he had made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He remembered his promise, because that’s what God always does.
So Yahweh began to set in motion his rescue plan. He did it using a surprising instrument. He called Moses who was now exiled in Midian – Moses who was no longer in the palace of Pharaoh but instead was watching over sheep in the wilderness. Now to us, it probably would have made more sense to use Moses while still in the palace. But God doesn’t do things in the ways that we expect.
We learn that Moses had led the flock to the area of Mt. Horeb. While there the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. Moses looked and saw something remarkable because while the bush was burning, it was not consumed. He said to himself, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.”
When Moses approached the burning bush God called to him, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” He said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Then Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
Moses was right to be afraid. He had come into the presence of God. The area around the bush was described as holy ground and Moses was warned not to approach further. We need to be reminded about this fact. God is the holy God. He is completely set apart. He is fearful for sinners who sin.
This should continue to determine the way we behave before God. Today if someone were to meet an important and powerful person in their work or professional setting, they would act in a very proper and respectful manner. Yet move things into the area of life that deals with the holy God and suddenly they want to interact with him in an easy, breasy manner. They want to give God a high five.
We wouldn’t do that with an important and powerful person at work. We shouldn’t do that with the holy God because he is the holy God. We shouldn’t do that with the holy God because we are sinners coming before him. After all, it is only God’s action that allows us to do so.
Yahweh said to Moses, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” God said that he knew his people’s sufferings and that he had come down to rescue them. God had come down to rescue them and he was going to use Moses to do this. He said, “Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.”
During Lent we prepare to remember and celebrate the events by which God has come down and rescued us. At Christmas we celebrated that God came down in the incarnation as the Word became flesh – as the Son of God became man without ceasing to be God. He came down in order to rescue us. Jesus Christ was the prophet like Moses sent by God. But he was far more than Moses because he is God in the flesh. Jesus Christ himself was the means by which God rescued us as he was offered on the cross as the sacrifice for our sins. In love for you God the Father gave his Son into death and judgment in your place. But on the third day he raised Jesus from the dead as he defeated death. Through Jesus Christ he has rescued us from slavery to Satan, sin and death.
Our Lord Jesus willingly fulfilled the will of the Father to save us. Moses, on the other hand, was not so willing. He said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” Yahweh promised to be with him, but Moses countered: “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?”
So God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” God began to reveal his personal name, Yahweh which is based on the Hebrew verb “to be.” This name was to be the proof that Moses had been sent by God to lead them out of slavery.
Through Jesus Christ, God has rescued you from sin and death. In doing this, God has revealed more about himself. He has revealed that the one true God is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. To give us the forgiveness and salvation he had won, Jesus instituted Holy Baptism. He included water in his command and combined it with his word when he said that we are to be baptized “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
God’s triune name has been revealed to us. More than that, God’s name has been placed upon us in Holy Baptism. When we want to know whether we have been rescued – whether we really have been saved from sin and death, this name applied with water is the proof and guarantee that God has done it.