And the children of Israel sighed by reason of the bondage, and they cried, and their cry came up unto God by reason of the bondage …
And … God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I …
And the Lord said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows …
Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.
Moses had been rejected by the children of Israel. They had refused to receive him as a brother in the faith. They did not want him as a prince and rule to lead them out of the bondage of Egypt. For many generations they had been living in the land of Egypt. The riches of Egypt were many, and the Israelites had enjoyed them to the full. They had learned to love the bounties that could always be obtained, the fish, the onions and melons, the garlic and leeks. At the same time the land of Canaan had lost its attachment for them. It seemed distant and far away. They seldom thought of it anymore. That their fathers had come from that land no longer seemed very important. The thought that they someday might return to Canaan gave them little joy. Indeed, in recent years the situation in Egypt had been changing. The former kindness of the Egyptians had turned to hatred. The joys of Egypt had been curtailed by oppression and persecution. Bitter bondage was now their part, with arduous labor in brick, and in mortar, and in all manner of service in the field. The very lives of their new born children had been threatened again and again. But still their hope endured. Maybe something would happen to mollify the hatred of Pharaoh. If the Egyptians could be soothed, then they could settle down to enjoy once again the luxuries of Egypt which they had learned to love. When Moses appeared and slew an Egyptian, thereby clearly offering to lead them in rebellion against their masters, it left them cold and even angry. They did not want trouble and fighting; they wanted peace. They wanted to soothe their masters, not incite them. With harsh words and scornful looks they drove Moses away. Dutifully they reported his misdeed to the overseers. Moses was forced to flee for his life toward the wilderness of Midian soon to be forgotten by all but a few.
The years passed by. The children of Israel looked for Pharaoh’s anger to abate; but it did not. They tried to pacify him, but could not. The future only continued to look darker. Finally Pharaoh died, and the hopes of Israel revived. Perhaps the new Pharaoh would be different; maybe he would be more kind. But alas, all of their fondest dreams were in vain. Grievous oppression continued to be their part, aid if anything, it was heavier than before. At last Israel’s confidence in Egypt and its people began to waver and die. Anticipation gave way to despair, and there arose from their hearts a bitter sigh. Only then did they think to remember the true source of their strength in the past. They were a wretched people. Nearly eighty years of oppression had passed during which Israel had pinned its hopes on the world and its men. Only when all had failed did they remember to turn to their God. It was a wonder of divine grace that “God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. And God looked upon the children of Israel, and God had respect unto them.”
It was a lone shepherd who led his small flock to the backside of the wilderness of Midian. The way had been rough and barren, but here on the slopes of Horeb green pastures were sure to be found. The sheep were in good hands. The man’s words were few, and his appearance was crude; but his actions were gentle, and his eyes reflected a heart that had found peace. To look at him one could hardly suspect that once his feet had trod the royal courts of Egypt, that. his feats of learning had won great acclaim by his teachers, that his mind had devised plans of great and impressive works, that his dreams had been to lead a great nation hundreds of thousands strong. That had been long ago and the way of life he had now learned was quite different. True, the dreams and ambitions of youth had died slowly, and often painfully; but die they had. The mannerisms of the court had disappeared, and in their place had come the simpler virtues of gentleness, kindness, patience, meekness and childlike trust in his God. The one great joy that remained to him was simply to pray and worship the Lord, and to meditate upon His Word. What good was it all? What was this man accomplishing alone in this barren wilderness? What was becoming of all his preparation and education? Where was his challenge? What was he doing for God? The world could hardly be expected to recognize it, the man hardly realized it himself, but through those years in the wilderness he had grown immensely in stature before God. The day would come when divine inspiration would cause it to be written that the man Moses was very meek, above all the men which were upon the face of the earth.” What greater virtue could be ascribed to a child of God? The lesson of Midian exceeded by far all that he had learned in the greatest schools of the world.
As the shepherd made his way up the slopes of Horeb, there was a purpose guiding his life of which he was quite unaware. The invisible hand of God’s providence was leading him toward a certain bush that grew there among the mountain crags. Suddenly he saw it. There stood before him a bush, a bush enveloped in flames, a bush filled with fire, but still it was not consumed. His curiosity aroused, he turned to examine the bush more closely. And then from the bush there came the voice, “Moses, Moses,” and with faltering lips he answered back, “Here am I.” The bush was chosen as a symbol of Israel in its lowly state of bondage. In the bush was the fire of God’s presence, purging His people through suffering, but not consuming them. This Moses did not yet realize, but the voice went on to instruct him. “Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground. I am the God of thy father the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Awed and afraid, Moses hid his face. Who was he to look upon God?
The voice continued. “I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows; and I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey; unto the place of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites. Now therefore behold, the cry of the children of Israel is come unto me: and I have also seen the oppression wherewith the Egyptians oppress them. Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt.”
Can we begin to imagine with what depth of feeling these words stirred the heart of Moses. Here was the hope and longing of all his life promised by the very voice of the angel of God’s presence. Already as a child sitting upon his mother’s knee he had heard of God’s promise that Israel would be delivered from the bondage of Egypt, and he had looked forward to it with childlike eagerness and anticipation. All during his youth as he had applied himself with diligence to study and learning, it had been in the expectation that what he learned could be used in the service of God’s people in their deliverance and settling in the promised land. Through the emerging discretion of his young adulthood, his every thought and ambition had been dominated by the determination to work for the deliverance of the people of God. Even during the forty long years of his banishment in Midian, he had ceased not to pray in the confidence that God would be faithful to His promises. Now the voice of God’s angel was telling him; the time had come.
And there was more. Not only would Moses witness and take part in the deliverance, he was the one through whom God would work to bring it to pass. Did not all of the old dreams and ambitions, which only after a hard and painful struggle had subsided from his mind, suddenly surge up again within him? He was to stand upon the fore. All of his years of training and preparation were not without purpose after all. The dreams of his youth were to be realized. Yet, somehow, these old dreams and ambitions did not seem to have the appeal for him that they had had in former years. Was it perhaps because of the memories that came back so forcibly to him along with these thoughts of the past? He remembered the time that he had tried. The bitter words, the hate-filled looks, the foolishness of having tried to establish himself by his own words and works, these memories were painful for Moses even to recall. How could he ever go and try again? But even more his whole outlook on life had changed. Then he had thought himself capable; now he knew that he was not. Moses rejoiced at God’s promise of deliverance for Israel, but his joy was mingled with dismay at the very suggestion that it was through him that it was to be wrought. He answered back, “Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?”
God’s answer to Moses was kind and gentle. “Certainly I will be with thee; and this shall be a token unto thee, that I have sent thee: When thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve God upon this mountain.” It was this which would make all of the difference. Before Moses had tried to become the leader over Israel by acting on his own. Thus he had been bound to failure. By working apart from the command of God he had been opposing the cause of the Lord and not aiding it. But now God would be with him. God would give to him strength and authority. There was no longer any real reason why Moses should be afraid.
But the fear of Moses was set very deep, and it was not easily dismissed. Through the long years in the wilderness he had learned to repudiate all of his dreams of leadership. Only with flushes of shame did he remember his former efforts. It hurt and pained him to remember those cutting words of rejection, “Who made thee a prince and judge over us?” How could he ever present himself to Israel again? Moses voiced his objection. “Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them?” To what could he possibly appeal to prove to them that his act was not again mere presumption?
The answer of God to Moses must rank among the greatest of the self-revelations that God has made to His people in time. “I AM THAT I AM: Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you. Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, The Lord God of your fathers the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations.” I AM THAT I AM, this is God’s name in a most unique sense of the word. No one else can possibly have this name, for everyone else is only that which God has determined him to be. Only God is the absolutely self-determining one. He alone determines what He alone shall be at every moment of time and throughout all eternity. He alone does only and always what He Himself has determined that He shall do. Thus He can be and is ever faithful to His promises, to the promises given to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and to all of their spiritual seed. This absolute independent faithfulness of the covenant God would become perfectly evident through the work which Moses was being sent to perform. This name of God would be established as a memorial of faithfulness to his people forevermore. It would prove beyond doubt that God is the I AM THAT I AM.