Moses, Moses
Based on Series of Sermons on the Repetition of Name and Titles
preached in PCC Worship Services, Apr 2013 to Feb 2014
Part 1 of 3

We are continuing in our series on the repetition of names in the Bible. The third time that a person’s name is repeated is found in Exodus 3:4, which reads, “And when the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I.”

Moses was 80 years old at this time and he had spent the past 40 years working as a shepherd.  Not many people stay in one job for 40 years nowadays. And normally after working for that many years, most people would be getting ready to retire. But for Moses, the most work of his life was just about to begin. All those 80 years prior to that time was but a preparation for the great work that God was calling him to do.

I’ll like to consider this calling of God to Moses in five brief sections, which would hopefully serve as windows into this very important event in the history of redemption. They are: a gracious appearance, a wonderful picture, an important truth, a clear revelation, and an appropriate response.

But before we look at each of these windows, I think it’ll be helpful to review the context of this passage. 

The Context

The first two chapters of Exodus record the sad plight of the Hebrew people in the land of Egypt. Not only had they become the slaves of the Egyptians, who proved to be very cruel masters, but the future of their nation was threatened by Pharaoh’s extermination policy, and indeed many of the Hebrew boys were killed as a result of it.

Moses was born at a time when this wicked policy was being enforced. His life was wonderfully spared when the daughter of Pharaoh found him floating on the river Nile and she took pity on him. Moses was brought up as her son and he was instructed or trained in all the wisdom of the Egyptians.

However when he was 40 year of age, he went out to his people and saw how they were forced to do hard labour. He even witnessed an Egyptian cruelly abusing a Hebrew. He went to his fellow countryman’s defense and avenged him by killing that Egyptian and burying him in the sand.

The next day, when he went out again, he saw two Hebrew men fighting with each other, and he asked the offender why he hit his fellow Hebrew. To which he replied, “Who made thee a prince and a judge over us? Intendest thou to kill me, as thou killest the Egyptian?”

Moses became afraid because it was clear that what he did the previous day had become known to others. And indeed when Pharaoh heard about it, he wanted to kill Moses but Moses fled into the land of Midian.

There he came into contact with the seven daughters of Jethro, the priest of Midian, by a well. He protected them from some rude shepherds and helped them to water their flock. This act of kindness and courage came to the attention of Jethro, who then invited Moses to have a meal with them.

Eventually, Moses came to dwell with Jethro and even married one of his daughters by the name of Zipporah. They had a son, whom Moses named Gershom.

Midian became his place of dwelling and for 40 years, he lived what appears to be a quiet and peaceful life as a shepherd caring for the flock of Jethro. But all that was about to change. The real work was about to begin.

The final three verses of chapter 2 are very important for our understanding of our text. While Moses was in Midian, the rest of his brethren were in Egypt suffering under their load of oppression. The people groaned because of their slavery and they cried out for help, and their cry for deliverance came up to God. “And 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.”

This brings us to our first section or window, namely, a gracious appearance.

A Gracious Appearance

Notice the four verbs in verses 24 and 25 of chapter 2. God heard, God remembered, God looked, and God had respect or literally in the Hebrew, God knew. God heard their cries, God remembered His covenant with the fathers, God looked upon the children of Israel, and God knew or loved them.

The phrase “God remembered” is very interesting and it marks a turning point in the story of the Exodus. Now of course God had not forgotten His covenant or His people. God never for a moment forgot. Every moment of every day that Israel was in Egypt, God was watching over them. But what the phrase does means is that God was beginning again to act on behalf of His covenant people. The word ‘remember’ implies a remembering with kindness.

We see that too in the book of Genesis in chapter 8 verse 1, where we read that God remembered Noah, and every living thing, and all the cattle that was with him in the ark, and God made a wind to pass over the earth, and the waters assuaged.

God was about to show kindness to and to act on behalf of Noah and his family. That is what the words “and God remembered” mean. Out of His kindness and mercy, God was about to do something good and gracious for Noah. He had by no means forgotten about him during those 150 days when the ark was floating upon the waters. But now, He was going to bring Noah, and indeed all of mankind, to another phase in His redemptive plan.

The same is true of the children of Israel. God remembered the covenant that He had made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and He was beginning again to act on behalf of them. And His first step in redeeming Israel from Egypt was to call and commission and send the one whom He had chosen to be their redeemer, even Moses. So God heard, God remembered, God looked, God knew. And as a result of all that, God called and commissioned and sent the redeemer.

It is important that we understand this appearance of God to Moses in the wilderness in terms of God’s gracious covenant. God’s appearance to Moses was a gracious appearance not just for Moses but for the people of Israel who were even then suffering in Egypt. Neither Moses nor the people deserved to receive anything from God, let alone this gracious appearance in the wilderness. But God was determined to be gracious to His people.

This brings us to our second window, namely, a wonderful picture.

A Wonderful Picture

Exodus 3:1 tells us that Moses had taken the sheep out into the wilderness westward and southward into the wilderness of Horeb or Sinai, quite some distance from Midianite territory. Note that the names Horeb and Sinai are both used in scripture to describe a particular mountain peak and also the area around it. The phrase “mountain of God” refers to the fact that God was about to come down and reveal Himself to Moses in a glorious way. And later, He would give the people the Ten Commandments in that same region.

The text suggests that Moses was going about his task of caring for the flock in an ordinary and routine way. The day had begun and proceeded like any other. Moses was in no way anticipating what was to occur. He never imagined that that trip to Horeb would completely alter the course of his life.

Well, the Lord took the initiative in this encounter. The angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses observed that this bush was on fire but the flames did not seem to do anything to the bush. His curiosity was stirred and he decided to go nearer to investigate this very unusual phenomenon.

Now an important question we might ask at this point is this, “why a burning bush?” “What is the significance of the burning bush at Horeb?”

Various ideas and suggestions have been proposed. The older commentators tended to see the burning bush as a symbol of Israel, the flames as the affliction the people were suffering in Egypt, and the angel as the Lord’s presence with His people. This might be true although it is probably better to understand the fire as a symbol, not so much of the affliction of God’s people, but of the holiness of God. In other words, this phenomenon of the burning bush ought to focus our thoughts on the character of the LORD rather than on the nature of the people’s sufferings.

In Deuteronomy 4:24, we read, “For the LORD thy God is a consuming fire, even a jealous God.” This truth is repeated in the New Testament in Hebrews 12:29, “For our God is a consuming fire.” And again in Exodus 19:18, just prior to the giving of the Ten Commandments, we read, “And mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly.”

Fire is pure and purifying, but it is also threatening and dangerous if it is not treated with respect. Fire thus serves as a symbol of the purity and holiness and majesty of our great and awesome God. But more than that, fire burning in the midst of a bush but not consuming it is a symbol of God’s power. The fire which Moses saw was no ordinary one because the bush from which the fire came out of was not affected by the fire. It was a miraculous symbol of God’s power and control over creation.

If you think about it, there are actually two miracles going on here. First, the fire does not consume the bush that is in contact with it. No ordinary fire can do that, for under normal circumstances, the bush will be totally burned up by the fire in no time.

But second, this fire does not require any fuel or material to sustain it. It burns on its own. It has a life of its own, if you like. Nothing is needed to keep it going. Again, that shows that this was no ordinary fire.

Here, we are reminded that God has the power of being in Himself. He depends on no one for His life and existence. In fact, everything in this universe depends on God for its existence. Nothing would exist if God did not first create and then keep it in existence by His almighty power. So the burning bush is a symbol of God’s holiness and power.

But thirdly, it is a symbol of God’s immanence or His presence among His people. The reason I say that is because of the phrase in verse 2, “And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush.” Now we know that this angel of the LORD is no ordinary angel because in verse 4, He is identified both as the LORD and as God.

The angel of the LORD is a theophany or a visible manifestation of God, and in particular, of the second person of the Godhead, who, in the fullness of time, would take on human flesh and dwell among men as a man. The angel of the LORD is none other than the pre-incarnate Christ.

John 1:14, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father) full of grace and truth.”

So the angel of the LORD, who appeared to Moses in the midst of the burning bush, is none other than the Son of God, and this means that the burning bush is also a symbol of God dwelling in the midst of His people in the person of Jesus Christ. He is Emmanuel or God with us. He is the Word made flesh who dwells or tabernacles amongst us.

…to be continued next issue

Linus Chua