|THE MOUNTAIN OF GOD
Series: Moses - Part Three
Pastor Stephen Muncherian
May 14, 2017
A man went to the pet store to purchase a parrot The owner warned him that the only parrot he had in the shop used some pretty foul language.
The man thought he could teach the parrot to modify his language. So, he bought the parrot. Took him home. And he tried all kinds of things: rewards, threats of beatings, shouts, everything.
Finally the man was so frustrated and disoriented that he took the parrot and tossed him into the freezer. At first there was a lot of noise. But finally there was silence. And then the man felt guilty and so he opened the freezer door - extending his hand so the parrot could exit the freezer.
The parrot apologized profusely for his rude behavior and foul language and promised to say only what his master wanted him to say.
The man was elated and was about to put the parrot in his cage, when the parrot said, “Can I ask you one question?”
“Certainly,” the man said, “what would you like to know?”
The parrot said, “What did the turkey do?”
We do not fully understand the precariousness of our position before God. Because of Adam’s choice back in the garden - each of us is born into sin - born separated from God.
Each of us by our own actions confirms Adam’s choice. We live bound by our own sin - our own depravity. Each of us falls unimaginably below the standard of holiness - of moral purity - of what conforms perfectly to God’s holy character.
And there are eternal consequences to us for our sin. Meaning each of us is without hope on a trajectory through life into eternity of justified punishment and separation from God.
What we’ve been looking at since January is what God is doing about all that. Because God - Who is love - Who deeply loves each one of us - desires for us to have a forever relationship with Him. God is working to redeem us. Redemption.
Redemption takes us to the slave market where we are hopelessly enslaved by our sin - bound and condemned - facing eternity apart from God. A bondage that we feel every day of our lives. The redemption price paid for a slave is the price paid for the slave’s purchase.
Redemption means purchasing what belongs to us. God our creator forming us in His image for His purposes - for His glory. Adam and sin separating us from God. God working to redeem us - His creation.
Which is what all of history points towards - what all of what we’ve been looking at points towards. Our redemption price is the blood of Jesus Christ crucified in our place - to set us free from bondage to sin. God redeeming His people to the relationship with Him that was severed in Eden. It all points to Jesus - to redemption - to God alone be the glory.
We’ve seen God choose Abraham - a person who is the beginnings of a people - a nation. Real people living real lives in real places in real time that God uses to demonstrate what it means for us to live in a real time in relationship with Him - to help us to understand how He desires to uniquely involve each of us in what He’s doing. A people that God works through to accomplish His promised redemption.
A people that God preserves and prepares in Egypt. Which is where Moses fits into all this. The beautiful baby bobbing in a bitumen basket in bulrushes by the bank. Moses raised and educated Hebrew and Egyptian. Who’s rejected by the Hebrews and the Egyptians. Who flees across the desert to Midian. Ends up sitting by a well - moody and marinating - wondering what happened to his vision of his life.
In our cliffhanger from last Sunday - we left Moses - The Shepherd of Midian - pasteurizing his father-in-law’s flock on the west side of the wilderness at Mount Horeb - otherwise known as the Mountain of God.
Which brings us to Exodus 3:1. We’re picking up where we left off last Sunday: Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.
Let’s pause and get our bearings. Looking at the picture: Canaan is up north at what becomes Israel. Egypt’s on the left at what becomes… Egypt. Midian - where Moses was pasteurizing the flock of Jethro - is across the Sinai peninsula desert - across the Gulf of Aqaba - way to the southeast of Egypt - what today mostly is Saudia Arabia.
We’re told that on west side of Midian - in the wilderness there - Moses came to the mountain known as Horeb - also known as the mountain of God. Which is a hugely significant mountain for the ancient peoples and Israel. Later on it’s the mountain that Israel camps in front of when God gives Moses the 10 Commandments.
Sometimes Scripture calls the Mountain of God - Mount Sinai - sometimes - like here - it’s called Mount Horeb. Why? Probably because different people referred to the same place but used different names. Meaning different languages and different perspectives - different people with different ways they connected with that mountain. Horeb was probably the proper name. Sinai probably has something to do with the Sinai desert and the Wilderness of Sin.
Over the centuries different possible locations for the mountain have been suggested. One - that has a lot of tradition behind it - is here in the southern part of the Sinai desert. What is also called the “Mountain of Moses.”
Which was probably misidentified back in the 4th century by Helena - who was the mother of Constantine. Helena who misidentified a lot of Biblical places. Basically she traveled around a lot saying, “That’s where that is.” And most of the time it wasn’t. But someone built a monastery there or Crusaders showed up or someone started selling souvenirs and now it’s history.
Probably more likely is this mountain - actually in Midian (go figure) - 8,465 feet in elevation - known today as “Jabal Al Lawz” or the “Mountain of Almonds”... or “amonds.”
Going on - verse 2: And the angel of the Lord appeared to him [Moses] in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.”
In the middle of the wasted wilderness of no where - desolation - with a bunch of sheep anything would be interesting. But a bush burning and not burning up is like Disneyland at night when they set off the fireworks - a huge tourist attraction. Irresistible not to investigate.
Verse 4: When the Lord saw that he [Moses] turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.”
There are three observations we want to make as we go through this account. First - here in verses 1 to 4 - first is God’s Presence in Desolation.
Have you ever read this scene and asked yourself, “What is God doing on a mountain in the middle of no where?”
Answer: We don’t know. At least we really don’t know all the reasons.
But one reason that God is out there in all that desolation is because that’s where Moses needed Him to be.
All that desolation is a picture of Moses’ life. He’s failed in Egypt and now he’s out in the wilderness hanging out with sheep. We saw this last Sunday - with all that Moses has going for him - wife - child - family - new career - with all that Moses has going for him he’s still moody and marinating. To Moses his life is a barren landscape - dry - rocky - empty. And in many ways... it is. For 40 years Moses seemingly has been going no where.
Ever been there? There are times when we feel like that. Empty. Dry. Alone. Yes?
The last place we’d expect to meet God is in those dry lonely places of our lives. And sometimes we’re not even looking for Him. Sometimes we like our moody and marinating. Just saying.
And yet, there’s God - hanging out in Horeb calling to Moses. We may think we’re alone. But we’re not. We may feel lonely. But we are never... alone.
Then there’s this bush. The bush burns but isn’t burned up. We all got that. Right? Why? Why isn’t this bush charcoal?
Answer: We don’t know.
There are some people who have invested a whole lot brain power making suggestions about the types of bushes that are out in the desert in Midian and what kinds of those bushes could burn or seem to be burning and not get burnt up.
We do know that the bush burning isn’t about the bush. The bush is just an ordinary shrub out in the middle of no where. This isn’t about the bush it’s about God - God Who’s in the midst of the bush - the awesomeness of God’s presence. God’s glory on display.
That the bush isn’t consumed by the holy God is a picture of God’s presence in Moses’ life. Moses - who’s a sinner like us. Someone who needs redemption… like us. Moses - in the very presence of the holy God Moses should be toast. But God chooses to be in the midst of Moses’ life without destroying Moses.
That’s a comfort to us. God - in all His holiness - despite what we may think of ourselves or where we may be in life - God in all His holiness God still desires to dwell with us - not toast us in wrath.
Moses sees this marvelous site and decides to turn aside and investigate. It’s a God moment that comes as a result of 40 years of exile shepherding sheep and wandering in the wilderness. 40 years earlier - when he killed the Egyptian - trying to be the deliverer of the Hebrews - Moses looked this way and that - but not to God. Now - in desolation - for the first time in the whole account of Moses’ life - Moses looks to God.
When Moses turns to God what does God do? God speaks to Moses, “Moses, Moses!”
We’re together? God speaks when Moses is ready to listen. God shepherding Moses - bringing Moses to that time and place.
Grab on to that for yourself: In the aloneness of where we often find ourselves - after we’ve exhausted all our resources - exhausted all our efforts at trying to be so clever at making our lives work - after exhausting ourselves resisting doing what we know is what God would have us do - when we’ve finally been humbled by the desolation - broken by the wilderness - when we’re finally tired of talking at God and whining and complaining - when we’re finally ready to turn to God - to listen to God - amazing reality: God is right there where we desperately need Him to be.
Let’s go on. Verses 5 to 9 - our second observation: What Moses Needs To Learn About God.
Verse 5: Then He [God] said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”
Four lessons Moses needs to learn about God. Lesson number one: God is holy.
How many of you - when you’re going into your home - how many of you take your shoes off at the front door? We have a little rack inside the front door for shoes.
Out there - just thinking about all the places we walk and what we’re walking on - out there - all that gets pretty gross. Not what we’d like to have tracked into our home.
Depending on what the expectations are of the people we’re visiting - not everybody has a shoe rack - but often times when we show up at someone’s home the shoes come off. It’s respect. For the people. For the cleanliness of the home.
Especially true in the wilderness if we’ve been around a lot of sheep. Pretty gross. You can let your imagination run with that. God tells Moses, “Take off your sandals. You’re on holy ground. Respect the purity - the sacredness - of where you’re entering.”
Let’s be careful. What makes the ground holy? God. God’s presence. Where God chooses to dwell becomes holy because God is holy.
God is morally holy - universes above us - completely separate from us - in moral purity - and a whole of other ways too. Morally God is other than what we are. Totally different. We live in the filth of sin. There is no sin in God. It’s hard for us to even begin to understand that kind of purity.
Thinking about that for ourselves. What does it mean to take off our sandals? To respect holy ground - coming before the holy God.
A few suggestions...
Taking off our sandals can mean treating this sanctuary different. This is the place God has given to us to gather and worship Him. Not all believers gathering today have that kind of privilege.
It can mean dressing differently - in a unique way to remind us of Who we’re coming before. It can be a conscious attitude check when we come through those doors. Awareness of being in the presence of God. Reverential awe - an awareness of our unworthiness - to be in His presence. If really get that - who we are and Who God is - there’s no way we can casually come here like here is like going to Chipotle - showing up in God’s presence to hang out with our good buddy - the big guy upstairs.
Taking off our sandals can be about our heart preparation so we’re not taking lightly the privilege of gathering. Meaning how we prepare for Sunday morning begins Saturday night - in how we order our lives - so that nothing keeps us back from being here early and heart ready to worship.
Sometimes we fall into the trap of thinking that even though worship begins at 10 - and being on time at 10 is actually showing up late - somehow we have the idea we can just wander in when we feel like it. Or that coming together as the Body of Christ to worship God is one option of many that we can choose to fit into our Sunday schedule.
Taking off our sandals is intentional - consciously at the heart level - being reminded of Who we’ve come to worship - or in our individual times of prayer and meditation and study and worship - in how we intentionally order our lives - learning reverence before the Holy God our creator.
We’re in the presence of the holy God because the holy God calls us to be in His presence. Any awareness of God is because God - our creator - creates us with the capacity to understand that He is and because God chooses to reveal Himself to us. The holy God Who chooses to enter into our dirty world - to dwell on a mountain in the midst of desolation - to call to us - to turn to Him - to be in His presence without being consumed.
Going on - verse 6: And He said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
God is holy. Second lesson: God is faithful.
Moses turns away because he gets Who it is Who’s talking to him. A huge God moment.
Have you ever grabbed that for yourself? The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob - the God of the Bible - think about all of that history and all of what’s transpired - that God is here with us - with you - today.
The Abrahamic Covenant - Land, Seed, Blessing. God made promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob - now God is at work honoring those promises. God - knowing all the crud of our lives - God shows up in our lives not to destroy us - poof - wrath of God stuff - God shows up in our lives to help us - to heal us - to restore us - to dwell with us - to fulfill His promises to us - to redeem us.
God is holy. God is faithful. Third Lesson: God is compassionate.
Verse 7: Then the Lord said, “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...
God says, “I have surely seen the affliction of My people.” “Seen” is more than just observing something. “Well, all that affliction must really be an epic bummer.”
“Seen” in Hebrew means being emotionally attached. Seeing with compassion. Paying attention to the details of someone else’s life because we deeply care about them.
God says, “I have heard their cry.” Which isn’t like talking to someone who’s looking at us - physically with us - but mentally in a different zip code.
God doesn’t blow His people off. He’s paying attention - listening carefully to the cries of His people. He’s deeply interested in what’s going on with them.
The Hebrews used the word to describe deep intimate heart level fully knowing someone. God knows His people at the heart level of what they’re experiencing.
Like Jesus - God incarnate - Jesus at the funeral of Lazarus - aware of the suffering of Mary and Martha - Jesus deeply moved - deeply troubled - Jesus weeps. That kind of depth of compassion.
Moses responds to God in fear. God responds with compassion. God cares deeply for His people. Our suffering moves God deeply.
Fourth lesson: God is sovereign.
Verse 8: 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, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, - the parasites - and the Jebusites. And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them.
God gets it. His chosen people are in bondage. They’re suffering terribly. God is going to take them to a better place. Way better. A land so much better they can only dream about what it might be like.
That’s huge. Isn’t it? Just connecting a few of the dots - looking forward through what we know is coming up in history for God’s people. God delivering His people - bringing them from Egypt into the promised land - God establishing a covenant relationship with His people - setting up the whole process of sacrificially atonement - how to live within that covenant relationship with God. All of that pointing the way to Jesus Who is the once-for-all atoning-for-sin sacrifice on our behalf. Redemption.
God has a plan for history - God through Jesus - God - taking people out of the filth of sin and putting them into a relationship with Him.
God enters into our suffering - our bondage - our desolation - the filth of this world - giving to us a life with Him now and forever. A place with Him that goes beyond whatever we can possibly imagine.
God gets it - the needs of His people. God’s got a plan that included Moses and the people back then and even us to day.
God is holy. God is faithful. God is compassionate. God is sovereign. He’s working His redemption plan in history. God is going to deliver His people.
Observation number three - verses 10 to 15: God’s Promise to Engage.
Verse 10 - here’s God’s plan: Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.”
“Because I am the holy, faithful, compassionate, sovereign God with a plan - here’s the plan… wait for it… I’m going to send you to Pharaoh.”
But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?”
Cartoon: When God stopped communicating through burning bushes
Can you hear Moses pouring water on God’s plan? “That’s the plan. Send me? God are you nuts? I tried this already. Remember? Kill the Egyptian. Take leadership with the Hebrews. In case you’ve forgotten that didn’t go so well. Egypt and Pharaoh are the last place I need to go. Seriously. Hah. Hah. That’s a real knee slapper. We’ve all had a good laugh. Now, what’s the real plan?”
Verse 12: He [God] said, “But I will be with you,
“But” is how the ESV translates the Hebrew word “kiy” - which is kind of a weak translation. “Kiy” has the idea of “Certainly, I will be with you.” It’s a promise: “Indeed” “Of course” It could read something like this, “No seriously - that really is the plan - and to prove it I’m going with you.”
Going on: and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.”
In other words: “This is such a done deal - I have so got this one covered - that after you go to Pharaoh and bring out My people, you’re coming back here to this mountain to worship Me. And when you come back it’ll be like déjà vu. You’ll know as certain as I’m telling you now that I am the holy, faithful, compassionate, sovereign God with a plan who sent you.”
Ever said: “If I only knew then what I know now.” Faith is the opposite of that. “I know now what I’ll know then.”
The certainty of God’s sovereignty over future history - God working out His plan - the assurance of things hoped for the conviction - the certainty - of things not yet seen. (Hebrews 11:1)
We need to be praying that God would help us to live every day with that kind of faith in Him.
Verse 13: Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel...
“Let’s just say for sake of argument that I do go along with this plan of Yours...”
...and [I] 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?”
If we were to read down through the rest of chapter 3 and into chapter 4 Moses keeps coming up with objections - excuses - why God should send someone else. “I don’t know your name. They won’t listen to me. I failed toastmasters. Maybe the next person on your list would be better.”
Why? Bottom line: Moses thinks he’s a failure. He’s already failed once. Big time. For 40 years - sitting by wells - wandering in desolation - shepherding sheep - Moses has carried that failure with him.
When God asks Moses to go back to Egypt God is asking Moses to step back into what Moses fears the most. To go face-to-face with his own fears and inadequacy. To give up control of his own life such as it is. To trust God with it all. To go and confront Pharaoh - a man who probably wants to kill him. To take leadership over a people that’s already rejected him - a people that he will surely disappoint.
The greatest need of a man is what? Respect. It’s hard to imagine something more terrifying for a man than to do than what God is asking Moses to do.
Ever been there? Exposed to great personal risk. Knowing that there is no way to live up to the expectations of others. Epic failure is not an option but the only probable outcome.
It may be a conversation you know you need to have - the restoring of a relationship - or the confronting of someone you love. It may mean taking on a new ministry or a new role or employment. Opening yourself in vulnerability. Dealing with sin in your life. Name it. A place you fear to go.
“I need to protect myself here. I know my inadequacy. If I’m going to move forward I need to know Who You are.”
Verse 14: God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And He said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘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, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.’”
For the Hebrews names are huge.
In Scripture, the “name” of God is the description of who He is - God’s reputation - His character - His nature. The Bible contains a number of different names for God that God uses to reveal different aspects of His character or how He deals with mankind.
Here, God reveals Himself as “I Am” - the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God tells Moses, “This is the name that all generations - past, present, future - even our generation - will remember God by.”
“I Am Who I Am” speaks of God’s self-existence. No one created God. He is the holy, faithful, compassionate, sovereign God with a plan Who has always been - always is - always will be - transcendent - absolute - unchangeable. God simply is.
The Hebrew verb here in verse 14 translated “I am” is the same verb that’s in verse 12 where God answers Moses “Certainly I will be with you.” In the Hebrew that verb is in the same tense. “I am with you” Emphasis on the constant “now.” When you go to Egypt - when you come back here - when you go to the promised land - “I am and forever shall be with you.”
Taking that one step further. The transliteration of “I Am” from Hebrew to English - as best as we can tell - is Yahweh. Yahweh is the name that God uses to speak specifically of His covenant relationship and promises to His people. It is an intensely personal name. Yahweh Who redeems His people. Yahweh Who delivers them from bondage in Egypt.
The name Jesus comes from the Greek form of the Hebrew “yeshua” - which combines the name of God “Yahweh” with the word “yasa” - to help - to deliver - to save.
Meaning it all points to Jesus - to the cross - to God’s work of redemption. God delivering His people even today. Same God. Same promise. Same plan. Same presence. Now and forever. “I am and forever shall be with you.”
No matter how desolate - how alone - how dirty - how deeply in need of redemption - Yahweh - Jesus - is with us now and forever. He is the holy God who is faithful, compassionate, sovereign - Who has a plan for our lives.
“Moses - as surely as I am aware of the suffering of My people I am aware of what you suffer with. I know your fears. I have compassion on you. But what you fear does not change my awesome purposes for your life. So, you are going to need to trust that I really do have a plan and that I am and I will be with you always.”
Can you hear God saying that to you this morning?
Let me share two take homes for us this morning.
First: What does the wilderness look like for you?
This is my first Mother’s Day without mom. Some of you are sharing that experience with me. Some come to Mother’s Day having lost children or never having had them. For some “mother” wasn’t a good experience. Some of you are struggling trying to be a good mother - or grandmother.
Maybe your wilderness is at work - or school - or in your family - wherever you do life. Maybe your wilderness is within. Maybe it’s an addiction. Or what’s keeping you up at night. Or what you fear. Or what keeps you bound - feeling alone - angry - depressed.
At some point we all come to the wilderness. We may leave and come back. But at some point we all come to the wilderness. We may wonder if there is anything in life that isn’t wilderness.
What does the wilderness look like for you?
Second take home: Where is God in that wilderness?
We need to be looking for Him and what He’s doing. Because He is there.
He doesn’t always come to us in burning bushes and pyrotechnics or a pop-up on our screen. He might. Sometimes He does speak directly to us.
He’s given us the Bible - which is kind of like a neon sign pointing to God and how He works. He might use others to help us see or hear Him. Or, just looking for Him instead of focusing on the wilderness and our own stuff - we might just see some of what He’s doing - and realize He’s there.
The holy, faithful, compassionate, sovereign God really does have a plan - a purpose - for your life and He is already there in the midst of your wilderness. So we need to be looking for Him and for what He’s doing.
Suggestion: Ask Him to reveal Himself to you and to help you see Him and what He’s doing and to help you trust Him. Ask and look and see what He does.
Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.