I want to ask you this morning what happens to your faith. When things get tough.
What happens to your confidence in God. When you're facing opposition. Or a tough time at work. Or tragedy.
I've seen it first hand this week. And I know for a lot of you you're living it every day.
Sequences of sad events. a sudden unexpected death. Slow lingering illness that no matter how much everyone prays, doesn't get better. The job that you've set your heart on... goes to someone else instead. The daily struggle with anxiety maybe. Or depression.
And you think it should be better than this. Because. Well. Because you've got faith. And so God owes you maybe?
And on top of that, what about direct opposition? I mean, it's everywhere, isn't it. The way Christians now unlike almost any other group are fair game for every sort of criticism. And ridicule.
And so you just want to keep it quiet about your faith. In case somebody mocks you. Or tells you you're a cultural dinosaur. And says there's no place for people like you; in 21st century Australia.
We got back some early results from the National Church Life Survey the other day. That survey we did late last year.
Here's one minor fact. It said that only 13% of us feel at ease talking about our faith with others and look for opportunities to do so.
One in every eight of us. Because it's hard, isn't it? In the face of opposition. In the face of the difficulties and disappointments of life.
Which means it's maybe easy to sympathise with Moses and the people of Israel we meet in Exodus chapters 3 to 6. Who in spite of what they've seen and heard from the God of the universe. Find it so hard to trust him. For their future.
Because in spite of the fact that God offers Moses a personal introduction... in spite of the fact God offers Moses his personal guarantee. You'll see in the passage that seven times. Moses complains. And wants to back out. And the people of Israel. Are exactly the same.
If you caught part 1 last week, you'll know the Israelites are in trouble; at the moment it seems like they're not blessed at all. If you wanted to rate how blessed they're feeling on a scale from 1 to 10, it's around minus fifteen.
At the end of the book of Genesis, they come to Egypt as refugees from a famine. And now a few generations later they're in slavery. They're in forced labour making bricks with mud and straw. And because they're breeding like rabbits Pharaoh decides to manage their population by killing the baby boys; he says throw them in the river.
And the mother of Moses does exactly that. Except first of all puts Moses in a waterproof basket. That floats down stream, and is picked out of the river by Pharaoh's daughter.
Moses is saved. Grows up in Pharaoh's extended family. But then through a series of unfortunate events, finds himself living in the land of Midian. Married into a Midianite family in the hill country. While the rest of the Israelites are groaning in their slavery back in Egypt.
At which point God says, it's time for action. And the point is, Moses has been set aside for exactly this moment. Out with the sheep; in the wilderness. On a mountain. And he sees something very odd.
He sees flames; flaring out from the middle of a bush. But the unusual thing, chapter 3 verse 2, is that though the bush is on fire, though there are flames there, it's not burning up. It's burning. But it's not consumed.
And so Moses says to himself, this is weird. I've gotta take a closer look. At why the bush isn't burning up.
And suddenly... there's a voice. From the centre of the flames. And the voice knows his name! Moses. Moses!
Moses says, here I am. Not having the first clue who he's talking to.
The voice says, verse 5. Take off your shoes. show some respect. The place where you're standing is holy ground.
Now this is weird. Moses has still got no idea who's speaking to him or how. Until God tells him more. "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob." I'm the God who made all those promises to your forefathers. The people of Israel.
This is the God of the universe! And it's at this point Moses... verse 6, hides his face. Because he's afraid to even try to look at God. In the burning heart of the flame.
Which is, of course, the right response. Treat him with awe. Take of your shoes, bow yourself down, cover your face. Show however you can that you're not taking him lightly.
Now this meeting of course, is no accident. It's a commissioning.
God's got a job for him. God's appointing Moses. To redeem his people. God says, I've heard your people groaning. I'm concerned about their suffering. I've come down to rescue them. And give them a land of their own. Which sounds terrific. Until he says, to do that. I'm going to use you.
Take a look at verse 10.
Verse 10. So now go. I am sending you. To Pharaoh. To bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.
At which point, Moses objects. I mean, this might be kind of unusual, a voice from a bush. And this might be the God of the universe speaking.
But Moses is convinced that the God of the universe has got it wrong. And he says so seven times. Between here and chapter 6.
And as we'll see in a few minutes, the Israelites object and complain as well. Because this is a crazy plan. The opposition is too strong. It's just not going to work.
His first objection, verse 11. Take a look.
Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?
You've got the wrong guy.
False modesty maybe. Or is he just plain chicken. Either way, God says to him, don't you think I know what i'm doing? It's not who you are that matters. Because I'll be with you. So what counts is who I am.
Are you going to give any weight to that? Or is that just nothing to you.
At which point Moses says to God, "But who are you?" What's your name? Who do I say sent me?
Which brings us to one of the most loaded, one of the most philosophically and theologically challenging verses in the bible.
Exodus 3 verse 14. Which God exactly are you? He's already said he's the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. But what's your first name? What's your real name?
And God says to him in effect, and it's a hard verse to translate from the original Hebrew, he says, "My name is existence. My name is being." My name is I AM. The word they call in the grammar books, the verb to be.
Which is strange on all sorts of angles, isn't it? By definition, names are nouns. Not verbs. If you've learned any grammar at all, nouns are things.
But verbs. Are different. God says, I'm not tree, ocean, rock, object. I AM - being.
Which when you think about it in a smaller way, we are as well. They call us human beings for a reason. Because at the core of our identity there's a being. An active reflective self aware consciousness.
You know, you can ask Siri whatever you like; they can talk about artificial intelligence. They can make computers answer all kinds of questions about facts and statistics. But no one. No one. Really has the first idea of what makes consciousness conscious. We are human be-ings. We are. We're self aware. And then at some point, we're not. The being flickers out. And we're gone. You see the body, and the person's not there any more.
Because we're made in the image of God, we get to say I AM like he does. But only for a time. And with limitations.
Take away all the limitations, take away the end points, magnify that sense of being to infinity. And you're getting something like God. My name is I AM.
Read his words in verse 14.
14 God says to Moses, "I AM who I AM. This is what you're to say to the Israelites: 'I AM has sent me to you.'"
Which translates in the verses that follow to the word YAHWEH. I AM.
Which because the Jews never dared pronounce that word and always just called him by his title THE LORD, is oddly I think, always translated in our English bibles as THE LORD in upper case letters. THE LORD the God of your fathers. The upper case is the clue that in the original Hebrew there's the I AM name of God.
So "Say to the Israelites," verse 15, literally "'YAHWEH 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 you shall call me from generation to generation."
The elders will listen. And then go to the Pharaoh. The King of Egypt. And say to him, YAHWEH the God of the Hebrews has met with us. Let us go on a three day journey in the wilderness to sacrifice to him.
God says, I know he'll need a nudge from my mighty hand. But trust me. I've got it covered. It's not up to you. I'll stretch out my mighty hand and strike them with wonders; and after that, verse 20, he'll let you go.
Not only that, they'll give you their gold and their best outfits and you'll march out in style.
Imagine it. The Hebrew slaves. Marching out to freedom in all Egpyt's gold and finest fashions.
But verse 1 in chapter 4, Moses just can't imagine it at all.
Here he is. Confronted by a voice from a bush that's burning but not being consumed. Standing with his head bowed with his shoes off on holy ground.
And all he can say in chapter 4 verse 1 is, objection number 2. "But what if they don't believe me. Or if they listen to me and say, 'YAHWEH didn't appear to you!'"
So chapter 4 as it unfolds, God gives him three signs to do in front of them. His credentials. A staff. That turns into a snake when he throws it on the ground. His hand. Put it under his coat, take it out again he's got leprosy. His skin, deathly white. Put it back in - the reverse.
Number 3. God says don't try it now. But if you have to when you get there, get some water from the Nile, pour it on the ground. It'll turn to blood. That's going to get their attention.
And in spite of all that, when he's tried it out, Moses, objection number 3. Chapter 4 Verse 10. Look what he says: I'm not a good public speaker.
I mean, statistics say that 73% of all men and 75% of all women suffer from speech anxiety. Sweaty palms; anything from butterflies in your stomach to outright nausea; maybe even panic attacks. Most people would rather go to the dentist than give a speech in front of a group of people. I've seen dads at weddings absolutely go to pieces at the prospect of making their speech.
That's Moses in verse 10. Full of excuses. I'm just not good at it.
I'm boring. And I get tongue tied. I talk too slow. You've got the wrong guy.
To which God says in verse 11, do you think I didn't know that when I picked you? Do you think it's up to you? I mean, who do you think you're talking to? I'm the one who made your mouth in the first place. I'm the one who makes you deaf or mute or sighted or blind. Do you think I don't know your limitations? Is it not I - the lord - who you're talking to? The source of all existence?
So go, says God. Verse 12. I'll help you speak and will teach you what to say.
Which for Moses, isn't enough. Objection number 4 in verse 13,
Nope. send someone else. Please! Pardon your servant Lord; please send someone else.
Which is what I think he's got in common with 87% of us here this morning.
And the Lord in verse 14 is angry. And says okay have it your way. Your older brother Aaron. He'll be your mouthpiece. I'll tell you what to say, you can tell him what to say; and I'll help both of you. But you take the staff in your hand, and you do the signs with it. I'm going to use you to redeem Israel whether you're willing or not!
And so staff in hand. Off he goes. Back to Egypt. With one very curious roadblock on the way in verses 24 to 26 that you've hopefully sorted out in growth groups through the week.
And chapter 4 verse 28, Aaron meets Moses and his family on the way; and they tell him the story. And verse 29, they bring together all the elders of Israel, and Aaron passes on everything Moses has told him to say.
And when they hear that the lord is concerned about them, and when they hear that he's seen their misery... the people of Israel bow down. And they worship.
At least for now. Which is exactly what they're meant to do.
But fast forward. Chapter 5.
Do you know the story?
Off they go to Pharaoh, and Moses and Aaron say to him, this is what YAHWEH the God of Israel says - let my people go. So they can hold a festival to me in the wilderness.
And Pharaoh says exactly what we know he will. He says, get back to work! He says,
"Who is this YAHWEH that I should obey him and let Israel go? I'm not going to do it." Who'd make my bricks?
Chapter 5 Verse 3. They say it again. the God of all existence, YAHWEH. He says let me people go.
Verse 4. Same answer from Pharaoh. Get back to work. Pharaoh thinks the God of Israel is a lightweight.
And he makes the Israelites work twice as hard. Making them gather their own straw as well as making the same quota of bricks out of mud.
He says to to the slave drivers, crush them with work! Chapter 5 verse 9,
9 Make the work harder for the people so that they keep working and pay no attention to lies.
Which of course, through the rest of chapter 5, turns into a cascade of complaints. From the Israelites against Moses. And then from Moses against God himself.
Here's how it works. The people of Israel. The first sign of hard times, the first bit of push back from Pharaoh. They're throwing in the towel. When life gets hard. They just give up on God. Isn't it meant to be easier than this?
They don't care who Moses saw. They don't care what YAHWEH said.
Verse 21. They let loose.
And they say,
May YAHWEH look on you and judge you! You have made us obnoxious to Pharaoh and his officials and have put a sword in their hand to kill us.
You've made things worse than they were before.
Which is then exactly what Moses says back to God as well. Objection number 5, in verse 22. What on earth do you think you're doing? With this crazy plan about redeeming your people from pharaoh? He's too strong. Look what he's doing to us. Verse 22
Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? 23 Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.
Pharaoh's too strong. You're not strong enough. And I just knew it from the start. It's too hard.
Now chapter 6, God gives an answer. And the answer is, watch and see. It might seem hard now. The challenges might look insurmountable. But trust me enough to watch and see.
Here's what he says. Chapter 6 verse 1.
Now you will see what I'll do to Pharaoh. Keep watching. Because of my mighty hand he'll let them go. Because of my mighty hand he'll drive them out of his country.
Watch this space. Remember. I AM YAHWEH. The source of all existence. The one who gives life and takes it away. He says I've made myself better known to you that I did to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. I've made covenant promises. I've heard their groaning. Vs. 6"
So tell the Israelites I will bring them out from under the yoke of the Egyptians. I will free you from slavery, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgement. And
I will take you as my own people and I will be your God.
And then you'll know. And then you'll see. That I AM YAHWEH your God who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.
You'll see it all. When it's over. You think I'm a lightweight. But by the time I'm finished no-one's going to take me lightly again. And especially not the Egyptians.
And verse 9, Moses tells all that to the Israelites. and they won't listen. Because they're too discouraged. By their hard labour.
And Moses, verse 12, complaint number 6. The same as before. I can't do it. "If the Israelites won't listen to me, why would Pharaoh? Since I speak with faltering lips." And for good measure we get it again at the end of the chapter. As a summary. The seventh repetition. Verse 30.
30 But Moses said to the Lord, "Since I speak with faltering lips, why would Pharaoh listen to me?"
Are you getting the drift here? The problem is, he's taking God way too lightly.
Pete mentioned it last week, and you've maybe seen it already in growth groups, that the ancient Hebrew concept of glory, and it's a word we'll be bumping into here in Exodus in the next few sections; the Hebrew word for glory; is heaviness. Weightiness.
It's not the kind of weight you can measure in kilograms. So much as in impact. What weight is Moses giving God in his decision making. What weight is he giving the God of all existence; when he's living by his insecurities and fears?
Moses is an unwilling redeemer. Not willing to trust God to do what he's promised to. Because at this point in the journey, things are tough.
And God says to him, you'll see it when we get there.
And Moses isn't giving God his due weight.
Look, before we finish I want to say there are dozens of New Testament threads here. Ideas picked up in the New Testament and woven into the story of Jesus in all kinds of ways.
But if nothing else, keep in mind that unlike Moses, Jesus was a willing redeemer.
Not that it's going to be easy. Not that it's going to be pain free. Just the opposite. There's a huge price to pay. The night before he's going to be crucified, the night before he's going to take the punishment for sin on himself and pay for it; the night before he's going to drink the cup of God's justice for the rest of us, he goes to the garden. And he prays this. He's not keen for it, that's for sure. But listen to his words. He's sweating blood, he falls with his face to the ground and he prays,
My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.
You know best. Not my will but your will.
And the next day he's crucified. And his disciples give up in despair.
But Jesus hasn't give up. Even at that point.
Because he's confident. That the God of all existence can bring him through even roman execution. And he does.
Seeing what was ahead. kept trusting. Giving full weight to the promises of God.
Friends, I don't know what challenges to your faith you're facing today. The things that make you feel like giving up. I don't know what kind of hard labours you're facing just to keep going every day. But as you read the story of Moses and we see the un-faith of Israel; we're meant to think how can he be so dumb; when he's caught a glimpse of God's glory there on the mountain? How can he treat God's promises so lightly?
We've caught a better glimpse of God's glory than he did. In Jesus. We can look back and see how his suffering turned out in the end. And so maybe we can draw hope from that. And in that hope, persevere. Because if the God who is existence itself has sent his Son to save us, can't you trust him to finish what he started; no matter what you're facing now? If you want to know how to glorify God, that's how. In your hard times, trust his promises. And keep going.