Moses had fled from Egypt due to his fear of Pharoah (Ex. 2:15). And he couldn’t turn to his people (Hebrews) because of his unwanted interference in a dispute. He settled in Midian.
God had remembered his covenant going back to Gen. 12:1-3 and Gen. 15:1-6. So when God speaks he says, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (3:6 NET). Now that God is acting in behalf of His people, and Moses will be critical in this move. God calls Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.
The LORD said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt. I have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows. I have come down to deliver them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up from that land to a land that is both good and spacious, to a land flowing with milk and honey, (3:7-8 NET)
What Moses attempted to do on a small scale for two Hebrews, now God will do far beyond what Moses or the Israelites can imagine. In the ensuing dialog, Moses is not only reluctant to do what God has called him to do, he offers excuses that would “naturally” disqualify him (in his own eyes).
Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, or that I should bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (3:11 NET)
God’s response to Moses’ trepidation is one that He will use throughout the rest of the Old Testament—even into the New Testament (Matt. 28:20): “I will be with you.”
He replied, “Surely I will be with you, and this will be the sign to you that I have sent you: When you bring the people out of Egypt, you and they will serve God on this mountain.” (3:12 NET)
Then Moses wants the name who is sending him. Without that Moses has nothing to offer the people. He needs the name to tell the Israelite leaders about who it is that commissions him to do this.
Moses said to God, “If I go to the Israelites and tell them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’–what should I say to them?” (3:13 NET)
To have the name of someone is to show the authority by which he is acting. God’s response will forever change how people will understand God in this revelation.
God said to Moses, “I AM that I AM.” And he said, “You must say this to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” God also said to Moses, “You must say this to the Israelites, ‘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 this is my memorial from generation to generation.’ (3:14-15)
The NET Bible has a footnote at this point that explains the significance of the name that is really a verb form.
“Yahweh,” traditionally rendered “the LORD.” First the verb “I AM” was used (v. 14) in place of the name to indicate its meaning and to remind Moses of God’s promise to be with him (v. 12). Now in v. 15 the actual name is used for clear identification: “Yahweh…has sent me.” This is the name that the patriarchs invoked and proclaimed in the land of Canaan. (NET Study Note)
It is necessary to distinguish the use of God’s name (LORD = Yahweh) and the title (Lord/Master = Adonai). The use of Yahweh (LORD) appears 6807 times in the Hebrew Bible, plus the abbreviated form YAH appears 40 times. We will see the significance of this use of the name Yahweh/LORD when we get to Exodus 6.
Note: If we take the consonants (as phonetic sounds) in Yahweh or Jahveh and join them with the vowel points from Adonai, then we come up with the word “Jehovah.” The following diagram has been useful in teaching Bible classes about this issue of the name and title of God.
God’s Promises to Moses
Now God continues with the promises:
The elders will listen to you… (3:18)
But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go, not even under force. So I will extend my hand and strike Egypt with all my wonders that I will do among them, and after that he will release you. (3:19-20 NET)
The calling of Moses, his commission, and God’s promise of being with them…what more could be needed? For Moses—much more.
Moses answered again, “And if they do not believe me or pay attention to me, but say, ‘The LORD has not appeared to you’?” (4:1 NET)
So God shows Moses signs that will demonstrate to the Israelites that Yahweh has indeed sent him. But Moses still is not convinced.
Then Moses said to the LORD, “O my Lord, I am not an eloquent man, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant, for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” 4:10 NET)
God responds—in patience!
The LORD said to him, “Who gave a mouth to man, or who makes a person mute or deaf or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the LORD? So now go, and I will be with your mouth and will teach you what you must say.” (4:11-12 NET)
And yet, Moses persists in his evaluation of himself and his abilities and tries to wiggle out of this commission.
But Moses said, “O my Lord, please send anyone else whom you wish to send!” (4:13 NET)
Patience by God is replaced by anger:
Then the LORD became angry with Moses, and he said, “What about your brother Aaron the Levite? I know that he can speak very well. Moreover, he is coming to meet you, and when he sees you he will be glad in his heart.
“So you are to speak to him and put the words in his mouth. And as for me, I will be with your mouth and with his mouth, and I will teach you both what you must do. He will speak for you to the people, and it will be as if he were your mouth and as if you were his God. You will also take in your hand this staff, with which you will do the signs.” (4:14-17 NET)
Finally Moses responds to the call of God on his life and leadership for God’s deliverance of His people. One interesting, seemingly insignificant detail remains. That is, Zipporah, Moses’ wife, has to confront Moses.
Now on the way, at a place where they stopped for the night, the LORD met Moses and sought to kill him. But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off the foreskin of her son and touched it to Moses’ feet, and said, “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me.” So the LORD let him alone. (At that time she said, “A bridegroom of blood,” referring to the circumcision.) (4:24-26 NET)
I think the NET textual note is helpful here.
Moses had apparently not circumcised Eliezer. Since Moses was taking his family with him, God had to make sure the sign of the covenant was kept. It may be that here Moses sent them all back to Jethro (18:2) because of the difficulties that lay ahead. (NET Textual Note)
It is important, though, because God is acting in accord with the covenant with Abram (Gen. 12; 15) which also includes the covenant sign of circumcision in Gen. 17. Moses as the God-chosen leader of the covenant promise to deliver had not even extended that covenant promise to his own child. Now that is rectified, and Moses, as leader of his family, now becomes leader of the covenant people, Israel.
At that point, Aaron is coming to meet Moses, and Moses relates to him all that Yahweh (the LORD) said.
As I work through this text, I notice some things about serving the Lord. As I read Moses’ responses, the reluctance, the attempt to deflect to someone else, I put myself in that category. Many times, away from the public, I question whether I am the right person for this specific position, office, duty, responsbility. In fact, I am not as optimistic as Moses about my abilities.
I recognize many of my limitations, weaknesses, failures. And I wonder: How could I be used of God in this situation? This happens more than people realize.
But this section also demonstrates that God is calling, God is equipping, God is opening, God is… with Moses. He is with me. Far different scale! Far different reach! Yet God is with me, too.
This means that when we read Exodus through Deuteronomy, the encouragement is not to be a great leader like Moses. The encouragement is that God can still work through someone like Moses, faults, hesitations, weaknesses, etc. In other words, this is first and foremost an account of God, the God who reveals himself as I AM WHO I AM, the God who is present to deliver, the God who is using broken humans to achieve his purposes.
This is not a reason to be indifferent toward God’s work. Rather it is a reminder that this is what God is doing, even if the world cannot fathom, even if I can’t always make sense of it.
And so, that God, those promises, His presence is comforting. And I need that reassurance often. His Word is a daily companion. His Sacrament is a weekly encounter with this God who says, “take eat, take drink… given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” His absolution is continually before me: “I forgive you your sins, for the sake of my Son, Jesus.”
That is the I AM WHO I AM God of Exodus 3-4, of the entire Old Testament, and the New Testament.
Your father Abraham was overjoyed to see my day, and he saw it and was glad.”
Then the Judeans replied, “You are not yet fifty years old! Have you seen Abraham?”
Jesus said to them, “I tell you the solemn truth, before Abraham came into existence, I am!” (John 8:56-58 NET)