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The life and legacy of Moses: God knows your name—be sure you know his

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topical Scripture: Exodus 3-4

There is a story about the Methodists in Indiana holding their Annual Conference in 1870. At one point in the proceedings, the president of the college where they were meeting said, “I think we are living in a very exciting age.” The presiding bishop asked him, “What do you see for the future?”

The college president responded, “I believe we are coming into a time of great inventions. I believe, for example, that men will fly through the air like birds.” The bishop said, “That’s heresy! The Bible says that flight is reserved for the angels. We’ll have no more such talk here.” When the Annual Conference was over, Bishop Wright went home to his two small sons, Wilbur and Orville.

God’s plan for our lives is greater than any we can imagine for ourselves. But we must choose to obey his will before we can know it fully. In Moses’ struggles with finding and following God’s purpose, we see our own. God intends to call you by name. How you respond to his invitation will determine the significance of your life and service.

Where do you need to know his will for a decision or problem in your life? At that very place, a bush may well be aflame with the presence of your holy Lord. Will you pass by the voice of God, or will you stop to listen?

Honor God (3:1-6)

One of the most pivotal events in human history occurred in one of the most mundane settings imaginable. The region was known as “Horeb,” a semitic word meaning “desolation” or “desert.” The area was located in the southeast region of the Sinai peninsula. Some identify this mountain with Sinai, though others see them as two separate places. The tradition site is called Gebel Musa, “Moses’ mountain,” an elevation of 7,467 feet.

Note that Abram’s call came on foreign soil, as did Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus. So it was with Moses’ first encounter with the living God. He was “tending” the flock of his father-in-law; the Hebrew indicates that this was his habitual occupation, not a unique event in his life. Then he heard the voice of the Lord.

The “bush” in the story was a kind of thorny acacia common in the region. But what happened to it was anything but ordinary. The bush was on fire, not unusual in that arid climate, but it was not being consumed by the flames. The veteran shepherd had not seen such a phenomenon. So he drew closer. And then God drew close to him.

The Lord was in the flame (cf. Exodus 19:18, where he descends to Sinai in fire, and Exodus 13:21, where he led his people through a “pillar of fire”). Fire is emblematic both of divine power and purifying holiness.

And from within the flames, God called Moses by name (v. 4). It is an astounding thing to realize that the Lord of the universe knows your name and mine. He is watching as you read these words. He knows your thoughts and heart. And he loves and accepts you anyway.

He called Moses to venerate his holiness by removing his sandals. Slaves were typically barefoot; here Moses humbled himself to the lowest level of social importance. And he bowed before this holy God in the reverence which is his due.

Relationship precedes service. God has a purpose and plan for your life and work, but that purpose begins with your personal commitment to his Lordship. The King of creation will not share his glory. Only when we exalt him as our Master can we know his will as his servants.

Too many of us wish to know God’s plan for our lives, so we can consider it. But Almighty God will not trifle with us. He does not intend his divine purpose to be an option for our contemplation, but an obligation for our commitment.

Where do you need to hear his voice and know his purpose? Begin by honoring him as your Lord and surrendering to his will, whatever it is. Only when he has our obedience can he give us his direction.

Trust God (3:7-14)

The next paragraphs revealed the character of God in greater detail than any human had yet known them. This Lord knows our problems and pain (v. 7). He is no Zeus atop an apathetic Mt. Olympus, or deistic clock maker who now watches his universe run down. He knows our names and our needs.

What’s more, he intends to do something about them (v. 8). He intervenes in human affairs according to his sovereign plan and purpose. We could not reach him, so he has come down into our fallen condition. Religion is our attempt to climb up to God; the Bible reveals a God who climbs down to us.

Typically the Lord uses humans to accomplish his will in human history. So it was with the call of Moses (v. 10). God knows, he cares, and he calls. For every problem there is a person whom God intends to send as his presence in the world.

Now Moses’ excuses began. First he protested: “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (v. 11). What abilities or credentials did he possess to stand before the mightiest man on earth? If you were to sense the Lord sending you to the American president in response to some need in our nation, your response would likely be no less incredulous than Moses’ here.

It is noteworthy that God’s answer did not validate the messenger but his Master: “I will be with you” (v. 12). Moses’ identity did not matter, only his obedience. It is the same with us. God needs nothing from us but our availability, our willingness to go where he sends us. He is looking for surrendered spirits through whom he can do his eternal work.

God’s answer led to Moses’ second question: who are you? (v. 13). The Jews placed great stock in a name. It was believed that the name which parents gave to their newborn child was a prediction of that child’s character and place in life. The name told who you were, and what you were. The Jews would not believe Moses if he did not know the name of the God he claims to represent. And neither would the Egyptians. Their gods were many, and they all had names. But Moses did not even know the name of this God he would represent before the world.

God’s answer included the most famous word in the Bible: his personal name YHWH. This is the most common name for God in the Bible, used 6,823 times in the Old Testament. It is God’s proper name for himself. It can be translated literally, “The One who always was, who always is, and who is ever to come.” It doesn’t just mean that God knows the past, lives in the present, or can see the future—it means that God is in the past, the present, and the future. God created time, and one day will abolish it. He transcends it today.

And so we can trust his will for our lives, whatever it is. He is the only One who knows the future as the present, because it is the same to him. And he is the only One who has given his Son in our place to prove his love for us. His knowledge and benevolent grace are both beyond question. And so his will is always for our best, wherever it leads.

I once played tennis with a former tournament professional, a man who had competed against Jimmy Connors. Every suggestion he made, I followed. Imagine being able to ask Warren Buffett for investment advice, Peter Drucker for management expertise, or Tiger Woods for golf tips. You’d do whatever they said, for their genius would far exceed your own abilities.

Why, then, is it that we so often struggle with accepting and following the will of God for our lives? Nietzsche was right: the will to power is the basic drive in human nature. We want to control our own lives, to manage our destinies, to determine our life direction. All the while the One who knows the future and died for us must wait for our obedience to his will.

Wherever you need his direction, choose to trust that direction now. Only then can he lead you into his perfect next step for your life.

Serve God (4:1-15)

Now we come to Moses’ third objection: what if they will not believe me? What proof could he offer that God had truly spoken to him? How could he find the power he needed to serve the God he trusted?

The Lord’s response indicated the commitments he expects from his followers still today.

First, give what you have to God. Moses owned a shepherd’s crook, but it would soon become “God’s rod” (v. 20). As he threw it on the ground, God transformed it and made it his own.

An uneducated miner in Scotland began to preach among his fellow workers. God gave his ministry great power, so that his influence grew far beyond his mining town. Eventually someone asked him how he received his call to preach.

He answered, “I had such a burden on my soul for those who did not know the gospel, but I argued with the Lord that I had no education and no gift. But he said to me, ‘Jamie, you know what the sickness is, don’t you?’ I answered, ‘Yes, Lord, the sickness is sin.’ ‘And you know what the remedy is, don’t you, Jamie?’ I answered, ‘Yes, Lord, the remedy is the Lord Jesus Christ.’ And he said to me, ‘Jamie, just take the remedy to those who are sick.’ That is my call to preach.” And ours as well.

Second, obey the next word you hear from God (vs. 4, 6). Moses’ rod became a snake, an especially significant event given his Egyptian background. The pharaoh customarily wore a headdress on which was mounted a cobra. This symbol of his power was meant to terrify all who saw him. For Moses to seize it safely meant that he would be given power over Egypt and the pharaoh himself.

Next, Moses’ hand was transformed into leprosy, the most disastrous disease known to ancient Israel. Its presence was a sign of the judgment to come on those who would not follow God’s will; its healing was a sign of his deliverance for those who would. His instant obedience to God’s will made possible his service in that purpose.

Imagine that your family has arrived late at night at a friend’s lake house. It’s dark, and the only light is the flashlight your friend told you to bring. As you get out of your car and shine your light in the darkness, you see a stepping stone leading from the road up the hill and into the trees. You step on it, and then your light shows you the next stone. Your family follows behind you, trusting you to lead them with the light you have.

And so you climb up the hill, through the trees and brush, until you come upon the house. Your flashlight didn’t show all the way to the house, just the next step along the way. But you can trust those steps, because they were placed by your friend who is already at the house waiting for you. He’s been where you’re going. And he has given you a path to join him. That’s what God has done for us.

Third, trust the help God provides (vs. 10-15). Moses’ last objection was that he did not possess the speaking gifts necessary to stand before the pharaoh. He did not have a speech impediment, as Stephen later made clear: “Moses was educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was powerful in speech and action” (Acts 7:21). Rather, he did not trust the gifts which God had given him.

So the Lord offered one more: the help of his older brother Aaron. While there is no biblical record that Aaron ever spoke in Moses’ place before the pharaoh, his presence gave Moses the encouragement his faltering soul lacked. With this help at hand, he was empowered to serve the God whose call he answered.

In the movie Chariots of Fire, Eric Liddell defeated the English runner Harold Abrahams, his first loss. Abrahams was so despondent that he told his girlfriend he was quitting the sport. His explanation: “If I can’t win, I won’t run.” To which his wise girlfriend replied, “If you don’t run, you can’t win.”

Ultimately our faith must exceed our sight. We give ourselves to the Lord, obey his word and will, trust his provision for our need, and step out in trust. All relationships require an element of personal commitment which transcends the available evidence. So it is with our obedience to our Father’s purpose for our lives.

Conclusion

Does God have a plan for your life today? Some evolutionists say that life began as a chance coincidence, with no particular plan or purpose at all. Existentialists say that this life is all there is, and life is chaos. Martin Heidegger, for instance, wrote that we are actors on a stage, with no script, director, or audience, and courage is to face life as it is. Postmodernists say that truth is relative, and there is no overriding purpose to life. So, does God have a plan for us, or is life a random coincidence?

In the words of Shakespeare, are we “sound and fury, signifying nothing”? God had a plan for Adam and Eve—where and what to live. A plan for Noah—how to build his ark, right down to the exact specifications and building materials he should use. A plan for Abraham, including where he should live, how old he would be when he had his son, and even that son’s name. A plan for Joseph, using his slavery and imprisonment to save the entire nation.

He had a plan for Joshua, showing him where and how to take the land. A plan for David and Solomon, for their kingdom and the temple they would build for him. A plan for Daniel, even in the lion’s den.

Jesus had plans for his first disciples—plans they could not have begun to understand. He had a plan for Saul of Tarsus as he left to persecute the Christians in Damascus. He had a plan for John on Patmos.

How do we follow his plan for our lives? Admit that you don’t know the future plans of God. Moses had no idea how significant his Horeb encounter with God would become. Ask him for his will, confessing that you do not know how to live in his purpose without his direction.

Several months ago the actress Cindy Crawford was on an airplane which went through terrible turbulence. She was very frightened until she turned around and saw John F. Kennedy, Jr. sitting a few rows behind her. “Everything’s all right,” she said to herself, “JFK Jr. isn’t going to die in a plane crash.” We don’t know the future.

In Jeremiah 33.3 he says, “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.” So ask for his direction, and believe that his plan is always best. He always gives the best to those who leave the choice with him.

The same God who spoke to Moses now calls your name. You can ignore his voice, or remove your shoes. How does Moses’ story end today?