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, 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, and the Jebusites. 9 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. 10 Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” 11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” 12 He said, “But I will be with you, 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.”
13 Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and 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?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.”[a] And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” 15 God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The Lord,[b] 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. 16 Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying, “I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt, 17 and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.”’ 18 And they will listen to your voice, and you and the elders of Israel shall go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us; and now, please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God.’ 19 But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand.[c] 20 So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go. 21 And I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and when you go, you shall not go empty, 22 but each woman shall ask of her neighbor, and any woman who lives in her house, for silver and gold jewelry, and for clothing. You shall put them on your sons and on your daughters. So you shall plunder the Egyptians.” (Exodus 3:7-22)
Today as we consider these Words of the Living God in this interaction with His servant Moses, let us remember and keep in mind the context in which these words are spoken. Moses was busy shepherding his father-in-law’s flock when he came upon a bush on fire, yet unburnt, at Horeb, Mt. Sinai. Moses approaches, and it is there from the burning bush that Almighty God speaks to Moses and reveals Himself and His plans to this Moses. It is here at this scene where Moses is commissioned for this great task of going to the elders of Israel and then going before the King of Egypt, after his 40 years of humble vocation in the land of Midian. These words of Scripture before us today, are the words that the everlasting God spoke to Moses from the flame of fire in the bush at Horeb, many years ago. And yet, like a flame ever burning, like a bush unconsumed, these words remain the words of God to this very day, and forever shall be. May these words of God light us like a fire, and may the Holy Spirit strike us with such awe before the presence of God, as if we were at the scene of the burning bush itself.
God’s Promises to Israel
The first thing to note about this God who reveals Himself from the flames of the burning, yet unconsumed bush, is to note that He is not a God who remains distant from His people. While there is great and necessary distance between the Creator and the creature; between Moses and the angel of the LORD in the burning bush – (he must remove his sandals; it is fire he cannot be too near the flame; and he covers his face for he cannot look upon God; there is great distance between a Holy God and sinful men;), yet He is not a God who has removed Himself and left us alone to our own demise. What great condescension it was for the everlasting God to reveal Himself to Moses in a bush.
Even greater, He condescended to sympathize with a people in harsh slavery. As we read, the LORD SAW the affliction of His people in Egypt, He HEARD their cry because of their taskmasters; He KNEW their sufferings – “and He resolved to ignore it and move on because He could not condescend to such lowliness to help such an abominated group of slaves” – NO. That’s not what God did. In the same breath as He knew their sufferings, God says in verse 8, “and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians…” The reason God is not distant from His people is not because they or we have climbed some kind of ladder up to God, or found the stairway to heaven, or reasoned our way to Him, or in some way accomplished movement toward heaven in ourselves, but it is entirely because God Himself has come down to deliver them, He has come down to deliver us.
As Holy and pure and bright and majestic and righteous and otherly that Yahweh God is from His creation, He YET is NOT distant from His sinful people, nor is He distant from their suffering. He knows it very well. This is pure and underserved mercy and grace. The nearness of God to the ancient Hebrew people in Egypt is just a small picture of the nearness of God to His people who are in union with Jesus Christ. You cannot really get any closer than union with God in Christ. And that is what we have in the gospel. We don’t add anything to Christ and yet He unites Himself to us. All we have is filthy rags, sin as black as the night, stains of blood guilt on our hands, unclean lips, and defiled minds. That’s all we bring to Christ. But He gives us FORGIVENESS of sins, REDEMPTION from sin, RESURRECTION from the dead, life ETERNAL, perfect RIGHTEOUSNESS before God, and His HOLY SPIRIT to dwell in us, and so much more.
By His grace and nothing we offer, He has decided to be near to us. He has decided to see our affliction, hear our cry, and know our sufferings. So it doesn’t matter what it is in your life. Whether it is sickness, or depression, or struggles in sin, or ungodly treatment from someone you love, whatever it is, Jesus Christ the Son of God sees your affliction – whether it is self-inflicted or from without – there is absolutely nothing that He does not see. And when you cry out to Him, He HEARS, and there is nothing that He does not hear. And He doesn’t see and hear as a distant observer, but close as a Father. He is with you, for He KNOWS you in your affliction. Experientially, intimately, KNOWS. He is our GREAT High Priest, who is NOT unable to sympathize.
This reality gives us the strength and ability to NOT wallow in self-pity. Christ did not come for that. Christ CAME DOWN from Heaven, Christ put on our flesh, and bore our sins on His body to the cross and rose from the dead, in order to DELIVER US from the bondage and tyranny of sin, and to deliver us to be a part of HIS KINGDOM – the people of God, set apart as those who have been raised from the dead.
God tells Moses that He has come down to deliver His people from the hand of the Egyptians to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So God’s promise is not only to deliver them from the oppression in Egypt but to bring them out of that land, and give to them a better land that will be theirs. God says that this land will be a land flowing with milk and honey. Milk and honey are symbols of God’s blessing. They are signs of prosperity – that the land will be a good and fruitful land. Milk comes from cattle; and honey means lots of bees which means good things for crops. In the garden it was a good land, with rivers of water flowing out from the garden, and they had sweet delicious fruit from the trees. In this good land that God promises to the Hebrews, it is now flowing with milk and honey. Honey is usually found on trees. But milk is in some sense a sign of infancy, you know, babies and children drink milk. Milk is good stuff, but it is something that infants can handle, and just a little bit of honey, you know kids really love. So I lean towards also seeing this as symbolic of the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant was milk for the training of the infant church. The specific Old Covenant promised land with specified and limited boundaries was training for having the whole world in the New Covenant. The conquering of a specific people with physical swords, was training for conquering all the nations with even more powerful weapons – spiritual weapons from Heaven – like the Sword of the Spirit. So in the New Covenant we don’t have milk and honey, now we have bread and wine. Bread takes time and work to be prepared. Wine is something that requires maturity and wisdom to handle correctly. Both of these bring strength and gladness to the heart. And the bread and wine is symbolically the body and blood of Christ Himself, who is our spiritual food and nourishment. So, just as the Old Covenant prepared people for the coming of Christ, this land both in its conquering and blessings was preparation for the conquering of the whole earth and the blessings God gives when He delivers people from their sin and they obey Him.
So Moses basically says to God, “If I go to the people of Israel and they ask me what your name is, what am I to tell them?”
14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.”[a] And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” 15 God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The Lord,[b] 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.
So God says “I AM WHO I AM” or “I AM THAT I AM.” The beautiful thing about this name is that it indicates a perfect self-sufficiency. It could even say “I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE.” Especially in biblical times, names were a lot like definitions. They defined people. And that’s why we often see that when someone changed, their name changed. But with this self-revelation of God, saying, “I AM THAT I AM,” God is revealing Himself to be the totally self-sufficient one. His being comes from no source outside of Himself. No one outside of God defines God. God defines Himself. He is the reference point for all other name and definition and existence and law and revelation. He is the self-burning flame. The flame of fire did not need the fuel of the bush to burn. It was self-burning. Yahweh is the eternal, everlasting, self-sufficient God whose being comes from no source outside of the Godhead.
This name separates the Creator from the creatures. It shows God as all-sufficient and able to save and rescue His people without needing any assistance from another, or from the people needing saved. All that have life and breath receive it from God. Including Pharaoh. This name shows God to be far above the little gods of Egypt. There is no other self-sufficient god. Moses, most assuredly, had seen quite a lot in Egypt in terms of real magician demonic power, yet he had not seen something so simple and self-sufficient as a burning, yet unconsumed bush. There are no gods in Egypt like the great I AM – the God of his fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And this is the God that sends Him back into Egypt. The Superior God.
If you remember some time ago when we were in John chapter 8, the Jews are having a discussion with Jesus about Abraham. In John 8:56 Jesus makes this awesome statement, saying, “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see MY day. He saw it and was GLAD.” So the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.
So Jesus was clearly referencing this divine revelation of I AM and putting Himself as the I AM. We know this because the Jews’ immediate reaction was to pick up stones to throw at him – the Mosaic punishment for blasphemy. They knew Jesus was calling Himself God. Jesus does this in John 8 making a clear reference to Moses’ burning bush encounter, essentially identifying Himself as the angel of the LORD in the bush.
In verse 15 as we read, God also told Moses to use His name Yahweh. If you are not familiar, most English translations just say “LORD” (in all caps), but in the Hebrew it is YHWH without vowels, which is this divine name. And there is no reason we can’t use that name when we read it in the Old Testament. This is God’s name that is to be remembered, He says. This is God’s memorial name. As Hosea 12:5 says, “the LORD, the God of hosts, the LORD is his memorial name.”
God’s Promises to Moses
God then goes on to again instruct Moses on what to do and again promises to Him that He will deliver the people up out of the land of Egypt and into a land flowing with milk and honey, the land of the Canaanites. God goes into detail telling Moses how the king of Egypt is NOT going to let them go unless he is compelled by a mighty hand. And God promises that He will stretch out His hand and strike Egypt with all sorts of wonders and that after that the king of Egypt will let them go. Not only this, but God continues and promises that when they leave, He will give them favor in the eyes of the Egyptians so that when the women each ask their neighbor for gold and silver jewelry, the Egyptians will give it to them. This is an amazing plan of victory and redemption that God tells Moses and promises him that He will accomplish.
Now God did not have to tell Moses all of that. God could’ve simply told Moses what to do and that would’ve been enough. There could be a number of reasons, but I believe that one reason God promised this victory in great detail to Moses was in order to encourage Moses to the task. Calvin brings this point up as well. Moses had obviously become much older at this point, He believed that he was rejected by the Hebrews, the last Pharaoh was out to kill him, He didn’t think He’d ever be going back to Egypt. So God knew that in Moses’ weakness, Moses needed promise and assurance of victory in order to strengthen him for the task. Moses had failed in delivering the people before, but God tells Him that now He will be with him and God WILL deliver the people out of Egypt and bring them to a land flowing with milk and honey.
So often when we do not know the outcome, or if we are unsure, or if we think that we will not have success with whatever challenge or task is ahead of us, it can be discouraging and disheartening, and weaken our resolve and desire to carry out what we need to, faithfully. This of course comes from our weakness as humans. Yet, like Moses, we ought never to be timid or slow to obey God because God has indeed furnished us with promises of triumph and victory. God’s Word will not return void, all the Father gives to Him WILL come to Him, NOT ONE will be plucked from His hand, the judge of all the earth WILL do what is right, the knowledge of the glory of God WILL cover the earth as the waters cover the sea, the MEEK SHALL inherit the earth, ALL enemies will be placed under HIS FEET, every KNEE shall bow and TONGUE CONFESS that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father, and if we confess our sins HE is FAITHFUL and JUST to FORGIVE us our sins and to PURIFY us from ALL unrighteousness. God offers us the assurance and comfort of victory to aid us in obeying His commands with good cheer.
God’s Promises to Pharaoh
The other side of the coin, is that in promising victory to Moses, God is promising defeat to the Pharaoh, the King of Egypt, and all the false gods of Egypt. God says the King of Egypt will not let them go unless compelled by a strong hand and so God says that He will compel him with His strong hand. God says that He is going to strike Egypt with wonders that He will do. We know that to be the plagues, or judgements God brings on Egypt, which were quite severe.
So when God tells Moses that they are supposed to go to Pharaoh and ask for a three days’ journey into the wilderness to sacrifice to their God, that Pharaoh cannot allow that to happen. Recall the religious nature of the Pharaoh and the Egyptian system and worldview. God is setting the scene to make it ever clear that this is a battle between Yahweh God and the false gods of Egypt. It is a comprehensive religious world and life view battle. The Pharaoh could not allow the people to go out and worship according to the instructions of their God, because that would mean that the Pharaoh is not the sovereign of Israel. It would mean there is another God who has revealed Himself to the Hebrews and not to the Pharaoh, and that Yahweh’s commands undermined the authority and sovereignty of the King of Egypt. The battle over sovereignty and ultimate authority is total war. God is going to teach a lesson to Egypt, to Israel, and to the world, that He is the ultimate authority, that all kings and rulers must give way to the authority of God for they are in fact under His authority, sovereignty, and power. And should a king refuse to give way to divine authority, His sovereignty and power will be taken from him. He will be supplanted in His rebellion. When God fights battles, He does not lose. This great loss of Egypt would be world-wide news and strike fear into the Canaanites of the land that Israel was to conquer. To paraphrase Calvin, he says, “God, in whose hands are the ends of the earth, by His power appoints the bounds of nations, and reduces their kings to poverty, and increases others to abundance, according to His good pleasure and will.”
So finally what we have is God speaking of the loot that Israel will get. God tells them they will not go empty handed, but each woman is to ask her neighbor for silver and gold jewelry, and God will cause the Egyptians to give it to them. It is interesting that the text specifically mentions women being the ones to ask and then it says to put the jewelry on her children. I believe this is getting back at the theme that we’ve talked about previously – that is the seed of the woman that crushes the serpent, which means throughout the Old Testament before the promised seed was born, the serpent made all kinds of war on women and children. But here, it is women and children who are wearing the loot of war and victory, wearing the riches of triumph over the serpent, which is represented by Egypt.
After instructing them in this, God says, “So you shall plunder the Egyptians.” This goes with the theme of what we’ve been talking about. “Plunder” is a war term. It is what is owed to the victory in war. The plunder the Hebrews will receive is essentially Egypt’s tribute paid to the God of the Hebrews, who is the victorious God that defeated all the gods of Egypt. Certainly this is not stealing or justifying stealing. They would simply ask for it, and God says they would be given it. So they are not stealing. Some theologians will make a case that this plundering is Israel basically getting restitution for the years of unlawful treatment they received.
But more compelling to me is that the plundering of the Egyptians coincides with the laws concerning slaves in the Mosaic law. The laws state that Hebrew slaves were to be given opportunity for freedom on the seventh year and if they were to take their freedom they were to be given gifts so that they can leave and have a foundation to be set up to succeed and not need to return to slavery.
Egypt refused to give opportunity for freedom to the Hebrews, so God stretched out His hand and made it happen. And Egypt’s refusal to free the Hebrews did not mean that they escaped paying the bill that was due. God plundered them as gifts and rewards to His people for His purposes. And throughout history, at different times and places, God will yet plunder the Egyptians to benefit His people. This is a general principle for how God made the world work, as we read in Proverbs 13:22, “the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just.” Being a people or person who continues to perpetuate injustice and sin, means that you will lose all that you gained. The wealth acquired by ungodly means will find its way out of your possession and into the hands of the righteous and those who act justly and work ethically.
Is this not a lovely picture of the gospel? Christ triumphs over our enemies that once enslaved us – sin, Satan, and self. Christ frees us from slavery and death, and on our way out, He pours great riches and gifts on us. We immediately get all the wealth, riches, and benefits of Christ and union with Him. We are made eternally wealthy in an instant when Christ rescues and redeems us. Without purchase and without price. When we are freed from sin and given the riches and gifts of Christ and the Holy Spirit we are set up such that we never need to return to slavery again. And this is because Christ is the righteous. Christ is the just. The kingdom of darkness, in which we once walked, perpetuated rebellion and injustice, and so the wealth of souls therein were laid up for Christ. He lived, worked, and labored righteously to redeem and be given the great prize and wealth of souls. Satan and his kingdom of darkness does not win. A great number of souls, more numerous than the stars in the sky and the sands on the shore are laid up for Christ. They belong to Christ and are given to Him. So we need not fret on account of the wicked. What they have will not last. It will be taken from them, and given to another. Amen.