Summary: God’s promise seems to have failed, but Moses is called to remind his people that he is God and he will save them and give them the land he promised to Abraham. God can be trusted.
Can you trust God’s promises? What do you do when nothing seems to come of what you thought God had said he’d do? What if you find yourself in a place that’s the exact opposite of what you were expecting? What if God has promised that he’ll look after you, that he’ll bless you and yet you feel like you’re actually experiencing God’s curse?
These aren’t idle questions. They’re the sorts of questions that people face every day. Too often people read the promises of God and conclude that he’ll reward those who fear him right now and in some material form. But then you read about Christians in Sudan or Indonesia or various Muslim countries for whom life is hard work, people who never experience anything like material rewards; in fact for whom mere survival is a triumph. How do they understand God’s promise to bless them?
The people of Israel must have felt just like them after living for 400 years in Egypt. Their distant history, their heritage, had little in common with their current experience.
They would have heard the stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob over and over again. They knew all about the promises God had made to Abraham, how he’d be the father of a great nation, how God would bless him and his descendants; how he’d give him all the land of Canaan as his possession forever. But then they’d look around at their situation and wonder. Here they were living as slaves. It was all very well for Joseph to bring his family to Egypt to escape a famine, but Joseph was long gone and largely forgotten. 400 years of life in Egypt had resulted in their family growing to become a great nation just as God had promised, but as a result the king of Egypt had begun to get anxious about their growing power.
The first part of God’s promise had been fulfilled. They now numbered something over 600,000 people plus their children. But that just meant they’d become a threat and that threat meant they had to be controlled. So here they were caught in a bad place; oppressed, downtrodden, their babies being slaughtered by their Egyptian overlords. What could they do?
All they could do was to cry out to the Lord to save them. All they could do was to carry on hoping against hope that God would do something to relieve their situation. And here we see how God acts so often to rescue his people.
God hears our prayers and when the time is right he answers them. And so often he answers by calling one of us to be his agent of salvation.
God takes a Levite family and uses them to preserve one of the male babies in miraculous fashion. I trust you all know the story of Moses in the bulrushes and how Pharaoh’s daughter decides to raise him as her own. Moses grows up in Pharaoh’s household, but he retains his identity as one of the Hebrews. The only problem is, they don’t accept him as one of them. In fact in the end they turn on him and drive him away.
But God follows him out to the desert region of Midian where he marries the daughter of one of the local priests and has two sons. Then after 40 years living as a shepherd God appears to him in the burning bush.
The important thing to recognise at this point is that this rescue was God’s plan. It wasn’t Moses bright idea. In fact nothing could be further from the truth.
We don’t have time to go through the account of Moses being persuaded by God that he can do this job. Suffice it to say that Moses is a very reluctant saviour. He didn’t think he could do it. He was scared of what the Hebrew people would think of him. He was scared of what Pharaoh might do to him. But in the end God persuaded him to confront Pharaoh. God was about to act decisively to fulfill the rest of his promise to Abraham.
The sign that this is God’s plan comes first in the circumstances around the burning bush. This is no ordinary bush fire. The flames are rising but the branches don’t burn up.
Then comes the voice of God issuing a warning: "Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground." God has sanctified the ground on which Moses is standing through his presence there.
Thirdly God gives Moses his command: "Come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt." God sends Moses off with a mission: He’s to tell first the Israelites, then Pharaoh, that God has come down to deliver his people from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey.