Day 041: Moses’ Choice (Exodus 33-35)

15 And he said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. 16 For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” (Exodus 33:15-16)

At the beginning of Exodus 33, God makes a horrifying statement to Moses: “You’ll lead these people into a land flowing with milk and honey, but I’m not going to go with you. Otherwise, I might destroy you on the way.” (Exodus 33:3).

The people rightly mourned when they heard “this disastrous word.” And later Moses dug in, boldly telling God, “If you don’t go with me, I don’t want to go at all” (verse 15).

I admire his boldness. I admire the humility of the Israelites, who for once seem to appreciate the absolute necessity of God’s presence. Because it hasn’t always been that way. Only one chapter before, they had forgotten God completely, turning to a golden calf and proclaiming it as “the gods who brought you out of Egypt (Exodus 32:4).

At the same time, I can appreciate the temptation of the choice Moses was given:

“I can go without God, and make a name for myself. I will be the leader who brought the people of Israel into this land flowing with milk and honey. My name will be great among the people.”

Or, I can beg God to stay with us. I can refuse to go if He is not with us. But that will mean that He gets the glory, not me.

It will mean that people will look to Him for leadership, guidance, provision, and deliverance. I will be in the background.

And for Moses and the Israelites, it would also mean that an entire generation would die in the desert because they refused to trust God.

Is it possible that Moses could have gotten the people to the Promised Land within a couple of weeks if he had just been okay with God not being a part of it? That’s what God seems to imply in 33:2-3:

2 I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 3 Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.”

You have a choice Moses. Go without me, and I’ll make the way easy for you. I’ll send the angel ahead of you. You’ll still get to your Promised Land. I just won’t be part of the story.

Or, you can beg for Me to remain with you. And I will. But you will need to do things My way. I will make demands of you. I will require your obedience. And you’re going to fail. You are going to lose heart. You will face My judgment. You will tack on another forty years to your journey when you fail to trust Me. And in the end, not even you, My beloved servant, with whom I speak face to face (see Exodus 33:11), will make it to the Promised Land.

And dear Lord, in my heart of hearts I wonder how many churches, how many pastors, if given the same choice, would say, “So, let me get this straight:

“I could have a megachurch. A successful TV ministry. Book deals. Thousands of adoring followers. I would be the go-to whenever Fox News wanted commentary from a man of faith. Presidents would even seek me out for advice. The only catch is, You wouldn’t be with me.”

OR…

“I could struggle to lead a stubborn, self-centered little church for the rest of my life, and have them fight me every step of the way, and at the end of my career, I would die without seeing any of my dreams for the church fulfilled. But You would never leave me. You would never forsake me.”

How many would make the right choice? Would I?

Moses made the right choice. Oh Lord, would I? Please Lord, let me be the type of pastor who would rather struggle with You than succeed without You.

Day 035: This Time, It’s This Way. Next Time, It’s Another Way (Exodus 16-18)

5 And the Lord said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. (Exodus 17:5-6)

We see in today’s reading what will become a familiar pattern in Exodus-Numbers: When the children of Israel are tired, they act, well, like children. They grumble. They whine. They complain. When they are being attacked, they are terrified. And when they are thirsty, the accuse Moses of leading them out into the desert so they will die of thirst.

They are only forty-five days in to a road trip that will ultimately last forty years. If you have kids, you are beginning to understand why Moses is such a hero of the faith!

So the people complain, and God tells Moses to strike the rock so water will come out of it. “In fact,” says God in effect, “I want you to strike it just like you struck the Nile.” So Moses does, the water comes forth, and the people are satisfied.

As I was reading this morning, it occurred to me that later on, Moses will get disqualified from entering the Promised Land precisely because he struck a rock that God told him to merely speak to (We will get to this on Day 62, but it’s in Numbers 20, if you want to look ahead). And I thought that was unnecessarily harsh on God’s part. Why keep Moses out of the Promised Land simply because he did things the same way he had done them twice before?

And then, it hit me that we are guilty of the same thing in our churches. “Well, this way of doing things has always worked in the past. If it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it.” And we don’t seek God’s face. We don’t consider the possibility that God may have a different way of doing it this time. And as a result, we can miss the Promised Land God has for us.

I’m not saying we have to change just for the sake of change. But I am saying that for every challenge we face as a church, we must seek God. We can’t assume that God wants us to deal with this challenge the same way we dealt with a similar one forty years before.

This time, God told Moses to strike the rock. But next time, it will be different. This is how God rolls. Consider what God told His people through the prophet Isaiah:

Behold, I am doing a new thing;
    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert. (Isaiah 43:19)

Don’t miss your Promised Land.

Day 031: Honey, I Shrunk the LORD (Exodus 4-6)

Scene from DreamWorks The Prince of Egypt
2 But Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and moreover, I will not let Israel go.” 3 Then they said, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please let us go a three days' journey into the wilderness that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God, lest he fall upon us with pestilence or with the sword.”  Exodus 5:2-3

Update: please don’t read this unless you also read the retraction post I wrote after someone pointed out the errors in this one.

In Exodus 3, 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?” (Exodus 3:13).

In response, God revealed to Moses His personal, covenant Name:

God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:14). 

In Hebrew, the Name is the Hebrew characters YHVH, called the Tetragrammaton by scholars. Hebrews considered the Name so holy that they literally made it unpronounceable. The vowels attached to these consonants in Masoretic texts can’t be read. When rabbis and cantors got to these consonants in their reading, they would substitute either “Adonai” (Lord) or Ha Shem (The Name).

God continued: “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘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 thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations. (Exodus 3:15).

Powerful stuff. The kind of Name that mountains would bow down and seas would roar at the sound of.

Notice that Moses anticipated this question coming from the Israelites. However, the one who actually asks the question is Pharaoh. But I don’t think the response was supposed to change. Moses was supposed to say, “I AM sent me to you.”

Instead, he told Pharaoh, “The God of the Hebrews has met with us. Please let us go a three days journey into the wilderness.” (Exodus 5:3).

Hmmm. There seems to be a big difference between “I AM WHO I AM” and “the God of the Hebrews.” The first speaks of power and authority. Mystery and transcendence. It’s a Name that offers no further explanation, fosters no discussion, allows for no negotiation, and absolutely does not have to say “please.”

I AM WHAT I AM does not require the permission of a Pharaoh to do what He desires to do.

But this is not the name with which Moses answers Pharaoh. Instead, Moses responds, “the God of the Hebrews.” You can almost hear the stammer in his voice: “th-th-the God of the Hebrews. N-n-now, please let us go. We’ll only be gone three days. “

Three days? This is the first we’ve heard anything about three days. This wasn’t what God revealed to Moses at the burning bush. I AM WHAT I AM intends to set His people free forever, not offer them a weekend pass from slavery.

This is what happens when we don’t take God at His word. We feel like we have to present Him to the world as smaller. Less demanding. More reasonable. We try to explain the unexplainable, to name the Unnameable, and to tame the One who is untameable.

So of course Pharaoh says no. Moses hasn’t introduced Pharaoh to the Great I Am. Instead, he’s described him as a regional God. The God of the Hebrews. Pharaoh feels no obligation to this God. No reverence before Him. I AM WHAT I AM should make him fall to his knees. “The God of the Hebrews” makes him suppress a yawn.

In time, Pharaoh and all his household will tremble at the Name. God’s purposes will not be thwarted. But I have to wonder how the story would have played out if Moses had responded to Pharaoh the way God had instructed him to.

Beloved, God is revealing Himself to you every single day you are in His Word. Do not diminish Him. Do not apologize for Him. And do not look for the world’s permission to obey Him.

Day 030: “I Have Seen… So Send I You” (Exodus 1-3)

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.” (Exodus 3:11-12)

The scene of God appearing to Moses at the burning bush is one of the most significant moments in the entire biblical record. After 40 years of tending sheep in the wilderness, the 80 year old Moses turns aside to marvel at the bush that is burning but not consumed. God assures his servant that He is aware of the suffering of His people in Egypt.  Notice all the pronouns. God says,

  • “I have seen their affliction… and [I] have heard their cry” (v. 7)
  • “I know their sufferings” (v. 7)
  • “I have come down to deliver them” (v. 8) 
  • “[and I will] bring them up out of that land” (v. 8)
  • “the cry of the people has come to Me” (v. 9)
  • “I have seen the oppression with which the Egyptians are oppressing them.”

Up to this point, Moses is saying, “Yes! Get ‘em, God! Sic ‘em!” I’ll bet Moses can’t wait to watch God kick some Egyptian butt. 

Then, in verse 10, God throws Moses a curve: “Therefore, I am sending you.”

Wait, what? All this time Moses is getting pumped about how God is going to work, only to have everything come crashing down when he realizes God’s plan is to work through Moses. In Exodus 4, we will look at all the excuses Moses makes for why God’s got the wrong guy. But the first two are significant:

  1. Who am I? (verse 11)
  2. Who are You? (verse 13)

Moses may have thought to himself, “God, if you were going to use me, why didn’t you do this forty years ago, when I was a prince of Egypt? Why now, when I’m a fugitive octogenarian?”

God’s answer is not “Moses, you’re awesome! Moses, you can do it!” God doesn’t give Moses a self-esteem pep talk. He simply says, “I will be with you.”

Who are you? You’re the one that I, the Lord, will be with.”

Then God answers the question Moses hasn’t asked yet. He says, “and here’s how you know that I have sent you. When you’ve brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship Me on this mountain.”

Talk about delayed gratification! Moses will not worship God on that mountain again until he receives the law in Exodus 20. After the ten plagues. After the Red Sea.  After manna and quail and water from the rock. When all is said and done, Moses will look back and realize God was with him the whole time.

We may not have the assurance that God is with us until after we begin to obey Him. But when we do obey Him, we begin to realize that who we are doesn’t matter at all. Who God is makes all the difference in the world.

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