Moses and God’s Name
- Main Text: Exodus 1:8-14 [1:15–2:10]; 3:1-15
- Accompanying text: Mark 12:26-27a
What this passage means to us
That God defines himself is crucial to our understanding of the miracle of the God-kindled burning bush. God is “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14).
The Egyptians worshipped a myriad of gods, each of which had specific characteristics and attributes such as river-gods, gods of the sky and of the underworld, jackal gods and snake gods, etc. When Moses would go to declare the true God to them, they would want to know which of their gods this was, or, if a new god, what was it that defined him and made him distinct from other gods. God, however, defies human categorization. Jesus infuriated the religious leaders of his day by identifying with this phrase, “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:58). God is, his eternal presence is everlasting. In response to the question of the hope of the dead, Jesus referred to how God answered Moses, “But in the account of the burning bush, even Moses showed that the dead rise, for he calls the Lord ‘the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’” (Luke 20:37). God is not limited by the constraints of how we mark time…he is the God of the living and the dead, and of those still to be born. In the Old Testament we are blessed with glimpses of who God is, but the full reality of God is revealed in Jesus Christ. “The Son is the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being” (Hebrews 1:3).
“When people define God for themselves, they typically think of God as either wholly transcendent or wholly immanent. The gods of Islam and of deism are all transcendent. Many in the West are functional deists — they believe in God, but he doesn’t affect their lives. As far as they are concerned, God doesn’t see, doesn’t hear, doesn’t care, hasn’t come down. In contrast, the gods of mysticism, Sufism and Eastern religions are all immanence. These beliefs teach that God is within us or everything is in some way divine (perhaps this is why Eastern religions are often attractive to Westerners who have been brought up as functional deists). But the God who is, the God who revealed himself to Moses, is both above us and among us…God is self-defining” .
It’s interesting that Moses, who, as a prince of Egypt, may have witnessed first-hand and been attracted to the amazing tricks and works of the famous magicians of Pharaoh’s court (Genesis 41:8, Exodus 7:1-12), is not afraid of the fire, but rather he is curious about it, and it is through this curiosity that God draws Moses into conversation. When Moses saw that the bush was not consumed, he said, “I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush does not burn” (Exodus 3:3). Is there a lesson here for us on the subject of evangelism? Instead of preaching the fear of hellfire, should we spark others’ curiosity in the Gospel? When Paul preached to the Athenians, he piqued their curiosity to the extent that they said to him, “For you are bringing some strange things to our ears. Therefore we want to know what these things mean” (Acts 17:20).
Did the Israelites learn from being strangers in Egypt? Moses goes on to stipulate how, when it comes to strangers dwelling among them, the Israelites must not treat them in the way that they had been oppressed in Egypt. “One law shall be for the native-born and for the stranger who dwells among you” (Exodus 12:49). “Also you shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the heart of a stranger, because you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9). “The stranger who dwells among you shall be to you as one born among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:34), which is echoed in the “love your neighbour as yourself” references made by Jesus and later by Paul and James (Matthew 22:38, Galatians 5:14, James 2:8). That Jesus identifies with the stranger and with the oppressed is made clear in Matthew 25:42-43, “For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was ill and in prison and you did not look after me”.
Context and Story-line
“This is the story of economic migrants. Initially they are welcomed. But as they prosper, they are resented and feared. Oppressive measures are imposed. The fear is they will outnumber the local people and change their way of life” . Seen from this context, the account of the hostility towards Abraham’s descendants takes on a very modern twist.
What happens next involves is a story of grace and redemption. God intervenes in human history, and he rescues the Israelites from Egypt even though they did not understand fully who God is and the significance of his name.
- Hebrews 1:1-3
- Colossians 1:15
- Matthew 25:31-46
Other GCI resources
Footnotes and references
- Tim Chester, Exodus for You, (UK: The Good Book Company, 2016). 30, 35.
- Ibid. 12-13.