Archive for the ‘Exodus’ Category

We all have those moments when we want something so badly that we pray, hope and wish someone would step in and save the day. It could be for a good reason or just some human ambition that means the world to us. You have this exam that is about to dictate the rest of your life as you see it. This job interview which as far it goes you feel you must get it. A loved one is ill and at a point when we really need someone to step in. Maybe it’s something the world may not think is life changing but it means the world to you. Sometimes it’s just a sinful human craving. You’d be surprised the kind of situations people want God to step in and act on their behalf.

But let’s go with it’s a prayer for a good course however we define that. For those who believe in God he’s our go-to person in these situations and a last resort for everyone. It’s especially the case when there’s no one else who’d care enough and is as able enough to save the situation. And since we believe in God and for the most part we have tried to live up to his will it’s only fair he would step in for us. I mean which good father wouldn’t step in to save the day in such critical times? But then it happens that God doesn’t fly in to save the day. Sometimes he takes too long and other times we don’t see him come through at all. It’s the most lonely you can ever feel when the one person you counted most upon doesn’t come to your aid. Nothing is more disappointing.

I wanted to start by acknowledging this because that’s an undeniable feeling and a lot of us have been here before. Whatever answer theology has it’s a feeling that many have faced and we can’t deny it and shouldn’t undermine it. But this is only one side of the story and I hope you’ll stay put as I try to give you a Biblical perspective. You see it’s when we see God working in the bigger story that we appreciate his involvement in our story. I must tread carefully here though as this is bound to bring painful memories but I think there’s a light at the end of this tunnel. In the end we’ll see God is ever close in our suffering and he actually intervenes even when he is not sought after. If we open our eyes then I don’t think there’s a time we find God closer to us than in our weaknesses. Remember he has gone through suffering and faced our weaknesses in Jesus. He knows our pain, he sees the suffering of the whole world and is never indifferent to it. C.S Lewis said:

“God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains. It is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

C.S Lewis

A good place to start is with the story of Israel. It starts with oppression, pain and anguish. These guys weren’t in trouble just for a weekend, not just an exam gone wrong, theirs was a terminal case. But when God intervened it seemed to get worse before it could get better as it feels for us sometimes. You see, it’s one thing to suffer and another to continue suffering despite calling on God who claims he’s available to help us in our time of need. It’s when you’ve been praying for a loved one and their condition seems to get worse that you feel most let down by God. And that’s how Israel feels after God sends Moses to their rescue only for Pharaoh to make their life even worse. Hope is a beautiful sound to a suffering ear but it can hurt even more when it doesn’t pay off. Moses the bearer of good news, the man who had told Israel that God had seen their trouble and sent him to their rescue is angry, sad and disappointed in God.

22 Moses returned to the Lord and said, “Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me? 23 Ever since I went to Pharaoh to speak in your name, he has brought trouble on this people, and you have not rescued your people at all.”

Exodus 5 NIV

In truth though the pain and hopelessness of Israel is undeniable even to Moses, God was acting even in this situation as we see in the next chapter. It’s always a difficult thing to see God’s hand when things seem to get from bad to worse. I mean who in a million years would have contemplated that our redemption would be born by the suffering and death of Jesus? How can good come out of what seems so evil? How can a good God do anything other than quickly step in and save the situation for his beloved? But from this story we learn that where God seems so absent or powerless and indifferent actually he’s very much involved.

C.S Lewis is right, God is shouting in our pain and we just need to tune our hearts to the frequency of his word to hear how loud he is. We may not always get God’s direct explanation and reassurance as he gives to Moses in Exodus 6. But Bible history from Israel to Jesus tells us we can fully trust in him even in this. It tells us he’s very much in the details and working tirelessly for our good, see Romans 8:28.

When we feel most failed by God what we need is a biblical perspective because the Gospel is his megaphone. Now, I know sometimes that’s the last thing we want, more Bible. I mean sometimes we are not asking for much just a small intervention we say. But I must also say if God was only good because he stepped in when and in the way we always want then he’d really not be above us. He’d simply be a genie with some good wishes. But the story of the Bible, the story of the Gospel helps us see that our story is knit in a bigger cosmic story.

Our problem is that we are inevitably all about our story and yet it’s in both stories that we see God truly act for us. The Bible tells us we need more than a quick fix in our situation. We need our environment changed but more importantly it enlightens us to see we are not as innocent in the grand story as we think. We ourselves needed to be changed if ever our problems are to go away forever. And that’s exactly why God stepped in through Jesus to rescue us from our sin problem and grant us eternal life in a whole new world without pain, suffering and death.

But still our problem is a personal one. We agree with the world needing change and sin being a serious thing. But all we are asking is God to step in now and help his children on the journey before he brings us to our eternal home. Is that toomuch to ask? I think this is where I love our God even more. Because he not only deals with the most fundamental problems we face but he’s actually very close to us and involved in our personal story through it all. In Jesus and by his Holy Spirit he says he’s walking our Exodus with us until the end of times, see Matthew 28: 20. God is very close, he’s with us and even closer in our suffering having lived in this world, suffered and died for us in Jesus.

When we pray to him we are calling on someone who not only is able but cares, sympathises and understands what we are going through, see Hebrews 4:14-16:

14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Hebrews 4 ESV

It may not be the answer you are looking for in your time of need but it’s actually what we truly need. And you know what’s mind-blowing is that God makes good even of our suffering. He doesn’t waste our weaknesses, but through them he shapes us into the image of Christ. He helps us see life in a whole different way, he teaches us what it means to trust him in the good and bad times. And he helps us see that this world can never be home for us.

When we survey the grand story of our redemption as told by the Bible our personal story makes sense. When we feel let down and failed by God, in the Bible we see God is close and even closer in our struggles. And it’s never a waste of time praying to him because one way or the other he always answers our prayers. Actually he works even when we don’t see it and truly answers our prayers in ways that are best for us. We need the whole Bible story to truly appreciate God working in our personal story.

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There’s a saying that religion is the opium of the masses and where there’s great suffering and want, where reality is too cruel it seems people are most religious. In many ways our African continent can be described in those terms though not exclusively. We have always been a notoriously religious people and it doesn’t surprise many that we are the next global center of world Christianity. We’ve got the numbers and enough problems to run to any helping hand out there. But I don’t think this is necessary true of Christianity. No, here we have something completely different and the laws of demand and supply move in the opposite direction compared to our many other religions.

You see our African traditional religion and many religions of the world can be called the opium of the people because it’s people who seek and search for this drug. It’s the people who create the demand and religion supplies where no one else seems to have an answer.  It’s the people who ran and cry for help and turn to these gods in dire need. They are people driven and they changed as the needs of the people change because they have to keep up with the market. Our tribes turned to the gods in times of calamity, they sought them in famine and war. They kept them pleased as a guarantee for help in the day of trouble. They were an emergency fund, an investment in an uncertain future and the go-to where man’s strength failed. Man looked for the gods, kept them happy in the ways he knew how and went to withdraw favor when need arose.

It’s for this reason that I think the Christian God is so different. Because in the Bible we see it is God not man who made the first move. Here the direction of flow is completely different. Man is not trying to run after a rather indifferent powerful being to come to his aid. No man is running in the opposite direction and is the one who is indifferent, unconcerned and wouldn’t care less about this God. But he runs like a father towards his prodigal child and this time they don’t meet halfway rather he pursues him to the farthest end. Sure, our African need means we are open to any god out there who can help us. And yes for the most part we think this God is no different but when we look at him we realize he’s not a god we would run after in a million years. Actually he says he’s the one who does the running after.

In Genesis we find him as the God who seeks and calls Abraham and in Exodus he goes after Israel in Egypt. Now here as Africans we would think it is Israel who goes after God. They are facing pain and oppression and they cry out to the so called God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They do it for a long time and finally it wakes this sleeping God to remember his promise. In truth, we are not told which god they called out to only that like us they cried for help and were ready for help from anywhere really. But it was God, as he had promised Abraham who intervenes.  

23 During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God. 24 And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. 25 God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.

I think they were open for help from any god perhaps even the gods of Egypt. But it is God who steps in to rescue them and fulfil his Abrahamic promise. Actually if you look closely you realize God was already pulling the strings. He’s the one who increases them in Egypt and the one who preserves them despite all the plots of Pharaoh to cut out their name. It’s God who calls Moses. It’s God who fights Pharaoh for them. It’s God who carries them to Canaan even when most times they want to go back. And this story of a seeking God is repeated a lot of times in the wilderness and in the Promised Land under the Judges. Israel cries and God comes running to save a people who are not really after him and who don’t actually regard his Word and warnings. Israel like Africans want a God who helps when needed but a God who plays by our terms. They want a god they can manipulate to play by their tune. Help them in need but for the most part let them live their lives the way they want. But not so with this God. He’s a fatherly kind of God. He wants to be involved in the lives of his people.

This God seems too emotionally invested for us Africans to entertain. As an African man we can even say he’s a weak man. A true man has got to be powerful yes but also aloof and a bit distant to gain his respect. That’s actually how our gods operated. But this one is not like that and he doesn’t want to be treated like the other gods. He won’t accept just a cash in worship for a cash out favor when we need it. He demands everything and wants to be involved in everything. He talks about eternal life when we are just wondering where our next meal will come from. He says we face a greater problem than poverty, diseases and insecurity? And he says that problem is sin? He’s got to be kidding us. We don’t want that kind of God. He’s too close and too invested for us. And he doesn’t really offer us what the other market gods supply. Yes we want his help but we also want it in our own terms, that’s the tradeoff with any religion. But not with this one though, he says we have to play in his own terms because that’s what is good for us.

If religion is the opium of the masses this God won’t be getting as many customers. He doesn’t fit the bill and doesn’t play by the rules. But it is especially that he’s different that he is exactly what we need. Africa’s greatest problems might be perceived to be hunger, bad leadership, unemployment, corruption, insecurity and a bad history. But all of these are but symptoms of a greater problem that none of our gods have answered. Yes these are real symptoms and shouldn’t be undermined but if we really want a cure we’ve got to go to the root of the problem. And that’s the biggest problem that faces not only Africans but all of humanity throughout history. The heart of the problem is the human heart, See Mark 7:20-23. It’s sin that corrupts our world at the very core. And that problem won’t be solved by education, foreign aid, humanitarian projects or even religion. They help our society but won’t ultimately solve this problem. Only the seeking God of the Bible has an answer for man and with this a solution for Africa and the world at large.

That seeking God comes to a continent that trades with human gods. He calls out a people notoriously religious to the true light of the world. He begs the attention of a people lost in want, addiction and hopelessness and says here is the way. Here’s one who comes to seek and save the lost. Here’s a God who loves mother Africa and has come to save her and her children. He’s heard her cry and stepped in like he did with Israel in the person of Jesus Christ to offer her hope for the future. He deals with Africa’s entrenched problem of sin and liberates her from being the Dark Continent. Here’s a God we should all run to because unlike all our other gods this one runs towards us. This one deals not only with what we think is our problem but with the very heart of it and in him offers us the hope we crave for and that for eternity. Africa has a new God and he’s the seeking God of the Bible.

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Here’s another great excerpt from research Getrude Namapiion worship by alumnus Getrude Namapii:


The old covenant

In Exodus 24:1-2 only Moses could approach the Lord at the top of the mountain, the other men were to worship from a distance. Moses had to sprinkle to blood of the covenant to the people first then he was lost in the presence of God for forty days. The scene is described as overwhelming!

The worship structure, designed in accordance with the instructions given to Moses by God (Ex. 25):

  • Had a lamp stand to signify the source of light – Jesus is the light of the world
  • A gold table in the Holy place upon which was placed the consecrated bread – Jesus is the bread of life
  • Golden altar of incense in the Most Holy place for burning sacrifices – Jesus intercedes for us, our advocate
  • Ark of the Covenant in the Most Holy place which signified the presence of God – Jesus is Immanuel God with us


Entry to the tabernacle was highly restricted! Under the Aaronic priesthood, only the family of the Levites had the right to serve as priests in the tabernacle. They could enter the Holy place to carry out their priestly duties. The Most Holy place was hidden behind a curtain, entered only by the High priest once a year on the Day of Atonement with blood of special animals which he offered for himself and for the sins of the people.   Ordinary people thus had no access to God’s presence even after they had been sprinkled with blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of heifers. The other challenge to this covenant was that the priests were mortal thus death prevented them from continuing in office forever. (Heb. 7:23)

The Holy Spirit was showing that the way into the Most Holy Place had not yet been disclosed as long as the first tabernacle stood.

CurtainWhen Christ came as High Priest, He went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made. He entered with His own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. He is Holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners and exalted above the heavens. Unlike other high priests, He sacrificed for their sins once and for all since He does not need to offer His own sin offering. Jesus offered Himself to die on the cross in our place – we who were dead in sin, that we may be alive in Him. As the writer of Hebrews asks in Heb. 9:14, how much more the blood of Christ Jesus, who through eternal Spirit offered Himself unblemished to God, cleanses our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!  Through His death, we have access to the Most Holy place since the curtain that hid the presence of God from us was torn in to two (Mark 15:38). He is the fulfillment of the structure that had been shown to Moses: the Light of the world, the bread of life, our intercessor, and Immanuel God with us! Moreover, since Jesus rose from the dead and lives forever, His priesthood is everlasting.  For this reason, Christ is the mediator of a new covenant which God promised according to Heb. 8:10-12. It is a relational covenant of love to all those who are called to receive eternal inheritance. This is our identity in Christ as children of God: a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God that we may declare the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into His wonderful light! Glory be to God forever, amen.

In the light of these Gospel facts, we realize that Jesus alone can lead us into God’s presence and cause us to worship God. Our question stands; then what is the role of the ‘worship team’? In most common cases we have heard it said that the worship team lead people into the presence of God…this is not true. We are all men, and we need Christ to help us worship God. No one is perfect, no not one that he may lead others to God. Jn. 14:6 reminds us the words of Jesus: I am the way, the truth and life; no one comes to the Father except by me.

We are ministers of the new covenant. In view of God’s love to us by calling us to His eternal inheritance, we are confident through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God (2 Cor. 3:4-5). He has made us ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. The Spirit of the Lord Jesus has granted us freedom. This was so by removing the veil from our faces so that we may reflect the Lord’s glory. This is real worship, as we are being transformed into the likeness of Christ, with ever increasing glory which comes from our Lord.

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Bernie muluuGuest post from our good friend Bernard Muluuta, pioneering some grassroots work encouraging faithful Bible teaching in Uganda:


Preaching is fundamental in the growth of the church and bears much fruit in the lives of Christians especially when done faithfully.

There are steps we go through when we get down to preaching or rather prepare to: we pray, study, pray some more, study more, write, pray and finally speak God’s Word to His people.

In our study and preparation, we are encouraged to handle the text right. “Context. Context. Context,” we are reminded, “is key” to understanding the big idea of the text. One other reason why we need to get our context right is because it affects how we apply the text to our hearers. A good understanding of the text and its context will greatly help us to apply the text to the people we are preaching to and show them why the text is relevant to them today and through that we hear God speak to us.

Spotting the context within a verse, chapter or book is good but it is also helpful to see it from the big picture perspective of the whole sweep of Scripture. All through the Bible we run into precedents – events that set patterns, they become a mould other events can fit into or are modelled on. (I don’t think I am the only one who runs into déjà vu moments in Scripture.)

We see patterns (set rolling by precedents) that are repeated in the Bible: the sacrificial system; prophets preaching God’s Word to a wayward people; God’s judgement against the people for their rebellion; the need for a king to lead God’s people; salvation for those who have faith in Jesus Christ.

The patterns have a lot to teach us about God, His character and plans, what He was teaching His people and how deviating from the pattern brought punishment against the people.

But it’s not just precedents and patterns we run into, we also find one-off phenomena – occurrences that happen only once and we are left with no other events to draw parallels to in an attempt to find a good explanation for the event. These are the exceptions.

moses-and-the-burning-bush-the-bible-27076046-400-300In the Old Testament we find events like Enoch walking with God and being taken away (Gen. 5.24), Moses and the Burning Bush (Ex. 3), Joshua and the messenger of the LORD (Josh 5.13), Gideon and the woollen fleece (Jdg 6.36-38). In the New Testament we find Paul’s encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9), Paul’s shadow and handkerchief healing the sick (Acts 19.11-12).

I point out this distinction because it is easy for us to mistake an exception for a precedent. In preaching some dwell on some of these exceptions and make so much of them more than the text itself intends.  This is reflected in the applications in the sermon as people are told they should walk with God that like Enoch they will be taken away (as mysteriously as he was). Or how like Moses they need a burning bush experience. In yesteryears I have heard (and unfortunately still hear) sermons where people are told that they like Paul should have the power to heal the sick with their shadows and handkerchiefs.

People experience frustration when they hear sermons that turn these exceptions into patterns that are supposed to be happening in their lives but never materialise. It has resulted in Christians who think their faith is weak simply because “these signs are not following them.” (Mk. 16.17-18) Others wonder what is wrong with them if they have not had a “face-to-face” chat with God like Moses did.

We need to be careful as preachers to study the Scriptures right and understand where events fit into God’s salvation story and revelation of Himself. Our understanding of their relevance then and God choosing to reveal Himself in a particular way will affect what we preach as well as how we apply the text to our hearers.

Let us not weigh down the church with expectations and challenges God did not intend for them or leave the church with the wrong impression of what God is communicating.

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 1. He’s the God who takes the initiative

2. He’s the God who relates

3. He’s the God who saves

arrow pointing down“I have seen… I have heard… I know… and I have come down to deliver them…” (Exodus 3:7-8) This is brilliant! Salvation is top down. It’s something God does, not something we do or contribute to.  When I say “I’m saved” – I don’t mean “I’ve made a commitment to God” or “I’m living for God” – if that’s what it means to be saved I lose my salvation every day – When I say I’m saved I mean that God has saved me out of a pit I could never get out of. And it’s not like he sends down a helicopter winch – as if God is safe up there and he sends down a rope and we hold on and he pulls us up – no – “I have come down” (v8). The transcendent God of Islam would never come down. We have a God who comes down. Who comes into the fire of suffering and pain, who one day will take on human flesh, who will be born in a shed, who comes down into all the mud and muck and filth, down even to death on a cross… to deliver us from slavery… to enter a new Eden – v8: “a good and broad land”.

How is God going to do it?  Through a man – Moses (v10). It’s very interesting – God will save, God will come down… and a man will bring the people out. You get the same paradox with Joshua and then with David later in the Bible – God alone will save… through the man. It’s only resolved in The God-Man.

And the man through whom God saves is a weak man. Moses says “Who am I?” (v11) God answers: “What about who I am? I will be with you” – This is the coming down God – I’ll be there right with you – in the pillar of cloud and fire – I’ll be doing the saving at ground level. “And this shall be the sign…” Again, it’s interesting what the sign is. It’s not a ‘fleece’-type sign is it? “When you have… you shall…” – it’s a sign for afterwards. The man of God needs to put his faith in the Word of God. Salvation is going to come about through a man who walks by faith not by sight.

And what is the goal of God’s salvation? “You shall serve God on this mountain” (v12). God is going to save a people out of slavery for service to God. That’s the dynamic of the gospel – from slavery to worship – rescued from a terrible task master to serve and enjoy a wonderful master. Again the goal is relationship. And it’s a relationship remade in person by the God who saves.

4. He’s the God who reveals himself in salvation history

Moses asks basically, “When people ask me, ‘What God are you talking about?’ what shall I say?” (v13). It’s a good question – Who is this God? What is he like? What’s his name? What sort of God are we talking about?

So God gives his name (v14-15) “… this is my name forever”. Again it’s relational isn’t it? When you give someone your name you’re opening up and inviting someone in to know you a bit more. Or to put it another way you’re giving something of yourself away. That’s why we’re reluctant to give our name to someone who just stops us on the street or a unknown caller on the phone. And why we feel really bad when we forget someone’s name we’ve met before. It’s a relational thing. A name is not something that you use like a magic word. We can slip into using God’s name like that in prayer can’t we? But it’s about relationship.

And what is the name?  “I am who I am” or “I will be who I will be” or “I am becoming who I shall become” (v14). It’s obviously some sort of form of ‘to be’. It could just mean that this is the living God – the self-existent one. But there does seem to be some sort of future tense in the Hebrew, similar to verse 12 which is translated “I will be”. So then God is basically saying – “If you want to know who I am just look at what I’m going to do.” Very often the Bible answers the question “What is God like?” not by saying he’s got all these attributes (omnipotent, omniscient and all the other omnis) but just by saying ‘Look at what he’s done. He’s parted the red sea, he’s brought us into the land, he’s fought our enemies – that’s who God is.’

When you get to John’s gospel we find that The Word, the only God who was at the Father’s side, has taken on flesh and come down to make him known.  Again and again he says “I AM” – and in his prayer to the Father just before his death he says: “I have manifested the name”.  When Jesus is asked, ‘What is God like’, ‘Show us God’, he says, “have I been with you so long and still you don’t know me?”  His life and death and tears and washing feet were manifesting who God is – just as the first Exodus was a display of who God is and what he’s like.

Application: God is not just a collection of attributes and he’s not just a collection of titles. Sometimes we can try to impress each other or impress God by piling up a load of Hebrew titles for God – El shaddai, Jehovah Jireh, Jehovah Rapha.  But God is not a static being. He’s not giving us his name as way to access his power. He is revealing himself as the acting-in-history God. He is a saving, weeping, suffering God; a God who has done stuff. We just need to read the story of the Bible and get to know him.

And finally…

5. He’s the God who promises

  • Verses 16-17: Moses is commanded to preach the promise of God. The rest of the verses of the chapter are a promise of what will happen. “They will… he will… I will… I will… I will…”
  • Verse 18: the implication is that the elders met with God as Moses preached the promises of God. Preaching God’s Word is not an academic exercise it is a meeting with God.
  • Verse 19-20: there will be signs and wonders accompanying the Exodus (v19-20) just as there will be signs and wonders accompanying the greater Exodus (Luke-Acts).
  • Verses 21-22: There’s going to be a great victory won entirely by God but the people will have the plunder, they will be more than escapees, more even than conquerors – there will be a complete reversal.

Why do we have all these promises and predictions here in chapter 3? We get it repeated in later chapters when it actually happens so isn’t it a waste of ink? No. We should never get bored of the amazing fact that God promises things and they actually happen. No other religion has a God like that. Isaiah the prophet mocks the other gods and says basically:

Tell us what’s going to happen, that we may know that you are gods – did any of you predict what is now happening? – No? – Well the God of Israel – The I AM – he did actually declare these new things long ago. And now he declares promises of a new Exodus, a great anointed one, a suffering servant, a new heavens and a new earth.

We get to the New Testament and it’s just one long promise fulfilment – ‘This was to fulfil…’ ‘This was to fulfil…’ The Christian life is simply standing on the promises of God – not making up new promises or twisting promises that don’t really apply to us to try to make them apply to us – but holding on to the promises that really are for us – “I will be with you always” “ I will never leave you or forsake you” “No-one shall snatch them out of my hand”  “I am coming soon”.

Is this the God we are preaching and worshiping in our churches – the promising, acting-in-history, saving, relating, taking-the-initiative, top-down God?

behold your God

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We argued previously that the burning bush is not a 101 in personal development but a revelation of God. We meet the true God face to face and we find he’s nothing like how we might imagine him:

1. He’s the God who takes the initiative.

If we’ve read Exodus 2 we know that Moses is set up to be the deliverer  – he’s had an amazing birth, he’s had a go at liberating his people (that went a bit wrong), and he saved his future wife and sisters in law. But that was forty years ago. Now he’s just taking his father-in-laws sheep to new pasture – nothing special – he didn’t know it was about to become the mountain of God. And then the angel of the LORD appears to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of the bush. Did Moses go looking for this? Was he in fervent prayer and fasting? Was he praising God or invoking heaven? No – God came to him and called to him – “Moses, Moses.”

You know the children’s game where everyone hides and someone seeks? God is the seeker – we are the hiders. Salvation is God’s initiative – it was his plan from before creation, he revealed it to Abraham hundreds of years before (Gen. 15), he saved Moses as a baby and now he’s coming to start the great salvation of his people. We do not have a God like Baal who we need to scream and shout at for hours to get him to move – he’s already moved – he always makes the first move. He has to make the first move – we are enslaved, we are dead, we can’t help ourselves, we’re in a pit so deep we will never be able to climb out of it. We need a God who takes the initiative to rescue us.

2. He’s the God who relates.

Why a burning bush? What exactly does it mean when it says the Angel of the LORD appeared “in flame of fire”? What exactly is the significance of the bush burning and yet not being consumed? Do you know? Moses doesn’t know (v3) so he goes to have a closer look. We could ponder for a long time what exactly the burning bush means – a lot of learned folk have spilt a lot of ink debating the various possible significances – but I’m not sure how helpful that is. Moses could have spent a long time pondering that burning bush – I don’t think it would have helped him a lot. He could have stared at it for a long time without being any the wiser. What makes the difference? God speaks! (3:4-4:27) He relates, he communicates, he reveals himself – and then we start to know what he’s like. You get same thing in Exodus 19 and 20. Chapter 19: fire and smoke – what does that mean? Is this just a crazy angry God? And then we get chapter 20: God speaks his mind, his love, his law. The point is: miracles and fireworks on their own don’t reveal God. We have a speaking God – a God who addresses individuals by name –”Moses, Moses”, just as he had once called out “Abraham, Abraham”, “Jacob, Jacob” and later would call “Samuel, Samuel”, “Simon, Simon”, “Martha, Martha”, “Saul, Saul”.

And how does God introduce himself? (v6) “I am the God who called Abraham his friend, who walked with Abraham, who Abraham put his faith in, the one who provided a substitute for Isaac, the one who wrestled with Jacob” – he is the God who has related, walked and talked and grappled with these men . And especially he is the God who made promises to them. The great promise of a people, blessing, land – spoken to Abraham (Gen. 12) and then repeated several times to him and Isaac and Jacob. And even more than that, he is still relating to these men – as Jesus said on this text (Mk. 12:26-27) – he is not the God of the dead but the living. He is their friend and Lord even after death. He is a relational God – not an idea or a force, or a magic word – not a distant abstract God but a face-to-face relating God.

But there’s a problem in the relationship – “Do not come near… the place on which you are standing is holy ground” (v5). If you’ve been reading through the Pentateuch, the last time you heard ‘holy’ before this was when it was used in Genesis 2 to describe the Sabbath – the perfect, beautiful rest of God, Eden – the place where God walked with man in the cool of the day, where they related to one another in perfect joy.  But what happened Genesis 3 – not just disobedience to the law – it was the rejection of that relationship – and so Adam and Eve had to leave God’s presence and the tree of life and the fiery swords of the cherubim guarded the way back into the holy place. Now we’re having an echo of that in Exodus 3 – God is present, there’s a tree but there is also fire and you can’t get close. This is the problem the sacrificial system and the tabernacle will be all about – how can you get into the most holy place, the presence of God and live?  Or to put it the other way round – how can God dwell with and relate to his people without destroying them.

It’s really important that we see that God is relational and sin is relational – the problem is relational. It’s not a pragmatic problem – like I’ve got a plumbing shida and I call in the fundi wa maji and he fixes it and off he goes but I don’t have a relationship with the fundi. I need a restored relationship with the author of life.

And fortunately he is a God who takes the initiative in restoring relationships…


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In a contest for famous bits of the Bible, Exodus 3 would be right up there with the parting of the Red Sea, David and Goliath, Jonah and the fish.  Jesus can say simply “the passage about the bush” (Mark 12:26) and everyone knew immediately what he was talking about.

As a story it’s just crying out to be preached. A burning bush calling your name. It grabbed the attention of Moses so surely it’ll grab the attention of the congregation this Sunday.

But what’s it all about? Why is it so important? Is it about finding God in your wilderness experience? Is it about guidance? Is it about meeting God in the everyday of life? Is it a masterclass in leadership formation? Is it about managing midlife transitions?

A few reasons why the people of Jesus’ day would have prized the passage about the bush:

  • This is the birth of a people – Exodus 3 is the first time we get God saying “my people”, “my people”, “my people”. It’s no longer just about one or two individuals. This is where we really start hearing about God’s people, the holy nation, God’s inheritance, the kingdom of priests. “What god ever attempted to take a nation out of another nation?” And this is where it starts.
  • This is the activating of the promise made to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob – of a land of their own – and particularly the promise that after 400 years in a land that is not theirs, as slaves, suffering afflictions, they would come out.  By the beginning of Exodus it’s been hundreds of years since those promises but God’s not like us – he doesn’t forget or change his mind or quietly shelve his promises – he keeps his word.  And this is the moment when it finally happens:  “God remembered his covenant” (Ex. 2:24).  You don’t get a turning point quite this momentous for another 1800 years until “at just the right time” God decides to fulfil all his promises through the prophets about another, greater Exodus (Gal. 4:4-5).
  • This is the calling of the great prophet Moses – superstar of the Old Testament, towering figure of Jewish history. The passage is foundational for the biblical concept of prophecy (Ex. 4:15-16; 1 Sam. 3). And it’s vital that we get this account of the calling of Moses (Ex. 3-4) because it shows us so clearly that he is not actually such a superstar after all. He didn’t get up one day and think, ‘I’ll go and have a word with Pharaoh and tell him to let the people go and if he doesn’t I’ll whack the land with my stick and send plagues’. We see that Moses is a weak man called and equipped and empowered by God. And so the real superstar of the story is…
  • God – the burning bush story is a theophany for crying out loud! It’s a blazing revelation of God – possibly the most important in the Old Testament – where Israel’s God gives his people his personal name. The burning bush incident reverberates through the rest of the Bible – echoed in the theophanies to Joshua (Joshua 5:13-15), Gideon (Judges 6:11-24), Samson’s parents (Judges 13), shepherds (Luke 2:8-14), Saul (Acts 9:3-4), John (Rev. 1). The ‘big idea’ of Exodus 3 is God has turned up and he’s saying, “I AM – this is who I am.”  It’s a sad indication of our hearts that we so easily jump to make a theophany all about us…

The passage about the bush: What kind of God is this?

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