SUNDAY MORNING WORSHIP SERVICE, 12 February 2023
Sermon Text: Exodus 3:1-12
Sermon Series: “Exodus” (#4)
I. Moses in the west side of the wilderness
II. God in a flame of fire in the midst of a bush
III. God’s burning desire of delivering His people
Today’s message is the fourth one in this series on the Book of Exodus, and we’ve just read the first half of ch. 3. In the beginning of this chapter, we find another leap of time. The previous case of skipping was found between vs. 10 and 11 of ch. 2, and it was a jump over forty years in Moses’ life. In 2:10, Moses was a little boy and in 2:11, he was forty-year-old man. Now, in 3:1, we find Moses at his eighty years of age.
This man God visits and appoints as His messenger and deliverer for His people, Israel. This is an amazing story for the nation Israel. No wonder why this story of Exodus has been a pivotal point in the history of Israel as God’s OT church. Saying this, I don’t mean that this story is less or no longer important to us of the NT church. Rather, the story of Moses and Israel’s escape from Egypt still speaks to us a vital message, that is, the holy God is compassionate toward us and His heart is burning with a desire for saving and delivering His people from bondage and slavery to freedom, from curse to eternal bliss. The message we hear from Moses is the same message we hear from Jesus and His apostles – that is, our God is the God of compassion, our God is the God of mercy and grace, our God is the God of salvation. This is the sole basis of thanks and praise the underserving sinners give to this God of mercy, as was in Moses’ time, so is in the present time.
So, I’d like you to join me and listen carefully to the message God speaks to us through Moses, and be thankful to the God of overflowing love, whose heart is filled with a burning desire to deliver His people.
I. MOSES IN THE WEST SIDE OF THE WILDERNESS
Let us follow the text and start with eighty-year-old Moses. The situation is that he’s tending the flock in the field. Examining his situation more, we hear that the flock he is keeping is of Jethro, his father-in-law, and he has driven them, as v. 1 specifies, to the mountain side of Horeb in the west side of the wilderness – in other words, the west side of the Sinai Peninsula, toward the Red Sea.
Take a moment and think about Moses and his situation because all seem to be somewhat unexpected. Firstly, Moses is now 80 years old, having been in the pastoral business for over forty years. But he still tends his father-in-law’s flock. This sounds strange. Comparing to Jacob, for example, he became rich at the end of his fourteen years’ work at the house of Laban, his father-in-law. But Moses has been at Jethro’s for almost three times longer by now than Jacob’s time at Laban’s, yet still he tends Jethro’s flock.
Considering his present location – that is, the west side of the wilderness – it’s not the usual pastoral region for the Midianites. Their usual place for feeding their flock is either northern part or north-eastern part of the wilderness region. And we’re not told why Moses is in this west side, far away from his usual pastureland. This also means that Moses is staying away from the rest of Midianite shepherds and their flocks.
In a word, Moses seems to be not really going well with what he does. It doesn’t sound to me either that he is enthusiastic about his circumstances. Moses is a learned man – I believe in the areas of business management, international relations, mathematics, etc, etc. But Moses we face in the beginning of ch. 3 is far from any of those sophisticated and civilised expertise; it seems that he is a shepherd too ordinary to attract our special attention.
I believe these points tell us that Moses is in desperation. He might’ve lost all interest in life. Every day is the same; nothing’s new. There’s no future, no hope. He wakes up every morning and repeats his usual daily chores. Sometimes he takes the flock and spends several days or even weeks away from home. A new day means no special thing and a new month or year doesn’t add any new aspect to his days. Now he’s eighty years old – maybe too old to work this far away from home either. And he is, at the present moment in Ex. 3:1, in the west side of the wilderness.
Isn’t he a typical human being? Like the numerous people in our world? Isn’t Moses’ desperation, hopelessness, what the unbelieving people in our world have? In this sense, Moses of Ex. 3:1 is a representative of all natural men and women – by ‘natural men and women,’ I mean all who inherit the sin of Adam and Eve, our common parents, and remain under its curse, that is, death, yet, haven’t met the only Saviour of the world, Jesus Christ. To them, every day is the same, thus, no hope, no joy. So, their only interest is to grab as much opportunity of temporal pleasures as possible.
II. GOD IN A FLAME OF FIRE OUT OF THE MIDST OF A BUSH
In fact, that is what Moses is about to do. He looks at a wild fire and wants to explore a possibility of entertainment. In fact, watching fire is fun. So, Moses wishes to explore the flame of fire that is out of the midst of a bush. As he approaches, he wonders, ‘Why isn’t this flame consuming the bush?’
Before considering this question, I want you to think about the reason for God’s appearing in a flame of fire. Why did God appear in a flame of fire and not in any other forms or ways? God could’ve surely grabbed Moses’ attention with a ram caught in a bush, like the case of Abraham at the time of offering Isaac on a mountain. It could’ve been any of his ancestors, Abraham or Jacob or even his own father Amram, for example, appeared, shining brightly like the case of Jesus’ transfiguration in Mt. 17. None of such was the case but in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush did God appear to Moses! Why?
It is because God knew Moses deeply and thoroughly. God desired to appear to Moses in the most caring yet effective way – in a way best tailored to Moses, if you like. What I mean is that Moses has been, over the past 40 years, a shepherd, tending the flock in the field. One of the essentials of shepherds is fire that cooks meals for them, warms them up in cold weather, or even keeps them and their flock safe from wild beasts. In addition, fire is an important human psychological factor that gives comfort, especially in a survival situation. So, a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush is God’s best tailored approach to Moses!
I truly believe that God still appears to each of His own in a best tailored way. The God of grace and eternal blessing approaches each of us in a way that attracts one’s attention, in a way that embraces each one with His mysteriously warm and saving arms. For Abraham, for example, with His divine voice while he was in the centre of a pagan land; for Jacob, in a vision at night on his flight from his brother Esau; for Joshua, in the form of a mighty warrior; for David, pouring the Holy Spirit upon the boy David when Samuel poured the anointing oil upon him; and for Paul, in a mighty voice with a bright light from heaven. God knows each of His beloved, and approaches them according to His knowledge of each one. God’s best tailored way for some of you might be the testimony of your family member to the faith in Jesus. For another, it could’ve been hitting by a truck and suddenly realised that worshipping God and trusting Jesus the Son was the way he ought to go. What a tender and caring God He is!
This is why Heb. 3 and 4 repeatedly urge all people to not harden their hearts when they hear God’s invitation – in other words, when they encounter God appearing to each one in a best tailored way and inviting them to Christ. Do not rebel, do not reject His invitation, but listen to Him and believe in the Son Jesus who is the Saviour and Lord.
Moreover, God appears to His beloved – like the case of Moses – not only at the best tailored way but also at the best tailored moment for each one. For Moses, it was at Mount Horeb, in the west side of the wilderness, far away land from his home. This place reminds him his true identity – that is, a sojourner, alien, in a foreign land. This place reminds him that he has a place to go back; he has a people to reunite. When he is at or near his home among the Midianites, he’s too comfort there to remember his true identity. But being located away from all that, his mind is set to look beyond the horizon and gaze at from where he has come. At this very moment, God appeared to him!
And so does He appear to each of His elect at a best tailored moment. And He reminds us of our true identity – we’re not of this world but of the one eternal; we’re sojourning here, heading toward our destiny, our eternal home, where our gracious Saviour is waiting for us and our loving Father embraces all in His family! No wonder why so many people have come to Christ while they were alone, away from their comfort zone. God visits individuals at specific moments in their life – even at their crisis, desperate moments. Whenever it might be, God visits His own at the best moment to enable them, us, to know God and believe in His Son, Jesus.
Then, let’s go back to Moses’ query, that is, ‘Why isn’t this flame consuming the bush?’ Because it was not an ordinary fire but a presentation of God’s nature, especially, His holiness and immanence. In a word, that fire reveals to us who God is.
First of all, the fire doesn’t burn the bush, meaning, that the plant is not the fuel for the flame, but God is its source. The flame comes from God and, because God is above and greater than what is created, the natural law cannot bind Him. The fire burns, therefore, according to God’s will. I’m quite astonished by this amazing lesson that teaches us about God’s holiness. God is different from all things that exist. He is above all matters and laws. He is all powerful or omnipotent; He is all knowing or omniscient – nothing is hidden from His understanding because He created all beings and things! In all, God is holy – in other words, He is apart from all else, above all else, beyond all else. This flame that burns but not consuming the bush teaches us this truth.
At the same time, this flame of fire teaches us God’s immanence, that is, His near presence. He is above and beyond all beings and things, but He is everywhere. We often say this as God’s omnipresence. God was in the flame of fire before Moses at Mt Horeb. He is here with us, as has been with all His children. So, sings the psalmist in Ps. 139, saying this: “Where shall I go from Your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from Your presence? If I ascend to heaven, You are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, You are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there Your hand shall lead me, and Your right hand shall hold me”!
Nowhere are you alone. Nowhere can you be alone because there at your side Your God, our Heavenly Father, is, my dear fellow Christians! This flame Moses looks at teaches us this truth of God’s immanence, His presence in our midst.
This truth of God’s nature gives us great and deep comfort. God is greater than all beings and things, yet, He is with me, with you. The foundation of the Apostle Paul’s unbreakable confidence in God and Jesus as recorded and given to us in Rom. 8:28 and following is this truth of God’s nature. Our God is holy and immanent; our Heavenly Father is above and beyond all else but with us intimately and eternally! What else could any Christian have other than such full confidence and eternal comfort that filled Paul’s heart and many others?
III. GOD’S BURNING DESIRE OF DELIVERING HIS PEOPLE
Yet, the most important part of the message we must hear today is this, that God’s heart is burning with His divine desire to save His people. Like the flame that burns before Moses’ eyes, this desire in God’s heart is strong and powerful.
On this mountain side in Ex. 3, it is revealed in His voice, calling Moses in v. 4, “Moses, Moses!” This is an expression of urgency as was at the case of Abraham and Isaac on the mountain top, calling him urgently to stop him from killing his son Isaac in Gen. 22, “Abraham, Abraham!” In the same urgency, Jesus Christ called Saul on the way to Damascus in Acts 9, “Saul, Saul.”
Calling each of these in urgency is to save their life. So, calling Moses, God says to him to not come near but take off his sandals. Why? Because, God says, the land he is standing is holy ground. But you must understand that God doesn’t mean that piece of land is special, unlike all the other lots of land. Rather, He means that on that specific spot, God chooses to appear to Moses and, because of His presence, Moses must stay away. Otherwise, Moses as a sinful man will surely be destroyed by the righteous God!
Consider the case of Isaiah the prophet in Isa. 6. He saw the Lord of host in his bare eyes, and his immediate reaction to that was saying this, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips … for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” More specifically, God explains this later to Moses in Ex. 33:20, saying, “man shall not see Me and live.” Not even hearing this explanation, Moses in v. 6 of today’s text hides his face because he is afraid to look at God.
In spite of this great danger, God appears to Moses and each of His beloved to save all! You might wonder why you don’t remember His appearance to you, but that’s because God has appeared to you in a way to not destroy you but save you. Consider Jesus, the God incarnate, and His life that fulfilled all requirements of the law on your behalf and mine; His death on the cross through which the sting of death is removed from you and me. God appeared to you and me through Jesus, and He is the pure and perfect presentation of God’s burning desire to save us!
This compassionate God speaks to Moses – and through him to all of us – that He has surely seen our affliction, has heard our cry, and He knows our suffering. Thus, He has come down to us to deliver us in and through Jesus the Son, as He came to deliver Israel through Moses!
Brothers and sisters, Moses’ story of encountering God at the mountain side of Horeb while tending his father-in-law’s flock and through a flame of fire burning out of the midst of a bush is your story and mine, because God met us in the same way and He still visits many others in the same way, while He is in the midst of His beloved like you and me.
So, do not harden your hearts when He visits you but hear His tender and loving voice, and follow Him, worship Him, and rejoice in Him. ***