When we are reading through God’s word like we are, we need to look for certain things. Like is there a command we need to keep; or a sin to confess; or a prayer to pray using this verse? Is something repeated? If it is, that must be important. One of the things the Lord brought to my attention as I read Exodus 3 & 4 this week was that as God called Moses to go and deliver His people, Moses asked the Lord a series of questions. These questions were important to him as he faced God’s call on his life. And these same questions are important for US as we hear from God about what He wants US to do with our lives, and in His church, today:
I. Who Am I?
Verse 11 says that when the Lord told Moses that He was sending him to bring His people out of Egypt, Moses responded “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?” “Who am I?” That was a good question. Moses obviously felt like he wasn’t adequate to do what God was calling him to do. And the truth is, he wasn’t!
Look at some of the things we learned about Moses as we read:
— First, in Chapter 2:12 we saw that he killed an Egyptian who was beating one of the Hebrew people.
— Then, Moses was evidently NOT a good speaker. In 4:10 he says: “I have never been eloquent, neither recently nor in the past … for I am slow speech and slow of tongue.”
— 6:12 “How then will Pharaoh listen to me, for I am unskilled in speech?”
— and then AGAIN in the last verse (:30) of Chapter 6. God told him “I am YHWH; speak to Pharaoh king of Egypt all that I speak to you.” But :30 says “But Moses said before the LORD, ‘Behold I am unskilled in speech; how then will Pharaoh listen to me?”
Not exactly the kind of leader everybody is looking for! In other words, he WASN’T Charlton Heston!
— And then even after all God said to him to reassure him, Moses STILL doubted. He said in 4:13 “Please Lord, now send the message by whomever You will” — in other words, do this through anyone except me! (Sounds like a lot of us, doesn’t it? “This needs to be done Lord; get someone to do it — but not me, I can’t do it!” That’s how Moses was. He doubted; he was very insecure; everything BUT a confident leader; NOT some “great man of faith” at all!
So God didn’t choose Moses because he was such a moral person, or a great natural speaker or because he had such great faith.
“Who am I?” Moses said; he was not a great man — he was just a weak man that God called to glorify Himself.
This is one of the themes we see repeatedly as we read through the Bible, isn’t it: God doesn’t show us His servants as “great people”, but as weak people, sinful people — “warts and all”:
— We saw that Noah got drunk, and then cursed his son.
— Abraham & Sarah both laughed in the face of God’s promise that they’d have a son
— And then Moses here did everything he could think of to try to tell God he should NOT be the person to lead Israel out of Egypt!
“Who am I?” The Bible makes a point to show us that it is NOT the strength and character of great people who bring about God’s work, but God Himself. We need that reminder.
See, we tend to think of things on a “works” basis; we think God chooses us to serve Him because we are so faithful or so talented. But that is a misunderstanding. The question is not “Who am I” — just like Moses, it is not who YOU are. Just like Moses, God chooses us because we are weak, so that when good things happen, it obviously wasn’t US, it was Him, and that way HE is glorified.
When I was pastoring my first part-time church during seminary, I was cleaning out the church office one day, and I came across a stack of resumes that had been left over from their pastor search. I gave them to one of our church members who was up there, and she said something about how many resumes they had received because the seminary was so close, and then she said: “Yeah, we chose you because you were the least qualified and we thought we could help you the most!” Well that was a little humbling. They didn’t choose me because I was the “greatest”, but because in a lot of ways I was the “least”!
And really that’s more in line with the way God works. “Who am I?”, we might ask, that God would call me and use me? That’s not really the question. God’s Kingdom is not really about who YOU are, and we make big mistakes when we think it is. See, maybe you’ve been thinking something like: I would serve God, but I’m just not holy enough, or talented enough. But like with Moses, the ultimate question is not who YOU are. God can use you even with your weaknesses — even BECAUSE of your weaknesses. It is not about who you are.
And it’s the same thing with our church as a body. God doesn’t do great things in a people because we are so great. Look at Exodus 6 which we read Thursday, where it says in :9 that “Moses spoke thus to the sons of Israel, but they did not listen to Moses on account of their despondency and cruel bondage.” SO: neither MOSES (5:22-23) nor the PEOPLE (here) really trusted God in Egypt. It was NOT because of their faithfulness that God used them, but because HE was just faithful to His word that brought about the miracles and their salvation.
And it will be the same way with us. If God does something among us, it’s not gonna be because of who WE are. So we need to get the message right, right now. Our church’s message to the world cannot be how great our leaders are, or how great our people are. If that’s our message, we’re going to mislead and hurt people, because they are going to find out very quickly that we are not “great” in ourselves, but that we are very weak and totally flawed — every one of us! If you’re with us very long, you’ll find that out. We aren’t a bunch of “super saints,” we are a bunch of sinners, saved by grace, and if God does anything here, it will be HIM and not us!
Yesterday we read where Peter told the crowd at the temple after the lame man was healed: “Men of Israel … why do you gaze at US, as if by our own power or piety we had made him walk?” Peter was saying, listen, it’s not who WE are, that has made the difference here.
It’s the same way with us.
— Our message is not that we have a great pastor
— Our message is not that we have a great staff
— Our message is not that we have a great people
— Our message is that we have a great GOD! — who will save you and who can do great & mighty things in His power and for His glory.
“Who am I?” — the answer is, just like Moses, we are weak and flawed and sinful. That’s who we are. But the good news is, who WE are is not what matters. The next question is much more important:
II. Who Are YOU?
Verse 13 says: “Then Moses said to God, ‘Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel and I will say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you.” Now they may say to me, “What is His name?” What shall I say to them?’”
Basically Moses was asking here: “Who Are You?” You’re telling me to go and do all this, but that is a LOT that You are asking! Who are You? What authority and power do you have? Who are You?
And God’s answer to Moses is one of the greatest replies in all of scripture:
In :14 “God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM;’ and He said, ‘Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you.”’”
Then God said in :15, “Thus you shall say to the sons 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 My name forever, and this is my memorial-name to all generations.”
Who are You, who are asking me to do this?, Moses asked. And God said to him, “I AM THAT I AM.”
A name can mean so much — especially in the ancient world, where they were so purposeful about giving names that conveyed something about the person’s life and meaning. We’ve seen that all through our readings:
— the name “Adam” is related to the Hebrew word “adamah”, which means “ground” or “earth.” It reflects how God made mankind out of the dust of the earth; and man is nothing without Him.
— Adam gave his wife the name “Eve”, which means “living” or “life”, because she was the mother of all living.
— When God appeared to Abram in Genesis 17 He gave him the name “Abraham, which means “father of a multitude”, reflecting the populous nation that would be born through him.
And on and on. Names were important in Bible days. They said something about the person.
And so the name that God gave Moses here is vital. It would express His very nature; who He is. What name would you give God, the One, True, Transcendent, God?
I shared with our students last Sunday night in MasterLife that in the 2nd Century, Emperor Hadrian asked the philosopher Aristides to search out all the various religions and report back to him about them. Aristides came back and spoke of how the pagans and Greeks represented the gods as various beings of the sea or of the sky, who envied each other, and had petty quarrels with each other. He said these are not obviously not the true God. And then he described to the emperor the True God:
“Now I say that God is … without beginning and without end; immortal, complete, and incomprehensible … there is no deficiency in Him, and He stands in need of nought, but everything stands in need of Him … He has no likeness … the heavens do not contain Him; but the heavens and all things visible and invisible are contained in Him. Adversary He has none; for there is none that is more powerful than He … He asks not anything from anyone; but all ask from Him.”
What kind of a name would you give this eternal, immortal, omnipresent, omnipotent, God? Any name you give Him would limit your understanding of Him! But God in His infinite wisdom gave Moses this name: “I AM THAT I AM.” Always present; always unchanging; always God; “who was and who is and who is to come.” I AM! And from that Hebrew verb He gave the name in :15, “Yahweh”. If you look in your English Bible at :15 you may see the name “LORD” in all capital letters. But as we have explained before, when you see “LORD” in all capitals in the Old Testament, it means that in the Hebrew this is “YHWH”, that personal name of the “I AM” God!
“Who are You?” Moses asked? Who are You who is asking me to do this? What power do you have to bring this pass?
God said, “I AM.”
— “I AM” Yahweh, the God who always was, even before the foundation of the world.
— “I AM” Yahweh, the God whom Genesis says created the world and made man out of the dust of the ground.
— “For I AM the Lord your God, who stirs up the sea and its waves roar (the Lord of hosts is His name).” (Isaiah 51:15)
— He said I AM “Yahweh, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham (who caused a child to be born of a man 100 years old); and the God of Isaac (who was saved by His miraculous provision); and the God of Jacob,” who appeared to him and blessed him and provided for him just as He promised.
He said tell them THIS is the God who sent you to them. Tell them “I AM”, Yahweh, has sent you.
See, THIS is the central issue here. The question that made the difference for Moses and the people of Israel was NOT “Who am I?”, but “Who are YOU?” It was not who Moses was, or who the people of Israel were, that was going to save them, but who GOD was. The Great I AM “heard … and remembered … and saw … and took notice” Exodus 2:24 says, and HE came down to save them. THAT is what made the difference.
And it is the same for us today.
— How can we be saved, and know we have a home in heaven. It’s not who WE are that saves us. We’re foolish if we try that route.
Several years ago there was a wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys who was pulled over for a traffic citation. When the officer came up to his car, this player said to him: “Do you know who I am?” Well, he got slapped with a ticket. Who he thought he was didn’t matter; what he really was a lawbreaker, and he was going to be punished for it!
And it’s the same way with all of us. We try to live a good life and go to church and say to God, “Look at ME; do you know who I am? Do you know what I have done?” Well just like that football player that day, God does know who we really are: We are sinners; we’ve all broken His laws; “there is none righteous; not even one.” Who WE are is not going to save us.
It is who HE is that saves us. When Jesus came to earth, He said in John 8, “Before Abraham came into being, I AM.” The Jews knew what He was saying, because they picked up stones to stone Him for blasphemy! Jesus was saying, “I AM” that one, eternal “I AM” God, and I am come to save you; to do for you what you cannot do for yourselves. He died on the cross and paid for our sins, and He said in John 14:6 “I AM the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me.”
If you put your faith in Him, and what HE did by dying on the cross for you; you will be saved. NOT because of who YOU are, but because of Who HE is.
And that is the power behind what we do for the Kingdom too. It’s not who WE are that makes the difference; it is who HE is.
— I have heard several people this week share of answered prayers. That’s not because of who WE are as such great pray-ers; it is because of who HE is, as a great prayer-answering GOD!
— People are being changed as we read God’s word. But it’s not because WE are such “great Bible readers”, it’s who HE is, a Living God who speaks through His word!
— I believe our church is poised to make a great impact in our community and around the world, in the days ahead — but we need to make sure we understand that it’s not because of who WE are, but because of who HE is.
Psalm 115:1 says: “Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, but to Your name give glory.” It’s not who we are; but who HE is, that makes the difference.
III. “What IF?”
So we are weak, but He is strong; so let’s go where God leads us, and do His work, right? Well, Moses had one more question that may resound with a lot of us today too. His third question was: “What IF?”
That really struck me as I read the first verse of Exodus 4, “WHAT IF they will not believe me or listen to what I say? For they may say, ‘The LORD has not appeared to you.’”
Now if you don’t read the whole Book of Exodus, and just read this passage, you might think, “Well, that is a legitimate question; what if they DON’T listen to Moses? That’s not bad to ask.” But this is why it is good to read through the whole Bible like we are: we aren’t just picking out a verse here or there; we get everything in context this way. So because we’ve read all of it in context, we JUST SAW in Exodus 3:18 where God had just told Moses: “THEY WILL pay heed to what you say”! So God had told him, they ARE going to listen to you. So then when Moses asked God in 4:1 “What if they will not believe me or listen to me”, he was just outright doubting what God said! (Again we see the failures of Moses! This deliverance didn’t come to pass because HE was so faithful! Moses is not the hero here; his doubts were like heavy chains, and God was basically dragging Moses along to do His work.) His response was “what if?”!
When I read that, I thought, man, how many times do we use those very same words, “What if?” God directs us in His word, or through a prompting of His Spirit, to do something or say something, and like Moses we say: “What if?” How many times do we respond to God’s direction with, “What IF?”
This is one of the BIGGEST things that holds us back from doing God’s work. Instead of believing God and moving forward, we say, “WHAT IF …” And you can fill in that blank with all kinds of things:
— WHAT IF my health fails?
— WHAT IF I commit my life to the Lord but don’t really live up to it?
— WHAT IF I start to tithe, and can’t afford it?
— WHAT IF I plan something in ministry and people don’t come?
— WHAT IF I lead out and people don’t respond?
— WHAT IF I invite someone to church or witness, and they get offended?
— WHAT IF someone asks me a question I’m not prepared for?
— WHAT IF we build a building and the economy crashes?
WHAT IF … WHAT IF … WHAT IF … There are always “What if’s?” You’ve got to get past the “What if’s” if you ever want to do anything!
Just before the D-Day invasion of France in 1944, General Eisenhower faced all kinds of “what if’s”:
— “What if” the weather is too bad;
— “What if” the invasion gets stuck on the beachhead;
— “What if” the paratroopers can’t hold the approaches and keep reinforcements from coming in?
—“What if” it all fails?
In fact, Eisenhower so seriously considered the “what ifs” of failure that he actually wrote a letter of apology in advance:
“Our landings in the Cherbourg-Havre area have failed to gain a satisfactory foothold and I have withdrawn the troops. My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”
Eisenhower definitely wrestled with those “what if’s.” But at some point he had to say, we have planned and prepared, and we have gathered all the power we can; it is time to go. Despite all the “what if’s”; it’s time to go!
Some of us today need to do that same thing. Don’t let the “what if” hold you back from what God is calling you to do. When God calls you to do something — and that is the key; it has to really be what HE says, not just something you have dreamed up out of left field to do — when God really calls you do obey, then don’t worry about the “what if’s;” Step out in faith, obey God, and He will be with you.
That’s God’s ultimate answer here to Moses. He said in :12, “I will be with you” 4:12) THAT is the ultimate “What if?” — that GOD is with us!
See, we just read about Joseph over the last couple of weeks where it kept saying of him that “the Lord was with him.” Joseph had some of the worst circumstances in his life that you could imagine, but the Bible kept saying, “But the Lord was with him.” And that made all the difference.
— His brothers hated him — but the Lord was with him.
— They sold him into slavery — but the Lord was with him.
— He was falsely accused and thrown into prison — but the Lord was with him.
— All these bad things happened to him — but the Lord was with him, and so it all worked out for good.
See, it doesn’t matter “what if”, if the Lord is with you! THAT was God’s ultimate answer to Moses, and that is His ultimate answer to us, too.
— “What if …” the economy crashes. We’ll be ok, if God is with us!
— “What if …” we soon enter a time of great persecution of Christians in America. We can endure it, if God is with us.
— “What if …” someone asks me a question I don’t know? As Jesus said in Matthew 10, He’ll give you the right thing to say, for He is with you!
— “What if …” — ANYTHING! If God is with you, you can handle anything!
So the biggest and most important question of YOUR life then becomes: IS GOD WITH YOU? Do you know that He is in your life? See, the Bible says God made us to know Him, but our sins have separated us from God, and we deserve to spend eternity apart from Him — that’s who WE are! But Who HE is, is the eternal God who amazingly still loved us, and came to earth in the Person of Jesus Christ, died on the cross to pay for our sins, so that if we would repent of our sins, and turn back to follow Him, He would forgive us, and come into our lives with His Holy Spirit, and when He does, He says “I will be WITH YOU always; even to the end of the age.” And that’s more important than any “what if?”!
But the question is: Do you KNOW that? Do you know that He is with you; and in you? If He is, then like Moses you can face, and you can do, anything!