Exodus 1:8-14; 3:1-15
Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. He said to his people, ‘Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.’ Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them.
Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, ‘I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.’ When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ Then he said, ‘Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’ He said further, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
Then the Lord said, ‘I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.’ But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’ He said, ‘I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.’
But Moses said to God, ‘If I come to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your ancestors has sent me to you”, and they ask me, “What is his name?” what shall I say to them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’ He said further, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “I am has sent me to you.” ’ God also said to Moses, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you”: This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.’
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about three house pets–a golden retriever, a parakeet, and a cat–who all died and went to heaven. As with all the good animals, God decided to have a personal discussion with each one of the pets to see where they would stay in heaven. God turned to the golden retriever and said, “The Book of Life indicates that you have been a very good boy. But tell me, in your own words, what are your ultimate principles? What do you believe in?” The golden retriever responded, “I believe in loyalty, companionship, and love. I have been a cherished part of my owner’s family for many years.” God smiled. “Truly, you have a pure and loving heart. You shall sit at my right hand.” He then turned to the parakeet. “And what do you believe in?” “I believe in color, flamboyance, and music,” the parakeet said. “For many years I have displayed my beautiful feathers and filled my owner’s house with song.” “Your beauty is truly magnificent,” God said. “And your song shall echo through the universe. You shall sit at my left.” God finally turned to the house cat. “And you, majestic little predator, what do you believe in?” The cat lazily surveyed God’s throne and grumbled, “I believe you’re sitting in my seat.”
And so it is with cats. So independent…so arrogant! Only a cat would have the gall to twist God’s question and offer a clever response, not to mention abdicate God from his throne. Such a complete disregard for authority! Anyone who’s ever owned a cat can agree that their independent natures can, at times, come across as bold and defiant arrogance. They simply do what they want, when they want. Just be sure to keep their water and food bowls filled and their litter boxes clean and they’ll find ways to wile away their days without a disruption. If you let those bowls get empty and those boxes get full, you’ll be sure to hear about it. But otherwise, they’re a pretty self-sustaining pet all things considered. I suppose that’s why I got roped into getting SIX of them, one for each member of our family! It’s become a full-time job keeping up with those bowls and boxes though. They’re relentless! Well, the oldest one is 15 years old so I imagine nature will eventually “thin the herd,” so to speak.
But it’s true, cats are not like the other popular household pet, the dog. Dogs are much more needy and disruptive but they’re also much better companions. They actually CARE about what their masters are up to and how they’re feeling. And they want to please their masters. It’s no wonder dogs are considered our best friends. They’re loyal, pleasing, and empathetic, the three most important qualities we look for in friends. It is the dog’s companionship that came to mind as I reflected on our reading for this morning. Nestled in the heart of the reading is the important declaration God made to Moses: “But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’ And God said, ‘I will be with you.’” Friends, that is an important declaration! That is a unique promise that God makes with Moses because it’s the first time in the opening books of Scripture that God makes such a promise. And there’s a lot that happened before Moses came on the scene! God created everything there is including our first ancestors, Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve brought sin into the world which eventually angered God so much that He tried to destroy the world and start over. But God, in his endless compassion and mercy, enabled Noah and his family to survive the flood and rebuild all that was destroyed. Generations upon generations, Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Joseph and all that were born out of them. The product of sin grew and grew, men killing and enslaving over and over again, until eventually the world was right back to where it was pre-flood. We eventually came to the time of Moses when a great many people were unjustly enslaved and unfairly treated. God saw the wickedness that men had to each other and singled out Moses to again reveal God’s justice and mercy just as He had singled out Noah. Except instead of destroying the world, something God vowed He would never do again, God chose to destroy the slavery of his beloved people. Our God is a God of compassion and mercy! Our God hears the cries of the enslaved and wants nothing more than to set them free! This is a theme that is continuously reiterated throughout Scripture from the words of the prophets to the words of Jesus and his disciples. Our God is a God of freedom!
And the first great display of God’s freeing nature is in the exodus narrative of Moses leading the Israelites out of slavery to the Egyptians. Unless we consider the flood narrative as a freeing narrative, freeing the world of most of God’s creation. But I consider the flood narrative more as a covenant narrative, the first time God made a promise with us. The exodus narrative is the first great freeing narrative in Scripture and within that narrative God made a new promise: “I will be with you.” That’s different from the promise He made in the flood narrative, to never again try to destroy his creation. And in a way much more positive and hopeful. It’s much more hopeful knowing God is with us, through good or bad times, than simply knowing He won’t destroy us. Much like our loyal canine friends, God promises to be with us in this world. He promised to be with Moses as he set about the unimaginable task of freeing the captive Israelites. We hear those words, “I will be with you,” and are comforted by them just as I imagine Moses was comforted by them. We hear those words and we’re no longer afraid because we know we’re never alone. God is with us in this world. More importantly, the love of God is with us in this world! And we can do anything in this world because we have his love! We can even do the seemingly impossible with God on our side. Why? Because God can do the impossible. What a blessing to have God, the great ‘I am,’ on our side!
God says, “I will be with you,” plain and simple. Through thick or thin, good times or bad times, God is with us. And God is always working to set free all that are enslaved. What a blessing to know and be known by such a merciful God! Recall the words of God later spoken through the prophet, Isaiah, “do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.” (41:10) Friends, we can cling to these words and place our trust in them. THEY ARE TRUE! God IS with us, always has been and always will be through Christ. No matter what this world throws at us, we can endure because God is with us. No matter where God sends us, no matter what seemingly impossible task God gives us, we can endure because God is with us. The apostle Paul boldly proclaimed to Timothy, “and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him.” (2 Timothy 1:12) Moses suffered greatly in leading the Israelites out of slavery. There is great suffering in serving God. But there is also great joy in serving God. We, too, can be encouraged by the words of David in his 23rd psalm, “even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me, your rod and your staff–they comfort me.” (vs. 4) God promises, “I will be with you,” to us just as He did to Moses. Let us rejoice in his promise and give thanks for it. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.