A mother sits, rocking back and forth: a soothing motion that reminds the walls of times when they were mud clinging to the soles of playing children. Back and forth, back and forth, kids ran along the shore. Back and forth, the waves caressed the earth: the child sleeps in her arms, cushioned by the serf.
A storm writhes in the deepest desert wells, the mother trying not the cry. Failing. Tiny drops touch the sleeping child, the rain of Egyptian feet louder outside her home than the waves lapping at her heart.
Back and forth, back and forth. From basket, to breast, and back again, hiding the child from Pharaoh. But she can only hold onto him so long. The basket rocks at night, the baby rolling in his sleep, fighting for his life in his mother’s dreams.
His father set the basket with pitch, a seal to keep the child safe. With each stroke, he thinks of Noah, that story of long ago. He crafted a box, set it with pitch, and God carried him safely on the waves. That first ark of salvation gives him hope in the dead of night, wife clinging to his garments, tears soaking his coat. Back and forth, back and forth the child floats down the river in a basket: the ark of his salvation.
Some of the Hebrews want to rise up, fight against Pharaoh and his men, but Moses parents have faith in God’s plan. His mother whispers the words that have been floating back and forth in Goshen. When God wants to change history, he doesn’t start with a battle. He starts with a baby. To the others, it is a message of defeat following Pharaoh’s decree to kill their firstborn sons. To this mother, it is a song of hope in her heart as her own baby drifts away.
Pharaoh Tried to Destroy the Source of God’s Blessing
Pharaoh tried to destroy the source of God’s Blessing. Exodus 1:7 – “Israel was fruitful, and multiplied, and filled the Earth.” From Abraham to Issac to Israel, God passes on the promise of a nation out of which a saviour would come. God starts the plan to bless his creation before sin was even born. “Be fruitful, multiply and fill the Earth,” he told Adam (Gen. 1:28). Now we see that echoed here: God’s plan to bring Eden’s Blessing back to us. But there are no hills without valleys, lives without struggle, heroes without enemies.
God told Abraham:
“Know for certain that for four hundred years, your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and that they will be enslaved and mistreated there.” – Gen. 15:13 (Ch.2 )
God, the hero, has his own snakes to crush. He is not surprised that the python reels his head, spitting venom from Pharaoh’s staff at his people. He told Abraham it would be so. The snake will not stop until his head is crushed by the one whose heal is bruised.
God is not surprised by Pharaoh’s evil plan. He comes along-side a mother and a father in their fear and simply says, “have faith.” He says, “who do you believe more? Pharaoh, a human king, or El Shaddai, God Almighty, who can create and destroy with a word.”
By faith Moses, after his birth, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw he was a beautiful and divinely favoured child; and they were not afraid of the king’s decree. – Heb. 11:23
God is not surprised by our suffering. He knew it was coming long before we knew the meaning of the word. And so, it is no surprise that such a God with such fore-knowledge, can weave a mighty plan into the most devastating parts of our story. He reveals himself to us is such dramatic spectacle that we no longer fall down in sorrow, but in reverse.
God Reveals His Name
There is power in a name. Moses once had a name. He was the adopted son of the king of Egypt. With a word he could tell the slave to work faster, cast stones at them for sport, but he didn’t. Moses knew his destiny. His mother instilled in him a reverence for God, stories at night of a saviour come from Abraham’s line to free them from slavery. Moses was strong of body and of name. Who better to be the saviour of these oppressed people?
When God wants to change history, he doesn’t start with a battle, but a baby. All babies grow up. They test our patience, learn how to say no. They try to do things on their own and get hurt. They become teenagers and rebel against the cushions of safety we try to force under their heads at night. Moses was no different. He rebelled against his parents, and he fell from Egyptian lord to murderer and slave lover. He killed a man who was beating one of his people, one of those he thought he would save.
Pride comes before a fall, and Moses was no exception. He thought he could take on the whole Egyptian army with his bare hands, force them to free his people. But they weren’t his people, and it wasn’t his strength that would free them. Once we start falling, the ditch at the bottom looks larger with every tumble. The bridge is out, and so are ours brakes. Once we start falling, we can’t stop until we hit the bottom.
Moses hit the bottom. He fled, feared for his life. This man who once had a name was now at the bottom of the mountain, in the ditch all scraped and bruised. He was a shepherd. For an Egyptian, you couldn’t fall any lower than this. Sheep are dumb, and so their herders must be of the same mind. If you can’t handle anything else in life, there are always sheep to chase after.
The Israelites, when first brought to Egypt, were sent to live in Goshen, separated from the main populace. Pharaoh let them stay as Joseph suggested, but only in the remote outskirts of the land because “…every shepherd is an abomination unto the Egyptians” – Gen. 46:34. This is how far Moses fell. From a great name, self-proclaimed saviour and Egyptian lord, to the lowest station imaginable for an Egyptian.
But this story is not about Moses name. God is the hero. Moses was no super-star, though he wanted to be. God stripped him of his pride to show that his name would not be written in the tablets of time, but God’s name would be heralded for generations to come.
And Moses is there, a simple shepherd, being confronted by God. Moses, the one who lost all his power, prowess, and pride sits in the ashes of his former life talking with a spectacle God: the burning bush.
When Moses says, “Who will free the people. I can’t do it. My name isn’t strong enough” God says, “I AM.”
Moses says, “But you want to use me? I am a shepherd! I am a nobody!”
God says, “I AM.” Speaking through a burning bush, God reveals himself to be the missing source of power in Moses life. Once, Moses thought he was the power-house, but God comes and says, “No, I AM.”
Exodus 3:15 (pg. 47)
“This is My name forever, and this is My memorial to all generations.”
This is not just a subtle slurring of syllables. This is a radical declaration for an abominable shepherd. It is an awe-inspiring spectacle for God’s chosen people. Before this time in the Bible, God is referred to as El Shaddai. This is the God of Power. The people revered this great God who could create and sustain life. They feared a God who could destroy the whole Earth with a flood. But up until this point, God was not seen as an intimate, all-present friend. God was El-Shaddai, great and awesome in power. He now reveals himself as I AM.
The Hebrew name for God is no longer El-Shaddai, a God of power. I AM = Jahweh-Havah. Jaweh, meaning I AM, and Havah, meaning “to become more and more and more revealed.” Jahweh-Havah contracted is Jehovah. This is Jesus, God the Son. God is declaring with this incredible name change, “I am not just this great God the Father of power and might, but a personal God. I AM ever-present. I AM always walking with you. And I AM drawing closer to you every day.”
All the way through the Old Testament, God the Son is revealing more and more of Himself, drawing closer to his people. Finally, He comes in the flesh, revealing himself as the great Jehovah, the great I AM, Yahweh, the one who can actually walk with you, talk with you, love you.
LORD = I AM, Jehovah, YHWH. This is the incredible proclamation that I AM the God who walks with you. Notice here that God gives a distinction between El Shaddai, and YHWH (his old name and new).
Exodus 6:2-3 (Pg. 48)
“I am the LORD (Jehovah/YHWH). I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty (El Shaddai), but by My name LORD I was not known to them.”
He says, “Never before have I been known as the God who actively participates in people’s lives. I have not been known for my love, but my power.” God the Father is about to go out and show his great power and might. The great El Shaddai is showcasing himself throughout this story, but always in the context of being Jehovah to his people. He reveals himself as a personal God to Moses, saying, “I heard the groaning of my people. I am actively listening to them, and now I will care for them. You will be my people, and I will be your I AM, and I will continue to reveal myself through you.”
In the introductory message to this series, we looked at this very proclamation. Jesus is on the Road to Emmaus, right after his resurrection. His disciples are sad because they think he is gone and no longer with them. But he explains it to them.
“Then beginning with Moses and [throughout] all the [writings of the] prophets, He explained and interpreted for them the things referring to Himself [found] in all the Scriptures.”
Beginning with Moses. Beginning with this great proclamation of his name at the burning bush. He said, “Look, I AM with you. Not just because I walked in bodily form on the Earth. I AM. I AM with Moses. I AM with the Israelites. I AM with the prophets. I AM with you. I AM with my people. Always. Ever-present, and I continue to make myself more and more known to you every day.
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As God reveals himself to us, we fall more in love with him. It is not primarily these lower story snippets which we want to learn through this series, but the character of the Author. Hopefully, as God has been revealing his Upper Story every week, we can see this thread weaving through. He is not just El Shaddai, this great God who created the Earth, gave us some rules, and then said, “good luck with that!” He is Jehovah, YHWH, I AM! Actively walking with us, caring for us, listening to our pain, hearing our groaning.
But he doesn’t just hear us. He sends Moses into our lives to do something about it. He says, “I see your pain. I feel your pain. I cry with you as I read the words of your story. But my story isn’t over! I AM not just with you now, but I AM with you in the future! Just watch what happens next!”
Go Reveals His Power
God sends Moses to Egypt, but not alone. He goes with him and shows him again and again that he is there.
Each one of the ten plagues that God performs are a slap in the face of an Egyptian god. Each time El Shaddai is saying to the serpent in the heart of Pharaoh, “I am the God who created the Heavens and the Earth. Fight against me, and you will see you wins!” Not only is El Shaddai revealing his power to Pharaoh, proving himself mightier than all the other gods, but he is also revealing himself more and more to Moses and His people. He doesn’t say, “By this Pharaoh will know I am stronger than him.” Instead He says…
Exodus 7:17 (Pg. 29)
“By this you shall know that I am the LORD.”
I AM is saying to Moses, “I AM still with you. You think you could convince Pharaoh on your own? Do these plagues come form your power?” Not only this, but if you read the whole text in Exodus, you will notice that God spares the land of Goshen from these plagues. He is saying to the whole people of Israel, “I AM with you. See the death and destruction all around? I am God Almighty to them, El Shaddai stronger than their Egyptian gods, but to you I am YWHW. I AM with you. By this you shall know I AM THAT I AM.”
God is more interested in solidifying this new name in the hearts of His people than in showcasing His power. He has done that before, and will continue to do it throughout the pages of His Story. But He doesn’t just want the people to know what he can do… he wants them to know him!
Notice that first Pharaoh hardens his own heart, but then God takes over. The first number of plagues say that Pharaoh would not let the people go because “he hardened his heart” or “his heart grew hard,” but as the plagues unfold we see that “the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart.” I AM hardened Pharaoh’s heart because he wanted to solidify this new name in his people, that through every plague, I AM with you, separating you from these terrible disasters.
“By now I could have used my power and caused a terrible disease that would have destroyed you and your people from the earth. 16 But I have let you live for this reason: to show you my power so that MY NAME will be talked about in all the earth”
“I made you a King for this reason!”
He says, “I could just be El Shaddai. There is no need for this great spectacle. I could show Pharaoh in an instant that I am more powerful than him… but I choose to do things differently, to show my people that I AM with them.
God is I AM to the Israelites. in the sight of the Egyptians. Not just through the 10 plagues. That is just the beginning. Finally, with the last plague, Pharaoh agrees to let the people go, but that is not the end of the story. As Pharaoh sits there, crying over the body of his first-born son, he screams at Moses saying, “GET OUT! JUST GO!” Grief over-comes him and he holds to the power of El Shaddai. But again the people are trapped. Walls of rock stand to either side of them, a great sea of water before them, and a sea of enemies behind. But God doesn’t forget about his people. He tells Moses:
Exodus 14:4 – Pg. 52
“Then I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, so that he will pursue them; and I will gain honour over Pharaoh and over all his army, that the Egyptians may know that I am the LORD.”
Now it’s not just so that Moses will know that I AM with you. The plagues were so that the Israelites would know that God was with them, separating them, protecting them, and calling them out of slavery. But now we see that God shows the Egyptians that He is not just El Shaddai. He is YHWH. This is a personal God, with his people.
I want to read an incredible piece of scripture that showcases God’s power, but more importantly, showcases the fact that God is with his people.
19 The angel of God, who had been going in front of the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them. The pillar of the cloud moved from in front and stood behind them. 20 So it came between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel. It was a cloud along with darkness, but it gave light by night [to the Israelites]; so one camp did not come near the other all night.
21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea; and the Lord swept the sea back by a strong east wind all that night and turned the seabed into dry land, and the waters were divided. 22 The Israelites went into the middle of the sea on dry land, and the waters formed a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. 23 Then the Egyptians pursued them into the middle of the sea, even all Pharaoh’s horses, his war-chariots and his charioteers. 24 So it happened at the early morning watch, that the LORD looked down on the army of the Egyptians through the pillar of fire and cloud and put them in a state of confusion. 25 He made their chariot wheels hard to turn, and the chariots difficult to drive; so the Egyptians said, “Let us flee from Israel, for the LORD is fighting for them against us”
This happened all night long! So often when we read this story it seems like a mad escape. “Hurry the army is coming!” And so God opened up the sea and they fled across before the waters crashed down on Pharaoh’s men. NO! If you look back to vs. 13 Moses said, STAND FIRM! Don’t worry. Don’t rush. I AM was there with them. The pillar of cloud was so dark that the Egyptians couldn’t see through it to get to the Israelites! God was saying, “I AM keeping them at bay. No worries. I AM with you.” And ALL NIGHT the wind blew, causing a dry path to appear for the people to walk across. This was millions of people! They can’t just cross as entire lake in 15 minutes! ALL NIGHT they were comforted by the presence of God standing between them and the Egyptians. God was saying, “As long as you have faith that I AM with you… take all the time that you need!”
Then, in vs. 24, God looks down from within the pillar of fire and cloud and wipes out the enemy. YHWH was with them the whole way. The Egyptians say, “Let’s get out of here! This isn’t just some mighty acts of power from El Shaddai! This God is with them all the time! How can we fight God?!”
God changed his name, changed the course of history, but didn’t bring an army along. He used two parents and baby willing to have faith that he was with them. So often, when we are suffering we pray to El Shaddai. We pray, “God, do something! You’re all powerful! Just fix this situation!” But how often do we pray to YHWH. How often do we pray, “God, I know you’re here with me.” No need to worry. No need to rush. No need to fear. I AM is with you, and is revealing himself more and more to us every day.
There is so much more we could say about Moses. We will celebrate through more of the details of this story in our mid-week discussion, but before we go, I want us to look at one final piece of this story. This is not just about God revealing his new name, and showcasing his power. God says, “This is such a radical change in the course of history that you are going to celebrate it for generations to come.
The final plague saw the Angel of Death skulking through the streets and pulling the life-force out of every first-born son. God released Satan on the city. When God let Satan attack Job, he said, “you can do everything but kill him.” But here, He doesn’t say that. He says, “Kill them,” and the Devil bites at the chance. And the text says that there was wailing in Egypt like none has ever heard or ever will again.
Baby Moses, with no army in toe, tells the Israelites what God told him. He says, “God will spare your children if you offer up a lamb, put its blood on the door posts, and have faith in the sacrifice.” And as the Angel of Death came to rob Egypt of its baby boys, the land of Goshen was safe. God’s people were safe. The sacrifice kept death away and, ultimately, freed them from slavery.
When God wanted to change the course of history, he used a baby. But this time he was not delivered in a basket set with pitch, but a manger set with dung. And I AM became Emmanuel, “God came down to be with us.” Not through some spectacle from the skies, with his people in some abstract sense, but in bodily form. And this baby didn’t just come to showcase his power by performing miracles. He didn’t just come to pass out his law, telling people everything they were doing wrong. He came to change history. He came to die. The Lamb of God, Jesus came to be sacrificed to set us free. Not from Egyptian slavery, but slavery to sin. 1 Corinthians 5:7 – “For Christ, our passover lamb, has been sacrificed.
We will take communion in a minute, but I want to focus not on the Cross, but what came after, because the sacrifice is meaningless without deliverance. God revealed himself as the great I AM to Moses, and said, “I AM continuing to reveal myself.” And we celebrate every Christmas the great Emmanuel, the next step in his revelation. But Jesus didn’t die simply as a sacrifice, get eaten up by Satan, the end. Yes, Satan bruised his heal, but he crushed the serpent’s head! He stared down the Angel of Death and said, “You cannot keep me here! Oh Death, where is your sting?!”
Jesus is not the “I AM until I die.” He is the I AM THAT I AM. He rose from the dead and now lives in us today. His Spirit is in everyone of us who have faith enough to believe in the sacrifice. We who have faith enough to paint the blood on the doorposts of our hearts. We who have faith to say, “Jesus paid it all. All to Him I owe. Death had left a crimson stain. He washed it white as snow.”
So as we remember the Passover today, it is not just some piece of lower story history. It is a picture of his Upper Story: that nothing will stop Him from redeeming His people. Not even Death could hold back the great I AM from being with us today.