The Great “I Am” | Exodus 3

Preface

Good morning, Raintree. If you’re a guest, my name is Ryan Gilbert, and I am the Lead Pastor here at Raintree. Thank you for those of you who’ve been praying for me and my health issues; I’ve been having some complications with my colitis. Nothing serious, just painful and honestly, annoying. And thank you so much, also, for the cards and gifts and phone calls, texts, emails, of encouragement for Pastor Appreciation Month. Lauryn and I feel tremendously blessed to be here, and to feel so much support from all of you. We’ve only known some of you for a year, but we so dearly love you already, and feel loved by you.

 

Introduction

Today we have our 2nd installment of the Exodus. I mentioned to you last week why Exodus is such an important book of the Bible, and why the Old Testament in general is just incredibly important, and that is because it reveals to us so much about God’s nature—who he really is. Today in particular, and in the coming weeks, we will get to see several major attributes of God as seen from what he does in the Exodus. And what we will learn about who God is is called theology. And maybe you’re here today and think, “Ryan, I don’t really need theology or doctrine, I just love God.”

That’s a very common way of thinking, but I must mention that today, in our modern western culture, it is more important than ever to understand, who, exactly, God is, and to understand and be growing in theology and doctrine. Why? Well, first, it’s biblical. There are countless references to the important of knowledge and wisdom, and even doctrine in the Bible. The second reason theology and doctrine matter is because it is part of our sinful nature to project onto God what WE want him to be like, instead of simply what the Bible tells us he is like. Without even knowing it, it is so easy to think of God on our terms, and to project onto him or think of him as somehow the best version of ourselves! Instead of seeing ourselves as made in God’s image, it’s so easy to try and make God into our image, even without really realizing it. And this is why we must study the Word, and all of the Word in-depth, to see all of who God has revealed Himself to be.

The last reason I want to mention as to why doctrine and theology matter so much, especially today, is because of where the American church is at right now, and where it is likely heading in the next decade. The American church, generally speaking, is full of biblically-illiterate Christians, people that know nothing of God’s Word, or at least know very little. Now, here’s the thing about that: there’s nothing wrong with not knowing what the Bible says. If you’re here today and you’re new to the Bible, or at least new to really growing in your faith, you likely are just starting to learn! There’s nothing wrong with that! But, there IS something wrong with being comfortable staying where you are at right now with your current understanding of who God is.

To not desire to know God better likely reveals that maybe the weight of what has happened in the Gospel hasn’t clicked for you. God, this being that exists outside of time and created and sustains all things, provided everything we needed for life, and yet we rebelled against Him. We wanted to be our own Kings. Because of our rebellion, we earned death, not just physical but eternal death, and we could do nothing on our own to fix this. But God, this majestic and holy God, sent his son to die on the Cross bearing our sin and rebellion, that if we repent and believe in Jesus, we are saved. If that truth that God came down doesn’t GRIP you, I understand why you may not care to know more about this great God. But if you are GRIPPED by the Good News of what God has done, I imagine you desire to know more of who this great God is, so as to be able to worship Him more accurately, knowing who it is that we serve.

The clarity of the Gospel, and clarity with what the Word of God teaches is the single factor that will determine the life and death of the American Bible-believing church in the next decade or two. I’m speculating here, but I’m convinced that as cultural Christianity continues to die, what will die with it is this Christianity that is so dependent upon emotion and the experiential side of our faith, while completely ignoring the intellectual side of our faith!

The fact that we have Christians that grow up in the church, spending 50 years fully involved in a church, but never being exposed to God’s wrath as revealed in the Bible, or so much of what He did in the Old Testament that’s difficult to understand, like in the Exodus when he sends the angel of death to take the life of every firstborn son. We grow up in the church, but most of the time we’re presented with a limited picture of the God of the Bible, a small picture of the God of the Bible. We twist Bible stories to make them fit what we WANT God to be like, instead of reading it as it is. I’ve mentioned this before, but we so easily embrace a narcissistic Christianity that presents a God that is much like an amped up soccer mom, who lives vicariously through us, and is all about us, and who’s very existence is to help us with our ambitions and desires and lives.

Let me be clear with something: This soccer-mom God doesn’t exist! We must open the Word to see who the real God is, and ALL of what God has revealed of Himself to us. We must be God-centered Christians, not man-centered Christians, which is honestly just a paradox. He is our King, and the more we understand about His character, the more we will be compelled to submit to His authority, and treat Him as our King and Lord and God.

So, everything I just said was kind-of just an extended introduction into the first 15 chapters of the book of Exodus. We will deal openly with who God is and how he interacts with his people, including dealing openly with hard questions that come up in the text. Today, specifically, we’ll see five Attributes of God in Exodus 3. And we’ll be spending almost all of our time on the first three, then at the very end look at the last two, mainly because we’ll be seeing those last two attributes featured later in the Exodus narrative. So, the first attribute:

 


  1. He is holy (transcendence). We are not (1-6).

Let’s walk together through verses 1-6 to start. If you remember back to last week, Moses had ended up in Midian and he had marryied one of Jethro’s daughters. So that’s where he is. Starting in verse 1:

Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.

It might be worth noting that Mount Horeb is Mount Sinai itself, or at least the region where Mount Sinai is located. Mount Sinai is the mountain from which they’ll receive the 10 Commandments after God delivers them from slavery. Verse 2:

And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed.

The “the Angel of the Lord,” by the way, is always closely identified with God, not simply as a messenger. In fact, verse. 4 calls him “the Lord” and “God.” This seems like it could be God himself appearing to Moses. But, then again, messengers were often seen as a direct representatives of the one who sent them, so it could be that this is just a particular angel that God sent to represent Him. The Bible doesn’t tell us exactly who “the Angel of the Lord” is for sure. OK, verses 3-6:

And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” And he said, “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.

Now this is where we really get to see God’s holiness. God commanded Moses to take off his shoes, because this was holy ground. Now, it’s not that the ground was holy because of it’s own make-up, like it was really nice ground or something, brand new turf, no! The ground was holy because God’s presence was there! It is God Himself who is holy. In fact, he is so holy that as soon as he announces who He is, what does Moses do? He hides his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

God is so holy and set apart and different from his creation that He cannot be treated like a mere human being, even a powerful human being like Pharaoh. There is this reverence that strikes us in the presence of God that brings about a literal fear. This reminds me of what Isaiah said in the beginning of Isaiah chapter 6, when God is giving him this vision of the throne room. Isaiah saw the seraphim singing praises to God, and the “foundations of the thresholds” shaking at their voices, just a magnificent sight! And how did Isaiah respond? He said, “Woe is me! For I am lost! I am a man of unclean lips, and I have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts!”

Isaiah is legitimately afraid for his life! Why? Because God is so holy, and different from his creation, that we would not be able to handle the full manifestation of his glory, at least without Christ. So here’s the question for us, as we see God’s holiness, his transcendence: do we tremble in awe of who it is that’s before us?! Do we realize to whom we’re talking when we pray? Do we realize to whom we’re singing when we gather on Sundays?

I’m all about having fun, and experiencing joy and laughter and just happiness in the body, because that’s appropriate, as those who’ve been rescued from the dominion of darkness! We have great reason for joy! But, we must never trivialize who God is. We must never take lightly that God is GOD. He’s the Lord of Lords, the King of Kings, the Creator and Sustainer of all things, He is holy, so holy that it’s totally appropriate to have a healthy dose of fear when we come before God. Now, we can also come to him in confidence, because of Christ. Christ has dealt with our sin, and we can be absolutely assured that we, too, are holy in God’s eyes because of Christ.

But I know sometimes it’s easy to see Moses and think, “Well, sure, I’d have no trouble revering God and treating Him as the Holy One that He is if I got to see a burning bush like Moses did!” I know when we read the Old Testament, sometimes we think that kind of thing. It’d sure be easier if I was there, or if God spoke in the exact same ways today that he did back then. But here’s the catch with that: First, it didn’t seem to help the Israelites like we think it would help us. Second, when was it that Moses responded with fear and by hiding his face? It wasn’t when a burning bush started speaking to him! You’d think that’d be enough for him to be fearful and know something was up. But no, when was it that he became fearful? It was when this voice announced who He was, Verse 6: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”

Do you see that! What we need to have a healthy reverence for who God is and how holy He is is not some big miraculous thing happening! We only need to see and know who God is! The burning bush that spoke only peaked Moses’ interest! It wasn’t until God announced who He was that Moses responded accurately, realizing who this was that was speaking to Him. This is exactly why we must continue to learn more and more about this great God that we serve. 2nd attribute of God:

 


  1. He is present with us (immanence) (7-12).

Then the Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of 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 place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.” (again, that’s Mount Horeb, also known as Mount Sinai).

I just love this. God says, hey, I do see your affliction and I hear your cries! And I’m not just going to sit here and pretend I don’t know or hear you. I am with you, AND I’m going to deliver you from slavery. So not only is our God this God who is holy and transcendant and distinct from His creation, but he’s also a God who is thoroughly involved with His Creation! He is with us! He is amongst us! In every way imaginable, he is aware of what’s going on, and actively has his hand in what’s going on. What a profound, and honestly life-changing truth.

He is with us. I love God’s response in verse 12, when Moses asks him “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” You’d think that this might be an appropriate time for God to just lay into him, you know? If I were God, I’d want to say, “Uh, You’re talking to a burning bush, and you’re worried about being able to do this?” Or even more than that, “I’m telling you that I’m about to bring about something that’s been foretold for thousands of years, since Genesis 15 when I told Abraham I would bring his people out of slavery, and instead of being pumped up or at least a little excited, you’re first response is timidity?” But God doesn’t say any of that. He simply responds in verse 12, “But I will be with you.”

In fact, it’s almost as if Moses’ question here, “Who am I,” was actually not an ignorant or faithless response, but a humble one. Why do I say that? Because God just got through saying in verses 6-9 that HE was going to be the one to rescue Israel. He makes that very clear. So it seems more likely that Moses’ thought that he wouldn’t be able to do this was absolutely correct, but beside the point. Because God, once again, affirms him in saying, “You’re not the one doing the saving. I am. But you are the MEANS by which I will deliver my people. I will be with you.” This is such an affirmation for us as believers. God promises that He is with us, to the very end of the age.

Unfortunately, though, there are many who do believe in a God that is transcendant, and yet do not necessarily believe that he is immanent, or that he’s involved. In fact, if you look at the diagram I have in your bulletin, you can see that this is called deism. Deism is the belief that God IS distinct from creation, and he created everything, but now he’s not really involved. His hands are out of it. He’s just letting things fall as they fall. Deism, at least from my experience, is on the rise, people believing that God exists, but isn’t involved. Funny enough, another belief system I think is becoming more and more common is Pantheism. If you look at the diagram, you can see that Pantheism fully affirms that God is involved, but he’s even more than involved with Creation, He himself IS creation.

In other words, all things are God. Pantheism affirms immanence, that God is involved (to the extreme in fact), but it denies transcendence, that God is distinct from His Creation. Deism affirms transcendence, that God is distinct, but denies that he is involved. The reason I bring all this up is because all three of these belief systems affirm that God exists, and yet only one is Christian. In fact, it is a distinctly Christian belief that God is both absolutely distinct from Creation, and yet fully involved with Creation. And here’s why this matters, particularly understanding deism: It seems likely that most deists do not realize they are deists. In fact, I think there are many Christians who are practical deists. They say they believe in the God of the Bible, but in reality they live or at least think of God as if he’s not involved.

Two common signs of practical deism: 1) prayerlessness. If you struggle with having an active prayer life, maybe you don’t realize that God is constantly with you, and involved in every way, even ways that we don’t see. If we truly grasped that, we may not struggle to be actively aware of God’s presence and so have a prayer life that reflects that. 2) faithlessness. If you struggle with believing that God will fulfill his promises, maybe you don’t see his absolute and constant involvement in your life. Pray for God to show this to you, that every day he is “working out all things for the good of those who love him!” That’s Romans 8:28. God is with us, he is absolutely involved in our lives, and we can know, even when we don’t fully understand how, that he is working it out for our good and for our holiness. The 3rd attribute of God:

 


  1. He is self-existent (aseity). We are not (13-15).

Let’s read again these powerful words in verses 13-15:

Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers 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.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people 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 is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.

So once again Moses feels unqualified, not only that HE doesn’t think he can do this, but he thinks OTHERS won’t think he can do it either! So he asks God, what if they ask for the name of who has sent me. And this is also a very important question because of how many different gods at this time were worshipped in Egyptian culture. A specific name of a particular God was very important. So what is the divine name that God gives Moses to identify himself?

“I Am.” In verse 14, three times he refers to himself as “I Am,” and each of these are forms of the Hebrew word translated, “to be,” and so also each of these forms are related to the divine name Yahweh. Now, this might be a bit of a language lesson here, but it’s important to know this, especially if you’ve never been exposed to it.

If you’ve ever noticed in the English Bible, God’s name is almost always translated LORD (in all caps). Maybe you’ve never noticed that, but just doing a little skimming can quickly show you that. But the Hebrew for this word was pronounced “Yahweh,” which actually comes from the word for “I am.” This was the proper name for God, the official name if you want to think of it like that, and it was very unique because it was built on this word for “I am.”

The heart of why God refers to himself as “I Am” is this truth that God is self-existent. He never had a beginning. He will never have an end. He absolutely depends on nothing else for his existence, AND everything else in the universe absolutely depends on Him for its existence! There is no other being in the universe like Him. And this is why God had no problem associating himself with a nation of slaves! For Moses to go to Pharaoh and say the God of the Hebrews has commanded you to let them go, this was laughable! Why? Because in ancient times, a god of a weak people, especially an enslaved people, was considered to be a weak god!

But the one true God, his character and existence and essence, is not dependent upon anything else! In fact, everything else in the universe is utterly dependent upon Him for their very existence. Please hear me today. If you struggle with being in awe of our great God, just PONDER this truth. Just worship Him! God, you never began. You will never end. You are the only absolute reality. You depend on nothing for your existence. Everything else utterly depends on you for its existence. You set the absolute standard for what is true and what is beautiful and what good. You are the most valuable reality there is! You are worthy of all my admiration and focus and attention. There is no one like you. You are the Great “I Am.”

The application here is so important, and yet subtle at times: We do not create our own reality, God is the only one who determines reality, because he is the only real reality. You ever notice how easy it is to twist things in our minds to make them seem more accommodating to how we want to live? Romans 1 calls it suppressing the truth. I, particularly, struggle with this, because I’m usually an overly optimistic person, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But what can be bad is that sometimes, without even knowing it, I can paint things a certain way, the way I want to see them rather than maybe the way that they truly are. The problem with that is that I have no ability to shape or determine reality. Only God does that, because he’s the only self-existent being in the universe. When we, as humans, feel the need to paint things a certain way to the point that we’re really being dishonest with ourselves, what are we ultimately doing? We’re not trusting the ONE who determines reality. We think we need to adjust it in our heads to make it easier for us, or just to make reality into something we like better.

Christians, more than anyone on earth, can trust the one self-existent being in the universes with reality as he determines it. Wow. We could say so much more about this, but for time’s sake, I will send out via our newsletter this week some resources if you’d like to study this more. Email me if you’re not on our newsletter and would like to be added. The 4th/5th attributes, briefly, since we’ll cover them more later:

 


  1. He is unchanging (immutability). We are not (15).

This one goes right along with the truth that God is self-existent. If he is the ultimate reality, then of course, he does not change. But read with me again, the end of verse 15. After declaring his formal name, “I Am” and then expounding on that a bit, he says:

This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.

He does not change. He is the same yesterday and today and forever (Heb. 13:8). We’ve talked so much about this over the last few months, and will talk about it more in this series, which is why we won’t go deeper into this right now, but, such an important attribute of God: He is unchanging. He is immutable. And then, 5th:

 


  1. He is in control (sovereignty). We are not (16-22).

We’re not going to read it again, but if you remember Kaleb reading verses 16-22, you recall that God tells Moses pretty much everything that’s going to happen throughout the Exodus. And he’s not speaking in generalities, is he? No! He is specific! He lays it all out, how he will deliver his people out of slavery. And let me just be clear here: this is more than God telling the future! He’s not just telling Moses what he happens to know will happen! He himself is bringing it all about by his active hand. God is more than just all-knowing, he is in complete control.

The word for this is sovereign. This is one of the most difficult, and yet most beautiful attributes of God, when correctly understood. Now today, we’re not getting into this in-depth because we’ll be spending an entire Sunday on it when we get to Exodus 8 in a few weeks.

 

Conclusion

For today’s purposes, I hope you see from these five attributes, just a glimpse of how BIG our God is. And when I say we serve a BIG God, I do not mean simply that what he can do for us in our ambitions and desires is so big! No no! Please don’t limit your understanding of God’s nature. He is the ultimate reality. He is transcendant, holy, completely distinct from Creation, and yet, inconceivably, this great GOD is involved in every aspect of his Creation, especially His children. He is self-existent, depends on nothing else for his existence, and yet everything else in the universe depends on him for its existence. He is absolutely unchanging, and he is absolutely in control.

Please hear me, if you have nothing else in the world, literally if you have nothing, but you are a child of God: you have everything. We must fight against minimizing who God is, by actively looking to His Word and seeing this great God that shatters our ability to project onto God what we think or would like him to be. We must also stand in awe of this great God, worship Him from the heart, and not confuse the God of the Bible with the gods of our culture, even mainstream Christian culture.