Who is God? (Exodus 3)
We’re lucky today that it’s so easy to find out about God. His autobiography is right there in the Bible in black and white, complete with backstory, future intentions and present priorities. If you want to teach someone about God, you just go to the Bible. But what about before the Bible was widely available in common language? What about before it was written?
I’m going through Exodus at the moment, and one of the obvious but easily ignored facts about this book is that all the events it describes took place before the Bible was written. Exodus is Moses looking back on what he himself had lived through and putting it down on paper for the benefit of future generations. The first bits of the Bible were penned by Moses some three and half thousand years ago, but still hundreds of years after the earlier events of Genesis.
How did Moses learn about God? We often treat him as an honorary Christian, assuming he knew what he know. Truth is, when he started out he knew very little about God. Raised in a pagan palace, he might have known nothing at all about God had his birth-mother not providentially been able to nurse him and teach him some of the oral traditions of the nation of Israel. They were slaves now, but their ancestors had been called by God to live a different way. God had appeared to their forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and promised them that they would be a mighty nation, that they would be a blessing to others, and that they would inherit the land of Canaan. Aside from a few basic points of morality, I don’t think there was much more to it than that. No easy text of reference, no organised theology or religion, no ubiquitous church or synagogue to point the way.
No, most of what Moses learnt about God he learnt through direct experience. His encounters with God began in Exodus chapter 3, and that’s as good a place as any to learn about God. Forget the nonsense that the God of the Old Testament is different to the God of the New Testament. They are one and the same, one God, one nature, one undying desire for relationship with us. All that changes is the basis on which that relationship works. If you want to learn about some of the unchanging characteristics of God, what is revealed in Exodus is just as valid as what is revealed in the gospels or apostolic letters.
What do we learn about God in Exodus chapter 3?
We learn that He is holy, pure and set apart. The sinful is kept at arm’s length, hence why Moses is told to come no nearer. God is different from us, altogether perfect and transcendent, sharing none of our flaws and exemplifying all of our virtues. Yet on the other hand we discover that He is also gracious, for He mercifully allows Moses to come as close as He did. A distant or uncaring God would never bothered to have appear in the burning bush, and a merciless God would have justifiably struck Moses dead as he, or anyone else in his place, would have richly deserved. God’s holiness and grace define the whole Bible. God’s holiness does not settle for less, but God’s grace makes up what we lack to match those standards.
We learn that He is a loving, caring God who hears His people’s cries and is concerned about them. Not indifferent or neglectful, this is a God who is attentive and active. He says ‘I have come down to rescue them’ – this is a God who is personally involved, passionately proactive and willing to get His hands dirty. He didn’t send an angel or magically clear things up from a distance with the snap of His fingers; no He came down Himself and got stuck in.
We learn that God is powerful, mighty and able. He is more than a match for our enemies and our circumstances, and He exercises His power on behalf of those He loves. Yet despite being all-powerful He allows us to play a role too. His omnipotence leaves room for our participation. He is a God who includes and empowers, a God who gives purpose.
We learn that God is generous and giving. We’ve already touched on the grace and purpose He gives us, but more than that He provides for our needs. The land He gave His people was not just any land, a pokey backwater with nothing going for it, no it was ‘a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.’ This God is not stingy or tight-fisted. He gives the best and He gives far more than is merited. Nor is it just a far-off and vague provision of something great in the future, He also provides along every step of the way. He foresaw His people’s needs for the journey out of Egypt and He made provision for it. God takes care of the small things and the big, the vision and the practicalities.
We learn that God is patient with those who are timid and full of doubts, as Moses was. Whatever objections Moses raised God has an answer. Even when He gets angry (yes, this is a God who gets angry – and that’s OK) with Moses in the next chapter He perseveres with His choice and is still willing to use him. This is a God who makes allowances for our weaknesses. He is a delegator, not a dismisser.
We learn that God is faithful to the promises He made to the patriarchs in Genesis, now so long ago. Despite some 400 years passing since He appeared to Abraham He still honours the promises He made. This God is not forgetful or prone to having second thoughts. This God means what He says, can be trusted to make good on His word, and whose faithfulness does not waver no matter how much time passes. This same God is just as true and generous today as He was then. He is unchanging, just as His name is unchanging.
And we learn God’s name. His personal name. Previously He’s been known by a variety of divine pronouns, titles or characteristics, but not until now do we discover a name by which we can know Him. He was, is, and always will be, I AM – Yahweh. God is a noun. Lord is a title. Yahweh is a name. Suddenly God becomes more relatable than any at point in the story of the Bible so far. And that’s because His relationship with His people is about to step up to a whole new level of intimacy.
All this we can learn from Exodus chapter 3 alone. All this Moses learned, and it set him in good stead for his daunting mission. This knowledge enabled Moses to lead his people and teach them about their Redeemer and Rescuer. This knowledge wasn’t just for Moses alone, it was for all the people. Israel was about to meet Yahweh. So Moses taught them, both orally and in the Torah he would go on to write. And so countless generations of Hebrews found out about God, and eventually Gentiles like us. This knowledge is for everyone. God is a God who wants to be known as much as He knows us. But the knowledge is not just for storing away in our heads. No, this revelation is for relationship.
To take away:
If you have God’s autobiography in your hands, what’s your excuse for not getting to know Him better?