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4. How God Saves His People, Part 2 (Exodus 3:1-22)

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February 25, 2018

Life of Moses (4)

John Calvin begins his classic Institutes of the Christian Religion (Ed. by John McNeill [Westminster Press], 1.1.1.) with this profound sentence: “Nearly all the wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.” Editor John McNeill (p. 36, note 3) comments, “These decisive words set the limits of Calvin’s theology and condition every subsequent statement.”

In our last study of Exodus 3, we saw that God saves His chosen people through His chosen servants who know Him. At the burning bush, Moses came to know more of God’s holiness. He was reminded of God’s covenant promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He learned that God’s silence over the centuries did not imply indifference to the people’s suffering, but that God intended to bless His people. And through God’s revelation of Himself as Yahweh, “I am who I am,” Moses came to know more of who God truly is. All of this falls under Calvin’s opening statement that sound wisdom consists of knowing God.

But to be used in God’s plan of salvation, we also need to know ourselves. Exodus 3 reveals not only how Moses came to know God more deeply, but also how he grew to know himself, his call to God’s mission, and how it would be accomplished:

Salvation is from the Lord through His chosen servants who know themselves and know His presence, power, and promise for their mission.

Through this encounter at the burning bush, Moses came to know more about himself:

1. Salvation is from the Lord through His chosen servants who know themselves.

When Calvin mentioned knowing ourselves, he was not talking about knowing ourselves through looking inward or taking personality tests. Rather,

A. The only reliable source for knowing ourselves is God’s Word.

At this point, Moses did not have the Bible (it hadn’t yet been written!). But in Exodus 3, the Lord spoke directly to Moses at the burning bush. We can assume that during his forty years in the desert watching sheep, God also had revealed Himself directly to Moses. He was obviously aware of God’s covenant with his ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Exod. 2:24; 3:6, 15, 16). He knew that God had promised to make a great nation from Abraham’s descendants (Exod. 1:12, 20) and to bless all nations through them. He knew about God’s promise to bring Jacob’s descendants back to the land of Canaan, as He had promised Abraham (Exod. 3:8, 17). He had already by faith made his decision not to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, but rather to “endure ill-treatment with the people of God” because he considered “the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward” (Heb. 11:26). So although Moses didn’t have a Bible, he knew a lot through direct revelation from God.

While personality tests may yield an insight or two about yourself that you were previously unaware of, God’s Word is the only reliable source for truly understanding yourself on the heart level. In Jeremiah 17:9 the Lord states, “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” The answer, of course, is that only God can understand our hearts. Hebrews 4:12-13 states,

For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.

It’s rather intimidating to be laid bare at the deepest parts of your being, but that’s what walking with God entails. You can hide the thoughts and intentions of your heart from others, but you can’t hide from God. Walking in the Light as He Himself is in the Light (1 John 1:7) means walking with your heart exposed before Him. After meditating on God’s omniscience and omnipresence, David prayed (Ps. 139:23-24),

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way.

So as you read God’s Word (which you should do often), ask the Lord to reveal what sinful ways there may be lurking in your heart that you need to root out (the “old man” that you are to put off) and to reveal who you are in Christ (the “new man” that you are to put on; Eph. 4:17-24).

B. To serve God rightly, you need to know your own weakness.

The Lord tells Moses (Exod. 3:10) that He is sending him to Pharaoh to bring His people out of Egypt. Moses’ immediate reaction is (Exod. 3:11), “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?” Commentators are divided over whether Moses’ question reflects true humility, which he had gained after his initial failure to deliver Israel forty years earlier, or whether it was a faithless excuse.

I tend to agree with Calvin (Calvin’s Commentaries [Baker], pp. 69-70) that at this point, Moses’ question stemmed from genuine humility. Forty years earlier, “educated in all the learning of the Egyptians, … a man of power in words and deeds” (Acts 7:22) he had attempted to deliver God’s people by slaying the Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew slave. But now he was a lowly nomadic shepherd, stripped of his position as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. His impressive education had sat on the shelf for forty years. As he heard God’s call to go to the most powerful monarch in the world with the task of freeing a couple of million slaves, Moses was overwhelmed with inadequacy.

As the story unfolds and God gives Moses repeated assurances of His presence and power, Moses’ humility devolved into a lack of faith in God. As R. A. Cole observes (Exodus [IVP], p. 68),

Self-distrust is good, but only if it leads to trust in God. Otherwise it ends as spiritual paralysis, inability and unwillingness to undertake any course of action.

The Lord taught this lesson to the apostle Paul when he prayed that the Lord would take away his “thorn in the flesh” (which could have been a physical weakness or perhaps the repeated problems with the Judaizers). When God said “no,” Paul concluded (2 Cor. 12:10), “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” Contrary to a popular idea, we are not to believe in ourselves. Rather, knowing how weak you are drives you to the Lord to seek His strength (see Phil. 4:13).

After the China Inland Mission had grown and received much notoriety, a church leader once said to the founder, Hudson Taylor, “You must sometimes be tempted to be proud because of the wonderful way God has used you. I doubt if any man living has had greater honor.” “On the contrary,” Taylor replied, “I often think that God must have been looking for someone small enough and weak enough for Him to use, and that He found me.” (Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret [Moody Press], pp. 201-202)

C. To serve God rightly, you need to know that God has chosen, called, and is equipping you to serve Him.

God chose Moses to know Him; then He called and equipped him to serve Him. It should be the same with us.

1) God has chosen you to know Him.

As we saw in our last study, God chose Abram out of all the people on earth. He chose Abraham’s son, Isaac, and Isaac’s son, Jacob. He promised to make their descendants into a great nation and to bless all nations through them. In the same way, God chose Moses to know Him. If God had not done so, Moses could have died as an infant under Pharaoh’s evil decree to slaughter the Hebrew male babies. If God had not revealed Himself to Moses, he would have been perfectly content to remain in Pharaoh’s court, perhaps to succeed Pharaoh in power, and live a life of fame and luxury. And if God had not chosen to reveal Himself to Moses at the burning bush, Moses probably would have lived out his days tending sheep in the desert of Midian. But God chose Moses.

Has He chosen you? Sometimes I’m asked, “How can I know whether God has chosen me?” The biblical answer is, have you repented of your sins and trusted in Christ as Savior and Lord? Has God changed your heart from indifference to Christ and His word to loving Him and His Word because He died to save you? If so, those changes didn’t come from you. They are evidence that God chose you in Christ and drew you to Him (Eph. 1:4-5; John 6:44, 65). You need to be sure that God has chosen you for salvation before you try to serve Him.

2) God has called you to serve Him.

If God has chosen you for salvation, then He also has called you to serve Him. As 1 Peter 4:10-11 explains,

As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

If you have believed in Christ, God has given you a gift to use in serving Him in some capacity. The more difficult task is trying to figure out how and where He has called you to serve Him. Some are called to serve the Lord full time in the local church, in an evangelistic ministry, or in foreign missions. But if you don’t sense God’s call in those ways, you should feel just as called to serve in some way in a local church. We’re all called to serve the Lord according to our gifts.

Probably your calling to serve won’t be as dramatic as Moses’ calling at the burning bush or Paul’s experience on the Damascus Road! Those were unique situations. With me, in college God impressed me with a couple of verses that I just couldn’t shake: Jesus’ promise (Matt. 16:18), “I will build My church”; and, Paul’s word (Eph. 5:25), “Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.” I thought, “If Christ has promised to build His church, then working for that cause is guaranteed to succeed. And, if Christ loved His church enough to give Himself for her and I love Christ, then I’ve got to love His church and give myself for her.”

As a college student, when I made some initial attempts to teach the Bible, I was surprised at how many people would tell me that my message had helped them. So I decided to go to seminary to further develop my gift in that area. Although I felt very inadequate when I began as a pastor just shy of my 30th birthday and still feel very inadequate, that’s how I became a pastor. Your story will be different, but if you know Christ, He has called you to serve Him in some way in line with your spiritual gifts.

3) God is equipping you to serve Him.

I’m using the present tense, “is equipping,” because it’s a lifelong process. After 41 years of preaching, I still read books on how to do it better, because I still need to grow!

How does God equip us? Moses’ being “educated in all the learning of the Egyptians,” and being “a man of power in words and deeds” (Acts 7:22) did not qualify him to be the spiritual leader of God’s people. For that, he needed to know God better and know himself better. Part of his training was a course, “Humility 101,” where the curriculum took him from being an important man in Pharaoh’s court to being a lowly shepherd of someone else’s sheep out in the remote desert. And, remember, that shepherds were an abomination to the Egyptians (Gen. 46:34)! However you serve the Lord, Humility 101, along with advanced courses in the same subject, is mandatory training!

God uses many other things to equip us to serve Him better. Failure 101 and advanced courses go along with Humility 101. Moses, Elijah, Peter, and Mark all took that course. Positively, there is no substitute for spending daily time alone with God in His Word and prayer. Along with that, read some good books that help ground you theologically. Read Christian biographies to learn about how men of God from the past served Him. Reading about John Calvin, John Bunyan, Jonathan Edwards, John Newton, William Carey, Adoniram Judson, Charles Spurgeon, Hudson Taylor, George Muller, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and many other men of God has helped me immensely. Read books on discipleship and evangelism. Often you learn just by serving. Maybe you’ll try several areas before you land on one that you really enjoy doing and you’re able to do reasonably well. To serve God rightly, you have to know that He has chosen, called, and equipped you to serve Him.

2. Salvation is from the Lord through His chosen servants who know His presence, power, and promise for their mission.

A. Our mission centers on the good news of God’s salvation of oppressed people.

In Exodus 3:8, God tells Moses what He (God) intends to do: “So I have come down to deliver them from the power of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Amorite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite.” God did that literally for the Israelites who had been enslaved in Egypt for centuries.

But He does that spiritually for those who are enslaved to sin. As Paul says (Col. 1:13-14), “For He rescued us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” That’s the best news in the world! And, God’s mission is our mission!

B. God uses His people who know His presence to accomplish His mission.

In verse 8, God told Moses that He (God) would deliver His people from the power of the Egyptians. Then (v. 10) He tells Moses, “Therefore, come now, and I will send you to Pharaoh, so that you may bring My people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt.” God’s mission is to deliver His people, but He does it through His servant Moses. When Moses protests that he is not adequate for the task (v. 11), God replies (v. 12), “Certainly I will be with you, and this shall be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God at this mountain.”

The Lord didn’t build up Moses’ self-confidence, but rather promised to be with him. He promised the same thing to Joshua when he took over after Moses’ death (Josh. 1:9): “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Years later with Gideon, who was overwhelmed with his inability to deliver Israel from the Midianite hordes, the angel of the Lord appeared and said to him (Judges 6:12), “The Lord is with you, O valiant warrior.” When Gideon still protested, the Lord repeated (v. 16), “Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat Midian as one man.” So it’s not surprising that when the Lord Jesus sent out His disciples to preach the gospel to all the nations, He promised (Matt. 28:20), “and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

David Livingstone, who took the gospel into the heart of Africa in the mid-1800’s, and John Paton, who went to the cannibals of the New Hebrides Islands, both relied on the Lord’s promise to be with them as they took the gospel to the ends of the earth. Livingstone said (cited in A Frank Boreham Treasury [Moody Press], compiled by Peter Gunther, pp. 106-107),

For would you like me to tell you what supported me through all the years of exile among people whose language I could not understand, and whose attitude towards me was always uncertain and often hostile? It was this: “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world!” On those words I staked everything, and they never failed!”

John Paton’s son said of his father (ibid. p. 124), “My father was constantly quoting the words, Lo, I am with you alway, as the inspiration of his quietness and confidence in time of danger, and of his hope in the face of human impossibilities.”

C. Since our mission is way beyond our ability, we need to know God’s power for the mission.

God granted Moses the power to perform miracles to deliver Israel from Egypt (Exod. 3:20). Contrary to popular thought, miracles are not uniformly scattered throughout the Bible. There is a cluster of miracles around the Exodus; another in the needy times of Elijah and Elisha; and, some in Daniel’s time. The rest are concentrated around the time of Christ and the apostles, to authenticate the gospel. This doesn’t mean that God does not do miracles in our day, but it does mean that they are relatively rare.

But, as we go about our mission of delivering people from Satan’s domain of darkness, God does perform the miracle of imparting new life to those who were dead in their sins (Eph. 1:19-20; 2:1-6). While we should be wise and persuasive in how we present the gospel to unbelievers, we should never rely on slick methods or sales techniques to get people to make a decision for Christ. Salvation is not a matter of a human decision, but rather of God powerfully raising dead sinners to new life in the Lord Jesus.

D. Since our mission will often be difficult and discouraging, we need to know God’s promise of success.

Like Moses’ mission of delivering God’s people physically from Egyptian power, our mission of delivering people spiritually from Satan’s power is not easy. His first attempt failed. Now, God tells him that the elders of Israel will listen to him (Exod. 3:18). But the Lord warns Moses that at first, Pharaoh will not let Israel go. Later, Moses would face numerous hardships in the desert with a fickle, disobedient people who threatened to mutiny and return to Egypt. When you serve the Lord, expect difficulties and discouragement. Expect opposition not only from the world, but also from those in the church who profess to follow the Lord.

But the Lord promised Moses that this time, he would succeed. After God struck Egypt with the plagues, finally Pharaoh would let Israel go. And they wouldn’t go out emptyhanded. Every woman would ask of her neighbor articles of silver, gold, and clothing, so that Israel would “plunder the Egyptians” (Exod. 3:22). This was exactly what God had promised Abraham (Gen. 15:14), “But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve, and afterward they will come out with many possessions.”

We don’t know whether those we speak to about Christ will respond or not, although we should pray that God will open their eyes to His truth. When Paul was afraid in Corinth and ready to leave town, the Lord appeared to him one night and said (Acts 18:9-10), “Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city.” Note the familiar promise: “I am with you.” And God knew what Paul didn’t, that He had many people in that city who would respond to the gospel. Let’s believe God for the same thing in Flagstaff!


If you know Christ as your Savior, He wants to use you as His servant to bring deliverance to those who are captive to the enemy of souls. You can do that as you grow to know Him, know yourself, and know His presence, power, and promise for your mission.

Application Questions

  1. How can a person develop a true knowledge of himself or herself? Where should he or she start the process?
  2. Why is humility essential for serving the Lord? How can a believer develop humility? Can we know when we have it?
  3. How can a Christian know where God wants him/her to serve? What practical steps should he/she take to learn this?
  4. Is every Christian required to be involved in evangelism or is it only for those with that gift? Support your answer biblically.

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2018, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

Related Topics: Soteriology (Salvation)

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