I Am Always With You

November 14, 2010
日本キリスト教団 頌栄教会牧師 清弘剛生 Pastor Takao Kiyohiro, Shoei Church, Church of Christ, Japan
Translator M.A.F., Indiana, USA
Exodus 3:7-15

I Am The One Who Is

1. As for today's first reading, I read to you the words that the Lord had spoken to Moses. The Lord said this to Moses, "Now, go! I send you to pharaoh. You will take my people the Israelites out of Egypt," (verse ten). But Moses responds. "Who am I? Why am I going to pharaoh, and worse, must I have to lead the Israelites out of Egypt?," (verse eleven). God thus says "I send you," however, Moses the man himself was not the kind of person who would have ever ardently asked to be the one to set the slave people Israel free.

2. He could also argue the case that he would never have time for that. As the adopted child of pharaoh's daughter, he was raised in the Egyptian royal palace. However, he had not forgotten that he himself was a Hebrew. And, in his youth, he did have ideas of wanting to help his fellow Hebrews. He did see for himself that his countrymen were subjected to hard labor. He witnessed an Egyptian beating Israelites. Because Moses's heart burned with rage, he beat the Egyptian to death. In a sense, that was also the initiation of the battle for the liberation of the Israelites. But the Hebrews were not ready to accept Moses. Moses would experience great frustration. What's more, the case of murder would become known by pharaoh, and Moses would have to escape to the land of Midian. He would make his living as a shepherd in the land of Midian, though inexperienced [with sheep]. As the days passed one after the other, he would drive the sheep, then forty years [had come and gone]. If you notice, the passion that used to burn in his younger days, the fiery feeling of his wanting to help his countrymen was no longer there. The man we see in chapter three could be called a burned-out Moses.

3. But, one certain day, when Moses was looking for pasture and driving the sheep like always, he beheld a marvelous spectacle on Mount Horeb. A bush was on fire. But the bush did not burn up. As Moses wondered, "Why isn't that bush burning up?," he went closer to it. Then, out of the flames, God directed his voice to Moses, "Moses! Moses!" The burned-out Moses heard God speaking to him from out of the flames of God, which were not burning out, who never burns out. Then, it was made known for whom the unquenchable flames had burst into flames. It [can be found] in the words of scripture that I read to you just ago. Moses had forgotten for a long time, no, he was so eager to forget, he reluctantly desired to forget, [how] God's burning heart was directed towards the people crying out in [their] pain.

4. The Lord said to Moses, "I have seen again and again the suffering of my people who are in Egypt, I have heard their cries as they cry out because of their oppressors, and I have understood their pain. Therefore, I have come down, I will save them from the hands of the Egyptians, and I will lead them from this land to a land that is wide and wonderful, the land that is flowing with milk and honey, to the place where the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites dwell," (verses seven and eight).

5. This was the God whom Moses had encountered. And it is still the Lord God, who is speaking to us now. This One is the God who fastens his eyes upon our suffering as human beings. This One is the God who inclines his ears to the voices which seek him crying out in grief. He is the God who knows the many different kinds of pain which are in this passing world. He is not someone who enshrined far away in the high heavens, but the God who comes down to the lowly places where we live and grovel along. He is the God who has entered into history where things happen, into our concrete worlds of existence.

6. God described his own name as follows. "I am. I am the one who is," (verse fourteen). And then he also said to Moses, "You will tell the Israelites this, The One called 'I am' has sent me to you." In a previous translation, the words in verse fourteen, "I am. I am the one who is," came out as "I am the one who was and is and will be." This phrase can have various translations, and I think it surely is a phrase with a rich span of meaning. But thinking about it after what we've seen already, it doesn't seem to simply mean "absolute existence" in a philosophical sense. My Old Testament professor, the late Dr. Kiyoshi Sakon, translated this as "I am there. I am surely there [with you]." Sometimes I recall that translation along with the warm voice of Professor Sacon.

7. God is fastening his eyes, he is inclining his ears, he understands the pain, and he has come down, and he is surely with those who are suffering. He is with the suffering and the grieving human beings [though] they be under the rule of many different godless authorities and ultimately under the rule of sin and death. He has even come down to the lowest places and is with the people, he is the God who declares, "I am there. I am surely there [with you]."

I Send You

8. Thus, God wants to reveal himself in this concrete world, that he is the God who fastens his eyes [on us], inclines his ears [towards us], knows [our] pain, has come down [to us], and says, "I am there. I am surely there [with you]." How [does he do this]? [He does it] by using people. The one who makes deliverance happen is surely God. [It is] God who does the work, the divine miracles. The Lord says, "I will save them, and I will lead them out." But then the Lord uses a person. The Lord says to Moses, "Look! The crying of the Israelites has now reached me. And I have seen the conditions in which the Egyptians are oppressing them. Now, go! I send you to pharaoh. You will take my people the Israelites out of Egypt," (verses nine and ten).

9. But, as we've already seen, Moses shows his disapproval to this message from the Lord. When you give it some thought, it's not illogical. Considering that he himself fled to Midian as a fugitive, Moses and his family have a peaceful life as it were, how ever modest it may be though. That was enough for him. He has no objections. Of course, [he still remembers] that his countrymen the Israelites are still living and suffering in Egypt. Though the pharaohs may have changed, the conditions surrounding the people in slavery have not changed. As ever, their suffering continues. But for him Egypt was a distant world. The suffering people were in a distant world. He could live forgetting their suffering. He was just fine just thinking of the flock and the family. For as long as things go like they are, he could make a happy living just the way things are. [His] passion was long gone. [His] youth was gone. But still, the Lord says, "I send you." Moses could only hesitate, hoping, "Not me."

10. But, it's not like the Lord never knew that Moses was this way. The Lord took it upon himself to meet Moses the way he was. The Lord did a sort of ambush on this Moses at Horeb. It is not that Moses came to Horeb wanting to meet God there. He was only driving the flock of sheep like he always did. As far as his plans went, he only expected to shepherd the sheep like he always did and then soon go back to the usual place. But while he was driving the sheep, he ended up meeting God. God was waiting at Horeb. As a result, Moses met God, who was wanting to use him. However, as you give it some thought, our being here in this place is also the same kind of thing. We too have come to Horeb unaware. And we have met the God who is wanting to use our lives.

11. Moses said, "Who am I? Why am I going to pharaoh, and worse, must I have to lead the Israelites out of Egypt?," (verse eleven). We would want to say [the same thing] as well. "Who am I?" But, the issue for the Lord is not "Who is Moses?" What matters to the Lord is not whether or not there is still passion left inside Moses, or whether or not there is strength left [in him]; because the things that come out of a human being soon disappear. Moses should have known that. Only what is done by God, who never burns out, is left. Like the burning bush!

12. So, God ignores the words of Moses, when he says, "Who am I?" He makes no attempt to respond to that question. Instead, the Lord makes the following announcement to Moses. "I will always be with you." That's right. The decisively important thing for Moses is not "Who am [I]?" That's not what's [important], but rather that the Lord is with [him]. Because the Lord is sending [him] and the Lord is using [him]. Thus, he just has to go on and live with God. For, as far as you are concerned as the one to be sent and to be used, God is the One called "I am."

13. Well, when [I] read this passage, it is always the figure of the disciples sent out by Jesus that comes to [my] mind. The risen Christ had assembled the again profoundly discouraged and frustrated disciples one more time and said, "I am endowed with every authority and power of heaven and earth. Therefore, you, go and make all peoples my disciples! Baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and teach them to keep everything that I have commanded you! I will be with you always, even unto the end of the world," (Matthew 28:18-20). The disciples certainly were there at that time and place in the presence of the God who had come down, the God who had come down even to the low [point] of the cross. And the God who had come down sent the disciples in order to do [his] work of deliverance and salvation in this world. [He sent them] with the promise, that "I will be with you always, even unto the end of the world."

14. We have been recipients of that promise as well. What happened to Moses happened to the disciples and has happened to us. He has sent us too into this world. The place where we find life, there is where we are sent. We may not necessarily do something like leading the Israelites out of Egypt. But, God is willingly and ready to use us where we are. The Lord says to us, too, "I will always be with you."