|21st February, 1999|
The film "Prince of Egypt" has been attracting huge audiences around the world since its release two months ago.
Dreamworks, the animation film company set up by three successful film directors and animators to rival Disney, decided to start with this story, because they believed that Moses was one of the greatest men to have ever lived. Steven Spielberg said at the first meeting of Jeffrey Katzenberg, David Geffen and himself: "I'd like to do a film with the grandeur of "The Ten Commandments". Geffen said, "What a great idea. Let's do it." So Katzenberg, who had made for Disney, "The Lion King" and "The Little Mermaid" now set about making the story of Moses and the Exodus.
Of all men, Moses is certainly one of the greatest: scholar, writer, lawgiver, leader, maker of a nation. He was also a refugee and a murderer. The life of Moses can be divided into three parts, and in the first two chapters of Exodus we cover the first two thirds of his life.
His first forty years was spent in an Egyptian court as a prince of Egypt, the adopted son of a daughter of Pharaoh. There he learnt the skills of education, management, law and leadership. Then he learnt that he could not continue living as an Egyptian - his Hebrew heritage was too dominant within him. He killed an Egyptian who was ill treating a Hebrew, and spurned by the Hebrews and fearful of the Egyptian Pharaoh, he fled into the desert. Nothing of these years of achievement would have marked Moses as significant.
His second forty years was spent in the desert, among the Midianite people as a shepherd. He had rejected wealth, status, pleasure and comfort of the court of Pharaoh for the sheep, poverty, loneliness and wandering in the desert. He rescued the daughters of a tribal Chief Jethro from some wandering camel herders intent on rape. He subsequently married one. He raised a family as a wandering shepherd, moving from oasis to oasis, learning the desert for some unknown purpose.
Now he had acquired the skills of both the court and desert, he was ready for God to call him into the last third of his life. It is what Moses did as an old man that is remembered most to this day. Old age would be the most demanding of his whole life. But the two thirds of his life was a preparation for the last. How fortunate he was - to enter old age, and to enter his greatest period of achievement. His best was yet to be!
As a boy I learnt Latin for six years. Once, having trouble with a Latin verb, my teacher told me to learn the motto of the Box Hill Presbyterian Church. The Presbyterian crest has the Cross of St Andrew and the burning bush of Moses, taken originally from the crest of John Calvin. I read the words of Scripture in Latin: "Nec Tamen Consumebatur." I then remembered the Latin verb ending but also these words which described the burning bush Moses saw: it was burning, but "the bush was not consumed". That burning bush, symbolized the inexhaustible presence of God. It caught the attention of Moses as he led his sheep. The presence of God would always sustain them.
1. THE BURNING BUSH
v 1 - 4.Moses was doing his normal job of caring for his flock on Mt Sinai. This mountain was to be significant, not only for the call of Moses, but later, for the giving of the Law of God. The Jews knew that God did not live on the mountain, but there he chose to reveal himself to Moses. Hence they never established a shrine of worship nor made pilgrimages to this place, yet they revered it as the place where God revealed Himself and His Law to Moses.
Moses saw a dry bush burning in the desert. That was not an unusual occurrence in the dry desert where spontaneous combustion can occur. But this bush was not being burned up. Moses walked over to observe it closer. God was often associated with fire. His presence on Mt Sinai was amid fire and smoke. God's presence with the Israelites during their desert wandering was as a pillar of fire and of smoke. God's coming on the Day of Pentecost was as with tongues of fire. Here was the miracle. God was there burning with inextinguishable flame. So God takes the ordinary and transforms it without consuming it. God can take the most ordinary of people with little significance, ability or effectiveness and transform them to His glory by His presence and power.
Israel, too, was in the midst "of that blazing furnace of Egypt" but was not being consumed. God was in the midst of her. Like the three young men of Daniel's day, they were able to stand the heat of the furnace because God was with them. Moses realised God's sustaining presence. The pillar of fire would always remind them of God.
2. THE CALL OF GOD.
v4-10. "Then from the midst of the blazing bush, God called to Moses: "Moses. Moses" and he answered "Yes, here I am". God said. "Do not come any closer. Take off your sandals, because you are standing on holy ground. I am the God of your ancestors." The call of God to Moses was similar to that experienced by other great men and women in the Bible. In the middle of the night the young boy Samuel heard God calling him to a work that was to occupy the rest of his life. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Jonah all heard God calling them to serve Him. The disciples heard the call by the lakeside, and Paul heard it on a desert road to Damascus.
God spoke to Moses by name and told him to take off his shoes, for he was standing on holy ground. This was a typical Eastern custom, both in the Middle East and in Asia. God calls, and when we respond, God sends. He says to Moses: "Now I am sending you to the King of Egypt." That was his charge. It was the same with Isaiah. He heard Gods call, responded, and was sent to the people. In every generation, people hear the call to come to Jesus, who then sends them to the uttermost parts of the world. God's call is to come to Him, then to go to others.
3. THE TASK OF MOSES.
v11-22 Moses was told to go and face Pharaoh and demand that his cheap labour force be freed. An improbable suggestion. No Pharaoh would do that! He would probably increase their burdens. But God heard the cries of the enslaved people and wanted his people free. God promised Abraham and his descendants land.
But they left it in time of famine and were now slaves. He had promised Abraham although childless He would give him a son; although a nomad He would give him a country; and although unknown He would make him famous. To the slaves he promised freedom and land. But Moses pleaded his disabilities. He was to be a reluctant hero! Moses made five excuses why he did not want to go to Pharaoh:
1. He lacked prestige. 3:11-12 "I am nobody. How can I go to the king and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?"
2. He lacked authority. 3:13-14 "When I go to the Israelites and say to them: "The God of your ancestors has sent me to you", they will ask me, "What is His name?" So what can I tell them?"
3. He lacked credibility. 4:1-5 "But suppose the Israelites do not believe ,me and will not listen to what I say? What shall I do if they say that you did not appear to me?"
4. He lacked eloquence. 4:10-12 "Lord, don't send me. I have never been a good speaker, and I haven't become one since you began to speak to me. I am a poor speaker, slow and hesitant.".
5. He lacked courage. 4:13-16 "No Lord, please send somebody else.".
But God persistently answered Moses by revealing: "I will be with you and when you come out of Egypt, you will worship me." God's presence and power is sufficient for any challenge facing those who go in God's name. God's presence and power is enough for any situation regardless of our inadequacies. Those who answer God's call never lack God's power.
The question is for us: How does God call today?
4. HOW GOD CALLS TODAY.
In the call to Moses we see clearly some principles:
a. God calls ordinary people. Moses was forgotten in Egypt. He had left and had been a shepherd in the desert for 40 years, unremembered except by his family, who possibly kept contact, for when Moses returned, his brother and sister came to meet him. So today, God calls ordinary people to follow Him, serve Him, and be full-time workers for Him. You need not have a special background, skill or holiness. God calls you as you are, and promises to be with you.
b. God calls ordinary people while you are going about your ordinary business. v1 God attracted the attention of Moses while he was going about his everyday work as a shepherd. Our God is a God of the ordinary. He knows what we are doing, and cares for us. He calls us while we are presently occupied. You may require some special training, such as you will get at Wesley Institute, but God can take every aspect of your life up until now and mould it into His purpose.
c. God calls ordinary people while you are going about your ordinary business and turns where you are into holy ground. As God told Moses, that wadi where the bush was burning was holy ground, so he turns any place where you hear the call of god into a holy place. This theatre had been holy ground for thousands who have responded to the call of God. Christians sing:
"Jesus, where'er Thy people meet,
they there behold Thy mercy seat;
Where'er they seek Thee, Thou art found,
And every place is hallowed ground."
d. God calls ordinary people while you are going about your ordinary business and turns where you are into holy ground despite your limitations. Every-one has some handicaps, and like Moses, we believe some one else could do the job for God better than we could. Like him we might plead that we lack prestige, authority, credibility, eloquence and courage. That's a formidable list! But God promises those whom he calls His presence and His power making you sufficient for anything.
e. God calls ordinary people while you are going about your ordinary business and turns where you are into holy ground despite your limitations and handicaps, provided you respond to him. Moses acknowledged and took off his shoes. Do you hear the voice of God calling your name? Softly? Persistently? Wanting you to follow Him? Do you hear Him telling you that this is a holy moment, and this is holy ground?
Is he calling you to follow Him as a believer in Jesus Christ? Or as a full-time worker and leader of others? Is He wanting you to go to some other place and let His people go? Is God calling you to study and prepare yourself for full-time service in some form of Christian activity? If so, make public that commitment to obey His call.
"Earth's crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees takes off his shoes!"
Is He calling you? Then Like Moses, answer "Yes Lord, here am I!" Say: "Here am I Lord, Is it I Lord?"
Rev Dr Gordon Moyes
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