THE FULL WEIGHT OF GOD’S AUTHORITY STANDS BEHIND THE DIVINE CALL TO MOSES
It is significant that before issuing the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus points to His all-encompassing authority as the motivation to take courage and tackle the daunting mission: “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore . . .” Moses needed a similar assurance of God’s authority before embarking on his daunting mission.
Hywel Jones: Four objections are advanced by Moses and each is answered by God.
(:11-12) – First, there is the problem of complete unfitness for the task described. This is met by a promise of constant accompaniment and thus complete provision, with added assurance that the liberated slaves (for the deliverance would come to pass) would join him in worship on the very mount on which he stood. The sign, in that it lacked a present fulfilment, was a further incentive to faith in the promises of God.
(:13-22) Second, Moses raises the obstacle of the people’s ignorance of the character of God and hints that thereby they will not believe the message he brings. Moses is not here asking for the bare name of God which has not been made known to them, but rather for the inner significance of a name already known.
I. (:13-15) MESSAGE TO MOSES – “I AM WHO I AM” —
HESITATION #2 – I LACK CLOUT / AUTHORITY
A. (:13) Hesitation of Moses: Validation Needed for the Authority of the Divine Call
1. Claim of Authority by Moses for His Divine Call
“Then Moses said to God, ‘Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I shall say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’’”
2. Clarification of Authority Needed for His Divine Call
“Now they may say to me, ‘What is His name?’
What shall I say to them?”
Alan Cole: To ask the question, ‘Under what new title has God appeared to you?’ is equivalent to asking, ‘What new revelation have you received from God?’ Normally, in patriarchal days, any new revelation of the ancestral God will be summed up in a new title for him (Gen. 16:13) which will in future both record and recount a deeper knowledge of God’s saving activity. We may therefore assume that, in asking this question, they were expecting a new title for the patriarchal God.
Walter Kaiser Jr: What does that name mean or signify in circumstances such as we are in?
Douglas Stuart: Knowing the name of God would be for Moses both a comfort and a credential in his dealing with the Israelites, and for the Israelites in turn it would become a first means of designating true faith and worship. . .
since the true God was known by various names and titles in the patriarchal era (e.g., El Elyon, “God Most High” in Gen 14:18–22; Pahad Yitṣḥaq, “Fear of Isaac” in Gen 31:42, 53; El Shaddai, “God Almighty” in Gen 17:1; 28:3; 35:11; 43:14; 48:3; El Roʾi, “The God Who Sees Me” in Gen 16:13; El Bethel, “God of Bethel” in Gen 31:13) specificity was desirable. Perhaps most importantly, however, was the assumption in that culture that to call on a god—that is, to pray to and worship him—involved calling on his name, specifically naming him in prayer and worship (cf. 1 Kgs 18:24–26).
Ryken: Before faulting Moses too much, however, we should put ourselves in his place for a moment. God had made such large promises and placed such heavy demands on him that Moses wanted more information. In particular, he wondered what God’s people were going to say when he went back and told them he was going to lead them to the Promised Land. Moses had been raised as an Egyptian, which meant that he had never fully shared in their sufferings. Nor had he been back to Egypt for forty years. Even worse, the last time he was there, the Israelites had rejected his leadership. They were hardly likely to believe Moses when he said he was sent to be their savior. He wasn’t even sure himself that he was the right man for the job. So why would anyone else think he could do it? The only thing he could appeal to was God’s authority, but how could he persuade people that he had been in the presence of the Lord? He could hardly believe his own eyes and ears, let alone convince anyone else. So he imagined going back to Egypt and saying, “Look, I was out in the desert watching these sheep, you see, and there was this bush, and it kept burning without burning up. Well, anyway, then I heard this voice telling me to lead you out of Egypt.”
Moses knew how skeptical people would be, and it was not hard to guess how they would react. They would tell him that he had been seeing things and hearing things out under the hot desert sun. Then what was he going to say—“Well, I guess you just had to be there”? It is easy to see why Moses felt like he needed something more. He wanted the full weight of divine authority behind him. So he asked God to reveal his very name.
B. (:14-15) Validation Provided by the Name of God – the Self-Existent God of Unchanging Covenant Relationship to the Hebrew People
1. (:14) Name of God = I AM
a. Significance of the Name
“And God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM’;”
Douglas Stuart: the generation after Jacob and all subsequent generations up to his own had lost at least a measure—and probably, over time, a greater and greater measure—of the knowledge of the true God and therefore, presumably, of the practice of praying to him and worshiping him regularly and properly, by his name.
“I am” statements of Jesus:
John 6:35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst.
John 8:12 Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.”
John 10:9 I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.
John 10:11 I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.
John 11:25-26 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”
John 14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.
John 15:5 I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.
John 8:58 Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.”
Motyer: ‘I AM WHO I AM’ is without doubt an enigmatic statement and conceals at least as much as it tells. It is an open-ended assertion of divine sufficiency: ‘Whatever circumstance may arise, I will be there and I will be sufficient.’
Constable: Moses had asked, “Who am I?” implying his complete inadequacy for his calling. God replied, “I am who I am!” implying His complete adequacy. The issue was not who Moses was but who God is. I believe God meant, I am the God of your forefathers who proved myself long ago as completely adequate for all their needs, so it really doesn’t matter who you are, Moses. Moses would learn the complete adequacy of God Himself in the events that followed. Later, Pharaoh would say, “Who is the LORD?” (Exodus 5:2), and God’s response was, “I am the LORD!” (Exodus 6:2; Exodus 6:6; Exodus 6:8). Pharaoh, too, then learned God’s complete adequacy. The real issue, then, was, and is, who God is.
b. Authority Invested in the Name
“and He said, ‘Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel,
I AM has sent me to you.’”
Davis: If the simple Qal sense is maintained, it carries the fundamental idea of the self-existence of God, and simply means “I am the One who is.” This has long been the view of most conservative scholars. . . Alternative viewpoint = “He who causes to be.”
Youngblood: When used by God in the Bible, “I am” never refers merely to His existence or inscrutability or changelessness or sovereignty. . . God’s “I am” is always an expression of relationship to His people (see especially Exod. 34:5-7). The same Hebrew word is used in Exodus 4:12, 15, where the text says, literally, “I will be with your mouth.”
Gispen: The Lord is the God of the covenant. As such He remains the same, is consistent. What He is in general comforts His people through its application to the specific situation (Israel’s oppression) and the special relationship (covenant) that already existed between Him and Israel’s ancestors, and now (“I am”) will also exist between Him and the descendants “from generation to generation.”
Walter Kaiser Jr.: The formula used in v. 14 is the Hebrew syntactical construction known as idem per idem, where the same root with the same sense is repeated both in the principal clause and also in what is here the dependent relative clause. . . Often this construction is used to express a totality, intensity, or emphasis to the form so highlighted by repetition . . . “I am truly he who exists and who will be dynamically present then and there in the situation to which I am sending you.”
2. (:15) Name of God = the LORD — Jehovah/YHWH
a. Significance of the Name
“And God, furthermore, said to Moses, ‘Thus you shall say to the sons 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.”
Motyer: It is intriguing, and though improbable not too fantastic, to wonder if the name Yahweh was a closely guarded secret among the Hebrews in Egypt and could, therefore, have been used as a proof of veracity if anyone claimed to come in the name of Israel’s God (cf. Deut. 13:1). This would explain why Moses expected the question about the name, why he would not have been able to answer it and why without it there would have been no progress with his mission. A claim to have received a word from God carries no weight unless tested and found to be valid (cf. 1 Thess. 5:20–21; 1 John 4:1), and the test of a secret name would have been determinative.
b. Permanence Invested in the Name
“This is My name forever,
and this is My memorial-name to all generations.’”
II. (:16-18a) MESSAGE TO ELDERS OF ISRAEL – “GOD CARES FOR HIS COVENANT NATION AND HE WILL DELIVER”
A. (:16a) Target Audience = Elders of Israel
“Go and gather the elders of Israel together, and say to them,”
Mackay: We here come across for the first time a major group in Israelite society, who are to play a significant role in the following narrative (Ex. 3:16, 18; Ex 4:29; Ex 12:21; Ex 17:5, 6; Ex 18:12; Ex 19:7; Ex 24:1, 9, 14; Nu 11:16, 24, 25; 16:25). The elders (the word originally signified ‘the bearded ones’) were a well-known institution in society at that time. Through age and experience they were looked up to as those who were capable of leading the community. It was not the role of the elders to frame legislation or establish legal precedents, but to administer the agreed standards of the community and to arbitrate in disputes. By accepting the authority and judgments of the elders society could live harmoniously without having to resort to violence to settle disputes between individual and families. The institution of elders did much to promote the cohesion and solidarity of Israelite and other similar societies.
B. (:16b) Assurance of God’s Compassion — Covenant-Keeping and Concerned God
“The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, has appeared to me, saying, ‘I am indeed concerned about you and what has been done to you in Egypt.’”
Douglas Stuart: The different wordings are all variations of an idiom that is essentially a synecdoche—a part for the whole—in which because of God’s nature, his own overt mention of his being aware automatically implies additionally his determination to act. Thus God’s announcement of awareness of a problem was at the same time an announcement that he would attend to that problem—because it could not be solved by human means, not even “by a mighty hand” (v. 19).
C. (:17) Assurance of God’s Deliverance — Promise-Keeping God
1. Deliverance From Affliction in Egypt
“So I said, ‘I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt”
2. Deliverance To the Promised Land of Challenges and Prosperity
“to the land of the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Amorite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite,’”
“to a land flowing with milk and honey.”
D. (:18a) Assurance of Successful Mission — Sovereign God Who Controls the Future
“And they will pay heed to what you say;”
III. (:18b-22) MESSAGE TO KING OF EGYPT – “LET MY PEOPLE GO”
A. (:18b) Target Audience = King of Egypt
“and you with the elders of Israel will come to the king of Egypt,
and you will say to him,”
B. (:18c) Request
1. Divinely Authorized Request
“The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us.”
2. Daring Transformational Request
“So now, please, let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness,
that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God.”
Douglas Stuart: “Three-day journey” was an idiom in the ancient world for “a major trip with formal consequences.” Pharaoh would have heard it that way and would also have heard it as meaning “We want to leave Egypt for however long we choose.” Moreover, the demand for the people to “offer sacrifices to the Lord our God” was yet another way of implying—without quite saying so in so many words—that the people would leave Egypt since, as develops later in the actual event (10:25–26) the Israelites expected to worship Yahweh far from Egypt at Mount Sinai, completely out of and free from any Egyptian oversight, having taken all their possessions with them. Pharaoh’s continuing resistance to the demands of Yahweh must be read in this light. He knew from the start that the Israelites were not merely asking for three days off from work; they were asking to migrate from Egypt. Thus his resistance: what they were asking for was the very sort of thing that could create the situation his predecessor feared, namely, an Israelite movement of separate national identity, dissociating itself from Egypt and heading out into Asiatic reaches where the Israelites might join with anti-Egyptian forces and become effective enemies of Pharaoh and his people.
Ryken: These solutions have some merit, but there is another answer that brings out the true spiritual intention of the elders’ request. What was more important than the journey’s length was its purpose. What the Israelites were requesting was permission to go out and meet their God. In particular, they needed to worship him, to restore their covenant relationship with him by offering sacrifices for their sins. Remember that from the very beginning, the exodus was for the glory of God. Thus the real question was not how long the Israelites would be gone, but whether or not Pharaoh was willing to let them glorify God at all. Ultimately God intended to lead his people out of Egypt altogether; but by beginning with a more modest request, he was able to expose Pharaoh’s deep hostility to his glory. Even if it would have been unreasonable to expect the king of Egypt to let his entire labor force leave the country, it was hardly unreasonable to ask for a few days of religious freedom. Yet Pharaoh was unwilling to give God even three days of glory. He wanted to keep all the glory to himself, and he knew that if he granted even this one simple request, it would show that the glory did not really belong to him at all.
C. (:19-20) Retribution / Pressure / Compulsion
1. (:19) Stubbornness of King of Egypt
“But I know that the king of Egypt will not permit you to go,
except under compulsion.”
Mackay: Here, however, the Lord is pointing to a feature of the king’s character, indeed of the whole political and religious system of which he was the embodiment. They would stubbornly refuse to let the Israelites go. It was not just that they were determined not to lose a valuable economic resource. Yielding to the religious claims embodied in the Israelites’ request would undermine the whole religious and social philosophy on which Egypt had been founded. Only force—overwhelming external compulsion—would lead Pharaoh to act in the way the Lord required.
2. (:20) Sovereign Intervention of All-Powerful God
“So I will stretch out My hand, and strike Egypt with all My miracles which I shall do in the midst of it; and after that he will let you go.”
D. (:21-22) Reparations
1. (:21a) Granting of Favor
“And I will grant this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians;”
Motyer: It is not just that the Lord has power over all the power of the enemy, but even people’s hearts are his to sway, direct, change and command. In chapter 1 we saw how the Egyptians’ feelings towards the Israelites changed first to fear and then to loathing (1:9, 12), and it is against this background that we must now see the transformation sketched in verses 21–22 and fulfilled in 12:35–36. It was this wealth that later would provide for the beauty and richness of the tabernacle (chapter 25 onwards). The Lord brought about a transformation of relationships (21a), conditions (21b–22a), and status (22b) whereby the hated became the favoured, slaves were enriched and the erstwhile victims triumphed over their erstwhile masters.
2. (:21b-22a) Gifting with Valuables
a. (:21b) Stated Negatively
“and it shall be that when you go, you will not go empty-handed.”
b. (:22a) Stated Positively
“But every woman shall ask of her neighbor and the woman who lives in her house, articles of silver and articles of gold, and clothing; and you will put them on your sons and daughters.”
Guzik: God promised to arrange things not only to move Pharaoh’s heart, but also to move the heart of the Egyptian people so that when Israel did depart, they would be showered with silver and gold and clothing. This was not stealing or extortion, it was the appropriate wages for the years of forced labor.
Mackay: Although the word ‘clothing’ is a general term, here it conveys the idea of valuable clothing, not just ordinary wear.
3. (:22b) Plundering the Egyptians
“Thus you will plunder the Egyptians.”
Gispen: The plundering of Egypt accentuates the fact that the king would declare war on the God of the Hebrews by his refusal; and the hand of the Lord would triumph so brilliantly that women and children would carry away the spoils.
Ryken: Plundering the Egyptians would demonstrate many of God’s perfections. It would prove that he keeps all his promises. Centuries before, when he made his covenant with Abraham, God specifically promised that his people would come out of their captivity “with great possessions” (Gen. 15:14). It would also show God’s power. Ordinarily a defeated nation was plundered by mighty warriors. But in this case Egypt would be plundered by women—a complete triumph! Furthermore, claiming these trophies of war would demonstrate God’s providence, for the silver and gold would eventually be used to build the tabernacle. Thus the Egyptians were plundered for the glory of God. . .
Later, when God gave his people the law, he decreed that Hebrew slaves were never to be sent away empty-handed but always compensated for their labor: “If a fellow Hebrew, a man or a woman, sells himself to you and serves you six years, in the seventh year you must let him go free. And when you release him, do not send him away empty-handed. Supply him liberally from your flock, your threshing floor and your winepress. Give to him as the Lord your God has blessed you. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you” (Deut. 15:12–15a). One of the deep principles of divine justice is that the redemption of a slave requires the payment of a gift. The same thing happened when the Israelites were freed from Babylon: They were given gold and silver for their return trip to Jerusalem (see Ezra 1).
There is an echo of this principle in the New Testament. When Jesus Christ liberated us from our bondage to sin, he lavished us with gifts—spiritual gifts to enrich our new life of freedom in Christ. As the Scripture says, “When he ascended on high, he led captives in his train and gave gifts to men” (Eph. 4:8). Jesus despoiled the devil through the cross, and now the gifts of the Holy Spirit serve as the bounty of our liberation.