Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. Moses was already a ripe, old 80 years old when the LORD God, Yahweh, spoke to him from the burning bush: “Moses! Moses!” And when Moses answered, “Here I am,” his life would never be the same. The world would never be the same.
Invoking the names of Moses’ ancestors, Yahweh declared, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (Ex. 3:6a, CSM).
Moses was drawn to the burning bush like a moth to the flame. But we cannot approach the Holy One without trepidation. Moses removed his sandals because he stood on holy ground. Wherever God deigns to descend becomes holy, whether it be a patch or earth or the hearts of men. “So Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God” (Ex. 3:6b, CSM). You cannot see God and live (Ex. 33:20). Come too close, and you may be burned.
But Yahweh came to rescue, not to burn: “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them…” (Ex. 3:7-8, ESV). The children of Israel had been slaves in Egypt for over 400 years, suffering under brutal tyranny and threat of genocide. Yahweh saw their affliction and heard their cry. And when God sees, he acts. So he decided to call Moses to be his prophet and lead the Israelites out of slavery to the Promised Land of Canaan, “a land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex. 3:8).
In God’s wisdom, Moses was the man for the job. “Come, I will send you to Pharaoh,” the king of Egypt, “that you may bring my people, the children of Israel out of Egypt” (Ex. 3:10).
God may have regarded Moses to be the best candidate, but Moses saw it rather differently. “Who am I,” he asked, “that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” (Ex. 3:12). “Who am I?” was Moses’ question (and objection). Who am I?
So let’s review who Moses was. Moses literally began his life as a “basket case” when his mother sent him floating down the Nile River in a basket to save his life from Pharaoh’s plot to kill all Hebrew baby boys. But the Pharaoh’s daughter rescued him out of the water and raised him as her own son.
But through a miraculous coincidence of events, his own mother became his wet nurse, and she made sure he knew that he was a descendant of Abraham and not the sun god of Egypt. Moses grew up in the palace, living the life of luxury and privilege, receiving the finest education possible.
Yet this “prince of Egypt” never forgot his roots. When he was about 40 years old, Moses witnessed an Egyptian taskmaster beating a Hebrew slave. Enraged by the ill treatment of his fellow countryman, Moses murdered the Egyptian and hid his body. But when Pharaoh found out about it, he was livid and sent out a death warrant for Moses’s arrest. Apparently, his adoptive grandfather (or uncle) had not forgotten Moses’ real roots either. So he fled to the Sinai wilderness, where he married a local girl, and for the next 40 years he tended the sheep of his father-in-law. Even in his old age, Moses didn’t even have his own flocks. So Moses went from being a fugitive to an outsider prince, to an outlaw, to a nobody.
Now 40 years later, standing before the burning bush, Moses asked, “Who am I?”
“Who am I?” may be your question also. Who am I that the Lord should call me to be his servant? Who am I to take up this difficult task? Who am I that I should be the manager of this big company or department? Who am I that I should be the father or mother of this little child? Who am I that I should serve as a pastor or teacher in the Lord’s Church? Who am I that I can make a difference helping the poor in my community? Who am I to tell my friends and neighbors about Jesus? Who am I?
I know who I am: just a poor kid from a broken family in a small town in Wisconsin who grew up as a Pentecostal who couldn’t speak in tongues. I wasn’t even confirmed yet when I entered the pre-seminary program at Concordia University Wisconsin. What were my qualifications to become a Lutheran pastor? Who am I that the Lord should call me to shepherd his sheep and feed his lambs? Who am I? I’m just as confused, fearful, and bewildered as the next guy.
But God is not put off so easily. When we, like Moses, why God would choose us, he counters with a promise: “But I will be with you…” (Ex. 3:12). God is with us!
The truth is that we’re never ready for the adventures on which God sends us. When he calls, we are never the right people for the job—at least, by the world’s standards. Yet in his amazing grace, God doesn’t call the qualified; he qualifies the ones he calls. He equips us with his Word and Spirit. We may not feel ready, but he shods our feet with the readiness of the Gospel. With gospel feet, we’re fit and fleet (Eph. 6:15). Above all, he gives us himself. “But I will be with you” (Ex. 3:12). He gives us his Son, Jesus, Immanuel (“God-with-us”), so that he could be with us forever. As Christ himself promises, “Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20). We may be filled with self-doubt and self-loathing, but God is with us—and for us. He will never leave us or forsake us. And that is more than enough.
So “Who am I?” is the wrong question. But now Moses asks the right question: “Who are You?” What does he tell the Israelites if they ask who sent him? What is God’s name?
From the flickering flames of a burning bush that would not burn up, Yahweh declared, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM WHO I AM… I AM has sent me to you’” (Ex. 3:14). Another way to translate this statement is “I will be who I will be.” In other words, God answers with a non-answer. He will be who he will be. We cannot pin him down. We cannot make him fit our definitions (or words). He doesn’t fit our scientific classification of Latin taxonomy. We cannot put God in a box. He will be who he will be. He is who he is. At the same time that he holds forth his name, Yahweh also holds back. Revelation is ever shrouded in mystery. And the only way to discover or uncover who he is is to believe and obey his Word and follow his call
In the chapter that follows (Exodus 4), Moses will continue his protest against the Lord’s call. He will offer various excuses: the Israelites will not believe him (4:1); he stuttered and couldn’t speak well (4:10, “slow of speech and slow of tongue”); and finally, he just didn’t want to do it—“Oh, my Lord, please send someone else” (4:13). Other Old Testament heroes offered similar excuses not to heed the call.
But God does not accept our excuses. He overcomes and overwhelms our objections with himself and his name. I AM WHO I AM. He will be who he will be. This is his proper name: Yahweh. “This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations” (Ex. 3:15).
There is power in that Name. “The name of Yahweh is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe” (Prov. 18:10). He has exalted above all things his name and his Word (Ps. 138:2). Those who wait for the name of Yahweh find blessing and salvation, “for it is good” (Ps. 52:9). “From the rising of its sun to its setting, the name of Yahweh is to be praised” (Ps. 113:3). “And everyone who calls on the name of Yahweh will be saved” (Joel 2:32).
And so our final question is not “Who am I?” or even “Who are you?” The final question is “Whose am I?” To whom do you belong? As a baptized child of God, freed from your slavery to sin, you belong to God. You belong to Christ, for Jesus is Yahweh (“Jesus is Lord” [Rom. 10:9; 1 Cor. 12:3]). Jesus is the great I AM (cf. John 8:58). Jesus will be who he will be. He is without beginning or end, Alpha and Omega, the first and the last. And he is with you.
No matter what calling God lays upon your life, don’t be afraid. Don’t look for excuses or pass the buck. You are neither too young nor too old. You are neither inexperienced nor overqualified. The Lord Jesus died for your sins and was raised from the dead for your justification. He is with you. “Apart from me, you can do nothing,” Jesus says (John 15:5). But I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength (Phil. 4:13). In the name of Jesus. Amen.