It’s been a while since I’ve preached at the Japanese service so I’d just like to look back on where we are in this sermon series. The Israelites came to Egypt and they became a great nation there. But then a new king came to power who didn’t know Joseph and didn’t know the history of Israel, and he oppressed the Israelites. He made them into slaves, and he made them work extremely hard, and eventually he tried to kill all of the male children. Moses was born into that situation. He was brought up for a little while by his own mother, and then when he got a bit older he was brought up as a child of Pharaoh’s daughter in the Egyptian palace. He had a very extreme life!
And when Moses was an adult, he also had a rather checkered life. He killed an Egyptian, and got involved in a fight between two Israelites, and ended up running away from Pharaoh and living in a country called Midian. Now the Israelites lived in a part of Egypt called Goshen, and Goshen and Midian are about 600 kilometers apart. So to escape from Pharaoh, Moses went a distance of about from here to Fukushima. And in this far-off land, it looks like he found a new life for himself. He goes far away from his own people and his confused upbringing, he gets married, and when we get to this passage in chapter 3, Moses is shepherding the flock of his father-in-law. Maybe at this point he’s not even thinking about Egypt or Israel any more.
The job of a shepherd in Bible times was a nomadic job. It’s not like you had a farm, and then you let the sheep out during the day and in the evening you brought them back into the farm. Instead, the job of a shepherd was to go with the sheep and watch over them as they wandered on and on in search of good pasture. These particular sheep had wandered around half the way back towards Egypt. If Goshen was Nagahama and Midian was Fukushima, the sheep have managed to wander about as far as Nagano.
For Moses, Midian represents normal, comfortable, everyday life. He has a wife there and family and a job. On the other hand, Egypt represents his calling, his destiny, an unknown future that he doesn’t want to go to but that he knows he has to. It’s where he ran away from. You don’t tend to think about going back to places you ran away from. So Egypt also represents a challenge. Moses is standing between his present and his future. And in between his present lifestyle and the lifestyle of his calling he comes across the presence of God.
Actually Moses should have known his destiny. Surely his parents would have told him about how he was miraculously saved. It was obvious that he was no ordinary child. Obviously he had been saved and protected for some purpose. Having been born an Israelite and grown up as an Egyptian, didn’t he think about why he had given all of this up and lived an ordinary life in a different country? When God meets Moses, everything He says emphasizes “You are an Israelite, your future is Israel’s future.”
First, there’s the bush burning in the desert. In a hot, dry desert, nothing burns faster than a brushwood bush. But this bush is burning but not consumed. Ordinarily it should be destroyed but it’s not being destroyed. This is obviously referring to Israel. This weak, small nation of Israel is holding up against the oppression that it faces from Egypt. Just like the burning bush, it’s being supported and protected by God.
So Moses sees this and draws closer, and there he meets with God. Now since this is Moses’ first meeting with God, God introduces himself. Missionaries and JET teachers on coming to Japan, we have to give so many self-introductions all the time. But the other day, Henrietta said something really astute about self-introductions. Generally when a Westerner introduces themselves, they basically just talk about themselves. They say something like “My name is such-and-such, I come from such-and-such a country, now I’m doing this kind of job, yoroshiku onegaishimasu.” But Japanese actually do things a bit differently. It’s a bit of a generalization but rather than introducing themselves, they introduce relationships. For instance if I were to go to another church, I’d probably say something like “I’m Cozens from Nagahama church, I’ve come here by so-and-so’s invitation, and I’m really delighted to be worshipping with you all this morning.” I introduce my current church relationship, then the relationship of the person who invited me, then the relationship with everyone present.
Well, maybe God is Japanese, but when he introduces himself to Moses, he does the same job of introducing his relationships. “I am your father’s god, the god of Abraham, the god of Isaac, the god of Jacob.” In other words, “I’m a god who already has a relationship with you.” But isn’t this, in a way, a bit of a humble self-introduction? We’re talking about the person who created and sustains the entire universe. “Your father’s god” sounds like a bit of an understatement. Verse 14, “I am “I AM WHO I AM”.” is so much more of a deep, theological self-introduction. Or even in chapter 34, verses 6 to 7, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin, yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished, he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.” That’s a much more impressive, theologically profound self-introduction, isn’t it? Maybe if He had said that Moses would have been really impressed. But saying “Your father’s god” is a bit less of a theological and a bit more of a ‘Mosesological’ self-introduction. God doesn’t just talk about the relationship between him and Moses, but He also talks about Moses’ past, Moses’ family, Moses’ racial consciousness.
Recently, I re-read “Christianity Rediscovered.” It’s a book about a missionary working among the Masaai people in Africa. One day, the missionary asks a Masaai “Where does God live?” And the Masaai man takes him far out of the village, up on top of a hill and points at the furthest point he can see. “God lives there.” For the Masaai, God is an amazingly far-off God.
But “your father’s god” is not that kind of far-off god. It’s a god who, even though you don’t know it, is close to you. Not a god who is difficult to relate to, but a god who already has a relationship with you. I think it’s good to remember this when we evangelise as well. When I go back on deputation, I often get people saying to me “Japan is a Gospel-resistant country, isn’t it?” or “It’s hard for Japanese to become Christians” or “Japanese are far from God.” I get really annoyed with this kind of thinking. It’s basically saying it’s the Japanese people’s own fault that they’re not becoming Christians. But God is close even though you don’t know it! He’s a god you already have a relationship with! In Acts chapter 17 Paul says “Let me tell you about the God you worship even though you don’t know it.” Now in his sermon he goes on to correct the wrong understanding of God amongst the Athenians, but Paul’s starting point is “God is close to you.” “Your father’s god” talks about a god who is close, who already has a relationship with you.
After “your father’s god” comes “the god of Abraham, the god of Isaac, the god of Joseph.” This is also a bit of a strange way of introducing oneself. When I read this I think “Why did God choose these three, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob?” He didn’t say “the god of Adam” or “the god of Joseph” or “the god of Terah”. (If you’re wondering who Terah is, Terah is Abraham’s father.) Why is he “the god of Abraham, the god of Isaac, the god of Joseph”? Abraham in Genesis 12 leaves his country on God’s command and, while traveling from Haran to Betel, meets with God. Then in Genesis 26, Isaac is traveling from Gerar to Beersheba when he meets with God. And in Genesis 28, Jacob meets God on the way from Beersheba to Haran – where Abraham started out from. God is obviously a god you meet on the way to somewhere else! Jesus after his resurrection similarly met his disciples on the way from Jerusalem to Emmaus. “The god of Abraham, the god of Isaac, the god of Jacob” is a god you meet along the way. Moses met God along the way. Just like him, we also meet god on the way between our present situation and God’s future on this journey we call “life”.
In a sense, God’s self-introduction is actually an explanation of Moses’ current situation. It’s about Moses’s family, his roots, the fact that he’s on a journey, the fact that God already has a relationship with him. But Moses, after hearing all these things about himself, asks “Who am I?” The place between Egypt and Midian is a time of crisis. If he goes back to Midian, will he really be useful there? Can he really stand against Pharaoh? Can he really do these things? God does not directly answer his question. He merely gives the promise that “I will be with you.”
But surely “I will be with you” is the best possible answer. In our troubles, when we are facing an uncertain future, when we are facing situations that we know we can’t do but we can’t run away from, what an encouragement is it to hear “I will be with you.”
One of the pastors at my home church is responsible for pastoring the university students. One day, he asked one of the students “how did you become a Christian?” and she told him this amazing story. When she was in high school, she was invited by a friend to go to a Christian worship camp. Now, when I say a “worship camp,” I’m talking about something held every year for a week with several tens of thousands of people attending. And this girl wasn’t a Christian, but at home, her parents were often fighting and it looked like they were going to get a divorce. She didn’t tell anyone about this, but she decided to go to this Christian worship camp to get away from her home environment. But obviously even when she was at the camp, thoughts of home were going through her head. “How will I live if my whole security has been taken away from me? What am I going to do if my parents divorce?”
And then out of the blue, in one meeting, someone she’d never met before came up to her and said “God says, when you go home, the problem will not go away. Your parents will divorce. But I’m going home with you.” And right then she became a Christian. “I will be with you.” “I am close to you even though you do not know it.” “I already have a relationship with you.” These are the encouraging words of God. Whatever difficult situation we are in, whatever seemingly impossible future we face, God promises that he will walk beside us in it.
Just like Moses, when we meet God on the road between our present and our future, remember that it was God who made the road in the first place. The God who already knows the future has promised to walk alongside you in it. The God who is close, closer than a brother, who already has a relationship with you, promises to be with you. Whatever happens, he will keep that promise. Whatever situation you are facing, God will be with you in it.