I don't know if anyone's ever played that prank on you where they change someone's name on your phone? So you're happily sitting there drinking a cup of tea, you feel your phone ringing in your pocket, you take it out and WUW, it says Simon Cowell is calling?! Finally someone's recognized my talent!
When you see a call from an unknown number it's easy to just ignore it isn't it? But when you see a call from your best friend you take it, or when it comes through from Simon Cowell or Barack Obama, you think, this one must be important! Or my housemate has been playing pranks again…
When we know the person behind a name, a name can mean a lot can't it? Names can carry a lot of weight. If you're a school bully, and the kid you're picking on says 'I'm going to get my dad on you', you just laugh, until he tells you that his Dad's boxer Anthony Joshua. And you suddenly see the resemblance. And then you think twice.
And something similar happens at the start of our passage today. Verse 1 of chapter 5, Moses and Aaron go to Pharaoh and they say 'the LORD' says let my people go.
But verse 2, Pharaoh says, "Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go?"
You'll notice in your Bibles that the word LORD is in capitals. In the original language, it's God's personal name Yahweh.
And Pharaoh says 'who is this Yahweh?' It's like getting a call on his phone from 'Yahweh' and he's like - why should I take any notice of this guy?' Pharaoh has a vast empire. He's wealthy and powerful. And he doesn't have anybody tell him what to do.
And so right at the start of our chapter today, the scene is set for the next ten chapters. Because the events that are about to unfold in Exodus are a massive revelation of God on which the whole of the rest of the Bible is based. They're like God saying 'this is who I am. This is what I can do. I'm lord even over you Pharaoh. And if you knew my name, you would be sitting up and listening,'
We're going to see that even God's own people needed that revelation. They needed to know God better, and for his name to really mean something to them. And the challenge for us today, as we look through this passage, is that we too need to really know God if we're going to trust him. When we say we trust in 'the LORD', is it just tripping off the tongue, or does that name have more weight for us than any other name? So much so that we can trust him with everything in life…and death?
I've got 3 simple points. 1. Who is the LORD? 2. I am the LORD. (not me, that's what God says!) 3. Do you know the LORD?
1. Who is the LORD?
So let's dive in by jumping back a step and setting the scene. We've seen in the early chapters of Exodus that the Israelites, God's people, have been oppressed by the Egyptians. Pharaoh has set out to cull their birthrate by killing their firstborn sons. It's horrific. They've been made to work as slaves making bricks. The situation is bleak.
But, finally, at the end of chapter 4 things are looking up! Have a quick flick back to the last verse of chapter 4. It says…
"the people believed; and when they heard that the Lord had visited the people of Israel and that he had seen their affliction, they bowed their heads and worshipped."
You can imagine the people thinking, "finally! God has seen what we're going through - the hardship of slavery to these Egyptians! And he's going to do something!" And so at the start of chapter 5, everyone's excited about what God is going to do through Moses. There's a hope of rescue. There's a sense of anticipation.
So Exodus 5.1, Moses and Aaron go to Pharaoh. What's going to happen? Well, rather than things getting better, they actually end up getting harder.
Moses and Aaron go to Pharaoh and they tell him to let the people go so that they can hold a festival in the wilderness. But Pharaoh point blank refuses.
So their demand becomes more of a pleading in verse 3. "Pleeeaaaase let us go for three days into the wilderness". But Pharaoh says "no, get back to work! Why would I let you have a holiday?" And then, he makes things harder. Rather than having the straw there ready to make bricks, as they've been used to, in verse 10 they're told to go and find the straw for themselves. The catch being that they've still got to make the same number of bricks! Verse 12 tells us that they had to scatter right across Egypt just to find enough straw, but with no let up in the normal work they had to do.
As meetings go, that one between Moses and Pharaoh was a car crash wasn't it! You thought the Brexit negotiations weren't going well? This is like Theresa May coming back from Brussels after attempting to renegotiate the Brexit deal and saying, "I'm sorry people, but they've now decided that every British citizen needs to pay a £1000 exit tax to Brussels when we leave the EU. Although if we decide to stay instead, apparently we still have to pay it to cover wasting their time!" I mean, surely Moses is up for a vote of no confidence here!
After the high at the end of chapter 4, things are now worse than they've ever been! What's going on?
If you think about Pharaoh in the Egyptian films you've seen, he was worshipped as a god. He's the most powerful man anyone can think of. And what's going on is that this is God's word vs. Pharaoh's word isn't it? Moses and Aaron go to Pharaoh and say "the Lord says, let my people go". And the slave drivers and overseers go back to the people and say "Pharaoh says this". And after the first meeting, it's clearly Pharaoh who's looking stronger isn't it?
And all this is setting up a showdown between Pharaoh, the most powerful man around, and the LORD.
And the question is, "who is this LORD?"
Pharaoh's asking the question – 'ha! Why should I bother listening to him?' Moses and God's people are asking the question, can we trust him? Especially when God looks weak and Pharaoh looks strong.
It's there in Exodus 5.22. The people realise they're in trouble. They speak angrily to Moses and Aaron. And so Moses turns to the Lord and he says. "O Lord, why have you done evil to this people?" And then he says, "You have not delivered your people at all." I mean, who are you LORD?
Now you might expect Pharaoh not to know the LORD. But the surprise, and the disappointment here, is the response of God's people. You see, their complaining reveals their heart. When things are looking hopeful they trust God. But when there's a delay in his promised blessing, they don't. Their complaining shows that they too don't really know the LORD.
To them his name means 'trouble', or 'not delivering on what you promise'. And so they aren't able to trust him when things don't seem to be going the way they expected, or when their plans don't seem to match up with his plans. Or when things just plain go belly up.
Could the same be said of you and me? It's a challenge isn't it?
Maybe you're excited as a new Christian and you want to tell others about your faith. Or you've been a Christian a while and you're all fired up after hearing a good talk. And yet when you speak to others, they're a bit like Pharaoh. They say "who is the Lord? I don't care about him." And you so easily stop trusting God. Maybe it's years since you shared your faith for this very reason! Or maybe it's simply this - when you feel like God's giving you what you want, you're a passionate Christian. But when God's plans aren't lining up with your plans, you complain. And that's when our hearts are really revealed isn't it? Because if we only trust him when things are how we want them to be, then we're hardly trusting him at all.
In fact, we're treating him as a genie. I'm sure most of you know the film Aladdin. At some point you probably wished that you too had a flying carpet and a pet monkey! But the best thing is Aladdin's genie, who grants any wish he desires. Wouldn't it be brilliant to have a genie like that! So good that your mind is probably drifting off to what you'd ask for right now!
But God is not our genie. He doesn't just do what we want him to do. He's so much bigger than that. What we really need is to get to know him properly. To know his amazing character and to have a relationship with him. And if we do, we'll know that we can trust him wherever he leads us. Even if it's not what we had in mind.
So if God's not a genie, then the question still is, 'who is the LORD?' And that's what we're going to see next. Because we now come to God's response. It's there in Exodus 6.1-8 (which we didn't actually read earlier). God gives a speech, and at the beginning, the middle and the end of the speech he says the words, "I am the LORD". That's what Moses needs to remember and that's my second point.
2. I am the LORD
In Exodus 6.1, God says "Now you will see what I will do" God is saying 'Now you will see what I'm really like in the face of Pharaoh's apparent invincibility'. I'm going to massively reveal myself.
And to understand that, we need to get the significance of God's name. Have a look at Exodus 6.2:
"God spoke to Moses and said to him, 'I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by my name the Lord I did not make myself known to them.'"
You see, up until this point, God has primarily been known as 'God Almighty or 'All-powerful'. He's shown himself to be all-powerful by keeping his promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – for example, in keeping his promise that Abraham's old, barren wife Sarah would have a child.
But now he's revealing his personal name 'Yahweh'.
Now there's some debate here. Because this isn't the first time that name is used. In fact it's used quite a few times in Genesis, which is a bit confusing.
So it could be that the author of Genesis is reading back into the narrative the name he knows for God. Kind of like Mohammad Ali's biographer referring to him as 'Ali' when he was a child, rather than his original name which was Cassius Clay.
But the best explanation I think is that God is saying, my name 'Yahweh' was known before, but I'm about to give it a whole new level of meaning!
Because what Yahweh means is 'I AM'. In fact, the verb in the Hebrew doesn't have a tense, so it's equally 'I will be what I will be'. So what God's saying is: 'I've shown myself to be God All-powerful in keeping the relatively "domestic" scale promises in Genesis; and I've been called "I AM" already. But now, I'm going to really show myself as "I AM". "I AM" meaning "I am present and active to do everything needed to save you'.
God's saying, 'this is going to be a new phase of revealing myself which is on another scale altogether.'
So if the Exodus is going to be a revealing of God's character, what are we going to see?
Well three things. Three things which God points us to here in chapter 6.
- Firstly, the LORD, Yahweh, keeps his promises. He made promises to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob, and he's going to keep them. Exodus 6.5:
"I have heard the groaning of the people of Israel whom the Egyptians hold as slaves, and I have remembered my covenant."
God remembering doesn't mean that he forgot at some point. It means that it is still on his mind. He's going to act on it. He's a God who keeps his promises. And we can trust his promises to us.
But sometimes he doesn't do it fast enough for us does he? The worst toddler tantrum I ever had was when we had our trip of a lifetime as children to Disneyland Paris. We arrived late afternoon and mum and dad said we would head in in the morning. And I had a complete meltdown because I just could not understand how we could be at the gates of Disneyland and not heading in right now. Why would you possibly not just go straight in?!
And just like a child might not see the big picture - that it's not worth heading in for an hour or two, or it's too expensive, sometimes we need to learn to trust God's promises and be patient, because we don't see the bigger picture like God does.
- So the LORD keeps his promises. The second thing we're going to see is that 'The LORD rules the world'. Chapter 5 has setup this showdown between Pharaoh and God – and the book of Exodus shows that it's the LORD who rules the world. God wins. Exodus 6.6:
"I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment."
As easily as we stretch out our arm to pick up the phone, God stretches out his arm and controls kings and nations. When God said to the Israelites that he would deliver them from the Egyptians it must have looked impossible. But read on…and it happened! And this is here in God's word so we can trust God and hang in there whenever we face impossible circumstances. Because God is completely sovereign. He rules the world.
- The third the thing we're going to see is that 'The LORD redeems his people'.
This is one of the first times that the word 'redeem' is used in the Bible. God is going to redeem his people from slavery, so that they can be his people. Exodus 6.6 – "I will redeem you". Then take a look at the next verse:
"I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God, and you shall know that I am the Lord your God."
This is the first time that sentence is used in the Bible. And the amazing thing, is that it's going to be used right the way throughout the Bible. Here's what we read in the penultimate chapter of the Bible, Revelation 21.
"And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.'"
You see, the Exodus points forward to the ultimate revelation of God, and the ultimate redemption. It's like a gigantic visual aid by which that ultimate revelation and redemption can be understood. This speech, right here in Exodus 6, is like a statement of intent for the whole Bible story. God is going to redeem us from slavery to sin and death, so that we can be his people, living in his promised land.
How amazing is that?! God had it all planned right back then. And so don't you think we can trust him to lead us and care for us? He has a plan. He's patient and gracious to us. And so we should be patient as we wait on his plans.
Which bring us to my final point.
3. Do you know the LORD?
Because we won't be able to trust him in any of these ways unless we know him.
What if I said the LORD is coming for dinner at your house tonight? What characteristics would you think of? What would spring to mind? Or maybe we don't really know him well enough to say? We'll only get to know the LORD if we listen to him through his word, by his Spirit. So I really want to encourage you to get to know the LORD better. And I want to highlight three ways to do that:
- Firstly, come along on Sundays. Listen to God's word preached. And if you miss a Sunday why not try and catch up with the sermon on the website, maybe whilst you're washing up one day.
- Secondly, join a midweek group. They're a great chance to get into the Bible in a context of close relationships where we're able to encourage and challenge one another and be honest.
- And last but definitely not least, personal Bible reading. Starting the day by listening to God in his word is one of the best habits we can possibly get into. And whether you've never done that before, or you've been doing it for years, to help you with it this year, I've put a list of resources on the back of the service sheet for you to take away, it includes things you can listen to in the car. Or devotions you can do as a family. And if you're not in the habit of reading your Bible regularly, let me challenge you to make a plan this week of how you're going to do that. It might mean setting your alarm earlier. It might mean getting hold of one of these resources this week.
But don't expect it to always be easy. In our sinfulness we often don't want to put God first and it's something we need to work at and pray about. So that's my challenge for you this week.
Imagine if we all got to know God better and were able to trust him more, think what he could do through us as a church family here in the North East or even further afield.
But if we're struggling to trust him and follow him, which we all do at times, we don't just need to try harder. The answer is looking to God and getting to know him better. We can look to the Exodus, but we can also look to something even better. We can look at the cross and resurrection. We can look back and know for sure that God's name can be trusted above all names! Because when we look to Jesus, we see that he's a God who keeps his promises, who rules the world and who redeems his people.
Ideas for Personal Bible Reading (inc. audio suggestions – good for a commute)
Just read the Bible! There is no substitute to simply reading the Bible and asking God by his Spirit to open your eyes to the wonderful truths of his word (Psalm 119.18).
But notes can be helpful for insight and to keep things fresh:
Bible Reading Notes
- Spiritual Healthcheck by Carl Laferton – 16 short devotions helping Christians to see where and how they can grow in their faith and joy
- Explore – good notes going through different books of the Bible
- Reading Between the Lines – a new book of 181 Old Testament Bible readings written by Glen Scrivener who spoke at our invitation events last year
- My Rock & My Refuge by Tim Keller – daily devotions in the Psalms
- The "God's Word for You" series is available on many different books of the Bible. Romans, Galatians and Judges are available as audio books.
Bible Reading Notes through an app (put your phone on flight mode!)
- Explore app – the notes mentioned above in electronic form
- Solid Joys – daily devotions from John Piper. Read or listen to these devotionals
- Girlfriends in God – cheesy American name but good devotions
- Awesome Cutlery (!) for families with primary school kids
- New Baby Survival Guide – short, do-able Bible reading for new mothers
- Praying Through The Bible For Your Kids by Nancy Guthrie – daily encouragement for parents who realise the things they want most for their kids are things only God can do... so they pray
Read the Bible in a year – a great thing to do, but can feel like a burden after a while so mix it up with the ideas above if you need to keep things fresh. The plan below is for five days/week which makes it more realistic over the long term. www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/melissa-kruger/my-favorite-bible-in-a-year-reading-plan-2/
You can buy the books/notes above at www.thegoodbook.co.uk or www.10ofthose.com or some on Amazon.
And catch up with St Joseph's sermons by going to www.printandaudio.org.uk.