By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
September 03, 2023
Exodus 3:1–15 (ESV)
1 Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. 3 And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” 4 When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5 Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6 And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. 7 Then the Lord said, “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, 8 and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9 And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. 10 Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” 11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” 12 He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.” 13 Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I am has sent me to you.’ ” 15 God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people 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.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.
There was a new Pharaoh in Egypt that did not know Joseph. This is where we left off last week. Joseph was appointed by Pharaoh to the highest position in the land right under the king himself, because of Joseph’s faithfulness to his God. Pharaoh had a dream that disturbed him. He did not know what to make of it. He saw seven beautiful cows and seven skinny cows standing on the banks of the Nile, and the seven skinny cows consumed the healthy cows, and even though they had a hardy meal, they remained skinny, on the brink of death. Pharaoh told the leaders within the land about this dream, and no one could tell him what the dream meant.
When I hear this story, I am amazed at those words, and not in the way you might think. To me, the dream seems as clear as day. If you have seven healthy cows and seven skinny cows, and the skinny cows eat the fat cows, and they do not grow any better, it stands to reason that bad times are in the future. I tend to think Pharaoh understood his dream. I think he knew that hard times were coming in the future, and he was seeking someone that would tell him how to avoid disaster.
I say this because dream interpretation was a common thing in ancient religions. To this day there are people that want to interpret dreams, you can go to any book story and find a book that will help you come to some conclusion as to what your dream might mean. I am not encouraging you to do this because most of those books will leave you just as confused as you were to begin with, but this is something that humanity wants to know. In our mind there must be a reason for these vivid dramas that play on the backs of our eyelids at night.
Pharaoh knew that disaster loomed before him. He was faced with this reality, and he also knew that the entire nation looked to him as a god. His society was on the brink of collapse and only he could avert this disaster. Who would he find to help in this time of need? He called the wisemen together and they claimed that they could not give an interpretation. I want us to just stop and think about this for a moment.
In ancient Egyptian culture, nothing ever went wrong according to their history. Pharaohs always won the battles. The Nile always flowed. If something bad ever happened, it was the end of days. The favor of the gods had left the land, and it was Pharaoh’s fault. This put a great deal of stress on this leader. But more over this leader was in their minds appointed by their gods. What do you say to someone with divine wisdom? I do not think the wise men of Egypt could not interpret the dream; I think they were too afraid of divine retribution to speak. They did not want to give the dictator bad news. They did not want to bring into question the possibility of disaster. Egypt was filled with yes men.
Pharaoh knew that this was happening. Pharaoh knew that his advisors were short sighted and not willing to speak to potential failures of their king. This is where Joseph comes in. Joseph stood before this ruler of the greatest empire in ancient times, and he told him, “God will provide Pharaoh with an answer.”
Joseph spoke truth to power. He was willing to stand before the kingdom of the world. He stood before the very embodiment of the gods of this world, and he spoke plainly. “The true God will give you the answer.” We often miss just how powerful those words are. Joseph stood in defiance before the world’s system and proclaimed that there was a better way to live. This impressed Pharaoh. Who is willing to stand before the authorities and speak the truth? Joseph was facing off at that moment, he was staring death in the face and was willing to say what needed to be said. This is what Pharaoh needed to hear. And Pharaoh knew that Joseph was right, so he listened to the lone voice.
Everyone else was saying how great the pharaoh was and not to worry. Joseph was willing to say hard times are coming and you better be ready.
If we were to look through ancient historical records, we might find that this was a unique era in Egyptian history. There is something referred to as the Bronze age Collapse. The world was going along, and everything seemed to be going well. Then suddenly everything seemed to change. There were wars, famines, and plagues. There was once a thriving economy that linked the Mediterranean world all the way to the eastern regions of India. And seemingly overnight everything collapsed, but Egypt emerged out of this collapse retaining much of the power they had prior to it.
Now there is a new pharaoh. A pharaoh that did not know Joseph. He enslaved the people of Israel. He set taskmasters over them, and they were charged with construction and labored in the fields. They built the store cities of Pithom and Raamses. This new king disregarded the wisdom of his ancestors and again listened to the voices of the moochers. I say moochers, because these advisors went along with enslaving a portion of the population, they wanted all the wealth but did not want to do the work. They reoriented their society in such a way that they took all but gave little back. Greed became the norm, instead of the wisdom Joseph taught. Joseph said, “God brought me here to preserve life.” But the leaders of Egypt in the Exodus did not care, preserving life was far from their mind, they wanted luxury and they did not care who had to die to give them what they wanted.
But there was one segment of his population that did not fit the norm. They did not regard him as a god, they did not participate in the traditional Egyptian society. They became the scape goats for all that was wrong with Egypt, and because of this they had to bear the burden of society. Their population was growing while the rest of the culture seemed to dwindle. Kill the boys and leave the girls he said. But they still grew. Enslave and bind them so they cannot join our enemies. Throw the boys into the Nile, keep them in their proper place. We will not let them replace us. It is a story that repeats throughout history.
Pharaoh’s own daughter had compassion. She found one of the Hebrew children in the river. She saw the humanity of this child. She saw him and named him Moses.
Moses grew up in the house of Pharaoh. He had every opportunity that a royal Egyptian would have had. And yet he knew that he was different. He knew that he was from the tribes of Israel, and he wanted to help. He saw the brutality that his own people lived under, and it caused anger to burn within him. When he saw the whip being raised, he was enraged, and he murdered a man that inflicted torture upon the Hebrews.
You would think that this would have caused the people of Israel to be drawn to this man, but no good deed is left unpunished. The ones that bore the pain of the whip, looked at him and they did not see the body of their salvation instead they were terrified. “Are you going to kill us like you did the Egyptian?”
Moses in that instant knew that he was not going to change society. He was just one man. He realized that every advantage his upbringing provided was not enough to correct the trajectory of this crumbling society. He looked at the fate of the Hebrew people and his own life, He knew that no one would listen to him, he was nobody. He was just a pet raised in the house of Pharaoh’s daughter, a little Hebrew toy. Moses ran. He fled from that place, a place of affliction and slavery. Moses knew that even though he had privilege he too was just as much of a slave as the people under the whip.
But Moses had something that no one else had. He lived in the place between. He was and was not a slave. He was and was not an Egyptian. He was and was not. He lived between; he was of the world but not in the world. He understood the things of Egypt, and he understood that things of Hebrew. Because he walked this fine line between two worlds, he had a perspective that perceived both. It is not easy to live in that place between.
I have been in that place, between science and faith. Between culture and religion. Between Democrat and Republican. Between generations. Between.
In many ways this is exactly the place our culture is today, we are between. On one side are voices that want things to remain as they were and on the other are voices that long for progress. I think Moses lived in such a time and place. We could say that Joseph’s era was like the greatest generation, but there was a new king. And the boomers have taken the reigns. And then there is a future set before our culture. What is between?
I want us to just stop right there for a moment. Yes, I have said a great deal. And we could take offense. But I want us to take a deep breath. I have not made accusations; I have simply revealed the emotions of our culture. Progress feels like this story at times. There are people that do not want things to change, and they seemingly oppress those that embrace it. And at times those that seek progress seem to oppress those of us that are comfortable with how things have been. It is part of life. We fear what we do not know. We cannot embrace something we do not understand. And when the world seems to change faster than we can adjust we feel as if we must take flight or fight.
Moses ran. He ran to a region called Midian. To the house of the high priest of the land of Midian. I spent time this week just thinking about this. Moses did not run to Cannan but Midian. If we were to look up this region, we would find that the Midian people were also descendants of Abraham, but they were not from Sarah. After Abraham’s wife died, Abraham took another wife and this wife bore children to him. Abraham was well over a hundred years old at that time, and yet he had children. These children settled outside the area of promise, much like Abraham’s first son Ishmael. And they became the people of Midian. They became the people of contention and strife. I think it is fitting that this would be the place that Moses went, because this was what he was feeling.
Midian is a region between. It was between what would become Israel, and Egypt. The Sinia peninsula is a strip of land that connects Africa to Aisa, was part of this region. To the north of this peninsula is the Mediterranean Sea, to the West is the Gulf of Suez, to the east the Gulf of Aqaba and the Red Sea to the south. This is like an island just barely connected to land surrounded by seas. And this is an area that even today is of high value. Whoever controls this region basically controls commerce in the entire world. It is a land of contention and strife. A land between.
It is in this land that Moses begins his true journey. He was keeping his father-in-law’s sheep, and was near the mountain of God, and he saw a bush that was burning but was not consumed. And he thought to himself. “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.”
Here Moses is, in the land between. He is the man that lives between cultures, between social statuses, and between eras. He lives in a region of contention and strife. He had fled to this place and yet he remains curious. He does not give up on the world, he does not resign to some lot of life. He was once a child in Pharaoh’s court, and now he is tending sheep that are not his own. Most of us would have given up, yet Moses remains curious. He sees something that causes him to question the reality in which he resides, and he wants to find out why.
“I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” I want us to remain here. I know we all want to jump to the end of this section of verse to get to the mission that God gave to Moses, but before we can embrace that mission we must first remain here.
We live in Midian. We live in a land between. We live on the cusp of progress. We do not know what the world ahead of us will provide, and we know that as much as we would like we cannot go back to the way things used to be. And if we are honest, why would we. We look back with nostalgia, but are we able to see the truth? Do we really want to live in a world where nuclear war was a constant threat? Do we want to live in a world where polio was a reality that every family faced? Do we really want to live in a world where segregation dehumanized half of our population? Do we want to go back to a world without smart phones, streaming services, or no internet?
We might like to say that we would, but we are lying to ourselves. The world we live in today is better than the world our great grandparents could have ever imagined. Do we still have problems? Of course, we do because we are living in between.
We cannot go back, and we fear the path forward into the unknown.
We are trapped between. Either the slaves to progress or the oppressors. I do not even know who what is, and which is who. We are simply stuck in strife, tending to someone else’s sheep.But there is something for us just beyond what we currently see. The way we get there is to remain curious. God gained Moses’ attention through a bush that burned but was not consumed. How is He getting our attention? Or are we even looking?
A few weeks ago, I attended a zoom meeting with a few others within my generation. The question posed was if there is hope for the future of Friends. There was a representative from each of the major branches of friends in that meeting. Friends from the General conference, from the United Meeting, from the Evangelicals, and independents. Some were hopelessly caught in the strife, but others had hope. It was one of the most fascinating meetings I had ever attended, because it surprised me.
I listened to the stories given. I heard stories of pain, stories of strife and stories of loss. And the voices that held hope were those that were experiencing the greatest struggles. Moses was curious. This is the first step. Curiosity. The quest, the challenge. That goal put before us, is found in the struggle but we must first be curious to begin to see around the strife.
We can look at the world and we can see all the problems. But I want us to take a step back. Could it be that those wayward individuals we get annoyed with are simply trying to find something to grab their attention and pique their curiosity?
Moses was curious, so he journeyed to the bush the burned but was not consumed. And in that place, he found God. It was in that place between, in the region of Midian, the land of strife, he was given an adventure to live into. But he was hesitant. “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” Who am I that anyone would listen to me?
I ask this question many times. I do not have an answer. I do not even know if there is an answer. I do not know why I became a pastor, I do not even like talking. But I have always been curious. I have always had questions and I have always wanted to find some sort of answer to those questions. What I have found along that quest is more and more questions, and more people asking similar questions. What if as we walk in this place between, we are exactly where God wants us to be? What if all he wants at this moment is for us to be curious and to walk up to the burning bush to see why the thing isn’t burnt to a crisp. Could it be that in the moment of time where we are stuck between the greatest generation and generations that close out the alphabet, we are simply supposed to be curious and let God be God? Stay curious, Friends, and let us allow God to speak to our future.
By Jared Warner Willow Creek Friends Church September 24, 2023 Click here to join our Meeting for Worship Click to read in Swahili Bofya kusoma kwa Kiswahili Exodus 16:2–15 (ESV) 2 And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, 3 and the people of Israel said…
By Jared Warner Willow Creek Friends Church September 17, 2023 Click here to join our Meeting for Worship Click to read in Swahili Bofya kusoma kwa Kiswahili Exodus 14:19–31 (ESV) 19 Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved…
By Jared Warner Willow Creek Friends Church September 10, 2023 Click to Join our Meeting for Worship Click to read in Swahili Bofya kusoma kwa Kiswahili Exodus 12:1–14 (ESV) 1 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, 2 “This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall…
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