When the Lord commissions Moses to bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt, Moses questions, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?" We learn it's not about, "who am I?" but it's about the One who sends Moses. "I AM WHO I AM" is the God who acts as the Father to His people.
When faced with a difficult task, leaders may ask that question even today, "Who am I?" Does the question come from a sense of fear? excuse and avoidance? false humility? perhaps genuine humility? The motives can be analyzed, but at the end of the day, it's not about "who am I." The servant of the Lord can avoid an ontological crisis by serving the Lord's instruction.
Read the full episode transcript here.
Hollie Benton 0:04
You're listening to Doulos, a podcast of the Ephesus School Network. Doulos offers a scriptural daily bread for God's household and explores servant leadership as an Orthodox Christian. I'm Hollie Benton, your host and executive director for the Orthodox Christian Leadership Initiative. Joining me again today is co host father Timothy Lowe, former Rector at the Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem. Hello, Father Timothy, great to see you.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 0:30
Good morning, Hollie, nice to be with you again.
Hollie Benton 0:33
Father, Timothy, it seems we've been on a roll looking at stories throughout Scripture where the Lord call someone to do His will. Last week we heard the calling of the Apostle Peter, a couple of weeks ago it was the calling of Isaiah. In both cases, when they recognized the voice of their Lord and Master, they also recognized their own unworthiness. In the case of Peter, he confessed, "Depart from me for I am a sinful man, oh, Lord." In the case of Isaiah, he exclaimed, "Woe is me, for I am undone. I'm a man of unclean lips." And in both cases, the Lord provides assurances, not assurances, like no, no, no, you're okay, I'm okay. We're all good. No, when you are standing squarely in the Lord's presence, there is no doubt of your own sinfulness. But an assurance that only the Lord and Master can provide to His servant, his slave, his Doulos, the one called to carry out His will. For Peter, Jesus assured him, "Do not be afraid." For Isaiah, the hot cold touched his lips with a word that your guilt is taken away and your sins forgiven. And in both cases, the Lord made it clear that there was work to be done, a message to be delivered, his message to be delivered in fact. For Isaiah, he was commissioned to carry a not so good message to Israel because time had run out for repentance, and they were facing a certain destruction. For Peter, he was called to be a fisher of men. Peter certainly didn't understand what that meant at the time of his calling. But we have the privilege of knowing the rest of the story, including the many bumps in the road of Peter's own unfaithfulness to that calling. Fr. Timothy, as Christians, we talk a lot about our life's calling, our vocation, vocatio, coming from the Latin root for call. And we use the word for situations like being called to the priesthood, perhaps being called to serve in other ways to as a deacon or a teacher, or a parish council member. I was talking yesterday to a couple of laymen involved in our organization who reflected on servant leadership. And one suggested, I just don't see my role in the church as a volunteer, as though I can just walk away from it if I no longer want to serve. It's a calling. I'm on the hook. And at another point in the conversation, another layman said, it's a temptation to approach your role on the parish council as one of entitlement as though it's about asserting your own will. Truly, it's about serving the will of our one Lord and Master Jesus Christ. So we have both sides of the coin, here, the servant or slave of God, the doulos tou theou isn't a volunteer in the household of God. And at the same time, the doulos has no entitlement, no authority, but operates as one under the Lord's authority. So today, we're going to be looking at the call of Moses, our listeners will likely remember the story of the burning bush. So Father, Timothy, help us understand the context of the story from Exodus 3.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 3:43
Well, like I try to stress every time you have to look at the context. And the larger context, of course, is the whole story that started in Genesis, so I can't automatically just tell our readers you need to re-read Genesis, and then chapters one and two of Exodus. But in fact, if you don't know those, you will miss a lot of the nuances and the meaning to understand what is unique to this section. Moses is a, the pinnacle figure. The first five books, of course, he gets more text than anybody else, including Jesus of Nazareth. So, he gets our attention, right? At the end of the book of Genesis, Jacob, the patriarch dies, his family, his children, all have been brought to Egypt to save them from starvation, but they're outside of the Promised Land, which is always bad news. So there's a little nuanced conflict there. Joseph, the exiled brother who was the prince of the family, but you have to know that story. It ends also with his death. And then Exodus. it starts with a very strange setting, because you come from a clan of people and then all of a sudden you have a new pharaoh. So the old Pharaoh has died, the one that had negotiated and Joseph in his leadership as rising to the ranks and being as if he was Pharaoh functionally, because Pharaoh had given him total authority, made him a wealthy man, saved the world through the provision through famines and whatnot, which again, saved his own family later on. You know that story, then Exodus starts with this strange sentence, "There arose a new pharaoh who did not know Joseph." It's so odd that it catches your ear. So what does that mean? And that is a question. That means whatever happened in Genesis is no longer functional. The relationship that Joseph had as representative as family with Pharaoh is all gone. And so we immediately we see that the new pharaoh is evil. He enslaves the people, but then they start to becoming not just a clan, but a nation. And Pharoah claims, ah, they are more powerful than us. And we say how is this possible? A group of slaves living in the land, but it's just hyperbole, but it shows that they are beginning to thrive, it's the blessing and the multiplication of being fruitful out of Genesis. So that's the intro to the next stage in the biblical story. Now I want people to understand that Exodus is a total reset, totally a new beginning, because whatever happened, you see, Joseph was no longer remembered, which means all that happened is as if it doesn't exist. And these people are starting all over again. And if you read Genesis, and you'll see even with the Moses story, there's a lot of resetting going on. And usually when something bad happens, you have to start all over, your computer is not working, you have to reset it, shut it down, start it up again, and hope that that fixes the problem. And that's just sort of the metaphor for the biblical story, all of it. So what I want people to remember is that Moses gets a birth story, he gets a strange birth story, because the decree was to kill all the Israelite babies, male babies, male babies, and the counterweight to that decree by Pharaoh to destroy them all,
is two midwives. They are secretly delivering the babies and trying to preserve them. And Moses is one of these babies. And it says strangely, that as an infant, everybody knows this story. He's put in a basket and sent in the Nile, while his mother watches afar to see what's going to happen. The unnamed daughter of Pharaoh comes down to bathe and whatnot, sees a Hebrew baby, recognizes it, and yet she saves the child. So this is a new beginning. This is Moses's birth. And what people may not realize is that the word basket is a bad translation, because it is the same word as Noah and the ark. My point is because of the literary connection by words, Moses is saved in an ark, just as Noah was. So you have to connect the stories. And that's why I said reset, new beginning, there's a new chapter completely, totally new happening with Moses, and hence the story of hidden, being saved, you don't want to say miraculously, but providentially, which means he's important. Now, the irony, of course, people need to understand that Moses and his counterpart, which is Joseph, in Genesis, there are two dominant figures, ultimately, Moses is raised as a prince in the house of Pharaoh. In other words, he's given everything, no suffering, no being sold into exile, your brothers and rising up and in prison. No, he's given the cushy life by adoption. So he is a prince of Pharaoh, you need to understand his status. Yet, he is intrinsically aware of his connection to the Hebrew people. In fact, he is so bold to say, these are my people, my people. So understand where he's coming from. So when we do our chapter three, we're going to see how far he has fallen. Because that is the point. You know, you talked about Isaiah and Peter, you think you're up here, and then at some point, you fall. And Moses falls dramatically. And how does he fall? He goes out, and he wants to check out his brethren, you see, you know, the prince, adopted into the house raised in luxury, not the slavery and the brutality, and the harshness of the labor, all is given. And he sees his people. And ultimately, we know the story that he slays an Egyptian who was acting harshly against his people, and thinks he's done it in secret. Because he's trying to help his people from his glorious wealth of luxury and ease. And then he goes on again and sees two of them arguing and he says, Why are you arguing? The two Hebrews say, Who made you ruler and judge over us? Who do you think you are? Who are you, see, this is the beginning of the irony. And then of course, he has committed murder. He is not a good guy, is not a good guy. So he flees from Pharaoh who now seeks his life. And this is where in chapter three begins to take up Moses in exile. Moses, alone, just a shepherd, and there he is in exile,completely at a loss.
Hollie Benton 9:59
Let's start with the first part of the story. "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. And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. And he looked, and low, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, I will turn aside and see this great site, why the bush is not burnt. When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God call to him out of the bush, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I, then he said, Do not come near, put off your shoes from your feet for the place on which you're standing is holy ground. 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." So there you have it, Fr. Timothy, similar to Isaiah and Peter, when Moses understood he was in God's presence, he hid his face, he was afraid. I suppose this might be the first test of vocation. If I believe the Lord is calling me but have no sense of fear or recognition of my own sins, I'm probably just deluding myself. So here, Moses doesn't recognize God immediately. Moses, in fact, seems a little bit thick. God has to warn him, Don't come near, remove your shoes, this is holy ground. And then God has to introduce himself. I am the God of your father of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. So what's going on with this introduction?
Fr. Timothy Lowe 11:40
I find this first section that you just read, actually rather humorous, funny, because Moses is alone, out with his sheep, he doesn't know exactly where he is. He sees this event that gets his attention, like anything else, you want to just check out what has happened because it's unusual. And then the encounter begins. And I liked the point that you say that God has to introduce himself, okay, this is the point. God has not been mentioned at all, specifically, the God of the Israelites. And notice that God is not referenced to a place, a location, but to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, which means the story connected with those people, which consumes all of Genesis, okay, so it makes my point that you have to understand the earlier story to follow where it's taking us. This God is not a God of a place, not a temple, okay, the wilderness is an area that is completely uninhabitable, except under certain times a year when the rain and the growth and people can move their sheep. And that's why they have to move around. Otherwise, it's non functional. The location is completely in an uninhabitable place, not referenced, not important to anybody else, not subject to kings, and rulers and governance and armies and whatnot. Okay, it's a wasteland. And this is the point where this God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob begins to encounter, our soon to be enlisted, commissioned, sent one of Moses. Now, we have Moses, the murder of the exiled, one, encountering God. Let's see how it goes.
Hollie Benton 13:23
So here are the next few verses. "Then the Lord said, I have 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 out of the hands 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 Hittites, and the Jebusites. And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. Come, I will send you to Pharaoh, that you may bring forth my people, the sons of Israel out of Egypt. But Moses said to God, Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt? 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 forth the people out of Egypt. You shall serve God upon this mountain." So Father Timothy, I, I just love this line. "Who am I that I should go?" This line always makes me laugh, albeit a kind of an uncomfortable laugh because we so called leaders use this line all the time. I mean, maybe Moses is asking out of a place of humility, or out of fear. How is he to take on Pharaoh the oppressor? But this is the Lord talking, the One who has power and dominion. So the Who am I schtick sounds more like an excuse, like false humility, especially in light of the larger context, as the story continues with Moses, questioning God at every turn, laying on more excuses about not being an eloquent speaker, and on and on, in this case, people are suffering and crying out, they're oppressed. And the focus is Who Am I?
Fr. Timothy Lowe 15:22
Exactly, Hollie. As you read earlier, God says, I will do this, then you are merely the one sent to accomplish it. But I will be the one who ultimately succeeds. For any of us who imagine, I use the word imagine because the idea of all of us being called can be a slippery slope, because it can be something that we imagine or something actually done. In the end, it's about submission, submitting to the will of God as the real test. Is it my will, or God's will, that we are set to accomplish? And so God, as we will see here, will not allow excuses, when we are commissioned by Him to do something, that is the critical point. Because if it's left up to I, you know how quickly we will fall into despair. And that's why I like it, that it is when Moses is at his lowest point. We saw this with Isaiah, Woe is me. And so yes, it can be false humility on one hand, but it also can be accurate, and the point is Moses, you are nothing. You are nothing. But that even shows that if you succeed, it has to do with the power of God. And so again, as you know, our egos are slippery slopes, sneaking in undisguised or masked of righteousness, or holiness or humility, false. But the test will always be, is do we despair? When we are being tested, do we give up? And the point is, you've said, and we've said all the time on these podcasts, one of obedience. So get over the crisis of yourself, just do what is asked, okay. That's it. That's it and continue. And the fact that you may not succeed or see the fruits of your labor, I'm already cheating, because we know at the end, Moses will not get to the promised land, as the final blessing from God, he will not see the fruit of his work. He lives in hope, he's taken away. Because again, it is about God, not about me, you, legacy, our work, church, outside of church, parish counsel, it's not ever about us. So Moses is learning some hard stories, and we have more to go. So I will stop here and let you continue to read.
Hollie Benton 17:41
"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? 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. 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, the God of Jacob has sent me to you. This is my name forever. And thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations." With these verses, it seems we're getting a glimpse of what is to come. It's not just about saving Israel from the hand of Pharaoh. But it seems God is interested in teaching them something to be remembered throughout all generations. What do you think, Father Tim, this isn't just permission to name drop, is it?
Fr. Timothy Lowe 18:41
Well, yes, this is Moses's beginning to refute, or reject everything that God says in their conversation. But the idea that we want to make something of this name, I am who I am, you know, a lot of people want to theologize about this name and talk about God and His eternal essence and whatnot, and so on and so forth. But as a story, that's all nonsense. That would never be part of where the Exodus writer is taking us. The point is, when he asked his name, I think God's response is, what is that to you? I'm not like the other gods who has a name, Baal, or Ishtar, Isis, or whatever, you see, snd you can put me somewhere. No, no, no, no, no, no, I am, who I am. It's not about my name and therefore having power, control or referencing me by my name, it is referencing by my actions. What am I going to do. And therefore it is those actions that reveal who he is, not just a name. Timothy, Hollie, take your pick. Moses is looking for a way out and this is why the call of Moses is so beautiful, because Moses is looking for a way out. He tried to rescue his people under his own terms as Prince of Egypt as Lord, Tsar in Hebrew, Judge, the Prince, the King, as if he was, he imagined himself once upon a time. But now he knows he's none of that, and returning to Egypt means his life is at risk. How is he, the exiled one, who has a contract out on his head, so to speak, can go back and challenge and deliver? And the point is he cannot. He is just the one sent. And the question is, will he go? Or will he not? That's the question. Will he accept the commission? And we know this is just the beginning of his unwillingness and making excuses. But at the end, and St. Paul reminds us, that we glory in our weakness, because then God's grace is made present more, again, because it's not about us. It's about the power of God. And so the question is, will we submit, and will we be sent? And the rest honestly is details and don't we think that's what the sermon on the mount is, Hollie? Don't worry about what you shall eat, what you drink, you know, the birds of the air, the lillies of the field, you know, Seek first the kingdom of God, and the rest is details. But now we're Americans, we need the fine print, we need the contract before we're gonna sign on. That is not the case here, certainly for those that God is calling. And again, it's not because Moses is special. It is because he's somehow showed up at the right time. That's how it's presented to us. Oh, let's go check this out. So it downplays Moses's significance, it downplays him. And ultimately, it'll be about what God will do through Moses.
Hollie Benton 21:38
So who am I? You're right, I'm nothing. But there's work to be done. Pick up a shovel, there's a message to be carried. Right?
Fr. Timothy Lowe 21:45
There's work to be done. Yeah, the funny thing is, if we imagine we are called, we are really under the thumb, or the boot, or the hand of God. I like in the gospel when the Pharisees claim to know and then Christ slams them, okay, if you know, then you're in trouble because then you're liable to judgment, you have no excuse. We got to be careful how we frame our own selves because we put ourselves in a predicament of lacking no excuse and then be accountable, which of course we are, because we chose the God of Israel, the God of Jesus of Nazareth and the God of the Sermon on the Mount, the Last Judgement. Aw, you can't go back once you choose, right?
Hollie Benton 22:30
Thank you, Father. Tim. You know, the story is really rich. As you said, Moses gets a lot of airtime in the Bible. Maybe we could consider a sequel of sorts.
Fr. Timothy Lowe 22:39
Absolutely. Yes we can. It's a long story.
Hollie Benton 22:41
Thank you, Father, Timothy.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai