"I Will be With You"
Exodus 1:1 to 3:12
A sermon preached by Erin Dunigan
December 2001
Princeton Theological Seminary

It was a story that he had heard a thousand times growing up. If it wasn’t his mother telling it, it was his sister. “Moses, you are a miracle. You birth was proof of that. You were rescued from death. You were saved for a purpose, Moses. You will do great things. God will do great things through you, Moses. Trust, wait. Our God has claimed you, Moses. Our God has already worked mightily in your life. Watch, Prepare, Wait. For this Our God will guide you, Our God who has called you will lead you. You will save your people, Moses, the way Our God saved you. You will rescue your people, Moses. You will set them free. You are destined for greatness, Moses. You will do mighty deeds.
And now it seemed as though he had arrived. He was finally living in Pharaoh’s palace. After anticipating it for all those years, he was finally there. It was AMAZING there! He could have it all there! He had chariots, he had armies, he had whatever he wanted, there for the taking. He couldn’t believe how lucky he was! Surely this would give him power. He was a part of the household now—a son—no longer a servant, no longer a slave—he had overcome the oppression of his people. He was a son in Pharaoh’s household! Surely this was what this God had in store for him. Surely this God was working, surely this God was present.
But it was there, there in Pharaoh’s palace, in the midst of that power, that his life unraveled before him.
On that day Moses went for a walk around the palace grounds, as he did most every day. And walking, he saw an Egyptian and a Hebrew fighting. As he got closer he realize it was no fight at all—the Egyptian was mercilessly beating the Hebrew. Moses had seen this before. For as long as he could remember his people had been oppressed by the Egyptians. For as long as he could remember his people had been forced into heavy labor. For as long as he could remember his people had been enslaved. But now, now Moses could finally do something about it! Now he had the power of Pharaoh on his side! Surely this was why this God had brought him to this place. Surely this was why this God had saved him. Surely God would not continue to stand by while the Hebrews suffered? Surely this God was not on the side of the Egyptians, the oppressors? If this God would not act, if this God would not fight back, Moses could, Moses would. He had been given this power for a reason, hadn’t he? What better reason could there be, than coming to the defense of the powerless, than taking the side of the oppressed? And so, looking to the left, and to the right, and making sure no one would see, Moses killed the Egyptian and buried him in the sand. He had come to the rescue of his people. He felt good. He would free them, he would lead them. He was destined for greatness!
Or was he? It was only the next day that Moses was again walking along the same path, and came across one of his fellow Hebrews, beating another Hebrew. What was going on?? Why were slaves fighting slaves? Still high from the acts of the day before, Moses tried to intervene, to stop the beating. But before Moses could even finish speaking, the Hebrew throwing the blows accused him, Moses, the deliverer and said “Who made YOU a ruler and judge over us?? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?”
It was known. Who told? How did they know? And how far had the news traveled already? If Pharaoh got word, Moses would surely be killed.
And so he fled. He ran. He left the royal palace, the power, the prestige, the armies and chariots, even the very purpose of his life. He fled, a fugitive, without power, without rights. He fled to the desert, to hide, to get away, to save his life, to escape.
And now, here he was. Living in the desert, tending the sheep of his father in law Jethro, day in, day out. Life in the desert was not easy. And in the desert he had a lot of time to think about that day, he had a lot of time to think, period. What was he thinking that day? His mother’s words, her predictions of greatness had been fresh in his mind. But now, here, in the desert, he could scarcely hear them. By his actions that day he had been forced to leave everyone and everything he had ever known. And now, his most frequent companions were these sheep and even they kept wandering away from him.
His mother had told him to wait for this God. His mother had told him that this God would call to him, and that he would know when this God wanted him to act. But on that day, on that day, he had grown tired of waiting, he was tired of sitting idly as his people groaned under their oppression, and he was drunk with the power of being a son in Pharaoh’s household. Why wasn’t this God acting? Moses was tired of this God not responding, tired of waiting for this God—he had never even seen this God, never known this God. Perhaps God had abandoned them? Perhaps if this God would not act, Moses could, Moses would.
But that had led him here, here to the desert, here to the loneliness, to the barrenness, to the alienation, to the piercing dryness of the desert. Sure, Jethro and his family were nice enough. They were trying to make him feel welcome, trying to make him feel at home there. His wife, Zipporah, was hoping that the birth of their first child would connect him to that place, would allow him to feel at home, to belong. But rather than connecting him, it alienated Moses all the more. He named the boy Gershom, for he was an alien residing in a foreign land.
And all this time spent with the sheep had given him way too much time to think, to wonder, to question—was his mother wrong? Had she made a mistake? Did she really hear God? Did she really listen to that God? Was he, Moses, really called, or was that all a lie? Doesn’t every boy’s mother tell him that he will be great, that he will do great things? But his mother’s stories had been the core of his identity. Those stories were who he was. If he was not that, then who was he? It was too much to consider, too much to take on, too much to question. Maybe the Hebrew was right… “Who was he to think that he could judge and lead his people?” He had failed. He was a failure. He was destined to spend the rest of his days alone, lonely, alienated, isolated, here in the desert, a foreign land which was not his home.
And so he walked, thinking, deep in thought, something caught his eye. He had walked this path many times before, and had never seen anything like this before. He drew closer, not trusting what his eyes were seeing. It appeared as if it were a bush, on fire, but not burning. But that couldn’t be—how could the bush be on fire and not be consumed? Moses was curious. And so he drew near…
And a voice called to him, called him by name, said to him, “Moses, Moses. And Moses answered, “Here I am.”
Who was this, speaking from this strange sight? What was going on? Had he been out with the sheep too long this time? Had he started to imagine things? Had the weight of his failure finally become so heavy that it was even beginning to crowd out his own sanity? But it was not his imagination, it was not in his mind, for the voice continued, and when it did, the voice revealed itself to be God.

And it was there, it was in the midst of the desert, there in the presence of that bush that burned but was not consumed, it was there, in that time, on that day, where Moses encountered God. Well, where God encountered him. Where God broke into his life.
“I am the God of your father, Moses, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” His mother had been right! This God did exist! This God was real! And this God, this God, this God, was speaking to HIM. This God had not abandoned him. This God had not abandoned his people.
“I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”
Finally, this God would act! Finally God would rise up! Finally God would deliver them! Finally, God would overthrow the oppressors! Finally!
“So come, Moses, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” What? “I will send you??” Maybe he didn’t hear it right. Maybe listening to this God took more training, took more time, took more…his mother had spent her life listening to this God, learning how to listen. Perhaps that is what he needed…more practice, more training, more… This couldn’t possibly…could it? And so Moses questioned. “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” Even as the words left his mouth he heard the words of the Hebrew echoing in his mind… “Who made you ruler and judge over us?”
“Who am I, that I should go to Pharaohs, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” And this God answered him, this God who had been silent for so long, answered him.
“Moses, I will be with you.”
“Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face. He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the LORD sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants and his entire land, and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.”
And this God answered him, this God encountered him, this God who had created Moses for a purpose, the God who had called Moses, that God answered him, “Moses, I will be with you.”