Moses was a nobody. Nothing to his name, life a wreck, directionless. Now once upon time Moses had been somebody. He had been the adopted son of the pharaoh of Egypt, the most powerful man in the world, with vast armies to command and surrounded always by guards. Moses had grown up in the lap of luxury, in the pharaoh’s court. There, Moses enjoyed everything that came with being part of the richest family in the world. But Moses, too, saw firsthand where all that money and power came from. Moses saw that it was all built by oppressing people and enslaving them, including the Israelites.
And Moses was an Israelite. By strange confluences of luck, Moses lived in the pharaoh’s court while the other Israelites suffered to support his luxury. It must have gnawed at him. Every time he ate a feast, the hunger of his people must have haunted him. Every time he was accompanied by armed guards, it must have taunted him that these same guards were the ones terrorizing his people. It must have gnawed at him, because one day Moses anger exploded. He saw an Egyptian guard beating an Israelite, and he attacked the Egyptian and killed him in the heat of rage. Moses struck out against the Pharaoh and the world the Pharaoh had built. Moses’ anger was like a small spark, but Pharaoh’s retribution was a consuming fire that destroyed Moses’ life as he knew it. Pharaoh sent men to kill Moses, but by that time, Moses had already left behind everything and everyone he had ever known and fled the country alone. Moses knew for a fact he could not stand against pharaoh and Moses had no hope that Pharaoh would show him mercy. The only thing that kept Moses alive was his terror in the face of the Pharaoh’s power. That’s why he lived, because he was afraid.
Once Moses had been a somebody, now he was a nobody. He was out past the middle of nowhere on a mountain near the Red Sea, guarding a flock of sheep he didn’t even own—dreamless, penniless, directionless, not living, just surviving. And this man whose life had been burned to nothing by the Pharaoh’s anger, Moses had a vision, he saw a bush that was enveloped by intense flames, but which wasn’t being harmed in the least by the fire. And a voice came from the flames, calling him by name. “Moses, I am your God”, the voice said. “The God of your people, the Israelites, who are suffering in Egypt. I have seen the suffering of the Israelites and will set them free. I am your God Moses, and you will do something for me. You will go to the Pharaoh and confront him and make the Pharaoh set the Israelites free.”
Even if Moses believed in this vision, Moses was not capable of doing what God asked, and knew it. Moses could not go up against the Pharaoh and win. Moses had already gone up against the pharaoh and lost. Moses used to be rich, then he went up against the Pharaoh, and that’s why he was standing here in the middle of nowhere guarding someone else’s scraggly sheep, and God is telling him to go back for round two? Moses could no more defeat the Pharaoh than he could pick up and move the mountain he was standing on.
Moses asks what is a quite sensible question, he asks: Who am I that I should go to the pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt? Who am I that I should go up against pharaoh?
It’s a sensible question, and it’s almost the right question. But Moses is still missing something pretty crucial. Moses is concerned because he believes God will be relying on him, that freeing the Israelites will rely on what Moses is and is not capable of. Moses is missing something pretty crucial, when he asks God, who am I to do this? But Moses gets it right on his second question, when he asks God—who are you? This is the question, this is the heart of it, this is what matters in going up against Pharaoh, not who is Moses, but who is God? And God replies by telling Moses God’s own name, and it is a name that tells the story of the One who stood in solitude at eternity’s dawn, it is the name of the One over whom none is greater, before whom there was nothing, God says my name is “I am who I am”, and the tenses here are hard to capture because what God said could also just as easily mean “I will always be what I always have been”. God’s name means something like “there is no other”. God’s name means something like “none is greater”.
The great “I AM” says to Moses “I will be with you”. When you go up against Pharaoh, you will have God on your side Moses. Pharaoh has all the wealth in the world, but you have God on your side Moses. Pharaoh has armies that can fill the horizon, but you have God on your side Moses. And this is how you will know that it is I who is on your side, this is how you will know that I AM is with you, because you will do things that you know that you cannot do. What will be possible for you will be the impossible itself. Not only will we succeed where you should not, but because I am with you, you will be so overflowing with joy you will worship the God who delivered you. That will be the sign for you that it was I who sent you, when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain. Because I am with you, God says, you will be able to do incredible things, and you will worship me for it.
In the story of God calling Moses we see guidance for people of faith. In the story of God calling Moses we see courage for those who are staring down things they must do that they know they cannot do. Because in ways that pass our understanding God is at work alongside ordinary people as they do extraordinary things. God is at work with the person who is once again trying to leave behind an opiate habit, God is at work in the person one day sober who has tried and failed before and can’t think of a single thing they can do to make this time any different. God is at work in the ordinary person who is going up against the powers and principalities and pharaohs of this world, the ones whose offices are in towers and who think they run the world because they do. God is at work in ordinary people saying to modern day Pharaoh’s you cannot do whatever you please, you will be called to account and made to do what is right. God is at work in the countless ones trying to change an entire national culture rife with intolerance and fear. God is at the hospital bed of the one who has drawn their last breath and left forever the land of living. In all these things and more, people of faith, remember that if God is with you then none can stand against you. If God is with you, the scope of what you can even imagine is too small to encompass what God is doing.
And how will you know that it is God who has been with you? How will you be able to tell? This will be a sign for you. Because when all is said and done, when your life has turned around and you can’t recognize it for its wonder, when the powerful have been humbled and made to do what is right, when on your last day you taste death and find it is now what you thought it would be at all, when all is said and done you will overflow with joy and you will worship the God whose name is “I AM”.