Holy and Gracious

Exodus 3:5-8 “‘Do not come any closer,’ God said. ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.’ Then he said, ‘I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God. The LORD said, ‘I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey–the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites.’”

When the Lord met Moses at the burning bush, he did not need to go into a lengthy discussion of what it means that he is holy. Standing in the presence of God’s holiness, Moses was immediately aware of the greatness of God, and how vastly inferior and unworthy Moses was by comparison.

Do we still get the point? People from other cultures and other nations sometimes accuse Americans of a “greasy familiarity” with people we have just met. We tend to treat everyone like our old pal. We immediately assume that we are on a first name basis. Some may even take offense at formality. I know a young man raised in the deep south who was scolded by a young waitress when he called her “ma’am,” “You don’t have to call me ‘ma’am.’ I’m not your mother.”

What is a matter of culture or taste in our earthly relationships could be deadly in our relationship with God. We cannot live our spiritual lives as though we have yanked God off his throne or climbed up to take a seat next to him without serious danger to our souls. Unless we understand that God is infinitely far above us, we will not pay him the respect and honor he is due.

But to think that this is all there is to know about the Lord would be as dangerous as not knowing anything about him at all. The Lord was concerned about Israel. Even though they had lived in Egypt for more than 400 years, he had not lost track of them. He saw their misery as slaves. He had also been listening to their prayers. He was truly concerned about what they were suffering.

That is why he had come to rescue them. More than putting an end to their slavery, he was going to give them an abundant new land that would bless them with their every earthly need.

Such deliverance was possible only because the Lord is incredibly gracious and loving. What had these people ever done for him? If you know their history, you know that their ancestors generally behaved like naughty children. They tested God at every turn. But the Lord remained concerned. More literally, he “felt their pain.” Because he loved them so much he had come to rescue these helpless sinners.

Don’t we need to be reassured of his grace? Our suffering does not need to last hundreds of years before we begin to question his care. Some tragedy can reduce us to helpless, fearful creatures in a matter of minutes. At times of deep loss, C.S. Lewis once said, the danger is not that we stop believing in God at all, but that we come to believe such dreadful things about him, “So this is what God’s really like. Deceive yourself no longer.” We need to be assured that he forgives our sins, that he “feels our pain,” that he comes to help, as much Moses did.

This meeting between God and Moses even relates to our own need for grace and deliverance thousands of years later. This is an important link in the chain of events that led to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection in the land of promise. If the nation of Israel doesn’t survive Egypt’s attempted genocide and move to the land along the southeastern Mediterranean, then Jesus doesn’t come and die on a cross outside Jerusalem. Then we don’t have a Savior. Then we face God’s holy judgment alone.

But we have a gracious God who comes down to rescue his people. And he is bringing us up to a better land of promise, a heavenly one.

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