Knowing God – Genesis 3:1-15

The Bushmen in the Kalahari Desert talk about the two “hungers”. There is the Great Hunger and there is the Little Hunger. The Little Hunger wants food for the belly; but the Great Hunger, the greatest hunger of all, is the hunger for meaning…

The hunger for meaning. For us it means we have to talk about God, for He is the one, we believe, that gives ultimate meaning. Not only happiness or significance, but ultimate meaning.

That is what we will focus on tonight. In our search for meaning, how do we get to know God?

Praise and worship

  • Shout to the Lord
  • Here I am to worship


  • What picture do you have of God? What is He like?
  • Maybe like an old man with a beard? Or a King? A Father? A Friend?
  • All those pictures do come into play in Scripture. The Ancient of Days on a Throne in Daniel. Jesus calling God Father in the Gospel of John. He is our Friend, also in John’s Gospel.
  • But He is also an Abiding Holy Presence that you cannot easily depict with a picture.

Genesis 3

  • Let’s look at the experience of Moses when God visited him in the movie Prince of Egypt that follows the storyline in Genesis 3-4.
  • I will only dwell on the first 15 verses of chapter 3.

Moses and the Burning Bush

3 Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”

When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

And Moses said, “Here I am.”

“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 father, 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. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

12 And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”

13 Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”

14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’ ”

15 God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘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,

the name you shall call me

from generation to generation.


This experience that Moses had, came in the wilderness after forty years. Forty long years Moses worked for his in-laws, tending the sheep, always thinking about his people slaving away in Egypt. Also afraid of the consequences of his murder of an Egyptian in his first abortive attempt to deliver his people in his younger days.

And then this happened.  Out of the blue. This is the first inkling we get of how we get to know God. It comes suddenly, when you least expect it.

Why? Because God reveals Himself on His own terms, in His own way, when the time is right, not only for you, but also for what He will call you to.

But there is another perspective that already comes from of the previous chapter of Exodus. In chapter two the writer wrote about God’s heart for Israel. He saw how they were punished and oppressed. He saw what was happening and took their plight to heart. And He came down to free his people from the power of Egypt. He wanted to let them go: “to a good and expansive land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”

This is the second thing we learn from this experience. God’s presence, God’s calling, is always related to something He wants to happen. His visitation is your vocation. When He comes near, you will be sent.

This is what Exodus 3 tells us. Let’s explore this second aspect of God’s calling that not only let us get to know Him but also gives us a sense of the heart of God for this world.

God appears to Moses and calls him

Remember that Moses has been in Midian for forty years and that he is busy with his normal day job. Tending the sheep. He is working in the vicinity of Horeb, the mountain of God. And then suddenly everything changes. The angel of the Lord appears to him in a flame that flares up in a thorn bush and God calls him to deliver His people – God calls Israel His people! – from Egypt.

Horeb is, of course, the same mountain as Sinai and is considered to be the “mountain of God” (cf. Exodus 3:1 and 24:13). This is where God calls Moses and declares his name to Moses. This is where God will give the Torah to the people and make his covenant with the Israelites. This is where God will encourage the prophet Elijah a few centuries later (1 Kings 19:8).

And the Torah became the centre of God’s Word to the people, a Word that Jesus took to heart and made the centre of His Sermon on the Mount as a Word to every one of us.

Notice also that it is the angel of the Lord that appears to Moses in the thorn bush, but that it is God who speaks to Abraham (Ex 3:2-4): “There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire … When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush.”

Moses is commanded to take off his sandals as a symbol of his respect for the holiness of the encounter with God. It may also be a sign that he could not appear before the Lord with the “dust of the earth” that clung to his sandals, a type of cleansing act.

This appearance at Horeb made such a great impression on Moses that he used the description in a blessing for the tribe of Joseph. He prayed that God will bless Joseph: “With the affection of Him who dwells in the thorn bush.” (Deuteronomy 33:16).

We need to know this in our search for God, that it is actually His search for us. We meet Him at His request, on His terms. But it also tells us that we will never be satisfied with anything other than the presence of the Lord.

Where do we find Him today?

We find Him in His Word. Moses had this vivid experience, but He was told to write about it and to give the revelation of God in a Book, the Torah, to the people. That Book became the foundation of their relationship with God, and out of that came all the books of the Bible. In the Bible the revelation of God comes to us so that everybody can read it and experience the same presence of God that Moses experienced.

That is what Jesus teaches us in His Sermon on the Mount. That is what the Gospels teaches about Jesus, because in Him the presence of God became flesh. And through the Spirit His words, the words of the revelation of God in the Bible are written on our hearts.

Where do we encounter this God? Where do we experience His presence? In His Book, the Bible.

That is what the whole of the NT combined with the OT teach us. And that is where we will find God. Or rather, where He will find us. The Bible is our Mountain Horeb, our mountain Sinai. In this Book we will find life, the calling of God, the satisfaction of the Great Hunger in us for meaning.

God makes his name known to Moses

But there is more. Moses knew that if he were to accept this command of God to deliver the people from Egypt, he would have to make sure of the authority with which he should execute this command. Therefore, he first focuses on himself by asking “Who am I to go to Pharaoh and to lead the Israelites out of Egypt?”

It is however the wrong question. When God calls you, the power lies in Him who calls, not in him who is called. Therefore the Lord, in His answer, focuses on who God is. God will go with Moses, and that should be enough for Moses. “I will be with you.”

Moses, however, is not convinced, and wants to know with what authority can he take on the gods of Egypt. Can this God do what He asks of Moses? You ask a big thing of me. Are You big enough to make this a reality?

And that is exactly what God gives him, an indication of the authority with which God calls. God says: “I am Who I am.” He uses a wordplay on the Hebrew verb hāyāh to reveal his being to Moses: “I Am Who I am.” I am Yahweh.

This is a rich description of who God is, because the verb can mean, in different contexts: being, happening, and existence. God’s name is thus not like other gods that’s connected to something in creation, like Ra, the sun god or Baal, the master of fertility. He is the centre of reality. He is the One from whose existence reality came into being.

God’s name thus reveals God as a being that actually exists. He is dynamic and active. He exists and rewards, like Hebrews 11:6 put it in the NT. God is the source of and for all that is. That is what the name of Yahweh entails.

This is the God that gives Moses the command to encourage the leaders (elders) of Israel.  This is the God that remembers the covenant He made with their parents and ancestors. “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.”

How will we thus know this God?

By dwelling on the meaning of His name, and on the rest of His promises and words in the Bible. By listening to the Bible you will hear His voice, and recognize His presence. You will learn to follow His calling and to trust Him. And in the process you will get to know Him.

He will teach you that He remembers His covenant. That He delivers from slavery. That He brings his people to a land of milk and honey. That He guides and nourishes. He will also become Yahweh to you, the one who really does exist and will reward you in your quest to know Him.

Closing song

  • Bless the Lord o my soul
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