As far as life callings go, this one came late.
He already had a significant career in public service when he went through his mid-life crisis at age 40. Some might have said that his experience at 40 was not a crisis, but a total breakdown. He was influential and well-known until his fortieth year, and then he moved and essentially lived as a hermit. His first 40 years were full of productivity while the next 40 years were full of anonymity.
And then he received his calling. At age 80. That’s why some might have thought it came too late. Who starts life over at age 80? Even if one is in good health, that doesn’t leave many years for fruitful productivity. That’s why it would have been understandable if he’d said, “That’s crazy. Life is over. I’m done. I’m not starting over.” But he didn’t respond in any of those ways. That’s not to say he wasn’t tempted not to follow the calling, but he didn’t succumb to the temptation.
Moses struggled initially with the calling God placed on him at age 80, but he faithfully followed the Lord for the next 40 years.
What is notable about Moses’ response of faithfulness is what God said to Moses to encourage him to obey God’s call on his life (Ex. 3:10-15; Acts 7:29-34). God did not point to Moses’ abilities or responsibilities. He did not attempt to encourage Moses with a series of “atta boys.” He did not remind Moses of the faithful men who would help him. God did not attempt to persuade him of the ease of the task of leading the Israelites (for they were not easy to lead).
What did God say to Moses to compel him to commit to a 40-year life of ministry that began when life is nearing its end for most of us? God reminded Moses of God’s eternality. God did not emphasize Moses’ sufficiency. God reminded Moses of His own character and attributes. In so doing, God clarified for Moses that Moses’ sufficiency and ability was not in himself, but in God who called and equipped him.
God dramatically redirected Moses’ life with a calling to lead the nation of Israel (Ex. 3:10) and Moses responded with a somewhat expected, “What? Who am I (at this age) to attempt to do something like that? I can’t do that!” (v. 11; my very loose paraphrase).
God’s response to that initial rejection was pretty simple: “Certainly I will be with you…” (v. 12). It was God’s assurance that Moses was not alone and not dependent on his own ability to accomplish this task. The leadership of Israel was not ultimately up to him but up to God who was working through him.
Moses’ protestations were not over, though, so he objected again: “So I’m going to go to the Israelites and say, ‘Your God sent me to lead you,’ and they’ll say, ‘Just what is His name — this God who sent you?’ What should I say to that?” (v. 13; my very loose paraphrase, again).
Moses’ initial temptation was not to follow this calling. He saw all his limitations and all the natural obstacles that would inhibit effectiveness. He saw no adequacy and much weakness. He doesn’t say it, but reading the story slowly it seems pretty clear that Moses thought this was an impossible task. It was hopeless.
How did God help Moses in that moment? He simply reminded Moses of His eternality: “I am who I am…Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.'” How did that help Moses?
The name, “I am” is not a riddle or an evasive answer, but a revelation that God is and always has been. He is eternal, self-existent, and existent over and beyond time. God is without beginning or end; He is free from all succession of time. In fact, He is the cause of time — the Creator of time. He is timeless in His own being. He sees all time and events equally vividly, being transcendent over all events. So while He operates within time (Acts 17:30-31; Rev. 22:2), He is not overwhelmed or controlled by any event in time — nothing in the realm of time is too much for Him to overcome.
Not only is God eternally transcendent in this name and attribute, but this name is also a demonstration of His loyalty. He reminds Moses, “you shall say, ‘I am has sent me to you (the Israelites)…'” This is a reminder of the loyalty of God to His people. He has made a covenant with them (Gen. 15:18), redeemed them (Ex. 6:6) and was (and is) faithful to them (Ex. 34:5-7). His loyalty to His people is demonstrated in that He is (present tense, not the past tense “was”) the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (v. 15). He is eternally loyal to Himself and His promises to His people. Just as God was and is with the patriarchs of Israel, so He would be with His people and with Moses. He is not fickle with His affections.
Because God is eternal and loyal, He is also trustworthy. His calling to Moses on that day at the burning bush reminded Moses that Moses’ effectiveness was not dependent on Moses, but on the eternal God who called Moses and the eternal God who had all the infinite attributes of His nature at His disposal. The eternal name and character of God — “that is My memorial name to all generations” (v. 15). God would have all people everywhere to remember His eternal name. Moses needed to remember the eternal name of God. Israel needed to remember the eternal name of God. You and I need to remember the eternal name of God. The eternity of God was the help Moses needed. The eternity of God is the help you and I need.
Because God is eternal, we can trust that He will always accomplish His purposes. The One who is above and beyond time can and will accomplish everything He needs within time. Nothing within time can overwhelm the One who is timeless. He is eternally and sovereignly accomplishing His purposes for His people and for all people. Do not despair.
Because God is eternal, He is for His people. That He revealed His name to Moses and the Israelites means that He has created His people to be in fellowship with them and He has made Himself known to them so they can be in fellowship with Him. But what is even more important than His people knowing His name, is that God knows His people’s names. And one day, those who are His will hear Him call their names and have him place His name on their foreheads (Rev. 22:4). Because God is eternal, He knows who is His. Do not despair. You are not alone.
Because God is eternal, what He calls us to do is ultimately dependent on Him. Moses’ task was not dependent on Moses. Moses’ task was dependent on God’s ability. Moses needed to be reminded (repeatedly) that the eternal God did not need Moses and when He uses Moses, He would accomplish what He called Moses to do. Moses just needed to meditate on God’s power and position. And nothing has changed today. When God calls us to salvation or when God calls us to ministry or life tasks, He will accomplish what calls us to do. Our “success” is dependent on Him, not us. Do not despair. If God calls, He will accomplish the calling. His eternality is our assurance that He will accomplish what He calls us to do.
Yes, Moses’ calling came late in life. Yes, Moses was tempted to question that calling. But the lateness of the call offered an opportunity for him and us to be reminded of the grace of the provision that comes only through the eternal God. His eternality was what Moses needed, and what we still need. And His eternality is what Moses had, and what we still have.