Who Is My God?

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

"And God said to Moses, 'I AM I WHO AM'. And He said, 'Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you'" (Exodus 3:14).

  1. The children of Israel, enslaved in Egypt for generations, had fallen into a terrible state by the time of the Exodus.
    1. They had forgotten the miracles done for their ancestors. The 400 years of slavery had broken their resolves, and had turned them away from the worship of Jehovah to the worship of Egyptian gods.
    2. Their slavery was permitted because it served the use of turning the 70 original members of Jacob's household into a nation of many thousands. But why was it necessary for them to be slaves in Egypt for this to happen?
    3. They would not have become a nation had they remained in Canaan, for the pressures of life there would have split them into many smaller competing groups, much as Lot had separated himself from Abram.
      1. As their numbers grew, they would have had to range farther and farther to find pasturage. This would have resulted in many little bands of Israelites, interacting and intermarrying with the surrounding Canaanites, living in their cities, and eventually being overwhelmed by their influences.
    4. However, by being slaves in Egypt, they were kept together as a national and racial group. While some Egyptian ideas became incorporated into their religion, they were forced by their Egyptian masters to keep their identity as a nation.
      1. Without this national identity, they could not have subdued Canaan, for they would have been without a common bond and would have merged into the tribes of the land. The covenant made by Jehovah to Abraham would not have been fulfilled.
  2. The children of Israel in Egypt represent someone who from being natural is becoming spiritual.
    1. Their slavery represents the fact that every one's thought at first seems as if it were held captive by the memory knowledges of childhood.
    2. The newly rational mind of a young adult is a wonderful thing: it is quick, sharp, and ready to fearlessly tackle any challenge, but it is limited in that it does not have much experience to draw upon, it hasn't yet learned the customs of the world.
      1. This young mind is full of power, but limited by its raw materials. It yearns to be free of Egypt, which represents these knowledges from childhood. These are truths, but not yet his own because he has not tested them by a life according to them from self compulsion. These memory knowledges have within them some falsities — legends and traditions — that are still held to be true, but are mixed up with the truths.
      2. This is not to say that all the knowledges that a man learns in childhood are false. In this context, Egypt represents only those that are false or limiting.
    3. It is not wrong for the young to take the word of their teachers and parents for a time. It is necessary, as it was necessary for the children of Israel to be kept in Egypt in order that they could grow into a nation.
      1. Just as the children of Israel were protected from dissolution in Egypt, the young adult of the church is protected from overwhelming false doctrines by the knowledges of his childhood — things that may not be perfectly true, but are cemented to his affections, and thus steer his course and bring comfort in times of trial.
    4. There comes a time when everyone must end their religious "childhood" by striking out and finding his God for himself, turning to the Word, not because he has to, but because he believes in his heart that he will find the answers to his questions there.
      1. This is represented by Moses turning aside from tending his sheep in Midian, after he had fled there from Egypt, and going to see the burning bush.
      2. When anyone turns to the Word for his answers, with the genuine affirmative belief that they are to be found there, a perception is then given to by the Lord. He is then able to see the truths in the sense of the letter of the Word, reflect on them, begin to see what they really mean, and how they apply to life1.
        1. The "great vision" that Moses saw, was the angel of Jehovah, which signifies the Divine Human of the Lord.
          1. This tells us that when someone turns to the Word from affection and a genuine desire to learn, and sees the Lord in the Word as God-Man, it is a great vision to him, a revelation, an opening of the mind to startling new understanding2.
            1. A voice spoke to Moses from out of the midst of the bush, calling him.
              1. This signifies that the truths of man's memory knowledges will find a firm foundation when he turns to the Word for instruction about God. The Lord, in His Divine Human, is then able to speak to him about Himself by means of those things of genuine good and truth that he has, that is, remains.
                1. Remains are secretly implanted in the interiors of the mind by the Lord, and make it possible for someone to be affected by truth, thus when he goes to the Word, the things he finds there affect him, change him, make a permanent impact on his life.
                2. He begins to see what in his "historical" faith really is true and valuable, and how those truths relate to each other. He becomes excited as answers begin to fall into place, and he attempts to approach even closer, as Moses approached the burning bush.
            2. But Moses, who here represents someone who has just discovered the truth of the Word for himself, is sternly commanded to approach no closer, and to take the shoes from off his feet.
              1. Moses' shoes signify the sensual thought of the merely natural mind.
              2. The command to come no closer signifies that one who is to be of the spiritual church must not still think of the Divine from sensuous things, as he has done up to that point; for no one can approach the Divine with the body, as one person approaches another, but the Divine can be approached with the mind, thus with the thought and will.
              3. Two things should be seen from this.
                1. First of all, the Lord makes use of man's memory knowledges which can be seen from the fact while Moses was being instructed by the Lord the bush burned but was not consumed. Moses had to remove his shoes, though, teaching that we must remove our merely natural sensual thoughts in order to think properly about the Lord.
                2. Secondly, we should see that Moses did not throw the shoes away, he only removed them while receiving the revelation from the Lord. Later, he had to put them back on, because they were useful to him. It is entirely proper to think about the natural, sensual needs of life on earth in the sensual degree of the mind. Each kind of thought is proper in its own place and time.
            1. The Lord told Moses to go down and lead the children of Israel out of Egypt to Canaan, a land inhabited by many nations.
              1. These Canaanite nations represent the various falsities that infest man's mind, and which cause states of confusion.
                1. The Lord tells Moses that He will send him to Pharaoh, which signifies that the Holy proceeding from the Lord's Human will disperse these falsities represented by the Canaanites3.
                  1. Moses asks the Lord, "Who am I that I should go unto Pharaoh?"4This signifies a state of genuine humiliation.
                    1. The person represented by Moses has searched for the truth, has tasted of it in the letter of the Word, has been confused by the falsities in his own mind, and the Lord has restored his spiritual equilibrium. When man feels this happening, he comes to realize that of himself he is nothing, and that all good and truth come from the Lord alone. In this state of genuine humility, he divests himself of all ability to think and do anything from himself, and wholly leaves himself to the Divine, and thus draws near the Divine.
                    1. The Lord identified Himself to Moses as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.5
                      1. When the Lord says that He is the "God of their Fathers," it signifies that the Divine of the Ancient Church will be with those of the spiritual church.
                      2. The Divine of the Ancient Church was the Lord as to the Human Divine. The Ancient Church received this doctrine from the Most Ancient Church, and it was confirmed by the fact that when the Lord appeared to the men of the Ancient Church, He appeared in the Human form.
                        1. Therefore, when they thought of the Lord, they did not think of some universal entity or power that had no form. We cannot love such a concept, because we cannot have a clear idea of such a thing. The men of the Most Ancient Church thought of the Divine in the human form, which they could love and obey.
                        2. If we would be spiritual, we must think of the Lord not as a universal power, or force, but as God-Man, for this is what the whole of the Old Testament points to, the whole of the New Testament teaches, and the Writings explain.
                      3. Here is the power of the doctrine of the Lord in the New Church: it allows us to understand how an all-powerful God can also be Human, knowable, and lovable.
                      4. The most important idea in the doctrine of the Lord for the New Church is the knowledge that there is a God, and that He is to be worshipped.
                      5. The first of His qualities that is to be known is that He created the universe, and that the created universe subsists from Him.6
                        1. This is taught to Moses when the Lord speaks to him from the burning bush and reveals to him His name: "I AM I WHO AM."7
                          1. What is the first and most general thing we can know about God? That He IS. This is the solid foundation of genuine truth upon which all else of life and theology rests. The God of heaven and earth IS.
                          2. In His first advent, the Lord taught the Pharisees and the Jews, saying; "Before Abraham was, I AM."8 He was teaching that He was Jehovah made manifest to men, the Creator.
                            1. The Lord told Moses twice that HE IS, thus revealing something regarding His essential quality:
                              1. The first "I AM" signifies the Divine Itself, which is called the Father, or Jehovah.
                              2. The second "I AM" signifies the Divine Human, the Son, the Divine clothed in such a manner as to be understandable to man.
                            1. Through our knowledge of the internal sense of the Word, the story of Moses at the burning bush can be seen to be a description of the spiritual events that take place as a young person first begins to take true adult responsibility for his life.
                              1. That Moses came to Midian from Egypt represents leaving the childhood states of historical faith behind, of no longer depending on others to decide what is good and true.
                              2. The vision of the bush that burned, but was not consumed tells us that in Providence, there will come times and events in our lives that, if we will only permit it, will cause us to see the genuine spiritual truth hidden within the letter of the Word.
                              3. That Moses was to remove his shoes tells us that when such a revelation comes to us, we must try to rise above our natural, sensual way of thinking and interpreting events, and leave those things behind so that we can focus on the spiritual things being opened up.
                              4. When the reality of such a revelation is understood, there will come a state of profound, but healthy, humility. The material and sensual things that dominate life will be, for the moment, seen in their proper perspective, and there will be shame that so much of life has been spent in their pursuit.
                              5. Once the hold of the sensual and material has been broken, and the attention is on the spiritual things in the Word, then the Lord can speak openly to the spirit, and reveal His name, His quality.
                                1. That He IS, that His being supersedes ideas of time or tense, and that His importance overshadows that of anything in the world of nature.
                                2. And at the same time, by revealing His name, He reveals His love, His care, and His desire that we should go forward in life, being useful, and happy while we prepare for eternal life in heaven.
                              6. Thus fortified by the Lord's own strength, we are then prepared, like Moses, to return to Egypt, to return into the world, not to be possessed by it as before, but to liberate those things of eternal, spiritual value, to make them our own, and bring them with us into heaven as a part of our essential character. So I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and large land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Amorites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites. Amen.

                              Lessons: EXO 3:1-18, MAT 16:13-20, AC 6979:e-6880

                              1st Lesson:

                              (Exo 3:1-18) Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian. And he led the flock to the back of the desert, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. {2} And the Angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush. So he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, but the bush was not consumed. {3} Then Moses said, "I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush does not burn." {4} So when the LORD saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, "Moses, Moses!" And he said, "Here I am." {5} Then He said, "Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground." {6} Moreover He said, "I am the God of your father; the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look upon God. {7} And the LORD said: "I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows. {8} "So I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and large land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Amorites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites. {9} "Now therefore, behold, the cry of the children of Israel has come to Me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. {10} "Come now, therefore, and I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt." {11} But Moses said to God, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?" {12} So He said, "I will certainly be with you. And this shall be a sign to you that I have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain." {13} Then Moses said to God, "Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they say to me, 'What is His name?' what shall I say to them?" {14} And God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." And He said, "Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you.'" {15} Moreover God said to Moses, "Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: 'The LORD 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, and this is My memorial to all generations.' {16} "Go and gather the elders of Israel together, and say to them, 'The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, appeared to me, saying, "I have surely visited you and seen what is done to you in Egypt; {17} "and I have said I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Amorites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, to a land flowing with milk and honey."' {18} "Then they will heed your voice; and you shall come, you and the elders of Israel, to the king of Egypt; and you shall say to him, 'The LORD God of the Hebrews has met with us; and now, please, let us go three days' journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God.' Amen.

                              2nd Lesson:

                              (Mat 16:13-20) When Jesus came into the region of Caesarea Philippi, He asked His disciples, saying, "Who do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?" {14} So they said, "Some say John the Baptist, some Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." {15} He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" {16} Simon Peter answered and said, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." {17} Jesus answered and said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. {18} "And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. {19} "And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven." {20} Then He commanded His disciples that they should tell no one that He was Jesus the Christ. Amen.

                              3rd Lesson: Arcana Caelestia 6879-80

                              ... the first of the church is the knowledge that there is a God, and that He is to be worshiped. His first quality to be known is that He created the universe, and that the created universe subsists from Him.

                              6880. I AM I WHO AM That this signifies the Being and Coming-forth of all things in the universe, is evident from the fact that "I AM" is Being, and because He alone is Being, it is said in the nominative case. That it is twice said "I AM," that is, "I AM WHO I AM," is because the one signifies Being and the other Coming-forth; thus the one signifies the Divine Itself, which is called the "Father," and the other the Divine Human, which is called the "Son;" for the Divine Human comes-forth from the Divine Itself. But when the Lord as to the Human also was made the Divine Being (Esse) or Jehovah, then the Divine truth, which proceeds from the Lord's Divine Human, is the Divine Coming-forth from the Divine Being. From this it can be seen that the Divine Being cannot communicate Itself to any one except through the Divine Coming-forth; that is, the Divine Itself cannot communicate Itself except through the Divine Human, and the Divine Human can hot communicate itself except through the Divine truth, which is the Holy of the Spirit: this is meant by its being said that all things were made by the Word (John i. 3). It appears to man as if the Divine truth were not such that anything can come forth by means of it; for it is believed that it is like a voice, which being uttered with the lips, is dissipated But it is altogether otherwise: the Divine truth proceeding from the Lord is the veriest reality, and such a reality that all things have come forth from it, and all things subsist from it; for whatever proceeds from the Lord is the veriest reality in the universe; and such is the Divine truth, which is called the "Word," through which all things were made. Amen.

                        Arcana Coelestia 6835, 6836


                    Arcana Coelestia 6831


              Arcana Coelestia 6864


          Exodus 3:11

          5 Exodus 3:6


      Arcana Coelestia 6879


    Exodus 3:14


John 8:58