103- Exodus Chapter 3

Revelations That Transform Life

Exodus 3:1 to 7:13

Life changes once nations and man become aware of God’s presence. Before the presence of God was made aware to Moses, Aaron, Pharaoh, Israel, and Egypt all were living normally. For Israel life was not good but it had a dependable steadiness. When God’s intervening presence became known by all, everything changed. Even for Pharaoh who tried to deny that when God had come life was never the same.

Chapter 3

Verses 1-3

In Midian grass for the sheep can be scarce to find at times and the life of a shepherd and his flock would cause a lot of wandering. Moses drove Jethro’s flock to the mount of Horeb referred to as the mountain of God. Horeb and Sinai may be used interchangeably. It may be that two different traditions are reflected here. It may be that Horeb was the area around the mount but including the mount, for ‘Sinai’ is always qualified by either ‘the wilderness of’ or ‘Mount’ to distinguish the two except for Exodus 16.1 where it is used loosely, and in poetry in Deuteronomy 33:2; Judges 5:5; Psalm 68:8,17, whereas Horeb was usually geographically referred to as a place. There is only once a mention of ‘Mount Horeb’, and that may even be a different local peak (Exodus 33:6) but see also 1 Kings 19:8, although the latter may arise from the same problem as we have, interpretation). This suggests that Mount Sinai and Horeb, while closely identified, are not to be seen as synonymous expressions, with Horeb having a wider meaning and including the plain beneath the Mount. Indeed the area of Horeb clearly stretched even further afield (Exodus 17:6). There may also be some truth in the idea that Sinai was the Canaanite name for the mountain and Horeb the Midianite name, but that would not fully account for the differing usage. But it may be that the Canaanites tended to think only of the particular impressive mountain while the Midianites thought in terms of the whole place where they wandered.

This account has been variously located in the central or northern regions of the Sinai Peninsula, in the land of Midian but east of the Gulf of Aqaba or in the traditional location in the south central region of the Sinai Peninsula. The identification of Horeb as the Mountain of God is however noteworthy. We are told that Jethro is a priest in Midian and that he was also a descendant of Abraham, it would appear that he would have some sort of experience with God in the region. It is possible that Jethro pointed out to Moses that this mountain was a Mountain of God. In search for grass for his flocks, either by choice or accident, Moses drew near to the mount and to the hour of his destiny.

God appears as “the angel of the Lord”. This is another connection of the book with Genesis. It parallels the use of the term in Genesis 16:7-13; 22:11-18; Numbers 22:22-35 compare Genesis 21:17. Ishmael would go on from such an appearance to found a nation. In the Pentateuch the phrase always refers to God directly as openly revealing Himself at a time of crisis in covenant matters. So now in this time of crisis God is revealing Himself in a direct way to Moses. He too is going forward to found a nation. This mention of the Angel of the Lord stresses the direct relationship of His action with the covenant, and relates back to 2:24. The Angel of the Lord was the manifestation of the God of the covenant of their fathers.

Whenever the Angel of the Lord appears in the bible it is always God who is speaking. In some way He is viewed as an extension of Himself. Many view the Angle of the Lord as Jesus. God regularly reveals Himself as fire. (Genesis 15:17; Exodus 13:21; 19:16,18; 20:18; 24:17; 40:38; Deuteronomy 4:11; Ezekiel 1:27; 8:2: Acts 2:3; 1 Timothy 6:16; Revelation 21:23; 22:5) In hot countries of the wilderness it is not uncommon for a bush to burst into flame. As Moses observed this was definitely the fire of God in the bush as the bush was not consumed.

Verses 4-6

There are several things to consider in this first encounter of Moses with the Angel of the Lord. First God initiated the experience. God came seeking Moses. This is always His way. We do not discover God He reveals Himself to us. Second it was a personal experience as God called Moses by name. God called Moses twice by name. Moses then knew that this was personal, something for him and for him alone. Compare Genesis 22:11; 1 Samuel 3:10. The repetition of the name always stresses urgency.

It is difficult for us to appreciate the trauma of this moment. Moses had often wandered in the wilderness. He had possibly often approached this mountain. He had fairly regularly seen bushes burning spontaneously, although never one that continued to do so like this without apparently being affected by it. But a voice was something different, especially a voice that revealed its divine source in what it commanded. We can only imagine the stunned shock. Moses’ was filled with fear as Moses was but a man like we are; although later he would become more familiar with the voice (Numbers 7:89).

Third, God said ‘Do not draw near.’ God was there, and it would have been dangerous to come too close, for God was revealed as a consuming fire. “Take off your sandals.” Compare Joshua 5:15; 2 Samuel 15:30. Later the priests performed their duties barefoot. Indeed in many religions men took of their shoes when entering the Sanctuary. The point was that the dirt on men’s sandals must not defile the place where God is. It is a symbol of the holiness of God. The washing with water at the laver would have a similar purpose. It did not “cleanse” but prepared the way for cleansing by removing earthiness as man approached God in solitariness, “Sanctified ground.” That is, ground that was set apart at that time as uniquely untouchable and holy except by God’s grace, because God was there. His presence made all He came in contact with holy and exclusive. No man could be allowed to approach such things lightly. In his youth he had possibly known what it was to come into the presence of Pharaoh, the necessary preparation, the washing, the grooming, and then the solemn approach into the inner throne room. That preparation had been awesome. But he recognized that this was something even more traumatic. For this was unearthly, terrifying, in a way that Pharaoh had never been. Here was an unearthly presence. And he would divest himself of his sandals, and sink to his knees and wonder what was to happen to him.

Forth, God identifies Himself as “I am the God of your father.” The naming of the patriarchs clearly indicates that God was identifying with Moses’ forefathers. Moses received training in his early years in the company of his mother which makes this expression by God come alive. God was identifying Himself as the One about whom Moses had learned in those years of his early youth.

Fifth, Moses hid his face when realizing who was calling him. Moses did this in fear and awe. Moses was overwhelmed in God’s presence something we should observe as we approach our God in prayer. (Psalms 111:10)

Verses 7-12

God begins His divine call to Moses with a statement in verses 8 that is related to what He had spoken in Exodus 2:24-25. ”So God heard their groaning; and God remembered His covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God saw the sons of Israel, and God took notice of them.” God knew and was experiencing the oppression of the Hebrews. The divine condescension and purpose of God is now revealed by God, who has been suffering with His people.  Earlier God had remembered His promises and now He was about to keep His promises. God was going to take His people out of Egypt and into the land of milk and honey. “Milk and Honey” is a typical description in the Old Testament for the land of Canaan. Such a land would be perfect for an agricultural nation who would have to struggle for a harvest.

The list of peoples who would be found in this land is not exhaustive. (Gen 15:19-21 Ex 3:17 Num 13:29) Both numbers and names sometimes vary. But the list is considered typical of the before conquest inhabitants of the land. The lists include both wandering and settled clans of various racial and national origins.

Moses must have rejoiced at this revelation but God was not through. God’s point was concluded when He added, “Therefore, come now, and I will send you to Pharaoh.” We must understand two things to put this statement into proper perspective. We know that the Pharaoh that had sought Moses’ life was now dead, but Moses did not know this. Second, since this was true Moses’ call was not only a difficult one but also a call for him to go back and face execution. It is a willingness to die that God expects from all of His servants.

We must also remember that Moses had already made one attempt to provide leadership and was rejected. Exodus 2:14 “But he said, “Who made you a prince or a judge over us? Are you intending to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid and said, “Surely the matter has become known.” In considering this background information God’s call to Moses must have been overwhelming.

The effect of this call must have been catastrophic. Moses had to face some ultimate questions that anyone must face when he is confronted with God’s call.

The first question is, “Who am I?” let us not be too critical of Moses for his response, instead let us remember what Jesus had to say about counting the cost. (Luke 14:28-32) Moses was forced to take personal stock of himself and his resources. Certainly there was some fear and reluctance but there was also a sensible self-evaluation. Moses had to major points to consider, confronting Pharaoh and leading the Israelite nation.  To miss either mark would be to fail in the mission that God had given him.

“Who am I? Can I do it?” These are good questions but God had a great answer. God did not tell Moses how many talents he had or how great he was. Instead God offered His assurance that Moses would be in His divine presence.

God also told Moses: “this shall be the sign to you.” What a sign that was: “you shall worship God at this mountain.” Moses was looking for some physical evidence of success and God simply said the fact that He had called him signified ultimate success. Moses wanted certainty but God was demanding faith. Moses wanted to be sure he could do the job before he started and God was saying he would know when he finished.

Verses 13-22

It would be safe to say that this passage in Exodus has not been more vigorously studied in the Old Testament and more diversely interpreted than these here. The interpretation revolves around two issues: What was Moses asking for, and what was God revealing?

Someone’s personal name in the Old Testament always revealed something about the character and nature of the person. A personal name was only revealed to a personal friend or family member. The name by which God was called, Yahweh, was known to Abraham (Genesis 15:2) and was also a part of Moses’ mother’s name, Jochebed. It may be true that these reflect variant traditions, but we must still deal with the passage and the tradition. Also there is the problem of the nature of Moses’ question. Why did Moses ask what instead of who? Could it be that Moses was looking for more than just a name?

When Moses asked “Who am I that I should go?” and God said “It’s not you but Me” Moses’ next question is essentially “Who are you to be sending me before Pharaoh?  Who are you to be promising deliverance? Who are you to set Israel free from Pharaoh?”  The question about God’s name is not so much a question about identity as it is about power, ability, character, qualifications, authority, etc.  Down in Egypt, Pharaoh was the name.  Moses is asking, “What is your name compared to Pharaoh’s name?”

God answers the question, “I am who I am.”  This is the first person singular imperfect of the Hebrew verb “to be.”  It connotes both future action and continuous action.  Meaning that God is, God is in the past, God is in the present, and God is in the future. God is present in all points of time, as God is eternal. Thus, some translations emphasize the future, “I will be who I will be,” and others the continuous, “I am who I am.”  It is difficult for our English to do justice to this simultaneous presently continuous yet future dynamic.  Old Testament scholar John Durham suggests “I am the IS-ing One.”  I would modify that to “I is-ing who I is-ing.”  Or to say “I be is-ing and I keep on is-ing.”  The action/being of God is present in this moment and continues out into eternity.

Israel’s name for God, is the third person singular verb “to be.”  Thus, God names God’s self “I am” and Israel calls God “He is” or “He is-ing.”  Israel’s name for God is a witness that God did not lie when God said, “I am.”  Israel testifies, “He is!”

The question of God’s name is not a philosophical question, but a power question.  In Egypt, Pharaoh is.  In Egypt, Pharaoh has constructed a reputation and reality that asserts Pharaoh always will be.  Reality in Egypt is Pharaoh today, Pharaoh tomorrow, Pharaoh till the day you die, and Pharaoh for your kids and grandkids after you.  Pharaoh was, is, and will be.  It’s his world.

When God says “I is and I will be” God is challenging the world that Pharaoh has built.  In essence, God is saying “I am and Pharaoh is not!”  God goes on to tell Moses that not only has He heard the Israelites’ crying and seen their oppression, but that He knows that Pharaoh will not let them go except under the compulsion of a mighty hand.  God says “I will stretch forth my hand and strike the Egyptians.  Pharaoh will let you go.”  “Strike” is the same verb as the Egyptian beating the Hebrew and Moses beating the Egyptian to death. God has the might and the will to shatter Pharaoh’s world and to liberate the Israelites from Pharaoh’s bondage.  God is and will be; Pharaoh is soon to be not.

The imposing “I am” of God cannot be managed or squeezed by Pharaoh, or Israel for that matter.  God is making God’s world and Pharaoh cannot impinge upon it.  God’s will and not Pharaoh’s will shall be done, in heaven, on earth, and even in Egypt.  Pharaoh’s is no match for God’s is.  Pharaoh cannot keep God out of Egypt, cannot keep God from shattering Egyptian reality.  God says “I am” and liberated Israel testifies “He is!”

In the Gospel of John we find Jesus laying claim to being the embodiment of the Divine I Am.  Jesus makes twelve “I am” statements about himself: I am the bread of life; light of the world (twice); gate (twice); good shepherd (twice); resurrection and the life; way, truth, and life; and true vine (twice).  Once, in 8:58, Jesus simply declares, “I am.”  I especially want to focus on “I am the resurrection and the life” (11:25).  Jesus is saying that not even death can squeeze or contain him.  Death may be a reality, but it is not an ultimate reality.  The is of Jesus is greater than even the is of death.

Let us now consider what seems to be the best proposed solution to the two issues of: What was Moses asking for, and what was God revealing.

First, Moses was not just asking a hypothetical question. Moses was expecting a natural reaction from his people that would need an answer. Moses knew who he was speaking to but was searching for an understanding of the divine name.

Having more clearly established His divine nature and identity with Moses, God began to put in detail what Moses’ call was to be. Moses was to go, gather and speak to the elders of Israel. (Verse 16) God had a message to the Israel people and it was Moses who was to deliver it.

The mission of Moses was to go to Pharaoh and demand that he free the Israelite people to make a journey to serve their God. The Israelite elders were to accompany Moses when he went before Pharaoh. Moses was told that Pharaoh would not accept Moses’ demands without the intervention of God. Moses was told of the wonders that God was going to perform. God also told Moses that ultimately he would have victory over Pharaoh.

Moses probably realized that Pharaoh would not let the Israelite people go and it was also no great revelation that Pharaoh would not let the people go without the intervention of God and His power.

Apparently Moses was not completely taken in by the full meaning of God’s commission to him. The full impact of the task before him had not really sunk in. Moses was surprised when things became so difficult. It is likely that the mind of Moses was still hanging on one fact: As far as Moses knew he was still a wanted man in Egypt. Moses may have been thinking about the cost of the God’s command.

Key Verses

Exodus 16:1, Deuteronomy 33:2, Judges 5:5, Psalm 68:8,17, Genesis 16:7-13, Genesis 21:17, Genesis 15:17, Ezekiel 1:27, Ezekiel 8:2, Acts 2:3, 1 Timothy 6:16, Revelation 21:23, Revelation 22:5, Genesis 22:11, 1 Samuel 3:10, Numbers 7:89, Joshua 5:15, 2 Samuel 15:30, Psalms 111:10, Deuteronomy 33:2, Judges 5:5, Psalm 68:8,17, 1 Kings 19:8, Genesis 16:7-13, Genesis 22:11-18, Numbers 22:22-35, Genesis 21:17, Genesis 15:17, Deuteronomy 4:11, Ezekiel 1:27, Ezekiel 8:2, Acts 2:3, 1 Timothy 6:16, Revelation 21:23, Revelation 22:5. Genesis 22:11, Samuel 3:10, Joshua 5:15, 2 Samuel 15:30, Psalms 111:10, Genesis 15:19-21, Numbers 13:29, Luke 14:28-32, Genesis 15:2, John 8:58, John 11:25


Exodus Chapter 3

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