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David Guzik :: Study Guide for Exodus 3

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Moses and the Burning Bush

A. God's call to Moses from the burning bush.

1. (Exo 3:1-3) Moses and the burning bush on Mount Horeb.

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. 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. Then Moses said, "I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush does not burn."

a. Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law: "The Hebrew suggests that this was his habitual occupation." (Cole) By now, it was 40 years that Moses lived as an obscure shepherd out in the desert of Midian. At this point his life was so humble that he didn't even have a flock of sheep to call his own - the sheep belonged to his father-in-law.

b. Came to Horeb, the mountain of God: Moses brought the sheep to this mountain, also later called Mount Sinai. Horeb probably means "desert" or "desolation," and the name gives an idea of the terrain.

c. The bush was burning with fire, but the bush was not consumed: It wasn't just that Moses saw a bush burning; apparently, it is not uncommon for a plant like this to spontaneously ignite out in that desert. Nevertheless, two things were distinctive about that bush: the Angel of the LORD appeared … from the midst of the bush; and though the bush burned, the bush was not consumed.

i. The bush burning but not being consumed was a magnetic sight to Moses - it drew him in for a closer examination. Some say the burning bush here is a picture of God's grace that draws us to Him. In this picture, you have a thorn-bush (the original Hebrew word comes from the word "to stick or to prick," this meaning a thorn-bush or bramble) which is a figure of the curse (Adam was cursed to bring forth thorns and thistles from the earth, Genesis 3:18). The "curse" is burned (a picture of judgment) without being consumed - therefore, a picture of God's mercy and grace.

2. (Exo 3:4-6) From the burning bush, God calls to Moses.

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." Then He said, "Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground." 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.

a. When the LORD saw that he turned: God didn't speak to Moses until He has Moses' attention. Often God's Word doesn't touch our heart the way that it might because we don't give it our attention.

i. The burning bush was a spectacular phenomenon that captured Moses' attention; but it changed nothing until Moses received the Word of God there.

b. God called to him from the midst of the bush: Moses didn't see anyone in the burning bush; yet God, in the presence of the Angel of the LORD (Exodus 3:2) was there, calling out to Moses from the midst of the burning bush.

i. Undoubtedly, this is another occasion where Jesus appeared before His incarnation in the Old Testament as the Angel of the LORD, as He did many times (Genesis 16:7-13, Judges 2:1-5, Judges 6:11-24, Judges 13:3-22).

ii. We say this is God, in the Person of Jesus Christ, because of God the Father, it is said No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him (John 1:18), and that no man has ever seen God in the Person of the Father (1 Timothy 6:16).

c. Moses, Moses! God's first words to Moses call him by name. This shows that even though Moses was now an obscure, forgotten shepherd on the backside of the desert, God knew who he was, and Moses was important to God.

d. Then He said: God told Moses to do two things. First, He told Moses to keep a distance (Do not draw near this place). Second, to show a reverence for God's presence (Take your sandals off your feet). Moses was to show special honor to this place because of the immediate presence of God.

i. Do not draw near literally has the sense of "stop coming closer." Moses was on his way for an up-close examination of this burning bush when God stopped him short.

ii. This was a holy place; and because God is holy, there will always be a distance between God and man. Even in perfection man will never be equal to God, though we will be able to have closer fellowship with Him than ever.

iii. Take your sandals off your feet: Removing the sandals showed an appropriate humility, because the poorest and most needy have no shoes, and servants usually went barefoot. It also recognized the immediate presence of God. In many cultures, you take off your shoes when you come into someone's house, and now Moses was in God's "house," a place of His immediate presence.

e. The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob: God revealed Himself to Moses by declaring His relationship to the patriarchs. This reminded Moses that God is the God of the covenant, and His covenant with Israel was still valid and important. This isn't a "new God" meeting Moses, but the same God that dealt with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

i. God will reveal Himself to Moses more intimately than He had to any of the patriarchs; yet it all begins with God reminding Moses of the bridge of covenant they meet on.

ii. Some in the days of Moses might have thought that God neglected His covenant for the 400 years of Israel's slavery in Egypt, since the time of the patriarchs. Nevertheless, God was at work during that time, preserving and multiplying the nation.

f. Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look upon God: God asked of Moses to do what is appropriate for a creature before their Creator - a reverence and recognition of holiness. Moses responded as a man who knew he is not only a creature, but a sinful creature - he hid his face.

i. In his years in the wilderness of Midan, Moses must have often remembered how he murdered an Egyptian and how proud he was to think he could deliver Israel himself. Moses might have remembered a thousands sins, both real and imagined - now, when God appeared, he responded in a way completely different than he might have 40 years before.

B. God's commission to Moses.

1. (Exo 3:7-10) God explains His general plan to Moses, and Moses' place in the plan.

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. 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. 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. Come now, therefore, and I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt."

a. 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: Obviously, God did not just then decided to give Israel the land of Canaan - it was the land that He promised to the patriarchs some 400 years previous to this.

b. I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry: So Moses and Israel can see the compassionate heart of God, He emphasized that He would deliver Israel from the taskmasters of Egypt.

i. The land of Canaan belonged to Israel since the day God promised it to Abraham. God will move Israel there now because of the compassion of His heart. The actions were ordained long ago, but the timing was prompted by God's heartfelt love for His people.

c. I have come down to deliver them … I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring My people: There was a connection between the principles. God was going to do it, but He still wanted to use Moses. God could do it all by Himself, but it is God's plan to work with and through people - we are workers together with Him (2 Corinthians 6:1).

2. (Exo 3:11-12) Moses' answer, and God's reply to that answer.

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?" 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."

a. Who am I? 40 years before, Moses thought he knew who he was: he was a prince of Egypt and a Hebrew, God's chosen instrument to deliver Israel. After forty years of chasing sheep around the desert, Moses didn't have the same self-sure confidence that he once had.

b. I will certainly be with you: God's reply is intended to take Moses' focus off of himself and on where it should be - on God. Therefore, God never answered the question "Who am I?" Instead, He reminded Moses "I will certainly be with you."

i. This was a great opportunity to deal with Moses' "self-esteem" problem, but God ignored the solutions we usually use regarding this "problem." Moses only had a self-esteem problem when he was too confident in his own ability to deliver Israel.

ii. Who am I? wasn't the right question; "Who is God?" was the proper question. God's identity was more important than who Moses was. When we know the God who is with us, we can step forth confidently to do His will.

iii. I will certainly be with you: After this, Moses had no right to protest further. From here his objections move from a godly lack of self-reliance to an ungodly lack of faith.

c. When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain: As Moses tended his flock in the wilderness, it probably seemed totally unlikely that he would lead all three million of his people to this same mountain - but God promised that this would be so, as a sign to you that I have sent you.

3. (Exo 3:13-14) The revelation of God's name to Moses.

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?" 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.'"

a. And they say to me, "What is His name?" what shall I say to them? Rightfully, Moses sensed he needed credentials before the people of Israel. Before, he thought he had the credentials because he was a prince of Egypt. 40 years of tending sheep took away his sense of self-reliance.

i. When God revealed Himself to man in the days of the patriarchs it was often associated with a newly revealed name or title for God.

- Abraham, in the encounter with Melchizedek called on God Most High (Genesis 14:22)
- Abraham later encountered Almighty God (Genesis 17:1)
- Abraham came to know the LORD as Everlasting God (Genesis 21:33), and The-LORD-Will-Provide (Genesis 22:14)
- Hagar encountered You-Are-the-God-Who-Sees (Genesis 16:13)
- Jacob met El Elohe Israel (Genesis 33:20) and El Bethel (Genesis 35:7).

ii. Now, when Moses comes to the elders of Israel with a "new message" from God, it is logical to think they would ask, "What name did He reveal Himself to you under? What new revelation from God do you have?"

b. And God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." Is there a difference between I AM WHO I AM and I AM and Yahweh? Not really, because each of these sayings express the same idea.

i. Cole on: I AM WHO I AM: "This pithy clause is clearly a reference to the name YHWH. Probably 'Yahweh' is regarded as a shortening of the whole phrase, and a running together of the clause into one word." In verse 15, when God says: Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: "The LORD God of your fathers …", God is referring back to the name I AM WHO I AM.

ii. Yahweh was not a new name, nor an unknown name - it appears more than 160 times in the book of Genesis. Moses' mother's name was Jochabed meaning, Yahweh is my glory. Moses and Israel knew the name Yahweh. God did not give Moses a "new and improved" name of God, but the name they had known before. God called them back to the faith of the patriarchs, not to something "new."

iii. How did this name come to be pronounced Jehovah? The pious Jews of later years did not want to pronounce the name of God out of reverence, so they left the vowels out of His name and simply said the word Lord (adonai) instead. If the vowels of the word adonai are put over the consonants for YHWH, you can get the name "Jehovah." All this came about much later; in the days of Bible, the name was pronounced Yah-weh or Yah-veh.

c. I AM has sent me to you: God tells Moses His name is I AM because God simply is; there was never a time when He did not exist, or a time when He will cease to exist.

i. The name I AM has within it the idea of aseity - that God is completely independent; that He relies on nothing for life or existence (Isaiah 40:28-29; John 5:26). God doesn't need anybody or anything - life is in Himself.

ii. Also inherent in the idea behind the name I AM is the sense that God is "the becoming one"; God becomes whatever is lacking in our time of need. The name I AM invites us to fill in the blank to meet our need - when we are in darkness, Jesus says I am the light; when we are hungry, He says I am the bread of life, when we are defenseless, He says I am the Good Shepherd. God is the becoming one, becoming what we need.

d. I AM: This is a divine title that Jesus took upon Himself often, clearly identifying Himself with the voice from the burning bush.

i. Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I AM [He], you will die in your sins. (John 8:24)

ii. Then Jesus said to them, "When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I AM [He], and that I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things." (John 8:28)

iii. Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM." (John 8:58)

iv. Now I tell you before it comes, that when it does come to pass, you may believe that I AM (John 13:19)

v. Jesus therefore, knowing all things that would come upon Him, went forward and said to them, "Whom are you seeking?" They answered Him, "Jesus of Nazareth." Jesus said to them, "I AM [He]." And Judas, who betrayed Him, also stood with them. Now when He said to them, "I am [He]," they drew back and fell to the ground. (John 18:4-6)

4. (Exo 3:15-18) God tells Moses what to say to the elders of Israel.

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.' 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; 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."' 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.'"

a. Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: After four hundred years in Egypt, Moses had the job of announcing that now was the time for the children of Israel to go back to Canaan, and take the land God promised to their fathers.

i. This was probably totally contrary to what the elders and people of Israel desired. In four hundred years, you set down roots. They probably had no desire to return to the Promised Land; all they wanted was to be made more comfortable in Egypt.

b. Then they will heed your voice is a precious promise to Moses. Forty years before, when it seemed that he had everything going for him, the people of Israel rejected him as a deliverer for the nation. Surely, he must be wondering why they would listen to him now, when it seemed he had nothing going for him.

i. But Moses had God going for him now; they would indeed listen to Moses' message.

5. (Exo 3:19-22) God tells Moses how it will go with the Egyptians.

"But I am sure that the king of Egypt will not let you go, no, not even by a mighty hand. So I will stretch out My hand and strike Egypt with all My wonders which I will do in its midst; and after that he will let you go. And I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and it shall be, when you go, that you shall not go empty-handed. But every woman shall ask of her neighbor, namely, of her who dwells near her house, articles of silver, articles of gold, and clothing; and you shall put them on your sons and on your daughters. So you shall plunder the Egyptians."

a. I am sure that the king of Egypt will not let you go: God knew this from the beginning. He knew what it would take to move the heart of Pharaoh, and the plagues and calamities to come where engineered for a specific purpose and they were not haphazardly planned.

i. Moses asked God about how his fellow Israelites would receive the news of the deliverance from Egypt, but getting the people of Israel behind Moses was only a small part of the struggle ahead - what about the Egyptians? How would they ever agree to let this free labor force leave the country? Without Moses asking, God answered this question.

b. I will give this people favor … you shall not go empty-handed: God promised to arrange things not only to move Pharaoh's heart, but also to move the heart of the Egyptian people so that when Israel did depart, they would be showered with silver and gold and clothing. This was not stealing or extortion, it was the appropriate wages for the years of forced labor.

i. In Deuteronomy 15:12-14, God says that if you have a slave, and his time of service is up, you shall not let him go away empty-handed. God was not going to let Israel leave their slavery in Egypt empty-handed; instead, they would plunder the Egyptians.

©2004 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission

CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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