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Go to Bible: Exodus 3
“Jethro, his father-in-law, the priest of Midian.” “Jethro” is the priestly name of Reuel, the father-in-law of Moses (see commentary on Judg. 4:11).
“and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness.” The biblical culture was oriented to the east, so the “far side” of the wilderness is the far west side. In this context, it is not so much where any “wilderness” (desert) area ended, but where the territory of Midian ended.
It was not uncommon for shepherds to take their flock many miles from their home base. For example, Jacob’s sons traveled over 60 miles from home with their sheep (Gen. 37:17), and it is possible that Moses went at least that far. In 1855 Horatio B. Hackett wrote about the travel of shepherds that he encountered and heard about: “Another peculiarity of the desert is that, though the soil is sandy, it rarely consists, for successive days together, of mere sand; it is interspersed, at frequent intervals, with clumps of coarse grass and low shrubs, affording very good pasturage, not only for camels, the proper tenants of the desert, but for sheep and goats. The people of the villages on the borders of the desert are accustomed to lead forth their flocks to the pastures found there. ...The shepherds not only frequent the parts of the desert near their places of abode, but go often to a considerable distance from them; they remain absent for weeks and months, only changing their station from time to time, as their wants in respect to water and herbage may require” (Horatio B. Hackett, Illustrations of Scripture, Boston, Heath and Graves, 1855, Chapter 1, para. “Pastures of the Desert,” accessed via Kindle).(top)
|Exo 3:2||- (top)|
“why the bush is not burning up.” At this point there was nothing special about the bush or the fire in the bush. What was special was that the bush was not burning up, and that caught Moses’ attention. There were several reasons a bush may catch fire in the wilderness. One of them is that the area has some quartz crystal that can act like a magnifying glass in the sunlight and catch the bush on fire. Notice that the fact that the bush was on fire was not what caught Moses’ attention; he did not say, “Wow. A burning bush. Never seen that before!” Gathering wood for the family fire in a place such as where Moses lived was no doubt a daily task and quite challenging, so if there was some kind of bush or wood that would burn a long time without burning up that would have been of particular interest to Moses, and he wanted to know more about it.(top)
“God called to him out of the midst of the bush.” We learned in Exodus 3:2 that it was an angel that appeared to Moses. Yet this verse says “God called.” God called via His agent, the angel. It often occurs in Scripture that God acts through his agents and the Bible says that God was the one who acted. However, it is also possible that at some point in the record God did speak audibly to Moses.
“Here I am.” This is an idiom. Moses is not telling God that he is there; this is the equivalent of answering God’s call with “Yes,” or “It is me.”(top)
“Do not come near.” Even though God initiated the contact between His representative, the angel, and Moses, Moses could not just walk up to him. God was still too holy to casually approach. Like Aslam the Lion in The Witch and the Wardrobe, God is just and righteous, but He is not safe. The “fear of God” is more than just simple “respect for God.” Treating God and the things of God in a casual way is not wise. Jesus taught that if you are going to be afraid of anything on earth, God should be at the top of the list (Matt. 10:28). Once Moses understood who he was dealing with, he hid his face (Exod. 3:6).
“Take your sandals off.” In the biblical culture it was the custom in a holy place to leave your head-covering on and take your shoes off. In the Western culture we leave our shoes on and take our hats off.(top)
“father.” We would normally think that the word should be plural, “fathers.” But in this case the word is singular to emphasize the covenant that God made individually with Abraham and then reconfirmed with Isaac and Jacob (see commentary on Genesis 17:8). The word “father” here does not refer to Amram, Moses’ actual father (Exod. 6:20), but rather to the “fathers of the Faith,” i.e., Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.(top)
“seen, yes, seen” God repeats the word “seen” twice for emphasis, using different aspects of the verb. This is the figure of speech polyptoton, and it might be translated more literally, “seeing I have seen” (for more on polyptoton and this way of translating it, see commentary on Gen. 2:16). That God repeats the word “seen” twice shows that He is very concerned about the Israelites in Egypt and wants to do something about it.(top)
“spacious land.” We normally do not think of Israel as a “spacious land,” since it is small compared to other countries, but at this time in Egypt’s history, the only fertile land in Egypt was within a very short distance from the Nile River; all the rest was desert. So the Egypt that was livable south of the Nile delta was only a few miles wide, and compared to that, Israel was “spacious.”
“honey.” Although this may refer to date syrup, or “date honey,” archaeologists have recently discovered solid evidence that bees were cultivated for their honey in the ancient world.(top)
|Exo 3:9||- (top)|
“out of Egypt.” God here reveals to Moses that His ultimate goal was to get the Israelites out of Egypt. However, when Moses first went to Pharaoh he did not ask for the release of Israel, but that they would be allowed to go three days journey into the wilderness to worship Yahweh (Exod. 3:18; 5:3; 8:27).(top)
“But Moses said to God.” At this point Moses begins to make excuses about going to Egypt to deliver the Israelites. Something completely missing in the biblical record is why Moses would do that. Moses had been willing and eager to deliver the Israelites earlier (cp. Exod. 2:11; Acts 7:23-25). What has happened to Moses that he no longer seems to care what happens to Israel in Egypt? Although there are likely many contributing factors, such as that he now has a family in Midian, we must remember that at this point in time Moses did not know that he would be with Israel in the wilderness some 40 years. His “job assignment” from God should have taken much less time than that.
A very probable reason is that Moses had been heartbroken and disappointed 40 years earlier when neither the Israelites or God seemed to support his efforts. How could he trust them now? It can be very hard to get over a heartbreaking situation. Horse-lovers know that if you fall off a horse you have to get right back on it or you can lose your desire to ride. In the church world, many Christians who go through a painful church split end up not going back to church, and if they do, and there is a second painful split, the percentage who do not go back to church rises dramatically. Moses had lost his desire to get involved with helping the Israelites, and so he asked God to send someone else (Exod. 4:13). God had to make a huge effort that took the greater part of two chapters (Exod. 3 and 4) to get Moses to go back to Egypt.
There is a great lesson in this record for Christians who desire to help other Christians who have been hurt and are on the sidelines of life as a result. If it took a huge amount of effort for God Himself to get Moses “back in the game,” so to speak, then other helper/encouragers will also need wisdom, patience, persistence and prayer in their efforts. Most people who have been hurt need outside help, so God’s encouragers need to know that they need to lovingly insert themselves (intrude) into the lives of those who are hurt to get them moving again in a positive direction.
“Who am I.” This is Moses’ first excuse to not go to Egypt. This excuse seems totally normal, but it is just an excuse. Moses did not really want to go, as we learn in Exodus 4:13. But saying “Who am I” can seem reasonable. We often underestimate our abilities, especially when it comes to things that God wants us to do. But God would not ask if we could not do what He wanted. Successful believers need to see themselves as God sees them.(top)
“you will all.” The singular “you” changes to the plural here, and is brought out by “you will all.”(top)
“if I go.” The Hebrew is written in a way that expresses Moses reservation about going back to Egypt. In short, he is saying, “Suppose I do all this….” We word that as “If.”(top)
“I am who I am.” The Hebrew can be translated “I am who I am” [or: I am that I am], or “I will be what I will be” [or: I will become what I will become]. All of these are good translations of the Hebrew, and all of them apply. “I am” is true both now and in the future: God is an ever-present reality now and in the future; both now and then He is the “I am.” God was, and is, and is to come. This “name,” is clearly related to the proper name of God, Yahweh, (actually YHVH) because it is derived from the trilateral root (H-V-H), which is from an earlier root (H-Y-H) “to be.” Even that does “double duty,” because it can both refer to God, who is Eternal and who “is,” and it can refer to what He will become and do.
God “is” in that He is an ever-present reality. God is also “I will become what I will become” in several different senses. One of those is that God will become what His people need Him to become for them: the provider, the deliverer, the comforter, etc. On the other hand, God will become what He Himself “will become,” apart from human condition or desire. He is God and Creator, and He is not subject to the will and whims of humans. He will become what He will become according to His plan, wisdom and desire.
God’s proper “name” is Yahweh, but when asked His name, He did not say, “Yahweh,” He said “I am who I am” (“I will become who I will become”). This shows us that God’s name Yahweh is intrinsically connected to His character, which is multifaceted, and cannot be simplified into a simple name or concept, such as “God is love.” While He is love, He is much more than that.
Although almost all English versions have “I am that I am” as the translation of Exodus 3:14, a number of versions have “I will become [or “be”] what I will become” as an acceptable translation and put in a marginal note to that effect (cp. CEB; HCSB; ESV; NAB; NET; NIV; NLT; NRSV).
It is sometimes said that Jesus claimed to be God in John 8:58 and said he was the “I am,” but that is not the case at all (see commentary on John 8:58).(top)
“Yahweh.” This is one of the verses that shows that the name “Yahweh” was known by the people of God from the earliest times. Some scholars assert that God’s name Yahweh (it may have been pronounced differently) was a later development, but it is used in the records in Genesis from earliest times. Words such as Elohim and El Shaddai are not names, they are titles. “Yahweh” is the only actual name of God in the Bible.
What is about to happen is that Moses, who has been gone from Israel for 40 years, is about to go back to Egypt and try to convince the Israelites that the God they have been crying out to for many years has now heard them, met with Moses, and sent him back to deliver them. If Moses comes in the name of some strange god that was not the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, it could well be that Israel would have rejected him. Moses must come in the name of God that Israel is familiar with, and with signs to prove that Yahweh has indeed met with him and empowered him to deliver Israel from Egypt. When Moses did come back to Egypt in the name of Yahweh and with signs, the Israelites welcomed him. But Moses thought that the Israelites might say, “Yahweh has not appeared to you” (Exod. 4:1).
“Abraham...Isaac…Jacob. God made His covenant with Abraham, and reconfirmed it with Isaac and Jacob. The reason God mentions them in this context is that it emphasizes the covenant that God made with the “Fathers,” which included giving them the land of Israel, so the Israelites would have to be delivered from Egypt for the covenant to be fulfilled.(top)
“I have surely visited you.” When God “visited” someone, He intervened in their life, and He could intervene for the better or for the worse. The exact meaning of the Hebrew perfect tense of the verb here in Exodus 3:16 has been debated, and it could be a perfect of intent (“I have decided to intervene”), an instantaneous perfect (“I will now intervene”), or prophetic perfect (“I will intervene in the future”). However, it seems best given the situation that the perfect tense should be taken as literally meaning that God had already, in the past, started the process of delivering the Israelites from Egypt, which indeed He had, and in fact had already foreseen that Egypt would have to be smitten for that to happen (cp. Exod. 3:20). No doubt the Israelites, who wanted to be free from their slavery in Egypt, remembered that Joseph had prophesied that God would visit Israel and bring them from Egypt to the Promised Land (Gen. 50:24-25).
[For more on “visit,” see commentary on Exodus 20:5].(top)
“the land of the Canaanite.” God lists six nations that inhabit the Promised Land. In Deuteronomy 7:1 and some other places He lists seven nations. The missing nation in this list is the Girgashites. At the time of Moses and Joshua, the Promised Land was occupied by pagan nations. God told Israel to drive out those pagans and take possession of the land. God had the right to give the land to the Israelites. For one thing, He is the creator of the heavens and earth and the earth belongs to Him (Ps. 24:1; 1 Cor. 10:26). Also, as the Creator of all human beings, He sets the moral standards by which people are to live. In this case, the pagan nations who inhabited the Promised Land were very ungodly and besides ignoring God’s creations ordinances and worshiping deities that were enemies of God and who did not lead people to everlasting life, they practiced such things as ritual sex and human sacrifice and thus deserved God’s judgment. People may have the right to disobey God, but they cannot escape the fact that they cannot ignore their Creator like that and not have consequences. Sometimes those consequences only really show themselves on Judgment Day, while sometimes the consequences occur in this life also.(top)
|Exo 3:18||- (top)|
“I know that the king of Egypt will not give you permission to go.” God knew both the heart of Pharaoh and the culture of the time, so it made sense to Moses that God would know Pharaoh would not let his slaves go just because Moses asked him to. God knew there would have to be a power-showdown between He and Pharaoh, but it was still Pharaoh’s freewill choice to not let the Israelites go when Moses started displaying the power of God. God started demonstrating His power very gently, with no loss of life of man or beast. Only as Pharaoh continued to harden his heart did the plagues get really damaging.
“no, not unless compelled by a mighty hand.” The Hebrew phrase is difficult, and most translations do what the REV has done and clarify the text by adding words about Pharaoh being compelled or forced to let Israel go. However, it is possible that at this early time God is warning Moses about how difficult it will be to get Pharaoh to let Israel go. If that is the case, then God is saying that Pharaoh will not let Israel go, no, not even by a mighty hand, i.e., force. That turned out to be true. In plague after plague Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let Israel go.(top)
|Exo 3:20||- (top)|
|Exo 3:21||- (top)|
“any woman who is staying in her house.” This refers to women who were staying in the house of the Israelites on a temporary basis. It is not clear why this would be so common as to be mentioned here.(top)