Expository Blogging: Exodus 3:1-22

February 24, 2014 — Leave a comment


While we were clued in at the end of Exodus 2 that God’s attention is now fully focused on Pharaoh and the plight of Israel in Egypt, Moses missed that memo. Content, or at least semi-content to be a shepherd in Midian, Moses’ life has moved on. But God has not moved on, and that life gets interrupted in at the beginning of chapter 3:

Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the angel of the Lord 1 appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” (3:1-3)

Believe it or not, it was actual possible for bushes in this region to spontaneously combust. But in this case, the fire stayed on just the one bush, and that bush was not consumed. Moses was intrigued, and clearly being a man, needed to investigate this strange fire. 2

Thinking it might just be a good story to tell Zipporah when he returned with the flock, Moses edged closer, and that’s when God makes his move:

When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” And 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 at God. (3:4-6)

Readers who have been reading since Genesis will now recognize this God talking to Moses is the same God who dialogued with Abraham, promised Isaac, and wrestled Jacob. Here, he reveals himself to Moses, and begins one of the many recorded conversations they will have throughout the Pentateuch.

Attentive readers here may have noticed that in v. 1-3, it is the Angel of the Lord who appeared to Moses, but starting in v. 4, it is the Lord who speaks. There is clearly then a close identification between the Angel of the Lord and the Lord himself. So much so that many have argued that the Angel of the Lord is a preincarnate Christ. On this issue, I think Enns is perceptive:

“This close relationship has led many to suggest that the angel of the Lord is an Old Testament manifestation of the incarnate Christ. This notion is worth considering. It is, if anything, certainly true from a theological point of view. The notion of the close relationship in the Old Testament between the messenger/angel of the Lord and Yahweh himself is something that is fully manifested in the person of Christ, who is both one with the Father yet distinct from him as the second person of the Trinity. This [is] not to say, however, that the angel of the Lord is a preincarnate manifestation of Christ. Rather, the angel of the Lord foreshadows Christ in the same way that Moses, the priesthood, or the sacrificial system do (see Heb. 3:1-6, 8:1-10:18). In the final analysis, the angel of the Lord remains a mysterious but prominent figure in the context of God’s self-revelation to his people, and his role is ultimately fulfilled in Christ.” 3

We could wrestle further with the Angel of the Lord here, but the day will break eventually, and we have more verses to cover. Suffice it to say, the Angel of the Lord reveals the Lord and speaks for the Lord. I don’t want to detract from the uniqueness of the incarnation to use “preincarnate” to describe what’s going on, but I don’t think it’s the end of the world when other people do. 4

Turning to the actual conversation, God has identified himself through the Angel of the Lord, and Moses has responded with reverence and awe. Moses now gets the memo we got in the end of chapter 2, but with more detail:

Then the Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 5 And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.” (3:7-12)

Rather than saying, “Ok, sounds like a plan,” Moses raises more questions. Already, we are seeing fortitude on Moses’ part, though you could also read it at reticence to lead the nation. However, it is worth noting that it takes a pretty strong figure to question God in this manner. I think if God appeared to us in a flaming shrubbery and started telling us stuff to do, we’d either a) turn tail and run off or b) get started as soon as possible out of sheer terror. Moses on the other hand negotiates with God (something patriarchs seem to do regularly):

Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’ ” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘The Lord, the 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 thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations. (3:13-14)

In addition to identifying himself with the God of the patriarchs, God now reveals his name to Moses. The significance of this actually takes the rest of the book to unpack. As Blackburn comments, “If Exodus 1-2 presents the problem, that the name of the Lord is not known, Exodus 3 begins the solution, where the Lord makes his name known.” 6The rest of his book unpacks how the revelation and making known of the name of God is what Exodus is all about. I will actually talk about more as we go on. For now, let’s close with the plan that God then gives to Moses:

Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying, “I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt, and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.” ’And they will listen to your voice, and you and the elders of Israel shall go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us; and now, please let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God.’ But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand. So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go. And I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and when you go, you shall not go empty, but each woman shall ask of her neighbor, and any woman who lives in her house, for silver and gold jewelry, and for clothing. You shall put them on your sons and on your daughters. So you shall plunder the Egyptians.” (3:15-22)

Here we are given more or less a roadmap for the rest of the book up through chapter 15. Moses still doesn’t jump on the plan and run with it, but we’ll talk about that next post. It is worth noting as we close out that this encounter sets a template for God’s calling his prophets. There is a sense of inadequacy, but as we can see with Moses’ willingness to push back on God’s requests (in a good way), it is maybe better thought of as humility. Moses, through God’s empowerment, proved to be a capable leader. He wasn’t perfect, but he towers over Israelite history as the greatest prophet until One came who finally surpassed him by actually being perfect.


  1. “The term malʾāk yahweh, usually translated ‘the Angel of the Lord,’ appears sixty-seven times in the Old Testament. Exodus 3:2 is its only occurrence in Exodus, though it was already prominent in both Gen 16, the story of Hagar, and Gen 22, the story of Abraham’s near sacrifice of Isaac. Grammatically, malʾāk yahweh is a construct (also called bound form, genitive construction) and according to the rule of constructs, both elements must be either definite or indefinite. Since the proper noun ‘Yahweh’ is intrinsically definite, the noun that precedes it musts also be definite; so the phrase cannot therefore mean ‘an angel of the Lord’ but must connote greater definiteness, in other words, ‘the Angel of the Lord.’” (Douglas K. Stuart, Exodus. Vol. 2. NAC. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2006, 110)
  2. I phrased it this way on purpose, in case you were wondering.
  3. Peter Enns, Exodus. NIVAC. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000, 96
  4. Like for instance David Murray in his Jesus on Every Page
  5. Really attentive readers will recognize this list of peoples from Genesis 15. Their land is promised to Abraham’s ancestors, and the book of Joshua shows Israel cutting them off from it
  6. W. Ross Blackburn, The God Who Makes Himself Known: The Missionary Heart of The Book of Exodus. New Studies in Biblical Theology. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2012, 34-35


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I’m an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let’s connect!

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