Exegetical Notes: Exodus 3:4-14; 4:13-16

Moses’ Encounter & Call – The Burning Bush (selected verses)

3.2 – “angel of the Lord” -“angel” literally means “messenger”. 

Strikingly, in Exod 3 the “Angel of the Lord” said to be “in flames of fire from within a bush” (v. 2) is in v. 4 called both Yahweh [Lord] and God: “When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush.” Indeed, Exod 3 is perhaps the strongest of all passages for identifying the “Angel of the Lord” as the Lord himself, for it continually refers to the individual first identified as the “Angel of the Lord” as both Lord [Yahweh] (vv. 2, 4, 7, 5, 16, 18) and God (vv. 4–6, 11–16, 18)…
The Angel Yahweh was not all there was to God but was a true and real representation of him, much as a videoconferencing call brings a valuable sense of the presence of an individual into a room through a video screen and speaker—visibility and voice—even though the individual is not actually fully present thereby.
Douglas K. Stuart, Exodus, vol. 2, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2006), 112.

3.2 – “appeared” -THEO: “Theophany” – The term “theophany” (“appearance of God”) is normally used to refer to instances recorded in Scripture where God appears in some way to humans. As described in prior excursus, God’s appearances do not represent his totality or the fullness of his essence. They instead are occasions in which he is visible in some fashion—normally, through a shape that is not exactly natural (i.e., he does not look like a human); but he can nevertheless be looked at and focused on by a human, an appearance often accompanied by fire. A pot of fire is thus how God represented himself in his covenant with Abraham in Gen 15:17. To lead the Israelites through the wilderness, he showed himself as a pillar of fire (Exod 13:21 and thereafter). At Sinai he “descended in fire” (Exod 19:18 and thereafter) to meet with Israel and reveal his Law. Later, again at Sinai, he accompanied his visit to Elijah with fire (1 Kgs 19:6). He often is actually identified as fire (e.g., Deut 4:24) and his coming as accompanied by fire (e.g., Ps 50:3). Ezekiel saw him as a fiery shape (Ezek 1; 8); Daniel, as one sitting on a throne of fire (Dan 9:7); John, as one with eyes of fire (Rev 1:14; 2:18; 19:12). Often his judgment is described as coming in the form of destructive fire (e.g., Num 11:1–3; 16:35; 2 Kgs 1:12–14; Job 1:16; Amos 1:4–2:5), as was the baptism of Christ, which resulted in judgment against sin (Matt 3:11), and the second death, in the fire that consumes fully and cannot be quenched in any way (e.g., Matt 18:8–9; 2 Pet 3:7; Jude 7; Rev 20:14).
The present passage, Exod 3, thus provides one of the many instances in the Bible of God’s representation of himself in a fire theophany. Of course, not all fires indicated God’s presence (indeed Exod 3:3 indicates that initially Moses made no such assumption about the origin of the fire that kept the bush burning), and a number of other phenomena also are used to indicate his theophanic presence (storms, wind, clouds, smoke, blazing light)—with or without any accompanying fire.
Douglas K. Stuart, Exodus, vol. 2, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2006), 113.

3.4 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.”

“When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see” -This is not to say that there was any doubt Moses would see this strange revelation.

“Moses, Moses!” -The repetition of Moses’ name can be understood as an expression of affection and friendship.

“Here I am” -Hebrew equivalent of, “Yes?”.

Key attributes of God revealed to Moses in vs. 4-6:
1. The Love of God – “Moses, Moses”
2. The Guidance of God – “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet”
3. The Holiness of God – “holy ground”
4. The Revelation/Identification of God – “I am the God of…
5. The Presence of God – a key theme in Exodus

3.5 Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”

“Do not come near” -The theme of the divine Presence is a major topic of Exodus. It often is emphasized by commands requiring distance from God so as not to intrude too far on his holiness, proximity to which carries with it danger to the person not properly prepared (sanctified).
Douglas K. Stuart, Exodus, vol. 2, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2006), 114.

This can clearly be seen later on in Exodus 19:9-25. 

Thus the plea of the author of Hebrews becomes all the more meaningful, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).

3.6 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.

3.7 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,

“my people” -Through the designation of the Israelites as “my people” and God’s identification of himself as “the God of Abraham”, God is reiterating His faithfulness to His covenant promises.

“I know their sufferings” -1) We must “trust that God has always and continues to be concerned about their suffering since in the present fallen world”
2) God allows suffering. 
Douglas K. Stuart, Exodus, vol. 2, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2006), 116–117.

3.8 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.

Notice God’s compassionate activity:
”I have surely seen”…”and have heard”…”I know their sufferings”…”I have come down to deliver them”.

“I have come down to deliver them…” -“That the Israelites had been suffering oppression such a long time without rescue begs the question of God, “If you are willing to help now, why didn’t you help earlier?” The Bible provides clear answers in principle to such a question, but individuals or groups cannot normally know why their particular suffering is so severe or has gone on as long as it has.”
Douglas K. Stuart, Exodus, vol. 2, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2006), 116–117.

It is clear, even in Ex 2:24-25 that God has installed a plan to rescue His people from slavery in Egypt. In the larger scheme, God’s deliverance of His people from Egypt is just a foreshadow of His deliverance of mankind from sin.

“to bring them up…” -What a exclamation of the grace of God!

3.9 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.

3.10 Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.”

3.11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?”

“But Moses said” -Verse 11 and following provide a list of various concerns and excuses Moses seeks to employ against his divine commission.

Intrestingly, some see verse 11 as an excuse. As if Moses was saying, “But God, I’m a nobody. The task you’ve given is too great.”

However Stuart understands it as, 
”At this point, at least, he was not trying to get out of the job Yahweh was calling him to perform but was being mannerly according to the dictates of his culture. The exact expression, “Who am I” (mı̂ʾānōḳı̂) occurs two other times in the Old Testament, in each instance as part of expressing polite acceptance of an honor rather than as an attempt to decline it. From the wording of his response, it is clear that Moses understood the nature of his assignment.”
Douglas K. Stuart, Exodus, vol. 2, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2006), 118.

If Stuart is correct, Moses has changed his acceptance of his mission by verse 13 for sure.

3.12 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.”

“But I will…” -In response, God promises His divine presence and aid.

“when you have brought the people out of Egypt” -He also promises guaranteed success.

3.13 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?”

“What is his name?” -Knowing the name of God would be for Moses both a comfort and a credential in his dealing with the Israelites, and for the Israelites in turn it would become a first means of designating true faith and worship.
Douglas K. Stuart, Exodus, vol. 2, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2006), 119.

3.14 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.’ ”

“I am who I am” -Here appears God’s rerevelation of his actual proper name. Yahweh was already known by early generations (Gen 4:26) and used thereafter by the patriarchs (Noah, Gen 9:26; Abraham, Gen 12:8; Isaac, Gen 26:25; Jacob, Gen 28:16; Laban, Gen 30:27)—but it was not used, or not prominently used, by any of the children of Jacob, at least in terms of what is in the biblical record. Thus it appears that Moses, as he had constructed the narrative we now call the book of Genesis, intended that we realize that the generation after Jacob and all subsequent generations up to his own had lost at least a measure—and probably, over time, a greater and greater measure—of the knowledge of the true God and therefore, presumably, of the practice of praying to him and worshiping him regularly and properly, by his name.

The name should thus be understood as referring to Yahweh’s being the creator and sustainer of all that exists and thus the Lord of both creation and history, all that is and all that is happening—a God active and present in historical affairs.
Douglas K. Stuart, Exodus, vol. 2, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2006), 120-1211.

4.13 But he said, “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.”

Even after God’s appearance through the burning bush and his reassurance through His promised guidance and presence, Moses still remains reluctant. Taking God out of the equation, he faces no small task. 

The phrase has an odd literal translation, but essentially carries the idea of saying “I don’t want to do it.” in a manner as polite as possible.

APP: We may make excuses, but we cannot hide from a divinely appointed mission.

4.14 Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses and he said, “Is there not Aaron, your brother, the Levite? I know that he can speak well. Behold, he is coming out to meet you, and when he sees you, he will be glad in his heart.

At this point, it seems YHWH has had enough and becomes angry (humanly speaking). Even in His frustration, God provides yet another provision for Moses.

4.15 You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth, and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth and will teach you both what to do.

4.16 He shall speak for you to the people, and he shall be your mouth, and you shall be as God to him.

Both Moses and Aaron would speak for God, and this was in fact the case. Moses eventually did the vast majority of the speaking, with virtually no mention made of Aaron’s public speaking beyond the early chapters of Exodus—but at first Aaron was either speaking for him or with him (4:30; 5:1). Presumably, as Moses’ courage and faith increased, the need for Aaron’s close collegial support and/or public representation of his brother lessened. Verses 15 and 16 together also suggest that, from the first, Moses was the true prophet (the one into whose mind God placed his words with the intent that they be passed on to others) and that Aaron was Moses’ spokesperson rather than a direct recipient of God’s revelation. Thus God was the revealer; Moses, the prophet; and Aaron, the public repeater, an arrangement not unlike that in the modern church involving God, the Scriptures as the location of his word, and the preacher as the public repeater.
Douglas K. Stuart, Exodus, vol. 2, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2006), 138.