Book of Exodus Chapter Three Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
Moses was forty years old when he was exiled to Midian (Acts 7:23), and he was eighty at the time of these verses (Acts 7:30). At that point, Moses likely had accepted his lot, deciding that for the rest of whatever was left of his life, he would continue to be a shepherd in the land of Midian, east of the Sinai Penninsula. But as the baseball player, Yogi Berra, said: "It ain't over 'til it's over." We encounter Moses on what appeared to be a normal day in Verse 1—"Now Moses was pasturing the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian; and he led the flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God." A day like any other day, but suddenly, as seen in Verse 2, everything changed, for "The angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed."
Moses was "educated in all the learning of the Egyptians" (Acts 7:22), an educational system that was especially adept in the known sciences of the day. Notice that the Lord had carefully prepared the man's analytical mind for this very moment. Others might have merely warmed their hands at the fire or run away from it, but he quickly noticed something special: "the bush was not consumed." Fires destroy things, but this one did not. "So Moses said" (in Verse 3), "I must turn aside now and see this marvelous sight, why the bush is not burned up." This was a tailor-made miracle, especially for him. If you encounter a miracle and others don't appreciate it, know that you have been prepared also...it was especially done just for you.
This was to be no ordinary day and Moses was enraptured by the events unfolding in front of him. Verse 4 states, "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.'" What if Moses simply became frightened and had run away? Would God have called someone else to lead His people? A message to all of us is—don't run away from the call of God. Moses, however, was enthralled. Not only was the fiery bush not being consumed, but now a voice came out of it, and called him by name!
It must have entered Moses' head to rush toward the bush, for the voice from the bush warned him, "Do not come near here; remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground." God is holy. He is pure, just and righteous to an extent that we only dimly understand. Everything He is, all that He touches, is holy ground. You and I receive His holiness when we breathe "yes" to the Lord. At this moment, Moses would place his trust in the Lord like never before. He was on "holy ground." This was the moment when God revealed Himself to this man who had been a proud young man, but then thought of himself as a complete failure for forty years. God said in Verse 6, "'I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.' Then Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God." Solomon, centuries later, came to realize that "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of understanding" (Proverbs 1:7) which Moses was discovering at the moment of this verse. And he knew precisely who Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were.
At the moment, God's people—and notice they are God's people—were suffering terribly. They must have felt forgotten, but they were not. Verse 7 records the word of the Lord through the "angel" in that bush: "The Lord said, 'I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings.'" It had been 430 years since the entry of Israel into Egypt, and all of life seemed hopeless to them, but note Verse 8: "So I have come down to deliver them from the power of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Amorite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite," tribes that were prominent in Canaan at the time. When you suffer, God sees what you are going through and He hears your "cry" in the night. That's what it says in Verse 9: "Now, behold, the cry of the sons of Israel has come to Me; furthermore, I have seen the oppression with which the Egyptians are oppressing them."
It's one thing to see a problem, but it's another to learn that YOU are supposed to be the solution to that problem. That's exactly what Moses learned about God's intention in Verse 10: "Therefore, come now, and I will send you to Pharaoh, so that you may bring My people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt." During the early decades of Moses' life, he decided to his pleasure that he was being prepared to deliver Israel out of bondage. It seemed logical—the circumstances of his birth and subsequent adoption by the house of Pharaoh, his education, mental abilities, oratorical skills—it all fit! But then he was forced out of Egypt in disgrace and became a mere sheepherder, an occupation loathed by the Egyptians (Genesis 46:34).
Forty years previously, Moses' actions indicated that he thought, "It's me, it's me! in answer to the question: Who will deliver Israel out of Egypt? But four decades had passed and his pride was trampled in the dust of Midian. "Moses said to God (in Verse 11), 'Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?'" And actually it is a very great question: Who is any one of us, that we should do or say anything on behalf of God? ALL of us are disqualified for ministry, but when we are called we should go because He will do the work in and through us. His qualifications are infinite and perfect. We can't do it, but He can.
God replied to Moses in Verse 12, “Certainly I will be with you, and this shall be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God at this mountain." Moses was promised that the very place where he stood at the moment and listened to the words from the fiery bush—Moses would bring the people to that spot and the mountain would be a place of worship to God. Moses had one objection after another, but they all had this in common—he was afraid. His current concern is seen in Verse 13, where "Moses said to God, 'Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I will say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’ Now they may say to me, ‘What is His name?’ What shall I say to them?'" All in ministry have, or should have, a similar concern: By what authority are we doing this ministry? Moses could have said to Israel, "Well, a voice came to me out of a bush that was on fire but did not burn, and it told me to come here and deliver you"...but it seemed insufficient to him as an explanation.
And so, in Verse 14, "God said to Moses, 'I AM WHO I AM;' and He said, 'Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, I AM has sent me to you.'" What's the greatest question of all?—Does God exist? Here was Moses who had doubted himself for the past forty years, and by implication had come to doubt God—here he was, faced with indisputable evidence that God not only is, but He was calling the aging Moses to lead a nation...The details about God become less important when you are finally faced with the reality—He is! And then in Verse 15, God reminded Moses that He was the one who had appeared to his ancestors..."God, furthermore said to Moses, 'Thus you shall say to the sons 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 this is My memorial-name to all generations.'" God is exactly who He says He is. Your need is the same as it was for Moses—you need to believe.
God knew Moses' thoughts, He knew his heart. Moses, though still reluctant, would go, and so God now gave specific instructions in Verses 16-18: "Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, has appeared to me, saying, 'I am indeed concerned about you and what has been done to you in Egypt.' So I said, I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Amorite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite, to a land flowing with milk and honey. They will pay heed to what you say; and you with the elders of Israel will come to the king of Egypt and you will say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us. So now, please, let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God.’" The Lord cares about Israel, just as He cares about you. He was "concerned" then about a people who was suffering, and now in your own suffering, you MATTER to Him. Israel would return to the land of Canaan, a fertile place at that time, and God named certain tribal groups they would displace. Finally, Moses was given a "soft," a gentle way to speak to Pharaoh about the departure of that people.
In Verse 19 we see two issues that bothered Moses: 1) For all the man knew, he was still a wanted man back in Egypt, and 2) he had seen first hand the proud resistance of the house of Pharaoh to outside influence. God said, "But I know that the king of Egypt will not permit you to go, except under compulsion." Moses was correct—his words would not be enough to get the job done. So in Verse 20, we find the Lord's solution to every aspect of His call in our lives—God Himself would do it. Verse 20 continues, "So I will stretch out My hand and strike Egypt with all My miracles which I shall do in the midst of it; and after that he will let you go."
And they would not go back to Canaan as wretchedly poor beggars. The chapter concludes with Verses 21-22: "I will grant this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and it shall be that when you go, you will not go empty-handed. But every woman shall ask of her neighbor and the woman who lives in her house, articles of silver and articles of gold, and clothing; and you will put them on your sons and daughters. Thus you will plunder the Egyptians." Notice that "every woman" of Israel would ask her Egyptian neighbor for precious metals and clothing, which would essentially be "borrowed" goods, but of course, never to be returned. This was God's method of restoring to Israel everything that had been taken from them. His ways are indeed interesting and often unexpected.
Father, just as surely as Moses was called, we are called also. You have entrusted Your Son and His mission for this world to us. We are insufficient for the task, but You are not. We accept Your call and we trust in Your Son. Fill us with Your Holy Spirit, and lead us in the way we should go. In Jesus Name. Amen.