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The Burning Bush Moses At the Burning Bush The Call of Moses (2:23-4:17) God Calls Moses The Burning Bush
3:1-6 3:1-6 3:1-6 3:1-3 3:1-6
3:5-6 The Mission of Moses
3:7-9 3:7-12 3:7-12 3:7-10 3:7-10
The Mission of Moses
3:11 3:11-12
3:12 The Divine Name Revealed
3:13-22 3:13-22 3:13-22 (3:15) 3:13 3:13-15
3:14-17 Moses Instructed for His Mission
; 3:18-20 The Egyptians to be Plundered
3:21-22 3:21-22

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Bible Interpretation Seminar")


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

  1. First paragraph
  2. Second paragraph
  3. Third paragraph
  4. Etc.


  1. This is a crucial chapter that reaffirms YHWH's special commitment to and relationship with the descendants of Abraham (cf. Exod. 2:24). It is the main event in YHWH's deliverance of His people from their enemies!
  2. God protected Moses in chapter 2, now He appoints him as leader to accomplish His task of deliverance from Egyptian bondage. This fulfills His prophecy and promise in Gen. 15:12-21 (see SPECIAL TOPIC: YHWH'S ETERNAL REDEMPTIVE PLAN).
  3. God reveals His special covenant name and explains it. This is the only text in the OT which does this. See SPECIAL TOPIC: NAMES FOR DEITY, D.
  4. Israel's departure will be supported by Egyptian booty (Exod. 3:22). This is imagery for a military defeat. YHWH confronts and overcomes the Egyptian deities (i.e., the plagues).
  5. This account of Moses' call is very similar to Exod. 6:2-13 and 6:28-7:7. The question for westerners has been "do these reflect multiple separate authors?" (i.e., J, E, D, and P, see SPECIAL TOPIC: PENTATEUCH SOURCE CRITICISM). However, it may simply be an aspect of orality, see John H. Walton and D. Brent Sandy, The Lost World of Scripture.
  6. Many commentators mention Moses' five excuses and YHWH's responses.
    1. Exod. 3:11-12 - Who am I?
    2. Exod. 3:13-22 - They will ask who sent you.
    3. Exod. 4:1-9 - What if they do not believe?
    4. Exod. 4:10-12 - I cannot speak well.
    5. Exod. 4:13-17 - Please send someone else.


1Now 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. 2The 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. 3So Moses said, "I must turn aside now and see this marvelous sight, why the bush is not burned up." 4When 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." 5Then He said, "Do not come near here; remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground." 6He said also, "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.

3:1 "Now Moses was pasturing the flock of Jethro" There could be two main reasons for this.

  1. Jethro had no sons
  2. Moses was working off the price of his wife, as Jacob did for Rachel (cf. Gen. 29:20)

▣ "Jethro" See notes at Exod. 2:18.

▣ "priest of Midian" See notes at Exod. 2:15.

▣ "Horeb" Notice that the place of the giving of the law is called "Horeb." Horeb is a Hebrew word for "waste" or "desolate" (BDB 352, KB 349). Sinai (BDB 696) is a non-Hebrew word, and they seem to both refer to the place where Moses brought Israel to meet YHWH (e.g., Horeb, Exod. 3:1; Deut. 1:6,19; 4:10,15; 5:12 and Sinai, Exodus 19; Lev. 7:38; 25:1; 26:46; 27:34; Num. 1:1,9; 3:1,4,14; 9:1,5).

Why the name "Horeb" is used most often in Deuteronomy and "Sinai" most often in Exodus is unknown. There is literary variety in the writings of Moses. This could refer to:
  1. oral traditions recorded by different scribes
  2. Moses using different scribes
  3. changes by later scribes for unknown reasons
  4. literary variety
NASB, REB  "west side"
NKJV  "back of"
NRSV  "beyond"
NJB  "far side"
LXX  "beyond"
The MT has "a place behind" (BDB 29). Josephus (Antiq. 2.12.1) says Sinai was the tallest mountain and that people were afraid to go there because it was considered "the mountain of God," but the grass was very good and ungrazed. Moses ventured there.

▣ "the mountain of God" Horeb/Sinai is characterized in this way in Exod. 4:27; 18:5; 24:13. This could be

  1. a sacred site before Moses' day (Josephus, Antiq. 2.12.4)
  2. a sacred site after Exod. 3:1,12; 19:24

3:2 "the angel of the Lord" This is a physical representation of Israel's invisible God (YHWH). See SPECIAL TOPIC: THE ANGEL OF THE Lord.

▣ "Lord" This is the way English translations designate the covenant name of God (i.e., YHWH, cf. Gen.2:4). See SPECIAL TOPIC: NAMES FOR DEITY, D. This is the first time it appears in Exodus. It will be explained, as to its meaning, in Exod. 3:14-16.

▣ "the bush" This (BDB 702, found only in this chapter and Deut. 33:16) was a typical desert bush. It was not special until God chose to use it as the site of His encounter with Moses.

▣ "blazing fire" Fire is a symbol of God's presence (cf. Exod. 13:21). See SPECIAL TOPIC: FIRE. Zoroastrians depict deity as a flame. YHWH has no physical representation, so the fire is simply a way to get Moses' attention.

3:3 Notice that Moses turns aside (BDB 693, KB 747, Qal COHORTATIVE) to see this phenomenon because of curiosity, not religious reasons.

3:4 "Lord. . .God" In this paragraph three names/titles of Deity are used in theological parallel.

  1. the angel of the Lord, Exod. 3:1 (notice how "from the midst of the bush," Exod. 3:2,4 link #1 and #3)
  2. YHWH, Exod. 3:4 (cf. Exod. 3:7,13-16)
  3. Elohim, Exod. 3:4 (cf. Exod. 3:6)
For #1 and #2 see SPECIAL TOPIC: NAMES FOR DEITY, C. and D.

▣ "God called to him" Notice God is purposefully initiating a revelation of Himself and His plans to Moses. Humans cannot know about God except by His Divine disclosure! Theologians call this "revelation." The Bible records some of God's revelations to humans. Thank God for His self-disclosure and a written record of much of it!

In this case God spoke directly to Moses, as He did to Abraham (cf. Gen. 12:1-3; 13:14-17; 21:12-13; 22:1-2). God also revealed Himself to Abraham by
  1. visions
  2. dreams
  3. the angel of the Lord (as here)

▣ "Moses, Moses" The doubling of the name was a way of showing intensity (cf. Gen. 22:11; 1 Sam. 3:10). Jesus did this several times (cf. Luke 10:41; 22:31,32; Acts 9:4).

YHWH knows Moses' name and family (cf. Exod. 3:6)!

▣ "Here I am" This is another Hebrew idiom denoting availability to hear and respond (cf. Gen. 22:1,11; 1 Sam. 3:4; Isa. 6:8). But the text from here through part of chapter 7, clearly shows Moses was not available!

3:5 "Bold text" The bush and its surrounding area was "holy" (see SPECIAL TOPIC: HOLY) because of God's presence.

▣ "remove your sandals" This is a Qal IMPERATIVE (BDB 675, KB 730, cf. Jos. 5:15). Why, is not stated. There have been several theories. Removal of shoes was:

  1. a sign of openness, intimacy
  2. a sign of family
  3. a sign of a servant/slave
  4. a sign of a preventative measure of no pollution (i.e., animal dung) in God's presence (also note Deut. 23:12-13)

Notice the tension between God's immanence (Moses, Moses) and God's transcendence (of Exod. 3:5).

The ground may refer to
  1. all of God's mountain
  2. the area around the bush

3:6 "I am the God of your father" Notice the NOUN "father" is SINGULAR (UBS Text Project gives it an "A" rating, i.e., highly probable), as it is in Gen. 26:24. This is different from the typical use of this phrase, "the God of your fathers" (cf. Exod. 3:15,16).

Here it functions as a way for Moses to know that YHWH is the God of his parents (slaves in Egypt, cf. Exod. 15:2). Moses' father was in a line of believers. God knew his family, his origin, his circumstances!

▣ "Abraham. . .Isaac. . .Jacob" These are known to them as the Patriarchs of Israel. To each of these YHWH revealed Himself and made covenant promises (cf. Exod. 32:13).

  1. Abraham - Gen. 12:1-3; 15:1-11; 17:1-8; 18:17-19; 22:16-18
  2. Isaac - Gen. 26:2-4,24
  3. Jacob - Gen. 28:12-17; 35:10-12

Notice Jesus' use of the verse in Matt. 22:32, where the ever-living aspect of God's revealed name is emphasized! Eternal life depends on the eternal nature of God Himself!

▣ "Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God" The Hebrews believed their God was so holy that for sinful humans to see Him meant death (cf. Gen. 16:13; 32:30; Exod. 33:20; Jdgs. 6:22-23; 13:22; 1 Kgs. 19:13; Isa. 6:5). The purpose of "the Cloud" was to veil Deity's personal presence.

7The 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. 8So 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. 9Now, 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.

3:7 This is a repeat of Exod. 2:23-25 (cf. Deut. 26:7; Neh. 9:9; Isa. 63:9; Acts 7:34). God hears and knows the problems and trials His people face. He is the God who is with us (cf. Exod. 34:6); see SPECIAL TOPIC: CHARACTERISTICS OF ISRAEL'S GOD (OT).

▣ "surely seen" This translation is the result of an INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE and a PERFECT VERB of the same root (BDB 906, KB 1157). It was a grammatical way of emphasis.

▣ "My people" Wow! What a great word of encouragement. The Hebrews, though now persecuted slaves, are still God's people, the descendants of the Patriarchs, the people of the covenant!

3:8 "I have come down to deliver them This is both

  1. powerful anthropomorphic imagery (see SPECIAL TOPIC: GOD DESCRIBED AS HUMAN, cf. Gen. 11:5; Exod. 19:11; Num. 11:25)
  2. spacial imagery (see SPECIAL TOPIC: HEAVEN, #4); this is OT cosmology; John H. Walton, Genesis One As Ancient Cosmology
Notice it is God's desire and purpose to deliver (BDB 664, KB 717, Hiphil INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT and "bring," another Hiphil INFINITIVE CONSTRUCT), but He chose to use frail, sinful, human instrumentality (i.e., Moses, Aaron, cf. Exod. 3:10). God chooses, equips, and sends broken, flawed people to accomplish His purposes (one day He will choose a sinless One, Jesus, to fully redeem His people).

▣ "the power of the Egyptians" This is literally, "the hand of. . ." See SPECIAL TOPIC: HAND.

▣ "to bring them. . .to a good and spacious land" The land of Canaan was very productive of both crops and livestock (cf. Num. 13:18-19,23-24,27; Neh. 9:35).

▣ "a land flowing with milk and honey" This refers to goat's milk and date juice (according to the rabbis). It is imagery for a fertile, productive land. This was the descriptive title for Canaan in ANE documents.

▣ "Canaanite. . ." The native tribes of Canaan are listed several times, first in Gen. 15:19-21. See SPECIAL TOPIC: PRE-ISRAELITE INHABITANTS OF PALESTINE.

▣ "Jebusite" See SPECIAL TOPIC: JEBUS.

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." 11But Moses said to God, "Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?" 12And He said, "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."

3:10 There are two IMPERATIVES in God's initial command to Moses.

  1. come now (lit. "go") - BDB 229, KB 246, Qal IMPERATIVE
  2. bring. . .out - BDB 422, KB 495, Hiphil IMPERATIVE; this VERB is used in Exod. 3:10,11,12; it stands for the exodus from Egypt

3:11-4:17 Moses is terrified by God's call and task. He offers several excuses.

  1. Who am I? - Exod. 3:11-12
  2. Who are You? - Exod. 3:13-22
  3. Who will believe me?- Exod. 4:1-9
  4. I cannot speak. - Exod. 4:10-17

3:12 "Certainly I will be with you" This is the greatest promised blessing (i.e., the personal presence of God, cf. Exod. 4:12,15; 33:14-16; Gen. 26:3,24; 28:15; 31:3; Jos. 1:5; Isa. 43:2; Jer. 1:8; Hag. 1:13; Matt. 28:20; Acts 18:10).

In a sense this promise links up with God's name given in Exod. 3:14-16 (i.e., "I Am")! The focus is not on Moses' abilities but YHWH's presence!

▣ "this shall be the sign. . ." God gave Moses a future sign but he must act in faith now for that sign to be fulfilled (cf. Exod. 19:1-2). Even in the face of a theophany, faith and action are required (cf. Acts 7:7).

There are several more possible interpretations of this verse.
  1. The NJB does not finish verse 12, but puts three ellipsis points (". . .") showing something is left out, which the footnote says is Exod. 4:1-9, a list of several specific signs to Moses.
  2. Brevard Childs, The Book of Exodus (p. 60), asserts that the sign was the burning bush itself.


▣ "you shall worship God at this mountain" It really was "the mountain of God." Notice the description of its awesome nature when YHWH approaches it in Exodus 19:16-20; 20:18.

13Then 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?" 14God 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.'" 15God, 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. 16Go 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. 17So 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."' 18They 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.' 19But I know that the king of Egypt will not permit you to go, except under compulsion. 20So 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. 21I 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. 22But 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."

3:13 "What is His name?" One would expect "Who," but possibly the name, YHWH, speaks of God's ever-existing character more than a title. He is the ever-living, only-living One (see SPECIAL TOPIC: MONOTHEISM).

3:14 "I AM WHO I AM" There has been much speculation about the meaning of this name (cf. NIDOTTE, vol. 4, pp. 1295-1300). See SPECIAL TOPIC: NAMES FOR DEITY, D. There is still mystery here. It is surely possible that Moses' question is about God's character (cf. Exod. 34:6), not a title. God's answer is

  1. I am too mysterious for you to grasp.
  2. I am the ever present One.
  3. I am sovereign and will do what I will ("He causes to be," Albright).
  4. The Hiphil implies causality, therefore, "I Am The Creator God."
  5. John Walton, the God who creates a relationship (i.e., covenant-making God).
  6. The Jewish Study Bible (p. 111) suggests it means "My nature will become evident from My actions."
  7. Summary, see NIDOTTE, vol. 1, pp. 1024-1025 and my SPECIAL TOPIC: NAMES FOR DEITY, D.

Should we look for etymology or imagery? The JPSOA lists three possible options for the Hebrew.

  1. I Am That I Am
  2. I Am Who I Am
  3. I Will Be What I Will Be

3:15 One wonders if the name referred to is

  1. I Am (YHWH) of Exod. 3:14
  2. "The YHWH; the Elohim of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob" (full Patriarchal title ) of Exod. 3:15 (cf. 3:6).
I think the Israelites would have wanted to be sure Moses' God was their ancestral God!

▣ "My memorial-name" This is parallel to "an everlasting name" or "This is My name forever." The people of Israel needed to realize that the God of the Patriarchs (cf. Exod. 3:16) who promised in Genesis is the same God who now sends Moses!
His revelations, promises, and acts must always be remembered and praised (cf. Ps. 30:5; 97:12; 112:12; 135:13; Isa. 26:8; Hos. 12:5). He is the God who acts (i.e., the idols cannot see, hear, walk, respond)!

3:16 "elders" See SPECIAL TOPIC: ELDER.

NASB  "I am indeed concerned"
NKJV  "I have surely visited"
NRSV  "I have given heed"
NJB  "has indeed visited"
JPSOA  "I have taken note"
REB  "I have watched over"
LXX  "with concern I have concerned"
Peshitta  "I have surely remembered"
The MT has an INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE and PERFECT VERB (BDB 823, KB 955) of the same root, meaning "to attend" or "to visit." This grammatical feature focuses on God's great care for and knowledge of His people in Egypt.

3:17 For an explanation of the different people groups of Canaan see SPECIAL TOPIC: PRE-ISRAELITE INHABITANTS OF PALESTINE.

▣ "a land flowing with milk and honey" This was a descriptive title for Canaan in this ANE period. See note at Exod. 3:8.

3:18 "Lord" This is YHWH, the I AM of Exod. 3:14-16. See SPECIAL TOPIC: NAMES FOR DEITY, C.

▣ "God" This is Elohim. See SPECIAL TOPIC: NAMES FOR DEITY.
These names first appear together in Gen. 2:4. Notice these two names appear again at the end of the verse.

▣ "Hebrews" See note at Exod. 1:15.

▣ "Let us go. . .sacrifice" These are both Qal COHORTATIVES. This shows that sacrifices pre-date the Mosaic legislation (cf. Genesis 4; 9). See SPECIAL TOPIC: SACRIFICIAL SYSTEMS OF THE ANCIENT NEAR EAST.

▣ "three days' journey" This time designation (cf. Exod. 5:3; 8:27) has always caused problems related to the route and destination of the exodus. The traditional site of Mt. Horeb/Sinai is too far (see SPECIAL TOPIC: THE LOCATION OF MT. SINAI).
It may be simply idiomatic for a longer period of time. However, it would fit one of the suggested routes of the exodus which follows the road beside the Mediterranean called "the way of the Philistines" (but note Exod. 13:17; see SPECIAL TOPIC: THE ROUTE OF THE EXODUS (uncertain)).
So, the time could be

  1. one day there, one day of sacrificing, one day back
  2. three days to get there
  3. Oriental dialogue denoting a permanent exodus of the slaves but put in a way so Pharaoh could save face (cf. F. F. Bruce, Answers to Questions, p. 7)

3:19 This verse clearly shows YHWH's knowledge of future events (cf. Exod. 3:20) and that there is a purpose in Pharaoh's denials. YHWH will use the plagues to show His power over the Egyptian pantheon.
There is some doubt as to the subject of "strong hand" (i.e., God's or Pharaoh's; see the detailed textual issue in UBS Text Project, pp. 92-93 or NIDOTTE, vol. 2, p. 81).

3:20 "I will stretch out My hand" This is anthropomorphic imagery. See SPECIAL TOPIC: GOD DESCRIBED AS HUMAN and SPECIAL TOPIC: HAND.

▣ "My miracles" God is going to take approximately eighteen months to administer the plagues to a reluctant Pharaoh. It is my opinion that every one of the plagues seems to attack and discredit one of the Egyptian gods. God loves the Egyptians as much as the Hebrews and He is also using this opportunity to bring them to faith as He is delivering His people. These miracles will involve both natural and supernatural timing, but again, God is involved in His sovereign, supernatural way to manifest His presence in His world.

3:21-22 This is imagery of a military defeat (i.e., "plunder," BDB 664). Israel will leave as victors not slaves (cf. Exod. 11:2-3; 12:35-36; Ps. 105:37)! This fulfills Gen. 15:14. Israel's history is not guided by fate or their own strength. It is guided by God for a larger purpose (see SPECIAL TOPIC: YHWH'S ETERNAL REDEMPTIVE PLAN).

3:22 "but every woman shall ask of her neighbor" The King James translation has "borrow from his neighbor," but the modern sense of borrowing would mean that the Hebrews were lying about the fact that they would bring them back later. The Hebrew word does not imply "borrow" but "take."


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

  1. Why are there two different names for this special mountain where God met Moses?
  2. Is there special theological significance either in the burning bush or the place where God met Moses?
  3. Why did Moses have to remove his sandals in the presence of God? What did it mean?
  4. Why was Moses afraid of God?
  5. Why did God take the land away from the Canaanites (cf. Gen. 15:12-21) and seemingly play favorites with the Hebrews?
  6. What does the term "YHWH" mean?
  7. Did Moses really want to go only a three days' journey and then return to Egypt or is this a scene of Oriental bargaining where much more is implied than is stated?
  8. Does God always use supernatural means to perform the plagues? If one says no, does this show lack of faith on his part?

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