Commentary on Exodus 3 (Moses and the Burning Bush)

Post Author: Bill Pratt 

Chapter 3 of Exodus recounts one of the most famous passages in all of Scripture, the story of Moses and the Burning Bush. Moses is tending his father-in-law’s flocks near a mountain called Horeb. Some scholars believe that this mountain is identical with Mount Sinai, where Moses would later receive the Ten Commandments.

At the mountain, Moses sees the angel of the Lord appearing as flames burning in a bush, but the bush is not consumed by the fire. In verses 4-6, God calls out from the bush (“angel of the Lord” and “God” are sometimes used synonymously) and identifies himself as the “God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.”

God gets straight to the point with Moses and tells him, in verses 7-10, that he is to go back to Egypt and bring the Israelites out of captivity, and then take them “into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.” This is the land that was promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, by God. After long years in Egypt, the descendants of Abraham would finally receive their inheritance.

Moses, however, had doubts about his own abilities, so he asks God exactly how He will get the people out of Egypt. God then reassures Moses over the next 10 verses by promising that He will be with him.

First, he assures Moses that the Israelites will be brought out of Egypt and travel back to this very mountain, to worship.

Second, God tells Moses to inform the elders of Israel that “I am who I am” is the God who sent Moses to them. This is the same God as the “God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” This name of God (“I am who I am”) can be paraphrased as “It is I who am with you.” Recall that to the ancient Hebrews, names conveyed the essence of who a person was. So God is reminding the Israelites that the one who promised to be with them sent Moses.

God is also called Yahweh, which means “he who is present” or “he who has promised to be present with his people.”

Third, Moses, after having identified God, is to tell the elders of Israel that God has heard their cries and is going to bring them out of Egypt and “into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—a land flowing with milk and honey,” or the Promised Land.

Fourth, God foretells that Moses will ask Pharaoh (king of the Egyptians) permission for the Israelites to go out into the desert and worship for three days, but Pharaoh will refuse. God will then strike the Egyptians with “wonders” and then Pharaoh will let them go.

Finally, God predicts that the Israelites will ask the Egyptians for “articles of silver and gold and for clothing,” and that they will give these things to them as the Israelites leave. Thus the Israelites will be paid back for the suffering they endured under Egyptian rule.

It is important to note that verses 18-22 are all predictions of what will happen in the future. The reader who studies the rest of the book of Exodus will see that all that God promised to Moses in Exodus 3 does come to pass. Again, the message to the reader is that God is in control. Nothing that Pharaoh can do will thwart God’s plans.