SDMB weekly Bible Study (SDMBWBS)-Week 37 Exodus 3

Welcome to the SDMB weekly Bible Study (SDMBWBS). This week we will be discussing Exodus 3. Since the discussion can turn into a very broad and hijackable thread, we would like the following rules to be adhered to:

  1. These SDMBWBS threads are to deal with the books and stories in the Bible as literature. What I’m hoping to achieve is an understanding of the stories, the time in which they were written, context, and possibly its cultural relevance.

  2. While it is up to the individual to choose to believe or disbelieve any portion, that is not to be the discussion of the thread. If you must, please choose to witness/anti-witness in Great Debates.

  3. The intention is to go through the Bible from front to back in order. While different books are needed to be referred to in order to understand context, please try and keep the focus on the thread’s selected chapter(s)/verse(s).

  4. Since different religions have chosen which books to include or omit, the threads will use the Catholic version of 46 Old Testament Books and 27 New Testament Books. It’s encouraged to discuss why a book was included/omitted during the applicable threads only. BibleHub, as far as I know, is a good resource that compiles many different versions of the verses into one page.(Also the SDMB Staff Reports on Who Wrote the Bible). Please feel free to use whatever source you want, including-and even more helpfully-the original language.

  5. Hopefully we can get through these threads with little to no moderation. A gentle reminder that if a poster comes in and ignores these rules, please use the “report post” function instead of responding.

Links to previous threads:
Genesis 49 & 50 (this includes links to all previous Genesis threads)
Exodus 1
Exodus 2

[Exodus 3

New International Version (NIV)](

Moses and the Burning Bush

3 Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”

4 When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

And Moses said, “Here I am.”

5 “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” 6 Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

7 The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. 8 So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 9 And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

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

12 And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”

13 Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”

14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”

15 God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘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,
the name you shall call me
from generation to generation.

16 “Go, assemble the elders of Israel and say to them, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—appeared to me and said: I have watched over you and have seen what has been done to you in Egypt. 17 And I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—a land flowing with milk and honey.’

18 “The elders of Israel will listen to you. Then you and the elders are to go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us. Let us take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the Lord our God.’ 19 But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him. 20 So I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will perform among them. After that, he will let you go.

21 “And I will make the Egyptians favorably disposed toward this people, so that when you leave you will not go empty-handed. 22 Every woman is to ask her neighbor and any woman living in her house for articles of silver and gold and for clothing, which you will put on your sons and daughters. And so you will plunder the Egyptians.”
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Exodus 3: The Burning Bush

This chapter is a significant point of transition. It begins with the revelation of God to Moses from the midst of the burning bush. It develops with the commissioning of Moses to go back to Egypt and the Pharaoh and to deliver God’s people from their oppression and bondage. It ends with the beginnings of Moses’ reticence and resistance toward the task which God has given him.

The Hebrew word used in the narrative, that is translated into English as bush, is seneh (סנה), which refers in particular to brambles; seneh is a biblical dis legomenon, only appearing in two places, both of which describe the burning bush. It is possible that the reference to a burning bush is based on a mistaken interpretation of Sinai (סיני), a mountain described by the Bible as being on fire.

Alexander and Zhenia Fleisher relate the Biblical story of the burning bush to the plant Dictamnus. They write:
“Intermittently, under yet unclear conditions, the plant excretes such a vast amount of volatiles that lighting a match near the flowers and seedpods causes the plant to be enveloped by flame. This flame quickly extinguishes without injury to the plant.”

Colin Humphreys, however, replies that “the book of Exodus suggests a long-lasting fire that Moses went to investigate, not a fire that flares up and then rapidly goes out.”
Philo interpreted the burning bush as Israel, suffering under the persecution of Egypt but never consumed.

In Eastern Orthodoxy a tradition exists, originating in the Orthodox Fathers of the Church and its Ecumenical Synods (or Councils), that the flame Moses saw was in fact God’s Uncreated Energies/Glory, manifested as light, thus explaining why the bush was not consumed. Hence, it is not interpreted as a miracle in the sense of an event, which only temporarily exists, but is instead viewed as Moses being permitted to see these Uncreated Energies/Glory, which are considered to be eternal things; the Orthodox definition of salvation is this vision of the Uncreated Energies/Glory, and it is a recurring theme in the works of Greek Orthodox theologians such as John S. Romanides.
In Eastern Orthodox parlance, the preferred name for the event is The Unburnt Bush, and the theology and hymnography of the church view it as prefiguring the virgin birth of Jesus; Eastern Orthodox theology refers to Mary, the mother of Jesus as the Theotokos (“God bearer”), viewing her as having given birth to Incarnate God without suffering any harm, or loss of virginity, in parallel to the bush being burnt without being consumed.

Even though the Lord was drawing near to Moses, Moses could not casually approach him. There still was a barrier between God and human, and God had to remind Moses of this with instructions. The removal of sandals was, and still is in the East, a sign of humility and reverence in the presence of the Holy One. It was a way of excluding the dust and dirt of the world. But it also took away personal comfort and convenience and brought the person more closely in contact with the earth.

The burning bush has been a popular symbol among Reformed churches since it was first adopted by the Huguenots (French Calvinists) in 1583 during its 12th National Synod. The French motto Flagror non consumor - I am burned but not consumed - suggests the symbol was understood of the suffering church that nevertheless lives. However, given the fire is a sign of God’s presence, he who is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29) the miracle appears to point to a greater miracle: God in grace is with his covenant people and so they are not consumed. The logo of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America is also an image of the Burning Bush with the phrase “and the bush was not consumed” in both English and in Hebrew.

Sorry, I might have missed this in earlier discussions, but here we have God talking to Moses. God is explaining that he is the God of all of these generations. Although, it doesn’t mention going back to Noah (or Adam and Eve) here, aren’t we to assume this is the same God and everyone is descended from Noah (or Adam and Eve)? So is there an explanation for the split of people of God and these Egyptians who do not follow/worship Him?

I read this but have not said how much I enjoy this discussion. So, thanks to all of of the biblical scholars. I have really enjoyed seeing how much literature, parallels and other constructs are in the bible.

With regards to this week’s, I’m probably just early, as I’m sure Dex will know this, but I do have some questions.

I’m confused by how is it phrased and meant on the “concerned about their suffering.” Is there a reason for the suffering? Is it a stronger word than concerned?

Didn’t we talk about milk and honey before and how it was good? If not, is that just expensive stuff at the time that’s good?

Why mention who was living in the lands where god had set aside for them? And, this might be getting ahead of myself, but don’t they take that land via conquest with the ark?

Probably bad questions but I wanted to show that I have enjoyed it and try to participate.


Maybe I don’t understand your question. Yahweh is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, because He cut a deal with Abraham. He didn’t make any such deal with the Egyptians.

At that point in the Bible, Yahweh was considered the God of the Israelites. Henotheism, IOW. Monotheism came later.



He made a personal covenant with Abraham, which he re-affirmed through Isaac and Jacob/Israel, that the children of Israel would be enslaved for four hundred years and then redeemed with great wealth to boot.

First, some extra-text comments. This chapter and the next two are very complex, and arguably a mixture of J, E, and P versions.

= The J-version is the oldest, tells how Moses was raised by Pharaoh’s daughter, kills the Egyptian, flees, discovers God in a sacred flaming bush. He’s given signs/miracles to convince the people; he distrusts his own ability to speak and God will inspire him to eloquence. The people believe the signs.

= The E story has no Egyptian princess, just a shepherd who encounters God on a mountain (no bush, no fire), and finds the notion of confronting pharaoh incredible. The question is not about signs/miracles, but about God’s Name meaning “I AM.” (It’s possible that some of the E-version is lost.)

= The P-version loses all the charm and “story.” There is no mention of location (neither bush nor mountain) or of signs/miracles. God is a spirit who makes a covenant, with a plan in history. The people do not believe, but Moses and Aaron go forward anyhow.

What we have, however, is the combined text (or the single text if you believe in one Author), so literary criticism should stick to the final version.

We start with Moses leading his flock into the far wilderness (implying westward, towards Egypt from Midian?) escaping the safety of home. Some interpret Mount Horeb as the same as Sinai, but it’s not clear. Mount Horeb is rarely mentioned where Sinai is mentioned often; there is a wilderness of Sinai but no wilderness of Horeb.

He sees an angel, blazing in the flames of a bush. The angel has no role, it’s the fire that attracts Moses’ attention and it’s always God speaking. Sarna suggests the angel is mentioned to avoid anthropomorphizing God as a bush.

God’s appearance is often marked by fire or light (the opening of Creation is “Let there be light.”) The bush does not burn up, because the fire is the intimate presence of God, not a normal flame. As Prof P noted, the word bush is only used here and in Deut 33:16 where God is poetically “the one who dwelt in the bush.”

There may be a double symbolism here. The bush is not being used as fuel, so this isn’t “fire” qua fire, but the Divine Presence. And the bush is not destroyed by the flames, as the people of Israel will survive the Egyptian oppression.

The scene prefigures the later scene at Mt Sinai: desert, fire, bushes, revelation, an angel. I’m indebted to Prof P for the comment that the word “bush” might have been a misunderstanding for “Sinai,” that’s fascinating. By the way, the same images were in the story of Hagar (Gen 16.)

God calls Moses by name, twice. That implies an intimacy, an endearment. Up till now, God “speaks,” but this is different. This is God calling, a summons. Moses responds “Here I am” as had Abraham, as will Samuel, and others. (Minor joke: in the Cecil DeMille THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, everyone seems to call Moses by name, twice. The phrase “Moses, Moses,” recurs umpteen times.)

Verse 5: “holy ground” is the first mention of sacred space. Again, as Prof P noted, there is a limit as to how close Moses can come to God – close but not too close. Encounters with God are both utterly near and utterly far at the same time.

vislor: Good questions. Verse 7 is the first reference to “my people.” cmkeller has addressed this. The line “I am concerned about their suffering” is an awkward translation. The literal translation is simply “I know their suffering.” However, remember that the verb “to know” has implication of empathy and intimacy. Hence, “I am concerned” is not an unreasonable translation.

Yes, I’ve mentioned before (verse 8) that the “land flowing with milk and honey” is goats’ milk and date jam. I don’t think it was “expensive”, it was just symbolic of good food.

God announces what He will do; Moses is just the messenger. Moses objects, several times, to being chosen for this task. He asks, “Who am I to do this?” and God says, “I will be with you.” Note that Moses is NOT swelled by self-importance or pride at being chosen for this task. To the contrary, he doesn’t think he is worthy – Humility is his middle name. His major objections (some split into the next chapter) are:
(1) Who am I? 3:11
(2) Who are you, I don’t know your name? 3:13
(3) They won’t believe me 4:1
(4) I’m not a good speaker 4:10

He’s basically trying to squirm out of the assignment. Several other judges and prophets respond similarly, including famously Gideon and Isaiah. It’s very interesting to me that most biblical heroes don’t want the responsibility of being singled out by God. And God rarely chooses the strapping hero, He picks the smallest, the weakest, the least.

Verses 13 – 15 are about Naming. Note that Moses can’t even ask God directly, “What’s your name?”

There’s been lots written about “I am what I am” – some versions don’t even try to translate. The verb is some form of “to be” as an active verb. The translation could be “I am that I am” or “I am who I am” or “I will be what I will be.” Regardless of the wording, what does it mean? The most common interpretations are:

  • I exist because I exist
  • I am the one who brings existence
  • I am whatever I am. That is: I’m not telling you who I am, because you can’t understand anyhow

In verse 16, He uses the four-lettered Name Y-H-W-H, traditionally translated “The LORD”. This name has been known and used back in Genesis (by the J-author, if you accept the multiple-author theory.)

Why does God need an intermediary to deal with Pharaoh? Because although Pharaoh thinks of himself as a god, he’s not. If God deals directly with him, many would say that Pharaoh is indeed a god, being treated as an equal by another god.

Moses has three audiences: the elders, Pharaoh, and the people. In v 18, the elders listen but the people and Pharaoh don’t.

In verse 19, God knows what will happen. Again, the verb “to know” recurs through these chapters. (The NIV translation here is good, “unless a mighty hand compels him.”) Although God has fore-knowledge, He is still leaving free will to Pharaoh (and the elders and the people.) (Later in the plagues, we’ll discuss God removing Pharaoh’s free will.)

New thread for Exodus 4