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.)