Moses and the Burning Bush (3:1–22)
God continues to be on a mission—a mission to deliver, to redeem mankind from bondage to SIN. And amazingly, He has chosen to use human instruments to carry out this mission. There is a “burning bush” out there for all of us who sincerely seek God’s will. Are we ready for an adventure with God?
11–12 Immediately Moses began thinking of problems. Forty years earlier he had been sure he was fit for the job of delivering his people, but now he had doubts. The forty years in Midian had humbled him and lessened his self-confidence.
“Who am I to do this task?” asked Moses. “I am only a shepherd, and a fugitive from Egypt at that.”
Only one answer was needed: “I will be with you” (verse 12).
That is the only answer any of us needs as we go through life. When God is with us, He is on our side; He is guiding us, enabling us, strengthening us. It doesn’t matter what our human qualifications are. Be they ever so great, if God is not with us we can do nothing (John 15:5). Be they ever so slight, if God is with us we can do anything (Mark 10:27; Romans 8:31).
Then God graciously promised to give Moses a sign that would confirm his commissioning; but the sign would only come in the future! For the present, Moses would have to walk by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7). The sign would only be fulfilled when Moses had led the Israelites out of Egypt and back to this very mountain where he had seen the burning bush (Exodus Chapter 19).
One can imagine Moses thinking: “But I want a sign now.” And we often have that same thought ourselves. We are reluctant to step out in faith without some clear sign from God. And yet God may give us a sign only after we have stepped out; the sign will let us know that what we have set out to do is indeed of God and that He is with us. But in the beginning God may only say to us: “Trust me; trust that what I am sending you to do will indeed be accomplished.”
13–14 Moses then thought of another problem: when announcing to the Israelites that God had sent him, what should he say God’s name was? God had not yet identified Himself to Moses by name. The name was very important, because it revealed the nature and character of God.
Already in the book of Genesis we have encountered a number of names for God: “Elohim” (God), “Yahweh” (LORD—God’s personal name), “El Shaddai” (God Almighty), and other names that reveal a particular quality or activity of God.10 But Moses felt he needed a special name for God that would convince the people that the one true God of the universe had indeed sent him to deliver them.
So God gave Moses His answer: “I AM WHO I AM” (verse 14). God shortened it to I AM, and told Moses to say to the people, “I AM has sent me.” In Hebrew,11 the name I AM is “ehyeh,” very close to Yahweh, which means “he is.”
What other name could sum up or describe the Creator of the universe, in whom is infinite power, knowledge, wisdom, justice and compassion? Only this name: I AM. The Hebrew word “ehyeh” can also mean “I will be,” which was part of God’s great promise to Moses and to the Hebrew patriarchs: “I will be with you” (verse 12). So I AM is not a passive, distant God; He is a living and constant presence.12 The same God who was with Moses and the patriarchs centuries ago continues to be with us today. And He promises that He will never leave us (Matthew 28:20).
15 Then God reverted to His “old” name Yahweh, which was already familiar to the Israelites. This was not a “new” God that was sending Moses but the God of their ancestors, the same unchanging God who had always existed and would continue to exist from generation to generation. Yahweh was His name, and Yahweh was what the people should continue to call Him.13 Yahweh was the name that expressed His personal relationship to His people.
16–20 God then gave Moses some specific instructions: he was first to assemble the elders (verse 16)—that is, the heads of the various families and tribes. Then Moses was to tell them why he had been sent to Egypt: it was to fulfill God’s promise made to Abraham (Genesis 15:14) and repeated by Joseph (Genesis 50:24) that He would bring the Israelites up out of their misery in Egypt and lead them into the promised land (verse 17).
God then told Moses to ask Pharaoh to give the Israelites a brief three-day leave so that they could go into the desert and offer sacrifices. God knew Pharaoh would say “No”; Moses must not be discouraged by Pharaoh’s refusal. It would take wonders from the hand of God to make Pharaoh give the Israelites their freedom—and wonders there would be! (Exodus Chapters 7–11).
21–22 Then God told Moses that when the Israelites were finally leaving Egypt, the Egyptians would be so favorably disposed to them that they would readily give the Israelites anything they asked for, just to see them leave! (Exodus 12:35–36). In this way God’s PROPHECY to Abraham would be fulfilled: “. . . they will come out with great possessions” (Genesis 15:14). In this way, the Israelites would plunder the Egyptians (verse 22), not by theft or force but by the Egyptians’ own free will. It would be partial compensation for the many years of suffering the Israelites had endured.