You Can Provide Clean Water to Persecuted Christians

Exodus 3



Moses and the Burning Bush (3:1–22)

1–3 After forty years of shepherding the sheep of his father-in-law Jethro (also called Reuel), Moses‚ life was about to change; he was soon to begin shepherding a nation. After faithfully fulfilling a humble task, Moses was now ready to receive a great task. Little did he imagine when he set out that day that he would meet the living God and never be the same again.

Moses‚ forty years in Midian were not wasted; that time was ordained by God to prepare Moses for his appointed task. We often become impatient with times of preparation; we want to get on with the task. But we must learn to wait for God’s time. If Moses had to wait forty years, surely we should not complain if we too have to wait some time. Nor should we complain about how and where God chooses to train us. Moses was demoted from being a prince to being a shepherd; but during his time of shepherding, Moses learned about the desert through which he would have to lead the Israelites on their way to Canaan. God knows what He is doing; let us not chafe at His times of training.

Moses was near Horeb, a mountain in southern Sinai (also known as Mount Sinai), when the angel of the LORD8 appeared to him in the form of a burning bush (Acts 7:30–32). The ANGEL was both a “messenger” of the Lord and also a manifestation of the Lord, since the Lord can appear in any form He chooses. On this occasion (as on others) the Lord appeared as fire (Exodus 13:21; 19:18; Acts 2:3).

A small bush that had caught on fire wasn‚t a very dramatic sign; God could have lit up the entire Sinai Peninsula if He had wanted to. But the odd thing was that the bush itself did not burn up (verse 2). Instead of just ignoring the bush, Moses sensed something supernatural about it and went closer.

Many people aren‚t open to anything supernatural; they are not ready for an encounter with God. They are like Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb, who at first saw only a “gardener” and didn‚t recognize it was Jesus (John 20:14–16). How much we miss when our spiritual “eyes” are closed!

Why did God employ a miracle through which to speak to Moses? As usual in Scripture, God employs miracles to authenticate His message (or His messenger); they are really signs. The miracles that many of the Old Testament leaders and prophets performed were signs, proofs, that they acted and spoke directly on God‚s behalf. In a similar way, the miracles Jesus performed were proofs that He was indeed the Son of God (see General Article: Miracles and the Laws of Nature).

4–6 God called to Moses. All believers are “called,” but those whom God chooses for leadership or some special responsibility are often called in a special and unmistakable way—as was true of Moses.

And Moses answered God’s call: “Here I am” (verse 4). Abraham had answered in the same way (Genesis 22:1); later, Samuel and Isaiah would do likewise (1 Samuel 3:4; Isaiah 6:8). When God calls, He gives us the freedom to respond or not to respond. When we fail to respond, what we miss cannot be calculated. Let us always be ready to say to God, “Here I am.”

Then God told Moses to come no closer and to take off his sandals, because he was standing on holy ground (verse 5). The ground itself hadn’t changed, but its “use” had changed: it was now the very place of the Lord’s appearing. The ground had been made holy by God’s presence.

To be “holy” means to be set apart or consecrated for a divine purpose (Genesis 2:3). Not only ground but also buildings and, above all, people can be considered holy. Indeed, God expects believers to be “set apart” for His service. He has said to us:“. . . be holy, because I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44–45; 1 Peter 1:16).

For sinfulmen and women, to come into the presence of a holy God is a fearful thing (Exodus 19:10–12). Moses was afraid to look at God (verse 6). The closer we get to God the more unworthy and unclean we feel ourselves to be. That is why the greatest saints—those who are closest to God—consider themselves the greatest sinners (1 Timothy 1:15).

In a sense, Moses was consecrated—“made holy”—by his encounter with God at the burning bush. He had taken off his sandals in humility; he had stood in awe and in fear of God. This was the critical point in his preparation for service; and it is the critical point in our preparation as well. No longer would Moses have confidence in himself; instead, he would learn to have confidence in God.

God introduced Himself to Moses, not as some new god that Moses had never heard of, but as the one and only God of his forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God who had promised to be with them and prosper them and bring their descendants into a land of their own.

7–9 Then God told Moses that He had heard His people’s cries in Egypt and had now come down9 to fulfill His promises to them. He was going to rescue them and take them to the “promised land” (Canaan), which was a land of plenty—a land flowing with milk and honey—and a spacious land (verse 8). It was spacious because many tribal nations lived there; six are mentioned here, while ten are mentioned in Genesis 15:19–21.

10 Then came the whole point of the burning-bush episode: Moses got a new job assignment, a formal commissioning to be God’s emissary to deliver the Israelites from bondage in Egypt. Moses was in for the “adventure” of his life.

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.