Exodus 3 Study Notes
3:1 Many ancient gods were associated with a mountain where they were believed to live. The Lord was by no means limited to this mountain, however, as his actions at other mountains and other places make clear (e.g., Gn 22:14; 1Kg 18:20-45; 2Kg 6:17; Is 2:3; Ezk 28:14,16; Zch 8:3).
3:2-3 The angel of the Lord was active in Genesis to inform, rebuke, protect, and provide guidance and success (Gn 16:7-11; 21:17; 22:11,15; 24:7,40; 31:11). The account in Ex 3 describes the following conversation as directly between the Lord and Moses, without concern for how the event occurred. Fire is frequently associated with special displays of God’s presence (Ex 13:21-22; 19:18; 40:38; Dt 4:11-24,33-36; Jdg 6:21; 13:20; 1Kg 18:24,38; 2Ch 7:1-3; Ps 18:8,12-13; 50:3; 97:1-5; Is 66:15-16; Dn 7:9).
3:4-6 The possibility of danger implicit in human contact with God is reflected throughout Scripture (19:21-24; 24:11; 33:20-23; Gn 32:30; Jdg 13:20-23; Is 6:5; Ac 9:3-9; 1Tm 6:15-16; Rv 19:11-21). This place was holy, not because of any quality intrinsic to it, but because of God’s presence and activity there. The tabernacle would be a place set apart by the Lord’s presence (Ex 29:43-44). To stay at a distance and remove footwear was then and is now in many cultures a sign of respect and humility. The Lord’s self-identification, which began, I am the God of your father, connected this event with the past both by naming the patriarchs and by the wording of the statement (Gn 15:7; 17:1; 26:24; 28:13; 31:13; 35:11; 46:3). It also had the ring of a formal pronouncement by a king (Gn 41:44).
3:7 The emphatic construction rendered have observed could also be rendered “have carefully watched.” The misery and sufferings of God’s people never escape his notice or his concern.
3:8 In Egypt the Israelite flocks were limited to the region of Goshen (see Gn 46:32-34). By comparison, the new land would be spacious . . . flowing with milk and honey—resentful Levites later used this phrase to describe Egypt (Nm 16:12-14). In the land of Canaan, such abundance depended on rain. The word for honey may also describe a sweet syrup made from boiling dates, grapes, and other fruit.
3:9-10 Moses’s fear is understandable. He knew the power of Egypt and its pharaoh, and he did not yet know God’s power.
3:11-12 Moses’s question—Who am I?—reminds us of the question one of the Hebrews asked Moses in 2:14: “Who made you . . . ?” The answer to these questions has nothing to do with Moses’s upbringing or abilities. The Lord’s promise to Moses, I will certainly be with you, depends for its value on who the Lord is; it matters that he is present because he is willing and able to act. This promise gave Moses grounds for authority that were missing earlier (2:11-15) and continues the important theme of God’s personal involvement in the lives of his people (Gn 28:15; 31:3; 46:4; 48:21; Ex 33:14-16; Nm 14:43; Jos 1:9; Zch 8:23; Mt 28:20; Jn 14:16; Heb 13:5). To worship God with all the Israelites at the mountain where God and Moses were speaking would be a sign for Moses because he would be able to look back and know that this worship was possible only because of what the Lord had done (Ex 18:1-12; 24:1-11).
’ehyeh ’asher ’ehyeh
|Hebrew pronunciation||[eh YEH ah SHEHR eh YEH]|
|CSB translation||I AM WHO I AM|
|Uses in Exodus||1|
|Uses in the OT||1|
|Focus passage||Exodus 3:14|
’Ehyeh ’asher ’ehyeh is God’s statement as he revealed his preferred form of address to be Yahweh (Ex 3:14-16). ’Ehyeh is the first person form of the Hebrew verb meaning “to be.” God may have spoken ’ehyeh ’asher ’ehyeh as a name in answer to Moses’s request in v. 13, but he certainly reduced the words to the name ’Ehyeh, or I AM (v. 14). Yahweh seems to be an ancient form of the third person form of “to be.” The third person may have been most suitable for Israelites considering their God. Some scholars interpret Yahweh as a causative form like “He Causes To Be,” but ’ehyeh ’asher ’ehyeh favors a meaning like “He Is.” Such a translation agrees with the NT portrayal of Christ as the eternally present One (Jn 8:56). I AM WHO I AM suggests God’s sovereign freedom to be what he chooses to be.
3:13-15 God’s statement is worded with a finality that sometimes appears at the end of a conversation, typically to put an end to debate without volunteering information, like Pilate’s statement, “What I have written, I have written” (Jn 19:22; see also Gn 43:14; Ex 16:23; 33:19; 2Sm 15:20; Est 4:16; Jr 15:1-2). The statements containing I AM use the same Hebrew verb that God’s promise, “I will certainly be with you,” does in v. 12 (and also 4:12,15).
The wordplay with the verb makes it especially prominent and recalls the promise, as if to remind Moses, “The one who promises to be with you is the one who sends you.” Since Hebrew verbs gather much of their temporal meaning from their contexts, the same form can indicate present or future or both at once, depending on the situation. Here the promises in 3:12; 4:12,15 are oriented to the future; so though “will” is appropriate in English, it does not exclude God’s presence with Moses at the time they were speaking. Nor does the English present tense “am” in 3:14 exclude the future.
|Hebrew pronunciation||[YAH weh]|
|CSB translation||Lord, Yahweh|
|Uses in Exodus||398|
|Uses in the OT||6,828|
|Focus passage||Exodus 3:15|
God told Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” Moses was to tell Israel, “I AM has sent me to you” (Ex 3:14). Then God replaced I AM with “Yahweh, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob . . . This is my name forever” (Ex 3:15). Yahweh is probably a third person singular equivalent of I AM. Its pronunciation was almost lost because Jews considered it so holy that they replaced its vowels with those of other divine names. Yahweh communicates God’s commitment to deliver Israel in ways that reveal his character. God did not reveal this name to the patriarchs (Ex 6:3), but Yahweh occurs in Genesis dialogue (Gn 14:22). Either the meaning was previously unknown, its significance had not been fully appreciated, or Genesis reflects later language. Moses’s mother Jochebed might have a shortened form of Yahweh in her name (Jo-) if the name follows later practice.
3:16 When the present translation uses the word Lord (with large and small capital letters), it is representing the Hebrew name that can also be transliterated “Yahweh.” The name Yahweh is connected etymologically with the Hebrew verb “to be” that appears so prominently in vv. 12 and 14. Yahweh was no stranger. He was the God of their fathers: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Four hundred years in Egypt had not annulled the promises made to them and their offspring (2:24). He now sent Moses to their descendants, the Israelites. If the Israelites wanted to know who he was, they needed to look at what he had done.
3:18 A three-day trip . . . so that we may sacrifice was a reasonable request, since other slave groups in Egypt received permission for similar journeys to worship their gods. Something about Israelite sacrifices was abhorrent to the Egyptians (8:26); a three-day trip into the wilderness would get them well out of sight.
3:19-20 Here God showed his full knowledge of people’s character and thinking processes by predicting that Pharaoh would remain stubborn, thus also anticipating the “hardness of heart” theme that recurs in the plague stories (see 4:21-23 and note there). The two clauses when I stretch out my hand and he will let you go both use a form of the same Hebrew verb, making tight connection between cause and effect. When God’s hand goes to work, the Israelites will go out of Egypt. The contest would be between the strong hand of the Lord and the “power [lit “hand”] of the Egyptians” as personified by Pharaoh (v. 8).
3:21-22 Gifts of silver and gold would fulfill what the Lord had told Abram (Gn 15:14), repeating the pattern of Abram’s own departure from Egypt with wealth that had been handed to him (Gn 12:16,20; cp. Gn 20:14,16). The word translated plunder has a parallel use in 2Ch 20:25 to describe plundering corpses on a battlefield. Its use in Ex 3:22 and 12:36 may be an intentional overstatement. It contributes to showing the nature of the Lord’s victory over Egypt, which may be why 3:22 particularly mentions that Israelite women—noncombatants ordinarily—would do the asking. In 11:2 and 12:35 men also participate.