The Burning Bush – Exodus 3

Read the Passage: Exodus 3

Authorship and Date – Jewish and Christian tradition is unified in viewing Moses as the author of the first five books of the Old Testament, which includes the book of Exodus. Mosaic authorship is evident from the content Exodus, including explicit statements in the book of Exodus (cf. Exod. 24:4, “And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord”), as well as from New Testament testimony, including that of Jesus Himself (cf. Mark 7:10; John 5:46–47). While it is impossible to pinpoint the exact year of the writing of the book of Exodus, it was clearly written after God’s peoples’ exodus from Egypt and before the death of Moses. By correlating other events that can be dated in Scripture with some certainty, such as the beginnings of certain kings’ reigns and the capture of several Canaanite cities, the exodus event can be reasonably dated around 1445 BC and the death of Moses can be set at roughly 1406 BC. Note that at Gen. 50:24–25 Joseph had looked forward to the exodus some 350+ years prior to its occurrence (cf. Heb. 11:22). By way of chronology, the book of Exodus narrates roughly 40 years of the history of Israel.

Purpose and Themes – The title “Exodus,” which means “departure,” “exit,” or “outgoing,” was given to this book by the translators of the Greek and Latin versions of the Old Testament—that is, the Septuagint and the Vulgate, respectively. This book, then, narrates God’s peoples’ exodus from the land of Egypt. In Hebrew, this book begins with the phrase, “And these are the names,” indicating a connection with the previous book of Genesis. The purpose of the book of Exodus, then, is to narrate the history of God’s people from their entrance into Egypt in roughly 1875 BC (cf. Exod. 12:40–41) until their departure from that nation and their formation as a theocratic people on their way to the Promised Land. Major themes and events in the book of Exodus include: the story of Moses, the plagues upon Egypt, the introduction of the Passover, the crossing of the Red Sea, the giving of the Law, the continual rebellion of the people of God, the building of the Tabernacle, and the installation of the sacrificial system, among many other events.

Outline and Structure – The book of Exodus can be thematically outlined as follows;

  • Israel in Egypt (chs. 1–13)
    • God and Moses (chs. 1–4)
    • God and Pharaoh (chs. 5–13)
  • Israel in the Wilderness (chs. 14–18)
  • Israel at Sinai (chs. 19–40)
    • Giving of the Law (chs. 19–24)
    • The Sacrificial System (chs. 25–40)

Call of God (3:1–4)

Exodus 1–4 introduces the character of Moses into the biblical narrative. This includes the miraculous details of his birth (cf. Exod. 2:1–10) and his flight into the land of Midian (cf. Exod. 2:11–24). In short, as chapter three begins, Moses had spent 40 years being raised as a prince of Egypt and 40 years as a shepherd in the wilderness (cf. Acts 7:22–23, 36). The text details how when tending his flock Moses witnessed the strange sight of a burning bush that was not consumed by the flames. This bush was not consumed because the flame of fire was caused by the Angel of the Lord (cf. Exod. 3:2). Note that this anticipates God’s later appearance to Moses on Mt. Sinai (cf. Exod. 19:18). In this narrative, with his curiosity peaked, Moses turned aside and God called to him from the midst of the bush, using his very name. Observe that in the ancient world, calling someone’s name twice, as God did here (cf. Exod. 3:4), was usually a sign of affection and friendship.

Character of God (3:5–7, 13–14)

God said to Moses, “‘Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’ And he said, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’” (Exod. 3:5–6; cf. Luke 20:37). Note that in this context removal of shoes was a sign of respect and of being in the presence of royalty or holiness. Moreover, slaves oftentimes would wear no shoes at all. Later, at Exod. 19:12, while at the foot of Sinai the Lord would similarly warn the people about His holiness. The attributes of God’s character that are most clearly seen in this passage are His holiness and compassion. God’s sovereign, self-existent character is seen in His later declaration of His name as, “I am who I am” (Exod. 3:14), which can be translated as, “I will continually be whom I have repeatedly been,” or as, “The One who is sovereignly present,” or as, “He causes to be” (cf. Rev. 1:8). Each one of these renderings communicates God’s self-sufficiency.

Communication of God (3:8–12, 15–22)

God’s message to Moses was: (1) He had seen the peoples’ oppression and heard their cry—cf. Exod. 3:9, 16; (1) He would deliver the people from Egypt and bring them into the Promised Land—cf. Exod. 3:8, 17; and (3) He would use Moses to lead the people from Egypt—cf. Exod. 3:10–12, 15, 18–22. Interestingly, Moses does not doubt that God had heard the peoples’ cries, nor does he question the fact that God would deliver Israel from bondage in Egypt. Rather, Moses objects to being the one who would lead the people to the Promised Land (cf. Exod. 3:11). Indeed, Exod. 4:1–17 records Moses’ further objections to being the human agent whom God would use to deliver His people. While Moses surely had a fear of public speaking (cf. Exod. 4:10), his fear was also tied to the fact that he was an outlaw. The rest of this book of Exodus is essentially a record of how God did exactly what He had communicated to Moses.

Application Questions:

  1. As we begin our study of the book of Exodus, what comes to mind? What do you know about the content of this text?
  2. Throughout the various events in Moses’ life, how was God preparing him for his special work of leading Israel?
  3. In looking over your life, in what ways has God unexpectedly been preparing you for an area of ministerial service?
  4. How do most people conceive of God? Why did Moses hide his face and refuse to look upon God (cf. Exod. 3:6)?
  5. If God is all-knowing and all-powerful, why did He let his people stay in bondage for 430 years (cf. Exod. 12:40)?