God in the burning bush
God’s Mountain1Moses worked as a shepherd for his father-in-law, Jethro priest of the Midianite people. Moses drove the flock west into the badlands, until he reached God’s Mountain, called Horeb. 2There, Moses saw a bush that had burst into flames. As he watched, the fire didn’t burn out. The LORD’s messenger would appear to him there.
3As Moses watched the fire continue to burn, he said, “This is incredible. I’ve got to get a closer look. Why on earth doesn’t this bush burn out?”
4When the LORD saw he caught the attention of Moses, he called out to him from the bush. “Moses! Moses!” Moses said, “I’m here.”
5The LORD said, “Stop! Don’t come closer. Take off your sandals because you’re standing on holy ground. 6I am the God your father worshiped. I am the God of Abraham. I am the God of Isaac. I am the God of Jacob.” Instantly, Moses turned away. He was afraid to look at God.
7The LORD said, “I’ve been watching the troubles of my people in Egypt. I’ve heard them praying for relief from their slavedrivers. Absolutely, I’ve been seeing all of this. 8I’ve come down here to rescue them. I’m going to lead them out of Egypt. I’m taking them to a land of wide-open spaces, where milk and honey flow like rivers. Canaanites live there now. So do Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. 9I know what the Israelites are suffering. Their crying has reached up to me. I have seen how the Egyptians are abusing them.
Moses to God: “Who, me?”10Go now. I’m sending you to Pharaoh on a mission to free my people, the Israelites, from Egypt.” 11But Moses told God, “Me? Who am I to tell Pharaoh he has to free the Israelites?” 12God answered, “I’ll be with you. Once you free the people from Egypt, I want you to bring them back here so all of you can worship me at this mountain.”
God’s name: I AM13Moses, “Yes, but when I go to the Israelites and say, ‘The God of your fathers sent me to you,’ they’re going to ask, ‘Who sent you; what’s his name?’ What should I tell them?”
14God said, “I AM WHO I AM. Tell the Israelites ‘I AM sent me to you.’ 15I want you to put it this way to the Israelites: ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob has sent me here to you.’ So, this is and always will be my name. Generations to come can call me by this name. 16Now go and meet with the Israelite leaders. Tell them, “The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, came to me. 17He told me, ‘I’ve seen what you’re going through and what the Egyptians have been doing to you. I’m going to lead you out of Egypt. You’re going to the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. It’s a land where milk and honey flow like rivers.’
God’s message to Pharaoh18They’ll listen to you. Then I want you to take those leaders with you to confront the king of Egypt. Tell the king: ‘The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, came and ordered us to travel three days into the desert. There, we’re to offer a sacrifice to the LORD, our God.’ 19But the king won’t let you go. He’ll need to see a show of incredible strength he can’t match.
20So, I’ll show it to him. I’m going to raise my hand and hammer Egypt with so many wonders that they’ll give up and let you go. 21By the time I’m done with them, all the Egyptians will be pulling for you to leave. When you go, they’ll make sure you don’t leave emptyhanded. 22So, here’s what you should do. The woman of every household should go to her Egyptian neighbor or to any Egyptian lodging in your home. Ask them for gold and silver objects you can take with you. And ask for their clothing, too. You’re going to dress your families in clothes stripped off the Egyptians.
Also known as Reuel (2:18).
Horeb is a Hebrew word that can mean “dry,” “desolate,” or “desert.” But here, it reads more like a name. Most Bible scholars say it’s an alternate name for Mount Sinai—much like “Zion” is another name for “Jerusalem.” Some say the mountain is in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Others say it’s in what is now Saudi Arabia, where the people of Midian lived. Two Egyptian hieroglyphic inscriptions from about the 1400s BC, around the time some scholars say Moses lived, said the mountainous territory of the Sinai was the “land of the Shasu of Yahweh.” “Shasu” was what Egyptians called the nomads and herders from what is now the areas of Israel, Palestinian Territories, Syria, and Jordan. Yahweh, translated “LORD” in all capital letters, was God’s name (3:14). The inscription might mean the Sinai was the land of nomads who worshipped God or who were known by the name of God—perhaps as “the people of God.” These inscriptions are the two oldest references outside the Bible to anyone worshiping Yahweh, the God of the Israelites, who were ancestors of today’s Jewish people.
“LORD,” usually printed in all capital letters, is a name of God that appears around 7,000 times in the Christian Bible, which makes it the most common way of referring to God. The lower-case “Lord” is a translation of the Hebrew word Adonai. It refers to God as our master, our life coach, or the boss. He’s in charge of us, and we try to obey him. “LORD” is the spelling most Bibles use when the writer refers to the name of God. Moses asked God what his name was, and God said Moses should tell the Israelite ancestors of the Jews that his name is “I AM” (3:14). In the original Hebrew language, the name is spelled with only consonants—no vowels. It’s an ancient shorthand, to save hides used to make scrolls. The name is YHWH. Without knowing which vowels, most scholars have settled on YAHWEH, pronounced YAH-way. For those freaky enough to wonder if it’s possible that God might have the name of YAHWHO, no. Hebrew linguist Dr. Joseph Coleson, Old Testament professor emeritus at Nazarene Theological Seminary, said, “No Semitic language ever would allow all three root letters [HWH] to occur in succession together, in any form of any root, without vowels to break them up.” God’s name is so sacred to many Jews that they refuse to speak it. Instead, they’ll use names that describe the character of God, such as Adonai, which means “my Lord.” They won’t even write the name. In English, they’ll spell the name G-d.
“The LORD’s messenger” is often translated “the LORD’s angel.” “Angel” means “messenger.” But when angels appear, they usually take human form, like the “messengers” who rushed Lot’s family out of Sodom (Genesis 19:1). But in this story about Moses, the messenger was God himself. God often appeared in the light of fire, an ancient symbol of power in the centuries before electricity (Exodus 13:21; Psalm 104:4; Ezekiel 1:27).
In the original Hebrew language, God said “Hāyâ (I AM) ’ᵃšer (WHO) Hāyâ (I AM). Other translations render it “I WILL BE WHAT I WILL BE,” or “I AM THE ONE WHO ALWAYS IS,” to mention just a couple. Some scholars say this isn’t God’s name. They say it’s a description of his name. His name is “I AM,” YAHWEH in Hebrew (see note just above in 3:2). God’s cryptic description of his name hints that who he is and what he is like will become obvious when people start seeing what God does. God will soon step into their lives in such dramatic ways that the generations to come will commemorate them in sacred events such as the Passover sedar meal, which commemorates God freeing the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery (Exodus 12).
BY ROBERT V. HUBER
Two of the names that appear in the first verse of Exodus 3 are different in other chapters of Exodus. First, Moses’ father-in-law, called Jethro here, had been called Reuel in chapter 2, where he is introduced. Even more importantly, God’s Mountain, called Horeb here, will later be referred to as Mount Sinai. Why? Shakespeare has Juliet muse, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet.” But why call a rose a lily?
We are told that Jethro was a priest in Midian, but we are not told what kind of priest he was or what god he served. Later, Aaron, Moses’ brother, would be installed as the first priest of the Israelites, serving Yahweh, the Hebrew name often translated LORD, in capital letters. Before that, sacrifices seemed to have been made by unordained individuals. The only other priest mentioned in the Bible so far (aside from priests of the multiple Egyptian deities) is the mysterious Melchizedek (Geneses 14:18–20), who was said to be a priest of the Most High, probably some Canaanite god. So who do you think Jethro worshipped? The LORD? Canaanite gods? Or both?
When God appears to Moses in a burning bush, he tells Moses to take off his sandals before coming closer, for the bush grows in holy ground. What’s the point of taking off sandals while outside, in the dirt? Wouldn’t a respectful bow work as well and perhaps make more sense?
God takes away any doubts about who he really is by bluntly telling Moses that he is the God that his own father worshiped, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In the verses that follow God urges Moses to let the Israelites know that Moses has spoken to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In fact, he tells him to do this twice, assuring Moses that when he identifies God in this way and tells the people of God’s plan to free them from slavery in Egypt, they will listen. Why this insistence on being the God of Moses’ father and the God of Abraham and his son and grandson?
Moses wants to know God’s name so that he can tell his people who sent him. God tells Moses to tell the people that I Am sent him, From then on, I Am, or Yahweh in Hebrew, becomes the sacred name of God. Can you think of any New Testament references to God as I Am?
God lets Moses know that he has heard the cries and prayers of the Israelites and that he shares Moses’ concern for their plight. He assures Moses that he plans to set things right, but then throws a curve ball, adding that he will use Moses to put his plans into effect. What do you think about Moses trying to talk God out of sending him back to Egypt?