Exodus 3:1-4:17 • Five Questions for a Burning Bush
It has been over four hundred years since Jacob’s family relocated to Egypt. The first chapter of Exodus informs us that Jacob’s family has now grown into an entire nation, which fulfills God’s promise to Abraham (Genesis 12:2). Not only are the Hebrews sojourners in Egypt, they pose a threat to Pharaoh simply by virtue of their numbers. Therefore, the Egyptians made their lives exceedingly harsh, enslaving the Hebrews and working them seven days a week to build cities and monuments. The Hebrew nation was under great affliction, but all that has happened to Jacob’s descendants was spoken beforehand to Abraham by God.
God said to Abram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve, and afterward they will come out with many possessions.
— Genesis 15:13-14
There is, of course, a great lesson learned from the Hebrew’s four-hundred-year affliction: though God may be silent, He is not absent.
In chapter three, God breaks His silence. He confronts the Hebrew fugitive Moses at the burning bush. It is a turning point in biblical history.
Read verses 1-6
Q: What are the first words Moses hears God speak?
A: His name. The God of the universe—the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of the Hebrew nation—knows Moses personally by name.
Q: How does God immediately protect Moses and what does this protection imply?
A: In verse 5, God warns Moses not to come too close to the burning bush, implying harm if he does. This implies that God’s nature, unlike the Egyptian gods, is holy while Moses is unholy. The fire would most likely have consumed him. [FYI: An orthodox church stands on the supposed site where Moses encountered the burning bush. There is a tree in the courtyard, and the priests there believe it is the original “bush.” Of course, this cannot be verified, and it is highly unlikely that the tree is the original. Furthermore, when the Hebrews returned to the mountain, there is no mention of the bush or that it was ever memorialized.]
Q: Why does God identify Himself in verse 6, and what is Moses’ response?
A: At that point, Moses does not know the origin of the voice. He may have thought it merely an angel (v. 2). When God identifies Himself, Moses’ reaction turns from curiosity to reverential fear.
Application: Does God know your name? In what manner does He speak to you today? The position of Walk with the Word is that God speaks to believers primarily through His Word, and it is the Holy Spirit within who causes us to recognize it as such, and empowers us to “incarnate” His Word. [See "How to Read God's Word" on the Walk with the Word website.]
Read verses 7-12
Q: In verses 7-10, God tells Moses that He has been aware of five things concerning the Hebrews. What are they?
“I have seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt…” (v. 7).
“…I have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters…” (v. 7)
“…I am aware of their sufferings” (v. 7).
“…The cry of the sons of Israel has come to Me…” (v. 9).
“…I have seen the oppression with which the Egyptians are oppressing them” (v. 9).
Application: If a Christian is suffering, and God remains silent, does that mean He is not aware of our suffering or that He doesn’t care? (Come back to this question again after addressing the application below.)
Q: In verses 7-10, God outlines five points of His plan for Moses and the Hebrews. What are they?
“…I have come down to deliver them from the power of the Egyptians…” (v. 8)
“…To bring them up from that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey…” (v. 8)
“…To the place of the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Amorite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite” (v. 8).
“…I will send you to Pharaoh…” (v. 10).
“…So that you may bring My people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt” (v. 10).
Application: Does God always assign a time table for the plans He has made? Does God always reveal a time table for the plans He makes for our lives? How do our plans for our lives often change according to God’s plan?
Footnote: In actually, God did have a time table for the Hebrew nation to be delivered from Egypt. Genesis 15:16 states, “…When the iniquity of the Amorite is complete….” God, however, is the only One who can make this judgment, and the Hebrews would have to be a strong nation in order to make the conquests of the Amorites; that is, the indigenous people of Canaan. Thus, their 400-year sojourn in Egypt.
Q: What is the first of Moses’ five questions for God and why do you suppose Moses asked this question?
A: In verse 11, Moses asks, “Who am I…?” Intimately acquainted with Pharaoh’s power and military might, and knowing full well he is a fugitive, he is asking a legitimate question. It indicates that Moses has not yet fully grasped the power of God, and has not yet learned, “With God, all things are possible.”
Application: Why do we Christians often underestimate what God can do in us and through us? For an interesting side discussion, examine Ephesians 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,”
Read verses 13-22
Q: What is the second of Moses’ five questions?
A: In verse 13, Moses asks, “What shall I say to (the Hebrews when they ask) ‘What is His name?’” This question arises from Moses’ Egyptian background. All the Egyptian gods had names. It’s a logical question based on Moses’ upbringing. It seems logical to Moses that the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob must therefore also have a name.
Q: What is God’s response to Moses’ question?
A: “I AM WHO I AM.” In the Hebrew, this name is four letters (all consonants, as the Hebrew language did not have vowels at the time; therefore, the exact pronunciation is not known). The letters most likely mean “Self-existent One.” This name is the holy name for God and the national name for the God of the Jews. In some Bibles, this name is distinguished from other names (such as “Lord”) by using uppercase letters: Lord. This name is considered so holy to the Jews that it is not spoken when reading the Scriptures. Instead, another name for God is pronounced, “Adonai” which is written “Lord.” In the King James Bible, the holy name for God is “Jehovah.”
Q: Amongst the statements by God about what will happen when the Hebrews finally exit Egypt, there is an interesting event that is recorded in verses 21 and 22. What is this event, was it predicted beforehand by God, and what is its significance?
A: Verses 21 and 22 state that when the Hebrews leave Egypt, they will take with them great wealth willingly handed over to them by the Egyptians. This was prophesied earlier in Genesis 15:14. Whereas the Hebrews believe this “plunder” is their just reward for having endured harsh treatment, God had other plans for it. [See Exodus 25:1-8 and 35:20-29.]
Application: What implication does the above actions by the Hebrews have on the earthly possessions God has given Christians?
Read verses 4:1-17
Q: What are the three remaining questions Moses has for God?
“What if (the Hebrews) will not believe me…?” (4:1)
“What about my poor public speaking?” (v. 10, question implied)
“Why me?” (v. 13; question implied)
Q: Why does Moses question God so stringently regarding His choice of Moses to deliver His people?
A: Because (1) Moses doesn’t believe he is up to the task; he is, after all, an outlaw; (2) Moses is fearful that the whole plan will collapse and he will suffer the consequences; and (3) his faith in God is not yet established to trust God for the results.
Application: Why do Christians fail to believe what God is able to do through us? In what area of your life is fear, doubt and ignorance keeping you from bearing significant fruit for the kingdom of God? Why is God’s statement to Moses in 3:12—“I will be with you…”—important for all Christians to grasp? [Compare with Matthew 28:20, “teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”]
Q: What are the 5 things that God gave Moses to equip him for the work of God?
The miracles (the staff, leprous hand, and water turned to blood).
Aaron as helper and spokesman.
The personal name of God.
God’s assurance that He would teach Moses how and what to say.
The staff with which to do signs.
Q: Were all the things God gave Moses for the benefit of the Egyptians?
A: No; some were for the Egyptians, some for the Hebrews, some for both. In other words, God equipped Moses to minister to both “believers” and “non-believers”, an allusion to the Messiah’s earthly ministry and our own.
Application: God calls and empowers His followers to be witnesses to both those that believe and those that do not. How has God worked through your own life to reach both groups? How like Moses have you hesitated to go in His name according to His promises?