By Sam E. Stone
In our study of Genesis we saw God appear to Abraham (Genesis 15), reaffirming his promise to make of him a great nation. But God indicated that Abraham’s descendants would have to remain in Egypt for 400 years (v. 13). While the Israelites were enslaved there, a baby boy was born. His mother hid him in a basket (a papyrus boat) and placed it in the Nile River, hoping his life would be spared. Pharaoh’s daughter found him and drew him out of the water, giving him the name Moses.
Moses saw that, while he had comfort in the palace, life for his people grew worse and worse. He wanted to help them (Acts 7:25).
One day he killed an Egyptian (Exodus 2:11-15). This made him a fugitive. He fled to the land of Midian. Some 40 years later, we find him taking care of sheep there when today’s text begins. God appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Though the bush was on fire, it did not burn up. God called Moses by name when he came over to look. Like Isaiah, he responded, “Here I am.” The Lord replied, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham.”
God explained, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt.” God told Moses three things that should encourage him: I see what is happening; I hear the cries of my people; and I am concerned about them. It might have been hard to convince the Israelites of this, but it was true. Often we are much like them. We complain, “Where is God when I need him?” Martha told Jesus, “If you had been here, my brother would not have died” (John 11:21). God still sees, hears, and is concerned—even when we don’t recognize the fact.
“I have come down to rescue them.” Often the Lord uses people to do his work. He “comes down” through his messengers. God’s condescension and concern found their supreme expression when Jesus came into the world one night centuries later in Bethlehem. Now, however, he offers them a good and spacious land. The promised land (Israel) was fertile and the people would be freed from their oppressive confinement in Egypt. The proverbial expression—a land flowing with milk and honey—was often used to describe the fertility and loveliness of Canaan (Deuteronomy 6:3). God had seen the Egyptians oppress his people, even though the Israelites were unaware of it.
“I am sending you to Pharaoh,” the Lord told Moses. Earlier Moses thought he was ready to be a deliverer and judge for his people. Now God tells him that he is assigning Moses that very task. Moses was hesitant, however. This was the first of several expressions of his reluctance (3:13; 4:1, 10, 13).
Moses had come to realize his weakness. God, however, promised to add his strength (compare 2 Corinthians 12:9). “I will be with you.” What more could one ask? Jesus gave similar assurance to his followers (Matthew 28:20). God promised Moses a sign (v. 12). Although he showed him other signs and let him perform miracles for the Egyptians, this sign still required faith. One day in the future, the Lord told Moses, the Israelites would worship God at this very place, Mount Sinai, after their deliverance.
Moses raised an objection. When I tell the Egyptians that God has sent me, they might ask, “’What is his name?’ Then what should I tell them?” God responded, “I am who I am.” James E. Smith points out that this statement can be rendered a number of different ways in English. “The name basically emphasizes the timelessness of God. He is the self-existing one, the Eternal, the one without beginning or end. The God of Israel’s ancestors was to be identified by the name Yahweh (he who is) throughout the generations.”
Exodus 3:16, 17
Before Moses would be sent to Pharaoh, however, God sent him to his own people. They must first be told of the Lord’s plan (compare Amos 3:7). God directed Moses to begin by assembling the elders of Israel and telling them how the Lord had appeared to him. “I have watched over you and have seen what has been done to you in Egypt. . . . I have promised to bring you up out of your misery.” The Lord will bring the people into the promised land (see. v. 7). Deliverance will come!
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.