By Mark Scott
One of the great characteristics of God is his interpersonal capacity. He communicates. He called judges to rescue his people (last month’s lessons). He also called prophets to prosecute his people (this month’s lessons).
“Prophets don’t prepare messages. Prophets are messages” (Spirit, Word, and Story by Calvin Miller). Moses is often viewed as the great lawgiver. Indeed he was that. At times his name stands for the law (Acts 6:11-13). But he also was a special type of messianic prophet (Deuteronomy 18:15).
Our text concerns the calling of Moses to be God’s special prophet. While God’s call to his people is wide enough to include every Israelite (Exodus 19:5, 6), certain leaders received special callings from God to lead God’s people. Many of these were prophets (nabi—those who speak enthusiastically for God).
Moses had essentially been missing in action for 40 years (Exodus 2:15; Acts 7:30-34). Since his departure from Egypt he had settled in the land of Midian, married, become a father (Exodus 2:16-22), and had begun tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law. We have two major narratives about Moses’ father-in-law (2:1–3:1; 18:1-27). In the first text he functioned as a priest. In the second text he functioned as Moses’ counselor.
Moses led Jethro’s sheep somewhere in the vast Sinai Peninsula. This area is dry with little vegetation. Finding food and water for the livestock would be a full-time job. God’s call to Moses came near Horeb that is identified as the mountain of God. This could be another name for Mount Sinai.
The specifics of God’s call involved four things—an angel, a fire, a bush, and a voice. At least three of these four things are rather common phenomena of a theophany (a God encounter). Beyond the realm of physical realities the angel of the Lord (later just called the Lord in verse 4) appeared in the fire from within the bush. Moses was undone by such a sight and went to investigate. Notice that God did not address Moses until he turned aside to look. Maybe we have to want to know the deep things of God before he chooses to reveal more of himself to us.
Once Moses came near the bush, God called him by name—twice. Moses gave the right response: Here I am.
Exodus 3:5, 6
God lit the bush on fire, sent his angel, and spoke to Moses out of the bush. Moses drew near, but God urged him to keep his distance. Even though Moses was faithful in God’s house (Hebrews 3:2) and spoke to God face to face (Exodus 33:11), he was still a sinner and had feet of clay.
God called for a posture of humility by reminding Moses that the ground on which Moses stood was holy ground. Obviously the ground was set apart due to God’s presence and due to his coming down on the mountain to issue the call. Once the perimeter was marked out, God reminded Moses of his identity. He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Moses was impressed with angels, fires, bushes, and voices, but it was God’s identity that caused Moses to hide his face and keep his distance.
We sometimes wonder at the timing of God in coming to the rescue, but we can never accuse him of being inattentive. He sees, hears, expresses his compassion, and comes to the rescue of his people. He is not aloof and uncaring (Isaiah 44:9-20). God is not indifferent to suffering or oppression. He said in verse 8 that he planned to take Israel from Egypt and put her in a good and spacious land (which was, at that time, occupied by all the “ites”).
God issued his call to Moses in verse 10. Moses made the first of four excuses (see Exodus 3:13; 4:1, 10-13 for the other three) as to why he could not do this. Who am I? is always the wrong question with God. God did not answer Moses as to Moses’ identity. Instead he answered Moses as to his own identity. God promised I will be with you, and the sign would be that they would worship God on that mountain in the distant future (19:1-3, 11). Stepping away is never appropriate. Stepping up is possible due to the presence of God.
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri.
Based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2012, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.