Moses is called by the LORD when he is eighty years old. That is at the end of his natural life. In Psalm 90 he says this himself: “As for the days of our life, they contain seventy years, or if due to strength, eighty years” (Psa 90:1a,10a). Before the Lord can use someone, a person must learn to renounce his natural abilities. Moses has learned this. However, it is not enough not to rely on one’s own skills. Now he must learn to trust in God’s power.
1 - 6 The LORD Appears to Moses
1 Now Moses was pasturing the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian; and he led the flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 The angel of the LORD appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed. 3 So Moses said, “I must turn aside now and see this marvelous sight, why the bush is not burned up.” 4 When the LORD saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5 Then He said, “Do not come near here; remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6 He said also, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Then Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
Moses learned the shepherd’s trade for forty years. Now he is with his flock “to the west side of the wilderness”, or “beyond the wilderness”. He has, as it were, the wilderness experiences behind him. Many men of God have been shepherds. According to God’s heart the shepherd gives the best indication of the way in which He wants to govern His people. David is a shepherd: “He also chose David His servant and took him from the sheepfolds; from the care of the ewes with suckling lambs He brought him to shepherd Jacob His people, and Israel His inheritance. So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart, and guided them with his skillful hands” (Psa 78:70-72). It is written of the Lord Jesus that He is a Ruler who will “shepherd” the people of God, that is to say, as a Shepherd will be to them (Mt 2:6).
While Moses shepherds the sheep, he comes to the mountain of God, Horeb. Horeb is another name for the Sinai, the mountain where later the law is given (cf. Exo 19:11; Deu 4:10a). That is why the mountain is called “the mountain of God”. There the Angel of the LORD appears to him. Verse 4 shows that it is God Himself.
The Angel of the LORD is the manifestation of the Lord Jesus in the Old Testament. Wherever God appears to man, He does so through the Lord Jesus. It is the first time after many years that the LORD appears again to someone. Apparitions have never been the order of the day. God appears only at special occasions.
The LORD appears to Moses and calls him when he is busy with his daily work. We also see this with the brothers Peter and Andrew and the brothers James and John. When the Lord Jesus calls them to follow Him, Peter and Andrew are busy ejecting the nets to catch fish; James and John are busy restoring the nets (Mt 4:18-22). This is how the Lord still works today. He calls people who are faithful in their daily work.
Moses notices that the bush burns but does not consume. The bush represents man by nature, the sinful man. We also see the whole people of Israel in it, which is Egypt in the burning over. We also see that God is in the fire. Therefore, the bush does not consume. God uses the fire of trial to purify His people, and us. What is not in agreement with Him is consumed by the fire. As a result, we will increasingly answer to His purpose with us: to become like the Lord Jesus. He is with us in the trial (Isa 63:9; Dan 3:25).
The LORD sees that Moses is approaching the bush to see the miraculous phenomenon. He sees in what we are interested. He rejoices when we show interest in His revelation. At the same time He maintains His holiness. Where God is, is holiness. Moses must take off his shoes (cf. Jos 5:15).
When Moses has shown due respect, God makes Himself known as the God of the patriarchs with whom He has made a covenant: with Abraham (Gen 15:13-14,18), with Isaac (Gen 26:3) and with Jacob (Gen 46:3-4). That is the ground on which He start to act. He is and remains their God, even though they have died, for for Him they remain alive, which will be proved in the resurrection: “But that the dead are raised, even Moses showed, in the [passage about the burning] bush, where he calls the Lord THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, AND THE GOD OF ISAAC, AND THE GOD OF JACOB. Now He is not the God of the dead but of the living; for all live to Him”, (Lk 20:37-38).
7 - 10 Moses Must Go to Pharaoh
7 The LORD said, “I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings. 8 So I have come down to deliver them from the power of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Amorite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite. 9 Now, behold, the cry of the sons of Israel has come to Me; furthermore, I have seen the oppression with which the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10 Therefore, come now, and I will send you to Pharaoh, so that you may bring My people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt.”
God says to Moses that He has seen what is being done to His people and He has heard them moan about it. He is familiar with their sorrows. That brings Him to action. He has come down to redeem them and bring them to a land He has chosen for them. And Moses is the man whom He will use to carry out His purpose, that is to say the first part of it, which is to lead the people out of Egypt. God knows that Moses will not enter the promised land.
The fact that it is a land flowing with milk means that it is extremely suitable for animal husbandry. The juicy meadows will ensure that the goats, sheep and cows give a lot of milk. The flowing with honey is another proof of the riches of the soil conditions of the land. The expression “flowing with milk and honey” occurs here for the first time and is repeated many times after (Exo 3:8,17; Lev 20:24; Num 13:27; 14:8; 16:13-14; Deu 6:3; 11:9; 26:9,15; 27:3; 31:20; Jos 5:6; Jer 11:5; 32:22; Eze 20:6,15).
In the coming down of God and the sending of Moses we see a picture of what God has done through His Son. The Lord Jesus descended to earth to save people who sigh under the yoke of sin. As with Israel, He did not speak from heaven, but came from heaven to earth. He did so to bring all who believe in Him into the heavenly land, that is, to bless them “with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly [places] in Christ” (Eph 1:3).
11 - 12 First Objection and God’s Answer
11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?” 12 And He said, “Certainly I will be with you, and this shall be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God at this mountain.”
Moses comes with his objections. He sees his own
5. after which he finally shows his unwillingness.
Moses is full of objections. His first objection shows that he considers himself totally unfit for his task. When he was still in Egypt, he was full of vigor. Then he would do it. There his self-assured ‘I’ forms the hindrance to God’s work. Now his humble ‘I’ is the hindrance. When God calls, it does not matter who we are, but Who He is. He says: “I will be with you.”
This answer the LORD also gives to Gideon when he raises the same objection as Moses to the commission he receives from Him: “He said to Him, “O Lord, how shall I deliver Israel? Behold, my family is the least in Manasseh, and I am the youngest in my father’s house.” But the LORD said to him, “Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat Midian as one man”” (Jdg 6:15-16).
Moses also receives a sign that he and the people will serve God on His mountain. With this, God also gives the actual purpose of the redemption of His people: that they may serve Him. Serving here means serving as a slave. So far, the people have served the Egyptians as slaves; after their redemption they will serve God and worship Him as His people (cf. 1Thes 1:9).
As fast as Moses acted the first time and struck the Egyptian to death, so slow is he now to respond to God’s calling. The man who has shown the progressive nature of human nature now shows a reluctance that also stems from human nature. Neither of them can have a place in the work of God.
13 - 22 Second Objection and God’s Answer
13 Then Moses said to God, “Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I will say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’ Now they may say to me, ‘What is His name?’ What shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” 15 God, furthermore, said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is My name forever, and this is My memorial-name to all generations. 16 Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, has appeared to me, saying, “I am indeed concerned about you and what has been done to you in Egypt. 17 So I said, I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Amorite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite, to a land flowing with milk and honey.”’ 18 They will pay heed to what you say; and you with the elders of Israel will come to the king of Egypt and you will say to him, ‘The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us. So now, please, let us go a three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God.’ 19 But I know that the king of Egypt will not permit you to go, except under compulsion. 20 So I will stretch out My hand and strike Egypt with all My miracles which I shall do in the midst of it; and after that he will let you go. 21 I will grant this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and it shall be that when you go, you will not go empty-handed. 22 But every woman shall ask of her neighbor and the woman who lives in her house, articles of silver and articles of gold, and clothing; and you will put them on your sons and daughters. Thus you will plunder the Egyptians.”
Moses comes up with a second objection. He is not convinced. Who actually sends him? He thinks he does not know enough about God to be able to tell about Him when asked about Him. In His goodness and grace God also meets this objection of Moses. And also detailed. So He is. He meets all our objections as long as they arise from our weakness and not from our unwillingness. In that way He speaks with an objecting Ananias whom He sends to Paul (Acts 9:10-17) and with an objecting Peter whom He sends to Cornelius (Acts 10:9-16).
First God points out the immutability of His Person: “I AM WHO I AM.” He is the eternal Being Himself, the totally independent One. He finds everything in Himself and everything and everyone depends on Him. The Lord Jesus calls Himself so too. He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am” (Jn 8:58), which means that before Abraham’s existence He has always been there as the I AM. He is the eternal One, always true to Himself.
Then God continues, ”furthermore”, (verse 15) with His answer, pointing out that He has made Himself contact with man: He is “the LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”. This also means that He will fulfill the promises He has made to them. The patriarchs have died, but with them the promises of God have not lapsed. To relieve Moses, God then tells him how everything will go. He is the One “declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done” (Isa 46:10a).
Moses and the elders must tell the king of Egypt that “the LORD, the God of the Hebrews” has come to them (verse 18). In this name, which Moses later mentions for Pharaoh (Exo 5:3; 7:16; 9:1,13; 10:3), the LORD shows that his people are a people of pilgrims. They were instructed by Him to “go a three days’ journey into the wilderness”, that they “may sacrifice to the LORD” their God. In verse 12 we have read the purpose of salvation: serving God. Now we see a special aspect of serving God: to sacrifice to Him.
They cannot sacrifice God in Egypt. This requires the road of “a three days’ journey far into the wilderness”. The number three is associated with the thought of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus: from the death of the cross to the resurrection are three days (Mt 16:21; 17:22-23; 20:18-19). The way of a three days’ journey speaks of this. By believing in the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus a person is freed from the power of the world, sin and death and can serve and sacrifice God.
The Pharaoh, by his refusal, gives God the opportunity to show His power. It is ultimately a battle between God and Pharaoh with God’s people as a stake.
When they leave Egypt, the Israelites have to claim the outstanding wages of many years of slave labor. In this way God settles the debt Egypt has with His people. The payment will be made in kind, in the form of objects of valuable metals and clothing. These are things that are used in Egypt by the Egyptians to dishonor of God. However, these objects can be used by God’s people for God’s glory. Thus, the metal objects are later used for the construction of the tabernacle.