The Burning Bush

Exod. 3

Moses and the Burning Bush

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up.So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”

When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

And Moses said, “Here I am.”

“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

11 But Moses said to God, “Who am Ithat I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

12 And God said, “I will be with you.And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”

13 Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”

14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”

15 God also said to Moses, “Say 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 to you.’

“This is my name forever,
    the name you shall call me
    from generation to generation.

16 “Go, assemble the elders of Israel and say to them, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob—appeared to me and said: I have watched over you and have seen what has been done to you in Egypt. 17 And I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites—a land flowing with milk and honey.’

18 “The elders of Israel will listen to you. Then you and the elders are to go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us. Let us take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the Lord our God.’ 19 But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless a mighty hand compels him.20 So I will stretch out my hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders that I will perform among them. After that, he will let you go.

21 “And I will make the Egyptians favorably disposed toward this people, so that when you leave you will not go empty-handed. 22 Every woman is to ask her neighbor and any woman living in her house for articles of silver and gold and for clothing, which you will put on your sons and daughters. And so you will plunder the Egyptians.”

Passage Analysis

Moses was in a unique situation prior to his encounter with God in the burning bush. Before this passage, Moses was saved from the mass execution of Israelite infants in Egypt, grew up in the royal court after being adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter, then banished for killing an Egyptian overseer who attacked a slave. Written in the 6th century BC, Exodus 3 describes Moses being chosen by God to save the Israelites from oppression in Egypt. However, the primary focus is on God and the authority he establishes over Moses and his people. Repetition is an important method of conveying this message. God’s identity is established in three separate ways: in relation to the Israelites’ ancestors which is repeated twice, concerning God’s deliverance of the Israelites out of Egypt which is also repeated twice, and giving the Israelites a new name to call God, Yahweh. Yahweh is taken from the statement “I am who I am” which can be translated into three tenses of “to be”. The name can be read as “I have been”, “I am”, and “I will be”. The Priestly source uses the information from the stories passed down by the E, J, and P source, and establishes a foundation for the story explaining the creation of Israel as a nation state. The writing in the passage is prose and straightforward in description. The entire arch of Exodus also follows a standard fairy tale structure as explained by William Propp, which includes an initial dilemma, a departure, a trial, a conflict with an opponent, success, and return. In Exodus, this story can be interpreted with either Moses or God as the hero in the fairy tale.

Propp, William H.C. Exodus 1-18. Vol.2 of The Anchor Bible Commentary. New York NY: Doubleday, 1999.

Clifford, Richard J. “Exodus.” In The New Jerome Biblical Commentary, edited by Raymond E. Brown, Fitzmyer, Murphy, 44-60 . Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1990.

Thomas J. Closser

Sean E. Lonergan

Nikolas C. Varsogea