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The Call of Moses

Exodus 3.1-15

As you read the text, ask yourself two questions.  What did you notice? and What did you Wonder? Remember, as you do this we are not really interested in questions about how, but in why, what is God doing here, or who is doing it.

A few things I noticed:

Our story begins with Moses most likely unwittingly watching the sheep near God's mountain.   There is nothing in the story to indicate that Moses knew he was at God's mountain. 

There is some ambiguity in the Hebrew, whether the messenger of the Lord appeared ‘as’ or ‘in’ the flame of fire. Elsewhere in the Old Testament fire is used as a symbol of the divine presence. If the messenger of the Lord appeared ‘as’ a flame the emphasis would be on the divine presence, and if the Lord’s messenger appeared ‘in’ a flame the stress would be on the divine presence in the midst of the slaves’ affliction in Egypt.    

Moses turns towards the bush, not as a religious impulse, but out of curiosity. It is Moses's curiosity that leads to his commission (eventually). This is another indication that Moses wasn't aware of his location near God's mountain. When he approaches the bush he is told to remove his sandals for he is on holy ground.

Holiness of God is of such a character that it invites rather than repels or compels a human response.  Instead it invites Moses into a genuine relationship.    

God's introduction to Moses is particular. God is the God of his (Moses's) father. Later this will be expanded to the entirety of the people or nation (vs 15). 

God has heard the cries of the slaves in Egypt, even though their cries aren't specifically to God (2.23), but God has heard them nevertheless. Furthermore they are identified as God's people. 

Here at least, the reason for bringing them up from Egypt is to bring the people into the promised land; a land flowing with milk and honey. This text dates from the time of the exile, so the remnants of Judah find themselves in a foreign land, unable to return to their homeland. Using the traditional elements of a pre-exilic story, the authors of Exodus craft a story meant to provide hope, promise, and encouragement for the exilic community. The unfulfilled promise to the ancestors gives this passage a future orientation.  God is obligated to act out of faithfulness to the oath made to those ancestors.  

Only three of the six groups said to inhabit the promise land can be identified, the Hivites, Canaanites, and Amorites.  The Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites are unknown people and/or nations.  

God’s response to Moses’s additional questions takes Moses seriously.  Moses isn’t just a pawn to the divine will.  God doesn’t want a self-effacing Moses, but wants Moses to be who he is.  As Jewish scholar Moshe Greenburg says: “Those who are brought close to God retain their integrity even in moments of closest contact.  They are not merely passive recipients, but active, there is a genuine give and take.  The human partner has a say in shaping the direction and outcome of events.” God tells Moses to go, but Moses isn't going to make it that easy. He had a few questions first. God respects Moses's agency, and God's plan is changed by Moses, when Aaron is included.


God’s response to Moses about God's name focuses on the verbal character of God’s name.  The character of God’s name places the focus on God’s action for Israel, instead of on God’s being or essence.