Exodus 3

Moses, attracted to the ‘Burning Bush’ had just heard God speaking to him – finishing with:

9 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.’

What a shock: to be told that it is up to you to confront Pharaoh and demand that he let you take his entire slave labour force away.


11 But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’

We are told in Luke 7:23 and 30 that Moses was 40 when he fled to Midian, and another forty years had passed before this incident. Moses was now 80! (See also Exodus 7:7)

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.’

God is prepared to give Moses a sign, but only after he has, by faith, brought the Israelites out!

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.”’

Is God making a play on the words in Moses Question? (Who am I?)

Or is God actually rebuking Moses? – ‘don’t ask who you are, you won’t actually be the one bringing the people out, I am (More correctly, in Hebrew: ‘I will be’. It is worth noting here that the name ‘Yahweh’ YHWH means ‘He is’ or ‘He will be’. In the NIV YHWH is translated as LORD. The word ‘Jehovah’ comes from ‘Yahweh’ there were no vowels in the original, so some have been added!)

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 for ever, 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.

First Moses has to go to the Elders of Israel and tell them what God said. More than that, (v17) what God has promised. But to encourage Moses, God also tells him that he will be believed. As a result, the Elders will accompany Moses in the deputation to Pharaoh.

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.” 

Was God being deceitful suggesting that Moses should tell Pharaoh that the Israelites simply want to go ‘into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the Lord our God’?

God would be testing Pharaoh’s heart. The request was no threat to him, the Israelites would return after making their sacrifices.

Why a three day journey?

It would be perfectly reasonable for them to want to go three day’s journey into the wilderness in order to put a sufficient distance between their activities and the influence of the Egyptian’s gods who might be offended.

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.

God also tells Moses that this simple request will be refused. He also tells him that he will then work sufficient miracles that eventually he will let them go – for good.

21 ‘And I will make the Egyptians favourably disposed towards this people, so that when you leave you will not go empty-handed. 22 Every woman is to ask her neighbour 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.’

Not only will Pharaoh let them go willingly, but God will influence the Egyptian neighbours to make them react generously to their requests for clothes and valuables.  

Exodus 4

1 Moses answered, ‘What if they do not believe me or listen to me and say, “The Lord did not appear to you”?’

God had been very specific: 3:18 ‘The elders of Israel will listen to you’.

But at the same time God knows our weaknesses so was not surprised when Moses suggested that they wouldn’t.

2 Then the Lord said to him, ‘What is that in your hand?’

‘A staff,’ he replied.

3 The Lord said, ‘Throw it on the ground.’

Moses threw it on the ground and it became a snake, and he ran from it.

Why did he run? (This was an actual dangerous snake and it was a natural response. But I put the question in just to reinforce our understanding of Moses’ feelings – this was all very real.)

4 Then the Lord said to him, ‘Reach out your hand and take it by the tail.’ So Moses reached out and took hold of the snake and it turned back into a staff in his hand. 5 ‘This,’ said the Lord, ‘is so that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their fathers – the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob – has appeared to you.’

That should be startling enough proof that Moses had been given some supernatural powers – and authority.

6 Then the Lord said, ‘Put your hand inside your cloak.’ So Moses put his hand into his cloak, and when he took it out, the skin was leprous – it had become as white as snow.

7 ‘Now put it back into your cloak,’ he said. So Moses put his hand back into his cloak, and when he took it out, it was restored, like the rest of his flesh.

8 Then the Lord said, ‘If they do not believe you or pay attention to the first sign, they may believe the second. 

God, who created us, knows us only too well. The Elders of Israel would take some convincing!

9 But if they do not believe these two signs or listen to you, take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground. The water you take from the river will become blood on the ground.’

Failing that, God was even prepared to give Moses a third miraculous sign. Moses was convinced: he really had been chosen and commissioned by God to save his people. The Lord, the God of their fathers – the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob – has appeared to him. (v5)

But the prospect alarmed him.

10 Moses said to the Lord, ‘Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.’

Oh really? Many commentators have assumed that he must have had a speech impediment of some kind. (Also Exodus 6:30 where this passage is recalled) But what do you make of the passage in Acts 7:22 where we are told that Moses was ‘powerful in speech’?

When was that? Was it after he had led the people out and he communed with God up the mountain, or was it before he had even left Pharaoh’s court, while he was being trained? (You’ll probably need to look at the whole passage – Acts 7:20-24)

11 The Lord said to him, ‘Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord? 12 Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.’

What an encouragement – the Lord God himself will go with him, help him speak, and teach him exactly what to say. How exciting!

13 But Moses said, ‘Pardon your servant, Lord. Please send someone else.’

Would we respond like Moses? Why?

14 Then the Lord’s anger burned against Moses and he said, ‘What about your brother, Aaron the Levite? I know he can speak well. He is already on his way to meet you, and he will be glad to see you. 

Not surprisingly, the Lord is angry with Moses. But Moses is his chosen man, and he can’t escape. With amazing kindness he suggests that Aaron, Moses’ older brother can go with him.

Do you find the next phrase interesting: ‘He is already on his way to meet you’?

(A slave could not easily go on a journey – unless the Lord’s hand was in it of course! Interesting too, that Aaron should choose just now, after 40 years, to visit him  . . .)

15 You shall speak to him and put words in his mouth; I will help both of you speak and will teach you what to do. 16 He will speak to the people for you, and it will be as if he were your mouth and as if you were God to him. 17 But take this staff in your hand so that you can perform the signs with it.’

Moses made no answer – or it is not recorded. That was God’s last word and Moses had to be obedient.

18 Then Moses went back to Jethro his father-in-law and said to him, ‘Let me return to my own people in Egypt to see if any of them are still alive.’

Jethro said, ‘Go, and I wish you well.’

Moses couldn’t bring himself to tell Jethro ‘God has instructed me to bring the Israelites out of Egypt’! So he told a half-truth. Actually it was probably sensible, as word of his intentions might have travelled to Pharaoh quicker than he could.

19 Now the Lord had said to Moses in Midian, ‘Go back to Egypt, for all those who wanted to kill you are dead.’ 20 So Moses took his wife and sons, put them on a donkey and started back to Egypt. And he took the staff of God in his hand.

Moses himself was recording this narrative. He had remembered that for his encouragement the Lord had also told him that those who wanted him dead were themselves all dead now. So he took his family and set off. Then he remembered something else the Lord had told him too:

21 The Lord said to Moses, ‘When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go. 

I will harden his heart’ – a difficult concept – we will look at this when we look at the plagues.

22 Then say to Pharaoh, “This is what the Lord says: Israel is my firstborn son, 23 and I told you, ‘Let my son go, so that he may worship me.’ But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your firstborn son.”’

God knows exactly what is going to happen.

24 At a lodging place on the way, the Lord met Moses and was about to kill him. 

What’s that all about? There are many commentators with as many ideas!

(http://biblehub.com/commentaries/exodus/4-24.htm) is a good starting place.

The passage seems to suggest that it was because Moses had not circumcised his son (Genesis 17:9-14 (a passage also written by Moses! But a lot later.))

25 But Zipporah took a flint knife, cut off her son’s foreskin and touched Moses’ feet with it. ‘Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me,’ she said. 26 So the Lord let him alone. (At that time she said ‘bridegroom of blood’, referring to circumcision.)

No – I don’t understand either! The facts are that Moses had neglected to circumcise his son. His wife, a foreigner knew it had to be done, and has now done so. To add more confusion it is probable that ‘feet’ is a euphemism for Moses’ genitals. Perhaps ‘bridegroom of blood’ was a meaningful term at the time but we have lost its significance now.

What is more certain is that this took place during the Late Bronze Age – which meant that the sharpest knives were still made of flint. These would continue in use well into the Iron Age too as they had a superior cutting edge, which seldom needed resharpening.

27 The Lord said to Aaron, ‘Go into the wilderness to meet Moses.’ So he met Moses at the mountain of God and kissed him. 

Aaron was also given a challenge by God. Why was it a challenge?

1) Escape from the Slave Camp.

2) Set off vaguely south-east for 150 miles through a wilderness.

3) Find Moses.

Was God’s hand in that?!!

28 Then Moses told Aaron everything the Lord had sent him to say, and also about all the signs he had commanded him to perform.

29 Moses and Aaron brought together all the elders of the Israelites, 30 and Aaron told them everything the Lord had said to Moses. He also performed the signs before the people, 31 and they believed. And when they heard that the Lord was concerned about them and had seen their misery, they bowed down and worshipped.

Aaron would have been recognised as family head (as he was the elder son), and it was he who spoke to the other Elders. As God told Moses they would, ‘they believed’. So it was with the back-up of the Elders that they went to confront Pharaoh.


Exodus 2Exodus 5

Free small group Bible Study guides, commentary, lessons, questions and other material. For the PDF version click   HERE  

Exodus 3:11-22, 4:1-31 ‘I am’ Name of God, Three signs, Moses commissioned, Circumcision