Alan H. Linton, Bristol, England
(All quotations are from the New King James Version)
The divine visitation to Moses, described in Exodus 3, ranks among the greatest of the theophanies of Scripture. Moses' life may be considered in three parts, each of 40 years. As a prince in the Egyptian palace; as a shepherd in the desert of Midian; and as leader and law giver of the Israelites throughout their wilderness journey, until they reached the border of the promised land. The theophany occurred at the end of the second forty years, prior to his being sent to carry through God's deliverance of Israel from their slavery. At that time Moses was engaged in his daily task of shepherding the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, which led him to Horeb, the 'Mountain of God'. Unknown to him, that day would be the most important in his life - he was to experience a life-changing encounter with the living God. God called him from obscurity and a lost vision, and set his feet on the path which would culminate in Israel's redemption from Egypt, and their journey to the land promised to their fathers. Such is the historic setting of this unique theophany; we will consider the event under three headings.
1. The Revelation of the Living God
Whilst shepherding the flock in the region of Mount Horeb, Moses' attention was arrested by a common thorn bush of the desert enveloped in flame, a frequent sight in the extreme heat of the desert. Yet it was unique in that the bush was not burnt up. Moses turned aside 'to see this strange sight, why the bush is not consumed'. He was to discover that the bush was aglow with the inextinguishable flame of God's presence, Deut. 33. 16. Throughout Scripture, fire is frequently a symbol of God's Person and presence, Exod. 13. 21; Lev. 9. 24; Num. 16. 35; 2 Chron. 7. 1; Psa. 97. 3; Heb. 12. 29; Rev. 1. 14; 19. 12. Moses was completely amazed when the awesome voice of God came from the midst of the flame, calling him twice by name, then forbidding him to come closer. This was followed by a clear identification of the speaker, 'I am the God of your fathers - the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob', Exod. 3. 6. In fear and awe Moses 'hid his face for he was afraid to look at God', Exod. 3. 6. The Lord then informed Moses that the suffering of His people in Egypt was very much on His agenda, 'I have surely seen the oppression of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for ! know their sorrows. So I have come down to deliver them', Exod. 3. 7, 8. Israel's covenant God was about to act.
2. The Restoration of a Lost Vision
The self-revelation of God is immediately followed by a divine commission, 'Come now . . . I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people . . . out of Egypt', Exod. 3. 10. There was no contradiction between God's announced intention to carry out His work in Person, and His sending Moses to do it for Him. God normally works through willing, obedient servants, thereby accomplishing His will. So it was with Moses, but before this was possible Moses must be brought into the way of obedience. At first, being already divinely prepared, he was reluctant and reticent - he had been 'content to dwell with (Jethro)', Exod. 2. 21. Here was a man with a lost vision. So often God has to grant His servants a renewed vision of His task for them. Many words, e.g. restore, revive, renew, recall, each with the Latin prefix 're1 meaning 'do it again', are used in God's dealings with His people, such as, 'I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten', Joel 2. 25. Moses, the reluctant servant, must be 'recalled to service1 after 40 years in the desert since his abortive attempt to deliver his enslaved brethren, Acts 7. 25. How was this to be done?
3. The Reassurance of a Divine Presence
To counter Moses' reticence, the Lord used a number of means including the miraculous transformation of Moses' humble staff, and the creation and healing of leprosy in his hand. By far the most significant of these was the assurance of His Presence and the revelation of His Personal Name.
a. His Presence
'I will certainly be with you', Exod. 3. 12. Later, during the wilderness journey, Moses was to experience God's continuing presence in a very personal way, 'My Presence will go with you', Exod. 33. 14. That same promise is also true for us, 'Lo, I am with you always', Matt. 28. 20, and, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you', Heb. 13. 5. It has been the mainstay of so many faithful servants down the centuries, enabling them to do great exploits for God.
b. His Name
The theophany was also the occasion of a disclosure of His Personal Name - the Lord (Jehovah or Yahweh). God had been known by this Name throughout the Book of Genesis (102 times) - what then was new? A paraphrase of Exodus 6. 2-3 may clarify this, 'I am the Lord (lehovah). And I showed myself to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob in the character of God Almighty (El Shaddai) but in the character expressed in my Name the Lord (Jehovah) I did not make myself known to them', (after Motyer, 1959).1 Whilst the Name was known, its meaning was only now to be revealed in the experience of Israel's deliverance from Egypt.
Moses anticipated that the Israelites would want to know the Name of the God who had sent him. 'What is His Name? What shall I say to them?' To which God replied, 'I AM THAT I AM . . . say, I AM has sent me to you'; and later added, 'This is my Name for ever, v. 15. The words of the Name are the present tense of the verb to be. The Name, therefore, declares that God is always in the eternal present - the unchanging One; changeless in power, in purity and purpose. The same truth is ascribed to our Lord, the eternal Son, 'Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever', Heb. 13. 8, thereby confirming His Oneness with His Father.
For Moses and Israel the practical meaning of the Name was to be seen in the context of their history. First, God linked Himself with the past - 'I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, and Isaac and Jacob', Exod. 3. 6; that is, He is the God of Covenant, thereby announcing that He would keep every word of that covenant - 'I will be what 1 promised to be'. But there is also something new; God linked His Name with the present. When Moses reached Egypt God spoke again, Exod. 6. 6-8. He declared what he would do for Israel; nine times He stated, 'I will', and these nine statements of intent are encircled, before and after, by the declaration of His name, '1 am the LORD'. Included in these statements is the great promise, 'I will redeem you'. God's Personal Name is therefore essentially linked with redemption, and the nation would experience this as they sheltered under the blood of the Passover lamb. God's ineffable Name, as Jehovah has been called, assured Moses that He would be all He promised to be, both to His servant as he faced Pharaoh and to His people at that crucial moment in their history. And, 'God is just the same today'.
1 Motyer, J.A. (1959), 'The Revelation of the Divine Name', p. 31. The Tyndale Press, tondon.