1* Meanwhile Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian. Leading the flock beyond the wilderness, he came to the mountain of God, Horeb.* 2There the angel of the LORD* appeared to him as fire flaming out of a bush.a When he looked, although the bush was on fire, it was not being consumed. 3So Moses decided, “I must turn aside to look at this remarkable sight. Why does the bush not burn up?” 4When the LORD saw that he had turned aside to look, God called out to him from the bush: Moses! Moses! He answered, “Here I am.” 5God said: Do not come near! Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.b 6I am the God of your father,* he continued, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.c Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
The Call and Commission of Moses. 7But the LORD said: I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry against their taskmasters, so I know well what they are suffering. 8Therefore I have come down* to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and lead them up from that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey, the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Hivites and the Jebusites.d 9Now indeed the outcry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen how the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10Now, go! I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.
11But Moses said to God, “Who am I* that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” 12God answered: I will be with you; and this will be your sign* that I have sent you. When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will serve God at this mountain. 13“But,” said Moses to God, “if I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what do I tell them?” 14God replied to Moses: I am who I am.* Then he added: This is what you will tell the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you.
15God spoke further to Moses: This is what you will say to the Israelites: The LORD, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.
This is my name forever;e
this is my title for all generations.
16Go and gather the elders of the Israelites, and tell them, The LORD, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, has appeared to me and said: I have observed you and what is being done to you in Egypt; 17so I have decided to lead you up out of your affliction in Egypt into the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Girgashites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey. 18They will listen to you. Then you and the elders of Israel will go to the king of Egypt and say to him:f The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has come to meet us. So now, let us go a three days’ journey in the wilderness to offer sacrifice to the LORD, our God. 19Yet I know that the king of Egypt will not allow you to go unless his hand is forced. 20So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wondrous deeds I will do in its midst. After that he will let you go. 21g I will even make the Egyptians so well-disposed toward this people that, when you go, you will not go empty-handed. 22Every woman will ask her neighbor and the resident alien in her house for silver and gold articles* and for clothing, and you will put them on your sons and daughters. So you will plunder the Egyptians.
* [3:1–4:17] After the introduction to the narrative in 2:23–25, the commissioning itself falls into three sections: God’s appearance under the aspect of a burning bush (3:1–6); the explicit commission (3:7–10); and an extended dialogue between Moses and God, in the course of which Moses receives the revelation of God’s personal name. Although in the J source of the Pentateuch people have known and invoked God’s personal name in worship since the time of Seth (Gn 4:26), for the E and P sources (see 6:2–4) God first makes this name publicly available here through Moses.
* [3:1] The mountain of God, Horeb: traditionally, “Horeb” is taken to be an alternate name in E source material and Deuteronomy (e.g., Dt 1:2) for what in J and P is known as Mount Sinai, the goal of the Israelites’ journey after leaving Egypt and the site of the covenant God makes with Israel. However, it is not clear that originally the two names reflect the same mountain, nor even that “Horeb” refers originally to a mountain and not simply the dry, ruined region (from Hebrew horeb, “dryness, devastation”) around the mountain. Additionally, the position of “Horeb” at the end of the verse may indicate that the identification of the “mountain of God” with Horeb (= Sinai?) represents a later stage in the evolution of the tradition about God’s meeting with Moses. The phrase “mountain of God” simply anticipates the divine apparitions which would take place there, both on this occasion and after the Israelites’ departure from Egypt; alternatively, it means that the place was already sacred or a place of pilgrimage in pre-Israelite times. In any case, the narrative offers no indications of its exact location.
* [3:2] The angel of the LORD: Hebrew mal’ak or “messenger” is regularly translated angelos by the Septuagint, from which the English word “angel” is derived, but the Hebrew term lacks connotations now popularly associated with “angel” (such as wings). Although angels frequently assume human form (cf. Gn 18–19), the term is also used to indicate the visual form under which God occasionally appeared and spoke to people, referred to indifferently in some Old Testament texts either as God’s “angel,” mal’ak, or as God. Cf. Gn 16:7, 13; Ex 14:19, 24–25; Nm 22:22–35; Jgs 6:11–18. The bush: Hebrew seneh, perhaps “thorny bush,” occurring only here in vv. 2–4 and in Dt 33:16. Its use here is most likely a wordplay on Sinai (Hebrew sinay), implying a popular etymology for the name of the sacred mountain.
* [3:6] God of your father: a frequently used epithet in Genesis (along with the variants “my father” and “your father”) for God as worshiped by the ancestors. As is known from its usage outside of the Bible in the ancient Near East, it suggests a close, personal relationship between the individual and the particular god in question, who is both a patron and a protector, a god traditionally revered by the individual’s family and whose worship is passed down from father to son. The God of Abraham…Jacob: this precise phrase (only here and in v. 15; 4:5) stresses the continuity between the new revelation to Moses and the earlier religious experience of Israel’s ancestors, identifying the God who is now addressing Moses with the God who promised land and numerous posterity to the ancestors. Cf. Mt 22:32; Mk 12:26; Lk 20:37. Afraid to look at God: the traditions about Moses are not uniform in regard to his beholding or not being able to look at God (cf. 24:11; 33:11, 18–23; 34:29–35). Here Moses’ reaction is the natural and spontaneous gesture of a person suddenly confronted with a direct experience of God. Aware of his human frailty and the gulf that separates him from the God who is holy, he hides his face. To encounter the divine was to come before an awesome and mysterious power unlike any other a human being might experience and, as such, potentially threatening to one’s very identity or existence (see Gn 32:30).
* [3:8] I have come down: cf. Gn 11:5, 7; 18:21. Flowing with milk and honey: an expression denoting agricultural prosperity, which seems to have been proverbial in its application to the land of Canaan. Cf. Ex 13:5; Nm 13:27; Jos 5:6; Jer 11:5; 32:22; Ez 20:6, 15.
* [3:11] Who am I: this question is always addressed by an inferior to a superior (to the ruler in 1 Sm 18:18; to God in 2 Sm 7:18 and its parallel, 1 Chr 17:16; 1 Chr 29:14; 2 Chr 2:5). In response to some special opportunity or invitation, the question expresses in a style typical of the ancient Near East the speaker’s humility or gratitude or need of further assistance, but never unwillingness or an outright refusal to respond. Instead the question sets the stage for further support from the superior should that be needed (as here).
* [3:12] Sign: a visible display of the power of God. The ancient notion of a sign from God does not coincide with the modern understanding of “miracle,” which suggests some disruption in the laws governing nature. While most any phenomenon can become a vehicle for displaying the purposes and providence of God, here the sign intended to confirm Moses’ commission by God seems to be the burning bush itself. Since normally the giving of such a sign would follow the commission rather than precede it (see Jgs 6:11–24), some see Israel’s service of God at Sinai after the exodus from Egypt as the confirmatory sign, albeit retroactively. It is more likely, however, that its mention here is intended to establish the present episode with Moses alone as a prefigurement of God’s fiery theophany to all Israel on Mount Sinai. Serve God: Hebrew ‘-b-d, “serve,” includes among its meanings both the notion of “serving or working for another” and the notion of “worship.” The implication here is that the Israelites’ service/worship of God is incompatible with their service to Pharaoh.
* [3:14] I am who I am: Moses asks in v. 13 for the name of the One speaking to him, but God responds with a wordplay which preserves the utterly mysterious character of the divine being even as it appears to suggest something of the inner meaning of God’s name: ‘ehyeh “I am” or “I will be(come)” for “Yhwh,” the personal name of the God of Israel. While the phrase “I am who I am” resists unraveling, it nevertheless suggests an etymological linking between the name “Yhwh” and an earlier form of the Hebrew verbal root h-y-h “to be.” On that basis many have interpreted the name “Yhwh” as a third-person form of the verb meaning “He causes to be, creates,” itself perhaps a shortened form of a longer liturgical name such as “(God who) creates (the heavenly armies).” Note in this connection the invocation of Israel’s God as “LORD (Yhwh) of Hosts” (e.g., 1 Sm 17:45). In any case, out of reverence for God’s proper name, the term Adonai, “my Lord,” was later used as a substitute. The word LORD (in small capital letters) indicates that the Hebrew text has the sacred name (Yhwh), the tetragrammaton. The word “Jehovah” arose from a false reading of this name as it is written in the current Hebrew text. The Septuagint has egō eimi ho ōn, “I am the One who is” (ōn being the participle of the verb “to be”). This can be taken as an assertion of God’s aseity or self-existence, and has been understood as such by the Church, since the time of the Fathers, as a true expression of God’s being, even though it is not precisely the meaning of the Hebrew.
* [3:22] Articles: probably jewelry.
c. [3:6] Ex 4:5; Mt 22:32; Mk 12:26; Lk 20:37.