Bible Commentary: Exodus 3-4

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Exodus 3-4

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God Speaks to Moses From the Burning Bush

The time has come for God to deliver the Israelites in accordance with the prophecy given to Abraham in Genesis 15. The Almighty calls Moses from tending the flock, confronting him in a miraculous sight—a bush that, while burning with fire, was not consumed. God stated the fact that He was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to whom the covenant promises were given. And it was now time to fulfill part of that covenant by bringing the Israelites out of captivity and into the land He had promised to their descendants.

Sometimes we must be patient with the trials that beset us. God's promises are always certain. At times, however, it feels like an eternity when we are beset with trials. Yet when God does step in, His intervention is quick! "And shall not God avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:7-8).

Just as God prepared Moses for what was going to be taking place, including the very outcome, He prepares His people today for events that will take place in the future.

Continuing in chapter 4, since God knows how the human mind reasons, He prepared for Moses to have authoritative credibility through certain miracles—not for Moses to be ultimately regarded but, rather, that God would be the One looked to, and Moses simply as His truly commissioned servant. You can be certain that God knows exactly how to get someone's attention. The three miracles that God had Moses perform would be a great witness to the Egyptians—and to the Israelites, who were by now quite influenced by Egyptian religion. The snake was one of the gods of Egypt. Leprosy was an incurable disease that would have any physician of the time believing in a "god" had there been a cure. Last, but not least, the Nile was also worshiped, and defiling its waters with blood would draw the attention of everyone!

But we also can begin to see the meek, self-effacing character of Moses being revealed in this chapter. The deep humility of Moses (Numbers 12:3) was surely primarily the result of his closeness to God, but it is apparent that it was also rooted in his natural personality. Even though by this time Moses, as Stephen later preached, was "mighty in words and deeds," it seems he lacked self-confidence. It's not unusual for talented and successful people to lack confidence. In this case, this weakness was turned into a strength, because self-confidence was soon replaced by great confidence in and reliance on God. However, at this point, Moses was focusing on his own perceived lack of ability, and tried to wiggle out of this overwhelming assignment.

Perhaps he was simply so in awe of God that he thought himself incapable of representing Him. Yet in consideration of God's power and who God was, Moses should not have been so presumptuous to think that God was making a mistake in choosing him—and that God couldn't utilize him as required. Although God understood Moses' personality, Moses was trying His patience by not focusing on all of the miracles and backing that God had given to Moses. And, as He was quick to point out, He was the Creator God—the very designer and maker of the human mouth. Yet, God is so merciful and understanding. Though angry with Moses for what appears to have been a lack of faith, God still gave him the assistance of his older brother Aaron. Of course, God had probably already intended some involvement by Aaron, who was to serve as Israel's high priest. But it appears that before long, Moses was talking directly with Pharaoh, rather than through Aaron (see Exodus 8:9, 26, 29).

When we come to Exodus 4:24, it is shocking to read that God sought to kill Moses! Why? Notice the account in chapter 4 of the confrontation between Moses and his wife. Part of God's covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was the acknowledgment of that covenant through the act of circumcision. Whoever was not circumcised among the males of God's people would be "cut off," or destroyed, from among them. When we review to whom the covenant promises were made, we can see that they did not extend through the lineage born to Abraham and Keturah. The Midianites were the descendants of Abraham and Keturah through Midian. And while Midian himself may have been circumcised, as Ishmael was, it is apparent that after the children of Keturah were sent away (Genesis 25:5), they did not continue the practice of circumcising their children. Rather, "the Midianites practiced circumcision on a groom right before his marriage instead of circumcising male infants.... Many of Israel's neighboring peoples practiced circumcision, but none except Israel circumcised infants" (Nelson Study Bible, note on verse 24).

Now let's put together verses 24 through 26. It is apparent that God was holding Moses responsible for circumcising his son, but Moses had delegated that to his wife, Zipporah, who was objecting to doing it. She finally did it, but with reluctance and resentment, calling Moses a "bloody man." We might wonder why only one son was at issue when Moses had two sons (verse 20; 18:4). One suggestion is that, "most likely, Moses had kept one of his sons uncircumcised, despite what God had commanded" (same note). Perhaps Zipporah was so upset by the circumcision of one son that she demanded her next son not be circumcised. In any event, Moses was not following God's instructions. And this involved the very sign of the covenant people—being violated by the one who was to be the national leader. Moses' disobedience in light of these factors made it a capital offense. So we find this brief insert—the recording of an incident that, no doubt, had a great impact on Moses.

Supplementary Reading: "Moses: Leader of a Nation",  The Good News, March—April 1997, pp. 25-28.

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