Exodus: God’s Revelation To reveMoses

Moses on Mount Sinai
by Jean-Léon Gérôme. (1824–1904)
Wikimedia Commons

After Moses had lived many years in Midian, where he worked as a shepherd for Jethro, the priest of Midian, Moses came to Mount Horeb where he had an encounter that changed his life. On Horeb, the mountain of God, Moses met the God of his fathers. The revelation of God was designed to commission Moses to return to Egypt and deliver Israel from their oppressors.

God’s revelation to Moses is narrated in Exodus 3:4–9: “When the LORD saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ Then he said, ‘Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’ He said further, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. Then the LORD said, ‘I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them.”

From the burning bush, God spoke to Moses, capturing Moses’ attention with his voice. From the midst of the fire in the bush God called Moses to draw near, “When the LORD saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses” (Exodus 3:4). Twice God called the name of Moses. The double use of the name represents urgency and emphasis, as when God called Abraham (Genesis 26:1), Jacob (Genesis 46:2), and Samuel (1 Samuel 3:10). Moses heard the voice of someone who was calling him. Moses understood that the one who was calling him also knew him.

The vocation of every Christian is similar to the vocation of Moses. God does not use a burning bush every time he calls a person to service. God is still calling people to a ministerial vocation, but he uses many different ways to reveal his purpose and his will.

Today when God calls people to serve him, God uses dreams, sermons, individuals, and many other ways to reveal his will to them. God also speaks through the reading of his inspired word, but the greatest revelation of God is Jesus Christ and in Christ we are all called to salvation, and we are all called to service. God “has given us the ministry of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18).

The pastoral ministry is limited to a group of people whom God calls to be pastors, but the Christian ministry of serving others belongs to each person who accepts Christ as savior.

When God calls, the obedient believer answers, “Here I am.” This must be the response of each person confronted with God’s call. When God called Isaiah, he replied: “here I am, send me” (Isaiah 6: 8).

When God called Samuel, his response was: “Speak, for your servant hears” (1 Samuel 3:10). When God calls a person to serve him, any response less than “Here I am,” is disobedience and rebellion against God’s word. When God calls, there is only one response: “Here I am.”

When Moses prepared to approach God in obedience to the divine voice, God commanded Moses to remove his shoes in demonstration of his reverence in the presence of the divine. God’s words to Moses are an indication that no one should approach the holy God without an act of humility and reverence. For the ancient Hebrews, holiness meant purity and separation. The place where Moses stood was holy because the presence of the holy God consecrated the place where he was. Moses’ shoes were unclean because he had been in contact with the unclean.

The Bible declares that sin separates people from God because it makes them unclean. Because God is holy, no one can enter God’s presence without purification. When Isaiah had his encounter with God, he said, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5). One of the seraphim took coal from the altar, touched Isaiah’s lips with it and said to him, “See, this coal has touched your lips. Now your guilt is removed, and your sins are forgiven” (Isaiah 6:7 NLT).

The Bible also declares that the blood of Christ purifies us from all our sins (1 John 1:7). For this reason, Christians are invited to approach the throne of grace with all confidence because through Christ they have free access to the throne of God where they find mercy (Hebrews 4:16).

When people are in the presence of God, they feel a sense of restlessness. They have a sense of their sinful situation, of their unworthiness, of their smallness before the divine mystery. But God’s invitation, his call to come into his presence, is a demonstration of his grace, an evidence of his mercy, a proof of his love.

It is in this ineffable encounter with God, in the presence of this marvelous event, that people recognize their human limitations and God’s creative potential.

In his revelation to Moses, God identified himself as the God of the fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. This identification of God as the God of the fathers was of the utmost importance to Moses and to the people of Israel. God was the God of the patriarchs, the same God who had made a promise to Abraham and his descendants to give them the land of Canaan as an everlasting inheritance.

This God of the fathers, the God of the patriarchs and the matriarchs of Israel, was the same God who had walked with them and had manifested himself in a personal way to them. With this special revelation of God to Moses, the past and the present met on Mount Horeb.

Moses feared being in the presence of God. For the first time he acknowledged that the one who spoke to him was the God of his ancestors. Moses covered his face because he was afraid to look at God. The people of Israel believed that no one could see God and live (Exodus 33:20).

To be in the presence of God was to be in danger of death. This reverence and fear of God is almost nonexistent in most places of worship today. When the people of Israel came into the presence of God, they came in humility and in reverence because they knew that they were in the presence of the divine. Today, in many churches, the worship service lacks reverence and humility. We need to learn from the experience of Moses that to be in the presence of a holy God is an awesome experience.

The reason for the urgency of Moses’ call and God’s revelation was that God was aware of the misery of his people in Egypt. God heard the anguished cry of the people, pleading for help because of the oppression of the Egyptian overseers. God, through Moses, wanted to enter into the painful history of his people to save them from their Egyptian oppression.

Israel is God’s people, his special treasure (Exodus 19:5). For this reason God had seen the affliction of his people, he had heard the cry of the people Israel in their oppression, he knew the anguish of the descendants of Abraham. God, as a careful observer, knew the suffering of his people and he was not indifferent to their needs. The fact that God knew the needs of his people should be an encouragement to many people who are suffering. God knows all things and he is aware of the situation of each individual because they were created in his image.

“ I have come down to deliver them” (Exodus 3:8). God descended from his holy place to save Israel. The word “come down” reflects the Hebrew mentality that believed that God lived in the heavens. When God comes down from the heights he comes to act mightily (Genesis 11:5).

God had come down to raise up Moses as his instrument of deliverance and to redeem Israel from the oppressive hands of Pharaoh. This is the theme of Exodus: with a strong and mighty hand God has come to deliver his people from oppression. Furthermore, God comes to fulfill his promise to Abraham to give his offspring the land in which Abraham dwelt as a pilgrim.

The land God had promised to Abraham was a good and wide land flowing with milk and honey. The expression “milk and honey” is used many times in the Old Testament (Exodus 33:3; Numbers 14:8; Deuteronomy 6:3; 11:9). The expression is a proverbial phrase that symbolizes the abundance and prosperity of the land of Canaan. Milk and honey were the favorite food of the Israelites.

The promised land was a small and barren land, rocky and mountainous, but compared to the oppression of Egypt, the land of Canaan was a paradise, where each person was free and owned a piece of land. For the Israelite who had been born a slave, Canaan was a country of freedom, where each individual could enjoy the fruit of the land.

The land of Canaan gets its name from the people who lived there: the Canaanites. The enumeration of the Canaanite nations who lived in the promised land is evidence of the ethnic diversity of the population of Canaan. These nations were conquered by Joshua after their exodus from Egypt. During the time of David and Solomon, many of the original inhabitants of the land were incorporated into the nation of Israel.

The fact that the cry of pain of the people has reached the presence of God is repeated. The oppression of the people was the cause of this cry of anguish. Once again, we find that God cares about the oppressed and the disinherited of the earth. The oppression of Israel offers an opportunity for the fulfillment of the promise that God had made to the patriarchs. The liberation of Israel is going to be the mission of Moses. God wanted to provide his people with a country where they would be “free” and where they could freely serve their God.

For a comprehensive list of studies on the book of Exodus, read my post Introduction to the Book of Exodus.

Claude Mariottini
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

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