Exodus 3-4: The Burning Bush

Exodus 3-4: The Burning Bush

Let’s read Exodus 3:1-10.

Exodus 3 (CSB)

1 Meanwhile, Moses was shepherding the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian. He led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.

2 Then the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire within a bush. As Moses looked, he saw that the bush was on fire but was not consumed.

3 So Moses thought, “I must go over and look at this remarkable sight. Why isn’t the bush burning up?”

4 When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called out to him from the bush, “Moses, Moses!” “Here I am,” he answered.

5 “Do not come closer,” he said. “Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”

6 Then he continued, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God.

7 Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people in Egypt, and have heard them crying out because of their oppressors. I know about their sufferings,

8 and I have come down to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and to bring them from that land to a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the territory of the Canaanites, Hethites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites.

9 So because the Israelites’ cry for help has come to me, and I have also seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them,

10 therefore, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh so that you may lead my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”

First, let’s review to get the background of our story.

The overarching message of Exodus is the establishment of the descendants of Abraham as the covenant people of God.  He is moving Israel from bad servitude to good servitude, from Pharaoh to the Lord, from one kingdom to another.

The story begins in chapter 1 of this people group called Israel is under cruel slavery under the hand of the Egyptian king.  The people are suffering terribly, but God has a plan. 

Chapter 2 from the past two weeks, we begin to see what that plan was:  God delivers the future deliverer, Moses, from death as an infant.  And he prepares Moses by adoption and maturing for 40 years as an Egyptian prince… and then by training him for 40 more years as a lowly shepherd in a distant land called Midian.  From the passage last week, we saw the beautiful, compassionate heart of God towards those suffering:  God heard.  God remembered.  God saw.  God knew. 

Now here today in chapters 3 & 4, God is going to call the deliverer to do this work.  Moses has no idea this is coming, but the Lord has been planning it for a long, long time.

So let’s comment on some details in vs. 1-10.

Vs. 4-6

Likely this is the first encounter Moses has ever had with God.  God says who he is:  He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Understandably, Moses is very afraid of this miraculous, supernatural moment.  Throughout Scriptures, when people encounter God in his glory and splendor, they are afraid.  God is so great and glorious and majestic and holy, that for us to encounter him in our sinful, frail, temporal bodies simply provokes fear.

Vs. 7-10

Now the Lord says why he is speaking to Moses.  He has a purpose.  He has seen the suffering of the people, and he is going to rescue them.  Here in vs. 7-10, the Lord says the same thing he said at the end of Chapter 2:   “I have observed their misery.  I have come down to rescue them to bring them to a good land.”

Vs. 11-17

The rest of the chapter and most of Chapter 4 continues this conversation between God and Moses, with God doing most of the speaking.

11 But Moses asked God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and that I should bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

12 He answered, “I will certainly be with you, and this will be the sign to you that I am the one who sent you: when you bring the people out of Egypt, you will all worship God at this mountain.”

13 Then Moses asked 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 should I tell them?”

14 God replied to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you.”

15 God also said to Moses, “Say this 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; this is how I am to be remembered in every generation.

16 “Go and assemble the elders of Israel and say to them: The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, has appeared to me and said: I have paid close attention to you and to what has been done to you in Egypt.

17 And I have promised you that I will bring you up from the misery of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, Hethites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites—a land flowing with milk and honey.

18 They will listen to what you say. Then you, along with the elders of Israel, must go to the king of Egypt and say to him: The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us. Now please let us go on a three-day trip into the wilderness so that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God.

19 “However, I know that the king of Egypt will not allow you to go, even under force from a strong hand.

20 But when I stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all my miracles that I will perform in it, after that, he will let you go.

21 And I will give these people such favor with the Egyptians that when you go, you will not go empty-handed.

22 Each woman will ask her neighbor and any woman staying in her house for silver and gold jewelry, and clothing, and you will put them on your sons and daughters. So you will plunder the Egyptians.”

Vs. 11-12

Moses has a question.  It’s difficult to know if it’s a sincere one.   Is Moses honestly and humbly saying, “Umm, I’m just a normal guy.  Who am I to do such an awesome task?”  Or, is Moses beginning to object to God’s call to do this work?  I believe it’s the latter.

But in either case, the Lord patiently and thoroughly answers him.

Vs. 12 is the best promise that any of us can ever hear from God:  “I will be with you.”  I have found over 50 passages in the Bible—usually at key moments in history like this one—where the Lord tells his people, “I am with you.”  It’s a life-changing assurance. 

Vs. 13

Moses asks another question.  “If I go to the people of Israel, and they ask your name, what should I say?” Again, it’s difficult to know if he simply wants clarification, or if he’s resisting, trying to find a way out of this.  Perhaps both. 

Vs. 14-15

The Lord tells Moses his name.  First, he says, “I AM WHO I AM.”  This is not his name, but is describing himself.  The name he actually gives is, “I AM.”  It’s from the verb that simply means, “to BE.”  To exist.   This may seem like an odd name.  “I AM.”  We want to answer back, “I AM what??”

There is a mystery here in many ways about the Lord’s name and what it means.

But I believe we can say this:  His name implies he is eternal and unchangeable. He always is.   He is self-existent.  God simply exists.  He is independent of all things and is self-sufficient.   He is the flame that never goes out.  His resources are inexhaustible.  His power has no limit.  He simply yet magnificently is, the Great I AM. 

So how can we grasp someone who is Infinite and Self-Existent??  It’s like trying to grasp the physical limitlessness of the universe.  How can we know this infinite, self-existent God?  How do we know Him who always has been and always will be?  So here in this scene, God is introducing himself to this former Egyptian prince, now lowly shepherd.  And God is calling him to trust and obey to take on this monumental task of deliverance. 

Vs. 16-22

The Lord tells Moses that he is going to deliver Israel out of their oppression and take them to the land he promised centuries before to Abraham.  And he says, “Pharaoh will resist me.  But I will win over him.  Believe and do not doubt.”

Chapter 4

But Moses continues to argue and to doubt.

1  Moses answered, “What if they won’t believe me and will not obey me but say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you’?”

Perhaps surprising to us, the Lord is patient, and he shows Moses something supernatural.  A sign that reveals his great power over Creation.

2 The Lord asked him, “What is that in your hand?” “A staff,” he replied.

3 “Throw it on the ground,” he said. So Moses threw it on the ground, it became a snake, and he ran from it.

4 The Lord told Moses, “Stretch out your hand and grab it by the tail.” So he stretched out his hand and caught it, and it became a staff in his hand.

5 “This will take place,” he continued, “so that they will believe that the Lord, the God of their ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.”

Moses is like the majority of us:  He doesn’t like snakes.  But the point is profound:  This God speaking from the burning bush, the God whose name is “I AM,” can change a wooden staff into a snake, and then back again.  If that isn’t persuasive to trust God, I don’t know what will be.  Yet the Lord gives Moses two more signs. 

But now let’s read a little more, and we’ll see additional serious conversation between Moses and the Lord.

10 But Moses replied to the Lord, “Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent—either in the past or recently or since you have been speaking to your servant—because my mouth and my tongue are sluggish.”

11 The Lord said to him, “Who placed a mouth on humans? Who makes a person mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord?

12 Now go! I will help you speak and I will teach you what to say.”

13 Moses said, “Please, Lord, send someone else.”

14 Then the Lord’s anger burned against Moses, and he said, “Isn’t Aaron the Levite your brother? I know that he can speak well. And also, he is on his way now to meet you. He will rejoice when he sees you.

15 You will speak with him and tell him what to say. I will help both you and him to speak and will teach you both what to do.

16 He will speak to the people for you. He will serve as a mouth for you, and you will serve as God to him.

17 And take this staff in your hand that you will perform the signs with.”

So Moses is now getting more desperate.  If his earlier questions were sincere and understandable, now he’s clearly crossing the line into unbelief and disobedience.  In vs. 10, he offers up his excuse:  “Umm, Lord, I’m not a good speaker.”  The problem is, the Lord is not combing the land for volunteers.  He’s not posting the job on ZipRecruiter and LinkedIn, looking for the most qualified.  He simply has picked Moses for this task.

Then in vs. 13, Moses has run out of veiled excuses, and he exclaims:  “Send someone else!  I can’t do this.  I don’t want to do this!”

I don’t know about you all, but I can sympathize with Moses.  I would not be excited at all to go face the most powerful ruler on the planet….To tell Pharaoh, “Hey, all this free labor you’ve been getting for a few centuries through our slavery….well, all that’s ending.”

This scenario seems comparable to asking me to go to Moscow, Russia, and telling President Putin to get out of Ukraine, or else  If I do that, I’m sure Putin would put me in a Russian Gulag in Siberia.

So Moses’ doubting and resistance to God’s calling seems reasonable to me, in a way.

But when Moses and we think that way, what is the most important factor that we are leaving out of the equation??  That factor?  The Lord himself.  The Great I Am.  The Self-Existent One.  The God who always has been and always will be.  The Creator.  The Judge of all the earth.  He makes all the difference in the world.  If he says he’s going to do something, he will.  If he says he will empower an ordinary shepherd to do something extraordinary, he most certainly will.

But when we, with our human eyesight and vivid imagination cannot possibly see how it’s possible to accomplish this job of delivering a small nation, isn’t that our core problem?    We are looking only with human eyes.  We are neglecting faith-filled eyes.  We are walking by sight, not by faith. 

If Moses’ doubting seems reasonable, faith in this Eternal, Powerful God is more reasonable. 

So the Lord’s patience ends, and he gets stern with Moses:  “Enough with your excuses!  I am the Lord.  My power and my grace are enough.  It’s time to trust me and obey.”

In the end—to Moses’ credit—he humbles himself and obeys.  His faith—his trust in the Lord—is small, but it’s there.  He obeys and goes back to Egypt.

Let’s pick up the story now in vs. 27.

27 Now the Lord had said to Aaron, “Go and meet Moses in the wilderness.” So he went and met him at the mountain of God and kissed him.

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

29 Then Moses and Aaron went and assembled all the elders of the Israelites.

30 Aaron repeated everything the Lord had said to Moses and performed the signs before the people.

31 The people believed, and when they heard that the Lord had paid attention to them and that he had seen their misery, they knelt low and worshiped.

And the elders’ response is beautiful:  Vs. 31—They believed.  They rejoiced that God had heard their desperate prayers for help.  And they bowed down and worshiped.

What a glorious day for the people of Israel.  It is a day to remember.   Redemption is at hand.  Freedom is near.  Suffering is almost over.  And from here forth, we see little doubt in Moses’ heart.  His faith in the Lord grows and is strengthened, even though it’s severely tested through some very hard trials. 

What’s Next

So what happens next?  We will read over the next four weeks of how this all plays out.  Things for Israel will actually get worse before they get better.  Their faith will waver.  But in one of the greatest displays of the power and glory of God in history—surpassed only by the death and resurrection of Jesus—the Lord redeems the people of his promise.  That is what is to come.


So we have read this supernatural encounter with God.  What is a lesson we can take from it??

Here’s our lesson:  Faith in the Great I Am, the Eternal, Self-Existent, all-powerful God is the most reasonable response we can ever have in life.  Therefore, in order to trust him more—and trust simply means “faith”…the words are synonymous— we must seek him in order to know him better.

Here’s why we must know him better:  We will trust someone only to the extent that we really know them.  And know that they are trustworthy.  Here’s what I mean.  My parenting days are long over.  But when my four daughters were young, my wife and I would never have entrusted their care to someone we didn’t know.  We would never simply encounter a stranger on the street and say, “Hey, will you spend the next two hours caring for the people most precious to us?”  The point is, we won’t trust someone we don’t know.

Our faith in God is entirely dependent upon our knowledge of him.  So we need to ensure the course of our lives is on a quest:  A quest to know our God better.

We don’t know how much Moses really knew about the God of Abraham before he encountered God on that day.  But God revealed himself quite convincingly.  A burning bush.  The voice of God.  A staff turning into a snake.  A clean hand becoming diseased.  The compassion of God revealed. 

In spite of what seem like reasonable doubts on Moses’ part, in the end, faith in God was more reasonable.

Like Moses, we will be confronted with the will of God in our lives.  And we will respond in faith to the degree we know the Lord.  And when I say, “Know the Lord,” I don’t mean mere head knowledge.  “Sure, I know God is powerful and good.”  We must have that head knowledge, but it must go deeper into our hearts.

So how do we become acquainted with him?

We seek him in prayer.  We talk to him.   The Greater One has to reveal himself to the lesser ones. 

We read the Scriptures.  God reveals himself right here in this book.  In this passage we just read.  On almost every other page.  We want to move past simply knowing what God did—e.g., some cool miracles—into WHY.  Why did he do what he did? 

We worship in music.  Music has a way at times of penetrating into our souls when words alone don’t. 

I could summarize all such things by simply saying, “We will know the Lord better by practicing the spiritual disciplines.”  We will grow in the knowledge of God by positioning ourselves in front of him.  And the way we position ourselves is through the spiritual disciplines.

In short, the key is to hunger to know God.  Hunger to know his power.  His patience.  His wisdom.  His authority.  His devotion to us. 

And finally, the ultimate way…and really the only way…to truly know God is to know his Son.

Jesus Christ is a Deliverer like Moses, only infinitely greater.  Like Israel, we are trapped in bondage, but not to a nation.  Rather, we are in bondage to sin and death and God’s judgment.  Like Israel, we need deliverance.  And in Exodus 2, God heard, God remembered, God saw, God knew.  Like God had compassion on Israel, he had compassion on us to send Jesus. 

So he sent his Son from the glory in heaven to the darkness of this earth.  The Son of God died shamefully in our place.  And then he rose victoriously from the dead so that we may live.  The Son became the only Way we can get near to God and to know Him.

With utter profoundness, Jesus said these stark words:

John 14:6 CSB I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.

For us today to know God, we must go through Jesus.  We must believe in Jesus to find life in God.  Then we study him.  We learn not just WHAT he did but WHY he did it.

We hunger to know:  His compassion to the hurting.  His power over raging storms.  His wisdom over complex problems.  His holiness in a sin-stained world. 

So we seek to know God through his Son and because of his Son.


As we read through the rest of Exodus, we will see a consistent difference between Moses and the people.  Moses knew the Lord well, and consistently walked by faith.  The people were much, much less so.

One revealing statement about the difference between Moses and the people in Israel is stated succinctly in Psalm 103:

Psalm 103:7 CSB  He revealed his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel.

Moses understood the ways of God.  He knew how the Lord thought.  The WHY’s.  Israel overall, it seems, merely understood what he did.

May God give us grace to be on a lifelong quest to really know God.  To know who he is.