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Exodus 3:1-15

Exodus 3:1-15

Background to the Book of Exodus:
Historical Situation: (History within the text)
The Book of Exodus tells how God took pity on the Israelites, the means chosen to liberate them from the Egyptians, and their consequent journeys in the wilderness. The story begins after the Israelites have been in Egypt for several generations and a new Pharaoh comes to the throne who is threatened by the number of foreigners (Israelites) in the land and takes hard measures to subdue them and stop them multiplying. We read of the call of Moses by God, the confrontations with the Pharaoh and his wise men, the subsequent release and flight of the Israelites. The pivotal event was revelation of God to Moses and God giving the Law to the people via Moses. (Put picture in here with link). The covenant set up here is conditional on the people keeping their promises (Exodus 19:5-8) - note the word "if" they do ... "then" you shall be my people.

After the initial laws in Exodus 20-23 we read the story of the wooden ark in which the tablets of stone (which have the Law written on them) are to be housed and carried. Great detail is given about this Ark in Exodus 25-27 before going into further detail about the priests who will serve and the manner of the sacrifices. We read of the people's rebellion and Aaron's role in building a golden calf to worship. Moses returns once more from one of his mountain trips and castigates the people for their unfaithfulness. The Book of Exodus finishes with a further account of the building of the ark which sounds rather repetitious of the first one. Within the Book we are given the origins of such Festivals as Passover and Unleavened Bread.

Some people have tried to find evidence within the Egyptian chronicles that the Israelites were present in Egypt in this period but the lack of written material from that era limits any discoveries. What has been found in general terms is that foreigners did serve in Egyptian households, there were building programmes using 'apiru' and foreigners did attain high service in important households (Johnstone:17-27). Rather than trying to prove historical fact as in the old Western idea of 'facts', it is better to understand the Book of Exodus as 'historiography', that is, the remembered history of the Israelite people which is crucial to their identity as the people of God.
Literary Comments
The Book of Exodus is a mixture of very early oral material which has come from different traditions and been joined together in the one book. The events are pivotal to their faith and as we have four gospels telling us about Jesus Christ so the Jews have different memories of the same events. We have four different gospels, but in Exodus the traditions are all mixed in the same book which makes it difficult reading sometimes. For example, in Exodus 19 Moses goes up and down the mountain several times and one isn't sure if he is up or down.

Some people have tried to identify some of the traditions within the Book: a tradition that uses the name of Yahweh called 'J', another called 'E', the tradition written by the Priests called 'P' and the very easily identified "D' tradition mainly found in the Book of Deuteronomy. It makes sense that different communities as in the NT had different memories and emphases which had become important to them and so when the Scriptures are committed to writing there is a desire to incorporate the diverse memories of people and their experience of God within their lives.
PURPOSE of the Book of Exodus:
To tell the story of how God raised up a leader, Moses, to release the Israelites from Egypt who lead them through the wilderness where they received the Law from God via Moses. This Law showed them how to stay in relationship with God and with each other. It gives detailed instructions for building the Ark in which the Tablets will be housed. In the Book of Exodus we have demonstrated the unfaithful behaviours of the people and God's willingness to renew the covenant. The actions of the people's apostasy and God's willingness to renew the covenant is repeated many times in the history of the people.

Context of Exodus 3:1-15
After Moses is rescued and brought up in the household of Pharaoh's daughter the action moves swiftly along. As an adult Moses sees one of his own people being treated harshly and kills the Egyptian responsible. The following day he confronts two Hebrews who are fighting and the taunt by one of them reveals that Moses is known as the killer of the Egyptian over seer and furthermore it was known by Pharaoh. Moses fled into the desert and like his forebears before him met his future wife (Zipporah) at a well. Moses settles in the desert of Midian working for his father-in-law a Midianite Priest. Exod 2 finishes with a comment about the very bad situation in which the Israelites find themselves back in Egypt. However, God hears their groans, remembers his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The lectionary for this week begins the narrative of Moses' call and subsequent role in the salvation of the Israelite people. Immediately after the call, Moses is instructed by God to go and speak to the elders of Israel and tell them God will lead them into the promised land. Moses is told that when they announce their intention to the Pharaoh, he will resist their request and it is this resistance we read about in the ensuing chapters of Exod 5-12. When God finishes speaking with Moses (Exod 3:22), we read of the protest by Moses that he is incapable of speech. Moses wasn't convinced even after God gave him some signs and after a further two protests God provided his brother Aaron to go with him back to Egypt. On his return to Egypt we have the curious tale of God seeking to kill Moses and his Midianite wife (Zipporah) saving him by circumcising their son Gershom and touching Moses' feet with it (Exod 4:24-26).

Insights/Message of Exodus 3:1-15
Exod 3:1-15 is part of a longer call narrative (Exod 3:1-4:17) which is restated in Exod 6:2-7:7 and encloses the "initial confrontation with Pharaoh which fails, intensifying the bondage of the people" (Fretheim: 51). We find this call narrative has many similarities to other prophetic calls although not necessarily exact parallels. Some of the elements one can find in a call include: a divine appearance, an introductory word, a commission to the prophet, sometimes objection by the person, a reassurance by God takes different forms, sometimes it can be auditory and visionary. In both call sections there is significant dialogue between God and Moses. The lectionary reading can be divided into three sections: Exod 1-6 = call; vv.7-12 = sending of Moses; vv.13-22 = God's name. In vv.1-6 Moses reaches the mountain called Horeb which elsewhere is named Sinai. An interesting allusion to the name Sinai may be the Hebrew noun for bush, "seneh" (Brueggemann: 711). An angel first appears before the voice of God is heard and Moses can hardly fail to turn aside once he sees the bush is not consumed by the flame. The technical name for events in vv.1-6 is a theophany (the appearance of God). The summons and response, "Here am I" is present in Gen 22:11 and 1 Sam 3:10. It indicates a readiness to obey (Brueggemann: 712) which could be ironic here when we read later of Moses reluctance to obey. God who has summoned (v.4), warned (v.5), disclosed identity (v.6), now indicates that he knows the conditions of Moses' fellow Israelites in Egypt (Brueggemann: 712). The language of Exod 2:25 is picked up again in Exod 3.7 which is the motive for God's desire to deliver or snatch them from slavery. The imagery in v.8 is very strong with God "coming down" and "snatching" them to safety (Durham: 32) suggests an urgency and power. The Amorites, Canaanites and Hittites were strong groups of people in the area at different periods of time, but the other three groups are known mainly only within the Old Testament. Exod 3:7-10 are an expansion of Exod 2:24-25, but now in direct speech of God which gives it a new emphasis not least the personal relation implied with the words "my people". V.12 prepares us that sometime in the future we will be back at Mt. Horeb.

The dialogue indicates that God is willing to listen a person's protest and keep on talking with them. It is okay to disagree with God and one doesn't get zapped. It is one of the delights of the Old Testament that one can be difficult and challenge God and a passive deference is not necessarily an acceptable trait for a divine call. Indeed, God could be seen as taking incredible risks with humans who are very vulnerable and not very reliable at times. To see such characters in the Old Testament can give us confidence when we feel called to a particular task which we perceive as too difficult. God's presence at the bush gave it holiness which deserved respect. Some faiths continue this tradition in that worship deserves full respect and shoes are removed before entering holy places. God gives his identity in v.6 but Moses demands more. It seems odd when Moses knowing the traditions of his people and the promises to Abraham, Isaac and Joseph would ask for any further identity. It is very human to want more proof that when we believe we have heard God speak we want more evidence and so it appears for Moses. After God appears, identifies himself and states what he has seen and is going to do, v.10 is the shock for Moses who discovers he is the chosen one to carry out the proclamation of v.8. It is not going to be some divine objective cataclysmic event, but needs a human agent. However, the assurance based , "I will be with you" is a new theological message here (Durham: 33), which is reinforced when God declares his name as "I am who I am". In each case the first person personal pronoun is used to give emphasis and is part the verb to be. Moses is not convinced by either the assurance of God's presence with or the promise of a sign (v.12), but seeks more evidence using the people as an excuse for his further demand. In the Hebrew Scriptures when a person shares a name it gives some (but not necessarily complete) personal aspect of that person's character. In the case of "I am who I am", we have both a mystery and a declaration that God will be God with and for the people at all times and places (Fretheim: 63). The use of the his name complements the assurance that has been given already in which God stated "I will be with you", (v.12). Some scholars have suggested that God avoids giving a name as in other gods (Baal in Canaan) in case some control is exerted over God, but most scholars think that because it is in apposition to v.6 that this is not the case. Indeed, as the revelation of the name is between both declarations of Yahweh's relationship to the God of the Fathers it anchors god as part of the history of this special people. When we read v.15, the name appears to have a positive purpose in Moses' commission to the elders in Egypt. This is the only place in the Hebrew Scriptures in which this name is mentioned. Further more, the personal care for the people of Israel picked up in the language used in vv.7-10, together with the giving of "I am who I am" makes God more accessible and close (Fretheim: 65). I think it is worth noting the compassion and relationship which is often not realised because some people see only the law in Old Testament. However, the care and vulnerability of God in sharing his/her name (the first person singular in a Hebrew verb is common masculine and feminine) preshadows the incarnation of God who became vulnerable as a human being in Christ. The repetition (Exod 2:24-25, 3:7-10, 3:15-17) which is now part of the instructions from God to Moses ensure the people know that God has heard and responded to their cries, and God's promise about a new land is still real and on the agenda. The final verses of Exod 3 give us an insight about what is going to happen when Pharaoh is confronted by Moses and Aaron.

OT images/motifs used in the New Testament reading: Mth 16:21-28: there are no direct allusions or quotes in these sections from the Old Testament.

Resources/Worship for Exodus 3:1-15
Worship: People could be invited to take off their shoes and be helped to experience the holiness of God's presence.



The Old Testament Guides (OTG) by Sheffield Academic Press are an excellent small resource which give many suggestions for readings on particular aspects in the Book of Exodus (Johnstone).

The New Interpreter's Bible is another very helpful resource and published in the late 1990's - 2002 is more up to date than some earlier works.

*Brueggemann, Walter. "The Book of Exodus: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections". In The New Interpreter's Bible, Vol. 1. Nashville: Abingdon, 1994.
Childs, Brevard S. The Book of Exodus: A Critical, Theological Commentary. OTL. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, [1974].
Coats, George W. The Moses Tradition. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1993.
Durham, John I. Exodus. WBC. Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1987.
*Fretheim, Terrence E. Exodus. Int. Louisville, Ky.: John Knox Press, 1991.
Gowan, Donald E. Theology in Exodus: Biblical Theology in the Form of a Commentary. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1994.
*Johnstone, W. Exodus. OTG. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1990.
Moberly, R. W. L. At the Mountain of God: Story and Theology in Exodus 32-34. Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1982.
Sarna, Nahum M. Exploring Exodus: The Heritage of Biblical Israel. New York: Schocken Books, 1986.

The Dramatised Bible: ed. Michael Perry. London: Marshall Pickering: Bible Society, 1989

Web sites with helpful lectionary resources: These links were updated 30/12/11

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