3. MOSES THE SHEPHERD

For the first 40 years Moses became a somebody; for the next 40 years he became a nobody; and the last 40 years of his life he became the most humble person on the planet.

Where are we?

Exodus 3:1 Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian. And he led the flock to the back of the desert, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.

Do you still remember the other name of Jehtro? Ruel. Friend of God

The backside of the desert. Mt. Horeb must be sought in the central part of the Sinai Peninsula and according to this verse Jethro’s home was separated from it by a desert.

His home must therefore have been to the east or southeast of Horeb, and not to the northeast, as some have thought. Only thus is it possible to explain the following two facts:

(1) When Moses returned from Midian to Egypt he went by way of Horeb, where Aaron, coming from Egypt, met him (4:27).

(2) No Midianites were encountered by the Israelites on their journey through the desert, although the homeward road of Hobab, the Midianite, separated from theirs when they departed from Sinai (Num. 10:30).

The word translated “backside” sometimes means “west,” as in the RSV of Judges 18:12; Eze. 41:15; Zech. 14:8; Isa. 9:12. This was due to the fact that the Hebrews customarily faced the east when giving directions, and west was therefore “behind” them as east was “before.”

This is clear from the LXX of Isa. 9:12. It is further evidence that Horeb lay to the west of Jethro’s home. The word translated “backside” is rendered “west side” in the RSV.

Exodus 3:1 Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian. And he led the flock to the back of the desert, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.

Exodus was written after the manifestation of God to Israel at Horeb, which gave it the name “Mount of God.” Horeb and Sinai are two names for the same mountain (see Ex. 19:11; Deut. 4:10).

Since the 5th century A.D., Horeb has been identified with one of the mountain peaks in the south central part of Sinai called Jebel Musa, “the Mount of Moses.”

It is c. 7,500 ft. high and rises some 1,500 ft. above the surrounding valleys. It has been observed, however, that this mountain is invisible from the largest plain of the neighborhood, the er–Raha, which has been considered the “desert of Sinai” (19:2).

This plain offers space for a great number of people, and with some smaller valleys tributary to it has a number of water springs. However, Ras es–Safsaf (c. 6,600 ft.), another peak of the same mountain, overlooks the plain er–Raha.

For this reason many scholars who accept the traditional identification of the plain er–Raha with the desert of Sinai, believe that Mt. Sinai is to be identified with Ras es–Safsaf rather than with Jebel Musa.

Verse 2 And the Angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush. So he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, but the bush was not consumed. 3

The context (vs. 4–6, 14) makes it clear that this “angel of the Lord” was the Lord Himself, the second person of the Godhead (see PP 252, 311, 366). Already in Abraham’s time the Lord had revealed Himself under this form and name (see Gen. 22:11).

A flame of fire. The Hebrew text reads literally “out of the midst of the bush,” not that there was only one bush near Mt. Horeb, but rather that it was the only bush to which particular significance attached.

The burning bush was an appropriate visible representation of the message God there imparted to Moses. In contrast to the more noble and lofty trees (Judges 9:15), the thorn bush may be compared to the people of Israel in their humiliation, despised by the world.

The fire, burning but not consuming the bush, may be thought of as representing the refining affliction of slavery. But the bush was not consumed; and in the chastening flame the Lord does not give His people over unto death (Ps. 118:18).

Verse 3 Then Moses said, “I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush does not burn.”

Verses 4,5 So when the LORD saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5 Then He said, “Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.”

Do not draw near. As Moses approached the bush he did not expect to receive a vision, nor was he yet conscious of the presence of God. Therefore, when he drew near to examine “this great sight” (3), he was admonished to remain at a safe distance from the bush.

Take your sandals off your feet. The practice of putting them off before entering a temple, a palace, or even private houses has ever been a universal custom in the Near East. Since shoes or sandals carry dust and other impurities, the reverential Oriental mind considered it sacrilegious to enter a clean or holy place with shoes on.

The same command given Moses at this time was later repeated to Joshua (Joshua 5:15).

Holy ground. Why? Because of the presence of God.

Verse 6 Moreover He said, “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 upon God.

The transition from the “angel of the Lord” (v. 2) to the “Lord,” Jehovah (v. 4), and then to “God” (vs. 4, 6) precludes the idea of Jehovah’s being merely a national God, as higher critics have alleged.

It shows that the three expressions are more or less synonymous. After acquainting Moses with the fact of His presence, God introduced Himself as the God of his fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

In this way God reminded him of the promises made to the patriarchs, which He was about to fulfill to their seed, the children of Israel.

In the expression “thy father” the three patriarchs are classed together as one, because of the personal relations enjoyed by each of them with God, and the promises each received directly from God.

Moses hid his face. The glory of the holy God no sinful man can bear; hence it was only natural for Moses to hide his face. Elijah later did likewise at the same place (1 Kings 19:13), and even the holy angels before God’s throne in heaven do so (Isa. 6:2).

Verses 7,8 And the LORD said: “I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows. So I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and large land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Amorites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites.

Bring them up. Literally “up,” for that part of Palestine which they were to occupy lies at a much higher level than Egypt.

Biblical writers were careful to indicate such differences in elevation by such expressions as “going up” or “going down” (see Gen. 12:10; 13:1; 37:25; 39:1; 42:2; 46:3, 4; 50:25).

A good and large land. The land to which the Israelites were to be taken “up” is called a “good land” on account of its great fertility (see Deut. 8:7–9), and “large” in contrast with the land of Goshen.

Even though the fertility of Palestine did not equal that of Egypt, it was still great. The rich soil east of the Jordan produces enormous crops of grain in the spring and provides pasturage throughout the year.

The western region is less productive, but when carefully cultivated bears excellent crops of olives, figs, and barley.

To the Israelites of the time of Moses it seemed spacious, being considerably larger than the entire Delta region of Egypt, of which they had occupied but a small part.

The land promised in the covenant God made with Abraham (Gen. 15:18–21) and actually possessed by David and Solomon (1 Kings 4:21) included not only Palestine but a considerable area of Syria as well (see The Great Empires During the Sojourn in Egypt).

A land flowing with milk and honey. Used here for the first time but common in later books (Num. 13:27; Deut. 26:15; 31:20; Jer. 11:5; 32:22; Eze. 20:6; etc.), this was a proverbial expression for a land of plenty, and should not be pressed for a precisely literal meaning.

It was intended as a figurative description of the great fertility and natural loveliness of the land of Canaan. Milk and honey are the simplest and choicest productions of a land abounding in grass and flowers, and were found in Palestine in great abundance.

The place of the Canaanites. For an explanation of the origin and history of the different nations mentioned, see on Gen. 10:15–17. The enumeration of the nations of Palestine here made is incomplete, only five of the ten whose land was promised to Abraham (Gen. 15:19–21) being expressly mentioned.

One, however, that of the Hivites, is added. It is possible that they had succeeded the Kenizzites or the Kadmonites of Abraham’s time.

Verse 9 Now therefore, behold, the cry of the children of Israel has come to Me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them.

Verse 10 Come now, therefore, and I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.”

Verse 11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?”

A great change had come over Moses. Forty years earlier he had volunteered as a deliverer. He had gone to his brethren and slain one of their oppressors, expecting that they would understand “that God by his hand would deliver them” (Acts 7:25).

However, at that time he was not qualified for the position of leadership to which he aspired, nor were the children of Israel ready for deliverance. The 40 years in Midian had taught him humility and filled him with utter distrust of self.

The adopted prince of Egypt’s royal house had become a shepherd, following a pursuit despised by the Egyptians (Gen. 46:34), and felt so uncertain of himself as to fear Pharaoh.

What influence could he, a despised shepherd from the eastern desert, expect to have with the mighty king of the most powerful nation on earth? Furthermore, what influence would he have with his own people?

They had rejected him when he was a mighty man; would they accept his leadership as a returned fugitive? Thoughts like these may have flashed through Moses’ mind when the call to return to Egypt and deliver his people came to him.

His reluctance to accept the call, his distrust of himself and of his people, can be easily understood.

Verse 12 So He said, “I will certainly be with you. And this shall be a sign to you that I have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.”

God did not refute Moses’ arguments, but assured him of divine companionship and assistance. No human skill, no earthly power or ingenuity alone, can accomplish what is possible in cooperation with God.

No greater promise can come to a leader of God’s people than that given to Moses at the time he was called.

A sign. God gave Moses a sign that he was not being sent on a fruitless errand, but it was a sign the fulfillment of which would come later, like that given to Hezekiah by Isaiah (2 Kings 19:29).

Before the sign could be fulfilled, however, Moses must obey and carry out the task he was commissioned to undertake.

Verse 13 Then Moses said to God, “Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they say to me, ‘What is His name?’ what shall I say to them?”

On the verge of accepting the divine call, Moses inquired what he was to say in case the people asked him for his divine credentials.

The supposition that the people might ask this question is not to be attributed to ignorance of the name of their God.

The name by which God had revealed Himself to their fathers could not have vanished entirely from memory, and the mere mention of God’s name could not have been of much help to Moses.

However, the nature and power of the One who sent Moses would be expressed in that name, and since names meant so much to the Semite mind, it was important for Moses to reveal to his people the true nature of their God, who was now ready to deliver them from bondage.

Verse 14 And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”

God therefore revealed to Moses, or rather explained to him, the name by which He had made Himself known to Abraham at the making of the covenant (Gen. 15:7).

In Hebrew as in English, this name is a form of the verb “to be,” and implies that its possessor is the eternal, self-existing One (see John 8:58; DA 469).

Its all-embracing universality precluded any comparison of the God of the Israelites to the deities of Egypt and other nations.

It was designed to provide Moses and his people with strong consolation in their affliction and powerful support for their confidence in the realization of His purpose to deliver them.

I am has sent me to you. “I am” is an abbreviated form of “I am that I am,” and is intended to express the same idea.

Verse 15 Moreover God said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the children of Israel: ‘The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. This is My name forever, and this is My memorial to all generations.’

From the Hebrew word translated as “I am” comes the derived form Yahweh.
Yahweh is rather consistently rendered “LORD,” by the KJV, with the whole word in capital and small capital letters as it appears here.

The American Standard Bible of 1901 transliterates Yahweh as “Jehovah.” To the Jews this has ever been the sacred name by which the true God is distinguished from all false gods. See 172, 173.

Verse 16 Go and gather the elders of Israel together, and say to them, ‘The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, appeared to me, saying, “I have surely visited you and seen what is done to you in Egypt;

God proceeds to give Moses further instructions with reference to the execution of his mission. On his arrival in Egypt he was first of all to inform the elders, as the representatives of the nation, namely, the heads of the families, households, and tribes, of God’s plan to deliver them.

The “elders” were not necessarily men of great age, but those who were recognized as leaders by the people (see chs. 6:14, 15; 12:21).

I have surely visited you. A repetition of the words used by Joseph on his deathbed (Gen. 50:24). They may be taken to mean, “I have done as Joseph prophesied, and you can be sure that everything he promised will come to pass.”

Verse 17 and I have said I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites and the Hittites and the Amorites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, to a land flowing with milk and honey.”

Verse 18 Then they will heed your voice; and you shall come, you and the elders of Israel, to the king of Egypt; and you shall say to him, ‘The LORD God of the Hebrews has met with us; and now, please, let us go three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God.’

Moses thought that they would despise him, turn a deaf ear to his words, and reject his leadership. But God told him that his reception this time would differ greatly from the one he had received 40 years before.

The hearts of men are in God’s hands, and God Himself had directed the affairs of His people in such a way that they would be ready to recognize Moses as God’s chosen instrument for their deliverance.

Now, please, let us go. The request for Pharaoh’s permission to leave the country is phrased so as to express Israel’s precise relation to him.

He had no right to detain them, but his consent was needed for their departure as was that of a former king for their settlement in the land of Goshen (Gen. 45:16–20).

He had no valid reason for refusing their request to go three days’ journey into the wilderness, for their return at the close of that period was implied in the request.

Was this deception? By no means. God knew the heart of Pharaoh and instructed Moses to ask no more at first than he must either grant, or, by refusing, display the hardness of his heart.

Had Pharaoh consented, God would probably then have made known to him His design in its entirety and demanded the permanent release of His people.

When Pharaoh refused the first, and reasonable, request (Ex. 5:2), Moses was to demonstrate the power of the God of the Hebrews by miracles and judgments.

Accordingly, Moses persisted in demanding permission for the people to go and serve their God (chs. 7:16; 8:1; 9:1, 13; 10:3).

It was not until the king offered to permit them to sacrifice in Egypt that Moses added to his request the significant phrase, “as he shall command us” (ch. 8:27), which implied that they might not return. Of course, that was what Pharaoh feared.

Verse 19 But I am sure that the king of Egypt will not let you go, no, not even by a mighty hand.

Pharaoh would not be willing to let the people go even when God’s mighty hand was laid upon him (see chs. 8:15, 19, 32; 9:12, 35; 10:20, 27).

God foresaw his resistance and planned accordingly. The marginal reading of the KJV, “but by a strong hand,” is based on the LXX and followed by the RSV, but is not favored by the Hebrew text.

Verse 20 So I will stretch out My hand and strike Egypt with all My wonders which I will do in its midst; and after that he will let you go.

This statement is not at variance with v. 19. The meaning of vs. 19 and 20 is that Pharaoh would not be willing to let Israel depart even after being smitten by the strong hand of God, but that he would be compelled to do so against his will.

Even after the ninth plague Pharaoh still refused to let them go (10:27), and when he finally gave permission upon the death of his first-born, and in fact drove them out (12:31–33), he soon changed his mind and pursued them (14:5–9). The strong hand of God had not broken the king’s will, but was nevertheless instrumental in delivering Israel.

Verse 21 And I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and it shall be, when you go, that you shall not go empty-handed.

Verse 22 But every woman shall ask of her neighbor, namely, of her who dwells near her house, articles of silver, articles of gold, and clothing; and you shall put them on your sons and on your daughters. So you shall plunder the Egyptians.”

Obviously the Hebrews did not intend to return what they sought to secure from the Egyptians. Hence they have been accused of practicing fraud, and God has been blamed, not only for condoning their act of deception, but for planning and directing it as well.

The Israelites were to ask gifts of their Egyptian neighbors as a contribution to the necessary expenses of the long journey.

They had toiled for many decades as slaves, to the profit of the Egyptians, whose taxes had been lighter in proportion to the value of the free labor rendered by the Hebrews.

The latter were certainly entitled to what would in reality be but a small reward for the long years of labor rendered.

The Israelites asked without intending to restore, and the Egyptians granted their request without the expectation of receiving back, because God favorably disposed their hearts toward the Israelites (v. 21).

The Egyptians had spoiled the Hebrews, and now the Hebrews carried off the spoil of Egypt as partial compensation (PP 281).

Will this be repeated at the Second Coming after the seven last plagues?