Old Testament Study:
God Calls Moses
23During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. 24God heard their groaning and He remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. 25So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them.
3:1Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”
4When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
And Moses said, “Here I am.”
5“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” 6Then He said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.
7The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. 8So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 9And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”
While Moses was in Midian, the children of Israel remained oppressed in Egypt: “During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God” (vs. 23). It seems to be implied here that the children of Israel expected some measure of relief when the “king of Egypt died.” But the change of kings did not ease their oppression, and so “the Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out.”
Their oppression was not to end through a change in leadership, nor through any work of man. God was reserving this work for Himself: “God heard their groaning and He remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them” (vss. 24–25). “Silent as God seems through the long hours and years, He is not indifferent” [Meyer, 38]. In fact, in the case of the Israelites, everything was going as planned. God had prophesied to Abraham, hundreds of years before, that His people would be held as slaves for four hundred years: “Then the Lord said to [Abraham], ‘Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years’” (Gen. 15:13). God also prophesied their deliverance: “‘But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions” (Gen. 15:14). “God’s covenant is God’s engagement” [Clarke]; and so, since God promised their deliverance after 400 years, it was certain to happen.
And indeed, the time had come for the deliverance of the Israelites: “God heard [the Israelites’] groaning and He remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob. So God looked on the Israelites and was concerned about them” (vss. 24–25). Note God’s care for His people: “God heard… He remembered… God looked on… [God] was concerned.” Some, who would grudgingly admit there may be a God, would say, “Even if there is a God, He doesn’t care for us.” This is refuted in many ways by the writings of the Bible and the history of God’s people. He sees, He cares, He is intimately concerned with what goes on here on earth.
At that time, Moses was still in Midian: “Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God” (vs. 1). Moses’ life can be neatly divided into three sections, each forty years in length. He spent forty years as a prince in Pharaoh’s court. He spent forty years as a shepherd in Midian, as seen here. After leaving Midian, he would spend forty years as the deliverer of the children of Israel. “So changeable is the life of men, especially the life of good men” [Henry]. It was certainly difficult for Moses to go from being a prince, to being a shepherd. “This was a poor employment for a man of his parts and education, yet he rests satisfied with it, and thus learns meekness and contentment to a high degree” [Henry]. The transition was all the more difficult because, as we are told in Genesis, “all shepherds are detestable to the Egyptians” (Gen. 46:34), and Moses essentially was raised as an Egyptian.
Stephen, in the New Testament, tells us that at the end of Moses’ forty years as a prince in Egypt, after he killed the Egyptian, he “thought that his own people would realize that God was using him to rescue them” (Acts 7:25). So, back then, Moses had a desire to serve as the deliverer of the children of Israel. However, after spending forty years in Midian, Moses must surely have thought that God would never use him in such a capacity. But who can fathom the ways of the Lord? “Sometimes it is long before God calls His servants to that work which of old He designed them for, and has been graciously preparing them for. Moses was born to be Israel’s deliverer, and yet not a word is said of it to him till he is eighty years of age” [Henry]. Learn this, dear reader: it is never too late for the Lord to use you in a great and magnificent way.
An ordinary day at shepherding turned out to be not so ordinary for Moses: “He led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, ‘I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up’” (vss. 1–3). Moses saw an extraordinary sight: a bush burning, yet not being burned. Many commentators see the bush as symbolic of the children of Israel, “in its various distresses and persecutions: it was in the fire of adversity, but was not consumed” [Clarke].
And even more extraordinary than the unconsumed, burning bush, was the appearance of the “angel of the Lord” within the bush. Do not be fooled by the expression “angel of the Lord.” It was not a created “angel”, but was the Lord Himself in the form of an angel. We know that this was not a created angel because He is called the Lord in the text, and also because He accepts worship as the Lord (created angels do not accept the worship of men, see Rev. 19:10). “It was necessary that the Lord should assume a visible form, that He might be seen by Moses, not as He was in His essence, but as the infirmity of the human mind could comprehend Him” [Calvin]. The Lord appeared to His people various times as the “angel of the Lord”: He wrestled all night with Jacob (Gen. 32:22ff); He prevented Balaam from prophesying against Israel (Num. 22:23ff); He encouraged Joshua before the battle of Jericho (Josh. 5:13ff); et. al. Many commentators believe that this angel of the Lord was none other than Jesus Christ, appearing to His people in the Old Testament. “Not a created angel certainly, for He is called Jehovah (Ex. 3:4), and has the most expressive attributes of the Godhead applied to Him (see Ex. 3:14). Yet He is an angel, a messenger, in whom was the name of God (Ex. 23:21), and in whom dwelt all the fullness of the Godhead bodily (see Col. 2:9); and who, in all these primitive times, was the Messenger of the covenant (Mal. 3:1). And who was this but Jesus, the Leader, Redeemer, and Savior of mankind” [Clarke].
The Lord spoke to Moses: “When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, ‘Moses! Moses!’ And Moses said, ‘Here I am’” (vs. 4). The call to service of Moses by God was personal: the Lord called him by name, “Moses! Moses!”
The Lord then identified Himself: “‘Do not come any closer,’ God said. ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.’ Then He said, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.’ At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God” (vss. 5–6). The Lord first identified Himself as a holy God: a God who demands our reverence and respect, thus Moses was told to take off his sandals to approach Him. “The more we see of God, the more cause we shall see to worship Him with reverence and godly fear” [Wesley]. Next, the Lord identified Himself as the God of the covenant: the “God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” This should have encouraged Moses. “God’s covenant-relation to us as our God is the best support in the worst of times, and a great encouragement to our faith in particular promises” [Henry].
Next, the Lord expressed to Moses how much He cares for the children of Israel: “The Lord said, ‘I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering’” (vs. 7). Again note the love God has for His people: He saw their misery, He heard them crying, and was concerned about their suffering.
The Lord went on to tell Moses what He would do about the suffering of His people: “So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites,” etc. (vs. 8). God not only sees our suffering and misery, He does something about it. For the children of Israel in Egypt, He was to miraculously lead them out of their oppression, and into a land He prepared for them. The salvation He brought to the children of Israel in Egypt is typical of the salvation He brings all of us: “Admire the typical picture here, a prophetic picture of the Divine Incarnation. First the Divine compassion which prompted the unspeakable gift: ‘I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt’—God contemplated the wretched condition of sinners and their need of deliverance. Second, the Incarnation itself: ‘I am come down.’ Thus it was fifteen hundred years later, when Jehovah-Jesus left His Father’s house on high and came down to these scenes of sin and suffering. Third, the purpose of the Incarnation: to ‘deliver’ His people and ‘bring them up out of that land,’ which symbolizes the world. Fourth, the beneficent design of the Incarnation: to ‘bring them into a good land and large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey’—to bring us on to resurrection ground, where there would be everything to satisfy and rejoice the heart” [Pink, 27].
As is normal for when God works in the world, He chose a person to be His servant. God chose Moses to deliver His people: “And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt” (vss. 9–10). “Had God so chosen He could have sent forth His angels, and in a single night destroyed all the Egyptians… Human instrumentality is the means He most commonly employs in bringing sinners from bondage to liberty, from death to life” [Pink, 28].
Notice the wording of God’s command to Moses: “So now, go.” “Now” was the time ordained by God to save His people. “For many long years had the groans and cries of the distressed Hebrews gone up; but the heavens were silent. Forty years previously, Moses had become impatient at the delay, and thought to take matters into His own hands, only to discover that the time for deliverance was not yet ripe” [Pink, 28]. God knows best what to do, as well as when to do it. We would all do well, before venturing into any activity, to seek the advice, guidance and timing of the Lord of the Universe.
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