Bible Study: The Birth and Call of Moses

[This post is one of the sections from our recently published Bible study guide available for free download]

After moving from Canaan to Egypt during a time of famine (Genesis 45), Jacob’s sons stay in that land where they grow very numerous. Eventually the native Egyptians become envious of the Israelites and make them slaves. The Pharaoh is so alarmed by the large number of Jacob’s descendants that he orders the slaughter of all male Hebrews at birth.

“And the king of Egypt spake to the Hebrew midwives, of which the name of the one was Shiphrah, and the name of the other Puah: And he said, When ye do the office of a midwife to the Hebrew women, and see them upon the stools; if it be a son, then ye shall kill him: but if it be a daughter, then she shall live. But the midwives feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men children alive.” (Exodus 1:15-17)

Here we see the cruelty of the enemies of God. Murdering children is common in anti-Christian societies, whether the ancient worshipers of Molech, the Greeks and Romans who practiced infant exposure, or the pro-abortion society we live in today. God later repays the Egyptians for their cruelty by taking their firstborn sons as one of the plagues on Egypt. The Hebrew midwives provide a good example of godly disobedience to temporal authority. As Christians we are to obey the just and reasonable commandments of earthly rulers, but not those commandments that violate the law of God.

Moses is one of the Israelite children born at this time. When his mother can no longer conceal him, she puts him in a basket and leaves him in the reeds by the riverbank. Pharaoh’s daughter finds the child and raises him as her own. As a grown man, Moses kills an Egyptian who is beating an Israelite, showing his loyalty to his own blood kin over his adoptive identity. When Pharaoh learns of Moses’ deed, Mo ses is forced to flee to Midian. There he marries Zipporah and lives as a shepherd. While living in Midian, Moses witnesses the theophany of the burning bush. This is the miraculous beginning of Moses’ ministry as the leader and liberator of Israel.

“Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb. And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed. And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt. And when the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I. And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:1-5)

In the burning bush God manifests his transcendent power. He overrules the laws of nature, showing that he is above these laws and that these laws serve his ends. God has the power to destroy and to preserve, but in this case, he demonstrates that these two powers subsist simultaneously in the divinity. God is often represented as a fire, as we shall see later on in the Exodus narrative, as well as in the New Testament. The divine manifestation of the burning bush also points to the day of Pentecost when the flames of the Holy Spirit descend on believers, but do not consume them (Acts 2). The divine f ire destroys the sinful dross, but preserves and illuminates those who fear God. It is a terror to those who hate God but a comfort to those who love him.

“And the LORD said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows; And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey; unto the place of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Now therefore, behold, the cry of the children of Israel is come unto me: and I have also seen the oppression wherewith the Egyptians oppress them. Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt. And Moses said unto God, Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt? And he said, Certainly I will be with thee; and this shall be a token unto thee, that I have sent thee: When thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve God upon this mountain.” (Exodus 3:7-12)

Moses was a lowly shepherd; hardly someone who could command the attention of Pharaoh, a mighty tyrant who was worshiped as a god. We see that the LORD uses the weak things of this world to confound the designs of the arrogant and mighty. As dissident Christians, we should not lose hope when resisting organized Jewry and the globalist elite. Our Lord can overcome all of our enemies no matter how powerful they might seem. God hears the cries of his people and listens to their requests. He also remembers his promises and will bring them to pass in his own good time.

“And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them? And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you….And they shall hearken to thy voice: and thou shalt come, thou and the elders of Israel, unto the king of Egypt, and ye shall say unto him, The LORD God of the Hebrews hath met with us: and now let us go, we beseech thee, three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God. And I am sure that the king of Egypt will not let you go, no, not by a mighty hand. And I will stretch out my hand, and smite Egypt with all my wonders which I will do in the midst thereof: and after that he will let you go.” (Exodus 3:13-14,18-20)

The historical narrative of the Bible is a progressive self-revelation of God. At key points in this narrative, God grants us new knowledge about himself. Here we see God revealing a new name, I AM who I AM, or simply, I AM. By declaring that his name is I AM, God defines himself as the supreme, independent existent. He alone can say that he exists for and by himself. All other things are dependent on God for their existence. They exi st only in a contingent sense. The I AM is the supreme reality, but it is not the abstract pure being of the philosophers. The I AM expresses both supreme reality and supreme personality. It is not an abstract or impersonal metaphysical function. It is the divine will, the divine ego, as well as the divine being. God uses another name for himself later on in Exodus: “And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, but by my name JEHOVAH was I not known to them” (Exodus 6:3). Although the exact meaning of the word Jehovah (more accurately rendered into English as “Yahweh”) is unclear, it appears that the “I AM” revealed to Moses at the burning bush “is meant to inform the meaning of the name [Yahweh]” (Charles R. Gianotti, The Meaning of the Divine Name YHWH, in Vital Old Testament Issues, Kregel Resources: 1996, page 29).

After receiving the vision of God in the burning bush Moses begins the journey back to Egypt with his family. However, on the way to carry out his task, Moses kindles the LORD ‘s anger and is nearly put to death for his disobedience.

“And thou shalt say unto Pharaoh, Thus saith the L ORD , Israel is my son, even my firstborn: And I say unto thee, Let my son go, that he may serve me: and if thou refuse to let him go, behold, I will slay thy son, even thy firstborn. And it came to pass by the way in the inn, that the L ORD met him (Moses), and sought to kill him. Then Zipporah took a sharp stone, and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at his feet, and said, Surely a bloody husband art thou to me. So he let him go: then she said, A bloody husband thou art, because of the circumcision.” (Exodus 4:22-26)

While this narrative is compact and somewhat difficult to understand, it is a significant commentary on the nature of God’s covenant with His people. The apparent cause of the LORD’s anger in this passage is that Moses has failed to circumcise his son according to the covenant that God made with Abraham. It is Moses’ wife Zipporah who either first discerns the cause of the LORD’s anger or first acts upon it. Her emergency circumcision of their son appeases God and saves Moses’ life. In the verses immediately preceding this episode God expresses his relationship with his people by referring to Israel as his firstborn son. The significance of the firstborn son was already seen in the account of Abraham being commanded to sacrifice Isaac. We will meet the same theme of the firstborn son later on in Exodus as well as in the Gospel account of Christ’s incarnation and crucifixion. In this particular episode, God is angry at Moses because Moses had failed to sanctify his firstborn son to him through circumcision.

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