The Divine Lamp

The unfolding of thy words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple…Make thy face shine upon thy servant, and teach me thy statutes

Notes on Exodus 3:1-8, 13-15 for the 3rd Sunday of Lent

Posted by Dim Bulb on February 28, 2010

Currently this post contains notes only on verse 1-8.  I hope to update and complete the text sometime this week.

Exo 3:1  Now Moses fed the sheep of Jethro, his father in law, the priest of Madian: and he drove the flock to the inner parts of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, Horeb.

The fact that Moses is tending sheep implies his break with his adoptive Egyptian past, for the Egyptians loathed shepherds (Gen 43:32).  Shepherding was-or at least could be-a rugged, hard, and dangerous  life (Gen 31:38-41; 1 Sam 17:34-37).  The pampered life of a member of the Egyptian royal court was certainly not suited for the task God had planned for Moses, hence we should see his forty years of exile as a period of preparation.

His situation was no doubt favorable to contemplation and communion with God.  He could scarcely fail to make progress in that divine knowledge which would do more to qualify him for his future mission than all the learning he had acquired in Egypt.  The life too which he had led was happily adapted to work within him that hardihood of constitution and character, of which he would afterwards stand so much in need, and of which the sequel of his story affords us so many striking instances. Newman and Ivison, Notes, Critical and Practical, on the Book of Exodus.

Still, his time in the Egyptian court and the family of Pharaoh were not without its advantages for his mission:  As having to deal, in the first instance, with a great king and his court, it was necessary that the Deliverer should be familiar with the habits of the court, should be able to assume its manners, speak its language, and not unwittingly infringe its etiquette.  Not being sent merely to petition, but to require-to prefer demands-it was requisite that he should feel himself, socially, on a par with the monarch, so as not to be timid or abashed before him, but able without difficulty to assert himself, to use freedom of speech, to talk as prince with prince, and not as mere courtier with monarch.  Again, as having to meet and baffle the Egyptian priests, and further, to be not only the Deliverer, but the Teacher and Educator of his nation, it was to the last degree necessary that he should be ‘learned in all the wisdom” of the time; that he should have had as good an education as any other man of the day; be able to foil the priests with their own weapons; and, after delivering his people out of bondage, be capable of elevating them, instructing them, advancing them from a rabble of slaves into an orderly, self-sufficient, fairly-enlightened, if not highly-civilized, nation.  The Pulpit Commentary.

Fed the sheep.  The Haydock Commentary: Fed for the space of forty years.  During which time, he composed the books of Genesis and Job, for the consolation of his countrymen; (Menochius) though others believe he wrote all the Pentateuch in the desert.  (Theodoret; &c.) — Of God, on account of its height; or on account of God’s appearing to Moses. — Horeb is so close to Mount Sinai, that the shadow of the latter reaches it when the sun rises.  It is watered with three springs; and the summit is adorned with fruit trees.  (Calmet)

The inner parts of the desert…Horeb: Keil and Delitzsch’s Commentary on the Old Testament (hereafter referred to as K & D): When Moses was keeping the flock of Jethro, his father-in-law, he drove them on one occasion behind the desert, and came to the mountains of Horeb.  “he was feeding:” (רֹעֶה הָיָה) the participle expresses the continuance of the occupation. הַמִּדְבָּר אַחַר does not mean ad interiora deserti (Jerome); but Moses drove the sheep from Jethro’s home as far as Horeb, so that he passed through a desert with the flock before he reached the pasture land of Horeb. For “in this, the most elevated ground of the peninsula, you find the most fertile valleys, in which even fruit-trees grow. Water abounds in this district; consequently it is the resort of all the Bedouins when the lower countries are dried up” (Rosenmüller). Jethro’s home was separated from Horeb, therefore, by a desert, and is to be sought to the south-east, and not to the north-east. For it is only a south-easterly situation that will explain these two facts: First, that when Moses returned from Midian to Egypt, he touched again at Horeb, where Aaron, who had come from Egypt, met him (Exo_4:27); and, secondly, that the Israelites never came upon any Midianites on their journey through the desert, whilst the road of Hobab the Midianite separated from theirs as soon as they departed from Sinai (Num_10:30).

We might then say that this little episode which forms part of the call of Moses foreshadows God’s intention to take Israel under the leadership of Moses through the desert to a garden land.

Exo 3:2  And the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he saw that the bush was on fire, and was not burnt.  Mount Horeb is later named Mount Sinai, and this is probably due to a word play with the Hebrew word seneh (burning bush).  The International Standard Biblical Encyclopedia: But at Sinai “the glory of Yahweh was like devouring fire on the top of the mount in the eyes of the children of Israel” (Exo_24:17); and, indeed, the glory of the Lord still dyes the crags of Jebel Mûsa (the “mountain of Moses”) with fiery red, reflected from its red granite and pink gneiss rocks, long after the shadows have fallen on the plain beneath. Sinai is mentioned, as a desert and a mountain, in 35 passages of the Old Testament. In 17 passages the same desert and mountain are called “Horeb,” or “the waste.” This term is chiefly used in Deuteronomy, though Sinai also occurs (Deu_33:2). In the other books of the Pentateuch, Sinai is the usual name, though Horeb also occurs (Exo_3:1; Exo_17:6; Exo_33:6), applying both to the “Mount of God” and to the desert of Rephidim, some 20 miles to the Northwest.

The Lord appeared to him.  The Hebrew reads literally: “The angel of the Lord…”, the translation takes account of the fact that the “angel” is later identified as God Himself (vss 4 & 14).  Such a designation is fairly common in the earlier books of Scripture.  Sometimes even an element such as the wind could be termed an angel (2 Samuel 5:23, 24; 1 Chronicles 14:14, 15).

In a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush.  The Christian Tradition has long seen a great deal of meaning in the bush and the fire, and K & D admirably summarize: The symbolical meaning of this miraculous vision, – that is to say, the fact that it was a figurative representation of the nature and contents of the ensuing message from God, – has long been admitted. The thorn-bush in contrast with the more noble and lofty trees (Jdg_9:15) represented the people of Israel in their humiliation, as a people despised by the world. Fire and the flame of fire were not “symbols of the holiness of God;” for, as the Holy One, “God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all” (1Jo_1:5), He “dwells in the light which no man can approach unto” (1Ti_6:16); and that not merely according to the New Testament, but according to the Old Testament view as well, as is evident from Isa_10:17, where “the Light of Israel” and “the Holy One of Israel” are synonymous. But “the Light of Israel became fire, and the Holy One a flame, and burned and consumed its thorns and thistles.” Nor is “fire, from its very nature, the source of light,” according to the scriptural view. On the contrary, light, the condition of all life, is also the source of fire. The sun enlightens, warms, and burns (Job_30:28; Sol. Son_1:6); the rays of the sun produce warmth, heat, and fire; and light was created before the sun. Fire, therefore, regarded as burning and consuming, is a figurative representation of refining affliction and destroying punishment (1Co_3:11.), or a symbol of the chastening and punitive justice of the indignation and wrath of God. It is in fire that the Lord comes to judgment (Dan_7:9-10; Eze_1:13-14, Eze_1:27-28; Rev_1:14-15). Fire sets forth the fiery indignation which devours the adversaries (Heb_10:27). He who “judges and makes war in righteousness’ has eyes as a flame of fire (Rev_19:11-12). Accordingly, the burning thorn-bush represented the people of Israel as they were burning in the fire of affliction, the iron furnace of Egypt (Deu_4:20). Yet, though the thorn-bush was burning in the fire, it was not consumed; for in the flame was Jehovah, who chastens His people, but does not give them over unto death (Psa_118:18). The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had come down to deliver His people out of the hand of the Egyptians (Exo_3:8). Although the affliction of Israel in Egypt proceeded from Pharaoh, yet was it also a fire which the Lord had kindled to purify His people and prepare it for its calling. In the flame of the burning bush the Lord manifested Himself as the “jealous God, who visits the sins of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generations of them that hate Him, and showeth mercy unto thousands of them that love Him and keep His commandments” (Exo_20:5; Deu_5:9-10), who cannot tolerate the worship of another god (Exo_34:14), and whose anger burns against idolaters, to destroy them (Deu_6:15). The “jealous God” was a “consuming fire” in the midst of Israel (Deu_4:24). These passages show that the great sight which Moses saw not only had reference to the circumstances of Israel in Egypt, but was a prelude to the manifestation of God on Sinai for the establishment of the covenant (Exo 19 and 20), and also a representation of the relation in which Jehovah would stand to Israel through the establishment of the covenant made with the fathers. For this reason it occurred upon the spot where Jehovah intended to set up His covenant with Israel. But, as a jealous God, He also “takes vengeance upon His adversaries” (Nah_1:2.). Pharaoh, who would not let Israel go, He was about to smite with all His wonders (Exo_3:20), whilst He redeemed Israel with outstretched arm and great judgments (Exo_6:6).

Exo 3:3  And Moses said, I will turn aside now, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.
Exo 3:4  And when Jehovah 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.

Note the repeated use of the term “turned aside.”  The phrase is often used in Scripture to designate apostasy from God and the covenant, a very anti-Moses thing to do (see 1 Sam 12:20; 2 Kings 10:29; Hosea 7:14; see also Deut 17:20; Psalm 119:102).

Moses!  Moses! Only seven times in the entire Bible do we read of a name being repeated during a call/commissioning narrative ( besides here see: Gen 22:11; 46:2; 1 Sam 3:10; Lk 10:41; 22:31; Acts 9:4).  Father Georg Fischer, S.J., and Father Martin Hasitschka, S.J., in their book THE CALL OF THE DISCIPLE, note that “On each occasion it represents a high point or turning point for the one addressed.  The naming of the name makes the call personal; the doubling of the name makes it urgent” (pg 14).

Here am I.  Moses’ ready response will soon turn hesitant (see his objections in 3:11, 13, 4:1; and his entreaties 4:10, 13).  In many respects Moses reminds me of St Peter.

Exo 3:5  And he said: Come not nigh hither, put off the shoes from thy feet; for the place, whereon thou standest, is holy ground.
Exo 3:6  And he said: I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Moses hid his face: for he durst not look at God.

The basic meaning of the Hebrew word translated as “holy” is “to be set apart,” in the sense of separated for a special reason.  The manifestation of the divine presence and His will to save his people are sacrosanct.

Exo 3:7  And the Lord said to him: I have seen the affliction of my people in Egypt, and I have heard their cry because of the rigour of them that are over the works;
Exo 3:8  And knowing their sorrow, I am come down to deliver them out of the hands of the Egyptians, and to bring them out of that land into a good and spacious land, into a land that floweth with milk and honey.

These verses allude to 2:23-25, the passage immediately preceding today’s reading.  The verbs here (e.g., ‘cry’ and ‘know’) are intensified, emphasizing that God has experienced their suffering as something personal.

K & D: Jehovah had seen the affliction of His people, had heard their cry under their taskmasters, and had come down (יָרַד, vid., Gen_11:5) to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up to a good and broad land, to the place of the Canaanites; and He was about to send Moses to Pharaoh to bring them forth. The land to which the Israelites were to be taken up is called a “good” land, on account of its great fertility (Deu_8:7.), and a “broad” land, in contrast with the confinement and oppression of the Israelites in Egypt. The epithet “good” is then explained by the expression, “a land flowing with milk and honey” (זָבַת, a participle of זוּב in the construct state; vid., Ges. §135); a proverbial description of the extraordinary fertility and loveliness of the land of Canaan (cf. Exo_3:17; Exo_13:5; Exo_16:14, etc.). 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 even when it was in a desolate condition (Isa_7:15, Isa_7:22; see my Comm. on Jos_5:6). The epithet broad is explained by an enumeration of the six tribes inhabiting the country at that time (cf. Gen_10:15. and Gen_15:20, Gen_15:21).

I have seen.  Literally, “seeing, I have seen,” apparently emphasizing for the sake of assurance.  Matthew Henry: The notice God takes of the afflictions of Israel (Exo_3:7, Exo_3:9): Seeing I have seen, not only, I have surely seen, but I have strictly observed and considered the matter. Three things God took cognizance of: – 1. Their sorrows, Exo_3:7. It is likely they were not permitted to make a remonstrance of their grievances to Pharaoh, nor to seek relief against their task-masters in any of his courts, nor scarcely durst complain to one another; but God observed their tears. Note, Even the secret sorrows of God’s people are known to him. 2. Their cry: I have heard their cry (Exo_3:7), it has come unto me, Exo_3:9. Note, God is not deaf to the cries of his afflicted people. 3. The tyranny of their persecutors: I have seen the oppression, Exo_3:9. Note, As the poorest of the oppressed are not below God’s cognizance, so the highest and greatest of their oppressors are not above his check, but he will surely visit for these things.

8 Responses to “Notes on Exodus 3:1-8, 13-15 for the 3rd Sunday of Lent”

  1. […] (sometimes called the “Novo Ordo”).  Concerning the latter I’ve posted on the First Reading (Ex 3:1-8, 13-15).  I’ve put up two posts on the Second Reading (1 Cor 10:1-6, 10-12); the […]

  2. david meeks said

    thanks father for your careful notes.

    “rā’ōh rā’îṯî ’eṯ-‘ŏnî ‘ammî” (ra’oh ra’iti et-oni ‘ammi)- the words haunt me and give me hope. Often I think that the Lord does not see the oppression of those around me or even my own struggles. Yet he says “Seeing I have Seen.”

    Also the words, “My people” so clearly show the unstopable tender love of the Lord. He claims them as HIS people.

  3. david meeks said

    I appreciate the imagery of the fire in the bush a parable for the Lord living amidst his people, for that is exactly the dangerous and impossible thing that the Lord proposes in the Exodus.

    And we see the result in Luke 13, people are threatened with destruction. The Lord has had enough and is now about to burn the bush (to destroy Israel and her temple and correspondingly to destroy Jesus in Israel’s place on the Cross). The people are called to repent by acknowledging that their sin (and ours) results in death, destructon.
    Thank you Father Son and Holy Spirit for making a way for us to join with you on the cross, to go through the fire of the burnt offering, and to be raised to new life again.

    • Dim Bulb said

      Mister Meeks, Thanks for stopping by.

      I am not a member of the clergy, just a guy with an interest in the stuff this site offers.

  4. david meeks said

    Dim Bulb
    Great stuff here

  5. […] Posts (COMPLETED) Luke 13:1-9 A Catechetical Interpretation for the 3rd Sunday of LentNotes on Exodus 3:1-8, 13-15 for the 3rd Sunday of Lent (March 7)Notes On Ephesians 5:1-9 For Mass, Sunday March 7 (Extraordinary Form of the Rite)March 7, Mass […]

  6. […] of the Rite (sometimes called the “Novo Ordo”).  Concerning the latter I’ve posted on the First Reading (Ex 3:1-8, 13-15).  I’ve put up two posts on the Second Reading (1 Cor 10:1-6, 10-12); the first […]

  7. […] My Notes on Exodus 3:1-8a, 13-15. Currently only on verses 1-8. Will try to complete. […]

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