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Bible Commentaries

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

Exodus 3

Verses 1-22

Exodus 3:1. Horeb and Sinai are the same mountain, almost surrounded by two branches of the Red sea. But it has two summits, Sinai on the east, and Horeb on the west. Justinian built a monastery here, and made it the seat of a bishop. They show strangers the identical spot where Moses, by the Lord’s command, caused the waters to flow. The Mussulmans have this place in very great veneration.

Exodus 3:2. Angel of the Lord. Malack, the messenger, the angel of the covenant. Malachi 3:1.

Exodus 3:5. Put off thy shoes. The ancient priests officiated barefoot. Men in general washed their hands and their feet, and purified themselves before they approached the altar.

Exodus 3:6. Moreover he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face. And not only Moses, but the Israelites in future ages, when entreating the good will of Him that dwelt in the bush to accompany them and to bless their children, assuredly understood this Angel of the Covenant to be the God of their fathers, eternal and uncreated. A succession of the christian fathers, Justin, Hilary, Theophylact, Eusebius, Chrysostom, and Ambrose have so understood it. Tertullian, who flourished at the close of the second century, is ample on this head. Following Irenæus and others, he says that He who spake to Moses was himself the Son of God. Qui ad Moysen loquebatur, ipse erat Dei Filius. Contra Judæos, cap. 9. He asserts farther, that the Son, from the beginning exercised judgment, overthrowing the proud tower, confounding the language, dispersing the tribes, punishing the whole earth with the violence of the waters, raining on Sodom and Gomorrah fire and brimstone from Jehovah. For he had always descended in human [or angelic] figure to converse with men, from Adam to the patriarchs and prophets, in visions, in dreams, in figures and shadows, always instructing them from the beginning, &c. Adversus Prax. cap. 16. Irenæus also affirms that the Ιαω of the Greeks was the Jehovah of the Hebrews.

Exodus 3:8. A good land and large, compared with the Delta or fork of the Nile, in which they had lived. From Beersheba, the south west point, to the colony of Dan, Judges 7:0., was about 180 miles, and the breadth from the sea to Gilead about 100 miles.

Exodus 3:14. I am that I am. אהיה אשׁר אהיה EHEYEH asher EHEYEH. I will be that I will be. The Septuaginta read, Εγω ειμι ο Ων , I am he who is. Our version follows Jerome. In the next verse, the great, the glorious, and constant name of the Divinity is JEHOVAH, called by the rabbins the Tetragrammaton, because it is composed of four letters, designating the past, the present, and the future. Ex. היה Ejeh, fuit, he was; יהוה erit, he will or shall be; הוה ens, being, existence, he is. St. John has four times given us the same etymon. “I am he who is, and who was, and who is to come.” Revelation 1:4; Revelation 1:8; Revelation 4:8; Revelation 11:17. The reader needs but one remark, to pray that God would write his name on the heart. A multitude of glosses have been examined, but without affording any additional light. See more on John 8:58. We may add however, as a collateral, that in the temple of Minerva at Saïs in Egypt, in which the kings of that province were interred, and visited by Herodotus, as in his Euterpe, and afterwards by Plutarch, the Greek word ΕΙ , one, or as others read, Thou art, was on that temple, which, no doubt, was anterior to any acquaintance of that nation with the writings of Moses. The same letters, according to Plutarch, were inscribed on the far-famed temple of Delphos.

Exodus 3:22. Every woman shall borrow. God foretold that this should be, Genesis 15:14. Deuteronomy 15:13-14. The men were also to borrow, Exodus 11:2. The women of Israel were much employed as servants in the houses of the Egyptians; and that nation worshipped their gods with their persons decorated with jewels. But there is an appearance of guile and deceit in the Israelites, and guile and deceit by God’s command. This arises from our not taking the whole history in a collective view, and from our not being better acquainted with the manners of the east. It was usual for servants to receive a present at the expiration of a servitude. Had the original been translated ask instead of borrow; that is, fairly and openly ask for God’s service, and as the just reward for past labours and sufferings, the difficulty would have been very much removed. It is evident however that there was no deceit in asking those favours, because the Egyptians became at last urgent with them to depart; for they said, we be all dead men. See on Exodus 8:26.


Moses so distinguished in Egypt by his literature, and heroic actions, we here find a humble shepherd in the land of Midian. Here was greatness in exile, and virtue in obscurity; and his wisdom and virtue appear to the greater advantage by his becoming contented and happy with his lot. A man forgets the calamities of greatness in the happier toils of humble life. Making the voyage of immortality, and in the same ship, it is of little moment whether we stand at the helm, or run before the mast. And who can say that by adversity God is not preparing the sufferers for true greatness and eternal joy.

It was in the laborious duties of life, that Jehovah appeared to his servant; so is he wont to bless his people while labouring with their hands. But how awful, how sanctifying was God’s approach, even to his favourite servant. Moses saw the bush ensheeted with flame. Not knowing what unlucky man had kindled the fire, he looked on, expecting to see nothing but the wreck of the fire, and was astonished to see the bush all verdant and irradiated in the flame. Sanctifying awe and amazement seized his soul: a voice called him twice by name and said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham. In this bush we see Israel preserved and flourishing in Egypt; we see the true church flourish and growing in the fiery trial, and her virtues brightened by affliction. We see the good man preserved unhurt in the furnace, for he that dwelt in the bush, ever mindful of his promises, comes down to deliver his people.

We cannot but mark here the faithfulness of God to his covenant and promises made to Abraham. Genesis 15:0. Forty years had now elapsed, since Moses’ exile, and Israel had almost forgotten their hope; but God had not forgotten his promise. He awaited, on the one hand, till the iniquity of the Amorites was full; and on the other, till Israel was sufficiently multiplied. Let all men therefore, while labouring under the calamities of life, learn to hope and quietly wait for the salvation of God.

But ministers of religion may find here much instruction; for no man can act for God without a divine call. Parents may devote a son to the sanctuary, and perhaps the vows of their heart may be of the Lord. But the query is, whether the Lord will accept their offering, and whether their motives are pure? Let them tremble, for they may indeed do harm, and make a child unhappy for life. When a man, already regenerate, feels himself pressed in the spirit to call sinners to repentance, he should, intimidated at the greatness of the work, urge his weakness, ignorance and infirmities, with deference to the divine will. Our inability is often an argument of diligence, rather than of totally declining an inward call to do good. And if a man, after urging all his weakness in excuse, finds that he cannot rest without making some efforts to help mankind out of the bondage of sin; he ought to exert himself for God, as his situation and circumstances may direct.

When a man is satisfied of his call, he ought not to be too much discouraged by weakness, infirmities, or the fear of man. Pharaoh was great, but Jehovah was greater; the Egyptians were powerful, but God’s arm was more so. Moses was slow of speech, but God gave him wisdom and eloquence, which baffled all his foes, whether Jews or Egyptians. And what can be more glorious than a life of efforts to emancipate mankind from the darkness and dominion of sin. What more divine than to bring man into a nearer resemblance of his Maker; to do him good in body and soul, for time and eternity! Let men so persuaded of their call, and qualified of God, leave their flocks, and speak boldly to a captive world; and persuade them by every argument to break off their sins, and seek the inheritance of heaven.

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Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Exodus 3". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. 1835.