Bible Commentaries
Exodus 3

Coke's Commentary on the Holy BibleCoke's Commentary



God appeareth to Moses in the bush, and appoints him to be the deliverer of his people. He commands him to assemble the elders of Israel, and to go with them to Pharaoh; and promises, that the Israelites shall depart from Egypt, loaded with the spoils thereof.

Before Christ 1491.

Verse 1

Exodus 3:1. Jethro his father-in-law, &c.— See note on ch. Exodus 2:18. What we render, the back-side of the desert, the Vulgate has the inner parts of the desert; where, probably, there was the best pasture: and so the Chaldee renders it, the best pastures of the desert. Horeb might be called the mountain of GOD, either from God's appearance there now, or because of his giving the law from it afterwards. Some suppose that it is so called, from its great height; as, Psa 36:6 the great mountains are called in the original, the mountains of God. Josephus has preserved a tradition, that it was given out in the times before Moses, that a Divinity had often appeared on this mount. Horeb and Sinai were two tops of the same mountain; which accounts for their being so frequently named the one for the other; as, Acts 7:30. St. Stephen calls that Sinai, which Moses here calls Horeb. Some suppose, that Moses, during his forty years' continuance with Jethro, wrote the book of Genesis, as well as that of Job.

Verse 2

Exodus 3:2. The angel of the Lord In the note on Gen 16:7 we have delivered our opinion at large, concerning the Angel of the Lord, which, with the generality of Christian interpreters, we conceive to have been the Messiah, the Angel, or Messenger of the Covenant, It is very evident from this chapter, that the Person here appearing to Moses was no created Angel, but Jehovah himself, the second Divine Person in the Trinity; see Exodus 3:4; Exodus 3:6; Exodus 3:14, &c. the same who conducted the Israelites in the wilderness, and that was Christ, according to St. Paul, 1 Corinthians 10:4. Fire was one of the emblems of the Shechinah, or Divine appearance; see Gen 15:17-18 and of the other appearances which follow in the course of the sacred Scriptures. This flame must have been exceedingly lambent and pure, for Moses to discover the bramble-bush (for so the original word סנה seneh, signifies) unconsumed in the midst of it. The mount and the wilderness of Sinai are thought to be so called, from sene, on account of the brambles which abounded there.

Bush burned with fire, &c.— Many interpreters have thought, that, as fire, in Scripture, is often used as an emblem of calamity, Lamentations 2:3; Lam 2:22 therefore, the bush burning with fire, but not consumed, represented, that however the Israelites might be distressed, yet their afflictions should not entirely consume them, nor make an end of them: God signifying by his appearance in the midst of the bush, that he was present with his people in the midst of their tribulations. The heathens, it is certain, had some notice of this history; see Eusebius, praep. Evang. lib. ix. c. 27. Dion Prusaeus too, Orat. 36 has something like this, where he says, "The Persians relate concerning Zoroaster, that the love of wisdom and virtue leading him to a solitary life upon a mountain, he found it one day all in a flame, shining with celestial fire; out of the midst of which he came without any harm, and instituted certain sacrifices to God, who then, he was persuaded, appeared to him." This seems to be only a corruption of the present history.

Verse 5

Exodus 3:5. And he said, Draw not nigh Soon as Moses discerned this astonishing sight, his curiosity was raised, and he turned aside to contemplate it; doing which, as some suppose, with too much boldness, he was immediately given to understand, that this was a Divine manifestation, and was admonished to approach with due reverence; particularly by putting off his shoes: put off thy shoes: the reason for which is immediately subjoined, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground. This custom of treading barefoot in holy places, seems to have been general in the East: the Egyptians used it; and Pythagoras is thought to have learned the rite from them, for he recommends to his disciples, (Ανυποδητος θυε και προσκυνει, ) offer sacrifice, and worship, putting off your shoes. The Mahomedans observe this ceremony to the present day, as do the Christians of Abyssinia. Whence it is originally derived, it is not easy to determine. God speaks here to Moses in such terms, as would lead one to believe the custom then familiar; and, consequently, of very high antiquity. The same direction, urged by the same reason, is given to Joshua, Jos 5:15 and in the service of the tabernacle and temple the priests officiated bare-foot. Juvenal remarks, that this was the practice of the Jews in his time:

Observant ubi festa mero pede sabbata reges. "———Judah's tribe:

Where, bare-foot, they approach the sacred shrine." DRYDEN, Sat. III.

Some have supposed the rite to have been originally derived from slaves, who went bare-foot, in token of meanness and subjection: hence it was used as a sign of mourning and humiliation, 2 Samuel 15:30. Isaiah 2:4.Ezekiel 17:23; Ezekiel 17:23. However, as the custom prevailed so early, and spread so universally, it is probable, as Mede and others remark, that it was one of the religious ceremonies observed by the patriarchs, as a sign of that awful respect, with which mortals ought to approach their Maker. Something of this kind has been usual among other nations: and, as in the East, they uncovered their feet, so we uncover our heads, in token of the same respect, when we approach the presence of the Almighty.

Verse 6

Exodus 3:6. The God of thy father In Act 7:32 it is the God of thy fathers; which the following words prove to be the true meaning. Moses, terrified at the Divine appearance, hid his face: for what sinful mortal can dare to look upon God, before whom the very angels themselves cover their faces? Isaiah 6:2. See Genesis 17:3. 1 Kings 19:13. What we read, to look upon God, the Chaldee renders very properly, to look upon the glory of God.

The God of Abraham, &c.— See Matthew 22:32.

REFLECTIONS.—Moses seems as if he had forgotten Egypt; and Israel, as if no more remembered of their God; but this is the day of salvation. Moses, as usual, was attending his father's flocks, buried in obscurity, and humbly acquiescing in his employment. Learn, 1. When we can see God's call, to retire from the world becomes our duty, and the meanest occupation should be welcome. 2. If God be long before he calls us forth, it is because he is preparing us for what he hath prepared for us.

1. God appears to him in a flame of fire in a bush; and Moses, struck with the uncommon appearance, draws near to see this sight, a bush burning, yet unconsumed. The church of Christ is like this bush, frequently in affliction, but not destroyed.
2. God speaks to him out of the fire, and Moses answers. He is hereupon directed how to approach, with reverence and godly fear, in order to hear the revelation which God is about to make to him. Note; (1.) Attention to providences is a great means of keeping up communion with God. (2.) An obedient ear is ever open to instruction. (3.) In our appearances before God, the posture of our body should comport with the deep abasement and sacred awe which is upon our mind.

3. He makes himself known to him, as the Covenant-God of his fathers, to encourage his faith, and to engage his obedience. All the saints live to God. Those whom we reckon among the dead, are only removed into that better world, where life eternal reigns, Luke 20:37.

4. Moses is deeply affected with what he sees and hears. A sense of our own great unworthiness may well cover our faces with shame when we appear before God; and the more a saint of God experiences of his love, the deeper will be his humiliation before him.

Verse 7

Exodus 3:7. I have surely seen In Act 7:34 it is, I have seen, I have seen; (see note on ch. Exodus 2:23, &c.) which is agreeable to the Hebrew, seeing, I have seen; the repetition implies God's determined purpose to deliver the Israelites.

Verse 8

Exodus 3:8. A good land and a large, &c.— The land of Canaan is here described as good and large, and abounding with plenty; flowing with milk and honey, a proverbial expression, denoting plenty; and, as such, frequently used, not only in the Scriptures, but also in prophane writers. So Euripides, speaking of a country, says, that it flows with milk and honey, and the nectar of bees. The fertility of Canaan is manifest from the number of inhabitants which it maintained, as well as from the attestation of various writers: nor can any objection to the Scripture-account arise from its present barrenness, which is owing to its want of inhabitants and cultivation; though there may also be at present a curse resting upon it. It is called, a large land, not only with respect to the narrow tract of Goshen, to which the children of Israel were now confined; but also, in reference to the whole of the territories, to which their future conquests should extend.

REFLECTIONS.—1. God here begins to open his designs toward his people. He observes their sorrows and oppression, and hears their cry; and will not only deliver them from it, but bring them into the land promised, to their fathers, and of slaves maketh them princes. Thus shall Jesus not only bring us from the bondage of our corruptions, but raise us up to be kings on thrones of glory.

2. He sends Moses his ambassador to demand their release. The weak things in God's hands are mighty. A shepherd brings Israel from Egypt: afterwards, a few despised fishermen lay the foundations of the Christian church, against which all the powers of earth, or malice of devils, never could, and never shall prevail.

Verse 11

Exodus 3:11. Moses said—Who am I, &c.— Conscious of his own unworthiness and incapacity for so great a service, and apprehensive of his little influence with the court of Egypt; Moses here modestly declines the undertaking: upon which, God assures him of his immediate succour and assistance; and fortifies him with the encouraging declaration, that nothing should harm him, for that he himself would be with him; certainly I will be with thee. See Genesis 26:3; Genesis 28:15.Joshua 1:5; Joshua 1:5.

Verse 12

Exodus 3:12. This shall be a token, &c.— This part of the verse would be more properly rendered thus: and this (namely, the vision) is, or shall be (for there is no verb in the Hebrew) a sign unto thee, that I have sent thee: and when thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve God upon this mountain. It is certain, that it could be no present sign of encouragement to Moses, to be told, that hereafter they should worship God upon this mountain, as our translation leads us to understand it; while it is equally certain, that this appearance of God was the strongest encouragement possible.

Verse 13

Exodus 3:13. Shall say to me, What is his name? &c.— Bishop Warburton judiciously observes, that "at this time, so great was the degeneracy of the Israelites in Egypt, and so sensible was Moses of its effects, in ignorance of, or alienation from, the true God, that he would willingly have declined the office; and, when absolutely commanded to undertake it, he desired that God would let him know, by what NAME he would be called, when the people should ask the name of the God of their fathers. In which we see a people, not only lost to all knowledge of the UNITY, (for the asking for a name necessarily implied their opinion of a plurality,) but likewise possessed with the very spirit of Egyptian idolatry. The religion of NAMES was a matter of great consequence in Egypt: it was one of their essential superstitions: it was one of their native inventions; and the first of them which they communicated to the Greeks. A NAME was so peculiar an adjunct to a local, tutelary deity, that we see, by a passage quoted by Lactantius, from the spurious books of Trismegist, (which, however, abounded with Egyptian notions and superstitions,) that the one Supreme God had no name, or title of distinction. Zechariah, evidently alluding to these notions, when he prophesies of the worship of the Supreme God, unmixed with idolatry, says, in that day shall there be one Lord, and HIS NAME ONE, Zechariah 14:9. Out of indulgence, therefore, to this weakness, God was pleased to give himself a NAME. 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: where we may observe, according to the constant method of Divine Wisdom, when it condescends to the prejudices of men, how, in the very instance of indulgence to their superstition, he gives a corrective of it. The religion of names arose from an idolatrous polytheism; and the name here given, which implies eternity and self-existence, directly opposeth that superstition."

Verse 14

Exodus 3:14. God said unto Moses I AM THAT I AM:— It is very reasonable to suppose, that the answer to the question of Moses, should contain such an appellation, name, or account of God, as was applicable to the point in hand, and would conduce to assure the Israelites of his intended deliverance of them from bondage: but nothing of this kind, it must be confessed, appears from the passage, as we render it. For, if I AM THAT I AM, according to the generality of interpreters, refers to the incommunicable nature and self-existence of the Supreme Being; this, doubtless, is a reason for general acquiescence in HIS providence, who exists for ever the same; but it could be no particular ground of encouragement to the Israelites, whom this self-existing God had now left so many years in servitude. There being these, and other reasonable objections to this version and interpretation; we find, upon referring to the original, that the words, literally rendered, have a different import: for אהיה אשׁר אהיה eheieh asher eheieh, is, I will be whom I will be; ego is ero, qui olim futurus sum, (I will be he, who am from old about to come,) says Houbigant, who observes, that, "as Moses, when he inquired of God what was his name, desired to know in that NAME of GOD, not a bare appellation of syllables, but some reality, signified by the name of God; so God answers his request, by informing him, that he will be the same, when he shall deliver the people of Israel from Egypt, as he promised their fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, should hereafter come, and be the deliverer of mankind; discovering that reality, from of old adumbrated or represented in the name JEHOVAH: I will be whom I will be: the present, future, and everlasting Deliverer of my people; who Is, and Was, and Is to come; the Saviour of all men from sin, death, and hell: JESUS CHRIST, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. That the NAME of God is not intimated in these words, aeie asher aeie, the following verse shews; where we read, thus shalt thou say to the children of Israel, JEHOVAH, the GOD of your fathers, (for so it should be rendered,) hath sent—this is my NAME for ever: the name of GOD being signified by the word יהוה iehovah, or JEHOVAH." For further satisfaction on this point, we refer the learned reader to Houbigant's own observations. The Chaldee renders it in the same manner; and every reason of good criticism and connection confirms this interpretation; and assures us, not only that these words refer to GOD the Deliverer and Saviour of his people; but that the august and incommunicable name of JEHOVAH is derived from the same source, and expressive of the same great truth. There are innumerable passages, in which this name of JEHOVAH is applied to Christ: and, therefore, if it express not, as we suppose, his office of Deliverer; it must, according to the other interpretation given, express his ineffable and incommunicable essence. That this Divine name JEHOVAH was well known to the Heathens, there can be no doubt; as was that of יה iah, which, I conceive, immediately expresses the Divine Essence; and is, certainly, not derived from the same source as Jehovah. The famous inscription, Ei, thou art, on the temple of Apollo at Delphos, appears derived from this name: and on the temple of Minerva at Sais in Egypt, it was written, I am all that exists, that is, or shall be; and no mortal hath hitherto taken off my veil; which is plainly deduced from this sacred name. See Parkhurst, and the Universal History, vol. 2: where the authors have been copious on this subject.

Verse 15

Exodus 3:15. This is my name, &c.— JEHOVAH, in consequence of this, was always held among the Jews, as the peculiar and distinguishing name of their God. And as God was peculiarly the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and of the Jewish nation; as he separated them solely to himself, for the great end of bringing the future SAVIOUR into the world; as the whole Mosaic history, nay, and all the books of the Old Testament, lead only to this great point, and prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah: there is all the reason in the world to believe, that this incommunicable name of JEHOVAH refers absolutely to that deliverance and salvation which the SON of GOD could and did perfect; and not to the general nature and essence of GOD. And it is very observable in the next verse, Exo 3:16 that, after God has given Moses so striking a designation of himself, he immediately sends him to Israel, to remind them, peculiarly, of the covenant which he had entered into with their fathers: which covenant, not God's immediate essence, was their hope and surety, and which, as we have often observed, was twofold; consisting in the promise of the land of Canaan, and of the Messiah, the seed of Abraham.

REFLECTIONS.—Moses starts at God's proposal.

1. He pleads his insufficiency for the task, perhaps out of humility. Highly qualified as a man may be to minister before the Lord, lowly thoughts become him. Who is sufficient for these things? Perhaps out of fear. The essay was dangerous, and he must put his life in his hand. Fear of man is a great hinderance to the work of God.

2. God silences his objection, and promises him success. If God be with us, our weakness shall become strength, our folly wisdom, and every mountain of difficulty be level as a plain; nor can we fail of succeeding under such a Leader.
3. Moses begs farther instructions for his proceedings. He expected that they would call upon him to prove his mission, and who sent him. Note; We must not run without our message. They who are to speak for God, need earnestly inquire at his word, that they may be able to give an answer to every one that asketh a reason of the hope which is in them.

4. The satisfaction he receives. God is the great I am, self-existent, faithful to his promises, and all-sufficient to accomplish them. He is their fathers' God; and they should remember the covenant, in which for their fathers' sake they were interested: Considerations admirably suited to engage their dependence on him, and to make them ready to welcome their Great Deliverer. Note; The remembrance of what God is to his covenant-people, is the great motive to hear him, trust him, love him, and follow him.

Verse 16

Exodus 3:16. I have surely visited you We add, in the next clause, and seen; whereas there is no word for seen in the original. The verse might, with great propriety, be rendered, I have surely viewed or observed you, and that which is done unto you in Egypt. The same word, in 1Sa 15:2 is rendered remember; and, therefore, might be rendered here, I have surely remembered you, and that, &c. And thus the Chaldee Paraphrase, the Syriac, and Arabic, have it. The LXX render it, επισκοπη επισκεμμαι, I have overseen.

Verse 18

Exodus 3:18. The Lord God of the Hebrews hath met with us Hath called us, according to the reading which Dr. Kennicott proposes. They were to ask only for three days' journey, by way of proving Pharaoh, as the context and the sequel shew. Mount Sinai was three days' journey from Egypt.

Verse 19

Exodus 3:19. Will not let you go, no, not by a mighty hand But by a strong hand. Margin of our Bibles. i.e. But by the exertion of a strong and mighty power, which he will not be able to resist; and which shall subdue that hardness of heart, and backwardness to consent, which he will shew; see Exodus 6:1. Houbigant renders this, ni vis aderit portentorum; unless the force of miracles be exerted; which is rather a paraphrase than a translation: unless with a strong hand, seems the true interpretation.

Verse 20

Exodus 3:20. I will stretch out my hand I will mightily exert my power; see Deuteronomy 26:8. Bishop Warburton very judiciously observes, that the two most populous regions at that time in the world, were Canaan and Egypt: the first, distinguished from all others, by its violence and unnatural crimes; the latter, by its superstitions and idolatries. It concerned God's moral government, that a speedy check should be put to both; the inhabitants of these two places being now ripe for Divine vengeance. And, as the instruments he employed to punish their present enormities, were designed for the barrier against future; the Israelites went out of Egypt with a high hand, which desolated their haughty tyrants; and were led into the possession of the land of Canaan, whose inhabitants they were utterly to exterminate. The dispensation of this providence appears admirable, both in the time and the modes of the punishment. Vice and idolatry had now, as I said, filled up their measure. Egypt, the capital of false religion, being likewise the nursery of arts and sciences, was preserved from total destruction, for the sake of civil life [and various branches of useful knowledge which were to derive their source therefrom]: but the CANAANITES were to be utterly exterminated, to vindicate [not only the Divine law, but] the honour of humanity, and to put a stop to a spreading contagion which changed the reasonable nature into brutal. And God chose to smite this kingdom of Egypt with all his wonders, in support of his elect people, for this very reason; that through the celebrity of so famed an empire, the power of the true God might be spread abroad, and strike the observation of the whole habitable world. See Divine Legat. vol. 2: part 1.

Verse 21

Exodus 3:21. I will give this people favour An expression, which abundantly serves to clear the difficulty raised by some from what is mentioned in the following verse. GOD, in whose hand are all hearts, promises, that he himself will influence the Egyptians to favour the Israelites at their departure, to grant them what they shall ask, (for so the word שׁאל sheal, which we render borrow, should be translated,) and generously to dismiss them with such presents, as might be thought, in some degree, a compensation for the injuries they had received in Egypt.

Verse 22

Exodus 3:22. Every woman shall borrow It should be translated, shall ASK of her neighbour, and of her that sojourns in her house, vessels of silver, and vessels of gold, and raiment, &c. But, for a further justification of this matter, we refer to the event itself, ch. Exodus 12:35. It appears by the expression in the text, of her neighbour, and her that sojourneth in her house,—that the Hebrews and Egyptians lived intermixed; and so the former might the more easily carry some of the latter along with them, when they left Egypt. See ch. Exodus 11:8.

REFLECTIONS.—Moses is farther directed in his work.

1. He must assemble the elders of the people, and assure them of the fulfilment of God's promise; and they shall hearken to it. Note; (1.) The faithful report of God's word is every minister's duty. (2.) When we do so, it is God's work to make it successful, and we have God's promise to assure us that he will, Matthew 28:20.

2. He must speak to Pharaoh; and the request is most reasonable, but Pharaoh will not hearken. Learn hence, The obstinacy of the sinner's heart, who turns a deaf ear to the kindest pleas and remonstrances.
3. God will bring his people out in spite of Pharaoh, and not only free, but enriched with the spoils of the Egyptians. Learn, (1.) Opposition against God is vain. (2.) Whether we have justice in this world or not, we know the day is near, when God will judge according to truth.

But let us, before we dismiss this chapter, consider this wonderful manifestation of God as a type of the Messiah. The appearances of the Deity, in that age of types, were most generally vouchsafed in such a manner, as to represent some hidden mystery, or important doctrine of the Gospel. They who think, that the flame of fire might signify the pure and spiritual nature of God, who appeared in it, are certainly not mistaken. And it is also not unfitly observed, that the burning bush may represent the state of Israel at that time, who were entangled in the thorny bush of adversity, in which they were near being consumed. But let us draw near, and consider with Moses this great sight with a closer attention; and perhaps it will be found a most significant emblem, both of Jesus Christ who was in the bush, and of the church which is his body, in every age of the world.

And, first, it seems very probable, that this was a prelusive vision both of the future incarnation and sufferings of Jesus Christ. That the bush may represent his human nature, is not unlikely, especially as the prophet Esaias compares him to a tender plant, and root out of a dry ground, in which, to the eye of sense, no form, comeliness, or beauty should be found. That the flame of fire may adumbrate or typify his Divine Nature, will be no less evident, when we consider how often the fiery element is, in the Scripture-style, an emblem of the Deity: yea, it is expressly said, "Our God is a consuming fire," Hebrews 12:29. That the union of the flame of fire with the bush may denote the union of the Godhead and the Manhood, is not at all absurd to suppose: for why should Moses, in his dying benediction, be directed to speak of "the goodwill of Him that dwelt in the bush?" Deuteronomy 33:16. May it not signify, that the continuance of the flame of fire in the bush for a time, was a type of the fulness of the Godhead dwelling for ever in the man Christ Jesus? As the bush was in the fire, and the fire in the bush; yet still they were distinct things, though joined thus in one: even so the Man Christ Jesus is in the God, and the God is in the Man, though both these Natures, so mysteriously united, do still retain their own distinct properties. And if Moses was struck with admiration, that the bush was not consumed, though in such near neighbourhood with ruddy flame; much more may we be overwhelmed with amazement, to think how a portion of our frail humanity lives for ever in a state of the nearest approach unto, and most ineffable union with the glorious Godhead, in whose unveiled presence we mortals could not live, and even the angels cover their faces with their wings. Here also may be discerned a shadow of those direful sufferings, by which the Son of God was to expiate our sins. For the wrath of God is in innumerable instances in Scripture compared to fire: and Jesus Christ, who dwelt in the bush, dwelt also in the fierce fire of God's indignation against sin, which flamed most intensely against him, while he bore the sins of many, and was compassed by this fire all the days of his humbled life: yet he was not consumed, because his Deity, like the Angel in the bush, supported his humanity, and bade him be a glorious Conqueror.

From the sufferings of the head, let us descend to the sufferings of the body. Let the bush be an emblem of the church, to which it may be compared on account of its weak, obscure, and contemptible state in the esteem of worldly men, who are taken with nothing but what dazzles the eye of sense. For though there is a real glory, and a spiritual magnificence, in this holy society, she cannot compare with earthly kingdoms in outward splendour, any more than a bush in the wilderness can vie with a cedar in Lebanon; for besides the comparative paucity of her true members, they are commonly to be found rather in smoky cottages than proud palaces; and sometimes they have been found in prisons, dungeons, dens, and caves of the earth. Let the fire in which the bush burned, signify the fiery trials to which the church has been no stranger in all ages. Sometimes, she has burned in the fire of persecution; and sometimes, of division. But as the bush was not consumed, so neither has the church been destroyed. In vain shall the great red dragon persecute this woman clothed with the sun; for a place is prepared for her in the wilderness by the great God, and there no necessary provision shall be wanting. How many times have bloody and deceitful men conspired her destruction? When were incendiaries wanting to foment and kindle those fires, which, without the immediate interposition of the Keeper of Israel, would certainly have wasted unto destruction, and completed the utter extinction of this humble bush? What society, but this alone, could have subsisted to this day, in the midst of a hating world? Where are now the mighty empires of antiquity? They are but an empty name, live only in history, having fallen to pieces by their own weight, or been crushed by bloody war. But the church of Christ, though she has undergone many revolutions, remains, and will remain, when the consumption determined by the Lord of Hosts shall come upon all the earth.
Ask you the reason? The angel of the Lord is in the bush; and though persecuted, she is not forsaken: therefore shall the fiery trials, instead of consuming her, serve to refine her, and add unto her glory, as the bush was only brightened by the flame.

Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Exodus 3". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.