Bible Commentaries
Exodus 3

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary


Call and Commission of Moses, Exodus 3:1 to Exodus 4:18.


At last the people and the deliverer were ready “the iniquity of the Amorites” and of the Egyptians was “full” events had ripened for another epoch of Providence to disclose itself and the Divine Voice, which had been silent for centuries, was heard once more. The forty years’ trial of Moses reminds us of the forty days’ temptation of Jesus, also in the wilderness, before he began to break the bondage of which the Egyptian servitude is a constant Scripture symbol, and to announce the law for which the Sinai statutes were a preparation; himself, like Moses, “despised and rejected” by those he came to save. There are deep correspondences and divine symbolisms in these ways of Providence, which cannot be logically demonstrated but are readily accepted, when fully understood, by the truly believing spirit.


The Memorial Name. Exodus 3:14-15; Exodus 6:3. The translation of this passage in the Anglican version, I AM THAT I AM, is wholly unsatisfactory, for, as Murphy says, any being might affirm that he is what he is . It is usually understood as affirming God’s inscrutable and immutable nature; but though this is in the Hebrew, it certainly is not in our translation . Murphy suggests “I AM FOR I AM,” which he ably defends, but we judge that the translation suggested in our note is far better . It is perfectly literal, and, we think, just covers the Hebrew thought . Bunsen follows the Arabic in rendering “THE ETERNAL,” but this fails to bring out the covenant riches of the Name. Revelation 1:4 evidently paraphrases this name “I AM” in the sentence “HE WHO IS, AND WHO WAS, AND WHO IS TO COME . ” Clement of Alexandria ( Paedag . , i, chap . viii) says that “the One Name” means “WHO IS,” and (Strom . i, chap . 30:25,) renders Exodus 3:14, “HE WHO IS, sent me . ” So Theodoret and Epiphanius . See Ewald’s Hist . Israel, ii, App .

Jacobus, M’Whorter, and others, follow Oleaster, Luther, etc., in rendering the word as a proper future, “I WILL BE,” and JEHOVAH as “HE WILL BE,” and understand the meaning to be “I WILL APPEAR,” and “HE WILL APPEAR,” or “WILL COME,” and so paraphrase the Name as “THE COMING ONE,” that is, the MESSIAH. Now Christ was, of course, the supreme manifestation of the character revealed in this Name, but we have no right to assume, as this translation does, that the patriarchs had definite expectations of the incarnation. Christology is not helped by such assumptions.

Our translators have usually rendered יהוה by LORD or GOD, in small capitals, in only four instances translating it “Jehovah . ” It is most unfortunate that they did not always preserve the Hebrew word . Its real pronunciation is doubtful, although it seems certain that it is not “Jehovah . ” The Jews lost its sound from a superstitious fear of uttering it, always when they came to it in reading pronouncing the name Adhonai or Elohim, and when they wrote it always giving it the vowels of one of these names . Hence our word Jehovah is formed from the consonants of the sacred name יהוה with the vowels of Adhonai, and is quite surely not the true name . Yet it is so settled in our literature that it will probably not be displaced . It seems most likely that the true sound is Jahveh or Jahaveh, the J being sounded like Y, as hallelu-jah, which means “praise ye Jah . ” Ewald and Hengstenberg defend the pronunciation Jah-veh with great force of argument. See Hengstenberg on Pent., Diss. II; Ewald’s Hist. of Israel, ii, App.

Verse 1


1. Now Moses kept the flock Rather, Was feeding the flock . The Hebrew word expresses a continued occupation. Reuel-Jethro, or Reuel the excellent, was priest of Midian, and father of Zipporah and Hobab. See Concluding Note, chap. 2.

To the backside That is, the western side, for in the Hebrew orientation the spectator is always supposed to face the east, which is hence called “the front,” while the south is the “right hand,” as in 1 Samuel 23:19, margin, and the north is “the left hand,” as in Genesis 14:15. Moses led his flock westerly or northwesterly, through the desert strip, to the elevated ground of Horeb, where were the most fertile valleys of the peninsula, and where there was water when the lower lands were dry . The desert of Arabia is not a hot, sandy plain, like the deserts of Africa, but a very uneven, rocky, gravel-covered tract, which, except in summer, furnishes fair pasturage for flocks . Perhaps the approach of midsummer caused this movement . The mountain of God. So called from God’s subsequent manifestation there; or, as the Targumists express it, “the mountain on which was revealed the glory of Jah . ” Moses wrote this after the giving of the law at Sinai .

Horeb This was the name of the whole mountain cluster of which Sinai was a single summit. The two words are used interchangeably to denote the Mount of the Law; but before Israel reached the mountain district, as here and after they left it, as in Deuteronomy, when they were encamped in the plains of Moab it is called Horeb, since at a distance the special summit is not particularized; but while before the Mount of the Law it is always (except only in Exodus 33:6) called Sinai, since, while among the mountains, it was necessary to specify the particular peak intended . Moses smote the rock in Horeb (the district) before they reached Sinai, the mountain . Exodus 17:1-6. (ROBINSON, Bib . Res. , 1:120 . )

Verse 2

2. And the Angel of the Lord appeared unto him More literally, “And there appeared an angel of Jahveh (Jehovah) unto him .

In a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush Rather, “ the thorn-bush,” (bramble . ) Any personification or manifestation of God’s attributes is called his “angel . ” See on Genesis 16:7. The סנה , seneh, “thorn-bush,” or “bramble,” is a species of acacia, common in the Sinai peninsula, rising in tangled thickets, and having long, stout, and sharp thorns . It is here called the bramble definitely as the well-known desert bramble, or as the bramble of this divine appearance . Sinai was probably named from this seneh (senna) shrub, which abounds upon its sides and valleys . The shittah, or shittim tree, used so much in the construction of the tabernacle and its furniture, belongs to the same family .

And behold, the bush burned with fire, and… was not consumed Better, And lo, the bramble was burning in the fire, and the bramble was not consumed . The common lowly bramble well typifies despised Israel in its servitude, and the fire that burst forth among the dry thorns and yet did not consume them, was the God who dwelt in Israel, under whose providence those afflictions came, which, though they burned did not destroy, because He, the change-less JEHOVAH, was in their midst. It is ever in the extremity of his Israel’s affliction that his voice is heard from the flame. The “great sight,” which faith only sees, is God’s loving tenderness, burning but to purify. This is the truth which, in the MEMORIAL NAME, breaks upon the soul of Moses after his long and mysterious trial.

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Verse 5

5. Put off thy shoes The Orientals drop their shoes or sandals at the door, lest they defile the department by bringing in the dirt of the street; and by this expressive symbolism was Moses taught that he was drawing nigh to Him in whose sight “the heavens are not clean . ” The awful holiness of God is the first thought that the praying soul needs, and hence at the threshold of prayer the soul is taught to drop its sandals with “Hallowed be thy name . ”

Verse 6

6. The God of thy father Whose name thy father and mother taught thee; and the God of their fathers of the sacred patriarchal line who remembers his covenant with them . But Jesus shows us (Matthew 22:32, where see note) that the words were deeper still, revealing to Moses not only that He lived, but that they lived as sharers in this everlasting covenant, and were looking for its fulfilment. A covenant with Jehovah implies, connotes, or includes, immortality. Moses had waited long. Now his father’s God speaks to him in a tongue of flame; calls him by his name, yet warns him not to draw nigh; brings before him those waiting fathers a “cloud of witnesses!” What wonder that he hid his face from the blaze of such a revelation!

Verses 7-10


7-10. God dispels the mystery, that had been so long thickening upon his providence, unfolds his plan, and gives Moses his commission .

Verse 11

11. Who am I Forty years before he had been all ready in his youthful confidence, but the work that God had for him has been rising before him in its vastness, till now it overwhelms him . So Isaiah, when he had seen Jehovah and received his commission, cried, “Woe is me!” So Paul cried, “Who is sufficient for these things!”

Verse 12

12. The Lord does not deny his servant’s weakness, but promises to reveal through it his strength .

Upon this mountain The bush was probably upon the Sinai mount of the Horeb range, on which Jehovah afterward descended in fire . This (burning bramble) shall be a token Rather, is a token . The verse is often read as if the subsequent success of his mission to Pharaoh, and the consequent worship upon Sinai, were to be regarded as the tokens that he had been sent. Success itself was an obvious token then, but the hesitating Moses wants a present sign. The flaming bramble shrub was the token that he would bring Israel to the flaming bramble mount.

Verse 13

13. His name Now he desires to look at his commission, and asks, What is His name. With the Hebrews proper names were not simply labels attached to individuals they were significant they indicated character. So the change from Jacob to Israel from Abram to Abraham indicated change of character and relation. So when Jacob pleaded with the Angel, “Tell me thy name,” he meant “Reveal thy character.” Name is thus constantly used by the Scripture writers to mean a cluster of attributes. To praise God’s name, is to adore the holiness, justice, truth, signified by that name. To profane it, is to slight his character, his person. We pray through Christ’s name; that is, through his character and work as Redeemer. At successive epochs of revelation God has revealed himself by different names to set forth different phases of his glorious character, and he promises to write upon the redeemed at last “his new name,” that is, to show them glories in his character which can never be seen till then. Moses asks, then, in this question, What new phase of God’s character is to be revealed? God replies by unfolding afresh the true significance of a name which had long been known, at least to a few, but whose meaning was now to be stamped anew by wondrous works into the national consciousness.

Verses 14-15

14, 15. My name THE MEMORIAL NAME, אהיה אשׁר אהיה , a paraphrase of the name JEHOVAH, or JAHVEH; literally rendered, I AM WHO AM, that is, I AM HE WHO IS I only am He who exists in Himself an idea which the Alexandrian translators expressed by ‘ Ο ΩΝ ; Justin, by Ille Ens . And this is not an assertion of mere abstract existence for the Hebrew verb never stops with this but of living, active existence, of Being manifesting itself. Absolute independence, and consequent unchangeableness and eternal activity, are implied in the name I AM, and by adding the relative clause, WHO AM, the thought is added that these attributes belong only to Jehovah. Absolutely independent in being and action, nothing can hinder him from performing his will; unchangeable, what once he has promised must forever be his purpose. Often after this God appeals to this Memorial Name as the witness, (1,) of his absolute solitary supremacy: “I am Jehovah… Ye shall have no other gods,” (Exodus 20:2-3;) (2,) of his immutability: “I am Jehovah; I change not,” (Malachi 3:6;) (3,) but especially ofhis eternal activity in manifesting himself; “I am Jehovah, and I will bring you out… I will take you to me for a people… I will bring you in unto the land… I am Jehovah,” (Exodus 6:6, etc . ) This name was to be Israel’s fortress, an infinite storehouse of hopes and consolations .

Grammatically, the word here rendered I AM is the first person future of the verb of existence translated as a present, (the Hebrew has no proper present,) which tense conveys the idea of the future continuance of the present state. (Nordh., Hebrews Gram., § 964, 2.) Now the word translated Jehovah (more properly Jahveh) is the third person future of the same verb in its archaic form, HAVAH, (or is, as some think, formed from this verb with a prefix,) and so “Jehovah” has the same meaning in the third person which this word has in the first. Thus the name afterward announced to Moses, in Exodus 6:3, is the same as I AM: in the mouth of God it is I WHO AM; in the mouth of man it is HE WHO IS . This, as says Maimonides, is the only real, proper name of God; for while other names set forth some of his attributes attributes which, to some degree, he shares with created beings this name alone sets forth his innermost, incommunicable nature . This distinction is grammaticaliy stamped on the word, for it has no article, no plural, no construct.

It is well to briefly compare the inspired Memorial Name with the other common appellations of God. It is a word worthy to be the core of revelation.

Our word “lord” means governor, and simply brings before us God’s authority. “God” has the same meaning, though some have incorrectly derived it from “good.” “Deity” is from Latin, deus; Greek, θεος ; Sanskrit, dyaus, from div, to shine; and means “the Shining One,” that is, according to Max Muller, the sun, which our Aryan ancestors worshipped in Asia . Thus the classic names and our word “deity” are all idolatrous in meaning, while “lord” and “god” connote simply authority . There are five Hebrew names often used, besides “Jehovah . ” El and Elohim signify the STRONG and the STRONG ONES; Elyon signifies the MOST HIGH; Shaddai, the ALMIGHTY; and Adhonai corresponds to our “Lord.” But the Memorial Name comprises all these ideas and infinitely more.

(1.) I AM; (as says Bahr,) not the heathen “it,” a deified nature, but “I.” Pantheism, which all heathenism is at bottom, identifies God with nature, but here is a Personality above nature. The world in itself is nothing. God only IS.

(2.) Hence he is Lord of nature, which proceeded from him: Creator, Governor, Preserver; El, Elohim, Shaddai, Elyon, Adhonai.

(3.) The Living One: he is forever unfolding himself to man in word and work God of providence and revelation.

(4.) Immutable: he is the God of our trust, the covenant God.

(5.) Immutable, he is also the Truth; ever consistent with his own nature, that is, holy, for the ground and the standard of right is the nature of God. Hence is he worthy of worship, (worth-ship,) supreme love, and praise. As Adam Clarke well says, the very Name itself is a proof of a divine revelation. It will be also seen how appropriate is this name to set forth the progressive revelation, the historical manifestation, of God’s character to the nation whom he had chosen to reveal him to mankind. It is not spoken of as a name entirely new would be, but is declared to be the name of the God of Israel’s fathers. Genesis 4:26 seems to declare that it was known in the days of Seth, and the proper names Moriah, ( seen of Jah,) and Jochebed, ( Jah, her glory,) show that it had been preserved in the sacred line, and that its abbreviated form was used in compound names; but its deep richness of meaning and covenant significance were now first to appear . Proper names were often thus repeated when events gave them fresh meaning and pertinence, as we see was the case with “Jacob,” “Esau,” “Beth-el,” and others . See also Concluding Note, and Exodus 6:3.

Verse 18

18. Three days’ journey… that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God It was not national but religious independence which was the burden of their request acknowledgment of the God of Israel. The first step in the Hebrew national history was in harmony with all that followed; the first throb of Hebrew national life was a blow at idolatry. Had Egypt met this first demand, and owned the sway of the One Only God, the plagues had never fallen, and perhaps Israel’s national mission had never been needed, and Memphis or Zoan had been in history what Jerusalem became. But Pharaoh would not acknowledge Jehovah, and so was forced to acknowledge Hebrew independence. He did not see at first how the two were linked together, nor did Moses.

Verse 19

19. And I am sure Literally, I know, “that the king of Egypt will not let you go . ” No,

not by a mighty hand Rather, But by a mighty hand . Obedience to this simple, plain demand made by Moses was possible, but God knew that Pharaoh would disobey, and predicted the results of his free volition. God knew Pharaoh’s proud and obstinate heart.

Verse 22

22. Every woman shall borrow Literally, ask, for this is always the meaning of the word שׁאל ; and whether the thing asked for is to be returned or not the context must determine . Thus the thirsty Barak asks water, (Judges 5:25,) and Gideon asks for the golden earrings of the Ishmaelites, (Judges 8:26,) evidently not intending to return the things asked for; but the prophet’s widow (2 Kings 4:3) asks empty oil vessels of her neighbours, possibly intending to return them . All the circumstances here show that the Israelites did not promise, and that the Egyptians did not expect, that these jewels and garments would ever be returned . See on Exodus 11:2, etc .

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Exodus 3". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". 1874-1909.