The God who Sees and Sends Exodus 3:1-16

When is the last time that something caught your attention when you were out driving?  Have you ever seen something and then did a double take, and stared because you weren’t sure your eyes were giving you the correct information?  I’ve done that a time or two in my life.  Recently I saw a dessert that looked just like cigarettes in an ashtray.  It was creative!  Well, dessert is one thing.  The desert is another.  Last week we discovered that God pays attention.  But now we have to ask:  are WE? 

Now Moses was pasturing the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; and he led the flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.  Exodus 3:1

Moses is about 80 years old.  This is probably when we’d be thinking about retirement—end of life—enjoying some work, some peace, and the good life.  But Moses is deep in the wilderness.  Mount Horeb is probably the same as Mount Sinai, which Moses will return to much later with all of the people of Israel.  No one knows for sure where this mountain is, and there is speculation about a few different sites. I hiked one of the sites in Israel a few years ago. 

You can see the dry and barren land, and some of the bushes and shrub like trees near the bottom of the mountain.  This kind of landscape is what Moses would have been working in for the last 40 years of his life. In that amount of time, you grow accustomed to the silence.  You have settled into a life that is familiar. But…

Then the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not being consumed. So Moses said, “I must turn aside and see this marvelous sight, why the bush is not burning up!” When the Lord saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.”  Exodus 3:2-4

If you’ve ever wondered why is says an angel of the Lord rather than God, you might think of it like a Zoom call (which we’re all way too familiar with right now!)  God is holy and not limited to space, and people are not able to stand in his presence literally, or they will die.  God is not physically present, but he has some form of visibility through the angel. 

The word ‘Sinai’ sounds like the word ‘bush’ –seneh.[1] Deuteronomy 33:16 describes God as the one who resides in the bush, or in the NRSV, the one who dwells on Sinai.[2]  This thorny bush could be a desert plant known as Rubus sanctus that grows near wadis, or a cassia senna shrub.[3] Either way, deities were often associated with trees, not bushes.[4]  Moses saw something different about this bush, something supernatural.

Maybe it took a few minutes to really digest what his eyes were seeing.  Some people think that bushes would just combust in the desert, so this was not unusual.  But what IS astonishing is that the bush is not burning up.  And it’s only after Moses stops and looks, that God speaks…

Then He said, “Do not come near here; remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” And He said, “I am the God of your father—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Then Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.  Exodus 3:5-6

The area around the burning bush has become like a temple—holy ground.  Some of us have those traditions in our homes, where you remove your shoes when you enter.  In the future, priests were barefoot when they enter the presence of God.[5]  Even now, priests remove their footwear before pronouncing the priestly blessing in the synagogue.[6]  I like to run around during the week and on Sunday mornings without shoes, but it’s not truly a holy ground issue.

And the Lord said, “I have certainly seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their outcry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings. So I have come down to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Amorite, the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite. And now, behold, the cry of the sons of Israel has come to Me; furthermore, I have seen the oppression with which the Egyptians are oppressing them. Exodus 3:7-9

Notice the words of awareness again: seen, heard, aware. The bush was the way that God grabbed Moses’ attention. But Moses needed to see what God wanted him to see.

And now come, and I will send you to Pharaoh, so that you may bring My people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?” Exodus 3:10-11

Moses has had a lot of time to think about his position in life.  He had grown up as the adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter, and had learned the knowledge and wisdom of Egypt.  He thought he may have been placed in that position for a reason, but when he did things his own way and in his own time, he got a huge reality check.  He ran away.  He thought he was done.  Now he’s been isolated from Egypt for forty years, out in the desert being a shepherd. He may be thinking: ‘God, I’m NOT seeing what you’re seeing. I just stopped to take a look at this bush. Are you sure you’ve really got the right guy?’

And He said, “Assuredly I will be with you, and this shall be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God at this mountain.”  Exodus 3:12

It’s not certain what the sign IS.  Is it that God will be WITH Moses?  Is it that in the future he’ll show up back at this mountain?  Is it the bush? Scholars aren’t sure.[7]  But there is significance in the bush.  God has seen his people slaving for hundreds of years, and he is keeping them from being destroyed. God is showing Moses a picture of the people.  It’s a miracle that proves that God’s people will not be extinguished.  Moses gets the memo. And God tries to reassure him that he’s the guy for the job. That’s probably a good thing.  Moses may have grown up in the palace in Egypt, and adopted by the Pharaoh’s daughter, but that was a LONG time ago.  He is now working the lowliest job on the totem pole:  a shepherd.  Can you imagine a car mechanic or a hairdresser trying to get into the white house so he can ask the president to let his people go?  He’s going to need some pretty big creds to get in the door.  But God says “I will be with you.”

Then Moses said to God, “Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I will say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’  Now they may say to me, ‘What is His name?’ What shall I say to them?”  Exodus 3:13

The identity of the people of Israel from here on out will be rooted in the worship of God.  His name is going to be the medium of continuous worship.[8]  But the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob have lived in a pagan culture for over 400 years.  Moses needs to be clear that he’s not coming in the name of some new god, or even a version of an Egyptian god.  ‘God, what is your name?’

The Hebrew name for the book of Exodus is Shmōt—Names.  Not only have we encountered the names of some very significant people in the history of the Israelites, but now we get to also see GOD’S name!

And God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “This is what you shall say to the sons of Israel: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”God furthermore said to Moses, “This is what you shall say to the sons of Israel: ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is My name forever, and this is the name for all generations to use to call upon Me.  Exodus 3:14-15

The great theologian Popeye used to say, ‘I Yam what I Yam’.   But this is God.  His name is not static.  It’s an active verb…[9] and it also means, “I will be who I will be.”[10] God’s name would be spelled YHWH—(yod, hey, vav, hey), Yahweh.  The Yah pattern became common in many names for the Israelites: Eliyahu—Yah is my God; Abijah—Yah is my father; Isaiah—salvation of Yah; and even Hallelujah—a command to praise the Lord!  Yahweh—I am what I am.  I will be who I will be. 

Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob has appeared to me, saying, “I am indeed concerned about you and what has been done to you in Egypt. Exodus 3:16

“I have been carefully watching over you.”  (That doesn’t come across well in our English texts.) There are so many SEEING words in this little section: The angel of the Lord APPEARED; Moses SAW that the bush wasn’t burning; He turned to LOOK; ‘I’ll go over and SEE this strange SIGHT’; The LORD SAW that he had done over to LOOK.[11] Moses’ eyes will eventually be opened to what God wants him to see.

There are some interesting parallels here to note: The Pharaoh’s daughter was royalty.  She SAW the basket in the river.  The baby cried, and she had compassion on him, and Moses became a son to her.  Moses was royalty.  He SAW a bush.  He will be God’s arm of deliverance for the people.  There is another one from royalty who looks out and hears the cries; he sees the suffering and he takes action.  That is Jesus. He is Emmanuel—the God who is with us.

When Jesus called his disciples, they were not considered highly esteemed.  They came from various professions and trades, and some were considered traitors and schemers and complete kooks. But Jesus had much to show them.  They observed the miracles, they watched the people who came in crowds, they witnessed the reactions of the religious leaders, and they were there when Jesus was betrayed and taken away.  When Jesus had risen from the dead, they recognized Jesus from his wounds, and by his words, and then he sent them out on a mission.  He wanted them to see what he saw, to pay attention to his kingdom, and to testify to the reality of God, as they witnessed the power of the resurrection at work in the lives of other people.  They were not sent out on their own.  Jesus said he would be with them: he would send them the Spirit to teach them and to remind them of Jesus’ words.  God is the sender.  We are the sent. 

In Lent, we pause in order to break from some of our usual activities so that we may catch something that is off balance, out of order, needing adjustment in our lives.  There are many things around us that God may want us to notice.  When things are good, and resources are plentiful, it may be harder for us to pay attention. 

That’s why we often encounter God in the desert.  Moses is usually associated with water.  We think of him as the baby in the bulrushes in the Nile, and with the raised staff in his hand at the Sea of Reeds.  But Moses encounters God in a powerful way in the dry desert, and in a flame.[12]  In the parched places we may have time to stop and pause and look and listen. 

Do you see what God sees?

Is there someone crying out that God wants you to notice in your family, in your neighborhood, among your friends?  Like Moses, we may need to stop and take notice, and adjust our eyes so that God can reveal what he is doing.  In the desert, we experience God more deeply.  We worship the one who redeems and rescues.  Just as the identity of the people of Israel would be rooted in the worship of God, so ours is, too.   We gather to worship, we gather to remember, we gather to hear God speak to us.   We gather…and then we are scattered.  We SEE and then we are SENT.

Who might God be sending you TO? The sending is not about our qualifications or experience.  Moses didn’t think he was useful at all anymore, but he had been shaped and trained in the desert and God was ready to use him.   God was with Moses when he sent him to Egypt, God was with the disciples when he sent them out, and God is with us in the sending, too.  As followers and disciples of Jesus, we are also sent:

-Sent to invite others into the same relationship that we experience with God

-Sent to be a witness to what we have seen

-Sent to walk alongside the hurting, the broken and the wandering.

When I was thinking of the bush that was burning and not consumed, it reminded me of Lamentations 3:22 (NIV):  Because of the Lord’s great love WE are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.  They are new every morning. Great is your faithfulness.

Even in times of great difficulty, one of the most powerful statements that God says is: “I will be with you.”  He is still Emmanuel: God with us.  So, when the way ahead seems overwhelming, when our objections rise to our lips and threaten to spill out of our mouths, and when it feels like the waves of fear will overwhelm us, we can step out in faith to do what God is calling us to, because He will be with us.

Prayer: Almighty God, we have stopped and turned our faces towards you in worship.  We know that you are holy, you are awesome, and you are powerful.  Your vision for this world is something that compels us and scares us.  We have doubts about the tasks that you call us to.  Help us to see what you see, so that we can be arms of compassion to coworkers, neighbors, friends, fellow students, and family.  Emmanuel, you are God with us.  Fill us with your love, and go with us as we go, following Jesus in the way.  Amen. 

Going Deeper Questions

–Share a time when you did a double take at something you saw. 

Read Exodus 3:1-6

–what is Moses’ current profession?  How does it differ from the first 40 years of his life? 

–Why did Moses stop to look at the bush?

–How easy or difficult is it for someone to get your attention?  For God to get your attention? 

–How does God speak to Moses? What does He say to him?

–Read Acts 7:30-34.  Compare this account to the one in Exodus 3.  What do you notice?

Read Exodus 3:7-12

— God spends a lot of time mentioning that he is paying attention to the plight of the children of Israel.  Why does this matter?  What does it tell us about God?

–What difference might it make that the invitation from God comes at this time in Moses’ life?  Would his “work situation” make it more or less attractive?  More or less daunting?

–When are you more or less likely to respond to an invitation to do something new and different: when you are deeply involved in whatever else you’re doing, when you’re not doing anything in particular, or some other time? Why?

–How do you think Moses should have responded to God’s statements in Exodus 3:10?

–All Christians have the same general calling, but to receive a particular calling from the Lord is a huge milestone. Do you believe that the Lord has called you or your family to anything more specific? Is there a way to celebrate or commemorate that calling?

Read Exodus 3:13-16

–the name that was revealed to Moses is YHWH (Yahweh).  It means ‘I am that I am’, or ‘I will be what I will be’.  How is this comforting?  Frustrating?  Unsettling?

–Summarize God’s words to Moses in chapter 3 in one sentence. What is the main point He expresses to Moses?

–Have you ever thought or said, “If God would just tell me explicitly what to do, I would do it”?  How does the story of Moses and the burning bush challenge that statement? 

–There are many clear-cut commands from Scripture that require us to walk forward in obedience in our love for God and others. Here’s my translation of Romans 12 using the construction of the participles in the Greek. 

Love is sincere

–Abhorring the evil

–Clinging to what is good

–Devoted in love for one another

–Leading the way in honor for one another

–Not being sluggish in your diligence

–Being on fire in the spirit

–Rejoicing in hope

–Enduring in tribulation

–Giving constant attention to prayer

–Relieving the needs of the saints

–Pursuing hospitality

–Blessing those who persecute you

–Rejoicing with those rejoicing

–Weeping with those who weep

–Thinking the same thing with one another

–Not thinking proud things, but associating with the humble

–not becoming wise according to yourselves

–not giving back evil for evil

–Being at peace with all people

That’s what love does.

–What immediate steps of obedience to God for others do you need to practice this week?

–Anyone might see the bush, but not everyone would stop and pay attention.  In the same way the bush is burning and is not consumed, the people of Israel have been enslaved, but they have not been destroyed.  It takes a special kind of sight to look and see things as they truly are and not as they first appear—to look deeper at a situation and have insight and recognition about a situation.  Pray and ask God to keep your eyes peeled to pay attention to what he is doing all around you, and that you will be willing to be sent wherever he calls.  


[1] James K. Bruckner, Exodus, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2008, 39.

[2] Douglas K. Stuart, Exodus, Nashville: B&H Publishing Group, 2006, 110. 

[3] Nahum M. Sarna, Exodus, Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1991, 14.

[4] Robert Altar, The Five Books of Moses, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2004,  318. 

[5] Carol Meyers, Exodus, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005, 53. 

[6] Nahum M. Sarna, Exodus, Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 1991, 15.

[7] Alter, 321. 

[8] Brevard Childs, The Book of Exodus, Louisville: The Westminster Press, 1974, 77. 

[9] James K. Bruckner, Exodus, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2008, 45. 

[10] William H.C. Propp, Exodus 1-18; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999, 181. 

[11] James K. Bruckner, Exodus, Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2008, 41.

[12] Robert Altar, The Five Books of Moses, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2004, 318. 

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