Meeting the holy God—Exodus 3:1-5

God sometimes meets us in the ordinary events of our lives, but calls us into his extraordinary plan for our lives. God met Moses in something as mundane as a bush, but quickly revealed to him that God himself is not mundane. God is holy, and wholly other.

In Exodus 3, God draws Moses’s intense curiosity with a burning bush that is not consumed. Moses turns aside to see “this great sight” (Exod 3:3)—this Hebrew term for the “sight” next appears in Exodus at 24:17, where the Israelites see the LORD’s glory “like a devouring fire” on the top of this mountain. God could reveal himself to his people as a devouring fire (Deut 4:24; 9:3). As Exod 3:3 describes what Moses saw, the beginning of verse 4 describes what God saw: when YHWH saw that Moses turned aside to see, then God called to him from inside the bush.

“Moses! Moses!” the Lord calls (Exod 3:4). The doubling of Moses’s name evoking God’s earlier poignant revelations to Abraham and Jacob (Gen 22:11; 46:2). Moses answers the same way his ancestors had: “Behold, I,” usually translated, “Here I am” (3:4). The response might be equivalent today to something like, “Yes, Sir. I’m here, listening up!”

“Don’t come closer,” God warned. Instead, Moses was told, “Take your shoes off your feet, because you’re standing on holy ground” (Exod 3:5). Later, God’s people could not come near God’s presence on the mountain (19:12-13, 21-25); likewise, only priests could enter the sanctuary and almost no one could enter the holiest place in the tabernacle (Lev 16:2; Heb 9:7). (God expelled Adam and Eve from Eden after they sinned; likewise, he would expel Israel from the land holy to him when they sinned, Lev 18:8; 20:22.)

God is holy and must be approached with reverence. There were appropriate times to have one’s shoes on (Exod 12:11), but not on holy ground (Josh 5:15), just as God’s people should not profane an altar by using tools on it (Exod 20:25). (Removing sandals could also be used for mourning, Ezek 24:17, 23, just as hiding one’s face [Exod 3:6] could, 2 Sam 15:30; Esth 6:12.) This was a conventional, cultural way of revealing respect. Christians in other cultures today may reveal our respect in other ways than taking off our shoes in church (especially if we have not washed our feet in awhile). The principle, however, remains. God is holy, and must be approached with our best signs of respect.

(For other posts on Exodus, see

God has not forgotten them—Exodus 2:23-25

When our lives become more comfortable, it’s easy to forget the hardship faced by others, whether through persecution, hunger, injustice or other needs. But God does not forget.

Moses’s life became peaceful in Midian (2:16-22), despite the scars his heart undoubtedly carried from the past. His people, however, continued to suffer in Egypt, a matter that the author’s inspired perspective directs us to in Exod 2:23-25. Just as Joseph’s exaltation in Genesis 41 did not relieve him of God’s plan to protect Joseph’s entire family (Gen 42—50), Moses’s new life has not caused God to forget God’s plan for Moses’s people.

Moses adopted his new way of life, but back in Egypt, even Pharaoh’s death did not relieve the Israelites. Pharaoh’s policy of repression remained in place for his successor. After all, oppressors who profit economically from oppression do not like to give it up. Probably the policy of directly killing male infants did not endure for many years, but if it did it may have raised a generation with less strength than ever to seek freedom by means of revolt. (Still, Israel has many men in Num 11:21. Because Israelite men could marry multiple wives and could continue to procreate into old age, children would continue being born. Since Pharaoh found the free work force profitable, and such a force required continuing free labor, Pharaoh presumably would have lifted the ban on male babies once the fear of Israel’s strength subsided.)

In any case, the Israelites’ suffering was deep. We are not told how much they had been crying to God before; it seems unlikely that their worship of other deities or deity images started only after they left Egypt (cf. Exod 32:4). The narrator does not even specify here that it was to God that their cry arose (cf. similar language of the Philistines in 1 Sam 5:10, 12; cf. Israelites in 1 Sam 4:13), although presumably many of them did (cf. Judg 3:9, 15; 6:6-7; 10:10). Samuel, however, later explains that the Lord heard when Israel cried out to him (1 Sam 12:8), just as they did in the time of Deborah (12:10).

God did not ignore his people’s suffering. He “heard” their groaning (2:24; 6:5) and “saw” them (2:25), and “remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” (2:24). Here we are invited back to the narratives of God’s dealings with the patriarchs in Gen 12—35; God had not forgotten his people, and the promised time to liberate them from bondage, with many possessions (Gen 15:13-14), had come. May we have the wisdom to cry out to the Lord in times of hardship—and even in times when we are not suffering. We need the Lord, and the sooner that we recognize that, the sooner our cries will reach his ears.

Like Moses, our lives go on. After enduring hardship, we may need a time of recovery before having to face it again. But God does not forget the sufferings of others, and in the end, neither dare we. Remember Proverbs 24:11-12: “Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter. If you say, ‘But we knew nothing about this,’ does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay everyone according to what they have done?” (NIV).

(For other posts on Exodus, see

Settling in a new land—Exodus 2:16-22

When I travel to speak in various parts of the world, my hosts show me great hospitality. I miss my wife and kids, but otherwise life is pretty comfortable, apart from long flights. But that’s not always the case with people who relocate to new lands to live. My wife and children came to the United States from Africa so we could be together as a family, but when my wife was first an international student in France, she was sometimes destitute. At times when her scholarship was delayed, she subsisted on bread and water. (Part of her experience as an international student appears in a chapter of our book, Impossible Love.) Shared faith gave her a church family away from home, but life can be hard for immigrants, temporary or long-term, having to find homes in new cultures.

When Moses came to Midian, he rescued some young women from shepherds who were asserting their superior strength over them (Exod 2:16-17). But that left Moses without friends among the shepherds—and apparently without any other local friends either. Moses had nowhere to go and needed to be attached to some household, so he may have been disappointed when the young women he had helped left without inviting him home for a meal. Their failure was a breach of Middle Eastern hospitality, as their father quickly pointed out (2:20). A meal together established a covenant relationship, and Moses remained with Jethro, who gave him his daughter in marriage (2:21) perhaps something like how Jacob received not only a place to stay but eventually also a wife (or two) in Haran. Abram also broke bread with a priest of God Most High (Gen 14:18-20), and Joseph also married a priest’s daughter (her father’s office appears every time that Asenath is mentioned; Gen 41:45, 50; 46:20).

Also like Joseph (Gen 41:52), Moses gives one of his sons (Gershom) a name that signifies being a stranger in a foreign land (Exod 2:22). (One might also suggest that “Gershom” could play on how the shepherds “drove away” the daughters; cf. ygarshum in 2:17 with gershom in 2:22. But there seems no possible connection there except the sound.) Moses had grown up as a third-culture child, fully welcome in neither Hebrew nor Egyptian culture. Now he was again an outsider in Midianite culture. His previous background, however, helped prepare him for this status; those not fully attached to any culture are sometimes those best able to adapt to other cultures. His disadvantage in one setting has become his advantage in adjusting to another setting.

(For other posts on Exodus, see