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Bible Commentaries

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and Homiletical

Exodus 3

Verses 1-22

C.—The call of Moses. His refusal and obedience. His association with Aaron and their first mission to the people of Israel

Exodus 3:4

1Now Moses kept [was pasturing] the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian; and he led the flock to the back side of [behind] the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb. 2And the angel of Jehovah appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a [the] bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed. 3And Moses said, I will now turn aside [Let me turn aside] and see this great sight, why the bush Isaiah 4:0 not burnt. And when Jehovah saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses! And he said, Here am I. 5And he said, Draw not nigh hither; put off thy shoes from off [from] thy feet, 6for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground. Moreover [And] he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of 7Jacob. And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look upon God. And Jehovah said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which [who] are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of1 their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows; 8And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land, and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey, unto the place of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the 9Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Now therefore behold, the cry of the children of Israel is come unto me, and I have also seen the oppression wherewith the Egyptians oppress them. 10Come now therefore and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth [and bring thou forth] my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt, 11And Moses said unto God, Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt? 12And he said, Certainly I will be with thee, and this shall be a [the] token unto thee that I have sent thee: When thou hast brought [bringest] forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve God upon this mountain. 13And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? What shall I say unto them? 14And 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. 15And God said moreover unto Moses, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, Jehovah, God [the God] of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my name forever, and this is my memorial unto all generations [lit. to generation16 of generation]. Go and gather the elders of Israel together, and say unto them, Jehovah, God [the God] of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob hath appeared unto me, saying, I have surely visited [looked upon] you, and seen that [and that] which is done to you in Egypt. 17And I have said, I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt, unto the land of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, unto a land flowing with milk and honey. 18And they shall [will] hearken to thy voice; and thou shalt come, thou and the elders of Israel, unto the king of Egypt, and ye shall say unto him, Jehovah, God [the God] of the Hebrews, hath met2 with us, and now let us go, we beseech thee, three days’ journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to Jehovah our God. 19And I am sure [know] that the king of Egypt will not let you go, no [even] not3 by a mighty hand. 20And I will stretch out my hand, and smite Egypt with all my wonders which I will do in he midst thereof; and after that he will let you go. 21And I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and it shall come to pass that, when ye go, ye shall not 22go empty. But [And] every woman shall borrow [ask] of her neighbor and of her that sojourneth in her house jewels [articles] of silver and jewels [articles] of gold and raiment [garments]; and ye shall put them upon your sons and upon your daughters; and ye shall spoil the Egyptians.


[Exodus 3:7. מִפְּנִיִ may be rendered more literally “from before,” the people being represented as followed up in their work by the taskmasters.—Tr.].

‍[Exodus 3:18. נִקְרָה is taken by Rosenmüller, after same of the older versions, as = נִקְרָא vocatur super nos. But, as Winer remarks, ita tamen intolerabilis tautologia inest in verbis אֱלֹהֵי הָעִבְרִים.” The LXX. translate προσκέκληται ἡμᾶς—which makes better sense, but is grammatically still more inadmissible, as נִקְרָה is thus made = קָרָא.—Tr.].

[Exodus 3:19. וְלֹא is rendered by the LXX., Vulg., Luther, and others, “unless.” But this is incorrect. The more obvious translation may indeed seem to be inconsistent with the statement in the next verse, “after that he will let you go.” But the difficulty is not serious. We need only to supply in thought “at first” in this verse.—Tr.].


Exodus 3:1. “Jethro’s residence therefore was separated from Horeb by a wilderness, and is to be sought not north-east, but south-east of it. For only by this assumption can we easily account for the two-fold fact that (1) Moses, in his return from Midian to Egypt, again touches Horeb, where Aaron, coming from Egypt, meets him (Exodus 4:27), and that (2) the Israelites, in their journey through the wilderness, nowhere come upon Midianites, and in leaving Sinai the ways of Israel and of the Midianite Hobab separate” (Keil). Horeb here is used in the wider sense, embracing the whole range, including Sinai, so that the two names are often identical, although Horeb, strictly so called, lay further north.—Mountain of God.—According to Knobel, it was a sacred place even before the call of Moses; according to Keil, not till afterwards, and is here named according to its later importance. But there must have been something which led the shepherd Moses to drive his flock so far as to this mountain, and afterwards to select Sinai as the place from which to give the law. The more general ground for the special regard in which this majestic mountain-range is held is without doubt the reverence felt for the mountains of God in general. The word הַמִּדְבָּר might be taken as = pasture, and the passage understood to mean that Moses, in profound meditation, forgetting himself as shepherd, drove the flock far out beyond the ordinary pasture-ground. Yet Rosenmüller observes: “On this highest region of the peninsula are to be found the most fruitful valleys, in which also fruit trees grow. Water in abundance is found in this district, and therefore it is the refuge of all the Bedouins, when the lower regions are dried up.” Tradition fixes upon the Monastery of Sinai as the place of the thorn-bush and the calling of Moses.

Exodus 3:2. The Angel of Jehovah.—According to Exodus 3:4, it is Jehovah Himself, or even God Himself, Elohim.9The Bush.—Representing the poor Israelites in their low estate in contrast with the people that resemble lofty trees, Judges 9:15. According to Kurtz, the flame of fire is a symbol of the holiness of God; according to Keil, who observes that God’s holiness is denoted by light (e.g. Isaiah 10:17), the fire is rather, in its capacity of burning and consuming, a symbol of purifying affliction and annihilating punishment, or of the chastening and punitive justice of God. But this is certainly not the signification of the sacrificial fire on the altar of burnt-offering, the “holy” fire, or of the fiery chariot of Elijah, or of the tongues of fire over the heads of the apostles on the day of Pentecost. Fire, as an emblem of the divine life, of the life which through death destroys death, of God’s jealous love and authority, has two opposite sides: it is a fire of the jealous love which visits, brings home, purifies, and rejuvenates, as well as a fire of consuming wrath and judgment. This double signification of fire manifests itself especially also in the northern mythology. That light has the priority over fire, Keil justly observes. While then the fire here may symbolize the Egyptian affliction in which Israel is burning, yet the presence of Jehovah in the fire signifies not something contrasted with it, meaning that he controls the fire, so that it purifies, without consuming, the Israelites; but rather the fire represents Jehovah himself in His government, and so the oppression of the Egyptians is lifted up into the light of the divine government. This holds also prophetically of all the future afflictions of the theocracy and of the Christian Church itself. The Church of God is to appear at the end of the world as the last burning thorn-bush which yet is not consumed.

“The אֵל קַנָּא is אֵשׁ אֹכְלָה (Deuteronomy 4:24) in the midst of Israel (Deuteronomy 6:15).” Keil.

Exodus 3:3-5. Turn aside.—Comp. Genesis 19:2.—Moses, Moses.—Comp. Genesis 22:11. An expression of the most earnest warning and of the deepest sense of the sacredness and danger of the moment. The address involves a two-fold element. First, Moses must not approach any nearer to Jehovah; and, secondly, he must regard the place itself on which he is standing as holy ground, on which he must not stand in his dusty shoes. The putting off of the shoes must in general have the same character as the washing of the feet, and is therefore not only a general expression of reverence for the sacred place and for the presence of God, like the taking off of the hat with us, but also a reminder of the moral dust which through one’s walk in life clings to the shoes or feet, i.e. of the venial sins on account of which one must humble himself in the sacred moment. On the custom of taking off the shoes in the East upon entering pagodas, mosques, etc., see Keil, p. 439.

Exodus 3:6. Of thy father.—The singular doubtless comprehends the three patriarchs as first existing in Abraham.10 Moses, in his religion of the second revelation, everywhere refers to the first revelation, which begins with Abraham; and thus the name of Jehovah first acquires its new specific meaning. The revelation of the law presupposes the revelation of promise (Romans 4:0; Galatians 3:0).—And Moses covered his face.—In addition to the two commands: draw not nigh, put off thy shoes, comes this act, as a voluntary expression of the heart. Vid. 1 Kings 19:13. “Sinful man cannot endure the sight of the holy God” (Keil). Also the eye of sense is overcome by the splendor of the manifestation which is inwardly seen, somewhat as by the splendor of the sun. Vid. Revelation 1:0.

Exodus 3:8. I am come down.—Comp. Genesis 11:5. A good land, i.e. a fruitful. A large land, i.e. not hemmed in like the Nile Valley. Flowing, i.e. overflowing with milk and honey; rich, therefore, in flowers and flowery pastures. On the fruitfulness of Canaan, comp. the geographical works.—Into the place.—More particular description of the land. Vid. Genesis 10:19; Genesis 15:18.

Exodus 3:11. And Moses said unto God.—He who once would, when as yet he ought not, now will no longer, when he ought. Both faults, the rashness and the subsequent slowness, correspond to each other. Moses has indeed “learned humility in the school of Midian” [Keil]; but this humility cannot be conceived as without a mixture of dejection, since humility of itself does not stand in the way of a bold faith, but is rather the source of it. After being forty years an unknown shepherd, he has, as he thinks, given up, with his rancor, also his hope. Moreover, he feels, no doubt, otherwise than formerly about the momentous deed which seems to have done his people no good, and himself only mischief, and which in Egypt is probably not forgotten. As in the Egyptian bondage, the old guilt, of Joseph’s brethren manifested itself even up to the third and fourth generation, so a shadow of that former rashness seems to manifest itself in the embarrassment of his spirit.

Exodus 3:12. The promise that God will go with him and give success to his mission is to be sealed by his delivering the Israelites, bringing them to Sinai, and there engaging with them in divine service, i.e., as the expression in its fullness probably means, entering formally into the relation of worshipper of Jehovah. The central point of this worship consisted, it is true, afterwards in the sacrificial offerings, particularly the burnt offering, which sealed the covenant. This first and greatest sign involves all that follow, and is designed for Moses himself; with it God gives his pledge of the successful issue of the whole. It must not be overlooked that this great promise stands in close relation to the great hope which is reviving in his soul.

Exodus 3:13. It is very significant, that Moses, first of all, desires, in behalf of his mission, and, we may say, in behalf of his whole future religious system, to know definitely the name of God. The name, God, even in the form of El Shaddai, was too general for the new relation into which the Israelites were to enter, as a people alongside of the other nations which all had their own deities. Though he was the only God, yet it was necessary for him to have a name of specific significance for Israel; and though the name Jehovah was already known by them, still it had not yet its unique significance, as the paternal name of God first acquired its meaning in the New Testament, and the word “justification,” at the Reformation. Moses, therefore, implies that he can liberate the people only in the name of God; that he must bring to them the religion of their fathers in a new phase. שֵׁם expresses not solely “the objective manifestation of the divine essence” [Keil], but rather the human apprehension of it. The objective manifestation cannot in itself be desecrated, as the name of God can be.

Exodus 3:14. Can it be that אהיה אשר אהיה means only “I am He who I am?” that it designates only the absoluteness of God, or God as the Eternal One? We suppose that the two אהיה’s do not denote an identical form of existence, but the same existence in two different future times. From future to future I will be the same—the same in visiting and delivering the people of God, the faithful covenant-God, and, as such, radically different from the constant variation in the representations of God among the heathen. This his consciousness is the immediate form of his name; transposed to the third person, it is Jehovah. Hence also the expression: “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob,” is equivalent in meaning. When the repetition of this name in Exodus 6:0 is taken for another account of the same fact, it is overlooked that in that case the point was to get an assurance that the name “Jehovah” would surpass that of “Almighty God”—an assurance of which Moses, momentarily discouraged, was just then in need.11

Exodus 3:15. My name forever.—Forward into all the future, and backward into all the past (זֶכֶר).

Exodus 3:16-18. Moses is to execute his commission to Pharaoh not only in the name of Jehovah, but also in connection with the elders of Israel, in the name of the people. The expression “elders” denotes, it is true, primarily the heads of tribes and families, but also a simple, patriarchal, legal organization based upon that system.—Now let us go three days’ journey. The phrase נֵלְכָה־נָּא. is diplomatically exactly suited to the situation. Strictly, they have a perfect right to go; but it is conditioned on Pharaoh’s consent. Knobel says: “The delegates, therefore, were to practice deception on the king.” This is a rather clumsy judgment of the psychological process. If Pharaoh granted the request, he would be seen to be in a benevolent mood, and they might gradually ask for more. If he denied it, it would be well for them not at once, by an open proposal of emancipation, to have exposed themselves to ruin, and introduced the contest with his hardness of heart, which the guiding thought of Jehovah already foresaw. Moses knew better how to deal with a despot. Accordingly he soon increases his demand, till he demands emancipation, Exodus 6:10; Exodus 7:16; Exodus 8:25; Exodus 9:1; Exodus 9:13; Exodus 10:3. From the outset it must, moreover, have greatly impressed the king, that the people should wish to go out to engage in an act of divine service; still more, that they should, in making their offering, desire to avoid offending the Egyptians, Exodus 8:26. But gradually Jehovah, as the legitimate king of the people of Israel, comes out in opposition to the usurper of His rights, Exodus 9:1 sq. Moses, to be sure, even during the hardening process, does not let his whole purpose distinctly appear; but he nevertheless gives intimations of it, when, after Pharaoh concedes to them the privilege of making an offering in the country, he stipulates for a three days’ journey, and, in an obscure additional remark, hints that he then will still wait for Jehovah to give further directions.

Exodus 3:19. Even not by a mighty hand.—Although God really frees Israel by a mighty hand. Pharaoh does not, even after the ten plagues, permanently submit to Jehovah; therefore he perishes in the Red Sea.

Exodus 3:20. Announcement of the miracles by which Jehovah will glorify Himself.

Exodus 3:21. Announcement of the terror of the Egyptians, in which they will give to the Israelites, upon a modest request for a loan, the most costly vessels (Keil: “jewels”). The announcement becomes a command in Exodus 11:2 sq. On the ancient misunderstanding of this fact, vid. Keil, p. 445 sq., and the references to Hengstenberg, Kurtz, Reinke; also Commentary on Genesis, p. 29. “Egypt had robbed Israel by the unwarranted and unjust exactions imposed upon him; now Israel carries off the prey of Egypt. A prelude of the victory which the people of God will always gain in the contest with the powers of the world. Comp. Zechariah 14:14” (Keil).12


[1][Exodus 3:7. מִפְּנִיִ may be rendered more literally “from before,” the people being represented as followed up in their work by the taskmasters.—Tr.].

[2]‍[Exodus 3:18. נִקְרָה is taken by Rosenmüller, after same of the older versions, as = נִקְרָא vocatur super nos. But, as Winer remarks, ita tamen intolerabilis tautologia inest in verbis אֱלֹהֵי הָעִבְרִים.” The LXX. translate προσκέκληται ἡμᾶς—which makes better sense, but is grammatically still more inadmissible, as נִקְרָה is thus made = קָרָא.—Tr.].

[3][Exodus 3:19. וְלֹא is rendered by the LXX., Vulg., Luther, and others, “unless.” But this is incorrect. The more obvious translation may indeed seem to be inconsistent with the statement in the next verse, “after that he will let you go.” But the difficulty is not serious. We need only to supply in thought “at first” in this verse.—Tr.].

[Footnotes 4-8 are incorporated in Exodus 4:0]

[9][See a full discussion on the Angel of Jehovah in the Commentary on Genesis, p. 386 sqq., where the view is maintained that this Angel is Christ himself. This is perhaps the current opinion among Protestants. But the arguments for it, plausible as they are, are insufficient to establish it. The one fatal objection to it is that the New Testament nowhere endorses it. When we consider how the New Testament writers seem almost to go to an extreme in finding traces of Christ in the Old Testament writings and history, it is marvellous (if the theory in question is correct) that this striking feature of the self-manifestation of God in the Angel of Jehovah should not once have been used in this way. Hengstenberg indeed quotes John 12:41, where Isaiah is said to have seen Christ. But the reference is to Isaiah 6:1, where not the Angel of Jehovah, but Jehovah himself, is said to have been seen. But, what is still more significant, when Stephen (Acts 7:30) refers to this very appearance of the angel in the bush, he not only does not insinuate that the angel was Christ, but calls him simply “an angel of the Lord.” Moreover, just afterwards he quotes Deuteronomy 18:15 as Moses’ prophecy of Christ, showing that he was disposed to find Christ in the Mosaic history. Other objections to the identification of the Angel of Jehovah with Christ might be urged; but they are superfluous, so long as this one remains unanswered.—Tr.]

[10][More naturally, Moses’ own father, or his ancestors in general. So Keil, Knobel, Murphy, Kalisch.—Tr.]

[11][Comp. Introduction to Genesis, p. 111 sqq. From so bald a term as “He is” or “He will be” (the exact translation of יְהוָֹה, or rather of יַהְוֶה), one can hardly be expected to gather the precise notion intended to be conveyed. We doubt, however, whether, if we are to confine the conception to any one of those which are suggested by the sentence: “I am He who I am,” we should be right in understanding, with Lange, immutability as the one. This requires the second verb to refer to a different time from the first, for which there is no warrant in the Hebrew. Quite as little ground is there for singling out the notion of eternity as the distinctive one belonging to the name. Self-existence might seem more directly suggested by the phrase; but even this is not expressed unequivocahy. Certainly those are wrong who translate יְהוָֹה uniformly “the Eternal.” The word has become strictly a proper name. We might as well (and even with more correctness) always read “the supplanter” instead of “Jacob,” and “the ewe” instead of “Rachel.”—There can be little doubt, we think, that Von Hofmann (Schriftbeweis I., p. 86) has furnished the clue to the true explanation. The comparison of other passages in which there is the same seemingly pleonastic repetition of a verb as in our verse ought to serve as a guide. Especially Exodus 33:19 : “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” It is true that Lange attempts to interpret this expression in accordance with his interpretation of the phrase now before us; but he stands in opposition to the other commentators and to the obvious sense of the passage, which evidently expresses the sovereignty of God in the exercise of his compassion. Comp. Exo 4:13; 2 Kings 8:1, and perhaps Ezekiel 12:25. By this pleonastic expression, and then by the emphatic single term, “He is,” is denoted existence κατἐξοχήν; or rather, since the verb הָיָה is not used to denote existence in the abstract, so much as to serve as a copula between subject and predicate, the phrase is an elliptical one, and signifies that God is sovereign and absolute in the possesion and manifestation of his attributes. Self-existence, eternity and immutability are implied, but not directly affirmed. Personality is perhaps still more clearly involved as one of the elements. As contrasted with Elohim (whose radical meaning is probably power, and does not necessarily involve personality), it contains in itself (whether we take the form אֶהְיֶה or יַהְוֶה), as being a verbal form including a pronominal element, an expression of personality: I am—He is. Jehovah is the living God, the God who reveals Himself to His people, and holds a personal relation to them.—Tr.]

[12][The various explanations of this transaction are given by Hengstenberg, Dissertations on the Pentateuch, p. 419 sqq. Briefly they are the following: (1) That God, being the sovereign disposer of all things, had a right thus to transfer the property of the Egyptians to the Israelites. (2) That the Israelites received no more than their just due in taking these articles, in view of the oppressive treatment they had undergone. (3) That, though the Israelites in form asked for a loan, it was understood by the Egyptians as a gift, there being no expectation that the Israelites would return. (4) That the Israelites borrowed with the intention of returning, being ignorant of the Divine plan of removing them from the country so suddenly that a restoration of the borrowed articles to their proper owners would be impossible.—These explanations, unsatisfactory as they are, are as good as the case would admit, were the terms “borrow” and “lend,” derived from the LXX. and reproduced in almost all the translations, the quivalents of the Hebrew words. But the simple fact is that the Israelites are said to have asked for the things, and the Egyptians to have given them. The circumstances (Exodus 12:33 sqq.) also under which the Israelites went away makes it seem every way probable that the Egyptians never expected a restoration of the things bestowed on the Israelites.—Tr.].

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Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Exodus 3". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". 1857-84.