As prophecy had ceased for many ages before the coming of Christ, that
the revival and perfection of it in that great prophet might be the
more remarkable, so vision had ceased (for aught that appears) among
the patriarchs for some ages before the coming of Moses, that God's
appearances to him for Israel's salvation might be the more welcome;
and in this chapter we have God's first appearance to him in the bush
and the conference between God and Moses in that vision. Here is,
I. The discovery God was pleased to make of his glory to Moses at the
bush, to which Moses was forbidden to approach too near,
II. A general declaration of God's grace and good-will to his people,
who were beloved for their fathers' sakes,
III. A particular notification of God's purpose concerning the
deliverance of Israel out of Egypt.
1. He assures Moses it should now be done,
2. He gives him a commission to act in it as his ambassador both to
and to Israel,
3. He answers the objection Moses made of his own unworthiness,
4. He gives him full instructions what to say both to Pharaoh and to
5. He tells him beforehand what the issue would be,
|The Burning Bush.
||B. C. 1491.|
1 Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, the
priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the
desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb.
2 And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of
fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the
bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed.
3 And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great
sight, why the bush is not burnt.
4 And when the LORD 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.
5 And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off
thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.
6 Moreover he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of
Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid
his face; for he was afraid to look upon God.
The years of the life of Moses are remarkably divided into three
forties: the first forty he spent as a prince in Pharaoh's court, the
second a shepherd in Midian, the third a king in Jeshurun; so
changeable is the life of men, especially the life of good men. He had
now finished his second forty, when he received his commission to
bring Israel out of Egypt. Note, Sometimes it is long before God calls
his servants out of that work which of old he designed them for, and
has been graciously preparing them for. Moses was born to be Israel's
deliverer, and yet not a word is said of it to him till he is eighty
years of age. Now observe,
I. How this appearance of God to him found him employed. He was
keeping the flock (tending sheep) near mount Horeb,
This was a poor employment for a man of his parts and education, yet
he rests satisfied with it, and thus learns meekness and contentment
to a high degree, for which he is more celebrated in sacred writ than
for all his other learning. Note,
1. In the calling to which we are called we should abide, and not be
given to change.
2. Even those that are qualified for great employments and services
must not think it strange if they be confined to obscurity; it was the
lot of Moses before them, who foresaw nothing to the contrary but that
he should die, as he had lived a great while, a poor despicable
shepherd. Let those that think themselves buried alive be content to
shine like lamps in their sepulchres, and wait till God's time come for
setting them on a candlestick. Thus employed Moses was, when he was
honoured with this vision. Note, (1.) God will encourage industry. The
shepherds were keeping their flocks when they received the tidings of
our Saviour's birth,
Satan loves to find us idle; God is well pleased when he find us
(2.) Retirement is a good friend to our communion with God. When we
are alone, the Father is with us. Moses saw more of God in a desert
than ever he had seen in Pharaoh's court.
II. What the appearance was. To his great surprise he saw a bush
burning, when he perceived no fire either from earth or heaven to
kindle it, and, which was more strange, it did not consume,
It was an angel of the Lord that appeared to him; some think, a
created angel, who speaks in the language of him that sent him;
others, the second person, the angel of the covenant, who is himself
Jehovah. It was an extraordinary manifestation of the divine presence
and glory; what was visible was produced by the ministry of an angel,
but he heard God in it speaking to him.
1. He saw a flame of fire; for our God is a consuming fire. When
Israel's deliverance out of Egypt was promised to Abraham, he saw a
burning lamp, which signified the light of joy which that deliverance
but now it shines brighter, as a flame of fire, for God in
that deliverance brought terror and destruction to his enemies, light
and heat to his people, and displayed his glory before all. See
2. This fire was not in a tall and stately cedar, but in a bush, a
thorny bush, so the word signifies; for God chooses the weak and
despised things of the world (such as Moses, now a poor shepherd), with
them to confound the wise; he delights to beautify and crown the
3. The bush burned, and yet was not consumed, an emblem
of the church now in bondage in Egypt, burning in the brick-kilns, yet
not consumed; perplexed, but not in despair; cast down, but not
III. The curiosity Moses had to enquire into this extraordinary sight:
I will turn aside and see,
He speaks as one inquisitive and bold in his enquiry; whatever it was,
he would, if possible, know the meaning of it. Note, Things revealed
belong to us, and we ought diligently to enquire into them.
IV. The invitation he had to draw near, yet with a caution not to come
too near, nor rashly.
1. God gave him a gracious call, to which he returned a ready answer,
When God saw that he took notice of the burning bush, and turned aside
to see it, and left his business to attend it, then God called to him.
If he had carelessly neglected it as an ignis fatuus--a deceiving
meteor, a thing not worth taking notice of, it is probable that
God would have departed, and said nothing to him; but, when he turned
aside, God called to him. Note, Those that would have communion with
God must attend upon him, and approach to him, in those ordinances
wherein he is pleased to manifest himself, and his power and glory,
though it be in a bush; they must come to the treasure, though in an
earthen vessel. Those that seek God diligently shall find him, and
find him their bountiful rewarder. Draw nigh to God, and he will
draw nigh to you. God called him by name, Moses, Moses.
This which he heard could not but surprise him much more than what he
saw. The word of the Lord always went along with the glory of the
Lord, for every divine vision was designed for divine revelation,
Divine calls are then effectual,
(1.) When the Spirit of God makes them particular, and calls us by
name. The word calls, Ho, every one! The Spirit, by the
application of that, calls, Ho, such a one! I know thee by name,
(2.) When we return an obedient answer to them, as Moses here, "Here
am I, what saith my Lord unto his servant? Here am I, not only to
hear what is said, but to do what I am bidden."
2. God gave him a needful caution against rashness and irreverence in
(1.) He must keep his distance; draw near, but not too near; so near as
to hear, but not so near as to pry. His conscience must be satisfied,
but not his curiosity; and care must be taken that familiarity do not
breed contempt. Note, In all our approaches to God, we ought to be
deeply affected with the infinite distance there is between us and God,
Or this may be taken as proper to the Old-Testament dispensation, which
was a dispensation of darkness, bondage, and terror, from which the
gospel happily frees us, giving us boldness to enter into the holiest,
and inviting us to draw near.
(2.) He must express his reverence, and his readiness to obey: Put
off thy shoes from off thy feet, as a servant. Putting off the shoe
was then what putting off the hat is now, a token of respect and
submission. "The ground, for the present, is holy ground, made
so by this special manifestation of the divine presence, during the
continuance of which it must retain this character; therefore tread not
on that ground with soiled shoes." Keep thy foot,
Note, We ought to approach to God with a solemn pause and preparation;
and, though bodily exercise alone profits little, yet we ought to
glorify God with our bodies, and to express our inward reverence by a
grave and reverent behaviour in the worship of God, carefully avoiding
everything that looks light, and rude, and unbecoming the awfulness of
V. The solemn declaration God made of his name, by which he would be
known to Moses: I am the God of thy father,
1. He lets him know that it is God who speaks to him, to engage his
reverence and attention, his faith and obedience; for this is enough
to command all these: I am the Lord. Let us always hear the
word as the word of God,
1 Thessalonians 2:13.
2. He will be known as the God of his father, his pious father Amram,
and the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, his ancestors, and the
ancestors of all Israel, for whom God was now about to appear. By this
(1.) To instruct Moses in the knowledge of another world, and to
strengthen his belief of a future state. Thus it is interpreted by our
Lord Jesus, the best expositor of scripture, who from this proves that
the dead are raised, against the Sadducees. Moses, says he,
showed it at the bush
that is, God there showed it to him, and in him to us,
Matthew 22:31, &c.
Abraham was dead, and yet
God is the God of Abraham; therefore Abraham's soul lives, to which
God stands in relation; and, to make his soul completely happy, his
body must live again in due time. This promise made unto the fathers,
that God would be their God, must include a future happiness; for he
never did anything for them in this world sufficient to answer to the
vast extent and compass of that great word, but, having prepared for
them a city, he is not ashamed to be called their God,
(2.) To assure Moses of the fulfillment of all those particular
promises made to the fathers. He may confidently expect this, for by
these words it appears that God remembered his covenant,
[1.] God's covenant-relation to us as our God is the best support in
the worst of times, and a great encouragement to our faith in
[2.] When we are conscious to ourselves of our own great unworthiness
we may take comfort from God's relation to our fathers,
2 Chronicles 20:6.
VI. The solemn impression this made upon Moses: He hid his
face, as one both ashamed and afraid to look upon God. Now that he
knew it was a divine light his eyes were dazzled with it; he was not
afraid of a burning bush till he perceived that God was in it. Yea,
though God called himself the God of his father, and a God in
covenant with him, yet he was afraid. Note,
1. The more we see of God the more cause we shall see to worship him
with reverence and godly fear.
2. Even the manifestations of God's grace and covenant-love should
increase our humble reverence of him.
|Compassion of God for the Israelites.
||B. C. 1491.|
7 And the LORD said, I have surely seen the affliction of my
people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason
of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows;
8 And 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 Amorites, and
the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites.
9 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.
10 Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that
thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of
Now that Moses had put off his shoes (for, no doubt, he observed the
orders given him,
and covered his face, God enters upon the particular business that was
now to be concerted, which was the bringing of Israel out of Egypt.
Now, after forty years of Israel's bondage and Moses's banishment,
when we may suppose both he and they began to despair, they of being
delivered and he of delivering them, at length, the time has come,
even the year of the redeemed. Note, God often comes for the salvation
of his people when they have done looking for him. Shall he find
I. The notice God takes of the afflictions of Israel
Seeing I have seen, not only, I have surely seen, but I
have strictly observed and considered the matter. Three things God
took cognizance of:--
1. Their sorrows,
It is likely they were not permitted to make a remonstrance of their
grievances to Pharaoh, nor to seek relief against their task-masters
in any of his courts, nor scarcely durst complain to one another; but
God observed their tears. Note, Even the secret sorrows of God's
people are known to him.
2. Their cry: I have heard their cry
it has come unto me,
Note, God is not deaf to the cries of his afflicted people.
3. The tyranny of their persecutors: I have seen the oppression,
Note, As the poorest of the oppressed are not below God's cognizance,
so the highest and greatest of their oppressors are not above his
check, but he will surely visit for these things.
II. The promise God makes of their speedy deliverance and enlargement:
I have come down to deliver them,
1. It denotes his resolution to deliver them, and that his heart was
upon it, so that it should be done speedily and effectually, and by
methods out of the common road of providence: when God does something
very extraordinary he is said to come down to do it, as
2. This deliverance was typical of our redemption by Christ, in which
the eternal Word did indeed come down from heaven to deliver us: it was
his errand into the world. He promises also their happy settlement in
the land of Canaan, that they should exchange bondage for liberty,
poverty for plenty, labour for rest, and the precarious condition of
tenants at will for the ease and honour of lords proprietors. Note,
Whom God by his grace delivers out of a spiritual Egypt he will bring
to a heavenly Canaan.
III. The commission he gives to Moses in order hereunto,
He is not only sent as a prophet to Israel, to assure them that they
should speedily be delivered (even that would have been a great
favour), but he is sent as an ambassador to Pharaoh, to treat with
him, or rather as a herald at arms, to demand their discharge, and to
denounce war in case of refusal; and he is sent as a prince to Israel,
to conduct and command them. Thus is he taken from following the
ewes great with young, to a pastoral office much more noble, as
Note, God is the fountain of power, and the powers that be are ordained
of him as he pleases. The same hand that now fetched a shepherd out of
a desert, to be the planter of a Jewish church, afterwards fetched
fishermen from their ships, to be the planters of the Christian church,
That the excellency of the power might be of God.
|Instructions Given to Moses.
||B. C. 1491.|
11 And Moses said unto God, Who am I, that I should go unto
Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out
12 And he said, Certainly I will be with thee; and this shall
be a token unto thee, that I have sent thee: When thou hast
brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve God upon
13 And 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?
14 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
15 And God said moreover unto Moses, Thus shalt thou say unto
the children of Israel, The LORD 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 for ever, and this is my memorial
unto all generations.
God, having spoken to Moses, allows him also a liberty of speech,
which he here improves; and,
I. He objects his own insufficiency for the service he was called to
Who am I? He thinks himself unworthy of the honour, and not
par negotio--equal to the task. He thinks he wants courage, and
therefore cannot go to Pharaoh, to make a demand which might cost the
demandant his head: he thinks he wants skill, and therefore cannot
bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt; they are unarmed,
undisciplined, quite dispirited, utterly unable to help themselves; it
is morally impossible to bring them out.
1. Moses was incomparably the fittest of any man living for this work,
eminent for learning, wisdom, experience, valour, faith, holiness; and
yet he says, Who am I? Note, The more fit any person is for
service commonly the less opinion he has of himself: see
Judges 9:8, &c.
2. The difficulties of the work were indeed very great, enough to
startle the courage and stagger the faith of Moses himself. Note, Even
wise and faithful instruments may be much discouraged at the
difficulties that lie in the way of the church's salvation.
3. Moses had formerly been very courageous when he slew the Egyptian,
but now his heart failed him; for good men are not always alike bold
4. Yet Moses is the man that does it at last; for God gives grace to
the lowly. Modest beginnings are very good presages.
II. God answers this objection,
1. He promises him his presence: Certainly I will be with thee,
and that is enough. Note, Those that are weak in themselves may yet
do wonders, being strong in the Lord and in the power of his might;
and those that are most diffident of themselves may be most confident
in God. God's presence puts an honour upon the worthless, wisdom and
strength into the weak and foolish, makes the greatest difficulties
dwindle to nothing, and is enough to answer all objections.
2. He assures him of success, and that the Israelites should serve God
upon this mountain. Note,
(1.) Those deliverances are most valuable which open to us a door of
liberty to serve God.
(2.) If God gives us opportunity and a heart to serve him, it is a
happy and encouraging earnest of further favours designed us.
III. He begs instructions for the executing of his commission, and has
them, thoroughly to furnish him. He desires to know by what name God
would at this time make himself known,
1. He supposes the children of Israel would ask him, What is his
name? This they would ask either,
(1.) To perplex Moses: he foresaw difficulty, not only in dealing with
Pharaoh, to make him willing to part with them, but in dealing with
them, to make them willing to remove. They would be scrupulous and apt
to cavil, would bid him produce his commission, and probably this would
be the trial: "Does he know the name of God? Has he the watch-word?"
Once he was asked, Who made thee a judge? Then he had not his
answer ready, and he would not be nonplussed so again, but would be
able to tell in whose name he came. Or,
(2.) For their own information. It is to be feared that they had grown
very ignorant in Egypt, by reason of their hard bondage, want of
teachers, and loss of the sabbath, so that they needed to be told the
first principles of the oracles of God. Or this question, What is
his name? amounted to an enquiry into the nature of the
dispensation they were now to expect: "How will God in it be known to
us, and what may we depend upon from him?"
2. He desires instructions what answer to give them: "What shall I
say to them? What name shall I vouch to them for the proof of my
authority? I must have something great and extraordinary to say to
them; what must it be? If I must go, let me have full instructions,
that I may not run in vain." Note,
(1.) It highly concerns those who speak to people in the name of God to
be well prepared beforehand.
(2.) Those who would know what to say must go to God, to the word of
his grace and to the throne of his grace, for instructions,
(3.) Whenever we have any thing to do with God, it is
desirable to know, and our duty to consider, what is his name.
IV. God readily gives him full instructions in this matter. Two names
God would now be known by:--
1. A name that denotes what he is in himself
I am that I am. This explains his name Jehovah, and
(1.) That he is self-existent; he has his being of himself, and has no
dependence upon any other: the greatest and best man in the world must
say, By the grace of God I am what I am; but God says
absolutely--and it is more than any creature, man or angel, can
say--I am that I am. Being self-existent, he cannot but be
self-sufficient, and therefore all-sufficient, and the inexhaustible
fountain of being and bliss.
(2.) That he is eternal and unchangeable, and always the same,
yesterday, to-day, and for ever; he will be what he will be and what he
(3.) That we cannot by searching find him out. This is such a name as
checks all bold and curious enquiries concerning God, and in effect
says, Ask not after my name, seeing it is secret,
Do we ask what is God? Let it suffice us to know that he is what he is,
what he ever was, and ever will be. How little a portion is heard of
(4.) That he is faithful and true to all his promises, unchangeable in
his word as well as in his nature, and not a man that he should lie.
Let Israel know this, I AM hath sent me unto you.
2. A name that denotes what he is to his people. Lest that name I
AM should amuse and puzzle them, he is further directed to make
use of another name of God more familiar and intelligible: The Lord
God of your fathers hath sent me unto you
Thus God had made himself know to him
and thus he must make him known to them,
(1.) That he might revive among them the religion of their fathers,
which, it is to be feared, was much decayed and almost lost. This was
necessary to prepare them for deliverance,
(2.) That he might raise their expectations of the speedy performance
of the promises made unto their fathers. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, are
particularly named, because with Abraham the covenant was first made,
and with Isaac and Jacob often expressly renewed; and these three were
distinguished from their brethren, and chosen to be the trustees of the
covenant, when their brethren were rejected. God will have this to be
his name for ever, and it has been, is, and will be, his name, by which
his worshippers know him, and distinguish him from all false gods; see
1 Kings 18:36.
Note, God's covenant-relation to his people is what he will be ever
mindful of, what he glories in, and what he will have us never forget,
but give him the glory of: if he will have this to be his memorial unto
all generations, we have all the reason in the world to make it so with
us, for it is a precious memorial.
16 Go, and gather the elders of Israel together, and say unto
them, The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac,
and of Jacob, appeared unto me, saying, I have surely visited
you, and seen that which is done to you in Egypt:
17 And 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.
18 And they shall 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, The LORD God of the Hebrews hath met with us:
and now let us go, we beseech thee, three days' journey into the
wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God.
19 And I am sure that the king of Egypt will not let you go,
no, not by a mighty hand.
20 And I will stretch out my hand, and smite Egypt with all my
wonders which I will do in the midst thereof: and after that he
will let you go.
21 And I will give this people favour in the sight of the
Egyptians: and it shall come to pass, that, when ye go, ye shall
not go empty:
22 But every woman shall borrow of her neighbour, and of her
that sojourneth in her house, jewels of silver, and jewels of
gold, and raiment: and ye shall put them upon your sons, and
upon your daughters; and ye shall spoil the Egyptians.
Moses is here more particularly instructed in his work, and informed
beforehand of his success.
1. He must deal with the elders of Israel, and raise their expectation
of a speedy removal to Canaan,
He must repeat to them what God had said to him, as a faithful
ambassador. Note, That which ministers have received of the Lord they
must deliver to his people, and keep back nothing that is profitable.
Lay an emphasis on that,
"I have said, I will bring you up; that is enough to satisfy
them, I have said it:" hath he spoken, and will he not make it
good? With us saying and doing are two things, but they are not so
with God, for he is in one mind and who can turn him? "I have said it,
and all the world cannot gainsay it. My counsel shall stand." His
success with the elders of Israel would be good; so he is told
They shall hearken to thy voice, and not thrust thee away as
they did forty years ago. He who, by his grace, inclines the heart,
and opens the ear, could say beforehand, They shall hearken to thy
voice, having determined to make them willing in this day of
2. He must deal with the king of Egypt
he and the elders of Israel, and in this they must not begin with a
demand, but with a humble petition; that gentle and submissive method
must be first tried, even with one who, it was certain, would not be
wrought upon by it: We beseech thee, let us go. Moreover, they
must only beg leave of Pharaoh to go as far as Mount Sinai to worship
God, and say nothing to him of going quite away to Canaan; the latter
would have been immediately rejected, but the former was a very modest
and reasonable request, and his denying it was utterly inexcusable and
justified them in the total deserting of his kingdom. If he would not
give them leave to go and sacrifice at Sinai, justly did they go
without leave to settle in Canaan. Note, The calls and commands which
God sends to sinners are so highly reasonable in themselves, and
delivered to them in such a gentle winning way, that the mouth of the
disobedient must needs be for ever stopped. As to his success with
Pharaoh, Moses is here told,
(1.) That petitions, and persuasions, and humble remonstrances, would
not prevail with him, no, nor a mighty hand stretched out in signs and
wonders: I am sure he will not let you go,
Note, God sends his messengers to those whose hardness and obstinacy
he certainly knows and foresees, that it may appear he would have them
turn and live.
(2.) That plagues should compel him to it: I will smite Egypt,
and then he will let you go,
Note, Those will certainly be broken by the power of God's hand that
will not bow to the power of his word; we may be sure that when God
judges he will overcome.
(3.) That his people should be more kind to them, and furnish them at
their departure with abundance of plate and jewels, to their great
enriching: I will give this people favour in the sight of the
[1.] God sometimes makes the enemies of his people, not only to be at
peace with them, but to be kind to them.
[2.] God has many ways of balancing accounts between the injured and
the injurious, of righting the oppressed, and compelling those that
have done wrong to make restitution; for he sits in the throne judging