Exodus 3:1-15  

This text is used for the Lectionary Year A on September 3, 2017.

The life of Moses has been covered by Hollywood to the extent that it may appear common, yet perhaps it is here amongst “the common” things of life that Exodus 3:1-15 provides an opportunity for the preacher to connect with the congregation. For it is in the everyday routine of a shepherd attending to the sheep that we encounter Moses in this pericope (Exodus 3:1). Unbeknown to Moses, what started out as an ordinary, common, day would serve as a trajectory point for a life altering extraordinary encounter with the Holy. Yet, an appreciation of Moses’ past is required to understand the significance of the present.

Here is a man whose life has been nothing less than a roller coaster ride of emotions. From a prince in the palace to a murderer and an alien in a foreign land. This commoner experienced the highs and lows of life. Not to mention, his current profession wreaks with a foul odor designating a lowly position in life. With a resume full of failures, dreams deferred, and a daily routine filled with isolation there is nothing extraordinary about Moses at this point in his life while wandering in his own wilderness.

Nevertheless, Moses takes a stroll toward the mountain of God, Horeb, and spots an ordinary bush being utilized for extraordinary things. One can only imagine that the sight arrested his attention to the point where Moses deliberately alters his course to take a look at a phenomenon – a paradoxical encounter, a burning bush that doesn’t burn up (Exodus 3:3). Little did he know that this minor course deviation would result in a divine confrontation in the subsequent verses (Exodus 3:4). Without hesitation, God alerts Moses to His presence, holiness, and power as Moses is now standing on holy ground. A roll call of the patriarchs identifies the majesty, sovereignty, and divinity of Yahweh to Moses as a covenant God in relationship with His creation. And it is here the discoverer of Yahweh, Moses, becomes the discovered as God outlines the call and purpose of Moses’ life (Exodus 3:7-10). Not only has God heard the desperations of His people, but He intends to do something about it (Exodus 3:8). While God entertains the distress call of His people, simultaneously He notates the travesties of their adversaries (Exodus 3:9).

Now that Moses comprehends the magnitude of the moment a series of objections based on his commonness is met by God’s reassurance (Exodus 3:11-12). In fact, along the way God voluntarily provides a sign to signify that the call on Moses’ life isn’t dependent upon the negations of his past, rather the possibilities of a future rooted in the promises of God, lived out daily through faith (Exodus 3:12).

While the text comes from the call narrative tradition with similarities to Judges 6 and Jerimiah 1, Exodus 3 is an expanded form. As for literary devices, God’s speeches are lengthy in comparison and contrast to the pithy discourses of Moses. During the dialogue between Moses and God (Exodus 3-4:17), Moses raises five objections to his calling, ranging from his inadequacies to the anticipated shortcomings of the people. Yet with each response, God doesn’t give ground in unfolding His plan of deliverance and the role of Moses. Of course, there exist a plethora of commentary on the Christological significance regarding the divine name of God “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:14) as Jesus echoes these familiar lines when being asked about his identity (John 8:58).

When preaching the text, themes of holiness, the presence of God, the power of God, the revelation of God, the Theophany, and the Tetragrammaton (YHWH) come to mind. Yet, we live in a world where stories serve as a natural hermeneutical bridge from the past to the present. Therefore, there are several natural angles for preaching the text from a narrative perspective with perhaps a common thread of “commonness” serving as the woof and warp. A message through the lens of Moses provides an association with those who have been neglected in society whether due to a checkered past or a lack of means. Then there is the position of God, where in Exodus 1-2, God has been working in the background of life and now decides to take center stage as He hears the cry of the misused, abused, disinherited, abandoned (the common folk) in life and decides to raise up a prophet for such a time as this.

Still there exists an additional vantage point desiring to be told, the perspective of the common “thornbush.” In his article, Before the temple, the thornbush: an exposition of Exodus 2:11-3:12, author Fredrick Holmgren draws a parallel between the thorn bush encountered by Moses and the responsibility of Israel’s leaders to care for those without social status or significance (“thorn bush” people). After all, the Israelites are considered “bush” people themselves in the eyes of Egypt, people of no worth and lowly in stature. For if God can take up residence in a common, lowly element of nature, a bush, to unveil a glimpse of His glory, how much more can Yahweh use the life of every day “thorn bush” people that have been regulated to the margins of life? If there is indeed a divine significance in God choosing to reveal himself inside a mere bush, what ramifications might that have for the Church (the body of believers in Christ) and our responsibility to champion and serve those who are unable to do so for themselves?


Arbra L. Bailey
National Director of African American Relations
Compassion International in Colorado Springs, Colorado




Tags:  Burning Bush, Moses, I AM WHO I AM, Horeb, Holy Ground, Theophany




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