The Burning Bush
3:1 Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. 3 And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” 4 When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5 Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6 And he said, “I am the God of your 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 at God.
7 Then the LORD said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, 8 and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9 And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. 10 Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” 11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” 12 He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.”
13 Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.”1 And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” 15 God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The LORD,2 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 thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations. 16 Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying, “I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt, 17 and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.”’ 18 And they will listen to your voice, and you and the elders of Israel shall go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us; and now, please let us go a three days' journey into the wilderness, that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God.’ 19 But I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand.3 20 So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it; after that he will let you go. 21 And I will give this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and when you go, you shall not go empty, 22 but each woman shall ask of her neighbor, and any woman who lives in her house, for silver and gold jewelry, and for clothing. You shall put them on your sons and on your daughters. So you shall plunder the Egyptians.”
12:1 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt, 2 “This month shall be for you the beginning of months. It shall be the first month of the year for you. 3 Tell all the congregation of Israel that on the tenth day of this month every man shall take a lamb according to their fathers' houses, a lamb for a household. 4 And if the household is too small for a lamb, then he and his nearest neighbor shall take according to the number of persons; according to what each can eat you shall make your count for the lamb. 5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats, 6 and you shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month, when the whole assembly of the congregation of Israel shall kill their lambs at twilight.1
7 “Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it. 8 They shall eat the flesh that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it. 9 Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted, its head with its legs and its inner parts. 10 And you shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn. 11 In this manner you shall eat it: with your belt fastened, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand. And you shall eat it in haste. It is the LORD's Passover. 12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD. 13 The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt.
14 “This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations, as a statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast. 15 Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall remove leaven out of your houses, for if anyone eats what is leavened, from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel. 16 On the first day you shall hold a holy assembly, and on the seventh day a holy assembly. No work shall be done on those days. But what everyone needs to eat, that alone may be prepared by you. 17 And you shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this very day I brought your hosts out of the land of Egypt. Therefore you shall observe this day, throughout your generations, as a statute forever. 18 In the first month, from the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread until the twenty-first day of the month at evening. 19 For seven days no leaven is to be found in your houses. If anyone eats what is leavened, that person will be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he is a sojourner or a native of the land. 20 You shall eat nothing leavened; in all your dwelling places you shall eat unleavened bread.”
21 Then Moses called all the elders of Israel and said to them, “Go and select lambs for yourselves according to your clans, and kill the Passover lamb. 22 Take a bunch of hyssop and dip it in the blood that is in the basin, and touch the lintel and the two doorposts with the blood that is in the basin. None of you shall go out of the door of his house until the morning. 23 For the LORD will pass through to strike the Egyptians, and when he sees the blood on the lintel and on the two doorposts, the LORD will pass over the door and will not allow the destroyer to enter your houses to strike you. 24 You shall observe this rite as a statute for you and for your sons forever. 25 And when you come to the land that the LORD will give you, as he has promised, you shall keep this service. 26 And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ 27 you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the LORD's Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.’” And the people bowed their heads and worshiped.
28 Then the people of Israel went and did so; as the LORD had commanded Moses and Aaron, so they did.
The Tenth Plague: Death of the Firstborn
29 At midnight the LORD struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock. 30 And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he and all his servants and all the Egyptians. And there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where someone was not dead. 31 Then he summoned Moses and Aaron by night and said, “Up, go out from among my people, both you and the people of Israel; and go, serve the LORD, as you have said. 32 Take your flocks and your herds, as you have said, and be gone, and bless me also!”
33 The Egyptians were urgent with the people to send them out of the land in haste. For they said, “We shall all be dead.” 34 So the people took their dough before it was leavened, their kneading bowls being bound up in their cloaks on their shoulders. 35 The people of Israel had also done as Moses told them, for they had asked the Egyptians for silver and gold jewelry and for clothing. 36 And the LORD had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have what they asked. Thus they plundered the Egyptians.
37 And the people of Israel journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children. 38 A mixed multitude also went up with them, and very much livestock, both flocks and herds. 39 And they baked unleavened cakes of the dough that they had brought out of Egypt, for it was not leavened, because they were thrust out of Egypt and could not wait, nor had they prepared any provisions for themselves.
40 The time that the people of Israel lived in Egypt was 430 years. 41 At the end of 430 years, on that very day, all the hosts of the LORD went out from the land of Egypt. 42 It was a night of watching by the LORD, to bring them out of the land of Egypt; so this same night is a night of watching kept to the LORD by all the people of Israel throughout their generations.
Institution of the Passover
43 And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “This is the statute of the Passover: no foreigner shall eat of it, 44 but every slave2 that is bought for money may eat of it after you have circumcised him. 45 No foreigner or hired worker may eat of it. 46 It shall be eaten in one house; you shall not take any of the flesh outside the house, and you shall not break any of its bones. 47 All the congregation of Israel shall keep it. 48 If a stranger shall sojourn with you and would keep the Passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised. Then he may come near and keep it; he shall be as a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person shall eat of it. 49 There shall be one law for the native and for the stranger who sojourns among you.”
50 All the people of Israel did just as the LORD commanded Moses and Aaron. 51 And on that very day the LORD brought the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt by their hosts.
The repeated slaughter of animals is one of the harder themes for us to understand in the Old Testament story, but it is also one of the most important. Through these animal sacrifices, God was preparing His people to understand the need for, and the significance of, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
“Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed” (1 Cor. 5:7). He bore the judgment of God so that it will not fall on you. But as in the Passover, the blood must not only be shed, it must also be applied. Just as there had to be an act of faith and obedience in which God’s people applied the blood to the doorframes of their houses, so there must be an act of faith in which Christ’s blood is applied to your life. Then you can rest on God’s promise, and God will bring you safely through the Day of Judgment.
Racial oppression has been one of the greatest evils of human history. One of the earliest examples involved God’s people, who were subjected to forced labor in Egypt. But the greatest evil was not the forced labor; it was Pharaoh’s decree that all of the male Hebrew babies be thrown into the river Nile (Ex. 1:22).
So when Moses was born, his mother hid him in a basket on the Nile River to preserve his life. Pharaoh’s daughter found him, and in God’s wonderful providence, appointed Moses’ mother to nurse him.
Moses grew up in the palace, but when he saw the reality of life in Egypt, he was outraged over the way his own people were treated. Taking matters into his own hands, he killed an Egyptian who was abusing one of the Hebrews, and when word of this got out, he had to run for his life. He ended up in the remote land of Midian, where he married Zipporah, and settled down to make a living as a shepherd. Having begun his life in a palace, Moses was now living in obscurity.
But one day, as he was tending his sheep, God appeared to him in a burning bush and called him to go back to Egypt and tell Pharaoh, “Let my people go!” (3:10).
God Breaks His Silence
Like any student in a secular university today, Moses would have grappled with belief systems and philosophies that were very different from the teaching he had received from his mother about the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In the palace he would have learned about the Egyptian pantheon – Osiris, Hekt, Apis, and Ra, the gods of Egypt.
It would have been easy for Moses to assume that the God of the Bible was one of many possible options, and that the god you worship is only a reflection of the culture in which you are raised. So the great question for Moses must have been, “Who is God?” The story of how he discovered the answer is found in Exodus 3.
The Self-Sustaining Fire
Moses saw a fire resting on a bush, but it did not burn the bush on which it rested. The fire was self-sustaining. All other fires go out when they have exhausted what sustains them. A candle only burns until the wax is gone and then the flame goes out. But this flame was unlike any other. It sustained its own life. Moses had never seen anything like it.
As Moses drew closer, God spoke to him out of the fire: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (3:6). The stories Moses had heard about God were all at least four hundred years old, and he may have wondered if this God was simply an old tradition. But now the living God was speaking to him!
Then God revealed the wonderful name by which He wanted to be known: “I AM WHO I AM” (3:14). God had revealed himself to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but he was not dependent on their faith for His existence. “God is,” and because He exists by the power of His own being, He always will be. God exists, whether we believe in Him or not.
Confusion About God
There’s a place near Birmingham, England, called “Spaghetti Junction,” a maze of roads that come together in a twisted mass of concrete which, when viewed from the air, looks like a plate of spaghetti. If you take a wrong turn, you can spend an hour returning to where you started, as I know from bitter experience.
Some drivers steer clear of Spaghetti Junction, convinced that if they go anywhere near, they will become hopelessly lost! A growing number of people feel the same way about religion. Confused by the multiplicity of gods, they avoid thinking seriously about God at all.
Another way of avoiding God is to fashion our own gods who will support the lifestyles or values we have chosen. When people say that they don’t believe in a God who will judge, or that they can’t believe in a God who saves people only through Jesus, what they are really saying is that they do not like the God of the Bible, and they have chosen to invent another god more to their liking.
To get a sense of how offensive this is, imagine a man editing a digital picture of his wife, making changes to all the features he dislikes. He thinks her nose is crooked, so he changes its shape. He believes she weighs too much, so he slims her image. Then, when he has the picture as he wants it, he goes to his wife and tells her, “This is what I want you to look like!”
Even as I describe the encounter, you can feel the personal insult. The man’s wife might well look him straight in the eye and say, with a note of defiance, “I am who I am.” In the same way, it is deeply insulting to God for us to open the Bible, see things about Him that we do not like, and reshape Him into a more pleasing image. God is not whoever you want Him to be. He is who He is!
The Point Of The Plagues
It is all very well for the God of the Bible to say, “I AM,” but how do we know that He is, and that the other gods are not? That is the point of the plagues (Ex. 7-12). Pharaoh refused to obey God’s command to let God’s people go. He did not recognize the authority of God in his life. Perhaps he took the view that he had his own gods, and that there was no reason for him to obey the God who had spoken to Moses.
As long as Pharaoh continued to believe that he could worship his own gods, he would never submit to the authority of the one true God. So the living God gave proof of who He is by bringing down the powers behind the gods of Egypt. God said, “on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD” (12:12).
We noted the many Egyptian gods Moses learned about, including Osiris, the god of the Nile; Hekt, the goddess of birth; and Ra, the sun god. The common wisdom was that each of these gods brought particular blessings to Egypt.
Much more was at stake in the plagues than simply a conflict between Moses and Pharaoh. God was saying to Pharaoh, “You worship Osiris, saying that the Nile sustains you, but I will turn the Nile into a lifeless swamp. You worship Hekt, the goddess of birth, who is depicted as a frog, but I will give birth to so many frogs that you will wish you had never known her. You worship Ra, saying that the sun will shine on you, but I will turn the sun to darkness. What you have put in My place will become like a plague to you.”
The great question at the beginning of the book of Exodus was whether God could rescue His suffering people—and if He could, would He care enough to act? We still ask the same questions when we see suffering around us in the world today. God has answered these questions: “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them” (3:7–8).
Defying The Living God
God’s people could only be saved from oppression if Pharaoh repented of his evil, or if the evil was destroyed. God commanded Pharaoh to let the people go, but he refused. So God sent the first plague, but Pharaoh didn’t move an inch. More plagues followed, and each time Pharaoh resisted, the cost of his defiance became higher.
Our secular society also feels free to defy God because it does not believe that He will bring judgment. But the plagues indicate that God will destroy evil, and when you grasp this, you will begin to see why we need a savior.
A Blood Sacrifice In Egypt
When the final plague came on Egypt, God made a way for His people to be kept safe. Every family was to choose a lamb. They were to keep it for four days, and then to kill it. The lamb’s blood was to be painted on the doorframe of every house. God said, “When I see the blood, I will pass over you” (12:13).
Moses had heard the voice of God. He knew that God had provided one way in which families could be kept safe through this night of terror. The way of deliverance was by the blood of a sacrificed animal.
Picture Moses going from house to house asking, “Are you covered by the blood of the lamb? Is it over your door? The Day of Judgment is coming and God has said, ‘When I see the blood, I will pass over you.’ Take God at His word and obey His command. Now, get it on your house. Why haven’t you done it yet?”
Notice that God never once said, “If you offer a certain number of prayers, I will pass over you.” He did not say, “If you are sincere, I will pass over you.” He said only, “When I see the blood, I will pass over you.”
When the last plague finally came, I have no doubt that some of the people would have looked up at their doors and wondered if the blood would make any difference. All they had to go on was the Word of God. Two million people believed and obeyed, and every one of them was kept safe through the judgment of God.
Blood In The Garden
The theme of blood in the Bible story goes back to the beginning. When Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, “the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins…” (Gen. 3:21). That means that God killed an animal on the day the first sin was committed.
God told Adam that disobedience would lead to death, and there was a death in the garden that day. Adam’s life was spared. An animal died instead. We find the same pattern in the story of Abraham and Isaac. God provided an animal that was killed in Isaac’s place. Now, a lamb would be killed for every family in Egypt.
God was teaching the same message to a new generation. He was saying, “You will be saved from judgment through the death of another. It will involve the shedding of blood. It was like that for Adam and for Abraham, and this is how it will be for you.” “Without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins” (Heb. 9:22).
Animal sacrifices continued for centuries in the Old Testament story until one day John saw Jesus and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
Fifteen hundred years after the Exodus from Egypt, Jesus celebrated the Passover with His disciples. During the meal, He took the cup and said, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). He was telling His disciples that just as the blood of the lamb delivered His people in Egypt, so His own blood would deliver them from the judgment on the last day.
At the end of the Bible story, we see a great crowd of people standing in the presence of God, filled with joy. Who are these people? They are those who have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev. 7:14).
- Where did you encounter teachings or philosophies that were different from the teaching about God you grew up with? How did these teachings impact you?
- Have you ever wondered if the stories you’ve heard about God are simply traditions? Do you think that would change if you heard God speak?
- Have you avoided thinking seriously about God/religion? Why or why not?
- On the night of the Passover, why did God’s judgment “pass over” some houses? What was involved in being obedient to God on that day?
- Why did Jesus die on the cross? How does the “blood of Christ” get applied to a person’s life today?