30 October 2014

Exodus 2:23 – 3:6

“After a long time the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned under their slavery, and cried out. Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God. God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them.” (vv. 23-25)


The suffering of the Israelites had only intensified over the long gap in the narrative during which Moses grew up, murdered an Egyptian, fled and established a new life as a shepherd (Exodus 2:11-22). Finally, in despair at their slavery, they cry out - though not to God; their suffering is intensified by the fact that they have lost touch with God and forgotten the part God has played already in their history. Their cry is simply into the void; but God hears, and is spurred into a series of dynamic actions: God remembers, God looks upon them, God takes notice of them. This repetition of 'God' is even more striking in Hebrew than in English: God is now acting powerfully on behalf of the people.

Yet God's chosen agent seems unlikely. Moses is far from Egypt, caught up in a new life, with a wife and a baby (Exodus 2:22) and a great many sheep. Yet the words "he came to Horeb" (v. 1) alert the reader, for Horeb and Sinai are two names for the same mountain, the mountain where God is revealed (Exodus 19:3). Equally, his life as a shepherd prepares him for the task of shepherding his people, just as David became Israel's shepherd king.

Fire that blazes but does not burn (verse 2) is a characteristic sign of God's presence throughout the Bible, culminating in the flame of the Spirit, resting harmlessly on the disciples' heads (Acts 2:3). The voice of God demands acknowledgement ("here I am" (v. 4) - cf Isaiah 6:9) and respect, as Moses removes his sandals. The idea of sacred space, a sanctuary, would become crucially important in Israel's life with God. And God identifies God's own self through referring to previous encounters with the people of Israel, the shadowy figures of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, half-forgotten by the people of Israel. Moses' response is to hide his face (verse 6), echoing the strong tradition that no-one could look directly at God (Exodus 33:20). The beauty of holiness is balanced by its overwhelming power.

To Ponder

  • To what extent is it true to say that God listens more attentively to those who are desperate?
  • Have there ever been places in your life where you have felt that you are 'standing on holy ground'? How have you responded?

Bible notes author

The Revd Caroline Wickens

Caroline is a Methodist presbyter, currently serving as superintendent of the Dudley and Netherton Circuit just outside Wolverhampton. She is married to Andrew, an Anglican priest, and has two teenage children.