Exodus 3: Lessons from Moses’ Encounter with Jesus at the Burning Bush

Introduction: Exodus chapter 3 describes Moses’ encounter with Jesus at the burning bush. From this account, Jesus reveals seven truths about Himself, His character, and His love for you.

First, through the burning bush account, Jesus reveals that He suffers with you and refines you. The burning bush foreshadowed the suffering of both Jesus and God’s people. Second, through God’s call to Moses, He reveals that He wants you to also obey His calling in your life. Third, through the revelation of His holy name, He reveals that He is faithful and unchanging. Through His identification with Moses’ father and the patriarchs, He reveals that He knows you, calls you, transforms you, and forgives you. Fourth, through the revelation of His care for His people in bondage, He reveals that He is compassionate and will not ignore your suffering. Fifth, through His desire to use Moses to free the Jews, He reveals that He performs His wonders and miracles through ordinary people. Sixth, through the revelation of His name and His plan to free the Jews, He reveals that He is sovereign and in control of the future. Finally, from the revelation that He would provide for the Jews upon freeing them, He reveals that He is just and will provide for you as well.

1. God Suffers with You and Refines You. Ex. 3:1-3.

  • Moses the lowly shepherd. At age 80, after spending forty years raising sheep in the wilderness, God brought Moses to the top of Mount Horeb (also called Sinai): “1 Now Moses was pasturing the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian; and he led the flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.” (Ex. 3:1). Forty years earlier, God had transformed Moses from a mighty prince of Egypt to a lowly shepherd. According to Josephus, he was heir to the throne when he gave up everything to side with the Jews. His fall from power was so extreme that he did not even have his own flock. Instead, to prepare him for watching God’s flock, God had him watch his father-in-law Jethro’s flock. The name Horeb also meant means “desert” or “desolation.” This implied that Moses received some of the worst grazing lands. Moses lived in the world for 40 years being a “somebody”. God spent 40 years turning him into a “nobody”. God frequently uses the ordinary to do the extraordinary. He dwells with those with a lowly and contrite heart (Is. 57:15). If you feel that there is nothing special about you, you are in the perfect place for God to use you.

  • The burning bush. The angel of the Lord called to Moses from a burning bush: “The angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed. So Moses said, ‘I must turn aside now and see this marvelous sight, why the bush is not burned up.’” (Ex. 3:2-3). Stephan reveals that this incident happened after 40 years of living in the desert (Acts 7:30-31). The angel of the Lord was most likely one of Jesus’ many incarnations before He became a man (Gen. 16:7-13; Judges 2:1-5; 6:11-24; 13:3-22). The burning bush symbolized three things. First, it symbolized God’s mercy and grace. Second, it symbolized the suffering of His appointed servant, Jesus. Finally, it symbolized His refinement of both Israel and the Church through fire.

At Mount Horeb, God called Moses from the burning bush1

  • God’s mercy and grace. The Hebrew word for the burning bush was “seneh”, which translates as either “thorn bush” or “to stick or to prick.” This is a direct reference back to the thorns that came upon the earth as a result of mankind’s original sin (Gen. 3:17-18). The fire burned the wood without consuming it. This symbolized the fact that God’s mercy will burn away the judgment upon the Earth. The wood that did not burn symbolized the tree of life in a restored state without sin. Although there is no way to know for certain, the fire may have miraculously burned the thorns without burning the wood.

  • The suffering Messiah. The burning bush also foreshadowed Jesus as the suffering Messiah. Many believe that the bush was acacia wood, the wood that was later used to build the Tabernacle. Acacia wood was highly valuable because it was incorruptible when exposed to the desert heat. When pierced, its sap could also be used as a medicine. This foreshadowed Jesus. Like the wood, His body was not corrupted. Yet, like the wood, He bore the fire of judgment. Because the acacia tree also has thorns, many believe that it was also used for Jesus’ crown of thorns. Thus, the burning bush reminds us of the cross where Jesus suffered for us all. Although the wood was not consumed by the fire, the fire that burned on it was real. As symbolized by His resurrection, He survived the judgment for each one of us without being consumed by death.

  • The suffering servants. The fire also symbolized the suffering that God’s people endure as He purifies them with fire. This includes both the Jews and the Church. Fire can be used to refine precious metals or, in a figurative way, God’s people. He sits as a “refiner and purifier of silver, and He shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness.” (Mal. 3:3). The Holy Spirit purges sin from us through fire and tribulation (1 Cor. 3:13-15; 1 Pet. 1:7). Jesus also revealed that He is the vine and the vinedresser (John 15:1). When a vine dresser trims a vine, it helps the vine grow. If you are rooted in Jesus, His fire will refine you. Yet, those who are not rooted in Him will be thrown into the fire (John 15:6). Are you welcoming Jesus’ pruning of the dead flesh in your life?

2. God Wants Your Obedience to His Calling. Ex. 3:4-5.

  • God’s call to Moses. God called to Moses from inside the burning bush: “When the Lord saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’” (Ex. 3:4). God waited until Moses turned his attention toward Him before He called to Moses. The lesson is that God may not speak to you unless you are looking for Him. In the Bible, He frequently called persons by their name twice. These included: Abraham (Genesis 22:11), Samuel (1 Samuel 3:10), Simon (Luke 22:31), Martha (Luke 10:41), and Saul (Acts 9:4). He may have done this to denote importance or urgency. Or, it may symbolize our frequent failure to head His call. After His similar call to Abraham, Abraham responded “Here I am.” (Gen. 22:1). Likewise, after a similar call to Jacob in a dream, he responded “Here I am.” (Gen. 31:11). To a similar calling, Isaiah also responded “Here I am.” (Is. 6:8). The phrase “Here I am” is one word in Hebrew, “Hineni.” It means: “Here I am, ready to listen, ready to respond, ready to obey.” (First Fruits of Zion, Torah Club, Vol. 1, unrolling the scroll – Shemot, (2015) p. 209). Are you responding to God’s calling?

Moses responded to God’s call from the burning bush2

Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn (1606 – 1669) “Moses at the Burning Bush” (1665)3

  • God’s holiness requires your reverence. God told Moses to remove his sandals because the ground that he stood on was holy: “Then He said, ‘Do not come near here; remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’” (Ex. 3:5). His direction for Moses to remove his shoes had three meanings. First, it symbolized Moses’ need to submit to God. In the culture of that day, only a servant went without his or her shoes. Moses therefore showed his submission by removing his shoes. Second, by removing his shoes, he showed his reverence toward God. His shoes would have borne the dirt of his journey. Nothing unclean can be in God’s presence. Third, by removing his shoes, he showed that he put his trust in God. Normally, when you walk on a mountain, you wear shoes to protect your feet from jagged rocks. By walking without shoes, Moses put his faith in God to protect his feet from harm or injury. This verse also suggests that believers will not need to wear shoes when they dwell with God in heaven.

3. God is Faithful. He Knows You, Calls You, Transforms You, and Forgives You. Ex. 3:6.

  • God is faithful to keep His promises. God identified himself to Moses as the God of his father and the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. “He said also, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ Then Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.” (Ex. 3:6). Stephan adds: “Moses shook with fear and would not venture to look.” (Acts 7:32(b)). Moses knew that he had committed murder. He might have feared that God was coming to punish him. Yet, God instead showed mercy and grace. He would use Moses to fulfill His promises to each of the three patriarchs. He would turn the Jews into a great nation and give them the Promised Land (Gen 15:5; 17; 22:17; 26:4; 28:3; 28:13-15; 35:11; Dt. 10:22; Heb. 11:12). By citing these three patriarchs, He showed that He is faithful to keep His promises. He will also keep His promises to you. You only need to have faith in them.

  • The God of Moses’ father. Although God referenced the three patriarchs, He started off by identifying Himself as the God of Moses’ father: “‘I am the God of your father, . . .” (Ex. 3:6). Moses’ father was named Amram (Ex. 6:20). By identifying with Moses’ father, God was showing that He is not just an ancient God, He is also the living God who knows your current needs and cares for the concerns of your daily life. He also shows that He will honor the faith of a righteous parent. When a parent is following God’s will, he or she deserves the child’s honor. Are you honoring your parents? If you are a parent, are you doing things to give your children reasons to honor you?

  • The God of Abraham. In addition to the confirmation of His promises to each of the three patriarchs, there was also a meaning behind God’s connection to each person. The first was Abraham. God called Abraham to bring him from the land of Ur to the Promised Land (Gen 22:11). This symbolizes the fact that God calls each person. Yet, unlike Abraham, many lack the faith to accept God’s calling (Matt. 22:14). Have you found God’s calling in your life? If so, are you following it?

  • The God of Isaac. Under natural circumstances, Isaac would never have been born. His mother Sarah conceived him when she was 90. If God could supernaturally regenerate Sarah’s womb, he can transform you as well. Are you leading a transformed life?

  • The God of Jacob. Jacob was promised great things, even before he was born. Yet, he never trusted in those promises. He tricked his brother to give up his birth-right. He deceived his father to receive his blessing. After Laban told Jacob that he could keep any sheep that were born spotted, Jacob turned to superstition by having his sheep mate in front of poles under the belief that this would cause them to be born with spots. His first act of faith celebrated in the book of Hebrews was the blessing he gave on his deathbed. If God could forgive Jacob’s sins, He can forgive yours. He promises to forgive when you repent (1 John 1:9). If you have repented, are you still holding onto your sins?

4. God is Compassionate. He Will Not Ignore Your Suffering. Ex. 3:7-9.

  • God cares about the suffering of His people. God told Moses to tell the elders that He cared about their suffering and that He would free them from their oppression: “The Lord said, ‘I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt, and have given heed to their cry because of their taskmasters, for I am aware of their sufferings. So I have come down to deliver them from the power of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Amorite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite. Now, behold, the cry of the sons of Israel has come to Me; furthermore, I have seen the oppression with which the Egyptians are oppressing them.” (Ex. 3:7-9). Just as God cared for the suffering of the Jews, He cares about the suffering of all His people. He loved the world so much that He sent His son to die for every person (John 3:16). What are you doing to express your gratitude? (Ro. 12:1-2).

5. God Performs His Wonders and Miracles Through Ordinary People. Ex. 3:10-12.

  • Moses’ lack of faith in being able to complete God’s calling. In his first objection to fulfilling God’s calling, Moses doubted that anyone would listen to him. They rejected him once before. Why would they treat him any differently? Yet, rather than criticizing Moses’ lack of faith, God encouraged him by promising to be with him: “‘10 Therefore, come now, and I will send you to Pharaoh, so that you may bring My people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt.’ 11 But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?’ 12 And He said, ‘Certainly I will be with you, and this shall be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God at this mountain.’” (Ex. 3:10-12). Although Moses lacked faith at this point in his walk, God showed that He is loving and forgiving. He seeks to build believers up in their faith. He wants believers to do the same with each other. Are you building up others in their faith?

Moses initially questioned God’s calling for his life4

  • God will also be with you and speak through you. Like Moses, you never need to worry about what you will say to others when you are serving God: “But when they hand you over, do not worry about how or what you are to say; for it will be given you in that hour what you are to say. For it is not you who speak, but it is the Spirit of your Father who speaks in you.” (Matt. 10:19-20). Do you lack the faith to share your faith?

  • Being old is never a good excuse for failing to serve God. Moses was 80 years old when God finally called him (Ex. 7:7). To any person who feels that they have squandered their life, the message is that you are never too old to serve God. Conversely, if you are looking to sink into a hole upon retiring, you are guilty of the sin of slothfulness. God wants you to enjoy your retirement years. But He never wants you to stop serving Him.

  • Being young is also never a good excuse for failing to serve God. Like Moses, Jeremiah initially questioned God’s call. He protested that he was too young (Jer. 1:6). Just as He did with Moses, God promised to go with him and speak through him (Jer. 1:7-10). The lesson is that your age is never an excuse to ignore God’s calling in your life. Have you responded to God’s call in your life to serve Him?

  • God’s revelation of the location of Mount Horeb. God told Moses to bring the people to “worship God at this mountain.’” (Ex. 3:12). Paul reveals that Moses was living in Midian, modern day Saudi Arabia (Ga. 4:25). He could not have brought Jethro’s sheep across the Gulf of Aqaba into Sinai. Thus, Mount Horeb was in Saudi Arabia.

6. God is Sovereign and in Control of the Future. Ex. 3:13-20.

  • God is eternal. Through His name, God reveals that He is eternal, having always existed: “13 Then Moses said to God, “Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I will say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’ Now they may say to me, ‘What is His name?’ What shall I say to them?’ 14 God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM’; and He said, ‘Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ 15 God, furthermore, said to Moses, ‘Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘The Lord, 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 this is My memorial-name to all generations.” (Ex. 3:13-15). The Hebrew phrase “Eheyeh Asher Eheyeh” translates to “I will be as I will be”. The Jews taught that the words “I AM” referred to His unchanging nature. The New Testament further reveals that He never changes. He is the same today as He was in the past and will be in the future: ‘“I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.’” (Rev. 1:8).

  • Jesus the great “I AM” In the New Testament, Jesus revealed that Moses in fact spoke with Him at the burning bush: “So the Jews said to Him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I AM.’” (Jo. 8:57-58). As the name suggests, Jesus also does not change: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” (Heb. 13:8).

  • Honor God’s name. When Moses asked God for His name, God used the word: “YHVH” God warned never to take His name in vain (Ex. 20:7). The Jews considered His name so holy that they never tried to pronounce it out of fear that they might mispronounce it and take His name in vain. Thus, they came up with the name “adonai” or “Lord” as a substitute. God used many names to reveal His character. Commentator David Guzik points out that it was logical for Moses to ask for God to reveal the name that Moses should use because God had revealed a different name to each of the patriarchs in the past: “Abraham, in the encounter with Melchizedek called on God Most High. (Gen. 14:22.) Abraham later encountered Almighty God (Gen. 17:1.) Abraham came to know the LORD as Everlasting God (Genesis 21:33), and The-LORD-Will-Provide. (Gen. 22:14.) Hagar encountered You-Are-the-God-Who-Sees. (Gen. 16:13.) Jacob met El Elohe Israel (Gen. 33:20) and El Bethel (Gen. 35:7). So if Moses were to come to the elders of Israel as a representative of God, it would be logical for them to wonder, ‘By what name did He reveal Himself to you?’” (David Guzik on Exodus 3).5

  • God is in control and will deliver His people. In addition to being eternal, God reveals that He is in control of the future and will deliver His people to fulfill His promises: “16 Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, has appeared to me, saying, ‘I am indeed concerned about you and what has been done to you in Egypt. 17 So I said, I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt to the land of the Canaanite and the Hittite and the Amorite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite, to a land flowing with milk and honey.”’ (Ex. 3:16-17). By revealing what He would do in the near future, God showed that you don’t need to fear the future. He is sovereign and in control.

  • God’s promise to bring plagues upon Egypt. God also promised to punish Pharaoh with plagues: “18 They will pay heed to what you say; and you with the elders of Israel will come to the king of Egypt and you will say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us. So 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 permit you to go, except under compulsion. 20 So I will stretch out My hand and strike Egypt with all My miracles which I shall do in the midst of it; and after that he will let you go.” (Ex. 3:18-20). Again, God reveals that you don’t need to fear evil because He is in control. He defeated Satan at the cross. Like Pharaoh, Satan will also be judged.

  • Jesus also came with many wonders so that we might believe. Jesus also performed many signs and wonders while He was alive. His miracles testified to the fact that God the Father had sent Him: “But the testimony which I have is greater than the testimony of John; for the works which the Father has given Me to accomplish-- the very works that I do-- testify about Me, that the Father has sent Me.” (John 5:36; 10:25; 10:38). You only need to have faith that the miracles recorded in the Bible are true.

7. God Will Provide for You. Ex. 3:21-22.

  • God’s promise to provide for the Jews. Because God is just, He also promised to ensure that the Jews received compensation for their approximate 400 years of servitude: “21 I will grant this people favor in the sight of the Egyptians; and it shall be that when you go, you will not go empty-handed. 22 But every woman shall ask of her neighbor and the woman who lives in her house, articles of silver and articles of gold, and clothing; and you will put them on your sons and daughters. Thus you will plunder the Egyptians.” (Ex. 3:21-22). God later fulfilled this prophecy when the Jews fled from Egypt. The Jews ‘plundered’ mountains of gold, silver, and precious stones from the Egyptians (Ex. 12:35-36). From the amount of gold that they had to build the Tabernacle, God gave them the equivalent of millions of dollars in gold. He also did this to fulfill His law that a freed slave be paid his wages so that he never needs to return to bondage (Dt. 15:12-14).

God reassured Moses that He would provide for His people6

  • Search after God’s Kingdom, and Jesus will also provide for you. Like the Jews, Jesus has also freed you from bondage to the devil. When you search after the Promised Land in heaven, Jesus promises to provide for all your needs as well: “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt. 6:33).