Matthew Poole's Commentary
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.Moses keeping Jethro’s flock, cometh to mount Horeb, Exodus 3:1. There God appears to him in a burning bush, Exodus 3:2. Moses beholds it, Exodus 3:3. God calls to him out of the burning bush, Exodus 3:4; cautions him what to do, Exodus 3:5,6. God seeth their afflictions, Exodus 3:7; promises them a happy deliverance, Exodus 3:8; sends Moses to Pharaoh, Exodus 3:10. He desires to be excused because unworthy, Exodus 3:11. God encourages him, Exodus 3:12, and directs him what to say to the children of Israel, Exodus 3:13,14; makes his name known to Moses, Exodus 3:15; commands him to gather the elders of Israel, Exodus 3:16; and what he was to say to them, Exodus 3:17; likewise to Pharaoh, Exodus 3:18. Pharaoh’s obstinacy, Exodus 3:19. God threatens the Egyptians, Exodus 3:20; and tells Moses with what plenty the Israelites should depart, Exodus 3:21,22.
1401 Jethro was either the same with Reuel, or his son, who, upon his father’s death, succeeded into his office. See Exodus 2:18. To the backside of the desert, to its innermost parts, which were behind Jethro’s habitation, and the former pastures, whither he went for fresh pastures.
The mountain of God; so called, either as a high or eminent mountain; or from the vision of God here following; see Acts 7:30; or by anticipation, from God’s glorious appearance there, and giving the law from thence, Exodus 18:5 19:3: see also 1 Kings 19:8. Horeb, called also Sinai, Exodus 19:1 Acts 7:30. Or Horeb was the name of the whole tract or row of mountains, and Sinai the name of that particular mountain where this vision happened, and the law was delivered. Or Horeb and Sinai were two several tops of the same mountain.
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.The angel of the Lord; not a created angel, but the Angel of the covenant, Christ Jesus, who then and ever was God, and was to be man, and to be sent into the world in our flesh, as a messenger from God. And these temporary apparitions of his were presages or forerunners of his more solemn mission and coming, and therefore he is fitly called an Angel. That this Angel was no creature, plainly appears by the whole context, and specially by his saying,
I am the Lord, & c. The angels never speak that language in Scripture, but, I am sent from God, and, I am thy fellow servant, &c. And it is a vain pretence to say that the angel, as God’s ambassador, speaks in God’s name and person; for what ambassador of any king in the world did ever speak thus, I am the king, &c.? Ministers are God’s ambassadors, but if any of them should say, I am the Lord, they would be guilty of blasphemy, and so would any created angel be too, for the same reason. By a flame of fire was fitly represented God’s majesty, and purity, and power.
The bush was not consumed; which doubtless represented the condition of the church and people of Israel, who were now in the fire of affliction, yet so as that God was present with them, and that they should not be consumed in it, whereof this vision was a pledge.
And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.No text from Poole on this verse.
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.He doubles the name, partly to show kindness and familiarity, and principally to make Moses more attentive to the business before him.
And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.Draw not nigh hither; keep thy distance; whereby he checks his curiosity and forwardness, and works him to the greater reverence and humility. Compare Exodus 19:12,21 Jos 5:15.
Put off thy shoes: this he requires as an act and token,
1. Of his reverence to the Divine Majesty, then and there eminently present.
2. Of his humiliation for his sins, whereby he was unfit and unworthy to appear before God; for this was a posture of humiliation, 2 Samuel 15:30 Isaiah 20:2,4 Eze 24:17,23.
3. Of purification from the filth of his feet, or ways, or conversation, that he might be more fit to approach to God. See John 13:10 Hebrews 10:22.
4. Of this submission and readiness to obey God’s will, for which reason slaves used to be bare-footed.
Holy ground; with a relative holiness at this time, because of my special presence in it.
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 God of thy fathers, engaged to them by covenant or promise, which I am now come to perform.
He was afraid to look upon God, as other excellent servants of God have been, through the sense of their own meanness and sinfulness, and of God’s majesty and holiness. See Genesis 16:13 17:3 1 Kings 19:13 Isaiah 6:2,5, &c.
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;I have surely seen; Heb. In seeing, I have seen, i.e. I have seen and observed it diligently, accurately, and certainly; for so much the doubling of the verb signifies.
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.I am come down: this word notes God’s manifestation of himself and his favour, and giving help from heaven. See Genesis 18:21.
a good land and a large, not only comparatively to Goshen, where they now dwelt, and to the number of the Israelites at that time; but absolutely, if you take the Land of Promise according to its true, and first, and ancient bounds of it, as you have them described, Genesis 15:18 Deu 1:7 11:24, and not according to those narrow limits to which they were afterwards confined for their unbelief, sloth, cowardice, and impiety.
Flowing with milk and honey, i.e. abounding with the choicest fruits, both for necessity and for delight. The excellency and singular fruitfulness of.this land, howsoever denied or disputed by some ill-minded persons, is sufficiently evident,
1. From express testimony, not only of Moses, Deu 8:7-9, but also of the spies who were sent to view it, and, though prejudiced against it, yet acknowledged it, Numbers 13:27; and of the holy prophets that lived long in it, as David, Psalm 106:24 Joel 2:3; and Ezekiel, who calls it the glory of all lands, Ezekiel 20:15. Which if it had not been true, it is ridiculous to think that they durst have said and writ so, when the people with whom they contested, and thousands of other persons there and then living, were able to confute them. After them Josephus, and St. Hierom, and others since, who lived long in that land, have highly commended it. And whereas Strabo speaks of the barrenness of the soil about Jerusalem, that is true, but by himself it is limited to the compass of sixty furlongs from Jerusalem. And if at this day the land be now grown barren in a great measure, it is not strange, considering both the great neglect and sloth of the people as to the improvement of it, and the great wickedness of its inhabitants, for which God hath threatened to turn a fruitful land into barrenness, Psalm 107:34.
These people are diversely numbered, there are ten sorts reckoned, Genesis 15:19-21, and seven, Deu 7:1, and here but six, because some of them were either destroyed or driven out of their land by others; or did by choice and design remove to some other place, as many in those times did, though it be not mentioned in Scripture; or by cohabitation and marriage with some of the other people, did make a coalition, and were incorporated with them, and so their name was swallowed up in the other; or because the names of some of these people, as particularly the Canaanites and the Amorites, were used sometimes more strictly, and sometimes more largely, so as to comprehend under them the other people, as the Girgashites, &c., whence it comes to pass that all the rest go under the names of the Canaanites, Genesis 13:7, and of the Amorites in some places of Scripture, as hath been showed.
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.The cry of the children of Israel; either in prayer, or rather forced by their oppressions, as the next clause explains it.
Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt.No text from Poole on this verse.
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 of Egypt?What a mean, inconsiderable person am I! how unworthy and unfit for that employment! He was more forward in the work forty years ago, by reason of the fervours of his youth, his inexperience in affairs, the advantage of his power and interest in the court, by which he thought he could and should procure their deliverance; but now age had made him cool and considerate; the remembrance of his brethren’s rejection of him, when he was a great man at court, took away all probability of prevailing with them to follow him, much more of prevailing with Pharaoh to let them go. Thus Moses falls into that distemper to which most men are prone, of measuring God by himself, and by the probabilities or improbabilities of second causes.
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 this mountain.This shall be a token unto thee; either,
1. This vision; or,
2. The fulfilling of this promise, that
I will be with thee by signs and wonders, and a strong hand; or rather,
3. This which here follows, that he and Israel should serve God there. Signs indeed are commonly given from things past or present, but sometimes from things to come, as here, and 1 Samuel 2:34 Isaiah 7:13,14 9:6, &c.
Quest. How could Moses be confirmed in his present calling and work by a thing yet to come?
Answer. Such signs, if they were single, and the only evidences of a man’s calling, might leave some ground for suspicion; but when they are accompanied with other signs, as it is here and in the other places produced, they are of great use for the corroboration of a man’s faith. Moses was otherwise assured of the presence, and power, and faithfulness of that God who spake to him, and was to expect more assurances that God would be with him to help him in and carry him through his work. And as an evidence that this work of bringing Israel out of Egypt should be completed, he gives him a promise that he should serve God in that place; which promise coming from God, he knew to be as infallibly certain, as if it were already come to pass, and therefore this was an apt mean to strengthen his faith in his present undertaking.
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?Since I must go to them in thy name, and thou hast variety of names and glorious titles, and some of them are ascribed to idols, not only by the Egyptians, but by too many of thy own people; what name shall I use, whereby both thou mayest be distinguished from false gods, and thy people may be encouraged to expect deliverance from thee?
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 unto you.I am that I am; a most comprehensive and significant name, and most proper for the present occasion, It notes,
1. The reality of his being; whereas idols are nothings, 1 Corinthians 8:4, all their divinity is only in the fancies and opinions of men.
2. The necessariness, eternity, and unchangeableness of his being; whereas all other beings once were not, and, if he please, they shall be no more; and all their being was derived from him, and wholly depends upon him; and he only is by and from’ himself.
3. The constancy and certainty of his nature, and will, and word. The sense is, I am the same that ever I was; the same who made the promises to Abraham, &c., and am now come to perform them; who, as I can do what I please, so I will do what I have said. Heb. I shall be what I shall be. He useth the future tense; either,
1. Because that tense in the use of the Hebrew tongue comprehends all times, past, present, and to come, to signify that all times are alike to God, and all are present to him; and therefore what is here, I shall be, is rendered, I am, by Christ, John 8:58. See Psalm 90:4 2 Peter 3:8. Or,
2. To intimate, though darkly, according to that state and age of the church, the mystery of Christ’s incarnation. I shall be what I shall be, i.e. God-man; and I who now come in an invisible, though glorious, manner to deliver you from this temporal bondage, shall in due time come visibly, and by incarnation, to save you and all my people from a far worse slavery and misery, even from your sins, and from wrath to come. Of this name of God, see Revelation 1:4,8 16:5.
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.The Lord, Heb. Jehovah; a word of the same root and signification with I am. See Exodus 6:3. This he adds, because God was best known to the Israelites by that name; and to show, that though he had given himself a new name, yet he was the same God. This is my memorial, by which I will be remembered, owned, and served by my people, and distinguished from all others. See Psalm 102:12 135:13.
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:The elders; either by age, or rather by office and authority. For though they were all slaves to the Egyptians, yet among themselves they retained some order and government, and had doubtless some whom they owned as their teachers and rulers, as. heads of tribes and families, &c.
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.No text from Poole on this verse.
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.Hath met with us; hath appeared to us, expressing his displeasure for our neglect of him, and declaring his will that we should do what follows.
Three days’ journey; to Sinai, which, going the nearest way, was no further from Egypt; for here God had declared he would be served, Exodus 3:12.
Quest. Was not this deceitfully and unjustly spoken, when they intended to go quite away from him?
Answ. No; for,
1. Pharaoh had no just right and title to them, to keep them in bondage, seeing they came thither only to sojourn for a time, and by Joseph had abundantly paid for their habitation there, and therefore, they might have demanded a total dismission.
2. Moses doth not say any thing which is false, but only conceals a part of the truth; and he was not obliged to discover the whole truth to so cruel a tyrant, and so implacable an enemy.
3. Moses cannot be blamed, both because he was none of Pharaoh’s subject, and because herein he follows the direction and command of his Master that sent him. And God surely was not obliged to acquaint Pharaoh with all his mind, but only so far as he pleased. And it pleased him for wise and just reasons to propose only this to Pharaoh, that his denial of so modest a request (which God foresaw) might make his tyranny more manifest, and God’s vengeance upon him more just and remarkable.
Sacrifice to the Lord our God, which they could not do freely and safely in Egypt, Exodus 8:26.
And I am sure that the king of Egypt will not let you go, no, not by a mighty hand.I am sure; I know it infallibly beforehand.
No, not by a mighty hand; though he see and feel the miraculous and dreadful works of a strong, yea, almighty hand, yet he will not consent to your going; which the history makes good. Nor did he let them go till he could hold them no longer, till the fear of his own life, and the clamours of his people, forced him to give way to it. And yet after that he repents of his permission, and laboured to bring them back again. Others, but or except by a strong hand, i.e. except by my almighty power he be forced to it. Both translations come to the same sense.
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.No text from Poole on this verse.
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:I will give this people favour, so that they shall readily grant what the Israelites desire. See Exodus 12:36.
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.Whether this was just or no, see Poole "Exodus 12:36".