1 Now Moses, tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, drove the flock into the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.
2 The messenger of Jehovah became visible to Moses in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush. Moses noticed and perceived that the bush was burning but not consumed.
3 So Moses thought, “I must turn to inspect this marvelous spectacle, the reason the bush is not destroyed.”
4 When Jehovah observed Moses turning aside to behold the bush, Elohim invited him from the midst of the bush, saying, “Moses, Moses!” Moses replied, “Here I am.”
5 Then He commanded, “Do not draw near; remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is land set apart. It is holy ground.”
6 He also avowed, “I am Elohim of your ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” Then Moses hid his face for he feared and revered Elohim as the true God.
7 Jehovah said, “I have looked upon the misery of my people who are inEgypt. I have granted hearing to their cry of distress against their taskmasters, for I know and have experienced their pain.”
8 “Thus, I have come down to deliver them from the power of the Egyptians, and to bring them up into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the region of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.”
9 “Now, look, the cry of the people of Israel is gathered before Me. Furthermore, I have seen the pressure with which the Egyptians have squeezed them.”
10 “Come now, I will send you to Pharaoh, so that you may bring My people,Israel, out ofEgypt.”
11 But Moses responded to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should lead the people ofIsrael out ofEgypt?”
12 And He said, “Nevertheless, I will be with you and this will be a miraculous sign to you that it is I who let you loose: when you have delivered the people out ofEgypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.”
The book of Exodus falls within the parameters of the Pentateuch, a Greek word meaning “five scrolls.” The Hebrew division for these five books is called Torah, meaning “instruction.” These five scrolls or books, Genesis through Deuteronomy, contain some of Israel’s most formative theology.
“The name ‘Exodus’ which is of Greek origin, comes from the LXX name for the second book of the Pentateuch. ‘Exodus’ means ‘exit, departure,’ or ‘exodus [from Egypt]’… The Hebrew name for the book derives from the first words of the text: ‘And these are the names of’… or simply Shemoth.’” The Hebrew name Shemoth, indicates, along with the conjunction “And” beginning Exodus 1:1, Exodus was meant to be continuous from Genesis. However, the book of Exodus is not simply an historical account of the Israelites. This can be seen, for instance, through the author’s neglect to name the ruling pharaohs in these narratives. Also, the events narrated in the book of Exodus are, at times, anachronistic in arrangement. Bruce Birch suggests that Exodus is “kerygma… theological proclamation seeking to tell the community’s salvation story to subsequent generations so that they too will know and encounter the liberating God of the Exodus story.”  Exodus is composed primarily as “narrative and law.” The book of Exodus also has a distinctly liturgical influence throughout its composition. Birch also suggests four “foci” that the “narrative flow of the book of Exodus” centers upon: “Bondage, Confrontation with Pharaoh, Liberation, and Wilderness.”
Generally, scholarship agrees that Exodus is a compositional work shaped through centuries of writing and redaction, or editing. Fundamentally, this theory is known as the Documentary Hypothesis. The Documentary Hypothesis holds that there are three, possibly four, editors that shaped the final text of Exodus. “Scholars who maintain the documentary hypothesis trace the materials in this book to three literary sources (Yahwist, Elohist, and Priestly).”
According to James Bowley, the text known as J and E fall between the years 928-722 BCE. The P text follows somewhere between 700-600 BCE. Bowley then continues by concluding that P and J were likely woven together by an author designated D for the Deutreronomist. This, Bowley believes, was likely formed during King Josiah’s reign from 639-609 BCE. These text sources were then combined by various redactors until the text was finished circa the sixth or fifth centuries BCE.
To go even more in depth as to the construction of the Pentateuch, Christoph Levin declares that six “narrative blocks” exist within the Pentateuch: “primeval history (Genesis 1-11); history of the patriarchs (Genesis 12-36); the story of
Joseph and his brothers (Genesis 37; 39-45); stories about Moses (Exodus 2-4); exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and their wanderings through the desert; and Balaam (Numbers 22-24).”  These “narrative blocks” show the fragmented framework that has been weaved together through a long process that was finally fused together by an editor known as the Yahwist or J source.
The Yahwist is noted as one of the “two documents that provide the literary basis of what later became the Pentateuch.” Martin Noth claimed that the work of the Pentateuch was a “self-contained whole.” Six characteristics showed this unity. First, the fragmented “choice of sources” throughout the Pentateuch showed a consistent editorial process had been used throughout the work. Secondly, the Pentateuch had a “view of history” tracing Israel’s very beginnings until its preparation for entering the Promised Land. Next, a “theological leitmotif” of “historical blessing” links the narratives together. Fourth, ‘language and style” give evidence of a singular editor stitching various sources together. The editor seemed to be very familiar with the language of the “king’s court.”
Source criticism, however, has yielded little consensus as to the actual process leading to the canonical text we now have. As such, it is most beneficial to read the text as we now have it. “Details on the nature and dating of these sources or the process that brought them together are subject to vigorous debate… the development of literary and canonical approaches to the text have stressed the importance of the present, final shape of the text as the significant rendering of the story.”
As stated before, the book of Exodus is not primarily concerned with reconstructing an historical account of the Exodus. This makes dating the events of the Exodus difficult at best. What we can assess of the historical context must be derived from the text. Exodus 1 begins with an account of the “names” of Jacob’s sons that had come toEgyptduring the time of Joseph’s vizier-ship inEgypt. Verse 5 tells us that there were seventy kin of Jacob that lived inEgyptat that time. Exodus 1:6 then recounts the fertility of the Israelite people had caused them to multiply greatly. This presents a major concern for the pharaoh ofEgypt. This pharaoh appoints taskmasters over the Israelites, reducing them to slaves (v 11).
Although inconclusive, there are some Egyptian influences upon the text (i.e. Moses’ name). “With great irony on several levels, it is in fact the princess who gives Moshe his name. The name is Egyptian, a rather common name meaning ‘son,’ which you can see in other Egyptian names, such as Thutmose. But our author relates the name to a Hebrew word, m-sh-h, meaning ‘to draw out,’ and has the Egyptian princess explain the Hebrew meaning.” This Egyptian influence could possibly indicate materials composed shortly after or during the actual exodus.
Walter C Kaiser maintains that there are two views for the dating of the exodus: “(1) pharaohs of the Eighteenth Dynasty (c. 1580-1321 BC) and (2) pharaohs of the Nineteenth Dynasty mainly in the thirteenth century (1321-1205 BC).” Kaiser indicates two “pillars” for dating the exodus during the thirteenth century: “(1) the two names for the store cities built by the Israelites in Egypt – Pithom and Rameses (1:11) – and (2) the archaeological discoveries at many Palestinian sites that have been interpreted to favor an Israelite conquest toward the end of the thirteenth century.” Kaiser contends that the thirteenth century dating of the exodus rest on “two misconceptions,” namely, “that the building of the cities (Pithom and Rameses) and the oppression of the Israelites commenced shortly before the exodus rather than in the Middle Kingdom of Egypt (i.e. prior to the Eighteenth Dynasty), and (2) the nature of the archaeology of Canaan and its problematic dating. However, Exodus cannot be read as simply a linear history. Take, for example, the time span between Moses’ murder of the Egyptian and his encounter with God through the burning bush. There are forty years that span this time frame. Likewise, the archaeological discoveries are difficult to date and are not congruently agreed upon.
A clue often used for the dating of our text is found in Exodus 1:11 where the cities of “Pithom and Ramses” are said to have been built by the Hebrews. The names of these cities, especially in reference to Ramses, led many scholars to date the Exodus during the reign of Ramses II which started in 1290 BC. Scholars argued that a city could not be named after a Pharaoh that had not even been thought of during the time of its construction. They logically concluded that the Exodus would not have occurred before that time. In addition, Ramses II reigned during a significant period of “military achievements and building project.”
However, Robert L. Vasholz argues against such an easy interpretation. He claims, “The description of the store city Ramses in Exodus is hardly adequate for what we know of the great royal capital Pi-Ramses.” Furthermore, Vasholz maintains that it would be unlikely, and even demeaning, to name such a mundane city for one of the great pharaohs. However, Vasholz does allow the fact that Pi-Ramses also had “mud brick storages,” which makes it a “possible site for the store city of the exodus.”
Vasholz also contends that cities were not named after pharaohs but rather after their gods. If that is true, this would free up dating the exodus to this period alone. Vasholz says this stance is confirmed in Genesis 47:11, where “landof Ramses” is mentioned. This locale is mentioned as prior to the time of Moses by close to 400 years. This might indicate an alternative dating of the exodus prior to the time of Ramses II.
Kaiser also contends that there are two “pillars” for dating the exodus to the fifteenth century: “the summarizing statement that there were 480 years (1 Ki 6:1) from the exodus until the fourth year of Solomon (= 967 BC) and (2) the supporting data that three hundred years (Jdg 11:26) elapsed between Israel’s entrance into Palestine and the commencement of the judge Jephthah’s rule. Both texts set the exodus at c. 1446 BC, making Thutmose II the pharaoh of Israelite oppression.” However, this is not conclusive evidence and is readily attested due to conflicting translations from the Greek and Hebrew. Also, others suggest that these 480 years are symbolic for the generations that followed the exodus. Kaiser maintains that a “general case [can be] made for the internal consistency of the biblical record for the early date of the exodus as c. 1446 BC.” However, again, this is not conclusive evidence for the dating of the Exodus. Yet, this dating does give some interesting possibilities in the connection between the names Thutmose III and Moses.
The historical site for Sinai/Horeb is unknown. In addition, it is not certain that these two place are even the same place, although they are generally asserted to be so. These two names could be from two separate traditions that have been weaved together. Bowley says that scholarship is divided on the issue. Bowley also writes, “The traditional site of Mt.Sinai on the southern end of the Sinai peninsula, known as Jebual Musa (Arabic for “Mount of Moses”), goes back only to the third or fourth century CE.” Also, there are numerous other locations that have been nominated as possible locations of Mt. Sinai, including “near Palestine, some in modern Jordan or Saudi Arabia.”
The book of Exodus, as is true for the rest of the Pentateuch, is anonymously authored. Tradition surrounds this text as having come from the Mosaic tradition. There are a few textual assertions of this belief (e.g. Ex. 17:14; 34:4, 27-29; 24:4). However, as has been stated earlier, multiple authors and/or editors are thought to have been involved in the shaping of the present text. Most likely, the canonical text we now hold was likely finalized during “Israel’s Babylonian exile (587-539 BCE).” However, there is still debate about the actual dating for the finalization of the Pentateuch. Despite these uncertainties, a Babylonian exile seems a likely setting for the audience of Exodus in its canon form.
These texts would have answered important theological questions. For example, a post-exile person might question where God had gone or if He might ever deliver them from oppression. Was God confined to theTempleor one space? Did God care and would He fulfill His promises? These and other penetrating questions would have been addressed by these texts. Thus, Exodus invites every generation to live out the exile and remember God’s wonderful deeds for His people. It asserts hope during times of trial and tribulation. These texts also emphasize worship and obedience as a faithful response to God’s actions in our behalf. The book of Exodus also puts forth the standard for community through the giving of the Law and its comparison with life under pharaoh’s oppressive regime. An exilic people would easily identify with the suffering of Exodus and looked hopefully for salvation from God.
Creation Theology – “Pharaoh’s threat to the future of Israel… is a threat to the purposes of God the Creator.” Moses is invited, called to participate in God’s creative plan for His people. Although God could act alone to preserve Israel and save them, He chooses to use human agency in this process. In Fretheim’s work, Exodus, he states, “That is for God a risky venture, fraught with negative possibilities.” God’s call in this passage is typical: “(1) Theophany – Divine Appearance (vv.1-4a); (2) Introductory Word (vv. 4b-9); (3) Divine Commission (v. 10); (4) Objection (v. 11); (5) Reassurance (v. 12a); (6) Sign (v. 12b).”
The burning bush plays a huge role in the narrative. There is fire in the midst of this bush yet it is not consumed. This catches Moses’ attention, thus he diverts his path to see this sight. Moses’ curiosity becomes ground for divine revelation. Terrence Fretheim commented, “A messenger of God… appears to him ‘in’ (not in the form of) a flame of fire from within the bush and that the messenger is in fact God.”
Bernard Robinson claims that this burning bush passage is an important segment defining Israel’s connection with Yahweh. Robinson states, “This theophany, in which God calls Moses from his shepherding, will emphasize the fact that Yahweh takes the initiative where his emissaries are concerned.” God is not unconcerned or inactive. God is actively working for his people, even before they are responding to Him. Robinson believes this passage serves several purposes, which is informed by liturgical uses. Kathy Beach-Verhey comments that the verb in Exodus 3:7b, “yada,” which we translate “know,” “denotes intimacy… of shared experience… God is neither aloof nor separated from the suffering of God’s people.” This is an awesome picture of Yahweh.
First, this theophany is “foreshadow [to] the Sinai revelation later in the Book of Exodus. This, as Robinson writes, displays God’s “transcendence… while preserving his personality.” Robinson continues by outlining the use of fire throughout the Bible as a “symbol of the deity.” This is even seen in the Exodus account where God is cloaked in a pillar of fire as He leads His people. Or, again, in the Sinai encounter with Israel, the earth shakes and the mountain is enshrouded by smoke and fire at its peak. Robinson maintains that this may not be fire’s only importance in this passage. Fire, throughout Scripture, can also be a “symbol of oppression.” In several passages, like Jeremiah 11:4, Egypt is represented as an “iron-smelter” dealing through oppressive injustice. Although this is not a likely early reading, it does serve as an important interpretation for us and likely for the communities that read this as a canon. It is important to distinguish the messenger as being “in” the flame. Lastly, Robinson believes the burning bush passage is “natural for the readers to see in the bush an allusion to the Menorah or seven-branched Lampstand which the Pentateuch represents Moses as constructing at the divine command for the Tabernacle.” The Menorah would represent a “perpetual theophany.”
J. Gerald Janzen adds that the bush can symbolize more than the natural realm. The bush can also be seen to represent a people. We can find evidences of this use throughout the Old and New Testament (i.e. John 15). God will not allow His people to be consumed. In fact, God is in the midst of the persecution and will maintain life for His people and not allow them to be “consumed.” In addition, Oliver Davies warns that we must not merely look for symbolism in the burning bush narrative. Traditional readings of this passage have lead to “metaphysical” interpretation divorced from practical reality. The burning bush is an invitation to us to see suffering and to respond as God would respond.
Like Moses, we are called to be aware. God reveals injustices in the world to those He calls out. Like Moses, we may feel inadequate. However, God calls us for a purpose and reassures us that we will not act alone. God will see His purposes come to fruition no matter the opposition. God will establish His reign and sovereignty, especially in the face of oppression and injustice against the weak. God calls us to respond to these injustices, to oppose them head on. God sees, hears, and knows the mistreatment of His people. He calls us to see the same thing He does. God is not inactive. He comes down, even participates in the suffering of people. What kind of God is this? Moses’ seeing, hearing, and knowing corresponds with God’s. God’s mission becomes Moses’. Likewise, God’s mission in the world must become our own, even at our own peril.
God’s purposes provide life in barrenness. God does not allow His people to be consumed by the fires of oppression. Rather, God brings freedom and deliverance. He still works this way today. What then should happen? God calls those He has freed to by a holy community that participates in the divine re-creation. God frees us so that we may respond in the same way to others. Our deliverance leads us to be a community of worship. We enter into a covenant relationship with God. We decided who will be our Master. We respond in obedience to this Creator and Sustainer of life. We become messengers of this hope that we have found and received unmerited.
The Exodus is not merely a historical account of God’s divine action in the past. It is an invitation to see God’s work and action of redemption today! Moreover, it is an invitation to respond to God with trust and obedience. We know that God cares and desires personal relationship because He enters into the very mess of our lives. He is not merely a sideline observer, but a participant in the very world He created. As such, we can be confident that God is with us, even in the absolute darkest situations. More importantly, He cares and desires for us to experience His gift of freedom and redemption.
Beach-Verhey, Kathy. 2005. “Exodus 3:1-12.” Interpretation 59, no. 2: 180-182. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed August 12, 2009).
Birch, Bruce C., Walter Brueggemann, and Terence E. Fretheim. A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament.New York: Abingdon P, 2005.
Bowley, James E. Introduction to Hebrew Bible : A Guided Tour of Israel’s Sacred Library.UpperSaddleRiver: Prentice Hall, 2007.
Branson, Robert D., Jim Edlin, and Timothy M. Green. Discovering the Old Testament : Story and Faith.New York: Beacon Hill P ofKansas City, 2003.
Davies, Oliver. 2006. “Reading the Burning Bush: Voice, World, and Holiness.” Modern Theology 22, no. 3: 439-448. Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (accessed August 12, 2009).
Fretheim, Terence E. Exodus.New York:Geneva P, 2003.
Fretheim, Terence E. The Pentateuch. Ed. Gene M. Tucker and Charles Cousar.New York: Abingdon P, 1996.
Hamilton, Victor P. Handbook on the Pentateuch : Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy.Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005.
“Interlinear Study Bible.” Www.studylight.org. 19 Nov. 2008 http://www.studylight.org/isb/bible.cgi?query=exodus+3%3a1-12§ion=0&it=nas&ot=bhs&nt=na&enter=perform+search.
Janzen, J Gerald. 2003. “And the bush was not consumed.” Jewish Bible Quarterly 31, no. 4: 219-225. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed August 12, 2009).
Levin, Christoph. 2007. “The Yahwist: the earliest editor in the Pentateuch.” Journal of Biblical Literature 126, no. 2: 209-230. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed August 12, 2009).
Longman III, Tremper. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary.Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002.
Robinson, Bernard P. 1997. “Moses at the Burning Bush.” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament , no. 75: 107-122. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed August 11, 2009).
Tanakh, the Holy Scriptures : The New Translation According to the Traditional Hebrew Text.WashingtonD.C.: Jewish Publication Society, 1985.
Vasholz, Robert I. 2006. “On the dating of the Exodus.” Presbyterion 32, no. 2: 111-113. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed August 12, 2009).
- Exodus – “Exit, Departure” Shemoth – “The Names”
- Documentary Hypothesis – Compilation of sources fused together by editors
- Literary Form: Narrative and Law with definite Liturgical influences
- Kerygma – Theological proclamation of the community’s salvation story
- Pentateuchal Canon probably finalized by the Babylonian Exile (587 BCE)
- Exodus time period cannot be established with certainty
- Thutmose III (c. 1446 BC) or Ramses II (c. 1290)
- Severe oppression and genocidal policies established against Israelites
- Theophany occurred atMt.Horeb – Anticipates Mt. Sinai theophany
- Burning Bush – Menorah Construction; Symbolizes People: God – Far/ Near
- Fire – Divine Revelation or Trial and Tribulation?
- “See, Hear, Know” – God experiences pain and suffering with His people
- Worshiping Community –Deliverance to Doxology
- Creation Theology – God’s purposes will not be thwarted
- God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – God of Promise/ The One God
- See, Hear, Know – God calls us to see injustice and to respond
- Deliverance to Doxology – God’s Salvation Leads to Praise (v. 12)
- Participate in God’s Creation/ Re-Creation: “Here I Am” (Ex. 19:5-6)
 James E. Bowley. Introduction to Hebrew Bible: A Guided Tour of Israel’s Sacred Library. (Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2007), 107.
 Tremper Longman III. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 335.
 Terence E.Fretheim. The Pentateuch. Ed. Gene M. Tucker and Charles Cousar. (NewYork: Abingdon P, 1996), 102.
 Bruce C. Birch, Walter Brueggemann, and Terence E. Fretheim. A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament. (New York: Abingdon P, 2005), 99.
 Robert D. Branson, Jim Edlin, and Timothy M. Green. Discovering the Old Testament: Story and Faith. (New York: Beacon Hill P of Kansas City: 2003), 94.
 James E. Bowley. Introduction to Hebrew Bible: A Guided Tour of Israel’s Sacred Library. (Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2007), 113.
 Christoph Levin. The Yahwist: The Eariest Editor in the Pentateuch. Journal of Biblical Literature. (2007): 213-217.
 Bruce C. Birch, Walter Brueggemann, and Terence E. Fretheim. A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament. (New York: Abingdon P, 2005), 97.
 James E. Bowley. Introduction to Hebrew Bible: A Guided Tour of Israel’s Sacred Library. (Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2007), 140.
 Tremper Longman III. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 338.
 Robert I. Vasholz. On the Dating of the Exodus. Presbyterion 32 (2006), 111.
 Tremper Longman III. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 339.
 James E. Bowley. Introduction to Hebrew Bible: A Guided Tour of Israel’s Sacred Library. (Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 2007), 143.
 Tremper Longman III. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 336.
 Bruce C. Birch, Walter Brueggemann, and Terence E. Fretheim. A Theological Introduction to the Old Testament. (New York: Abingdon P, 2005), 98.
 Terence E. Fretheim. Exodus. New York: Geneva P, 2003, 53.
 Bernard P. Robinson. Moses at the Burning Bush. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 75 (1997), 111.
 Kathy Beach-Verhey. Exodus 3:1-12. Interpretation 59 (2005), 181.
 Bernard P. Robinson. Moses at the Burning Bush. Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 75 (1997), 112.
 J. Berald Janzen. …and the Bush Was Not Consumed. Encounter 2nd ser. 63 (2002), 122-23.
 Oliver Davies. Reading the Burning Bush: Voice, World, and Holiness. Modern Theology 22 (2006), 439.