THE PENTATEUCH PART II: EXODUS
Lesson 3:
Exodus 2:23-4:31
God Commissions Moses to be Israel's Savior

Awesome Father,
You revealed Yourself to Moses from the midst of the burning bush, a revelation given only to him out of all the men and women of the earth. However, in Your desire to call mankind to salvation, You have revealed Yourself to all men and women in the person of Your beloved Son, Jesus of Nazareth. The first vision pales in comparison to the second. The vision of Christ Jesus is a revelation that lives in the heart of every believer, as Your divine Son leads Your New Covenant children to eternal salvation just as Moses prefigured our journey by leading the children of Israel out of bondage in Egypt. Guide us Lord, in our study of Moses' call to become the redeemer of Israel. Led by his example of faith and obedience, may each of us also answer the call to serve You and Your Church. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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From Jacob's stock he produced a generous man who found favor in the eyes of all humanity, beloved by God and people, Moses, of blessed memory. He made him the equal of the holy ones in glory and made him strong, to the terror of his enemies.
Sirach 45:1-2

The narrative in Exodus chapter two describes how baby Moses was rescued by an Egyptian princess and was raised as her son. In the palace of the Pharaoh of Egypt Moses received the best education the world had to offer at that time in history. Reaching manhood, his education continued as he came to understand the use and abuse of power in his adopted family's control of the nation of Egypt and in the oppression of his kinsmen by birth, the Israelites. After Moses escaped from Egypt, his forty year sojourn in Midian provided another kind of education. In his transition from pampered prince to hard-working shepherd he was exposed to a new kind of wisdom. In Egypt he was exposed to worldly wisdom, but in the forty years Moses lived in Midian he received spiritual knowledge. As a shepherd he learned to care for the weak of his flock, to protect them from the dangers of the wild and to lead his flock with confidence, finding them food, water, and shelter. And in his long hours of solitude, Moses had the time to pray and meditate on the God of his fathers. Both forms of wisdom "the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of the spirit "would become valuable resources in the mission that would consume the last forty years of Moses' life.

Please read Exodus 2:23-25:
2:23During this long period the king of Egypt died. The Israelites, groaning in their slavery, cried out for help and from the depths of their slavery their cry came up to God. 24God heard their groaning; God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. 25God saw the Israelites and took note...

This is another transition passage. As in Exodus 1:8 a pharaoh has died and a new pharaoh has taken his place. The pharaoh who sought Moses' death was placed in his royal tomb and his successor sat on the Egyptian throne. The death of Moses' enemy will make it possible for Moses to return to Egypt.

In Exodus chapters one and two God is mentioned eight times: Ex 1:17, 20, 21; 2:23, 24 (twice), 25 (twice). The references are to God use the word Elohim (in Hebrew the plural form of el, the word for "god"). It is the same Hebrew word used in Genesis chapter one:

Ex 1:17 But the midwives were God-fearing women and did not obey the orders of the king of Egypt, but allowed the boys to live.
Ex 1:20 For this, God was good to the midwives, and the people went on increasing and growing more powerful
Ex 1:21 And since the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own.
Ex 2:23 During this long period the king of Egypt died. The Israelites, groaning in their slavery, cried out for help and from the depths of their slavery their cry came up to God.
Ex 2:24 God heard their groaning; God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Ex 2: 25 God saw the Israelites and [God] took note...

[] = Hebrew text (Interlineal Bible: Hebrew-English, vol. I, page

The seven/eight word patterns present in the accounts of Moses' childhood, adulthood in Egypt and in his escape to Midian and the numerous examples of biblical irony are meant to remind the reader that God was not absent but that He was present and active in the events recorded in the first two chapters. But now in Exodus chapter three, God's intervention in the history of Israel will take a much more dramatic and a more divine "hands on" approach. Like the change in the Hebrew for "God" in Genesis chapter one to Genesis chapter two, signifying the shift in God's relationship with man from Creator to Divine Father "from "Elohim" to "Yahweh-Elohim," we will now see the same shift in Exodus chapter three in the use of the Divine Covenant Name "YHWH" (Yahweh), used seven times (see Ex 3:2, 4, 7, 15, 16, and 18 (twice), even though the Divine Name is not spoken by God to Moses until the encounter with the "burning bush" in verses 13-15. In most Bible translations the Divine Name is rendered LORD (all capitals).

Question: What is meant when the biblical text reads: God heard their groaning; God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God saw the Israelites and [God] took note... Had God forgotten His covenant promises to Abraham? See Genesis 15:13-15; 17:7-8; 26:3-4; 28:13-14.

Answer: God had not forgotten. God promised the Patriarchs He would not forget: And I shall maintain my covenant between myself and you, and your descendants after you, generation after generation, as a covenant in perpetuity, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you (Gen 17:7). According to God's prophecy to Abraham, the time for Israel's redemption would not come until the forth generation after the children of Israel entered Egypt, when the "iniquity of the Amorites had reached its height."

"God remembered" the children of Israel in the same way He "remembered Noah and his family in the midst of the Great Flood in Genesis 8:1, when He began to fulfill the covenant promise He made to Noah before the flood event (Gen 6:18-20). The words "God remembered" indicate that it was now time to fulfill the covenant promise made to the Patriarchs that the children of Israel would be redeemed and given a land of their own. The emphasis on God "remembering" His covenant promises is a reminder to all generations of His people that He is faithful and that He will do what He promises. In the last lines of the book of the Prophet Micah, the prophet petitions God to remember that the salvation of Israel is the fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant and the foundation of hope as well as the focus of faith for the covenant people of God: Once more have pity on us, tread down our faults; throw all our sins to the bottom of the sea. Grant Jacob your faithfulness, and Abraham your faithful love, as you swore to our ancestors from the days of long ago (Micah 7:19-20).

Please read Exodus 3:1-6: The Theophany of the Burning Bush
3:1Moses was looking after the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led it to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God [Elohim]. 2The angel of Yahweh appeared to him in a flame blazing from the middle of a bush [sene]. 3Moses looked; there was the bush [sene] blazing, but the bush [sene] was not being burnt up. Moses said, I must go across and see this strange sight, and why the bush [sene] is not being burnt up.' 4When Yahweh saw him going across to look, God [Elohim] called to him from the middle of the bush [sene]. Moses, Moses!' he said. Here I am,' he answered. 5 Come no nearer,' he said. Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. 6I am the God [Elohim] of your ancestors,' he said, the God [Elohim] of Abraham, the God [Elohim] of Isaac and the God [Elohim] of Jacob.' At this Moses covered his face, for he was afraid to look at God [Elohim].

[..] = literal Hebrew (The Interlinear Bible, vol. I, page 145).

Note: the exact translation of the Hebrew word sene is uncertain. It may be translated as "bush" or "tree" (Leveson, Sinai and Zion: An Entry into the Jewish Bible, page 20). The word translated as "angel" in this passage is the Hebrew word malak, which means "messenger." Our word "angel" comes from the Greek word for "messenger," which is angelos (Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew Lexicon, page 521).

Egypt controlled the Sinai Peninsula for most of its history; therefore, the "far side of the desert" in Midianite territory cannot mean the Sinai but must refer to the far western part of Arabia near the Gulf of Aqaba.

In the past two chapters, with the exception of the 7/8 repetition which suggests that God was always active in the history of Israel and Moses, God seemed distant. Now, just as God directly intervened in salvation to call Abraham, God again takes the initiative in calling Moses to be His messenger and to cooperate with God in saving the children of Israel (CCC 2575). For many Christians and Jews, no other scene in salvation history is so dramatically remembered as God calling Moses from the burning bush that was miraculously not consumed by the fire. In Exodus 3:4-4:17 God not only called Moses to service as His prophet to Israel, but made Moses His confidant in the ultimate goals of His plan. This will be the first of many personal exchanges between Yahweh and His prophet, Moses: Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend (Ex 33:11).

Exodus 3:1-2: 3:1Moses was looking after the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led it to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God [Elohim]. 2The angel of Yahweh appeared to him in a flame blazing from the middle of a bush [sene].

Mt. Horeb is also called Mt. Sinai (31 times in the Pentateuch, beginning in Ex 16:1). It is possible that Mt. Horeb was the Midianite name of the mountain where Moses saw the burning bush, but perhaps the name of the holy mountain became known to the Israelites as "Sinai" after the theophany of the burning "bush," or "tree," which in Hebrew is rendered sene. The burning tree will become an emblem of the manifestation of Yahweh's spirit indwelling the desert Tabernacle and later in the Jerusalem Temple. Dr. Jon Levenson writes: ...the closeness in sound of sene ("bush") and Sinay ("Sinai") cannot be coincidental. [...]. The conjunction in Exodus 3 of bush or tree (we do not know the precise meaning of sene) and fire is not surprising in light of later YHWHistic tradition. "YHWH your God," thunders a Deuteronomistic homilist, "is a devouring fire, a jealous God" (Deut 4:24)*. In the encounter of Moses and the burning bush, two of YHWH's emblems "tree and fire "clash and neither overpowers the other. The two will appear again in tandem in the menorah, the Tabernacle candelabrum which is actually a stylized tree, complete with "branches," "almond flowers," "calyces," and "petals" (Exodus 25:31-19) (Leveson, Sinai and Zion: An Entry into the Jewish Bible, pages 20-21).

Note: For a New Testament reference to fire as a metaphor for God, see Hebrews 12:28-29: Let us therefore be grateful and use our gratitude to worship God in the way that pleases him, in reverence and fear. For our God is a consuming fire.

Question: In the Book of Genesis how did God manifest His visible presence to Abraham in the ratification covenant ritual in Genesis chapter 15?

Answer: God manifested his visible presence in the form of fire. In the covenant ratification ceremony in Genesis 15:17 God walked between the bodies of the sacrificed animals in the form of a flaming torch and a burning brazier.

Question: In Moses' first supernatural encounter with the God, what are the three parts of the manifestation of the Divine?

Answer:

  1. The angel of Yahweh
  2. The voice of the God of the patriarchs
  3. The unquenchable fire that does not burn up the bush/tree

This is the first time God's holy covenant name is used in the Book of Exodus. It is the angel of "Yahweh" who is described as appearing to Moses in the flames (verse 2), but in verse 6 the voice Moses hears from within the burning bush identifies Himself as the voice of the God of the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Fathers of the Church, like St. Augustine, believed the angel of Yahweh was a manifestation of the pre-Incarnate Christ who was active in the plan of salvation before He became God enfleshed and that the Most Holy Trinity was present in the manifestation with God the Son present as the angel of Yahweh, the voice from the bush identified as the God of the Patriarchs being God the Father, and the fire that did not consume the bush, God the Holy Spirit.

Comments of the Fathers of the Church on the theophany of the burning bush:

The three elements of God's manifestation in the burning bush linked to the Most Holy Trinity:

Manifestation Persons of the Most Holy Trinity
1. The voice of the angel of Yahweh 1. Pre-Incarnate God the Son
2. The voice of the God of the patriarchs 2. God the Father
3. The unquenchable fire that does not burn up the bush/tree 3. God the Holy Spirit

See CCC 202, 205-209, 255, 259, 689, 696 (fire a symbol of the Holy Spirit).

Some Church Fathers also identified the burning bush/tree as a thorn bush "a reminder of the sin of Adam and the curse in Genesis 3:18, as well as an illusion to Jesus' victory over the curse by wearing the symbol of that judgment in the crown of thorns that He wore to His crucifixion in Matthew 27:29 (St. Clement of Alexandria, Christ the Educator 2.8.75).

In the burning bush theophany God called Moses to liberate his people in a dialogue that can be separated into five parts:

  1. God called Moses by name from within the fire of the burning bush, revealing Himself to be the God of the patriarchs (Ex 3:4-6).
  2. God told Moses He had heard his people's cries for help and that He intended, using Moses as His agent, to rescue the Israelites from the Egyptians, to lead them to this same mountain, and to give them a land of their own homeland (Ex 3:7-12).
  3. God gave Moses instructions on how to approach the Israelites to inform them that he was acting as Yahweh's agent and revealed His plan for convincing the Egyptians to release Israel (Ex 3:13-22).
  4. God gave Moses the signs to convince the Israelites and the Pharaoh that God was with Moses and the Egyptians must release the Israelites (Ex 4:2-9).
  5. Offended by Moses' continued reluctance, God offered Aaron as Moses' aide and spokesman (Ex 4:11-12, 14-17).

Please notice that interspersed among God's five part dialogue, Moses will make four objections concerning his call and his mission.

Exodus 3:4b-6:
3:4b Moses, Moses!' he said. Here I am,' he answered. 5 Come no nearer,' he said. Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. 6I am the God of your ancestors,' he said, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.' At this Moses covered his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
Calling to Moses from the burning bush God warned Moses to take off his sandals and not to come near. These instructions are similar to the instructions that the captain of the army of Yahweh will give Joshua forty years later as Joshua stood near the walls of Jericho when Joshua was told: Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy.' And Joshua did so (Josh 5:25).

The Fathers of the Church saw Moses' sandals, probably made of dead animal skins, as a symbol of the perishable works of the earth. St. Ambrose wrote: Pass by like Moses, that you may see the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob and that you may see a great vision. This is a great vision, but if you wish to see it, remove the sandals from your feet, remove every bond of iniquity, remove the bonds of the world, leave behind the sandals which are earthly (St. Ambrose, Flight From the World 5.25).

St. Ambrose also made the comparison between Moses being ordered to remove his sandals and Jesus' command to His Apostles to go and spread the Gospel of salvation without taking any earthly possessions with them, not even their sandals, in Mark 6:8-9: Likewise Jesus sent the apostles without sandals, without money, gold and silver, so that they would not carry earthly things with them. For the man who seeks the good is praised not for his sandals but for the swiftness and grace of his feet, as Scripture says, "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, of those who bring glad tidings of good things!" Therefore remove the sandals from your feet, that they may be beautiful for preaching the gospel (St. Ambrose, Flight From the World 5.25; quoting Rom 10:15).

It became a custom of the covenant people, when crossing over from pagan territory back into the land of Israel, to remove their sandals and to shake the dust of pagan lands off their feet before treading on the holy ground of the Promised Land. Observation of this custom may be why Jesus told His disciples to "shake the dust off their feet" and move on when the Gospel of salvation they preached was rejected. Those who accepted God's gift of salvation through Jesus Christ were then standing on "holy ground" while those who rejected God's gift remained on unholy ground (Mt 10:14; Mk 6:11; Lk 9:5; New Jerusalem Bible, page 1625, note e).

Question: Why was it dangerous for Moses or any man to come too near to God? When did it become possible for man to cross that holy threshold into God's presence? See Exodus 33:20 and Hebrews 1:3; 2:13; and CCC 2777.

Answer: Only Jesus Christ could step across that holy threshold. Jesus of Nazareth, the man who is God enfleshed, did not warn men and woman to keep their distance, instead He urged them to come closer, even offering the wounds in His hands for St. Thomas to feel His torn flesh and believe. Through His perfect sacrifice, death and resurrection He had the power to bring redeemed mankind into the Father's presence, saying: "Here am I and the children God has given me" (Heb 2:13).

At this Moses covered his face, for he was afraid to look at God. Recognizing that he was in the presence of a deity, who identified himself as the God of his forefathers, Moses covered his face in reverence and in fear.

Please read Exodus 3:7-15: The Call of Moses and the Divine Name Revealed
3:7Yahweh then said, I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying for help on account of their taskmasters. Yes, I am well aware of their sufferings. 8And I have come down to rescue them from the clutches of the Egyptians and bring them up out of that country, to a country rich and broad, to a country flowing with milk and honey, to the home of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites. 9Yes indeed, the Israelites' cry for help has reached me, and I have also seen the cruel way in which the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10So now I am sending you to Pharaoh, for you to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.' 11Moses said to God, Who am I to go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?' 12 I shall be with you,' God said, and this is the sign by which you will know that I was the one who sent you. After you have led the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.' 13Moses then said to God, Look, if I go to the Israelites and say to them, "The God of your ancestors has sent me to you," and they say to me, "What is his name?" what am I to tell them?' 14God said to Moses, I am he who is.' And he said, This is what you are to say to the Israelites, "I AM has sent me to you."' 15God further said to Moses, You are to tell the Israelites, "Yahweh, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you." This is my name for all time, and thus I am to be invoked for all generations to come.

Question: What three assurances did God give Moses?
Answer:

  1. God assured Moses that He knew of the suffering of the Israelites at the hands of the Egyptians.
  2. He heard their prayers.
  3. It was God's intention to become personally involved in the redemption of Israel and the restoration of Israel to the land promised to Abraham by sending Moses as His agent of liberation.

Exodus 3:8-9: 8And I have come down to rescue them from the clutches of the Egyptians and bring them up out of that country, to a country rich and broad, to a country flowing with milk and honey, to the home of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites. 9Yes indeed, the Israelites' cry for help has reached me, and I have also seen the cruel way in which the Egyptians are oppressing them.

God assured Moses that He was well aware of the suffering of the Israelites and it was now time for God Himself ("I have come down to rescue them") to orchestrate their liberation.

Question: In this passage how many peoples did God mention and what is the significance of the last ethnic group mentioned? What do the numbers of peoples symbolize?

Answer: God spoke of six different inhabitants of Canaan, and then the last group of people He mentioned, who are the 7th group of people, are the Israelites. Six is the number symbolizing man and his rebellion, while the number seven symbolizes fullness, perfection, and the number of covenant. The six nationalities of people who inhabited Canaan are people who have rebelled against God; therefore, He will dispossess them of the land and will give the land to the people who are in covenant with Him.

Exodus 3:10: 10So now I am sending you to Pharaoh, for you to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.'

Question: Why is God sending Moses to Pharaoh and what does Moses' mission have in common with Joseph's mission in Genesis chapters 37-50?

Answer: Because God has heard the prayers of the Israelites, and because the time has come for their liberation, God will redeem His people by sending Moses as His agent to lead Israel out of Egypt (Ex 3:10), just as He sent Joseph as His agent to lead Israel into Egypt (Gen 45:5).

Exodus 3:11: 11Moses said to God, Who am I to go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?'
Moses fully realized the momentous task God was assigning to him. His question to God reflects back to the question that was put to him forty years earlier.

Question: What question was Moses asked forty years earlier that he couldn't answer?

Answer: Moses' question recalls the question the Hebrew slave asked Moses in Exodus 2:14: "And who appointed you to be prince over us and judge?" Moses finally has his answer to that question.

Moses' question in Exodus 3:11 is the first of four objections Moses will make concerning the mission God has given him.

Question: What are Moses' four objections and what are God's four responses? Do you think Moses' hesitation is an indication of disobedience or something else? See Exodus 3:4-4:17 and Numbers 12:3.

Answer: Moses' Objections:

  1. "Who am I to go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?" (Ex 3:11)
  2. "Look, if I go to the Israelites and say to them, The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,' and they say to me, What is his name?' what am I to tell them?" (Ex 3:13)
  3. "But suppose they will not believe me or listen to my words, and say to me, Yahweh has not appeared to you'?" (Ex 4:1)
  4. "Please, my Lord, I have never been eloquent, even since you have spoken to your servant, for I am slow and hesitant of speech." (Ex 4:10)

In response to each of Moses' objections, God graciously gave Moses the gifts he needed to complete his mission:

  1. God promised to help and protect him (Ex 3:11-12)
  2. God revealed His covenant name (Ex 3:13-22).
  3. God gave Moses the power to work signs to convince the Israelites and the Egyptians (Ex 4:1-9).
  4. God designated Aaron to be Moses' chief aide and spokesman (Ex 4:10-17).

Moses' objections probably do not suggest an unwillingness to be obedient to God's will for his life but rather his objections probably reflect his humility at being chosen to be an agent of God as well as an understanding of the difficulty of the mission and a lack of confidence in his own abilities. God will later describe Moses as the "meekest" of men (Num 12:3).

Exodus 3:12: 12 I shall be with you,' God said, and this is the sign by which you will know that I was the one who sent you. After you have led the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.'

Question: Why will worshipping on the mountain be a "sign" for Moses' people and when do they experience that "sign"?

Answer: The sign will be the ratification of the Sinai Covenant. The promise of this sign will require the faith of Moses and his people because it will not be revealed until Exodus chapter 19, 50 days after crossing the Sea of Reeds (Red Sea). Calling His people out of the world of nations into a covenant that is expressed in worship and fellowship with Yahweh is the whole purpose of the Exodus experience, and it is therefore, the primary "sign" of faith for the people.

Mt. Horeb/Sinai was not the first holy mountain of God, nor would it be the last.

Question: What was the first holy mountain that figured prominently in salvation history? See the chart "Holy Mountains of God" in Lesson 3 (handout #4) of the Genesis study, Genesis 2:10 and Ezekiel 28:12-16.

Answer: Eden, the mountain that was home to the first earthly Sanctuary of God, was the first holy mountain of God. From the time of Eden, mountains were associated with God's dealings with mankind: Eden, Ararat, Sinai, Mt. Moriah, Mt. Carmel, the Mt. of Temptations, the Mt. of Beatitudes, the Mt. of Transfiguration, Golgotha, and the Mt. of Olives.

Exodus 3:13-15: 13Moses then said to God, Look, if I go to the Israelites and say to them, "The God of your ancestors has sent me to you," and they say to me, "What is his name?" what am I to tell them?' 14God said to Moses, I am he who is.' And he said, This is what you are to say to the Israelites, "I AM has sent me to you."' 15God further said to Moses, You are to tell the Israelites, "Yahweh, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you." This is my name for all time, and thus I am to be invoked for all generations to come.
Note: ancient Hebrew was written only in consonants; hence the four consonants YHWH, which scholars believe would have been pronounced "Yah-way," is what was written in the most ancient text of this passage. The so-called "four letter word," known as the Tetragrammaton, is believed by scholars to be the third person masculine singular form of the ancient Hebrew verb hwh, the verb "to be" (Propp, Exodus, page 192-193; Davis, Studies in Exodus, pages 72-73; Navarre, Pentateuch, pages 258-259.

Moses' next objection reflects his careful discernment concerning the deity that was addressing him. Moses had been exposed to the various gods of Egypt and had seen their priests perform "signs" and "wonders" offered as proof of the deity's power (see Ex 7:11). The priests of other Near Eastern deities also had wonders to offer to display the power of their gods (Dan 14:1-27). What proof did Moses have to present to the Israelites that it really was the God of the patriarchs who revealed Himself and gave Moses the authority to bring the Israelites out of Egypt. Moses offers the deity who has addressed him a test of His true identity: could He give a name by which the Israelites knew Him? If the deity gave a name known to the patriarchs the deity is legitimate. If it is a name Moses did not know, then this entity cannot be the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Question: By what names/titles did the patriarchs address God and what names did God use to reveal Himself to them? See Gen 15:2, 7-8; 14:22, and 17:1; 28:13; 35:11; 43:14; 48:3; etc.

Answer: Among other names/titles they knew Him by the names/titles Yahweh, God Most High (El Elyon), and El Shaddai (God Almighty?). "Yahweh" was the first name of God revealed to Abraham and the first name by which Abraham addressed God: I am Yahweh who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldaeans to give you this country as your possession.' Lord Yahweh,' Abram replied, how can I know that I shall possess it?' (Gen 15:7-8).

Some of the passages where the names of God were revealed to the patriarchs in Genesis:

15:1-2 Sometime later, the word of Yahweh came to Abram in a vision: Do not be afraid, Abram! I am your shield and shall give you a very great reward. Lord Yahweh,' Abram replied, what use are your gifts, as I am going on my way childless?
15:7-8 I am Yahweh who brought you bout of Ur of the Chaldaeans to give you this country as your possession.' Lord Yahweh,' Abram replied, how can I know that I shall possess it?'
14:22 But Abram replied to the king of Sodom, I swear by God Most High (El Elyon), Creator of heaven and earth ...
17:1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old Yahweh appeared to him and said, I am El Shaddai.'
28:13 I, Yahweh, am the God of Abraham your father, and the God of Isaac.'
35:11 God said to him, I am El Shaddai. Be fruitful and multiply.
43:14 May El Shaddai move the man to be kind to you, and allow you to bring back your other brother and Benjamin.'
48:3 El Shaddai appeared to me at Luz in Canaan,' Jacob told Joseph...

Also see the document "The Many Names of God" in the document section: The Many Names of God.htm

Biblical scholar, Dr. John Salihamer, writes: We are helped in our understanding of this verse by the fact that in the book of Genesis, the patriarchs use the name "Yahweh" (Ge 15:2, 7), though note that when God "appeared" to the patriarchs (e.g., Ge 17:3), he was known as "El Shaddai." The narrative is also clear, however, that when Abraham saw God "in a vision," he spoke with him as "Yahweh" Ge 15:1-2). Thus Exodus 6:3 ""I appeared to Abraham...as El Shaddai" and not as Yahweh "reflects accurately the wording of the Genesis narratives. In Genesis, when God "appeared" to Abraham, he addressed him as El Shaddai, but when Abraham saw God in a vision," he spoke with him as Yahweh (The Pentateuch as Narrative, pages 250-251).

The four Hebrew consonants YHWH are presented in Scripture as God's holy covenant name. God significantly tells Moses: This is my name for all time, and thus I am to be invoked for all generations to come (Ex 3:15b). Of all the names for God in Scripture it is this form of His name that is the most frequently used in the Bible (about 6,800 times; Elohim is used about 2,600 times). These four Hebrew characters, YHWH = yad, hay, vav ("v" in Hebrew can also be rendered "w" in English), and hay is known as the "Tetragrammaton" or "tetragram", meaning "the four letter word." Biblical scholars do not know how YHWH was originally pronounced; "Yah-way" is the best scholarly guess. Throughout history God's Old Covenant people treated God's name with great reverence, declaring it too holy to be spoken aloud (despite God's command in Ex 3:15). Speaking God's covenant name was restricted to the priests worshipping in God's Temple in Jerusalem who pronounced His holy name over the people in the final benediction of the daily services, and so with the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 AD, God's holy covenant name was no longer spoken and the correct pronunciation of the name was lost.

The rendering of YHWH as "Yahweh" is a modern conjecture (first suggested in the 16th century by biblical scholar Gilbert Genebrard, professor of Hebrew at the College Royal in Paris) but which has been accepted by biblical scholars today as the most likely rendering. You will find this rendering in the Catholic New Jerusalem Bible translation. In other translations, following what became the Jewish custom, YHWH is rendered as LORD (for example in the Catholic Revised Standard and New American Bible translations as well as in most Protestant Bible translations). This became a custom from the time of the 3rd century BC when the ancient Jewish scholars translated the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) into the Greek translation known as the Septuagint. They replaced the Sacred Name YHWH with "ho Kyrios" or "the Lord." In the modern Jewish Tanach YHWH is rendered as Hashem (or ha-Shem, meaning in Hebrew, "the name") or as Adoshem, which is a contraction of Adonai and ha-Shem.

But what does the Tetragrammaton, "YHWH," mean? Biblical scholars have been arguing about the meaning of YHWH for centuries. Since biblical names generally have a discernible meaning, scholars have believed that YHWH can be reasonably translated. Based on etymology and context most scholars have agreed that YHWH is an archaic form of the verb "to be" (hwh in Hebrew, pronounced "hawah") and should be translated "I am who I am" or "I will be who I will be," or for those scholars who believe the verb is in the causative imperfect masculine singular form: "He causes to be; brings into existence; He brings to pass, He creates" (Propp, Studies in Exodus, page 72-73). When God identified Himself as "Yahweh," Moses not only had proof of God's identity as the God of his fathers by the holy covenant name known to the patriarchs, but it was a name which revealed the true nature and essence of God "the deity who has always existed, who will continue forever and who will be with Moses and Israel in their struggles (see CCC 203-209).

Titles identify the power and authority of the person who has the title, but in the Bible the name of an individual or a deity expressed the true nature and essence of its bearer (see 1 Sam 25:25).(1) St. Peter's statement that those who desire to accept God's gift of salvation must accept Jesus Christ as Savior "for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12; quoted from CCC 432) didn't just mean salvation can be won by simply saying Jesus' name, or expressing belief in His "name," but to claim His gift of salvation in His "name" is to accept on faith everything He taught about Himself and everything Sacred Scripture and the Church (Christ's vehicle of salvation) professes to be true about Him, including His fully human and divine nature, His resurrection from the dead, His ascension to the Father, and His power to save all humanity from eternal death by giving them the gift of eternal life, through His "name" (CCC 430-435, 452).

Applying the meaning of YHWH as "I am who I am" or "I will be who I will be" contextually fits the passages in Exodus 3:13-15a: Moses then said to God [Elohim], Look, if I go to the Israelites and say to me, "What is his name?" what am I to tell them?' God [Elohim] said to Moses, I am he who is.' And he said, This is what you are to tell the Israelites, "I AM has sent me to you.' This rendering also agrees with Exodus 3:6 where God said: I AM the God of your ancestors,' he said, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.' It agrees with Jesus' I AM statements in the fourth Gospel: i.e. when He said: In all truth I tell you, before Abraham ever was, I AM (John 8:58). (2) It agrees with God's revelation of Himself to the Apostle John in the last Bible book, the book of Revelation: John, to the seven churches of Asia: grace and peace to you from Him who is, who was, and who is to come... (Rev 1:4), and it agrees with the Greek Septuagint translation in Exodus chapter 3: ego e'imi ""I AM" (Davis, Studies in Exodus, page 73).

Jesus used the words "I AM" in the Gospel of St. John twenty-six times. It is an interesting coincidence that God's holy covenant name, expressed in Hebrew by the four consonants YHWH, has a gematria value of 10, 5, 6, and 5 (gematria is the value of each Hebrew letter that also served as a number symbol).  Added together the numerical total of these four Hebrew letters is twenty-six. Jesus also identified Himself in St. John's Gospel using seven "I AM" statements with a predicate nominative and four "I AM" statements without a predicate nominative (see the www.AgapeBibleStudy.com Gospel of St. John study: Chapter 8).

In any event, Moses must have recognized the name YHWH because he did not object that the patriarchs knew their God by a different name, and he appeared to be satisfied with God's answer.

Please read Exodus 3:16-22: Moses' Mission is Defined
16 Go, gather the elders of Israel together and tell them, "Yahweh, the God of your ancestors, has appeared to me "the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob "and has indeed visited you and seen what is being done to you in Egypt, 17 and has said : I shall bring you out of the misery of Egypt to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites, to a country flowing with milk and honey." 18 They will listen to your words, and you and the elders of Israel are to go to the king of Egypt and say to him, "Yahweh, the God of the Hebrews, has encountered us. So now please allow us to make a three-days' journey into the desert and sacrifice to Yahweh our God." 19 I am well aware that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless he is compelled by a mighty hand; 20 he will not let you go until I have stretched out my arm and struck Egypt with all the wonders I intend to work there. 21 I shall ensure that the Egyptians are so much impressed with this people that when you go, you will not go empty-handed. 22 Every woman will ask her neighbor and the woman staying in her house for silver and golden jewellery, and clothing. In these you will dress your own sons and daughters, despoiling the Egyptians of them.'

Exodus 3:16-17 is a repeat of 3:7-8. God told Moses to gather the elders of the tribes because the elders were the governing body of the tribes of Israel.

Question: Why did God tell Moses to first approach the elders of the twelve tribes before going to the Pharaoh?

Answer: Moses had to gain the trust of the elders and achieve national acceptance of his mission before he would present his demand to the Pharaoh. The elders were to give Moses their support and go with him in his audience with the Pharaoh.

Exodus 3:18: 18 They will listen to your words, and you and the elders of Israel are to go to the king of Egypt and say to him, "Yahweh, the God of the Hebrews, has encountered us. So now please allow us to make a three-days' journey into the desert and sacrifice to Yahweh our God."

Any mention of threes of anything has significance in Scripture; especially "three days," which is a symbolic expression for divine intervention and restoration after a time of trial, often expressed as "on the third day" and at other times as "after three days." It was "on the third day" that Abraham saw Mt. Moriah, the place where Abraham was to sacrifice Isaac (Gen 22:4). It was "on the third day" that the Pharaoh's cupbearer was restored to his former position as Joseph had prophesied (Gen 40:12-23), and Joseph put his brothers in prison "for three days" (Gen 42:17, but he released them "on the third day" (Gen 42:18). Another reference to restoration on the third day is found in Hosea 6:1-2 where Yahweh told His prophet a time will come when His covenant people will acknowledge their sins and seek redemption and restoration, as they cry out: Come, let us return to the LORD; for he has torn, that he may heal us; he has stricken, and he will bind us up. After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will raise us up, that we may live before him.

While the prophetic reference to "the third day" in Joseph's prophecy in Genesis 40:12-23 may have been literal as well as symbolic, the prophet Hosea promised a third day restoration that is understood to be symbolic of God's plan of salvation and redemption. The Hosea passage was not concerned with a literal three day period but with a short period of intense trial followed by God's divine intervention to bring about the restoration of God's people in God's own time. Jesus' reference to the three days and three nights in Matthew 12:40 is a reference in biblical language to the promise of divine intervention in God's plan of salvation, linking Jonah's mission to the lost souls of Nineveh and Jesus' mission to the lost sheep of Israel.(3) God's instructions to Moses to tell Pharaoh that the children of Israel desire to make a three-day's journey into the wilderness to worship Yahweh may also be a symbolic "three days."

Exodus 3:19-22: 19 I am well aware that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless he is compelled by a mighty hand; 20 he will not let you go until I have stretched out my arm and struck Egypt with all the wonders I intend to work there. 21 I shall ensure that the Egyptians are so much impressed with this people that when you go, you will not go empty-handed. 22 Every woman will ask her neighbor and the woman staying in her house for silver and golden jewellery, and clothing. In these you will dress your own sons and daughters, despoiling the Egyptians of them.'

It doesn't make any difference that the Israelites did not intend to return to Egypt after three days since, as God told Moses, the pharaoh will not let Israel go until God has stretched out my arm and struck Egypt with all the wonders I intend to work there. Up to this point in salvation history the patriarchs have believed by faith in the promises of the God who called Abraham out of the pagan city of Ur. They have not witnessed any great and terrible acts in their relationship with God as El Shaddai, but now they will witness divine acts that will give them a greater revelation of God as Yahweh.

Question: In these verses God laid out His plan for Israel's redemption along with what promise? How does this promise provide a link to Genesis?

Answer: The promise that, like Abraham and Sarah, the Israelites will leave Egypt with the wealth of the Egyptians. The "plunger" they will take from the Egyptians will be just compensation for what was owed them for their forced labor and will provide the provisions for their journey. Yahweh's promise is a link back to Abram and Sarai's experience in Egypt, which prefigured the Exodus experience of their descendants (Gen 13:1-2; Ex 11:2-3; 12:35-36).

Chapter 4

He sent his servant Moses, and Aaron, the man of his choice. They worked there the wonders he commanded, marvels in the country of Ham.
Psalm 105:26-27

Please read Exodus 4:1-9: Moses' Hesitation and God's Assurance
4:1Moses replied as follows, But suppose they will not believe me or listen to my words, and say to me, "Yahweh has not appeared to you"?' 2Yahweh then said, What is that in your hand?' A staff,' he said. 3 Throw it on the ground,' said Yahweh. Moses threw it on the ground; the staff turned into a snake and Moses recoiled from it. 4Yahweh then said to Moses, Reach out your hand and catch it by the tail.' He reached out his hand, caught it, and in his hand it burned back into a staff. 5Thus they may believe that Yahweh, the God of their ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.' 6Next, Yahweh said to him, Put your hand inside your tunic.' He put his hand inside his tunic, then drew it out again: and his hand was diseased, white as snow. 7Yahweh then said, Put your hand back inside your tunic.' He put his hand back inside his tunic and when he drew it out, there it was restored, just like the rest of his flesh. 8 Even so: should they not believe you nor be convinced by the first sign, the second sign will convince them; 9but should they not be convinced by either of these two signs and refuse to listen to what you say, you are to take some water from the River and pour it on the ground, and the water you have taken from the River will turn to blood on the dry land.'

Exodus 4:1: Moses replied as follows, But suppose they will not believe me or listen to my words, and say to me, "Yahweh has not appeared to you"?'

This is Moses' third objection. Notice that he does not say "What if they don't recognize your name?"

Question: What three signs did God give Moses to convince those who might refuse to believe he has been sent by Yahweh?

Answer:

  1. The ability to turn his shepherd's staff into a snake.
  2. Changing his healthy skin into skin diseased by leprosy and back to healthy skin again.
  3. The ability to turn the water in the Nile River into blood.

The promise of the third "sign" prefigures the first plague.

Question: What is curious about God's instructions concerning the staff that became a snake that required an act of faith on Moses' part?

Answer: God told Moses to grab the snake by the tail. In capturing a snake that might be poisonous one does not grasp a snake by the tail but by the head. Moses had to trust God that the snake would not bite him but would become a staff again.

Please read Exodus 4:10-17: The Promise of Aaron's Assistance
4:10Moses said to Yahweh, Please, my Lord, I have never been eloquent, even since you have spoken to your servant, for I am slow and hesitant of speech.' 11Who gave a person a mouth?' Yahweh said to him. Who makes a person dumb or deaf, gives sight or makes blind? Is it not I, Yahweh? 12Now go, I shall help you speak and instruct you what to say.' 13 Please, my Lord,' Moses replied, send anyone you decide to send!' 14At this Yahweh's anger kindled against Moses, and he said to him, There is your brother Aaron the Levite, is there not? I know that he is a good speaker. Here he comes to meet you. When he sees you, his heart will be full of joy. 15You will speak to him and tell him what message to give. I shall help you speak, and him too, and instruct you what to do. 16He will speak to the people in your place; he will be your mouthpiece, and you will be as the god inspiring him. 17And take this staff in your hand; with this you will perform the signs.'

Exodus 4:10: Moses said to Yahweh, Please, my Lord, I have never been eloquent, even since you have spoken to your servant, for I am slow and hesitant of speech.'

This is Moses' fourth objection, which he made in two parts (Ex 4:10 and 13). Up to this point God has been patient with Moses' objections, but in verses 11- 12 God admonishes him, reminding Moses that He has the power to make a person eloquent or deaf, dumb, and blind. Moses made the same objection again (verse 13) concerning his lack of ability as a speaker, instead of asking God for a healing (if he had a speech impediment or for eloquence if that was the issue). Moses' fourth objection appears to be based on a lack of faith, and God became angry with Moses.

Question: Despite the fact that Moses' fear of speaking publically was something God could overcome, why did God relent and provide a spokesman for Moses in his brother Aaron?

Answer: God respected Moses' fear of speaking publically and provided an alternative until Moses' had the confidence to speak publically on his own. God understands our limitations and if we are faithful, He will work with us to overcome them.

Question: What did Moses' objections reveal about Moses' character and his selection as God's agent of salvation? Why did Moses finally agree to take on the mission?

Answer: Moses' objections reveal that Moses did not respond to God's call out of a desire for power and glory. Moses yielded himself in obedience to God and accepted the mission to liberate Israel strictly out of humble submission to a divine call.

Please read Exodus 4:18-26: Moses' Return to Egypt
4:18Moses went back to his father-in-law Jethro and said to him, Give me leave to return to my kinsmen in Egypt and see if they are still alive.' And Jethro said to Moses, Go in peace.' 19Yahweh said to Moses in Midian, Go, return to Egypt, for all those who wanted to kill you are dead.' 20So Moses took his wife and his son and, putting them on a donkey, started back for Egypt and Moses took the staff of God in his hand. 21Yahweh said to Moses, Think of the wonders I have given you power to perform, once you are back in Egypt! You are to perform them before Pharaoh, but I myself shall make him obstinate, and he will not let the people go. 22You will then say to Pharaoh, "This is what Yahweh says: Israel is my first-born son. 23I told you: Let my son go and worship me; but since you refuse to let him go, well then! I shall put your first-born son to death." 24On the journey, when he had halted for the night, Yahweh encountered him and tried to kill him. 25Then Zipporah, taking up a flint, cut off her son's foreskin and with it touched his feet and said, You are my blood-bridegroom!' 26So he let him go. She said, Blood-bridegroom' then, with reference to the circumcision.

Notice the change in the name of Moses' father-in-law from "Reuel" to "Jethro." Like Jacob, Moses requested his father-in-law's permission to take his family and return to his own people (Gen 30:25-26). Unlike Laban, Jethro immediately gave his permission and his blessing of peace. As Moses set out on his journey, Yahweh gave Moses the assurance that those who wanted to kill him were dead. A new pharaoh sat on the Egyptian throne.

Exodus 4:21: Yahweh said to Moses, Think of the wonders I have given you power to perform, once you are back in Egypt! You are to perform them before Pharaoh, but I myself shall make him obstinate, and he will not let the people go.

Once again God reassured Moses of the powers he had been given to perform acts if wonder in Egypt. However, God's reassurance is followed by the warning that Pharaoh's heart will be hardened against Moses and against Israel.

Question: Why was it God's plan to harden Pharaoh's heart rather than soften it? Did God's hardening of Pharaoh's heart take away the Egyptian king's free-will? See CCC 1730, Ex 7:3-5; 7:13-14, 22; 7:3; 8:15, 19, 32; 9:7, 12, 34-35; 10:1, 20, 27; 11:10; 13:15; 14:4, 8, 17.

Answer: This is a difficult question. There are parts of the narrative that clearly reveal that Pharaoh hardened his own heart, while other passages state that it was God who hardened Pharaoh's heart. Since Sacred Scripture and Tradition have always upheld God's respect for man's exercise of the gift of "free will," it is unlikely that God in any way forced the Pharaoh to harden his heart when he might otherwise have felt compassion. God's impact upon the Pharaoh was rather a judgment of the condition of hardness of heart that was the Pharaoh's free-will choice, since to do otherwise would be contrary to God's desire that all men should repent and come to salvation (Ex 33:1; 1 Tim 2:4; 2 Pt 3:9). However, God used the hardening of this man's heart to further His plan of salvation "taking an evil intention and turning it to the good. God places both the righteous and the wicked upon the stage of salvation history to further His divine plan for man's salvation. In this part of God's plan, the hardening of the Pharaoh's heart was to make Himself known to the Egyptians and to show them that Yahweh was God (Ex 7:3-5).

Exodus 4:22: You will then say to Pharaoh, "This is what Yahweh says: Israel is my first-born son."

In ancient Near Eastern cultures the "firstborn" was the designated heir who became the father's representative, exercising the authority of the father over his brothers and sisters (Davis, Studies in Exodus, page 79).

Question: If Israel is God's "first-born" son, what are the other nations of the earth?

Answer: It follows that they are younger sons.

Question: The status of "first-born" son gave Israel the privilege of God the Father's authority over the other nations of the earth, but what then would have been Israel's obligation as a "first-born" son and elder brother to the other nations of the earth?

Answer: To be a role model of holiness and a righteous teacher to the other "younger brother" nations.

Question: What was Israel expected to teach her sibling nations?

Answer: Israel was to teach them about the One True God, the meaning of liturgical sacrifice and worship, and about the promises of salvation through the Redeemer-Messiah who would one day come to liberate mankind from the curse of Adam.

The identification of Israel as God the Father's "firstborn" son is a key in understanding the allegorical meaning of Jesus' parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15:11-32. In Jesus' telling of the parable His message to the Jews was that as the "firstborn" son they must welcome back their "younger brothers" (the Gentile nations) into a covenant family relationship with God as Father. The recognition of the Gentiles as full members of the covenant family was one of the most serious stumbling blocks for the Jews in accepting the revelation of Jesus' New Covenant.

Exodus 4:23: I told you: "Let my son go and worship me; but since you refuse to let him go, well then! I shall put your first-born son to death."

Question: What does God's warning to Pharaoh prefigure? See Exodus 12:29.

Answer: The death of the Pharaoh's firstborn son on the night of the 10th plague.

Exodus 4:24-26:
4:24On the journey, when he had halted for the night, Yahweh encountered him and tried to kill him. 25Then Zipporah, taking up a flint, cut off her son's foreskin and with it touched his feet and said, You are my blood-bridegroom!' 26So he let him go. She said, Blood-bridegroom' then, with reference to the circumcision.

This is one of the most bizarre and mystical episodes in sacred Scripture. Part of what makes this passage so bizarre is that so little information is provided "there is no background information to go with the event. Moses' wife, Zipporah, curbs Yahweh's wrath and saves her husband's life by using a flint knife to circumcise their son and then touches Moses' "feet" [in Hebrew regalim, a euphemism for the genitals] with the foreskin of their child. Zipporah then voices her objection in being forced to perform the circumcision by declaring, "Truly you are a bridegroom of blood [hatan-damim] to me!", to which the narrative adds as clarification: "A bridegroom of blood because of circumcision [hatan damim lammulot]."

Arabic is the modern Semitic language that is related to both Aramaic, the common language spoken during the time of Christ, and biblical Hebrew. In Arabic hatan means "to circumcise," as it does Hebrew. It is interesting that in Arabic the words for "bridegroom," "son-in-law", and "father-in-law" are all derivatives of the Hebrew root htn "the ancient Hebrew word for "circumcise." A son-in-law/bridegroom is "the circumcised one" and the father-in-law, "the circumciser."(4) Zipporah understood the context of circumcision for her Midianite people as a prelude to matrimony and not as a covenantal sign. (5) But for the Israelites circumcision was an ot ("ot" in Hebrew is an act/sign that had prophetic significance). For the Israelites circumcision held a uniquely religious meaning. It was the sign/act, or "ot," of Israel submitting in obedience to a covenant relationship with Yahweh as Israel's one true God. It was a rite established in the time of Abraham: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall circumcise the flesh of your foreskin (besar orlatkem= the foreskin of your penis) and it shall be a sign ( ot) of the covenant (berit) between me and you (Gen 17:10-11). To save her husband's life Zipporah was forced to circumcise her son (evidently she was the parent who resisted administering the rite on her son when he was an infant). After performing the cutting of her son's foreskin, she said to Moses that he was now a "bridegroom of blood" "the word "bridegroom being one of the words that is a derivative of the Hebrew root for "circumcise." Against her will, she has submitted her son to the Israelite rite of covenant rebirth, a rite that according to her culture should have been preformed when he was prepared to take a wife. It is ironic that Moses appeared to be more afraid of Zipporah than God in his failure to circumcise his son.

Question: What did God's threat to take the life of Moses, until Zipporah submitted to circumcising her son, suggest about the rite of circumcision? Why did God threaten Moses' life? See Genesis 17:9-14, 23-27; Ex 12:44; Lev 12:3; Jer 4:4; 9:25-26.

Answer: This was not a rite to be observed arbitrarily. It was a covenant sign in the same way that the rainbow was a covenant sign for Noah. It was essential that the Israelites obey this ritual of covenant obedience, covenant initiation, and covenant continuation. Moses could not be the leader of Israel without observing this basic covenant obligation in his own family. Zipporah, who was probably the parent who resisted observing the rite of circumcision for her son when he was an infant, had to be convinced of the seriousness of obedience in this matter, hence the threat to Moses' life.

Moses was called to serve Yahweh but Zipporah was not called. One partner's lack of commitment to a spouse's call to service continues to present problems in Christian ministry today. After this dramatic episode, a pregnant Zipporah evidently returned to her father with their son, and Moses continued on his journey to Egypt alone (Ex 17:5).

Please read Exodus 4:27-31: The Reunion of Moses and Aaron
4:27Yahweh said to Aaron, Go into the desert to meet Moses.' So he went, and met him at the mountain of God and kissed him. 28Moses then told Aaron all that Yahweh had said when sending him all the signs he had ordered him to perform. 29Moses and Aaron then went and gathered all the elders of the Israelites together, 30and Aaron repeated everything that Yahweh had said to Moses, and in the sight of the people performed the signs. 31The people were convinced, and they rejoiced that Yahweh had visited the Israelites and seen their misery, and they bowed to the ground in worship.

Question: What was Aaron's response to God's selection of Moses as Israel's redeemer?

Answer: Aaron accepted Moses' divine election and cooperated fully in God's plan.

Question: Aaron also received a divine call from Yahweh. What did God tell Aaron to do?

Answer: He was to rendezvous with Moses at Mt. Horeb/Sinai.

Question: What was the next part of the plan and why was Aaron's participation important?

Answer: Moses had to gain the cooperation of the leaders of the twelve tribes. Aaron was known and respected by the Israelites where Moses was relatively unknown and his Egyptian upbringing might have made his motives questionable to many of the leaders. Aaron was able to give Moses an introduction to the leadership, the testimony supporting the credibility of Moses' call by Yahweh, and to generate the good will and the cooperation he needed to fulfill his mission.

Questions for group discussion:

Question: Circumcision of infant males on the eighth day after birth was a sign of the continuation of the bond of the Abrahamic covenant (Gen 17:9-12) and later the Sinai Covenant (Lev 12:3) into the next generation. So important was this sign of covenant obedience that God would not permit Moses to be his agent of salvation to Israel unless his own son was circumcised. Do the New Covenant people of God have a similar rite of covenant obedience and continuation in the entrance of new members into the covenant family?

Answer: Yes, the Sacrament of Christian Baptism.

Question: How necessary is Christian baptism for salvation? See CCC 846, 1257-61, 1265-66, 1277.

Answer: God will save who He will save, but baptism is the Sacrament He has established for the re-birth of children into His covenant family, and He expects the same obedience and submission that He required of Old Covenant believers in the covenantal sign of circumcision "an outward sign that signified an internal condition "covenantal union with God through a circumcised heart. Jesus' instructions to the Apostles after His Resurrection were: Go, therefore, make disciples of all nations; baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit... (Mt 28:19). St. Peter's instruction to the Jews who asked how they could be saved after his homily on Pentecost Sunday was: You must repent,' Peter answered, and every one of you must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit' (Acts 2:38). Baptism detaches the life of a child of Adam from the world of sin and attaches that life to Christ. All Jesus' works of salvation, which proceeded from the Father's love, reaches it completion in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Christian Baptism, when the former child of Adam becomes a re-born child in the family of God.

Question: Who can baptize? See CCC 1256

Answer: So important does the Church view the necessity of Baptism for salvation that when the ordinary ministers of Baptism are absent (the bishop, priests, and deacons) anyone, even a non-baptized person, can baptize in an emergency by using the Trinitarian baptismal formula with the intention to do what the Church does when she baptizes. This extraordinary freedom in offering baptism is based on the Church's recognition of God's desire that all should come to salvation (see 1 Tim 2:3-4; 2 Pt 3:9).

Endnotes:

1. Sailhamer, The Pentateuch as Narrative, page 246.

2. The Biblical reference to God as Yehova (Jehova), spelled out with Hebrew characters first appeared in the Middle Ages (c. 800AD). At that time Jewish scholars called the Masorites translated the Greek translation of the (Old Testament) Bible back into Hebrew and added vowel points to the Hebrew language (which had originally been written only with consonants). Since that time, Hebrew Bible manuscripts have inserted the vowels from Adonai within the Tetragrammaton, YHWH, as a reminder that readers should say "Adonai" instead of the sacred name which Jews believed must not be spoken to avoid abuse of the commandment against misuse of the Lord's name. The pronunciation of "Jehovah" ("J" is the German "Y") was unknown until 1520 AD, when a biblical scholar named Galatians introduced it. This pronunciation was contested by other scholars as being against grammatical and historical propriety. However, when Protestant scholars began their vernacular translations (into their common languages) of the Old Testament using the Jewish Masoretic translations, they also mixed the four consonants of YHWH (JHWH in German) with the vowels of Adonai in the mistaken belief that this was the correct pronunciation of the Sacred Name and from then on YHWH appeared in Protestant Biblical texts as "Jehovah." This rendering is most frequently used in the King James Version translations as in: Let them be put to shame, and perish: That men may know that thou, whose name alone is Jehovah, art the most high over all the earth (Psalm 83:18). Modern scholars do not recognize this form as a legitimate name for the Hebrew God and dismiss it as a misreading or mispronunciation.

3. St. Paul wrote about the significant "third day" event of the Resurrection in 1 Cor 15:3-8, and the witnesses who testified to it. Paul wrote that the timing of the resurrection event was not according to man's time but "according to the Scriptures": For I delivered to you as of first importance which I also received, that Christ died for our sins and in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, then he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. When Paul wrote that the "timing" of the event of the Resurrection was "in accordance with the Scriptures," it is the Old Testament Scriptures to which he is referring. St. Paul also made the symbolic "third day" reference in the language of the Scriptures, linking it to God's intervention at the climatic moment of man's promised restoration of fellowship with God as promised to the Prophet Hosea in Hos 6:1-2. It is the Resurrection of Jesus Christ which occurred, as Paul wrote, "on the third day," an event which occurred literally but at the same time was full of symbolic significance, and through which all who believe will also be raised up to eternal life.

4. See T.C. Mitchell, "The Meaning of the Noun htn in the Old Testament," Vetus Testamentum 19 (1969), pp. 93-112; also Philip J. King, "Who did it, Who Didn't and Why: Circumcision," Biblical Archaeology Review, July/August 2006, pp. 49-55].

5. See New Jerusalem Bible, page 35, note "d": Circumcision was originally a rite initiatory to marriage and to the life of the clan, 34:14 seq.; Ex 4:24-26; Lv 19:23.

Catechism references for Exodus chapters 3-4 (* indicates that Scripture passage is either quoted or paraphrased in the citation):

3:1-10 2575* 3:7-10 1867*
3:2-6 202, 259, 205-209, 255, 689, 696 (fire a symbol of the Holy Spirit). 3:13-15 203-209
3:5-6 208* 3:14 446*, 2666*, 2810*
3:5 2777 4:22 238, 441*, 1730
3:6 205, 207    

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