The account in Exodus 3 is commonly known as the call of Moses. I identified with this story and found it particularly comforting when, at the age of 16, I was asked to lead a cell group in the youth ministry . In Exodus 3, I saw this great hero of faith grappling with self-doubt and inadequacy—just as I had. But the passage of time and a fresh re-reading of this account impressed upon me a different aspect of this account, starting in Exodus 2:23. I now see this account, not primarily as the call of Moses (the one who was called), but the call of God (the One who called).
Exodus 2:23–25 acts as a summary and prologue for the rest of the story. The people of Israel are in slavery. Despite the change of Egyptian leadership, their oppression is not abated. In their suffering, they groan and cry out for help. Notice what comes next:
And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew (Exod 2:24–25, ESV).
God heard … God remembered …
God saw … God knew.
These four verbs emphasise God as the agent. As with the English language, the title of God did not need to be used four times in Hebrew. In fact, the verbs carried with them an inherent pronoun “He” and needed no additional reference to the subject “God”. Yet, the repetition of “God” draws our attention to the fact that it was God who acted.
These four verbs also emphasise God as the agent. It was not just sensory input and cognitive processing that occurred in these four verbs. To say that God heard and God saw does not imply that He was deaf or blind before. When God heard and God saw, He took notice. He paid attention. He had compassion. Similarly, to say that God remembered and God knew does not imply that He forgot or that He was ignorant before. When God remembered His covenant, He did not just retrieve it from His memory, but made a decision to act on it. When God knew, it was not merely a cognitive understanding, but an acknowledgement of the plight of his people and a decision to do something about it.
It is in this context that we read of the call of God to Moses.
First, God Appeared to Moses.
God appeared to Moses, not while Moses was praying or worshipping God. Neither was Moses reading the Bible or at church (there wasn’t even a Bible or church then!). God appeared to Moses while he was going about his very ordinary day, keeping the flock. Yet, God appeared in a way that was anything but ordinary. He appeared in a flame of fire in a bush that nonetheless was not consumed.
Second, God Called to Moses.
While it was accompanied by a miraculous sign, God’s call to Moses was a simple word, uttered twice: “Moses, Moses!” This was a personal call; in fact, Douglas Stuart notes that “in ancient Semitic culture, addressing someone by saying his or her name twice was a way of expressing endearment, that is, affection and friendship. Moses would have understood immediately that he was being addressed by someone who loved him and was concerned about him.!” (Douglas Stuart, New American Commentary: Exodus, vol 2 (Nashville: B & H, 2006), 114)
Finally, God Spoke.
God’s words (and Moses’ response) occupy the bulk of this episode, from Exodus 3:5 onwards. As I focused on God as the agent, what struck me in this dialogue was not the feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt that Moses expressed, but what God says in His call. God tells Moses what He had seen and heard … and then He says: “and I have come down to deliver them” (Exod 3:8, emphasis added). It was only after He assures Moses of His intention to act that God revealed His plan to send Moses to Pharaoh. Even when Moses doubted, questioned, and challenged God, God patiently answered each of his questions. Here, we see that when God spoke, he did not just set Moses a task. Instead, God told Moses what he was going to do and invited Moses to partner with him; God told Moses how to do what needed to be done and how to overcome potential challenges along the way; and, most importantly, God told Moses who He was.
It is commonly said that God doesn’t call the equipped, He equips the called. What strikes me in the call of God to Moses is that God didn’t just equip Moses with the right answers to Israel’s FAQs or a “Miracles for Dummies” manual. In his promise to Moses God said, “I will be with you” (Exod 3:12). God equipped Moses with the best resource there could be—Himself.
What is God calling you to do today?