This commentary focuses on Exodus 3:10-15. This covers two separate Narrative Lectionary passages:
Sept 29. 2013 (Year 4): Exodus 3:10-15; 4:10-17
Oct 4, 2015 (Year 2): Exodus 1: 8-14 and 3:1-15
Summary: The Hebrew reminds us that as Moses asks for God's name, Moses is really asking for God's character. The answer given seems very much like a New Testament answer: A radically free God, who binds himself to the life of particular humans (incarnation!!), and out of his great mercy he sends the people to do his work (mission!). Also, in Moses' protests we find a very common human disease: a lack of self-esteem, ultimately grounded in a lack of trusting God. The solution? Pep talks?? No!! It is all about God.
Side comment: I think our kids don't need more self-esteem, but trust in God, which is more durable and more easily built back up.
אות ("sign"; Exodus 3.12; 4:17). Obviously the idea of signs and covenants is a crucial one in the Old (and new) Testaments. Interestingly, these signs God offer (worship on a mountain; Aaron's rod) are signs that will require Moses to take the first step in order to see. I think it also reflects the human desire for a sign. The people of Israel, including Moses, have seen great suffering. Of course they want a sign!
עוד ("serve"; Exodus 3.12) The word for serve has a range of meanings from "worship" to even be "slave to." This sets up the key question for Exodus: Whom will the people serve/worship/be in slave to: God or Pharaoh? This is a key hermeneutic for the story of Exodus: Whom will the people serve?
As Americans today, this word challenges our notions of "freedom" and faith. Will we serve (meaning trust, worship and obey) God or will we serve Pharaoh? By Pharaoh I do not meant the ancient king of Egypt, but the "man"? (Old Testament professor Walter Bruggemann provocatively discusses this, arguing that Pharaoh is the military industrial complex). Furthermore, when it comes to faith, are we really willing to "serve" God as we would a king?
Lastly, our racial history makes any "positive" discussion of slavery in the context of faith extremely difficult. For this reason, I believe the translators prefer to translate this word as "worship" God; however, the concept should not be lost. There is no freedom in the abstract -- it is serve either God or Pharaoh. Which brings up the question -- where is true freedom found?
שלח ("send", 3.10, 12, 13, 14) A crucial word in this passage; the word means send. The God of the Old Testament is the God of the New Testament. Just as Jesus was sending disciples, God in the Old Testament was sending workers and laborers into this word. The whole idea of sending (and equipping) is also an OT concept!
םה-שםו ("what is your name?"; 3:13)
This is not the usual way to ask someone their name.
From TWOT: "This frequently-occurring interrogative pronoun is most significant when associated with the word 'name'. 'What is your name?' is not a question which inquires after a person's family or personal name; it endeavors to find what character or quality lies within or behind the person. To ask for simple identification, one would say in Hebrew, "Who (mî) are you?"
In short, the question gets at this question: What kind of God are you?? Again, this goes back to the suffering of the people. Why would the God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob let this happen to the people! Unlike the Biblical histories, which suggest the Babylonian captivity is a result of apostasy, the Bible portrays the enslavement of the Israelites as caused by the fear, greed and hatred of the Egyptians.
אהיה ("I will be"; 3.14) God's name here is often translated, "I am who I am." Because the verb is in the imperfect (incomplete) tense, it may also be translated, "I am who I will be" or "I will be who I will be"; any permutations of these two! The crucial idea is that God is radically free!
אבתיכם ("fathers"; 3.15) This radically free God includes in his introduction, really in his name and reputation, his relationship with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. While God may be radically free, God is also radically bound to the particular life and story of various individuals. If the preaching passage includes
והוריתיך ("teach"; 4.12) This word is fascinating in two ways here. First, because the root word is the same root as "torah." Moses will be "torahed" in a sense. Secondly, the verb in its root form (as opposed to hiphil, as it appear here) means to throw, like throw an arrow. As fundamental as bow and arrow were to early Israelists, so was the teaching of God's Word. Something about using this word Torah, deriving it from shooting and teaching...I love it!