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  • Rıdvan Demir


My second essay concerns Exodus 3, an intriguing and vivid section of the Hebrew Bible. I will discuss the verse: “God‘s nature as the One who hears the Israelites’ cry and delivers, the promise of land, the mighty hand of God, the despoiling of the Egyptians.” I will uncover some rather basic images from the text while using some of the tools of literary critique to discuss various parts of this section of the text. I will attempt to find answers to these questions: Why did God make a covenant with the Jewish people? Are Jewish people, by the advent of the covenant, made superior to other people? In which way is the promise for a holy land an emphasis of this covenant? Why did Jewish people who believe in one God, Yahweh, suffer under the Egyptian rule for 400 years?

I believe that Jewish people were ennobled by God throughout history, and through their representation of monotheism, the many instances throughout the Hebrew Bible confirms this idea. Their religions orientation, indeed, made them superior to other peoples in history. This notion will be presented throughout my discussion of the aforementioned Old Testament verses.

For literary and form-critical analysis, this section has problems among commentators on fixing its limits. These problems are both at the beginning and the end. According to Noth, a German biblical scholar specializing in the early history of the Jewish people, the section extends from 2:13 – 4:23 because the flight from Egypt and the return to Egypt4:18 and 19 frame it. Noth writes, “3:1 – 4:16 is not only secondary in terms of the history of traditions, but is also a literary interpolation.” His literary analyses of this section was unduly affected by his theory of separate transmissions of the Sinai and exodus traditions, so we can say the section begins at 3:1. On the other hand, some scholars could not find a real break between the commission of Moses in chapters 3 and 4 and his first meeting with Pharaoh in 5:1. (cf. driver’s unit from 3:1-6:1).[1]

Exodus 3:1-22 are from Jahwist and also Elohist sources according to source criticism (documentary hypothesis). The verses 1, 6, 9-18 are Elohist source; 2-5, 7-8; 19-22 are Yahwist. The Jahwist source always presents God's name as the ‘tetragrammaton’ and is noted for its elegance and richness of emotion. In the Eloist source, God's name is always presented as Elohim (Hebrew for “God” or “Power”) until the revelation of God's name to Moses, after which God is referred to as YHVH. Elohists treat God as a human-like figure, capable of regret and appearing in person at events.

When examining the literary structure of this passage, we see it align as a piece of prose. For example, when God speaks to Moses the passage is magnified and given more legitimacy. However, Moses’ hesitation to go to Pharoah, despite God’s orders, is an interesting moment of contrast, and thus an obvious reason for further investigation and interpretation. Nevertheless, the general view is that it is difficult to find which source, J or E, is the true source. Therefore, it is hard to eliminate either one of them. (i.e. the name of Yahweh, ‘Jethro’ or ‘priest of Midian’).

In Exodus 3:12, the meaning of the ‘sign’, as interpretation, is that this burning bush is a special sign from Yahweh who send Moses to rescue the people from Egypt and a sign that when they are safe, they will worship Yahweh on the same mountain.[2]

Moses goes with his brother Aaron to Phoraoh so God’s instructions can be completed. God`s addressing the Jewish people implies that Yahweh`s relationship with His people is impressively strong. According to the Jewish oral tradition preserved in E, the divine name of Yahweh was first revealed to Israel in the Mosaic period. Interestingly, the J tradition recognizes Yahweh as the “God of the fathers.” The new name was shown to Moses. According to Childs, this E tradition has been affected by later questions asked by both true and false prophets. Obviously, the combination of sources J and E completed the full identification of Yahweh as God of their fathers. The E tradition is really different than his name, Yahweh. So we can say that Exodus 3:13-15 reflect a history of tradition that it is extended from the oral to the literary level. Those verses are interpreted as a mission of Moses who has been sent by Yahweh.

Stylistic and thematic analyses of the chapter reveal several interesting linguistic patterns. Some phrases repeated through the chapters provide thematic unity. This pericope is identified throughout by an interaction and communication between the human and divine name through the commission of Moses that Yahweh spoke to him for this main reason. [3]

The next area of my argument involves Exodus 3:1-22 about Moses’ speech with God on the mountain of God… Sinai. God says to Moses at the burning bush, which is an unordinary and curious occurrence, words of wisdom and confirmation. We might wonder: if we cannot understand this particular event with enough clarity to solicit introspection and confirmation of the Jewish people’s status as the Chosen people, then the demarcation of the term “special” should offer sufficient proof of the irrevocable status conferred upon the Jewish people. This passage, we might interpret, is the beginning of the peculiar genre that serves as a vehicle for the notion of God’s presence. This is, perhaps, God’s first presence in the Exodus narrative.

We need not seek explanations for what happens according to the norms of other genres. This could cause seemingly non-discursive and therefore unequivocal points to our conversation. Nonetheless, we might want to explore the edges of such a conversation in order to fully assess the characteristics of promise and primordial legitimacy. Of course, the theophany (i.e., ‘appearance of God’) is an extraordinary situation, but Moses’ experience is similar to other prophets.[4] This passage is written as prose, not a different, transcendental literary progression.

Accordingly, the beginning of the passage is religious while the end of it is political. Again, I think, the key terms are the ‘burning bush’, ‘holy’, ‘ancestors’, ‘generations’, Yahweh, ehye, appeared, power, stretch out (helping hand), promise, holy, land, and Israel/Israelites, while the key concepts are ‘burning bush’, ‘holy land’, ‘ancestors of Moses’, ‘all generations’, ‘I am who I am (eyhe), ‘promise land’, and ‘stretch out God’s hand’.

In Exodus 1:6-8, when Joseph dies, the Jewish people multiply in Egypt and the king who comes after Joseph never knows about the success of Joseph. The king persecutes the Jewish people. In 2:23-25, the narrator talks about the slavery of Israelites and their being persecuted by the Egyptian king. All people of God suffered. God heard their cries, and thus promised them that safety would arrive soon. In this context, the Exodus 3:6-9 verses locate God’s interest in the Israelites, as the people of Yahweh. The God of the Israelites said: “I have seen; I have heard; I have known, and I have come down.” God first acknowledges three things: afflictions, cries, suffering. The last one, which is “I have come down”, is accepted as an implication of the incarnation of God into human history in bodily form in Christianity by Christendom scholars.[5] The concept of the God remembered is absent here but is implied in the formula of ‘verse 6’ included in 2:24. This passage, especially verse 8, includes two important verbs, which are ‘delivering’ and ‘bring up.’ The word ‘deliver’ is used in 2:19, but it is not important for us here. However, ‘bring up’ is used in Exodus regularly. They have used it both negatively and positively, from the land of Egypt to the land of promise. Nevertheless, verse 8 talks about the new land, which is the opposite of Egypt where all Jewish people live under oppression and bondage. The new land that God now promises is ‘good’. There is no doubt that God promises the Israelites will have wonderful lands which will be more peaceful than Egypt. At the end of verse 8, they believe desperately that they are destined by God for a safe land. God’s repeating that he hears and sees those who believe means that he values His people. Verses 2:24-25 and 3:7-9 portray God as the only and crucial character in the creation of Israel, as an alternative to the situation of oppression in Egypt.

When God ordered Moses to go to Pharaoh, Moses avoided the circumstances at hand. So God said to him, “I will be with you”. The mission of Moses would have been very dangerous if he had not been a recipient of this promised status. Moses was held at the apex of inspiration and transcendental capabilities as a Jewish person. His chances for survival are inscribed.[6] In this passage, Moses has two resistances plus three resistances in section four which totals five. In section three, his first resistance is his being an unimportant person: who I am? God replies: “I will be with you” (3:12), meaning Moses must go because he would not alone. His second resistance was that he had a dangerous mission and responsibility in this vocation, i.e. not only for just himself, but also for the Israelites.

When Moses asked Yahweh about what to say when he was asked who his God was, God’s answer was: “thus you shall say to the Israelites, I am has sent me to you”.[7] This concept of “I am who I am” means God is only similar to God, and nothing else. This is a theological, not philological, interpretation. Interestingly, the word “Yahweh” is derived from the word “Ehye” which in Hebrew means “I am.” After that God says the following about oppression: “I have really visited you” (v.16). The NRSV uses “given heed”; the NIV uses “watched over”.[8] Thus God promises that He will help His people against empire and Pharaoh. God gives hope to His people, through power of Himself, and will place the people of Him (v.17) to a lovely land promised by God. On the other side, God will make many things which are considered to be ‘wonders’ that humans see as extraordinary acts of power. Men think these are impossible, but it is possible, actually very easy for God.[9] Finally, the slave community will leave Egypt where Egyptians and Pharaoh have persecuted all the people of Yahweh, but God will help and place them to the new lands. Everybody, particularly women will be given wealth obtained from the Egyptian people through the help of Yahweh (v.20-22).

In conclusion, God wanted the covenant with the Israelites to be a sign and confirmation of His power. By limiting accessibility to divine words and modalities of expression, the opportunity to uphold distinctions is reified. The Jewish people believed one God called by the ‘tetragrammaton’, ‘Yahweh’ or ‘Elohim.’ These special names show the Jewish people’s special relationship with God. Israelites represented monotheism. It should not be forgotten that when people suffered so much they wanted a savior and imagined everything will be better in the future, the promise was made to them. When Jewish people suffered under the Egyptians, they believed they would see better days. Their special status reverberates and moves through time.

All Jewish people immigrated to the Holy Land, which was the Promised Land. If we read Hebrew Scriptures and this kind of passage according to historical reading, Jews were the only monotheist tribe in the world at that time. Therefore, they considered themselves to be superior to other tribes at that time. However, I think their superior position stayed “in history” because, after Moses, other prophets were sent and were also primal representatives of monotheistic religions. I complete my essay with a verse from the Qur’an: “wa kallamallahu Muusaa takliimaa” –which means “and Allah has spoken with Moses”[10] (peace be upon him). The station of Moses and the sanctity of the Jewish people are carefully reaffirmed.

[1] Brevard s. Childs, The Book of Exodus, Philadelphia 1974, p. 51. [2] p. 60. [3] p. 70-71. [4] The New Interpreter’s Bible, I, General and Old Testament Articles, Exodus, Nashville: Abingdon, 1994, p. 711. [5] p. 712. [6] p. 713. [7] Exodus, 3:14. [8] p. 714. [9] p. 715. [10] Qur’an,


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