What does Exodus 3:1 mean?
ESV: Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.
NIV: Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.
NASB: Now Moses was pasturing the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; and he led the flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.
CSB: Meanwhile, Moses was shepherding the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian. He led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.
NLT: One day Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian. He led the flock far into the wilderness and came to Sinai, the mountain of God.
KJV: Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb.
NKJV: Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian. And he led the flock to the back of the desert, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.
Verse Commentary:
This verse introduces the important biblical account of the burning bush. In this passage, Moses experiences God's call to lead the Jews out of slavery. It begins with Moses watching the sheep of his father-in-law. This verse names his father-in-law as Jethro, not Reuel, as in chapter 2. However, both names include the addition of the title, priest of Midian. Jethro and Reuel are clearly the same man with the use of two different names. The reason for these two names is not specifically given, though there are other instances in the Bible of a person going by more than one name (Genesis 17:5; Mark 3:16), and it is also a common practice today.

Moses was a nomadic shepherd, meaning he traveled from one place to another with his flock. At the time of this account, he had led his flock to a place described using the term "west." This is likely a reference made from a later point in time, when the people of Israel were in the wilderness and understood where the "west side" was. This is further noted by the reference to "Horeb, the mountain of God." This would later be a significant location to the Jews as they saw God's presence come upon the mountain and Moses would receive the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20).
Verse Context:
Exodus 3:1–8 describes the initial contact between Moses and God. This occurs in one of Scripture's most memorable scenes: the burning bush. Moses is tending sheep for his father-in-law in Midian, after fleeing from Egypt some forty years prior. He sees a bush which is covered in fire, but not being burnt up. Out of this flame, ''the angel of the LORD'' speaks, declaring God's intent to liberate Israel from their slavery in Egypt.
Chapter Summary:
Moses is tending sheep for his father-in-law when he sees a miraculous sight: a bush which is on fire, but not burnt up. From this fire, God speaks to Moses, appointing him as the leader of the nation of Israel, whom God intends to free from Egyptian slavery. God identifies Himself in this passage using the famous terminology ''I AM.'' Despite Moses' fears and doubts, God gives him a message to take to the elders of Israel, and eventually to Pharaoh himself.
Chapter Context:
Prior chapters in Exodus explained how the descendants of Abraham became a nation which was populous, but enslaved, in the land of Egypt. Exodus 3 describes the moment when God calls Moses to lead Israel out of slavery. This is accomplished through the miracle of the burning bush. The beginning of this dialogue between God and Moses includes messages for both Israel and Pharaoh, and will continue into chapter 4.
Book Summary:
The book of Exodus establishes God's covenant relationship with the full-fledged nation of Israel. The descendants of Abraham prosper after settling in Egypt, only to be enslaved by a fearful, hateful Egyptian Pharaoh. God appoints Moses to lead the people out of this bondage. Moses serves as God's spokesman, as the Lord brings plagues and judgments on Egypt, leading to the release of Israel.
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