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.Exodus 3:1 NIV
You could almost read right through that one verse without a second thought. But there’s something there – maybe not earth-shattering, but fun to see. It foreshadows the rest of the book of Exodus. Moses will lead his flock, the Israelites, across the wilderness to Mount Sinai. Later, the nation will meet with God!
Moses leads the flock
Moses was a shepherd. Have you noticed how often shepherding is mentioned in scripture? Abel, Abraham, Isaac, Moses, David, Amos … Jesus were all shepherds! Obviously, God relates to His people as sheep. Notice what the Psalmist said …
You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.Psalm 77:20 NIV
But he brought his people out like a flock; he led them like sheep through the wilderness. He guided them safely, so they were unafraid; but the sea engulfed their enemies.Psalm 78:52-53 NIV
Across the wilderness
We know Moses was living in Midian with his family. The Midianites were descendants of Abraham. Abraham had children by Keturah, as noted in Genesis 26. Keturah bore six children to Abraham: Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak, and Shuah. So when the scripture says that Jethro was a priest of Midian, it is possible that they still worshiped the God of Abraham.
He was tending Jethro’s (his father-in-law’s) sheep. A first-century geographer wrote about Midian, “a plain, well-wooded and well supplied with water; it abounds with cattle of all kinds.” Moses took the sheep out to the far side of the wilderness towards the mountains. It was near Mount Horeb (later called Mount Sinai) that he first met God in the burning bush.
Even before Moses led the Hebrew nation out of Egypt, he was familiar with the wilderness.
To Mount Horeb
In Rabbinical literature, the rabbis consider “Sinai” and “Horeb” two names of the same mountain. The surrounding area is often called the desert of Sinai. There are scriptural references to support that Horeb and Sinai are the same. The Psalmist writes in chapter 106, “At Horeb they made a calf and worshiped an idol cast from metal.” The prophet Malachi writes, “Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.” And the author of Chronicles includes this statement, “There was nothing in the ark except the two tablets that Moses had placed in it at Horeb, where the Lord made a covenant with the Israelites after they came out of Egypt.”
God chose this location as a place where divine encounters occurred and where His presence was felt profoundly. It’s there that Moses meets God for the first time, and God reveals His name, “I AM WHO I AM.” Moses is commissioned there as God’s representative to lead the Hebrew nation out of slavery. And later, we know that Moses meets with God to receive the Law on that same mountain.
This one verse presents Moses as a shepherd, anticipating his future as the Israelites’ shepherd-leader. The mention of the wilderness and Mount Horeb emphasizes the importance of the future encounter with God and the divine command to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, eventually playing a significant role in the biblical story of liberation and covenant.
Don’t read scripture too fast! You might miss key elements. Indeed, read each verse closely!