According to Joseph Campbell, the hero’s journey begins with a call:

This first stage of the mythological journey – which we have designated the “call to adventure” – signifies that destiny has summoned the hero and transferred his spiritual center of gravity from within the pale of his society to a zone unknown. The Hero With A Thousand Faces, p.58.

It would be unseemly for our current hero to accept his task too readily. The hero’s task is very great and only a narcissist would feel equal to it. This is why a common component of the call is the refusal. It’s a token act of modesty that makes the hero worthy, in the eyes of the reader, of the task.

On the mountain of God

Moses and the Burning Bush by Sebastien Bourdon, 1642-1645

Moses and the Burning Bush by Sebastien Bourdon, 1642-1645

In this chapter, Moses is taking care of his father-in-law’s flock (who is now named Jethro instead of Reuel) when he accidentally stumbles on Horeb (sometimes called Sinai), the “mountain of God” (Exod. 3:1). The location of Horeb/Sinai is unknown, but my study bible says that “tradition places it in the eastern part of the Sinaitic Peninsula” and theorizes that it “was probably a Midianite sacred place.”

God appears to Moses “in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush” and though “the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed” (Exod. 3:2). Back to Joseph Campbell, he writes in Hero With A Thousand Faces that: “there is an atmosphere of irresistible fascination about the figure that appears suddenly as guide, marking a new period, a new stage, in the biography” (p.55).

Moses is all like “Wuh?!” and takes a good look at this burning-yet-not-burned shrubbery, at which point God calls out to him.

God tells Moses not to approach, but to remove his shoes “for the place on which you are standing is holy ground” (Exod. 3:5).This raises the question of what makes a site holy. Is it because God is there? In which case, are all the places he ‘touches down’ holy? This is certainly possible since the patriarchs like Abraham built shrines wherever they talked to God (no mention of any shoe removal, though). Alternatively, did God choose to appear at this site because it was already holy? If this is the case, do the Midianites also worship the God of the Hebrews, or is God respecting another deity’s special turf? Or, to use the Euthyphro phrasing, is the site holy because God is there, or is God there because it is holy?

In any case, Moses hides his face because he’s afraid to look at God.

The Quest

God announces to Moses that he’s “come down to deliver [my people] out of the hand of the Egyptians.” He intends to lead them to “a land flowing with milk and honey” – to the place that currently belongs to “the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites” (Exod. 3:8). But that doesn’t seem so nice, moving the Hebs out of one land belonging to others and into another land belonging to others. Unless…

Oh no…

Leaving this ominous little verse aside for a moment, God gets down to business: “I will send you to Pharaoh, that you may bring forth my people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt” (Exod. 3:10).

The Refusal

Moses: Who am I to tell Pharaoh what to do?

God: I’ll be with you, so you’ll have my cred.

Moses: But if I tell the Hebs that God has sent me, they’ll ask me which god I’m talking about! [A statement that seems to “assume a polytheistic environment; thus he must know the identity of the God who is dealing with him,” according to my study bible.]

God: I am who I am. [Or, YHWH, which may also translate to the third person, or “He causes to be.] Now stop yer winging and go tell the Hebs what I’ve told you. They’ll listen.

God gives further instructions: The elders of the Hebrews should go to Pharaoh and ask for three days off so that they can go into the wilderness and sacrifice to their god. This is after making his intention to lead the Israelites out of Egypt quite clear. In other words, God is telling the Hebrews to lie.

That’s morally iffy enough, but in this case God knows it won’t work anyway: “I know that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand” (Exod. 3:19). So basically, God just feels like making people lie. Just cause…

Not content to end there, God doesn’t want his peeps to start off empty handed. “Each woman shall ask of her neighbor, and of her who sojourns in her house, jewelry of silver and of gold, and clothing, and you shall put them on your sons and on your daughters; thus you shall despoil the Egyptians” (Exod. 3:22). If you’re lying anyway, you may as well steal too.