When a Burning Bush Speaks (Exodus 3:1-6)
Topic: One Truth: Your Word is Truth Passage: Exodus 3:1–6
I. Why This Story Matters
Listen to or follow along with the story found in Exodus 3:1-6. This what the writer tells us...
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.  And the angel [or “messenger”] of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush [more specifically, a “thornbush”]. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed.  And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.”  When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.”  Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”  And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
Now, if someone were to ask you, “Why does this story matter?”, how would you respond?
Let me suggest that this story matters for two reasons:
First, this story matters because it represents the beginning of the commissioning of Moses, the one person (the one human, that is) who will dominate the rest of the Pentateuch (i.e., the first five books of the Old Testament). And what God begins with Moses here marks the beginning of one of the most pivotal and foundational events in the history of God's people. If we were to continue reading through Exodus 3, we would also discover that God's revelation here to Moses also represents a new phase of God's revelation to the world. We can talk more about that in just a few minutes.
But there's another answer we could provide to someone who asked, “Why does this story matter?” I think we could say that...
Second, the story matters because it tells us important things about when God meets with and speaks to his servants. At this point, Moses doesn't know God. But he will. At this point, Moses isn't a servant of God. But all of that is going to change. Think with me about this strange scene. What we find here is a story specifically about God and Moses, isn't it? But in general, it's simply a story about God meeting with and speaking to a human being; someone just like us. Since that's the case, maybe it can guide us when it comes to God meeting with and speaking to us.
II. The Passage: “This Great Sight” (3:1-6)
Let's take both of those ideas, the specific significance of the passage in terms of Moses and the more generic significance concerning you and me, and let's go back through this story. Sound good? When I read through these verses, three ideas catch my attention. First, I see...
1. Wonder in Light of God's Revelation
Look back at verses 1-3. Moses, who was of course of Hebrew descent, was (as Acts 7 puts it), “adopted [by “Pharaoh’s daughter”][who] brought him up as her own son. And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians...” (vs. 21-22) But Moses eventually understood and embraced his own ancestry, and according to Hebrews 11:24–25, “...when he was grown up, [he] refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God...”. But after killing an Egyptian taskmaster who was mistreating the Hebrew slaves, Moses fled east into the land of Midian, where he was welcomed by a man named Jethro, and even married one of his daughters.
But as we heard in verses 1-3, one day when Moses (who was around 80 years old at this point) was caring for this father-in-law's flocks, he came to a mountain called Horeb (known to the first readers as “the mountain of God” or Mount Sinai). And as we read in verse 2, someplace on or at the base of this mountain Moses saw a thornbush that seemed to be on fire, but incredibly, it was not burning up; it was not consumed by the flame. Steven tells us in Acts 7:31 that when “Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight”. Here in verse 3, Moses expresses his amazement this way, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.”
Now, as those who have been reading in the book of Genesis, this astonishing sight should inspire a question: “Why did God choose to reveal himself to Moses in this unique way?” God has certainly spoken before in the biblical record. He spoke to Noah. He spoke to Abraham. He spoke to Hagar. He spoke to Rebekah. He spoke to Isaac. He spoke to Jacob... but never through a burning bush or anything like a burning bush. So why did he reveal himself to Moses in this way?
Well, hold that question for a few minutes and think with me about the more general significance of this scene. What a powerful reminder we have hear that the place where God meets with us and speaks to is truly “great” and “amazing”. Where is that place for us? It's the Scriptures. The Bible is where God wants to regularly meet with us and speak to us, for (as we read in 2 Timothy 3:16) “All Scripture is breathed out by God...”. That's precisely why Paul told Timothy in an earlier letter, “Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture...” (1 Timothy 4:13) Because that's where God meets with and speaks to us.
But in light of this story, it's helpful to ask yourself, “Do I have a sense of wonder when it comes to the Bible?” At the beginning of your day, or in the course of your day, do you say, “I will turn aside to see this great sight...”? If you're like me, then you struggle against temptations to take the Bible for granted; or at least to see it as less wondrous and more mundane. To be clear, such temptations may not make you less committed or devoted to the Scriptures. But some-times our devotion to Scripture is comparable to a math textbook or Ikea instruction manual: our devotion is driven simply be the problem-solving power of the Bible; or because it helps us build something useful. But even though God's revelation to us doesn't glow with heavenly fire, even though it is preserved on paper and bound with leather or cardboard, I think this passage is a great reminder that He still wants us to see it for the miracle it is. Miraculous. Not only are its origins and preservation for thousands of years miraculous, but its content is miraculous. When we see it with spiritual eyes, we understand that it too is a fire that burns bright, but will not consume us. Our devotion to Scripture should ultimately be driven by one reality...
It is there that we hear the great, the amazing voice of God. Even now, in the quietness of your heart, ask God to help you see or recapture the wonder of his word. Speaking of content, this passage also reveals something about...
2. Wisdom in Light of God's Revelation
Now when I say wisdom, I simply mean insight. So consider the insight provided here through the burning bush. Explicitly, God reveals himself to Moses in verse 6:
And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”
Based on Moses' reaction in verses 6, it's safe to assume that he knew something about the history of his people and the God of his forefathers; that he knew something about God calling Abraham, and his covenant, and the land of Canaan, and Joseph's destiny in Egypt. So the declaration in verse 6 would have been incredibly important in terms of helping Moses discover his place in God's unfolding purposes.
But when it comes to what God reveals in this chapter, let me go back to an earlier question: “Why did God choose to reveal himself to Moses in this unique way?” Why a burning bush? Well, first of all, the presence of fire accompanying the presence of God is not unusual. God appeared to Abraham as a “flaming torch” in Genesis 15. And when the Hebrews finally leave Egypt, God will go with them as a “pillar of fire” by night (Exodus 13:21). In fact, on this very same mountain, the fire that first appeared to Moses around a burning bush will eventually consume the entire mountain when the descendants of Israel arrive there:
Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the LORD had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. [19:18]
Now the appearance of the glory of the LORD was like a devouring fire on the top of the mountain in the sight of the people of Israel. [24:17]
So this fire was a manifestation of God's glory. But again, why was it localized around a thornbush here in Exodus 3? I think the image God presented to Moses here is connected with the explicit revelation he would go on to provide in 3:13–15. Drop down to that passage...
Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?”  God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”  God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.
So could it be that the blazing bush that is never consumed was a picture for Moses of the God who always is? He is not the God who was, that is, who was only at work long ago with Moses' ancestors. No. He continues to be what he was then, the God who is; “I AM”; the always existing one; though memory of Him might be consumed by forgetful generations, like the bush he never ceases to exist. And so He is present with Moses, and will be present even now for his people.
Brothers and sisters, when God meets with and speaks to us in the Scriptures, not only is his main goal to reveal himself, but more specifically, to reveal himself as the God who is; the God who is present now; present to speak, present to save, present to be known. This means the very best thing you can ask for from the Bible is to know God better, first mentally, then relationally; that is, knowing God personally, not simply knowing about God. Our burning bush is glorious because God, our Creator and Sustainer, is revealed in its pages. Whenever you read or hear the word, listen for His voice. Seek Him, even now, in light of the light of Scripture.
This brings us to one more observation about this passage. Notice here the...
3. Worship in Light of God's Revelation
The very first thing God reveals to Moses is an appropriate response to the divine presence. Did you hear that in verse 5? “Then [God] said, 'Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.'” That's a symbolic way of talking about the impurity we as sinners can 'track' into a place of divine purity. We also see in verse 6 that God's revelation to Moses as the God of his forefathers leads Moses to hide his face out of fear because of the divine presence. Isn't it interesting how thirty chapters later, Moses has done a '180' and is asking God to show him his glory? I think that's a powerful indicator of how Moses had come to know God; how he had grown in his faith. May that be true of each one of us!
But let's not miss the important reminder here. When we come to that place where God meets with and speaks to us, that is, when we come to Scriptures, let us not come hastily or carelessly, let us not track in our own impure agenda, or come with simply an academic or mechanical mindset. No. Let us come with reverence and awe, for a holy God is present there. As Hebrews 4:12 expresses it, “For the word of God is living and active...” Thus, Isaiah 66:2 encourages us about this very same attitude of awe: “But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.”
III. A Revelation of Redemption
So brothers and sisters, whenever you interact with God's word (whether it's before you read or before you listen on Sunday morning) ask God to help you see the wonder of his word, to gain wisdom from the word, and to inspire in you the worship that should always characterize our response to what God has revealed.
But please, please remember that this ideal doesn't change the grace that is always available when our response is less than ideal. On so many occasions your experience with the Bible will not resemble what Moses experienced with the burning bush. That's not because of the 'bush' or the God who reveals himself there. It's because of our own struggles; our own distraction and stubbornness; our own wavering hearts. But when that happens, don't be discouraged. That reality of wonder-less-ness or worship-less-ness shouldn't deter us from developing the discipline of regularly going to the word, a discipline rooted in what we believe on our best days: faith that Scripture really is revelation of and from the God who is.
You see, the grace that is always available when our response to God's revelation is less than ideal, that grace is our because of what God revealed to Moses about himself: that he is both the initiator and finisher of an incredibly powerful rescue.
And as we know from the New Testament, what God accomplished through this shepherd Moses was ultimately a shadow of what he would accomplish the Good Shepherd, Jesus. How wonderful that Jesus was both the ultimate shepherd and (according to I Corinthians 5:7), “our Passover Lamb”. How wonderful that the deliverance God speaks about in Exodus 3:8 points us to the deliverance that Christ would be bring: emancipation from our slavery to sin.
Therefore, even when ignore we God's burning bush and seek other light, or when we offer a tepid response to the wonder and wisdom of his word, we can rest in the fact that the Word himself died for warped worshipers like us. And He suffered on the cross and rose from the dead so that we really can see the wonders of God; that we can receive the wisdom God has made known; that we can worship in spirit and truth, in light of His gracious revelation.
If the fire of the burning bush was a revelation of God's own glory, then Jesus Christ is the ultimate burning bush, for God has mercifully “shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:6) Who is the Son? He is “the radiance of the glory of God” (Hebrews 1:3).
Therefore, friend, receive the word today; behold its wonder; believe it wisdom. Brother and sister, let us give thanks for God's revelation to Moses. But let us also learn from this story about the place where God meets with and speaks to his servant. And let us take those lessons with us to the word every single day.
More in Our Bible Reading Plan (2022-2023)
January 29, 2023A Pure Worship of God (Deuteronomy 12:29-32)
January 22, 2023On a Scale From One to Ten Commandments (Deuteronomy 4:12-14)
January 15, 2023Holiness and Love (Leviticus 19:1-2, 18)