That Burning Bush

3rd Sunday after Pentecost

Exodus 3:1-4:17

One of the things with the Bible that can be frustrating at times, is that unlike contemporary novels, the Biblical narratives rarely give us an idea of what the characters are thinking.  Yes, that’s primarily because what they’re thinking isn’t important to the narrative.  It’s more important to know what God is thinking…and the writers give us that rather often.

Still, at this early point in the Moses story, it would be nice to know what’s going on in his head.  He’s 80 years old now.  At this point his life is divided in two—those heady years in the house of Pharaoh in Egypt, and these last few decades tending sheep in the wilderness of Sinai.

So…has Moses lived these last 40 years of his life with regrets about those years in Egypt?  Does he ever wonder, on a quiet night with the sheep, if he had done things differently, played the Egyptian game, go with the flow.  Had he not killed that Egyptian bully, had he not tried to do something for the Israelites, his Israelites, where would he be today?  Oh, maybe not Pharaoh.  He wasn’t an Egyptian.  But certainly he would be living a far more splendid life than out here in the wilderness!

Or maybe…the man has spent the last 40 years thanking God or the fates or whatever (because Moses’ own faith is rather vague at this point)…thanking whatever forces there are that he got out of Egypt, out of that Great Gatsby, anything goes life in the palace of Pharaoh.  Maybe he’s thankful that he has such a very different life out here in the country.

He’s got a wife named Zipporah.  He’s got a son named Gershom.  Yes, Moses had said back in chapter 1, “I am a sojourner in a foreign land.”  Maybe he said that with a regrets-filled sigh, but then, maybe he sighed in happy contentment.  For far from the madding crowd he now keeps the quiet tenor of his ways.

Ah, but the narrative of Exodus wakes us from such speculative dreams.  Whether Moses at age 80 is the former prince of Egypt, living like Charles Dickens’ Miss Havisham in the relics of his past, or whether he lives as a satisfied family man, a nomad in the wilderness…it doesn’t matter.  Whatever Moses has going on in his head and in his life, it’s all about to change forever.

3:1, “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 [another name for Sinai], the mountain of God.  And the Angel of the Lord [a unique being in the Old Testament who is always God’s spokesman and God’s presence, Christians have seen the eternal Son in this Angel, the Word and presence of God who would become flesh and be named Jesus]…the Angel…appeared in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush.  [Moses] looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed.”  And Moses said, “I gotta check this out!”

It’s like all the prophets who were yet to come.  The Word of the Lord came to them, sometimes in a dream, in a vision, by a voice in the night.  For St. Paul, it was a blinding light knocking him to the ground on the road to Damascus.  For Moses, it’s this bush which burns yet does not burn up!

V4, God calls, “Moses, Moses.”  The man answers, “Here I am.”  And like Adam of old, called out of hiding in the bushes of Eden, Moses is called out of his wilderness escape.  V6, God identifies Himself in the way He identified Himself to the Patriarchs: “I am the God of your father; the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.”  And Moses is afraid!

Once again, no clue, except this fear, of what is going on in Moses’ head.  Is his fear because he thinks he’s doomed?  Is he afraid that his past has finally caught up to him?  After all, it can’t be a good thing when God shows up and calls you by name!

Moses doesn’t know what we know.  He doesn’t know God as merciful and gracious.  He doesn’t know anything about Jesus, His death for us, His resurrection promising us that God is indeed the God of the living and not the dead.

We know that God called us by name in Holy Baptism.  It was a good thing.  No fear!  Baptized into Christ we shall live, as He lives, even though we die.  When our past bothers us, we find comfort in Christ.  When the future worries us, we find hope in Christ.  When today is too much all on its own, we find strength in Christ.  It’s all so very good!

Even if…in these days it all seems to be more about me and what I believe than about God and what He says; a kind of practical atheism, which doesn’t actually do much to shape our lives.  Until, that is, God throws His monkey wrench into our gears.  Those experiences in life when suddenly God is too real and we are too insufficient.  Sometimes it’s illness and injury, sometimes a career change, those experiences which pull life’s rug from beneath our feet.  It’s never a good thing…except in God’s eyes, because these things do wake us up.  Just like Moses.

Back to v7: “Then the Lord said, “I have surely seen the affliction of My people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry… I know their sufferings…”  “I know,” He says.  Not simply that He knows it, but that He “knows.” God feels it, takes it into His very being.  He knows their anguish.  He knows ours.  He feels it.  But most importantly, because He knows, v8, “I have come down to deliver them…and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey…”  The Promised Land.  God knows, so He acts to save.

And that would be enough!  It should be enough!  It’s good news.  It’s Gospel.  God is acting to save.  Hallelujah!  Except…God then adds, v10, “Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring My people…out of Egypt.”  “Say what?!  I thought You were going to save them, God!”  Maybe he’s happy for the Israelites, maybe not…we don’t know.  But it’s clear he’s not at all happy that he’s been drafted for this job of redemption!

At this point, Moses begins to trot out every excuse he can think of to get out of the job!  V11, He defers to someone else.  “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?”  Moses had tried the redemption thing 40 years earlier when he was a somebody…it didn’t work then, why would it work now when he’s a nobody?  But God answers, v12, “I will be with you.”  That should be enough!

But Moses isn’t so easily persuaded.  V13, he says, “The Israelites are gonna ask me Your name, God!  What do I tell them?”  In other words, Moses is claiming that he has no authority to do this, if God remains nameless.  So God makes a startling revelation.  “I AM.”  The first time His own name is spoken.  “I AM.”  in Hebrew, “Yahweh”…always spelled as LORD with all capital letters in our English Bibles.

Moses now has God’s name…which is the authority to act for this God.  And in that Name Moses is to go back and speak to the Israelites and to Pharaoh.  Ah, but v18, while the elders of Israel “will listen to your voice.” V19, Pharaoh will not.  God says, v19, that Pharaoh will need a more aggressive attitude adjustment.

4:1, but Moses objects again, “Behold, they will not believe me or listen to my voice.”  So God gives Moses some wonders as a warm-up to the greater wonders yet to come.

In vv2-5, God turns Moses’ staff into a snake and then back into a staff again.  That will come in handy in Egypt.  Then, v6, God turns Moses’ hand leprous and then healthy again.  That little sign will return when Moses’ siblings, Aaron and Miriam, get a bit uppity about all that Moses gets to do.  And for a third sign, vv8-9, water from the Nile will become blood.  The first of the plagues on Egypt.

So Moses has God’s promise, “I will be with you.”  He has God’s name with him, “I AM.”  He has 3 wonders which God will do.  But it’s still not enough.  V10, Moses complains, “Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent…but I am slow of speech and tongue.”  “I don’t talk good in public.”  V11, God says, “Who has made man’s mouth? …so go, I will be your mouth.”  You can picture Moses getting more and more fidgety at this whole line of discussion.  He can’t get out of it!

Finally, desperate for any excuse at all to get out of this, Moses blurts out in exasperation, v13, “Oh my Lord, please send someone else!”  Ah…Moses pushed things too far…just as he will learn how the Israelites will always be pushing, pushing, pushing things too far.

God loses His temper.  V14, “OK, fine, your brother Aaron can do all the talking for you.  Now you, Moses, put your shoes back on, pick up that staff, and get going!  Now!”

Oh the people God chooses for His work.  Adam & Eve (hand picked, so to speak) who made a mess of Paradise.  Noah, who, first thing after the flood, got rip-roaring drunk.  Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, the Patriarchs who were hardly flawless people of faith.  Simon Peter, Judas Iscariot, the former terrorist St. Paul.  Here it’s Moses.  A motley crew!  And then there’s me.  And then there’s you.  Oh the people God chooses.

But then, it’s that choice which makes all the difference.  Not that we are so grand, but that God is so gracious as to choose us for His own, call us by name, and bring us into a fellowship with Him which transcends human understanding.  It’s all so very good…even when it doesn’t seem so good to us…as when Moses goes back to Egypt.  Next week.