Exodus 3 (NRSV)
Moses at the Burning Bush
God, hear me saying . . .
. . . heartbeat . . .
I am dry and brittle and ready to snap.
God, I hear you saying . . .
. . . heartbeat . . .
How else to be kindling for a burning bush?
Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. 3Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.”
4When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!”
God’s first words to Moses called him by name. This shows that even though Moses was now an obscure, forgotten shepherd on the backside of the desert, God knew who he was, and Moses was important to God.
The double call (Moses, Moses!) implied importance and urgency, as when God called Abraham, Abraham! (Genesis 22:11), Samuel, Samuel! (1 Samuel 3:10), Simon, Simon (Luke 22:31), Martha, Martha (Luke 10:41), and Saul, Saul (Acts 9:4).
And he said, “Here I am.”
5Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”
When was the last time you took off your shoes (or fell on your knees, or shouted for joy) because God was so near to you?
HERE is a song for Moses and for us: “We Are Standing on Holy Ground.”
6He said further, “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.
7Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, 8and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 10So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”
11But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”
12He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.”
The Divine Name Revealed
13But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?”
When God revealed Himself to man in the days of the patriarchs it was often associated with a newly revealed name or title for God.
- Abraham, in the encounter with Melchizedek, called on God Most High (Genesis 14:22)
- Abraham later encountered Almighty God (Genesis 17:1)
- Abraham came to know the Lord as Everlasting God (Genesis 21:33), and The-Lord-Will-Provide (Genesis 22:14)
- Hagar encountered You-Are-the-God-Who-Sees (Genesis 16:13)
- Jacob met El Elohe Israel (Genesis 33:20), and El Bethel (Genesis 35:7)
So if Moses were to come to the elders of Israel as a representative of God, it would be logical for them to wonder, “By what name did He reveal Himself to you?”
14God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’“
Mark 14:61-62 (Amplified Bible)
Again the high priest asked Him, Are You the Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One), the Son of the Blessed?
And Jesus said, I AM.
Martin Buber, renowned philosopher and theologian, a person of influence in the revival of the Hassidic movement in the middle of the 20th century, was convinced that the only way for people to know each other and to know God is through intimate relationships. In his seminal work, I and Thou, he writes:
The word of revelation is: I am there as whoever I am there. That which reveals is that which reveals. That which has being is there, nothing more. The eternal source of strength flows, the eternal touch is waiting, the eternal voice sounds, nothing more.
When Moses stood at the burning presence of the Hebrew God, YHWH, on that mountain, he experienced ever so briefly that very same word of revelation. I Am was there in front of him – and beside him and behind him and surrounding him. And if Moses got the message clearly he began to understand in a new way that this One in whose image he and everybody else has been created was explaining to him what Buber reminds us, “That which has being is there, nothing more.”
–James F. McIntire
15God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’: This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.
DreamWork’s 1998 animated movie, The Prince of Egypt, tells the story of Moses and the Exodus. HERE in this clip, Moses encounters the burning bush.
16Go and assemble the elders of Israel, and say to them, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, has appeared to me, saying: I have given heed to you and to what has been done to you in Egypt. 17I declare that I will bring you up out of the misery of Egypt, to the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, a land flowing with milk and honey.’
“a land flowing with milk and honey”
Exactly what kind of prosperity does the biblical expression refer to? It probably does not refer to the most common forms of agriculture, such as the cultivation of grains. Rather, the “milk” most likely refers to animal husbandry and the use of animal byproducts for food and clothing. Sheep were important for their wool and meat, but goats may have been more important. They provide twice as much milk as sheep, and their hair and hides could be used for tents, clothing, carpets, and even satchels for holding liquids. The “honey” refers to horticulture—the cultivation of fruits and vegetables. “Honey” in Israel is more commonly the syrup from grapes and dates than the substance produced by bees.
–John H. Walton, “Bible Backgrounds”
18″They will listen to your voice; and you and the elders of Israel shall go to the king of Egypt and say to him, ‘The Lord, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us; let us now go a three days’ journey into the wilderness, so that we may sacrifice to the Lord our God.’ 19I know, however, that the king of Egypt will not let you go unless compelled by a mighty hand. 20So I will stretch out my hand and strike Egypt with all my wonders that I will perform in it; after that he will let you go.
21″I will bring this people into such favor with the Egyptians that, when you go, you will not go empty-handed; 22each woman shall ask her neighbor and any woman living in the neighbor’s house for jewelry of silver and of gold, and clothing, and you shall put them on your sons and on your daughters; and so you shall plunder the Egyptians.”
The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.