Scripture Lesson: Exodus 3:1-15
The very famous story of Moses and the burning bush. There are three things that I take away from this story about God.
- God is untamed.
- God is in control.
- God is merciful.
God calls to Moses from a bush burning, but not being consumed by the fire. An oddity that Moses checks out. Moses is quickly warned to take off his sandals for where he is standing is holy ground. Holy. Early in the story the fierceness of God shines forth. One of the common symbols of God's presence in the Bible is fire. Samson's parents, the covenant of Abraham (the torch going between the cut in half animals), Elijah, the pillar of fire, and even the Holy Spirit at Pentecost were all instances of God appearing as fire. Why fire?
Fire is untamed. Fire burns clean, yet it destroys. Fire is beautiful, but it can kill. It attracts us, but it will cause us to flee a building in panic. Fire purifies, but it also leaves a mess. What better metaphor for God!?! Fire shows us something about God: Namely, that God is untamed, wild, and fierce. We dare not approach him lightly. Annie Dillard once quipped, "It's silly that all of these women come to church with their fancy, velvet hats...In light of the presence of the One to whom we are coming, we should be wearing crash helmets!" Right on Annie!
God is not domesticated. He is wild. And because of that, each of us must build our relationship with God. There is an ancient Jewish story of a young man who asked his teacher and Rabbi, "Why do your daily prayers always include you saying, 'God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob?' Why not just say, 'the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob?'" To which the Rabbi replied, "Because my son, Abraham's God and Isaac's God may not have been Jacob's God." Each generation, each person must find and relate to God for themselves. God is not something passed down like a trophy or a family heirloom. The one, true God of the Universe is someone who we all must make our own...we MUST have a personal relationship with God...and that boils down to stopping and turning aside to see and hear the burning bushes in our lives.
Yet, this wild God is in control. Though Moses wants to manipulate God through the use of the divine name (Egyptian theology believed that using the intimate divine name of a god would allow one to control that god...see The Book of the Dead as a classic example), God gently and somewhat humorously responds differently than Moses expects. Ehyeh asher ehyeh. "I am what I am." God is. There is no reason for God's existence, God is. There is no beginning or end, God is. With concisive voice, God shrugs off Moses' attempt at control, and asserts truth about Himself. From this name, derives the name of God by which the Hebrews, Israelites, and Jews refer to God in the most sacred sense: YHWH. This sacred name is translated as LORD because the Jewish readers believed the name of God to be so sacred that they wouldn't say it out of respect. Instead, they said, adonai, which means lord or master. So when you see an all caps LORD, you will know that this is the sacred name of God given to Moses on mount Horeb/Sinai.
God is in control, not Pharoah. Too often we forget this. Pharoah, the divine morning star of Egypt, was being challenged by the Hebrew God, the LORD of the Universe. It is a struggle of the divines for the very souls and bodies of the Hebrew people...for us. Pharoah will lose. All who would be pharoah lose. God is in control.
Lastly God is merciful. The LORD uses Moses, in some persons' eyes a traitor, a murderer, a runaway. God gives Moses a chance of redemption...a job that Moses was made to do. God is and forever will be a God of second chances.
God is merciful to all of humanity. Our heritage looks back the Magna Carta as a "Bill of Rights." It proclaimed human rights on which our own Declaration of Independence and Constituion were framed. Yet, they were 2500 years late. God's speech at the burning bush is a declaration that humanity was not meant to be ruled over in tyrrany, oppression, and slavery. Created in the image of God, we all have human rights. This burning bush becomes the foundational piece of Israel's Magna Carta. The very concept would live on in Torah, Israel's laws given by God: Slaves and foreigners have rights. Slaves would be freed every 7 years. Lands would be returned to original family owners and debts forgiven on the years of Jubilee. God said, "I have come down...to deliver...to bring them up..." Throughout history God has come down to us to deliver us from evil, oppression, and often ourselves; moreover, God brings us up to a new place of living. A blessed place of living...and one day, to a promised land beyond death.
This is the promise we can take away from the burning bush: God is involved in our lives because the LORD loves us. Even when we don't see it, God is at work redeeming the world to Himself, restoring us all corporately and individually. Let us give our lives in praise to this wild, merciful LORD of the Universe.