Discovering Moses: Burning Bush
Read Session 1, Session 2, Session 3, Session 4, Session 5, Session 6, Session 7, Session 8, Session 9
Homework Assignment Session 10:
During our last session, we discovered how Moses first met his future wife at the well, and then shortly after that he met his future father-in-law. Jethro, his father-in-law, saw in Moses something special and different even though his daughters initially identified him as an Egyptian. We saw that God’s training ground for Moses would be the wastelands and not the magnificent palaces of Egypt. The wilderness truly represented his failure. Our discussion this session was centered around God’s calling and training Moses in reverence.
"Now when forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in a flame of fire in a bush. When Moses saw it, he was amazed at the sight, and as he drew near to look, there came the voice of the Lord: 'I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob.' And Moses trembled and did not dare to look. Then the Lord said to him, 'Take off the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. (Acts 7:30-33)
We see Stephen’s speech includes the timeline of how long Moses was in the land of Midian. Moses found refuge with the priest of Midian at the age of 40, married his daughter Zipporah, and shepherded his flock of sheep for 40 years. What seemed like an ordinary day unlike any other in his life, Moses tenderly led the flock to good pasture – on the back side of the mountain of God. Then a fire caught his attention—not an unusual sight in the desert, where weeds and bushes often catch fire. But this blaze was unusual; the bush was not consumed but continued burning. In the midst of the mundane, God is orchestrating a life changing encounter with Moses. The sight caught his attention and he drew near to investigate. This would be the day Moses would learn that God had been working behind the scenes all along. The time to deliver his people was at hand. This would be Moses’ defining moment. God has come to Moses to recruit him for the job of a deliverer. Was Moses ready for the job? Let’s study the narrative of Exodus to understand the original text for the context of the book of Acts and by doing so, grow in the knowledge of God.
1. Moses Being Prepared by Being a Shepherd
Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west(back) side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. (Exodus 3:1)
Stephen’s speech in Acts teaches us that Moses was in the wilderness for 40 years. So much time and not even his own flock to prove with it. He’s still tending his father-in-law’s flock. This stands in stark contrast to Jacob’s life, who after serving his father-in-law 14 years for his beloved wife Rachel, asked of Laban for the wages of his labor. Upon his return to his homeland, Jacob turned out to be a wealthy man. Why is it that Moses doesn’t even have his own livestock? Could it be that Moses was so heartbroken from his failures in Egypt that he was content simply being a shepherd for his father-in-law? On the flip side, maybe it was because he had walked away from all of the wealth Egypt had to offer, releasing his heart’s motivation from acquiring things and wealth. The writer of Hebrews puts it this way:
By faith Moses, when he was born, was hidden for three months by his parents, because they saw that the child was beautiful, and they were not afraid of the king's edict. By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Messiah greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. (Hebrews 11:23-26)
What do we pursue in our lives? Men, what catches our fancy? Motivates our hearts? Is it earning that little bit more that keeps us from quality time with our spouse? Our kids? Are we hoping to find our security in what we do rather than in who we are in the Lord? Are we like Moses, choosing to refuse to indulge in the fleeting pleasures of this world and suffer instead for Messiah’s sake? Moses’ choice to abandon the wealth and the pleasures in front of him for the sake of God’s calling is a stark contrast to the “name it- claim it” theology of today!
The job of a shepherd is the job of a servant leader; to protect, to lead, to care. If any of the servant’s aspects are neglected the flock suffers loss. Shepherds can’t take time off from their jobs. It is labor intensive.
God loves the idea of us being His sheep because it perfectly reflects our stubborn hearts as humans. This is why the Shepherd/Sheep theme rings throughout the entire Bible:
- King David was a shepherd:
He chose David also his servant, and took him from the sheepfolds (Psa 78:70)
- Prophet Amos was a shepherd:
The words of Amos, who was among the herdmen of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash king of Israel, two years before the earthquake. (Amo 1:1)
- And finally, our Lord Yeshua:
I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (John 10:11)
Why is the act of shepherding sheep the setting for such a majestic and divine revelation for Moses? Why didn’t God appear to Moses after his courageous act of smiting the aggressive Egyptian or after he reproached the two Hebrews who were fighting? Wouldn’t that setting has been the better moment for an introduction into the halls of prophecy and leadership?
Qualifications According to God
This period of shepherding would have been a time for Moses to think deeply about God and to develop patience and perseverance as a shepherd of a flock of stubborn sheep. He was in a different kind of training compares to his training in Egypt. It can best be demonstrated in the following joke:
A young man was drafted into the army. During his interview, the sergeant asked him the following question, "Have you had six years of grade school education?" "Yes, Sir", snapped the recruit. "I also graduated with honors from high school. Then I graduated from Yale and I then did my graduate work at Columbia University, and I received my doctorate in political science at Harvard." The sergeant turned toward to the stenographer, smiled, and said, "Put a check in the space marked literate."
The Midrash tells us that during Moses's tenure as a shepherd one of his sheep ran away. He chased the sheep, brought it back within his flock, and tenderly carried it all the way home. God looked upon him and said, "A man who cares for his sheep, will care for his people." That act catapulted Moses to the position we know. Acts that are bold and courageous may personify leadership, character, and commitment so that people may begin to believe that it is only these kinds of gallant and daring acts that will catapult them into greatness and glory. But, the Torah tells us quite the opposite. The Torah links Moses's selection of divine leadership with the simple task of shepherding. The qualifications that God wants are not necessarily what humans find to be invaluable. We often look for honors, accolades, achievements, and accomplishments that can oftentimes seem almost superhuman. God, on the other hand, cherishes simple shepherding. He loves when people have care and concern for others. We may come to Him with impressive résumés of courage and valor, but He doesn’t need that. He wants consistency, love, compassion, and, perhaps most of all, humble simplicity. Moses had those qualities, too. But it was the quality of humility and compassion, not the forceful qualities of attacking an Egyptian taskmaster, or fending off evil shepherds or chastising combative Hebrews, which cast Moses into the light of leadership. Being bold and courageous, yet lacking compassion, humility, and care for the little things that would otherwise compel you to find that lost sheep, might overqualify us for being useful in God’s kingdom purposes.
Moses was diligently leading a flock, but something unusual happened to divert his attention, responsibilities and his life. God performs miracles that overrule the natural laws, not to entertain or flex muscle, but to get our attention and forever change our lives.
2. God’s Unexpected Appearance
And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. 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." (Exodus 3:2-3)
The Angel of the LORD is often acting or speaking in a manner that suggests He is more than simply an angel or a messenger. He represents the very presence of God, as we can see in the passage above, but also in Genesis 22:11-18 where the Angel is identified to Abraham as God Himself.
The Hebrew word for "Fire" is 1st mentioned in (H784 אשׁ 'êsh) Genesis 15:17:
When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces. (Genesis 15:17)
Fire, in general, also represents God as:
For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God. (Deuteronomy 4:24)
The “consuming fire” is also mentioned in Deuteronomy 9:3, Isaiah 33:14 and Hebrews 12:29. In this verse God identified Himself with the bush and not with the fire. God is not consuming the bush. He overrules the natural laws to demonstrate His powers over nature. The bush in Hebrew - H5572 סנה “seneh” refers to a thorny bush and not a lush bush that we might think of, and it says it is set on fire yet it is not consumed. The bush is the promise of God’s restoring sinful humanity (Genesis 22:18). Because the bush represents God’s promise of Yeshua, God came in the flesh and died for our sins, we are not consumed but rather restored to Him.
In its natural environment it wouldn’t take long for that bush to burn up and yet we see Moses encounters a supernatural event. It is also possible that Horeb, the mountain of God, is also named Sinai because of the thorny bush that Moses saw – seneh. Only an all-powerful God can set fire to a bush without consuming it. We must ask ourselves, “What was God communicating to Moses through such an amazing display of power?”
After living a life of exile for forty years, Moses undoubtedly lost all hope of his circumstances changing. He probably settled in his heart that he was a failure. At this point, all aspirations of being a deliverer probably dwindled to nothing. It is only reasonable to agree that it would take a miraculous and dramatic event to transform Moses from failure to faithful leader.
In this miracle of the burning bush, Moses saw the Creator, the God of the universe, who has the power and authority over all of nature, and who can overrule the laws of nature by His omniscient power. Moses will learn from this miracle that what God was able to do to the bush, He can also do to his own life—set him ablaze, not ever burning out in order to fulfill God’s purposes.
Perhaps, like Moses, you too have tried to be what God called you to be, but failed. I know I’ve done just that. Moses had prematurely attempted to redeem his people, Israel, by his own understanding, by his esteemed position of power and within the government of Egypt. The liberating testimony of the Scriptures is that we don’t have to be confined by our past failures, but rather, God can make us to be great servants for Him. Although He might need to take us through our own wilderness experience, bringing us to our own moment of awakening, in order to see and respond to God’s calling on our hearts and lives. Chances are it will not be in the form of a burning bush but in some other carefully crafted a situation that will awaken each of our hearts to His calling. God uses all kinds of inexplicable events in order to get our attention. God’s unexpected appearance forced Moses to reorient and rethink his world and the direction he was going. We will see how Moses will transition from living in fear to living by faith. Moses was about to have his life changing the experience. The place that had been a daily reminder to him of his failures was about to become a place that would be forever remembered as the Lord’s Mountain.
Here Moses showed faith, limited uninformed faith, faith that could only ask why, but faith that turned him aside. What Moses saw was a great, incomprehensible vision - “the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed.” Moses turned aside to see and then God partners with him. This simple act is true for our lives, as well. We must partner with God if we want to see His purposes fulfilled in our lives. Yeshua said to his disciples:
I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5)
Moses turned to see and it was there that God responded.
3. Moses Response to God’s Presence
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." (Exodus 3:4)
As we can see in this passage, God called out to Moses when Moses turned aside to see—not when he was tending his sheep, not when he first noticed the sight, but when he actually turned to see. God called when Moses showed faith. God doesn’t call us to incidental faith because it isn’t true faith. We are called to live out an intentional faith. In practice, we oftentimes try to fit God into our schedules, into our agendas, into our comfort zone, but God requires us to be flexible, to be alert, and to be ready to turn aside when He calls.
If we desire to be guided by the Lord, then we must be ready to turn aside to Him. We must rely on His power and not on our own strength. Do we slow down to see the supernatural every day in our lives? Do we even have the eyes to see them all around us? Or are we simply too busy, too distracted to notice? Do we try to fit God into our busy lives rather than let God direct our lives for Him? It’s not too late. Like Moses, we can awaken from our slumber!
God's call to Moses can be paralleled to God's earlier call on Abraham. As God had confirmed that Abraham’s call was a guarantee for Israel, we see that what He had promised through Abraham He is now declaring through Moses (Exodus 19:3). Consequently, what God declares through Moses parallels His deliverance through Messiah. What He delivers through Messiah He declares through you. God’s call is very personal, and therefore it is personally satisfying. God called Moses to a life set apart, holy unto the Lord.
The English word “Here” is the Hebrew word H2009 הנּה hinnêh meaning behold or to see. It is 1st mentioned in Genesis 1:29:
And God said, "Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit. You shall have them for food.
God used this word first in conjunction with giving instruction to all of humanity. It represents the full attention that His audience must give to Him. Moses uses the same word to answer God’s calling. It is translated as “here I am” – “Hineni”. Moses gave God his full attention.
Here are others who responded to God with their full attention:
- Abraham (Genesis 22:11)
- Moses (Exodus 3:4)
- Prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 6:8)
God is calling, will we believe and respond “Hineni - Here I am”?
4. Moses’ Reverence in God’s Presence
Then he said, "Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground." (Exodus 3:5)
God instructed Moses not to come any closer until he removed his sandals from his feet. It was not about the place but rather the presence of a Holy God. In order to acknowledge that this was a holy place, Moses was asked by God to act in a certain way. That which had been common and mundane suddenly was transformed into sacred. The area that Moses had been well acquainted with as he pastured his sheep had now become holy ground. God was teaching Moses that His presence changes everything. The calling on Moses would be empowered by God’s power and strength from this Holy place. Moses had to set himself apart at this very place so that when God spoke Moses would recognize it as holy.
The word “Holy” in Hebrew is H6944 קֹדֶשׁ qôdesh (ko-desh) meaning a sacred place or thing and it is derived from a primitive root word H6942 קָדַשׁ qâdash (kaw-dash) meaning to be set apart or consecrated. It is 1st mentioned in Genesis 2:3 in conjunction with the Sabbath (Hebrew-Shabbat) day:
So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation.
When God spoke with Moses, all of a sudden what was common becomes a place that is sanctified (set apart) by the presence of the Lord. In Joshua 5:13-15 we see a similar account where Joshua received the same instructions from the LORD. It is not the place or our actions that make a particular place holy (set apart) for God but rather it is God’s presence and His Glory that sets apart a place as Holy.
God furthermore instructs Moses to remove his sandals from his feet. The sandals that were always on his feet and probably full of dust and dirt required removal. Removing them would be symbolic of humbling his soul before God. A barefooted Moses would not be able to go on working or walking about but would instead have to stop and listen for God’s commands.
The word “Remove” in Hebrew is- H5394 נָשַׁל nâshal (naw-shal) meaning to clear away that which is ordinarily there, as in removing an encumbrance. In other words, his work sandals were not appropriate for this circumstance and Moses was required to treat this moment as special.
Think of our walk with the Lord. What does God ask us to remove? We must each “set apart” any and all areas of life that would keep us from serving Him on His Holy ground. For Moses, his role of shepherding the sheep had been his life, his normality, what he could depend upon forty years but now his workplace, his common ground, is suddenly being transformed by God. Wherever we meet with God is sanctified ground because faith in a Holy God changes any place to a Holy place. Moses was aware of the awesomeness of this moment because he concealed his face in reverence before the Lord.
When God calls us as His servants we are set apart by faith and what he has set apart is Holy unto Him. This is true with our spiritual life when all areas of our lives are set apart to Him. Are our homes set apart to God? Is our place of work Holy ground? Do we believe that where God is, is considered holy ground? Coming to the realization in the promise that He will never leave us, or forsake us should alter and transform our view in all areas of our lives.
5. Moses True Identity Found in the God of Israel
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. (Exodus 3:6)
Although Moses is in exile from his household in Egypt (Ex 2:15) and estranged from the people of his birth, nevertheless, God reveals Himself as the “God of your father”! God sees Moses for who Moses is and not for what Moses may have thought of himself. The Israelites didn’t think much of Moses as we saw in Exodus 2. They didn’t consider him as their deliverer. And yet we see that God didn’t give up on the Israelites or on Moses. As believers, we can be encouraged as we learn to think of ourselves in light of how God sees us. Our identity is as God’s children and there is no greater label we can have:
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. (1 John 3:1)
Let us go back to how we define ourselves? Do our jobs, our positions in society, our salaries or lack thereof define us? Or do we instead choose to see ourselves as children of the Almighty God?
God identifies with Moses and His people as the “God of your father”. In Mark 12:27, Yeshua used this verse to prove to the Sadducees that the God of Israel is the God of the living and not the God of the dead. The Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection from the dead and yet this is the crux of our Messianic faith. We believe in the final judgment and in the restoration of humanity at the end of this age:
And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. (Daniel 12:2)
We are here to proclaim the Good News to others: That God is the God of the living and that He cares for all of His creation as has gone to every length to bring about our restoration. By placing our faith in Yeshua we are joined with Him for eternity.
In the middle of the wilderness, God calls to Moses and demonstrates through His power to overrule the natural order that He is the Creator, and as such, has His best interest for Moses and His people. Moses may have given up on himself and his people, but Praise be to God that He never gave up on us! It doesn’t matter how badly we’ve messed up in life. What matters is that we repent from our ways and allow God to grow us up and mature us into being His children - reflecting His heart. There is always hope in His word. God has revealed Himself to His creation; His self-revelation is intended to be known by people. He gave us revelations through words. He is to be rationally considered and understood. But though He can be understood He can’t be controlled by that understanding, or reproduced for our usage; He is understood but never fully contained by our comprehension. We understand Him as a child understands His loving parent, fully but not maturely, adequately but not completely, and yet complete for where we are relative to Him. We comprehend God as much as it is needed for us to fulfill His will. We have to trust what we cannot understand in order to succeed at what would be beyond our undertaking.
In the following sessions, we will discover how Moses was raised up to deliver God’s people and be a spokesman for the God of Israel.
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