Face to Face: Meeting God in the Burning Bush 

We are nearing the end of our summer worship series, Face to Face: Divine Encounters. Today’s encounter is Moses’ first of

many “face to face” meetings with God. At the Burning Bush. 


Moses already had an exciting life up to this point. It is about 400 years since the Jacob’s family (like Moses’

great-great-great-great … grandfather), the Israelites, took refuge in Egypt, a total of over 70 people. There had been many

pharaohs since the one of Joseph’s day, who invited them to stay in the land of Goshen (Gen 47:6). What Egyptian leaders

knew was that the extended family had grown so large that they became a threat to Egypt, now conservatively hundreds of

thousands of people. They started by enslaving the Israelites, and as their numbers continued to grow, the pharaoh in power,

just before Moses was born, commanded that all male babies be thrown into the Nile River. 


Moses’ mother obeyed the command, but before putting her child in the river, she put him in a basket. He floated to where

Pharaoh’s daughter was bathing in the river. She adopted this child. He was raised in Pharaoh’s court, but he knew that he was

an Israelite. One day once he was grown-up, he watched an Egyptian beating one of his Israelite people, and Moses murdered

that man for this offence. Once he realized that he was found out, he escaped to Midian, across the desert on the Arabian

Peninsula. There he married and became a sheep herder for his father-in-law. So, he went from walking the halls of Pharaoh’s

palaces to being a shepherd, all of which turned out to be very helpful for what God would have in store for him. 


Moses begins to find out about that with a Divine Encounter that involves a Burning Bush.  Our primary text for today is

Exodus 3:1-15.  


3 Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the

flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of

the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on

fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does

not burn up.” 

 4 When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” 

 And Moses said, “Here I am.” 

 5 “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy

ground.” 6 Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of

Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God. 

 7 The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their

slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. 8 So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the

Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the

home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 9 And now the cry of the Israelites has reached

me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my

people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” 

          12 And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When

           you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.” 

 13 Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me

to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” 

 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” 

           15 God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘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, the name you shall call me  from generation to generation. 


Moses and the Burning Bush might be one of the top 10 stories in the Bible. Many people have watched this scene in movies

such as The Ten Commandments with Charlton Heston. All through the time I was growing up, it would be on TV every spring

during Passover. As a young person, I would always question, “Why is this story from the Old Testament being shown during

Easter?” Ummm … Yeah …. No, it was on to coincide with Passover. Ah … I had so much to learn. Then, more recently, and by

more recently, I mean 1998, there was a very popular animated movie called The Prince of Egypt. It too has a burning bush scene

that is very different from the one in The Ten Commandments. Who has seen either of these movies? Has it influenced how you

pictured this scene in the Bible? In other words, when you heard this passage read, and you imagined the Burning Bush how did

it compare with what you saw in these movies? If you saw them at all. 


It is amazing how seeing someone else’s vision of events can affect our own. I have not watched either of these movies. I had not

even watched these particular scenes until I was researching this sermon. Up to this point, when I read this passage, I thought of

the kind of bushes and shrubs that I associated with the desert. My naïve idea of deserts was more like the Sahara, so I pictured

a bush in an empty landscape devoid of vegetation. What the sheep Moses was tending were supposed to eat. I don’t know. When

I moved to the desert of West Texas, I saw small little bushes. As you go west from the Dallas/Ft Worth area, the trees and shrubs

progressively get smaller and smaller. In West Texas, there is one of the largest Live Oak Tree groves in the world. They are able

to survive and even thrive because their roots grow down to the aquifer over 300 feet deep, but the tree above the surface is

often no more than three feet tall. So, when I pictured the Burning Bush, I thought of something quite small, containable, and

something that would be quite controllable if it had been a typical fire.  Containing or controlling God? That’s a whole other



Then recently, I watched a video from the Bible Project website that we’ve been using as we read through the Bible this year. In

this video, the image of the burning bush is one of a huge fire seven or eight feet in diameter projecting heat and power like the

sun! The heat causes a holy wind that swirls around Moses, so that he has to lean into it to remain on his now bare feet to keep

from being blown over. My eyes were opened, and my perception of the entire scene changed. It went from something rather

tame to something wildly exciting and more than a little frightening. 


It is from this that Moses meets his God. It is from this that he hears God say: 


“I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their

slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. 8 So I have come down to rescue them from the

hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing

with milk and honey.” (Ex 3:7-8) 


Through so much of this worship series, we have looked at these Divine Encounters to see how the person was effected by

their interaction with God. What did they learn? What did they miss, and what can we learn and apply to our lives? This week

we going to look at what we learn about God and God’s character through this encounter.  


Moses didn’t know God at this point. The Israelites had been in Egypt for 400 years. They didn’t have the Bible. They didn’t have

the Law. They didn’t have teachers to pass down the traditions. They didn’t know their history. They didn’t know their God. They

had become slaves under the influence of the Egyptians and their religion. They were Hebrews.  


I always thought that the term Hebrews and Israelites were interchangeable, synonyms. Much of the Older Testament is written

in a language we know as Hebrew. In the New Testament there is book called Hebrews whose original audience were people with

Jewish or Israelite background. However, “Israelite” and “Hebrew” are not synonyms. 


The theologian Walter Brueggemann describes this term of the ancient world as, “any group of marginal people who have no

social standing, own no land, and who endlessly disrupt ordered society … They are “low-class folks” who are feared, excluded,

and despised.” (“Exodus,” New Interpreters Bible Commentary, vs. 1:15-22) But God had a particular interest in these

Hebrews, the ones for whom big promises were made to their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  


The time has come for these promises to begin to begin to be fulfilled. God has to reintroduce himself first to Moses and then to

the Israelites. He cannot merely tell a man and his wife to “Go to a land that I will show you” like he did with Abraham and Sara

(cf. Gen 12:1). In their bondage, the Israelites did not have the freedom to go anywhere, so they have to learn who their God is

and what their God can do. 


Right away we learn two things about God. God is mighty and fearsome, but God also listens and cares. This is not some kind of

ethereal caring that wispy and casual. It is passionate like a parent who is coming to save their child.  


Around here we have a lot of wildlife, to put it mildly. It is common to see deer wandering through town, let alone out in the fields

and inthe mountains. You can see  chipmunks, ground squirrels, elk, cougars, coyotes, tigers … tiger swallow butterflies, and

bears. At camp especially, I know that people are discouraged from feeding and interacting with the wild animals for a variety

of reasons, but the bottom line is that it is dangerous for the animal and the people. But you know, there’s always somebody. A

year or two ago at Yellowstone National Park these people had gotten out of their car to photograph a couple of bear cubs on a

bridge. You can guess what happened. They got too close, and momma bear came hard charging after the people to protect the

cubs. The people certainly got their workout that day. There was no catastrophe. No animals or humans were injured, but it could

have been so much worse. That is the kind of passion that God has for his people, his children.  


We learn that God has a love and a passion unrivaled for his children. We will come to see as the narrative continues that nothing

that stands in the way of God’s resolve to rescue his enslaved and oppressed people. God will stop at nothing to protect his

children as only an impassioned parent can. 


We learn that God keeps God’s promises. It has taken 400 years, but God is following through. In addition, if you look at

Genesis 15:13, God tells Abraham that it will be 400 years before his descendants will be brought back to the land.  


We learn that the defining characteristic of God is that God sets the captives free. It is a reoccurring theme throughout the Bible.

When Jesus stood up in his home synagogue in Nazareth, he read and claimed the passage from Isaiah. 


18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me,  because he has anointed me  to proclaim good news to the poor. 

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, 

to set the oppressed free,  19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19) 


There is the physical setting free like the Israelites experienced, and then there is setting us spiritually free. In both cases, it is

God reaching for us, rescuing us to have relationship with us. 


The memory of the Exodus is the foundational memory for Israel. In the Mosaic Law, it acts as a refrain, “Remember you were

once slaves in Egypt.” The festival of Passover was specifically designed to help Israel remember the salvation that they received

from God. 


The Israelites endured so many catastrophes over the centuries. Wars, oppression, infighting, exile, attempts at genocide and

obliteration. How could they as a people survive these things? By remembering how God was faithful and rescued them in the

past. That is one of the reasons that the Southern Kingdom, Judah, was able to survive as a people through the Babylonian Exile

when the Northern Kingdom was not able to survive the Assyrian Exile. Judah was able to continue to tell its stories. The people

of the Northern Kingdom were not able to do this. The stories remind the people who God is.  


That is why it is so important for us to know our stories. Last week I asked you to make a list of the things that God has done for

you. How has your life changed or have you been transformed because of your connection to God? Not here last week? Still

working on your list? That’s fine. You get another opportunity today. It’s so important to remember. Remembering can get us

through when we feel like we have fallen into a pit, caught in quicksand, and unable to free ourselves. We remember what it was

like when we realized how much God loves us. We remember that God freed us to live our best life. God doesn’t want you beholden

to gods of money, celebrity, drugs, entertainment, competition, sex, self-centeredness, and the list goes on and on. God wants to

free us from slavery to all of that. Through Christ Jesus, you are now sons and daughters of God, just like the Israelites in slavery

to Pharaoh. The same loving protective passion that God had for them, God has for YOU! But we need to remember.

Then, our life will be FULL of Divine Encounter.  


Glory to God! Amen! 

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