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
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
a 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
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!