The Bush that Would Not Burn

Moses spent forty years as a shepherd in Midian (see Acts 7:23 and Exodus 7:7). During the many days and nights in the field, while tending sheep, he no doubt meditated on the things of God. I am sure he must have prayed for his people who were suffering in Egypt. I have often found it interesting that throughout the scriptures, God calls those that are busy. Gideon was threshing grain, Samuel was serving in the tabernacle, and David was caring for sheep.  Elisha was plowing in the field, and four of the 12 disciples were managing their fishing business.  Matthew was collecting taxes.  God calls those who are already busy.

Exodus 3:1 confirms or reiterates the events seen at the close of chapter 2. “Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian. And he led the flock to the back of the desert, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God” Exodus 3:1.

Verse two and four give us a description of a flame or fire from the midst of a bush, yet the bush did not burn. But what is even more significant is the description at the beginning of verse two. “And the angel of the LORD appeared to him” (Exodus 3:2a). Jumping down to verse four, it states, “When the LORD saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush.”

There is a lot within these two verses deserving our attention. Let’s begin by unpacking the first part of verse 2. “The angel of the LORD.” The word used for angel in Hebrew means messenger.  So a messenger of God came down and was in the midst of the bush that did not burn.  Who is the messenger? For the answer, we must turn to the New Testament. But first, in Genesis 1:1, we are introduced to the family of God by the fact that the word used to describe God, Elohim, is used as a plural. In Exodus 3:2, the word used to describe God is Yahweh, which member of the family of God was in the midst of the bush. In Hebrews 1:1-3, Colossians 1:15-17, and John 1:1-5, all give us the understanding that the pre-incarnate Christ was the active agent in creation.  He spoke and the world came into existence. John begins by stating that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” he came down from heaven and formed “the man” out of the dust of the ground.  Later that same day He formed “the woman” from the rib of “the man.” So then, the Creator of this world and principal spokesperson for the God Head to this world is the Pre-Incarnate Christ.  

Therefore the messenger sent to Moses to speak to him from the burning bush that was not consumed is none other but the pre-incarnate Christ. 

“So he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, but the bush was not consumed. Then Moses said, ‘I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush does not burn.’ So when the LORD saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am!’” (Exodus 3:2-4).

The significance of the bush being on fire but not consumed should not be lost upon our hearts. The burning bush was an appropriate visible representation of the message God was about to give Moses. In contrast to the more noble and lofty trees, the thorny bush may be compared to the people of Israel in their humiliation, who were despised, enslaved and oppressed by the superpower of that time, Egypt. The fire burning but not consuming represented the refining affliction of slavery and oppression. Do not get me wrong. I am not advocating slavery or oppression.  But the bush was not consumed because God does not give His people over to death.  He would not allow Egypt or any other earthly power the authority to destroy the Hebrew people.  Thus in the burning bush, the bush represented the children of Israel. The fire was the fire of affliction that they had encountered under slavery.  The pre-incarnate Christ had personally come down from heaven to give Moses a message. That message was the time has come to rescue Israel from their affliction because God would not allow his people to be destroyed.

The pre-incarnate Christ called out, “Moses, Moses!” Moses responded and said, “Here I am.” 

I wonder, does God ever call us to lead others out of difficult situations.  It had been forty years since Moses had tried to do this very thing on his own.  Had he learned any lessons while tending sheep?  Perhaps another question to ask ourselves is this.  Have we learned any lessons as we have walked the path of life? When God calls us, are we willing to respond as Moses did by saying, “Here I am.”  When people around us need help, need help from the addictions and oppression of life that enslave them, do we respond as Moses did and say, “Here am I.”

Let’s see what happens as this conversation between the pre-incarnate Christ and Moses continues.  Has Moses learned anything while tending sheep for 40 years?

Moses’s – Re-Education

I appreciate how the Bible presents both the successes and failures of the people portrayed throughout its pages.  The Bible’s heroes often failed just like we do. Moses was born of a humble existence to parents of a people enslaved by Egypt, and as a baby, was condemned to die. The order had been given for all male babies born to Hebrew families be thrown into the Nile river. The mother of Moses built an Ark of bulrushes and lovingly placed him among the rushes along the Nile River.

His older sister kept watch as the Pharoah’s daughter came to bathe in the river. The princess saw the Ark and her heart went out to the young boy. Eventually, when Moses was old enough, his mother brought him to the palace to be raised by the Pharoah’s daughter to become the next Pharoah of Egypt. 

As we have discovered in Scripture, the Ark is a symbol of Salvation. His mother told Moses about the symbol the Ark represented and that he would save the Hebrew people from the oppression of slavery and bring the people back to the land promised to Abraham.

But Moses had failed when he tried to rescue the Hebrews doing it his way instead of relying on God’s leading.  As a result, Moses killed a man, Pharoah threatened to have Moses killed. Moses fled from the face of Pharoah and dwelt in the land of Midian, and he sat down by a well.

The Midianites were descendants of Abraham by Keturah (see Genesis 25:1, 2). They seemed to have remained worshipers of the true God for some time.  Reuel (later known as Jethro, (see Exodus 3:1) was a priest to the true God in Midian (see in Exodus 2:16), and that he had seven daughters.

“And they (the daughters of Reuel) came and drew water, and they filled the troughs to water their father’s flock. Then the shepherds came and drove them away; But Moses stood up and helped them water their flock” (Exodus 2:16b, 17).

Despite what had happened in Egypt, the text tells us several things about Moses’s character.  His flight from Egypt had not blunted his instinct for intervening again in injustice and righting wrongs.  He was quick to act against oppression, even when he was alone and isolated.  And interestingly enough, the odds were not stacked in his favor. He commanded enough strength of personality and physicality. He was strong enough to chase off a group of shepherds that had thwarted the actions of Reuel’s daughters.  When he finished defending them, Moses then accomplished the work the seven sisters had been sent to do.

The passage implies that these shepherds refused to wait their turn and took advantage of their numbers and strength over the seven sisters.  Moses acts as a kind of saviour to the girls, accomplishing what they couldn’t do with their power. But the passage also sets the scene for the re-education of Moses. 

But Moses had a lot to learn.  He relied upon his strength and will of character instead of relying upon God.  Yes, I am sure God helped with the situation. Still, the reality is, Moses once again took it upon himself to defend those who were oppressed and suffering from injustice. Moses showed in this act that he was not a coward. He was generous and helpful to people he hardly knew.  Moses acted out of principle without thought of personal gain.  Traits that would do him well 40 years later when he returned to Egypt to lead God’s chosen people, the descendants of Abraham, back to the promised land. 

Moses was content to live with the man (Reuel), and he gave Zipporah his daughter to Moses. And she bore him a son. He called his name Gershom, for he said, “I have been a stranger in a foreign land” (Exodus 2:21, 22).

Over time, the king of Egypt died.  Then the children of Israel groaned because of the bondage, and they cried out; their cry came up to God because of their bondage.  God heard their groaning, and God remembers His covenant with Jacob. And God looked upon the children of Israel, and God acknowledged them (Exodus 2:23-25). 

From the time he fled Egypt to verse 25 of Exodus 2, Forty years passed.  Moses has been re-educated while tending sheep.  It is believed that he wrote the books of Job and Genesis while tending his father-in-law’s sheep. The proud arrogance of his youth was gone.  In its place, a humble man existed.  A man that was still moved by the injustice he saw around him.  Moses was now a man that was in tune with God and reliant upon God. He was no longer self-reliant.  He was ready to be used by God for great work. The question is, does Moses still see his great potential?

On Your Own Terms

“Now it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown.”  This does not end the sentence but it certainly lets us know that some time had elapsed from when his mother brought him to Pharoah’s palace and the events that we are about to see.

In the New Testament, Stephen the deacon, while on trial before the Sanhedrin, gives us additional details regarding Moses and his instruction in the court of Pharoah. “And Moses was learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians and was mighty in words and deeds” (Acts 7:22).  The fact that the book of Acts uses the word Learned rather than trained or instructed implied the relationship Moses had with the household of Pharaoh. He had been brought into the Household of Pharoah was considered next in line to become Pharoah.  Therefore, some of his education he received from the Egyptian priests and some from army commanders. Such was the training ordinarily given a royal prince. Since Moses was mighty in words and deeds, it would be amiss to assume that he led important military expeditions to foreign countries. His outward appearance, his dress, his speech, and his behavior may have been entirely Egyptian. Still, he remained a Hebrew in Character, religion, and loyalty.  Paul in the book of Hebrews tells us: “By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharoah’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjo9y the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward” (Hebrews 11:24-26).

Acts 7:23 gives us additional information regarding Moses.  At the time of the events in Exodus 2:11-15, Moses is forty years old.  The text in Acts says: “Now when he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren, the children of Israel.”

As we will see in Exodus 7:7, Moses is now eighty years old when God sends him back to Egypt. And in Deuteronomy 34:7, Moses is 120 years old when he finally falls asleep for the last time.

“Now it came to pass in those days, when Moses was grown, that he went out to his brethren and looked at their burdens. And he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his brethren(Exodus 2:11).  In the above passage, I have underlined five keywords we need to understand.

The words looked and saw are the same word but used in two different ways.  The first word, “looked,” means to gain an understanding, while the second word, “saw,” means to “observe” or “see.”

It was well established in Exodus chapter 1 that Israel was now enslaved or oppressed by the Egyptians.  Moses being a brethren of the Hebrews, came to gain an understanding of the burden the Hebrews had to bear from the hand of the Egyptians.  While gaining this understanding, he observed or saw an Egyptian.  The original Hebrew uses the word “ish” before the word “Egyptian.” We understand this was an Egyptian man, one of the taskmasters placed over the Hebrews, beating the slave.  The final word is “beaten,” which is the Hebrew word “nakah,” which means slaying or killing. 

Ok, so this was a lot of boring information to get us to where we need to be.  Moses left the palace and toured the country, attempting to understand or gain knowledge as to the condition of his brethren, the Hebrews.  While on tour, he saw a Hebrew being killed by an Egyptian man, one of the taskmasters set over the Hebrew slaves. 

Based upon the first part of chapter 2, Moses has an understanding through the ark story that he is supposed to bring salvation from slavery to the Hebrews.  This understanding is based upon the Hebrew understanding of the word Ark. For Noah and his family, the Ark brought deliverance from the flood.  Thus based upon the previous story involving an Ark, Moses is supposed to deliver his people. He is to bring salvation to them.  Deliverance and salvation are being used in the sense of being saved from.  In Noah’s day, the flood, in Moses time, slavery and Egypt. 

This understanding and seeing another Hebrew being slain caused Moses and his military training to jump into action.  “So he looked this way and that way, and when he saw on one, he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand” (Exodus 2:12). 

Two wrongs do not make it right.  As the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis chapter 4 indicates, murder is a type of sin against God.  Because Moses saw this Egyptian killing, a Hebrew did not make it suitable for Moses to do the same. 

God may have chosen Moses to deliver the Hebrews from slavery and Egypt. God certainly did not intend for it to be carried out in this way.  God’s way is not murder for murder.  Moses could have been an influence within the court of Pharoah to effect change as Joseph had done.  But Moses took matters into his own hands, which even caused the other Hebrews to now dear him.  “Then he said, (the Hebrew who was beaten) ‘Who made you a prince and judge over us? Do you intend to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?’” (Exodus 2:14).

“So Moses feared and said, ‘Surely this thing is known!” When Pharaoh heard of this matter, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from the face of Pharoah and dwelt in the land of Midian and he sat down by a well” (Exodus 2:14b-15). 

The deliverer of the Hebrew people was gone. God’s carefully laid plains were laid to waste by choice of one man’s actions. Or are they?

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