I love the Old Testament. I know, it may be a little weird, with all of its rules, regulations, strange lists, and tough to pronounce names. Yes, I love Jesus, too, especially his parables about the kingdom of God. But every spring, at the conclusion of the Christmas season, I am pulled back into the stories of the Old Testament. It’s strange characters, misfits-turned-into-heroes, and every person-type misadventures resonate in my life.
The struggles of Abraham and Moses, Joseph and Jeremiah – those I can relate to in ways that I sometimes look at Jesus and feel far removed from his perfection and Sonship. But these guys? These human souls trying to interpret which way is up, these women trying to navigate a testosterone-dominated world, these people who fail and fail and fail… only to be lifted up by the grace of God? Those people I understand.
So for the next few weeks, from now until Easter, we’re going to examine some of my favorite OT stories and see how the character of these men and women reflect the life that Jesus wants for all of us.
Today, we’re going to look at Moses, specifically at the burning bush.
A quick recap: Moses has already been saved from the same genocide that saw the Pharaoh destroy a generation of Hebrew young men; he has avoided growing up in backbreaking slavery to the Egyptians because he’s rescued from that annihilation by the Pharaoh’s daughter and raised in the palace; he’s killed an Egyptian for beating a Hebrew, and gone on the run; he has become a shepherd of his father-in-law’s flocks. Enough for a lifetime, right?
Imagine that’s your life though — you’ve been saved from certain death, raised in the household of the man who signed what would’ve been your death warrant, educated and treated like royalty, only to destroy all of that security with the defense of a stranger who is more like you than you could know. And here you are, tending sheep for a stranger in a strange land.
Does Moses feel stuck? Does he wonder ‘what if’? Does he wish things would’ve worked out differently? Does he have hopes and dreams and aspirations about what could be?
I’ve never had God show up in my life like he’s about to with Moses, but I have felt stuck. I have wondered what God was planning for my life, why after doing what I thought was the right thing – in Moses’ case defending a defenseless man- my life seemed out of control or pointless.
But God always has a way of showing up, of reminding me of God’s call and my purpose, of what it means to follow God and recognize that God’s plan for me is wider and deeper than my floundering … or my own plans.
Now, it says that Moses is on Horeb – subtitle: the mountain of God – but there is nothing to make us think that Moses is a) very religious or b) expecting God to show up. Think about some of the stories we’ve seen lately in the Christmas narrative. Zechariah is a priest in the Temple of God and an angel shows up — he’s afraid; the shepherds are tending flock (like Moses) and the angel shows up and they are “sore afraid.”
Moses? Moses sees that the bush is on fire and he goes closer to see why the bush is not burned up. With apologies to Ridley Scott, this is not deemed a Biblical hallucination. This is not the reaction of a coward.
When Moses approaches the bush, God calls out to him – by name – and Moses responds, pretty simply, “Here I am.”
So – here’s my big question for Moses later – was this the first time God called him? Or was it just the first time Moses was ready to listen? I don’t think God calls us once and then leaves us alone; I do think sometimes we have a hard time hearing.
But God is up to something here.
God points out that Moses is on holy ground because God is there. God introduces himself as the God of Moses’ father (an unnamed man from the tribe of Levi), of Abraham, Isaac, and of Jacob.
Now, Moses hides his face – because he was afraid to look at God.
God doesn’t seem to acknowledge that fear but announces that this outcast shepherd will be God’s instrument to lead his people out of Egypt.
Now, from this point out, we’re about to dive into some dialogue that is more discussion than lecture, but stop and consider for a minute what just happened.
A bush was on fire in the middle of the desert.
The bush was not burnt up.
Moses saw this and approached.
A voice called to him – which he would not have been able to identify because there’s no record that he heard it before, and God is about to introduce himself – and he responds.
Moses does not … fall down, cry out, run away, show fear.
Moses says, “Here I am.”
Friends, when in doubt, when recognizing that God wants your attention, I’d propose that the simplest response is, “Here I am.”
God is calling Moses and Moses doesn’t even know God yet, but he’s there – and he’s willing to listen. Moses’ fear doesn’t come until he knows it’s God! Moses is filled with holy fear – reverence even – but he still doesn’t run.
Instead, he stays to argue.
Now, I read last year that kids who are loved at home go to school to learn, and kids who desire more attention at home go to school to be loved. I don’t know if that’s true one hundred percent of the time or not.
But I do know that when you teach a kid that asking questions is okay, that the ‘Socratic method’ of learning is acceptable, you are not going to get them to stop asking questions – which can sound a lot like arguing.
Like – “But who am I to go to Pharaoh?” Or “What if the Israelites won’t listen to me?”
Do you ever wonder if God gets tired of our questions, or our doubts, or our arguments for why “not”? Whenever I do, I think of Moses – and God’s response.
Now, God has gone to the trouble of appearing in a bush that is burning but not burnt, and telling Moses what he has in mind, and Moses has the audacity to ask questions. Thankfully, though, God has answers.
God tells Moses that he will be with Moses – that Moses is not alone or in this by himself.
God tells Moses that God is “I AM,” a pretty declarative statement of being, purpose, and longevity. God assures Moses that all of the things that he’s worried about, that God has answers for them.
God calls Moses in a big way which seems impossible to Moses but which God has already figured out.
Months later, at the destruction of the Egyptian army, after Moses has led the people across the dry ground with the Red Sea piled up on either side of him, he sings with the people:
“The Lord is my strength and my defense;
he has become my salvation.
He is my God, and I will praise him,
my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
The Lord is a warrior;
the Lord is his name.
Pharaoh’s chariots and his army
he has hurled into the sea.
The best of Pharaoh’s officers
are drowned in the Red Sea.
The deep waters have covered them;
they sank to the depths like a stone.
Your right hand, Lord,
was majestic in power.
Your right hand, Lord,
shattered the enemy.”
God called Moses to something and showed him the way. God made it clear with his love, his strength, and his promise that his words to Moses at the burning bush were true. And now Moses could see it. Sure, Moses had more adventures ahead, and he didn’t always understand everything. But he had a deep, abiding faith that makes him one of the pillars of the Old Testament, that shows us what it means to be called and to answer.
God called people again and again through the Bible. Some of them answered, like Mary, and some of them ran, like Jonah. But God called them either way, and set them up for success with his love and providence.
I wonder sometimes what Moses would have said to them, whether he would ask questions or simply remind them of who God was and what faith looked like.
Faith in God’s call got Moses through some dark days leading up to the Red Sea, and afterward. Faith that God’s promises were true, faith that God sees the big picture even when we don’t.
I don’t know what God has called you to specifically but I know we’re called by God to follow. We look to these OT heroes; we look to Jesus. But each of us have a different call and sometimes it changes over time. So, ask yourself, when did God show up in your life? When has God called you? Do you know? Are you listening?
We’re called to be students or teachers, fathers or brothers or mothers or sisters, workers or those who support those who work. We may be one thing now and something different in a year. But God is calling us, using our experiences and our knowledge to make a difference – and providing the grace to fill the gaps in what we don’t already have.
God is calling you, in a whisper or in a thunderbolt. Ask questions, respond boldly, but no matter what, when God calls, say, “Here I am.”