Saturday, April 6, 2019

The Bush That Would Not Burn

The valley of er-Raha, two miles long and one-third to two-thirds of a mile wide, lay between the three summits traditionally identified with the “mountain of God” (so named in retrospect because God had appeared there). There the Lord appeared in “the bush.” There the Lord appeared “in the form of a flame of fire.” What took place was a “strange sight” (Exodus 3:3) to Moses. Therefore, to explain what happened here as a temporary mirage of reflected sunlight on some red leaves or a campfire of some Bedouin or even the phenomenon of Saint Elmo’s fire is to substitute our experience for Moses’ forty years in that area and his estimate that it was indeed unusual. The burning bush was not consumed; that was the miracle. Notice how 'miracle' is used here, as it so typically is in Scripture, to accredit God’s message (or messenger). Miracles are not circus side shows intended to entertain; rather they accredit the Word of God given to his special messengers.

The significance of God’s work is not necessarily that the bush pictures the despised and oppressed people of God, for it was “from within the bush” (vv. 2, 4) itself that the Lord called to Moses. Instead, God chose the small and the despised burning bush as His medium of revelation, and He waited to see how sensitive Moses was toward the insignificant and small things of life before He invested him with larger tasks. Indeed, the God of glory could well have set the whole of Sinai aglow with light and fire, had He wished, but He wanted to use this bush for a lesson to make an impression on Moses. The fire, then, symbolized God’s powerful, consuming, and preserving presence (cf. Ex. 19:18; 24:17; Judg. 13:20; 2 Chron. 7:1–3; Ezek. 1:4–28; Dan. 7:9–10; Heb. 12:29). When Moses went over to inspect this unusual sight, God issued his call by repeating Moses’ name to express the urgency of the message (cf. 1 Sam. 3:10 for this same type of urgent summons).

Because God was present, what had been ordinary became “holy ground” and consequently “set apart” for a distinct use. The place where sheep and goats had traveled just a short time ago was transformed into “holy ground” by God’s presence. This is the first occurrence of the noun 'holy' in Scripture.

Exodus chapter 3 tells us much about God. God’s name, YHWH or “the LORD,” reveals His eternal being, absolute independence, and freedom from all needs or limitations (Isa. 41:4; 43:10–13; 44:6–8; 48:12–13; John 8:58; Rev. 1:8). His being, will, and works are entirely from Himself. He borrows nothing from us and does not need our help (Acts 17:24–25). Yet we can be loved by Him, for He is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God of electing, covenant love. God desires to be known and worshiped for His lordship and love (Ps. 136:1–3).

In the events that unfold after the revelation in the burning bush, we see that in God’s covenant compassion (Eph. 2:4), He comes to His elect in order to deliver them from the oppressive domain of darkness (then, Egypt, now, from depravity and sin, etc.) and transfer them into the kingdom of blessing, that is, the kingdom of His dear Son (Col. 1:13). He does not save people to live as they please, but to serve and worship Him in holiness (Eph. 1:4, 6, 12, 14; Col. 3:12).