A “Bush Afire with God”

If a reporter to the Second Virginia Convention at St. John’s Church in Richmond, Virginia, on March 23, 1775, had focused his coverage on the style of clothes the attendees wore that day or on the decorations in the church building, or even if the reporter had gone so far as to quote a Baptist minister’s observation that when Patrick Henry got up to speak he had “an unearthly fire burning in his eye,” but had not covered the substance of Patrick Henry’s speech that day, the reporter would have sorely missed the significance of what happened at that convention.  The truly significant thing that happened that day is that Patrick Henry declared, “I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”  Those words spurred our nation toward a War for Independence.

I fear that we make a similar mistake when we look at Exodus 3.  We become so drawn to the report of the burning bush that is not consumed, or we become so interested in the call to Moses to remove his sandals, that we miss the heart of the passage.  The heart of the passage is found in verses 7-8, where God declares, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters.  Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”  The heart of this passage is that God sees the misery of his people, and hears their cry, and acts on their behalf.  The heart of the passage is God’s love for his suffering people, and God’s call to Moses to put God’s love into action by rescuing the Israelites from slavery. 

In the book Holiness by Grace, Bryan Chappell shares, “One of the most powerful images of my wife’s childhood came when she and a neighbor girl were playing in some woods behind their homes.  The neighbor girl wandered from the path and stepped into a nest of ground bees. As the bees began to swarm and sting, the girls began to scream for help.  Suddenly, out of nowhere—like Superman, my wife says—her dad came crashing through the woods, leaping over fallen logs, hurdling vines and bushes.  He swooped up a girl under each arm and tore through the woods at full speed to get away from the bees.  As he ran, the father’s grip bruised the children’s arms, branches scratched their thighs, and thorns grabbed at their clothes and skin.  The rescue hurt, but it was better than the bees.” 

The heart of that story is not what her dad was wearing, or what kinds of fallen logs he jumped over, but that he heard the girls’ scream and he rushed to their rescue. 

Here’s the importance of the burning bush: It caught Moses’ attention.  Moses saw it, and he was drawn to it.  As Moses stated in verse 3, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.”

And here’s the importance of God’s call to Moses to remove his sandals: Moses listened to what God said to him, and Moses heeded what God told him to do.

Moses was discovering that faith is about paying attention to God and responding appropriately to God.  As Elizabeth Barrett Browning put it: “Earth is crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God; but only he who sees takes off his shoes.  The rest sit around it and pluck blackberries.”

God saw, and God listened, and God acted. 

Moses saw, and Moses listened, and Moses heeded God.

We, too, are called to look, and to listen, and to heed what God would have us to do.

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