Exodus 3:1-6 ~ 20100606 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
6/06 Exodus 3:1-6 The Presence of God
Moses, God's deliverer to his people, descends from his high position as adopted son of the king to bring rescue, he acts on behalf of his people, but is misunderstood, rejected by his own people, and exiled into the wilderness. He sits down by a well. He rescues some women that have come to draw water, settles down with the Midianites, and marries Zipporah, the daughter of this pagan priest. Stephen in his sermon in Acts 7, tells us that Moses was forty years old when he was exiled from Egypt (v.23). Now, another forty years has passed (v.30). Moses, God's chosen instrument to deliver the Hebrew people from Egypt is in the wilderness. Meanwhile, back in Egypt, the Pharaoh had died. The people hoped that a change in leaders would mean help for their situation, but if anything, things got worse. Their hopes were crushed. So they groaned. They cried out for help. They plead for rescue. And God heard. God remembered his promises. God saw. God knew. God, who had been there all along, working behind the scenes, blessing his people, was about to step to center stage and take decisive action to honor his promises. God had been at work preserving and preparing this man for the past 80 years to be his instrument to deliver Israel from bondage, and now, in response to the prayers of his people, he is ready to unleash his promised plan. Remember, this was all under the sovereign hand of God, who was working all things according to the purpose of his will. He had told Abraham half a century earlier:
So we find Moses, a shepherd in the wilderness. It is interesting to compare Moses with Jacob. Jacob too fled for his life from his home and met his bride to be by a well. He too tended her father's flocks for twenty years, and in that time became independently wealthy, with flocks of his own greater than the flocks of his father-in-law. But we see Moses now at the end of forty years still with nothing of his own, still tending another man's flocks.
He had learned shepherding and he is keeping and leading the flocks. In fact his shepherding takes him to the back side of the desert, maybe in search of greener pasture, probably weeks away from home. It is notable that in this time his perspective has changed. This was a journey that brought him west, in the direction of his former home in Egypt, but it was now the back side of the desert to him . It is in this obscure place that unsuspecting Moses will be confronted by the living God himself.
There is no indication that Moses was seeking this encounter with God. God took the initiative and got Moses' attention. This is always the way it is. God initiates and we respond. Here we have the angel of YHWH appearing to Moses in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. Now we know the bible teaches that God is omnipresent, or not limited by space:
So when God revealed himself to Moses out of the burning bush, we are not to think that God was at that moment limited or confined to that bush or that particular place. Just as we saw in the closing verses of chapter 2, when it says God saw and God remembered, we are not to think that God was becoming aware of new information or being reminded of something that slipped his mind, but that he was about to take action on behalf of those who needed his help. God chooses to reveal himself to us in ways that we can comprehend and relate to.
We also know from the bible that God is not material, He is spirit, and invisible.
So when the text says that he appeared to him, that he looked, and that he saw, we are not to think that Moses was able to see God in the fullness of who he is. Rather, God condescended to reveal himself to Moses in a way that he could understand. God who is spirit, invisible and everywhere present, came down as it were and showed himself in a form that Moses could relate to. In this case a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. God has often used fire as a visible representation of who he is. A pot of fire is how God represented himself in his covenant with Abraham (Gen.15:17). He showed himself as a pillar of fire to lead the Israelites in the wilderness (Ex.13:21). He descended in fire to give Israel his law at Sinai (Ex.19:18). Ezekiel saw him as a fiery shape (Ezek.1:27; 8:2). Daniel saw him seated on a throne of fire (Dan.7:9). The apostle John saw him as one whose eyes were fire (Rev.1:14). The bible describes God as a consuming fire (Deut.4:24, 9:3; Is.33:14; Heb.12:29).
Fire and smoke draw attention, but they also conceal from view. Fire is both attractive and destructive. Fire will consume or purify all it comes in contact with. There is both attraction and separation. God is holy, and we are drawn to his holiness, but as sinners his holiness will consume us. This was the prophet Isaiah's cry as he was brought into the presence of God:
Isaiah understood the absolute holiness of God and the consequences of someone who is not perfectly righteous entering into his presence. He was purified with fire.
So Moses is on the back side of the desert and sees a bush that was on fire but was not being consumed. Moses, having spent forty years tending Jethro's sheep in the wilderness and trying to stay warm on cold desert nights, would probably be very familiar with how quickly a small bush like this would burn up and disintegrate into ash. What caught Moses' attention was not the fire alone, but the fact that the bush was engulfed in flames but was not being consumed. This could serve as a picture of Israel in Egypt, in the midst of the fire of suffering, and yet multiplying rather than being consumed. This would also be a striking picture for Moses of God's holy presence, and he, a sinful man, not being consumed by it. This is God's mercy toward sinners made possible by the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus in our place. However Moses interpreted it, this is what he saw and what caught his attention.
But the primary revelation came not by what Moses saw, but by what God said. God has revealed himself to us not in pictures, but in words. In John 1 and Revelation 19, Jesus is called the Word, and throughout the bible we see God as a God who communicates in words.
Our God is a God who has spoken. In fact, we have in our hands his word written so that we can have a reliable accurate trustworthy record of who he is and what he requires of us. God himself puts great priority on his word.
In fact, there are serious consequences for disregarding God's word.
God reveals himself by speaking, telling us about himself. He calls out to Moses “Moses, Moses”. The repetition of a name in that culture indicates intimacy and endearment. Jesus confronted those who called him “Lord, Lord” but did not do what he said. They claimed to be close to him but did not really have any relationship with him (Luke 6:46, Matt.7:21-22). So when Moses heard his name repeated, he would understand that this is a friend, someone who cares deeply about him. So he responds.
God's instructions are clear; “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” God gets his attention, calls out to him, and then tells him to stop. God is teaching Moses what he is like. He is not to be approached casually. He is holy. God initiates the encounter, and God lays down the rules of engagement. This is who I am and this is how I am to be approached. God commands that Moses remain at a distance, because a holy God cannot be approached by sinful man. Because God is holy, the place where he appears is holy. There was nothing particularly sacred about the geographic location or the dirt; the Jews did not consider it special, and we don't even know for sure where it is. The presence of God made the place holy. This is the first time in the bible the word 'holy' is used. God is set apart, separate from everything that falls short and totally committed to promoting his own honor. He is in a category by himself. He alone is worthy to be worshiped. So God demands that Moses treat him with the proper respect. He is to come no closer. He is to remove his sandals and take the position of a slave in relation to his master.
Just who is it that is speaking to Moses here? The narrative begins by saying that the angel of the LORD or the messenger of YHWH appeared to him. In verse 4 it says that YHWH (or Jehovah) saw, and then it says that God (Elohim) called to him out of the bush. The angel of YHWH, YHWH, and Elohim (God) are all used interchangeably in this passage. Because in this passage God makes himself known in a visible way, this points us to Jesus.
Jude points us to make the connection with Jesus
Jesus himself claimed to be the one who spoke from the burning bush
Here he makes the concrete connection with history. He claims to be the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. This is the very God that Moses' own father worshiped. This is the God who made promises to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob. This is the one true God, the omnipotent creator of all things.
Let's look as we close at Moses' response to the one true God revealing himself. God has initiated a relationship with Moses. God has established the terms of this relationship; he is to be treated as holy. He revealed his identity as the only true God who created all things and made promises to the patriarchs. When Moses understands who he is dealing with, he hides his face, because he is afraid to look at God. Over and over in scripture we are commanded to fear the Lord. We are told the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. We see a proper humility before God knowing that a sinful human cannot hope to survive an encounter with the holy God.
Our pride, our rebellion, our running after other things with the hopes that they will satisfy, our valuing of other things more than God invite his righteous wrath.
And yet seeing God for who he really is is the one thing that will truly satisfy our deepest longings. And as believers in Jesus, this is what we look forward to.