“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. And the Angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush. 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.’ Then He said, ‘Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.’ Moreover He said, ‘I am the God of your father—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look upon God” (Exodus 3:1-6). [Reading the entire chapter is recommended.]
Has anyone ever snapped his fingers in front of your eyes to get your attention back on track? The Lord is far more creative than that when He seeks to get our attention. Have you ever noticed (in retrospect, of course) that often the best blessings come when things are not going according to your plans?
Moses was on a grand detour with his life when the Lord got his attention with an extraordinary fire in the desert. It turns out that God was in the fire, and whenever we read of that in Scripture, it means a serious encounter with God’s holiness. In its light, all human notions shrivel. His holiness reveals our weakness and frailty.
When Moses approached the bush, God did not say, “Come over here; I want to give you a hug.” He said, “Stop!” Moses was afraid for good reason. Nothing in his life measured up to God’s holiness. When told to remove his sandals, he was already on holy ground. It was amazing that he was still alive—rather like the bush that also was not consumed.
In his conversation with the Lord, Moses did not improve his status. There may be more whining per verse here than in any other chapter in the Bible; and still Moses was not consumed.
Many years later a group of religious leaders argued with a young rabbi. They were upset that he contradicted them. After all, they were children of Abraham. They asked, “Are you greater than Abraham?” He replied, “Before Abraham was, I AM.”
From the burning bush the Lord identified Himself as God, the One with no beginning and no end—the great I AM. Then in the temple, the Lord incarnate identified Himself as the same I AM. Through His redeeming work we can draw near without fear to God.
The fiery holiness of God on Sinai threatened death to any who would draw near, but on Calvary Jesus shielded us from that fire with His own body; and thereby we were reconciled to God. Thanks to Jesus, we can draw near without fear.
Aren’t you glad that His name is I AM WHO I AM, and not I AM WHO YOU WANT ME TO BE? Many want a god of their own design. They think God should make it all turn out the way they want, so long as they attend church regularly. When things turn out differently, perhaps catastrophically otherwise, they conclude that God is holding out on them.
In the dialogue that followed between Moses and God, Moses was unhappy because God kept telling him things he didn’t want to hear and calling him to do things he didn’t want to do; but over the following years he grew in faith and wisdom and served the Lord faithfully. God’s way turned out far better.
When our plans blow up and we’re upset with God about it, it’s an opportunity for us to take off our shoes and come before Him. Listen carefully to Him, for I AM knows what He is doing; and whatever it is, He’s always got us covered with His grace.
Delwyn Maas is pastor of Gift of God Lutheran Church in Mapleton, North Dakota.