Exodus 3: 1-15 (NRSV)
1 Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. 3 Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” 4 When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5 Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6 He said further, “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 at God.
7 Then the Lord said, “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, 8 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, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9 The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 10 So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” 11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” 12 He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.”
13 But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I amhas sent me to you.’” 15 God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’:
This is my name forever,
and this my title for all generations.
Elizabeth Browning wrote a sublime poem which had four lines on this passage:
. . . . . . . Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.
However, while those lines may encourage us to find God anywhere, Exodus 3 is in fact about Moses finding God somewhere. A bush is on fire. The sticks of Sinai, T.F. Torrance reported after several days camping, blaze up and die away — but this bush still burns. The flames draw Moses close to watch. It is always worth watching what God is up to. But God will not allow Moses to be a spectator. He calls him, and Moses must reply.
Led, or driven, into wilderness,
wildscape where songs and dreams and men expire,
Moses saw the light, the bush on fire,
found the God of all his nomad fathers
calling him to go to Egypt, face his fears
and Pharaoh, free his people from the grind
of slavery, the helpless, hopeless mind
that takes disgrace as heaven’s final word.
Take off your sandals, Moses, keep your distance,
this is holy ground. So Moses hid his face,
but not his failings, tried to dodge his place
in history, argued long with God, and lost.
How does God get your attention? Answers on a postcard which you should keep and pull out regularly to read.
First God says, ‘Take off your sandals, Moses.’ Moses is not a young man, but God wants him to feel the ground, feel the reality of what is now before him. He will have to walk back to Egypt, walk around Egypt, walk out of Egypt. God wants to ground him in reality.
Then God explains the task before him. Moses asks ‘who am I?’ and God says ‘I will be with you’. Moses asks ‘who are you?’ and God says ‘I am who I am’, or ‘I will be who I will be’. There is a Latin tag, solvitur ambulando, which means, ‘You’ll get the answer as you go’, and Moses is going to have to settle for that.
How does God secure your obedience? Answers in a journal which you are writing in your head and in your heart as your journey develops.
God of Moses, God of the people you led out of Egypt, show me what you want to bring to my attention today. God and Father of Jesus, and God of many believers before me, help me to know who you are, and do what you say, now and whenever, for your great Name’s sake, Amen.