This week we continue the story of Moses with the famous story of Moses and the burning bush. This story has been told in many ways over the years including the 1956 film The Ten Commandments produced, directed, and narrated by
Cecil B. DeMille and staring Charlton Heston as Moses.
For younger generations the 1998, Dreamworks’ animated musical film Prince of Egypt also tells the story of Moses.
Last week we heard the story of baby Moses. This week he is all grown up. If you want a recap of last week’s story you might enjoy watching this clip which is the opening of
The Prince of Egypt by DreamWorks.
In this week’s reading Moses is all grown up and married, “keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian” (Exodus 3:1). A bit has happened from where we left off last week. Last week we ended with the giving of young Moses to Pharaoh’s daughter who raised him as her son. In Exodus 2:22 we are told Moses married Zipporah and they had a son, which Moses named Gershom, saying, “I have become a foreigner in a foreign land.”
If you would like to have a look at some of the things that happened between last weeks reading and this you may want to watch these clips, also from the Dreamworks version The Prince of Egypt. (Not strictly biblical but a good representation).
Moses seems to be having an identity crisis. A crisis that he really was living with throughout his life. For his first few years Moses was raised by his Hebrew slave mother until he was weaned and raised by his adopted Egyptian princess mother. You can imagine Moses asking himself:
“Who am I? Am I Hebrew or Egyptian? Am I a slave or royalty? Where do I belong?”
These can be common questions of people who have been adopted. It is not just people who are adopted though who can have an identity crisis. I wonder if there have been any times when you have questioned who you are and found conflict with who you are and who you, or someone you know thought you would be? Maybe you thought you would be married or would have kids but it didn’t turn out quite as you expected? Or maybe you thought your career would go a particular direction only to find the road veered off in another direction? Maybe an illness or disability made you question who am I now? Maybe when the kids left home or you retired from work you had to ask yourself who you are if you no longer are taking care of kids or doing a particular job? There are lots of things that our identity can be tied up with and when things change can cause us to question our identity.
The text says that on the day of the burning bush incident, Moses led the flock “beyond the wilderness,” which suggests that he was very much in uncharted territory. He comes to the mountain of God, although Moses doesn’t know that yet, and there Moses sees a bush a blaze, yet it was not consumed. We are told Moses said “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.”
The symbol of fire representing God reoccurs in scripture. We see it later as God leads the people through the wilderness. We see it at Pentecost with the coming of the Spirit as tongues of fire and in the Christ candle which we light to represent the presence of Christ with us. What is extra important about this representation is that the fire does not cause the bush to burn up, that is without destroying anything. This is important because all too often people seem to define God and identify God by who and what God is against. We in turn then also define ourselves as being against those things, those kinds of people. It can help unify us as we become the people who; have rejected that view of the Bible and the people who hold it, who reject those people who have corrupted the church. We may even look forward to the time that God’s refining fire will destroy that element. But if we take the sign of the burning bush seriously and we take Jesus seriously, the one who wouldn’t even reject and define himself against those who were nailed him to the cross then we may begin to see that we have got it all wrong.
Has your understanding of God changed over the years?
My understand of God and faith has changed over the years. My understanding of God and God’s will has changed. No longer is a black and white understanding satisfying, rather, multiple shades of grey or better still a rainbow spectrum of who God is has emerged, a God who is a lot bigger and more inclusive and compassionate.
God sees Moses turning aside, towards the bush which prompts God to call to him out of the fire, “Moses. Moses!” “Here I am,” says Moses.
“Come no closer!” says God. “Remove the sandals from your feet for the place on which you are standing is holy ground. 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 now afraid to look.
God continues “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry… 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. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”
Moses, the one who has struggled with his identity throughout his life, asks God “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” Although Moses does not see it, his dual identity, royal Egyptian and Hebrew slave seems to make him the perfect choice. What’s more, we see in Moses a passion for justice. Granted, his previous approach, which resulted in him killing an Egyptian who had been beating a fellow Hebrew, was not the best way to go about it, still we see him act when he sees injustice.
God says to Moses “I will be with you” 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?”
God’s cryptic response is, “I am who I am” (ehyeh asher ehyeh, Exodus 3:14) which could be translated “I will be what I will be” or “I can be whatever I can be” or “I am the one who causes things to pass”. This name indicates that God is known through God’s actions. We see in this story that God sees, knows, and acts for others and that this is part of the very identity of God. We also see that God is one who remains faithful to the covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
As you look back can you see how God has been faithful to you and present even in times of suffering?
Rev Tammy Hollands