The story of Moses and the burning bush (Exodus 3) is one of the most familiar stories in the Bible. Pharaoh had ordered all Hebrew baby boys killed. Instead, Moses’ mother put him on a raft so Pharaoh’s daughter would find it, and then joined her household. Moses grew up in Pharaoh’s court with all of its privileges, but also with full understanding of his heritage. In his zeal for justice, he murdered an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew, then fled. God met him in the burning bush forty years later. Sometimes the story’s very familiarity keeps us from understanding its meaning. I want to point out three valuable lessons about God’s call and presence.
1. If we don’t understand God’s acts, it’s because we don’t know what he knows
Exodus 2:23-25 says that the people of Israel cried out because of their bondage, and God heard them. He met Moses at the burning bush to commission Moses as his agent of freedom. They had been in bondage for 400 years.
He didn’t forget them and then suddenly remember. He foretold the 400-year bondage to Abraham in Genesis 15:13-16, saying the sin of the Amorites wasn’t complete yet. God’s greatest heroes have become strong through overcoming adversity. God cares about human suffering and takes oppression personally. Are you suffering innocently? Have you prayed for a long time without relief? God knows. God cares. And he has reasons for his timing that you can’t know.
2. God deals with us as one person to another
Moses saw a bush that was on fire, but still lush and green. God didn’t randomly call the first person to wander past it. When Moses approached, God called him by name. What’s more, he introduced himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For 400 years, the Hebrews had preserved stories of these men and the God they worshiped. God made sure Moses knew that he was that same God.
God is holy in a way that humans can’t be in this life. God’s holiness commands respect, but as we come to understand him more, we see in Scripture his hunger for a relationship with us. He didn’t just want Moses to be his servant, but also his friend. God calls us, too, into his presence not as the impersonal and unapproachable boss in the corner office, but from love, seeking a personal relationship with us.
3. With or without God, our strengths and weaknesses don’t matter. With him is better
God’s commission scared Moses. He tried every excuse he could think of to get out of it. He asked, “Who am I?” In fact, for all of his unique advantages, he was nothing. His weaknesses disqualified him. But God, who hasn’t had anyone qualified working for him yet, didn’t answer Moses’ question. He simply responded, “I will be with you.”
Some people, like Moses at the burning, feel like they amount to nothing and can’t do anything for God. Others, like Moses of forty years earlier, feel they can accomplish great things on their own, and fail. Whether we look with pride on our abilities or shame at our weaknesses, we look in the wrong place. We leave God out of the picture. Either way, we can do nothing. When we turn our attention to him and trust in his presence, we can do everything he asks. God’s presence turned weak and insecure Moses into a great leader. He desires to transform everyone else, too.