DIG: Why do you think God used a burning bush to get Moses’ attention? What do you make of the fact that Moses was rejected before he saw the burning bush? How is the nation of Israel like the burning bush?
REFLECT: What does it mean to you that Moses was rejected in Egypt before his burning bush experience in Midian? As Moses drew near to the bush, God met him. In the same way, God told Jeremiah the prophet: You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart (Jeremiah 29:13). Do you want to find Him? Do you want a relationship with Him? Do you seek Him today?
Moses’ forty years in Midian had come to an end. All of his schooling in Egypt was not enough to prepare him for his great work of delivering Israel from slavery. God prepared him for this task with forty years in the desert of Midian.37 Throughout the south Sinai Peninsula area there are little bushes that the Bedouin sheep and goats feed on. And because of a lack of rain and extreme heat, these bushes sometimes unexpectedly ignite with fire and burn up. So burning bushes there are not all that unusual. But burning bushes that talk to you, give you orders and don’t burn up are unusual, even for the Sinai.
Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian. His real name was Reuel (2:18). Jethro was a title like Pharaoh, not an actual name. This would have been especially humbling for Moses because the Egyptians detested herding flocks as an occupation (Genesis 46:34). And he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, which means desolation, or the mountain of God (3:1). Horeb and Sinai are two names for the same mountain, just as Mount Hermon is also called Mount Sirion (Deuteronomy 3:9; Psalm 29:6). Horeb is the most elevated area of the Sinai Peninsula, and has the most fertile valleys in which even fruit trees grow. Water is plentiful there and consequently it is the destination of all the Bedouins when the lower countries are dried up. Therefore, Jethro’s home was separated from Horeb by a desert.38
Even his vocation served to shape his character. To man, who judges primarily on the things of the flesh, Moses appeared to be a tragic figure at this stage in his life. He had lost his position of power and authority, his fame and riches. And at that time he was carrying out the most menial type of work in a barren land! But to ADONAI, all earthly authority, power, riches and pride are mere chaff that the wind drives away. For Moses was a poor shepherd who became the deliverer of Israel. In fact, that lowly work was preparation for the task of shepherding the flock of the LORD.39
On one occasion at Mount Sinai, perhaps at night so it would be easy to see, Moses suddenly found himself confronted by a burning acacia bush. As mentioned earlier, the extremely dry conditions in the desert sometimes cause bushes to burst in to flames by spontaneous combustion. But there was something different this time; Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up (3:2). But what Moses thought was fire, was actually the Shechinah glory, or the visible manifestation of God’s presence. Deuteronomy 33:16 refers to the Shechinah as: Him who dwelt in the burning bush. The Hebrew word dwelt, is shahchan, and this is where we get the concept of the Shechinah glory. Whenever the Shechinah glory is present it appears as a light, a fire, a cloud, or some combination thereof. Moses had seen many burning bushes, however this was something he had never seen before.
When Moses saw the burning bush, he was curious and decided to take a closer look. He thought to himself: I will go over and see this strange sight – why the bush does not burn up (3:3). Here was a wonder that all the magicians of Pharaoh could not produce. Here was something that confused all the wisdom of the Egyptians. This was the manifestation of God Himself, and from the midst of the bush, ADONAI began to speak to Moses. 40
There, within the burning bush, the Angel of ADONAI appeared to him. Whenever the phrase: the Angel of ADONAI is seen in the Old Covenant, it is always the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ. It is never a common, ordinary, run of the mill angel. Therefore, when ADONAI saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush and called out: Moses! Moses! And Moses answered: Here I am (3:4). The Bible is very consistent that whenever God calls a man’s name twice, as He does here, it is for the purpose of calling him to a specific ministry or commission. He does this to Abraham in Genesis 22:11, to Jacob in Genesis 46:2, to Samuel in First Samuel 3:10, and the apostle Paul in Acts 9:4.
After talking to ADONAI, he decided to take a closer look. But from the midst of the bush God set the tone immediately when He commanded: Do not come any closer. Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground (3:5). This is a sign of reverence common to the ancient Near East, a practice that continues to this day. Joshua was commanded to do the same in Joshua 5:15. There the commander of the LORD's army, again the Second Person of the Trinity or Jesus Christ, appeared to Joshua just before the fall of Jericho. As here in Exodus 3, through a Divine encounter, a leader is commissioned to do battle with those forces that oppose God’s people.41
The picture of the burning bush is full of symbolism. First, the bush was burning and fire is consistently used as a symbol of divine judgment in the Scriptures (Genesis 3:24; First Kings 18:38; Daniel 3:1-27; Matthew 25:41; Revelation 20:14). The writer to the Hebrews tells us that our God is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29). When we get to the building of the Tabernacle in Exodus 35:1 to 39:43, we learn that bronze, like the bronze altar, contained the fire. Therefore, bronze is also associated with judgment (Numbers 21:9; Daniel 10:6; Revelation 1:14 and 2:18).
Secondly, the word bush, or seneh, means a thorny bush. When God introduces the concept of sin in Genesis 3, He uses thorns as its symbol. ADONAI said: Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field (Genesis 3:17b-18). And when Christ was being crucified on the cross for our sin, the Roman soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and set it upon His head (Matthew 27:29a). The Holy Spirit is consistent in this usage and the thorny bush in the desert was a symbol of sin. Therefore, the picture we have before us is sin being judged by God’s consuming fire. The rabbis teach that God chose the lowliest of the trees as the place of revelation to signify that He was with the Israelites in their sufferings and humiliation.
Thirdly, a very strange thing happened. The burning bush did not burn up, which pictures His mercy. This is exactly what God was asking Moses to do at his burning bush experience. The LORD was sending Moses to Pharaoh and the ten plagues will be in judgment of Egypt’s sin. However, even in His judgments, God will show mercy to the Egyptians and not consume them.
One of the greatest proofs of the accuracy of Scripture is the existence of the nation of Israel. Years ago an emperor of Germany asked his chaplain the question, “What is the greatest proof that the Bible is the Word of God? Is that proof somewhere in my kingdom?” Without hesitation the chaplain answered and said, “The Jew sir. He is the proof.” Isra'el is the burning bush that ought to cause the unbeliever to turn aside and take a look today. It is amazing that she has existed down through the centuries. From the days of Moses to the present hour, she has been in existence. Other nations have come and gone, and she has attended the funeral of all of them. But she is still around. Israel has been in the fire of persecution from the bondage in Egypt, through the centuries, to the present day. But like the burning bush, Isra'el has not been consumed.42
The Teaching Ministry of Jay Mack 2006-2017