We’re using a different O.T. reading this morning at the request of our guest preacher at our 11:00 service this morning. As you know, he is a candidate for the job of priest at one of our neighboring congregations. And he asked if we could switch from the Isaiah Reading in our Lectionary to this reading. Since it’s the story of God calling up Moses out of the burning bush to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt, it makes sense for a priest considering a call. And it’s also one of my favorite O.T. texts, because it has a bunch of great O.T. themes.
Before I get into the text, I have to share with you that a number of years ago I attended a series of lectures on the Old Testament by a Jewish O.T. scholar. It was a great series. And one of the things he said was that he was so sorry that Christians take the O.T. so seriously that they miss all of the humor and fun. He said that the Jews have a totally different approach to reading the O.T., and a different understanding of God. He said that the Jews see God as kind of whimsical, sometimes a little addled, and sometimes very unpredictable. God does strange things for no reason. God gets confused and changes his mind. God has never figured out what to do with this creation he made, and is always messing things up. And it becomes man’s job to try to figure out what God is up to, and try to make it work. He used a number of examples, and this text was one of them. “Here’s God, at it again, playing around with fire, and even hiding in it. And he’s got his “angel of the Lord” doing his dirty work by tempting Moses to come and look.
And he went on, picking the text apart. He saw the text totally differently than I had. In all fairness, I’m not doing his lecture justice. He had us rolling in our seats as he retold this story, and others. I just don’t have the idiom to bring that alive for you.
Well, how about the story as we serious Christians understand it? We know that Moses was found in the bulrushes by Pharaoh’s daughter. He was raised in Pharaoh’s palace. But as an adult, he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew. He killed the Egyptian, and he had to flee Egypt. He went to his father-in-law, Jethro, in Midian, where he agreed to tend sheep for Jethro.
One day he led the flock over to the Holy Mountain, Horeb. Now, this immediately tells us that this story is from the lore of the Northern Kingdom, because the Holy Mountain is Horeb. In the lore of the Southern Kingdom, the Holy Mountain is Sinai. And they get all confused in the text, so don’t let that bother you. It’s just that two stories get put together, and both names get used.
Well, he’s standing around with Jethro’s sheep, and the Angel of the Lord appears to him in a burning bush that’s not being consumed by the fire. Well, Moses doesn’t seem at all concerned that something’s in the burning bush. He just wants to know why it isn’t burning up. So he goes over to explore. God sees that he goes over to the bush, which the Jews find really funny, and God calls to Moses from within the bush, by name.
And now we get one of the most important themes of the whole Old Testament. Moses replies, “Here I am.” The meaning of the name of God is the verb to be, “I am.” Any form of the “verb to be” in the O.T. is a reference to God. You can count on it. And when God calls anyone up, or God addresses anyone, for anything, the responding phrase must be a form of the “verb to be.” The “verb to be” is a “key” that opens conversation with God. Without it, conversation can not proceed.
In Isaiah, God asks, “Who can I send?” Isaiah responds, “Here am I. Send me.” “Here am I” contains a form of the “verb to be.” And you will find this all through the Bible. Watch for it.
Well, once the “key” is used by Moses, conversation with God can continue. First he tells Moses to take off his sandals because he’s on holy ground. Now look at what comes next – “I am the God of your father”, and so forth. God responds with “the key”, “I am”, and a “mind link” between God and Moses is established. Now it goes beyond conversation.
And Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God. Hebrew tradition was that if you looked upon God, you would die.
So God goes on to tell Moses what he’s about. He wants to rescue the Hebrews who are slaves in Egypt, and bring them to what becomes “The Promised Land, which, of course, is not their land. That’s a situation with which we are still dealing. But it’s God’s plan, and God wants Moses to do it. And God says, “So now, go. ‘I am’ sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.
Hey, God. Moses has a price on his head. He fled Egypt because Pharaoh was going to kill him. And Moses begins his argument with God as to why he could not possibly do this. It goes well beyond our reading this morning, and it’s well worth your reading.
Well, what does all of this say to us? I think that from time to time we each have a sense that God is calling us. It’s probably nothing big. But I think sometimes God has something to “say” to us. When you have that sense, try using “the key”, “Here am I”, or “Here I am” and see what happens. We call it “The Faith Response.” We respond out of pure faith. I find it sometimes works. I don’t hear voices coming out of burning bushes, but sometimes I get a sense, or an understanding, of what I’m supposed to do.
Secondly, remember that God is never practical. God never does the easy thing. Moses was the last person in the world to go to Egypt and Pharaoh and free the Israelites. Sometimes we’re the last person who God should be sending. But God works best in messes. And sometimes God asks us to be part of that holy mess.
Listen for the voice of God coming from the most unlikely place, like a burning bush. Make the Faith Response. Answer “Here I am” and see what happens.