And his delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.
He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide disputes by what his ears hear,
4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
5 Righteousness shall be the belt of his waist,
and faithfulness the belt of his loins.
3 Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. 3 And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” 4 When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5 Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6 And he said, “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 surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, 8 and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of 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 place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9 And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. 10 Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” 11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” 12 He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.”
13 Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers 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.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”
Moses didn’t expect anything significant to happen that day. He had run away from home, fled the scene of the crime, and settled into working for his father-in-law. Not exactly the prelude to a life-changing encounter. He didn’t come to Horeb to look for the Lord; the Lord came there to look for him. Of all the ways that the Lord could have revealed Himself to Moses, He chose a burning bush. Why? At this pivotal moment, why did the Lord appear to Moses as a bush that burned but was not consumed?
We’ve all experienced fire, but we’ve never experienced this kind of fire. Because fire needs fuel. As long as a fire is burning, it’s using fuel. When the fuel runs out, the fire goes out. But not this fire. It seems to have the fuel within itself, so the bush is not consumed. No wonder this miracle gets Moses’ attention. He turns aside, and then the Lord calls to Him by name. The Lord is teaching Moses something stunning. The Lord is holy, set apart from sinners, and self-existent. Only He can say, “I AM WHO I AM,” in the absolute sense. In the presence of that kind of burning glory, we are right to hide our faces (Exodus 3:6). The burning bush was not consumed, but how will we not be consumed if we get too close to this fire?
What a strange tension: The Lord invites Moses to turn aside, but then He tells him, “Do not come near” (Exodus 3:5). He desires a personal relationship, and yet there is danger. Again, the metaphor of fire is helpful. We don’t learn about fire by reading books. We learn by seeing it and experiencing the way it warms our bodies. Depending on how we relate to fire, it can be a life-saving blessing or a life-threatening curse. If we pray, “Come, O Lord,” are we sure that His coming is good news for us? Are we ready to meet the one who is “a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29)?
One key to understanding Exodus 3 is the mysterious relationship between the angel of the Lord (Exodus 3:2) and the Lord Himself (Exodus 3:4-7). Commentator Alec Motyer writes: “There is only one other person in the Bible who is both identical with yet distinct from the Lord; one who, without abandoning the full essence and prerogatives of deity or diminishing the divine holiness, is able to accommodate Himself to the company of sinners; and who, while affirming the wrath of God, is yet a supreme display of His outreaching mercy. The angel of the Lord cannot be understood except as a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ Himself. This is Jesus Christ before He was born as a human being.”
To think that Jesus walked the earth before He was born in Bethlehem is breathtaking. When we read Exodus 3 alongside the Gospels, we begin to see what Moses couldn’t. Around 2,000 years ago, the Lord Himself came to earth. The great I AM, the self-existent one, became flesh and dwelt among us. Because of His great love for us, He came to pursue us and restore the broken relationship. Just as He heard His people’s cry in their slavery in Egypt, He heard our cry in our slavery to sin. When we couldn’t go to Him, He came down to deliver us. In the true and greater Exodus, Jesus didn’t defeat Egypt; He defeated sin, death, and Satan. On the cross the Son experienced the fire of His Father’s wrath. He was consumed, so that when we cry out to Him—“Lord, save us!”—we receive grace and welcome instead of wrath and rejection. When Jesus is with us by the power of His Holy Spirit, we can be a burning bush that’s not consumed, and we can pray that other people will turn aside to see this strange sight!
As we move through Advent, are we rejoicing and bowing before the Lord who has come? Are we waiting and longing for Him to come again?
O Lord, and leader of the House of Israel,
who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush
and gave him the law on Sinai:
come and redeem us with an outstretched arm.