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Question: why a burning bush?

I wonder if Moses thought about that on his way back down the mountain. Why would God appear to Moses as a burning bush?

That’s part of the story of God calling Moses to lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, to lead them to “the promised land.” Moses is tending to some sheep, he sees a bush which appears to be on fire and “was not consumed,” so he goes to investigate. He hears God’s voice telling him he’s standing on holy ground. God goes on to tell Moses how he will save the people and where they’re going and there’s a little bit of a debate because Moses is reluctant, to say the least. Fearful, even. Moses also wants to know the name by which he will call God and God tells him “I am who I am … the God of your ancestors.”

There’s lots packed in this little bit of Exodus 3: the call of Moses, where and how the Hebrews will go, who God is, and more. This is, after all, a pivotal moment in the life of Moses and a key moment in the story of the Hebrew people.

All of which hinges on Moses turning aside from what he’s doing to see the burning bush. So. Why the bush?

There are a variety of interpretations, as you can imagine. The burning bush became an important biblical sign, a key symbol of reformed churches since the 16th century. Originally adopted by the Huguenots (French Presbyterians), it’s the symbol of most Presbyterian churches worldwide, including the Presbyterian Church of Canada.

Here’s a few. That the fire burns but does not consume is symbolic of the power of God’s spirit, that we may be consumed “with” it, but not “by” it. God empowers us (as it will Moses), but does not destroy us. Another is that God’s power is a mystery beyond this world. It can, literally, violate the known physical laws of creation. And a more practical one is that the bush symbolizes the Hebrew people. Though they suffer through great trials (the fire), they will not be consumed because of God’s love and support for them.

There are more, of course, from the mundane (it was a trick of the light reflecting off dew) to the obscure (one commentator suggests that Moses had consumed some hallucinogenic herbs … no, really).

I like the first one, myself, because it connects with my understanding of the Spirit in our lives and I can appreciate that as a symbol. I think it also informs the rest of this passage – God is at work with Moses and his people, and with us today.

That’s all interesting and important and, like I said, as a story of “call,” there is so much more to this story. It certainly worth more than I have room for here – and worth looking into, for sure – but it’s not my point. What I’m pondering today is a question that’s a lot simpler but one we should all spend some time with: why did God need the burning bush to get Moses’ attention in the first place?

It makes for a great story, but it raises a very real question for me: how does God get my attention? What do you think? What does God have to do to get your attention?

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