Moses Encounters a Burning Bush

R. sanguineusRead the story of Moses and the Burning Bush in Exodus Chapters 3 and 4.

From the time he was weaned through approximately age 40, Moses lived in royal splendor as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter.  In that time he received an excellent education that included content on history, culture, Egyptian religion, leadership, and military tactics and arms.  Despite these benefits, Moses knew that he was not an Egyptian.  He was an Israelite and his people were slaves in Egypt.

As an adult, Moses went to where some Israelites were working at slave labor.  Seeing an Egyptian overseer beating an Israelite, Moses killed the Egyptian and hid the body.  The next day Moses went to the same location and saw two Israelites fighting.  When he tried to break up the fight, one man asked Moses, “Are you thinking of killing me as you killed the Egyptian?” (Exodus 2:14).  Hearing these words, Moses became afraid; he realized others knew he murdered the Egyptian.  Shortly thereafter, Pharaoh learned of the murder and attempted to kill Moses.

Precipitated by these events, Moses fled Egypt and traveled to Midian.  Midian was located east of the Sinai Peninsula and outside Egyptian influence.   In Midian Moses met Jethro, a Midian priest, whose name means “friend of God”.  The Midianites were offspring of Abraham and his second wife Keturah (Genesis 25:1–4).  In Midian Moses married Jethro’s daughter, Zipporah (Exodus 2:21).  Moses became a shepherd for his father-in-law’s (not his own) sheep (Exodus 3:1).  After about 40 years in Midian, Moses led the sheep to the west side of the Midian desert, arriving at Mount Horab in the Sinai Peninsula.

There the angel of the Lord appeared in flames of fire within a bush.   Moses noticed that although the bush was on fire, it was not consumed by the fire.  Deciding to take a closer look at the strange phenomenon, Moses made his way toward the burning bush.  When God saw Moses approaching the bush, he called to Moses from within the bush and told him to come no closer.  God instructed Moses to take off his sandals because Moses was standing on holy ground.  Then God introduced himself to Moses, naming himself the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  At this introduction, Moses hid his face, afraid to look at God.

Talking from the burning bush, God told Moses that the Israelites were suffering severely under the slave masters in Egypt.  God shared that he planned to rescue them from the Egyptians and lead them to a land of milk and honey. To this point, Moses was probably nodding his head and agreeing with God’s plan. Then, God stunned Moses by saying, “So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt” (Exodus 3:10).  Immediately, Moses started questioning his qualifications to be the leader God described.  God’s response was to continue telling Moses to go back to Egypt.  In Egypt, Moses was to notify the elders of Israel first and then Pharaoh that the Israelites were to be permitted to leave Egypt.  God warned Moses that Pharaoh would oppose him; but, God himself would work wonders to compel Pharaoh to set the Israelites free.

Moses tried several ways to evade being the highly visible leader that God demanded.  One of Moses’ fears was that he was “slow of speech and tongue” (Exodus 4:10).  God told Moses that his brother Aaron, a Levite who spoke well, would be Moses’ speaker.  Convinced by God to be the Israelite leader,  Moses returned to Jethro where he took his wife and two sons and started for Egypt.

 The Burning Bush (Rubus sanctus)

Rubus sanctusThe nature of the burning bush is a source of debate among botanists and Biblical scholars.  Some believe that the burning bush was not a bush, but a figurative representation of a supernatural phenomenon.  Others contend that God spoke through a natural bush. The opinion of Jewish scholars and botanists is that the burning bush was the blackberry bush, Rubus sanctus. Other names for the R. sanctus, are the Rubus sanguineus and the holy blackberry. Most likely the R. sanctus originated in the eastern Mediterranean region of Iran or Turkey.  It is a perennial shrub that grows as a large thicket near water sources, e.g., in oases, on wadi banks, and in moist fields. The plant has no central stem; instead it produces long thin branches which can reach 5 – 6 feet in length.  Branches have spiked thorns that bend downward.  If a person reaches into the plant to pick the fruit, he will feel nothing; however, when he withdraws his hand, thorns will fasten into the flesh like sharp teeth.  Jewish writers drew a parallel between blackberry thorns and the movement of the Israelites in and out of Egypt.  When the Israelites entered Egypt, they did so with little notice.  In contrast when they left Egypt, the entire country knew of them because of supernatural events and battles associated with their exodus.Generally the blackberry flower is pink. New blackberries are green.  As they ripen, they turn red then black. Fully ripe blackberries are plump, firm, and fully black. Never pick blackberries before they are ripe as they will not ripen off the shrub.

s. Blackberries also propagate by vegetative regeneration; for example, re-growth occurs from the perennial rootstalk, from the root stem tips, and from root fragments.

 Symbolism:  God Reveals Himself

Rubus sanctus is a symbol of God revealing himself to man. “Reveal” means to make known something that was secret or hidden and to open up to view (Merriam-Webster Incorporated, 2005).  Synonyms of “reveal” are “disclose” and “tell”.  In the entire Old Testament nowhere does God reveal  more about himself to one man than in the passage of the burning bush.  In fact, this passage is sometimes called the “Mosaic revelation of God about himself” (MacDonald, 1995).

Some of the truths that God revealed about himself were:

  • God revealed to Moses that he was the God of Moses’ ancestors:  Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  God remembered Moses’ ancestors and the promises he made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob from more than 400 years ago.
  • God revealed to Moses that he heard the cries and saw the agony of the Israelites’ slavery in Egypt. God was not limited to one land area such as Haran or Canaan where he appeared to Moses’ ancestors; rather God heard the cries of his people wherever they were.  The Bible does not identify that the Israelite cries were in the form of prayers, but, God heard them.
  • God revealed to Moses that he was going to take action on behalf of the Israelites.  God cared about his chosen people so much that he was willing to intervene in history to help them.
  • God revealed to Moses that he had a plan to see that his promises to Moses’ ancestors were realized. God is a God of specifics and details. Part of that plan was for Moses to act as the leader of the Israelites before Pharaoh.
  • God revealed to Moses that he knew the opposition that Moses would face from Pharaoh.  God knows the hearts of men; he knew Pharaoh’s pride and stubbornness.
  • God revealed his power to Moses. God was able to take other forms, in this instance he was talking to Moses from a burning bush. God revealed his power by telling Moses that the “supposed” power of the gods of the greatest nation on earth, Egypt, would be no obstruction to God’s will and plan.

Considering the attributes that God revealed about himself makes me glad that God is on my side.  At the same time, I feel overwhelmed that God who is all powerful (omnipotent), all knowledge (omniscient), and always present (omnipresent) claimed me for his child. It is understandable that Moses hid his face in God’s presence – he doesn’t want God to see him and he was afraid to look on God.  What am I going to do when God reveals himself totally to me?  Often I think about the song by the Christian recording group “Mercy Me”.

 I Can Only Imagine*

I can only imagine What it will be like, When I walk By your side
I can only imagine What my eyes will see When your face Is before me.
I can only imagine When that day comes When I find myself  Standing in the Son.
I can only imagine When all I will do Is forever Forever worship you.
[Chorus:]
Surrounded by Your glory, What will my heart feel
Will I dance for you Jesus or in awe of you be still
Will I stand in your presence or to my knees will I fall
Will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all?
I can only imagine.
*( From: http://www.elyrics.net/read/m/mercyme-lyrics/i-can-only-imagine-lyrics.html)

Reflection: How will you respond when you are face-to-face with God, when God is revealed fully to you?

I love Bible plants along with their symbolism. If you want to learn more about them, read my two books: 1) Rooted in God and 2) God as a Gardener. You can purchase them from my website: Carolyn Roth Ministry at hppt://CarolynRothMinistry.com/

Copyright August 16, 2011, Carolyn A. Roth; all rights reserved.

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One response to “Moses Encounters a Burning Bush

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