Moses encounters a burning bush
In the readings from Exodus, Moses is finally living a normal life. He had been rejected by the royal family that raised him and so he was no longer a member of the power elite. And he had found a refuge in the land of Midian so he was no longer a fugitive on the run. He was a long way from his home which left him an exile, but it was normal.
Lots of exiles manage to make good lives for themselves far from the homes they’ve been forced to leave. Moses managed to marry into a good family and get a job. It was not a good job. In fact, Moses’ job as a shepherd would have been an affront to his Egyptian sensibilities, but it put bread on the table. It was steady work.
Moses wasn’t exactly living the dream, but it may have been good enough that he planned to live the rest of his life there in Midian, herding sheep. It’s the kind of quiet desperation that Willie Loman would have identified with, and it’s likely that some of us identify with it too. We do what we have to do.
One day, Moses took his sheep up to a high pasture. The grazing there was good, but the other shepherds didn’t go there because it was believed that God lived up there. It was while he was in this high place that he saw a burning bush.(1) It was a common enough sight in the hot desert. Scrubby brushes often caught fire and burned themselves out. They were small bushes, thorny and only about a yard high. They were said to be so thorny, in fact, that if a bird flew into one it wouldn’t be able to get out without tearing itself apart.(2) One can only imagine that the slavery in Egypt seemed like that thorny bush. It was an impossible situation. Moses, also, must have felt that there was no way out for him except to make peace with his exile.
This burning bush wasn’t like the others, though. It continued burning. Some traditions even say that it had green leaves, blooms, and fruit which were not consumed!(3) Of course, this was not a normal bush, nor was it a normal fire. What Moses saw was the remnants of the tree of life humbly offering itself to the fire of God.
But, God is not concerned with fire, or bushes. God is concerned with people and so God spoke to Moses from the bush and called him out of his hopeless exile and into a new life.
As citizens of the Kingdom Of God, we are all in something of an exile. We are all hopelessly caught in the thorn bush of empire and domination. We’ve made accommodation. Assimilated. We have heard the voice of the serpent whispering to us of our exile from Eden, convincing us that we are doomed. Today’s readings show us a way out: “Listen to me.”(4)
No matter how thorny your situation is, there is a way out. By looking in the high places, going where others do not go, and by observing whatever is around you… maybe just sheep and some scrub brushes… you can find an answer. Listen, can you hear it?
In this holy season of Lent, let us repent of the times we’ve listened to the hissing of the creature, instead of the loving voice of the creator. What kinds of messages have managed to drag you off into exile? Has your own assimilation with the dominant culture erased your memory of being precious and loved? What have you believed that is not true? If you encountered a burning bush today, what would its message be? Oh, how you would be loved!
Linda McMillan lives in Shanghai, China
By Dura Europos (Dura Europos synagogue) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
1. – Flavius Josephus – Historian
2. – Tractate Sanya, 1:1 of the Mekhilta de-Rabbi Shimon bar Yoḥai – 2006 translation by Nelson
3. – Flavius Josephus – Historian
4. – Isaiah 55:2 – Listen carefully to me; Isaiah 55:3 – Incline your ear… listen