THE BURNING BUSH AND THE CALL OF MOSES
On Exodus 2:23-4:31
NOW Moses fed the sheep of Jethro, his father-in-law. One day he drove his flock into the desert (1), and came as far as Mount Horeb (2). There the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire, which issued from the midst of a bush. Moses saw that the bush was on fire and was not burnt (3). He said: “I will go near to see why the bush is not burnt.” As Moses drew near, the Lord cried out to him from the burning bush: “Moses, Moses!” And he answered: “Here I am.” And God said: “Come not nigh hither. Put off the shoes (4) from thy feet; for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground (5). I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”
Notes: (1) The desert. An uninhabited and sterile country, stony and sandy, in which grass and shrubs grew only here and there. (2) Horeb. Which was part of Mount Sinai. (3) Not burnt. The fire was a supernatural, not a natural phenomenon. (4) Put off the shoes. The removal of shoes or sandals was a mark of reverence. The Jewish priests had to be bare-footed, when serving in the sanctuary. (5) Holy ground. Because of the presence of God manifesting Himself to Moses.
Moses, in awful reverence, hid (6) his face, and dared not look at God. The Lord said to him: “I have seen (7) the affliction of my people in Egypt, and I am come to deliver them out of the hands of the Egyptians, and to bring them out of that land into a land flowing with milk (8) and honey.” The Lord further told Moses that he should go to Pharao to demand the liberation of the children of Israel. Moses answered: “Who am I (9) that I should go to Pharao, and should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?” The Lord said: “I will be with thee.” (10)
Notes: (6) Hid. Or covered it. (7) Seen. And heard their cry for help and deliverance. (8) Flowing with milk and honey. Such a rich, fertile land that it produces milk and honey in plenty. (9) Who am I. How can I, a poor shepherd, undertake such a great work? (10) Be with thee. “I will protect you and stand by you.”
Moses objected that the people would not believe him, but would ask who (11) sent him. Then God said to Moses: “I am who am (12). Thus shalt thou say to the children of Israel: He who is, hath sent me to you.” Moses answered and said: “They will not believe me, nor hear my voice; but they will say: The Lord hath not appeared (13) to thee.” Then God asked Moses: “What is it that thou holdest in thy hand?” Moses answered: “A rod.” (14) The Lord then told Moses to cast his rod upon the ground. He threw it upon the ground, and the rod was turned into a serpent, so that Moses fled from it in terror.
Notes: (11) Who. Why would they ask this? In order to prove whether it were the true God, who had appeared to him. (12) I am who am. I am He who exists of Himself; He who is. This is the proper Name of God, and the meaning of the word ‘YHWH’. (13) Hath not appeared. This is the third time that Moses raised an objection. (14) A rod. His shepherd’s staff. This staff, consecrated by these miracles, was to be the sign of Moses’ leadership of the people.
But the Lord called him back, saying: “Take it by the tail.” Moses did so, and the serpent became again a rod. The Lord told Moses to work this and some other signs before the Israelites, and they would believe. But Moses still objected (15), saying that he was not eloquent (16), but that his speech was slow and hesitating.
Notes: (15) Objected. For the fourth time. (16) Not eloquent. And he would be unable to act as spokesman.
Then the Lord said to him: “Who made (17) man’s mouth? Or, who made the dumb and the deaf, the seeing and the blind? Did not I? Go, therefore, and I will teach thee, what thou shalt speak.” Moses answered (18): “I beseech Thee, Lord, send whom Thou wilt send.” (19) The Lord, being angry with Moses, said: “Aaron, thy brother, is eloquent; speak to him, and put My words (20) into his mouth; he shall speak, in thy stead, to the people.” So Moses returned to Egypt; and Aaron, his brother, inspired by the Lord, came forth to meet him.
Notes: (17) Who made. Am I not He who gave the gift of speech to man? Cannot I make thee eloquent? (18) Answered. Although the Lord had answered his four previous objections Moses still could not resign himself completely to the will of God, and made a fifth objection. (19) Whom Thou wilt send. Send the Redeemer! Send Him at once that He may deliver Thy people! [See Gen. 49:10]. (20) Put My words. Tell him all that I have said, and he will tell it to the people.
Moses repeated to his brother all the words of the Lord. Then they went together to assemble the children of Israel; and Aaron spoke to them that the Lord had looked upon their affliction. And Moses wrought the sign of the rod and other miracles, whereupon the people believed (21); and falling down, they adored (22) the Lord.
Notes: (21) Believed. That Moses was sent by God. (22) They adored. Had they not prayed to God before? Yes, indeed; but now hey thanked Him for having mercy on them, and for sending a liberator to them.
WHAT WE LEARN FROM THIS TEXT
The Attributes of God. This story reveals God to us in a wonderful way. It shows us that:
1. God is eternal. “I am Who am!” God exists of Himself. He has His being of Himself. He is Who is, and was, and is to be. He alone is eternal. All else has been made by Him and has a beginning.
2. God is unchanging. His command: Thou shalt bring My people out of Egypt, could not be altered by any hesitations or objections on the part of Moses.
3. God is omniscient. “I have seen the affliction of My people, and heard their cry.”—“Do these signs, and they will believe.”
4. God is almighty. “Who made the dumb and the deaf; the seeing and the blind? Did not I?” God’s power was also proved by the miracles of the rod &c.
5. God is holy. “The Lord was angry with Moses”, i. e. He showed His displeasure with Moses for having so little confidence, and for making so many objections.
6. God is merciful. “I will deliver them out of the hands of the Egyptians.”
7. God is faithful. He fulfilled that which He promised to Jacob: “I will bring thee and thy seed back from Egypt.”
The object of miracles. Moses was the first of those sent by God, who received the power of working miracles; and, as we are told, the object of these miracles was that the children of Israel might believe. How much more, then, ought we to believe in Jesus Christ, who worked so many more, and much greater miracles, than Moses! The difference between our Lord’s miracles and those of Moses is this that Moses wrought them by the power of God, and our Lord by His own power.
Humility and confidence in God. One of Moses’ most prominent virtues was a sincere humility. He held himself to be neither capable nor worthy of the great task allotted to him by God. But it was just on account of his humility that God chose him to be the leader of His chosen people, for He “exalteth the humble, and abaseth the proud”. Moses, however, failed, by giving way to so many hesitations. After God had said: “I will be with thee”, he ought to have said, as St Paul did: “I can do all things in Him who strengthened me” (Phil. 4:13). Instead of that, he made more and more objections, and on account of this Almighty God reproached and blamed him. At last, however, he obeyed God’s commands, and full of confidence he accomplished his appointed task splendidly. True humility distrusts itself, but trusts all the more in God.
You are not called on to take off your shoes when you enter a church; but you are called on to leave all worldly thoughts outside. You are not obliged to cover your eyes, but you ought to hold them in check, and be recollected, and not look about you curiously.