THE MISSION OF MOSES . After forty years of monotonous pastoral life, affording abundant opportunity for meditation, and for spiritual communion with God, and when he had attained to the great age of eighty years, and the hot blood of youth had given place to the calm serenity of advanced life, God at last revealed Himself to Moses "called him" ( Exodus 3:4 ), and gave him a definite mission. The present chapter is' intimately connected with the next. Together, they contain an account of that extraordinary and indeed miraculous interchange of thought and speech between Moses and God himself, by which the son of Amram was induced to undertake the difficult and dangerous task of freeing his people, delivering them from their bondage in Egypt, and conducting them through the wilderness to that "land flowing with milk and honey," which had been promised to the seed of Abraham more than six centuries previously ( Genesis 15:18 ). Whatever hopes he had entertained of being his people's deliverer in youth and middle life, they had long been abandoned; and, humanly speaking, nothing was more improbable than that the aged shepherd, grown "slow of speech and of a slow tongue" ( Exodus 4:10 )—his manners rusticised—his practical faculties rusted by disuse—his physical powers weakened—should come forth from a retirement of forty years' duration to be a leader and king of men. Nothing less than direct supernatural interposition could—one may well believe—have sufficed to overcome the natural vis inertiae of Moses' present character and position. Hence, after an absolute cessation of miracle for more than four hundred years, miracle is once more made use of by the Ruler of the Universe to work out his ends. A dignus vindice nodus has arisen; and the ordinary laws of that Nature which is but one of his instruments are suspended by the Lord of All, who sees what mode of action the occasion requires, and acts accordingly.
Moses kept the flock . The Hebrew expresses that this was his regular occupation. Understand by "flock" either sheep or goats, or the two intermixed. Both anciently and at the present day the Sinaitic pastures support these animals, and not horned cattle. Of Jethro, his father-in-law . The word translated "father-in-law" is of much wider application, being used of almost any relation by marriage. Zipporah uses it of Moses in Exodus 4:25 , Exodus 4:26 ; in Genesis 19:12 , Genesis 19:14 , it is applied to Lot's "sons-in-law;" in other places it is used of "brothers-in-law." Its application to Jethro does not prove him to be the same person as Reuel, which the difference of name renders improbable. He was no doubt the head of the tribe at this period, having succeeded to that dignity, and to the priesthood, when Reuel died. He may have been either Reuel's son or his nephew. The backside of the desert , i.e. "behind" or "beyond the desert," across the strip of sandy plain which separates the coast of the Elanitic Gulf from the mountains, to the grassy regions beyond. He came to the mountain of God , even Horeb. Rather, "the mountain of God, Horeb-way ," or "towards Horeb." By "the mountain of God" Sinai seems to be meant. It may be so named either by anticipation (as "the land of Rameses" in Genesis 47:11 ), or because there was already a sanctuary there to the true God, whom Reuel and Jethro worshipped ( Exodus 18:12 ).
The Burning Bush.
All nations have seen in fire something emblematic of the Divine nature. The Vedic Indians made Agni (fire) an actual god, and sang hymns to him with more fervour than to almost any other deity. The Persians maintained perpetual fires on their fire-altars, and supposed them to have a divine character. Hephaistos in the Greek and Vulcan in the Roman mythology were fire-gods; and Baal, Chemosh, Moloch, Tahiti, Orotal, etc ; represented more or less the same idea. Fire is in itself pure and purifying; in its effects mighty and terrible, or life-giving, and comforting. Viewed as light—its ordinary though not universal concomitant—it is bright, glorious, dazzling, illuminative, soul-cheering. God under the Old Covenant revealed himself in fire, not only upon this occasion, but at Sinai ( Exodus 19:18 ; Exodus 24:17 ), to Manoah ( 13:20 ), to Solomon ( 2 Chronicles 7:1-3 ), to Ezekiel ( Ezekiel 1:4-28 ), to Daniel ( Daniel 7:9 , Daniel 7:10 ); under the New Covenant, he is declared to be "a consuming fire" ( Hebrews 12:29 ), "the Light of the world" ( John 8:12 ), "the True Light" ( John 1:9 ), "the Sun of Righteousness." Of all material things nothing is so suitable to represent God as this wonderful creation of his, so bright, so pure, so terrible, so comforting, To Moses God reveals himself not merely in fire, but in a "burning bush." In this respect the revelation is abnormal—nay, unique, without a parallel. Surely this was done, not merely to rouse his curiosity, but to teach him some lesson or other. It is well to consider what lesson or lessons may have been intended by it. First, Moses would see that "the ways of God were not as man's ways;" that, instead of coming with as much, he came with as little, display as possible; instead of showing all his glory and lighting up all Sinai with unendurable radiance, he condescended to appear in a small circumscribed flame, and to rest upon so mean, so poor, so despised an object as a thorn-hush. God "chooseth the weak things of the world to confound the strong;" anything is sufficient for his purpose. He creates worlds with a word, destroys kingdoms with a breath, cures diseases with clay and spittle or the hem of a garment, revolutionises the earth by a group of fishermen. Secondly, he would see the spirituality of God. Even when showing himself in the form of fire, he was not fire. Material fire would have burnt up the bush, have withered its fair boughs and blasted its green leaves in a moment of time; this fire did not scathe a single twig, did not injure even the most delicate just-opening bud. Thirdly, he might be led on to recognise God's tenderness. God's mercy is "over all his works," he will not hurt one of them unnecessarily, or without an object. He "careth for cattle" ( Jonah 4:11 ), clothes the lilies with glory ( Matthew 6:28-30 ), wilt not let a sparrow fall to the ground needlessly ( Matthew 10:29 ). Lastly, he might learn that the presence of God is "consuming" only of what is evil. Of all else it is preservative. God was present with his people in Egypt, and his presence preserved them in that furnace of affliction. God was present in each devout and humble heart of his true followers, and his presence kept them from the fiery darts of the Wicked One. God would be present through all time with his Church and with his individual worshippers, not as a destroying, but as a sustaining, preserving, glorifying influence. His spiritual fire would rest upon them, envelop them, encircle them, yet would neither injure nor absorb their life, but support it, maintain it, strengthen it.
Moses at the bush.
We do not now see burning bushes, or hear voices calling to us from their midst. The reason is, that we do not need them, The series of historical revelations is complete. Revelation in the sense of the communication of new truth—of truth beyond the range of our natural faculties, or not capable of being derived, under the guidance of God's Spirit, from revelations already given—is not to be expected. The Bible is the sum of God's authoritative revelations to the race. This bush, e.g; still burns for us in Scripture, where at any time we can visit it, and hear God's voice speaking out of it. But in another sense, revelation is not obsolete. It is not a tradition of the past, but a living reality. It has its objective side in the continuous (non-miraculous) revelation going on in nature ( Psalms 19:1 ; Romans 1:19 , Romans 1:20 ) and history ( Acts 17:26 , Acts 17:27 ); and in the tokens of a supernatural presence and working in the Church ( Matthew 28:20 ; 1 Thessalonians 1:3-10 ; Revelation 2:1 ). And it has its subjective side in the revelation (mediate) of Divine things to the soul by the Holy Spirit ( Ephesians 1:17 ), and in the manifestation of God to the heart in private spiritual experience ( John 14:21 , John 14:23 ; Romans 5:5 ; Romans 8:16 ). The veil between the soul and the spiritual world is at all times a thin one. The avenues by which God can reach devout minds are innumerable. The Word, sacraments, and prayer are special media , the Divine Spirit taking of the things of Christ, and showing them to the soul ( John 16:15 ), illuminating, interpreting, applying, confirming. But, in truth, God is "not far from every one of us" ( Acts 17:27 ); and by events of providence, in workings of conscience, through our moral and spiritual intuitions, enlightened and purified as these are by the Word, by numberless facts of nature and life, he can still draw near to those who tarry for him; meets them in ways as unexpected and surprising as at the burning bush; awes them by his wonders; flashes to them the messages of his grace. Viewing this revelation at the bush as a chapter in spiritual history, consider—
I. THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF IT . The revelation came to Moses—
1 . The Divinity is ever nearer to us than we think. So Jacob, as well as Moses, found it. "Surely God is in this place, and I knew it not" ( Genesis 28:16 ).
2 . Revelations are not to be expected, save in the way of duty.
3 . God may be met with anywhere ( John 4:24 ), but some places are more favourable for communion with God than others—the closet ( Matthew 6:6 ), the sanctuary ( Psalms 73:16 , Psalms 73:17 ), natural solitudes ( Matthew 16:23 ). And revelations have usually a relation to the state of mind of those who receive them—answering questions, resolving perplexities, affording guidance, adapting themselves to psychological conditions (cf. Job 2:12 , Job 2:13 ; Daniel 2:29 ; Daniel 9:20 , Daniel 9:21 ; Daniel 10:2-6 ; Acts 10:3 , Acts 10:10 ; 1 Corinthians 12:9 ; Revelation 1:10 ). It is in every way likely that Moses' thoughts were at that moment deeply occupied about Israel's future.
4 . God ' s discoveries of himself are marked by great condescension. Lowliness of situation is no bar to the visits of the King of Heaven, while humility of heart is indispensable to our receiving them. He who dwelt in the bush will not refuse the dwelling place of the contrite heart ( Isaiah 57:15 ). God's most wonderful discoveries of himself have been made through "base things of the world, and things which are despised" ( 1 Corinthians 2:1-16 :28). The highest example of this is Christ himself, of whose incarnation the angel in the bush may be regarded as a prophecy. "He shall grow up before him as a tender plant, and as a root out of a dry ground; he hath no form nor comeliness," etc. ( Isaiah 53:2 ).
5 . God ' s revelations act as a moral test. This applies to the objective revelation—to the tokens of the supernatural strewn everywhere around us in life and history, as well as to Nature and the Bible. We may pass them unheeded, or we may draw nearer to inquire. The Bible invites attention by the supernatural in its history, as well as by its teachings. It is only when we draw nearer to it that the Word becomes personal, and seizes on the conscience with spiritual power. Attention on man's part is rewarded by further self-discovery on God's.
II. ITS INTEREST FOR MOSES . We may connect his turning aside to see (verse 4)—
1 . With an appeal to his faculty of wonder. This is one function of miracle—to arrest attention, and awaken in the witness of it a powerful consciousness of the Divine presence.
2 . With a general habit of devout inquiry. It may be true that "many a man has been led through the pale of curiosity into the sanctuary of reverence" (Parker); but it is also true that to a merely curious disposition God usually reveals little, and to an irreverent one nothing. The habit of inquiry is as valuable, if one's ultimate aim is in all things to become acquainted with God and his will, as in science and philosophy, or any other form of the pursuit of knowledge; but let inquiry be devout. "Search the Scriptures" ( John 5:39 ). Ponder thoughtfully events of providence and facts of history. Study Nature with an eye to spiritual suggestions—to underlying spiritual analogies. Give to whatever you read or hear, which seems to have truth or value in it, the attention it deserves. Inquiry throws the mind into the attitude most favourable for receiving Divine revelations. Moses was not called by name till he "turned aside to see."
3 . With the perception that in this circumstance God was specially calling him to inquire. As Moses gazed, he would be prompted to ask about this bush—What means it? What invisible power is here manifesting itself? Why is it burning at this place, and at this time? What mystery is contained in it? Has it a message for me? And he would not be long in perceiving that it must be burning there with the special view of attracting his attention. And is it not thus that the Divine usually draws near to us? Attention is arrested by something a little aside from the course of ordinary experience, and the impression it makes upon us produces the conviction that it is not unintended; that it is, as we say, "sent;" that it has a meaning and message to us we do well to look into. Every man, at some point or another in his history, has felt himself thus appealed to by the supernatural. The impression may be made by a book we feel drawn to read, or by something we read in it; through a sermon, through some event of life, by a sickness, at a deathbed, by the sayings and doings of fellow-men, or in hours of solitude, when even Nature seems peopled with strange voices, and begins to speak to us in parables. But, originate as it may, there is plainly in it, as in all special dealings of God with us, a call to inquire, to question ourselves, to ask whether, from the midst of the mystery, God may not have some further message for our souls.
III. THE SIGHT ITSELF . The bush that burned (verse 2) was—
1 . A token of the Divine Presence. Moses would soon feel that he was standing in presence of the Unseen Holy.
2 . A significant emblem. It represented the Israelites in their state of affliction, yet miraculously surviving. Possibly, in the questionings of his spirit, Moses had not before sufficiently considered the "token for good" implied in this astonishing preservation of the nation, and needed to have his attention directed to it. It was a clear proof that the Lord had not cast off his people. If Israel was preserved, it could only be for one reason. The continued vitality, growth, and vigour of the nation was the infallible pledge of the fulfilment of the promise.
3 . An answer to prayer. For what could be the meaning of this portent, but that the long, weary silence was at length broken; that the prayer, " O Lord, how long?" was at last to receive its answer? Faith can see great results wrapped up in small beginnings. For nothing in God's procedure is isolated. Beginnings with God mean endings too.
IV. THE PERSONAL CALL . As Moses wondered—
1 . The revelation became personal. He heard himself addressed by name, "Moses, Moses" (verse 4). Solemnised, yet with that presence of mind which could only arise from long habituation to the idea of an invisible spiritual world, he answered, "Here am I ." This was to place himself unreservedly at God's disposal. Mark the order—
Then followed the direction (verse 5), "Draw not nigh hither; put off thy shoes," etc. Thus Moses was instructed:
2 . As to the right attitude towards God ' s revelations.
Moses doubtless obeyed the injunction he received. These qualities meet in all true religion: humility in hearing what God has to say; submission of mind and heart to it when said; readiness to obey. Glance for a moment at the requirement of reverence. One can understand how in the tumult of his feelings at the moment—in the very eagerness of his spirit to hear what further God had to say to him—Moses should be in danger of neglecting the outward tokens of the reverence which no doubt he felt; but it is instructive to observe that God recalls his attention to them. We are thus taught that reverence becomes us, not only in relation to God himself, but in relation to whatever is even outwardly connected with his presence, worship, or revelation. e.g; in our dealing with Scripture, in the use of Divine names and titles, in the ritual of Divine service. The attitude of the spirit is doubtless the main thing; but a reverent spirit will seek for itself suitable forms of expression; and respect for the forms is itself a duty, and an aid in the education of the sentiment. Those are greatly to be censured who, presuming on a supposed special intimacy with God not granted to others, venture to take liberties, and allow themselves in a demeanour and in a style of expression to the Almighty at the least irreverently familiar, and not unfrequently bordering on profanity. Raptures of piety, however sincere, do not justify us in forgetting that in communion with God we stand on "holy ground."— J . O .
The bush and its suggestions.
Glean here a few of the general suggestions of the passage:—
I. REVELATION . The appearance at the bush suggestive—
1 . Of the supernatural in Nature. Bushes are aglow all around us, if only we had eyes to see them. Christ's teaching an illustration of the spiritual suggestiveness of Nature. "Consider the lilies" ( Matthew 6:28 ). The parables.
2 . Of the supernatural in common life. "Moses kept the flock of Jethro." The Higher Presence may be with us in the humblest occupations.
3 . Of the supernatural in the Church—
The bush, burning but not consumed, an emblem of Israel—of the Church—enduring in tribulation.
4 . Of the higher supernatural of positive revelation. Authoritative revelation is suspended, but the sum of its results is given in Scripture. The Bible is the Bush of revelation, to which the student of Divine things will do well to direct his attention.
II. PREPAREDNESS . Cultivate with Moses—
1 . A spirit of duty ( Exodus 3:1 ).
2 . A spirit of devout inquiry ( Exodus 3:3 ).
3 . A spirit of humility and reverence ( Exodus 3:5 , Exodus 3:6 ).
To such a spirit, God—
1 . Reveals himself.
2 . Addresses calls to his service ( Exodus 3:4 ).
3 . Gives work to do.
4 . Honours in its work.— J . O .
The burning bush.
I. OBSERVE THE CIRCUMSTANCES IN WHICH GOD FINDS MOSES . He is still with Jethro, although forty years have passed since their first acquaintance. Though a fugitive, he had not become a mere wanderer.
1 . He continues , however , in a comparatively humble position. His marriage to Jethro's daughter and his long stay in the country do not seem to have brought him much external prosperity. He has not reached even the modest point of success in the eyes of a Midianite shepherd, viz. to have a flock of his own. But this very humility of position doubtless had its advantages and its place in the providence of God with respect to him. With all the lowliness of his state, it was better to be a living man in Midian than to have been Main as the son of Pharaoh's daughter. God had brought him out of a king's house, so that he might be freed from all the temptations of soft raiment, and also to make manifest that, although among courtiers, he was, not of them. But if during his stay in Midian he had increased in pastoral wealth, and become a second Job ( Job 1:3 ), then, like Job, he might have had to go into humiliation because of his wealth. It was well for him that while he had the care of property, he had not the cares of it ( James 1:10 , James 1:11 ).
2 . God finds him engaged in faithful service , leading his flock far into the desert that they might find suitable pasture. God comes to those who are diligently occupied in some useful work, even if it be as humble and obscure as that of Moses. He does not come with his revelations to day-dreamers; they are left to build their castles in the air. They who despise common and daily work, on the pretext that they are fitted for something much better, will at last be thrown into the corner among the refuse. "Let those that think themselves buried alive be content to shine like lamps in sepulchres, and wait till God's time comes for setting them in a candlestick" ( Matthew 4:18-22 , Matthew 9:9 ; Luke 2:8 ).
II. GOD APPROACHES MOSES WITH A SUDDEN TEST . "The angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire, out of the midst of a bush" i.e . the flame of fire became a messenger of God to Moses. We are told in Psalms 104:1-35 . that God is he who makes the clouds his chariot, walks upon the wings of the wind, makes the winds his messengers, and flaming fire into his ministers ( Hebrews 1:7 ). And so here God sends this flame of fire, encompassing and attacking the bush, in order to discover what sort of man Moses is. Certain features of his character, viz. his patriotism, his hatred of oppression, his prompt action to serve the weak, have hitherto been exhibited rather than tested. He had shown what sort of man he was in the ordinary experiences of life, such experiences as might come to any of us. But now he is face to face with an extraordinary experience, a sudden and unexpected test. The burning bush was to Moses what both miracles and parables were to those who came into contact with Jesus. To some the miracles were mere wonders; to others they revealed an open door of communication with God. To some the parables were only aimless narratives, mere story-telling. To others the Divine Teacher was able to say, "It is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven" ( Matthew 13:11 ). And, in a similar way, when Moses came suddenly upon the burning bush, there was also a sudden revelation of the state of his heart. He did not treat the phenomenon as a delusion; did not begin to suspect his own sanity; did not seek his kindred, that they might come and gape at this new wonder. It was impressed upon his mind exactly as it was meant to be impressed. He asked the very question that above all others needed to be asked—why this bush was not consumed. For observe that it was something which in ordinary circumstances would be easily and quickly consumed ( Exodus 22:6 ; Ecclesiastes 7:6 ; Matthew 6:30 ). It was not some metal well used to the fire, but a bush actually burning yet not burning away. And as this burning bush was thus a test to Moses, so the record of it is also a test to us. Let us suppose the question put all round, "What would you have done if you had been there?" We know well the answer that would come from one class of minds: "There was no such thing; it was all Moses' own imagination." Thus the test comes in. As God tested Moses in exhibiting the burning bush as his messenger, so he tests us by the record of this and all other unusual occurrences with which the Scriptures are crowded. If we say at once concerning the burning bush and all that is supernatural that it is but delusion, then God's way to our hearts and our salvation is blocked at once. We must be loyal to fact wherever we find it. The very evidence of our own senses, and the accumulated testimony of honest and competent witnesses, are not to be sacrificed to so-called first principles of rational inquiry. The right spirit is that shown by Peter and his companion in the house of Cornelius. They saw with their own eyes that the Holy Spirit fell on Cornelius and his household; and Peter made his inferences and his action to depend on this indisputable fact ( Acts 10:44 ; Acts 11:18 ). When Moses turned aside to see the great sight his eye was single; he did not quibble and despise; and therefore his whole body was filled with light.
III. GOD MEETS A PROPER INQUIRY WITH PROPER TREATMENT . Moses is approaching the burning bush to investigate the difficulty by his natural faculties, when God at once arrests him , making known his own presence , and enjoining such outward marks of reverence as became the place and the occasion. And Moses, as we might expect, is immediately obedient. Those who have in them the spirit that seeks for truth, the spirit of faith and right inquiry, will also show a spirit ready at once to respond to the presence of God. Moses must have had those principles in his life which pointed on to perfect purity of heart. That purity he had in its beginnings, or he would not have gained such a sense of God's presence as was here bestowed on him. Note next, that God does not proceed to answer the inquiry of Moses. There was really no occasion to answer it. When Moses knew that the presence of God had to do with the miracle, he knew enough. To know exactly how God had done it was beyond him. Even God cannot explain the inexplicable. The secrets of creation cannot be penetrated by those who lack creative power. Man can make machines; therefore the man who makes a machine can explain the purpose and the parts of it to another man. Human beings are the parents of human beings; but as they have no power to make intelligently any living thing, so they cannot understand either how living things are brought into existence or sustained in it. God calls Moses now, not to explain why. the bush is burning, but to subdue his mind into appropriate reverence and expectation. The search for truth must not degenerate into curiosity, nor be pursued into presumption.
IV. THOUGH GOD LEAVES THE INQUIRY FORMALLY UNANSWERED , YET THE BURNING BUSH DOES SERVE SOME FURTHER PURPOSE AS AN INSTRUMENT OF INSTRUCTION . There was much teaching in this burning bush. If the aim had been merely to arrest the attention of Moses, then any wonder would have served the purpose. But the wonders of God not only test; they also teach. They must be something unusual, or they would not test sufficiently; they must be something more than merely unusual, else they would not teach. The bush was Israel in the flame of Egypt. That bush had been burning now a century, more or less, yet it was riot consumed. All that was essential to its nature, its growth, and its fruitfulness still remained. What was permanent in Israel was no more affected than the tree is by the fading and falling of its leaves in autumn. The leaves die, but the tree remains. Its roots are still in the soil and the sap still in the trunk. Thus, by this exhibition of the burning bush, God brought before Moses the great truth that, however natural forces may be gathered against his people, and however they may be intensified in their attack, there is nevertheless a power from on high which can resist them all—a secret, countervailing power in which we may ever put our trust. And this power is not only for preservation in the midst of affliction, but for ultimate deliverance from it. The power by which God can keep the bush from being consumed, is a power by which he can take it out of the fire altogether. Believe in this power, and trust it more and more, and God will lead you into sublime conclusions, and endow you with most precious privileges.— Y .
Forty years since, Moses ( Exodus 2:11 ) had "turned aside" from court life in Egypt to see how his brethren the children of Israel fared amid the furnace of trial. The old life seems like a dream, so long ago; the old lance ( Exodus 4:10 ) grown unfamiliar. The annual routine; flocks to be driven to distant-pasturage at the approach of summer. God's hour at hand just when least expected.
I. THE PROPHETIC VISION . When God calls to the prophetic office, there is usually some vision or appearance, through which the call is emphasised and its significance suggested. Cf. Isaiah 6:1-7 ; Jeremiah 1:11-13 ; Ezekiel 1:4 ; Matthew 3:16 to Matthew 4:11 ; Acts 9:3-6 . So here:
1 . The vision. A dry acacia bush on fire, not very singular. What is singular is that the bush seems to flourish amidst the flame! The mystery explained, Acts 9:2 , Acts 9:4 . The bush is in the midst of the flame, but the angel of Jehovah is in the midst of the hush.
2 . Its significance. Israel "a root out of a dry ground." In the furnace of affliction, yet flourishing amid the furnace (cf. Exodus 1:12 ). When Moses had "turned aside to see" forty years before, he had supposed that his brethren would have recognised in him their deliverer; had not sufficiently recognised himself that it was God's angel in their midst who was really preserving them. Trouble, sorrow, persecution may consume and practically annihilate; whole peoples have been killed off and left hardly a trace in history. Though "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church," yet there is no specially conservative power in suffering; it is only when God is with men that they can "walk through the fire and yet not be burned" (cf. Isaiah 43:2 ).
II. THE DIVINE REVELATION .
1 . Preliminary condition : Acts 9:4 . "Jehovah saw that he turned aside to see."
2 . The call heard and answered. To the man ready to receive it the call comes. God is going to reread his own name to Moses, but calls Moses first by his name. The conviction that God knows us is the best preparation for learning more about him. Moses is on the alert; eager to listen, ready to obey.
3 . Reverence secured : Acts 9:5 . Interviews with God need preparation. Even when God calls, man cannot hear his voice aright save in the hush of utter reverence. To attain this for those who are in the body, material aids must not be despised; so long as men possess senses there must be a sensuous form for even the most spiritual worship.
4 . God declares himself : Acts 9:6 . Cf. Matthew 22:32 . God in the midst of the nation, as in the midst of the bush, was preserving it in its entirety. Not like a bundle of green twigs, the relics of a perished stem. Stem and twigs, the ancestral stock no less than the offspring, all alike preserved—kept by him who can say, " I am their God." Application :—Has God ever declared himself to us? If not, whose the fault? Have we been on the outlook to catch his signs? Have we used due reverence in listening for his voice?—Have we been ready to obey even the lightest indication of his will? Attention, reverence, obedience—all needed if we would hear God speak. We must be as Moses was—self stifled, the world silenced, a-hush to hear the Divine voice.— G .
The Burning Bush.
"Behold the bush," etc. Exodus 3:2 . A very astonishing event; yet amply evidenced to us by those voluminous arguments which now more than ever establish the authenticity of Exodus; but in addition to this, we have here the special endorsement of the Truth Incarnate. See Mark 12:26 . [Examine this passage critically, and consider how full and valid the endorsement is! No mere acceptance of received legend.]
I. THE TIME . A solemn undertone in Mark 12:1 . A great soul wandering under the starlight of a partial revelation.
1 . In the life of the Church. A time of trial; Israel like leaves in autumn, like the foam of the sea, and that for long. Of deepening trial, see Exodus 1:1-22 . Deliverance apparently impossible. The government of the new Pharaoh now firm and strong. For evidence of depression see Exodus 6:9 .
2 . In the life of Moses. Eighty years of age. Acts 7:23 , Acts 7:30 . Yet hardly any history of the man. In fact we have no continuous history. Died at 120. First forty years? Blank. So with second and third. A history of four crises! Birth; decision; entrance on service; death.
II. THE SCENE . The following should be carefully observed, with the view of vivifying and realising this story of Divine manifestation. The scene was laid—
1 . In the desert. See Stanley's 'Sinai and Palestine,' pp. 12-14, for the general characteristics of the desert.
2 . In the Midian section of the desert. For exact definition of this, see "Midian," in Smith's 'Bibl. Dict.' 356a.
3 . In the Horeb range. Horeb designates the range of mountains about Sinai; Sinai the solitary grandeur of Jebel Mdsa. 'Desert of the Exodus,' p. 118.
4 . At Sinai . Probably in Er Rahah, the wide wady north of Sinai, with the mighty pile of Ras Sufsafeh towering on the south.
5 . Generally—amid mountains: where oft, as on the sea at night, God seems so near. His face towards the sun, Sinai in grand altitude of shade before him, Moses saw the brightness and heard the word of the Loges, the manifested God.
III. THE VISION . Observe here two elements:—
1 . The subjective. Moses' state of mind. This would be determined by the known circumstances of Israel, and by his own: he was away from his people, seemingly out of the covenant, the Divine promise forgotten.
2 . The objective. A lowly plant; not a tree. Fire. No consuming; no smoke, no ashes, no waste. In the Fire ( Acts 7:4 ) the Angel-God of the Old Testament. Symbol of the Church of all time. Isaiah 43:2 , Isaiah 43:3 .
IV. THE FIRST EFFECT . Intellectual curiosity. " I will now … why the bush," etc. This attention was better than indifference, but was probably nothing more than an intelligent curiosity. Still, this was not enough.
V. THE CHECK : Isaiah 43:4 , Isaiah 43:5 . The attitude of the mind should be that of reverent attention, face to face with Divine manifestations. "The word of the Lord always went along with the glory of the Lord, for every Divine vision was designed for Divine revelation." This the more necessary because over every revelation there is a veil. Habakkuk 3:4 . Distance becomes us. "Draw not nigh hither]" So in Science, Psychology, History, the revelation of the Christ. The aim not to satisfy the curiosity, but to enlighten and empower the conscience, and direct the life.
VI. THE DRAWING into covenantal relations, notwithstanding the momentary check. This by making known—
1 . The Divine Name : Habakkuk 3:6 . The God of thy father; of the immortal dead too; therefore thy God. The effect of this tender revelation: "Moses hid his face," etc.
2 . The Divine sympathy. " I know." Sense of the Divine Omniscience alone is an awful pressure from above on the soul; but there is a restoration to equilibrium, by a pressure from beneath supporting, i.e. by a sense of Divine sympathy—"their sorrows." See Maurice, 'Patriarchs and Lawgivers,' p. 162.
3 . A Divine salvation. " I am come down to deliver."
4 . Possibility of Divine service. "Come now, therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh:" Habakkuk 3:10 .— R .