The Talking Bush
Listening, Patience, Humilty
As most of you are aware, I was interviewed a couple of times this last week. These are really enjoyable times because they force you to look back and trace the events and circumstances that led you to where you are today. If given the chance most people can tell you in general terms how they came to be doing what they are doing.
- A teacher may point to a mentor
- A farmer may talk about a parent who taught them to love the land
- Someone in medicine may point to an event in their life where they watched someone in pain and wished they could help.
- A factory worker may point to a friend who got them a job or the benefits that attracted them
- A salesman may point to a particular time in life when they realized they had a “way” with people.
- And a Pastor may point to a particular moment when they sensed God’s call
If you were to ask Moses when his “career” began he would point to the event recorded in Exodus 3. He would tell you that it all began when a bush talked to him.
You have perhaps heard the very popular joke that is going around. President Bush (either one) gets to Heaven and is excited to meet those he has read about in the Bible. He sees Moses one day and starts running up to him. Moses sees him coming and runs away. On another occasion the President sees Moses and calls to him but Moses ignores him. Finally the President corners Moses and says, “Have I done something to offend you? We’re in Heaven . . . you should be treating me better than you have been.
Moses is contrite and says, “I’m sorry for my rudeness. Please understand my reluctance. The last time I talked to a bush I spent the next forty years wandering in the desert with a bunch of malcontents!
Anyway, this account in Exodus 3 is a great story with some valuable lessons for your life and mine. Before we draw our lessons, let’s make sure we have our facts straight.
Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”
We need to understand our chronology here. It is easy for you and I to read the first three chapters and think that everything that took place in those passages happened quickly. But you would be wrong. The first christian martyr, Stephen (Acts 7) tells us that Moses was in Egypt for 40 years before he killed the Egyptian and had to run for his life. He was then in Midian for 40 more years.
Anyway, we are told that Moses was on the far side of the desert with the flock of his father-in-law Jethro (Since it is 40 years later it is very possible that the translation should be brother-in-law. This would also explain why Moses Father in law is called Reul in chapter two and Jethro in Chapter 3. The other explanation is that “Jethro” is a title and Reuel was his name.)
We are told that Moses was on the far side of the desert. It may not have been desert at all but instead was a very lush area that Moses could only get to by going through the desert. We are told that this was near the “mountain of Horeb”. Horeb may be the name of a Mountain range with one of the mountains in that range being Mt. Sinai, the place where God met with Moses to give him the law some time later.
So, Moses is out with the sheep and he notices a shrub on fire. I suspect, spending so much time out in the desert he had seen shrubs on fire before. But this was a unique phenomena. The bush was flaming but it wasn’t really burning! So, Moses is intrigued and goes over to see what the story is with the bush. And that’s when the voice comes out of the bush!
When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
And Moses said, “Here I am.”
“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”
It doesn’t take much imagination to think that no one ever got out of their shoes faster than Moses did at this time. Why did God tell him to “take off His shoes” you ask? Certainly, if his shoes were dirty, so were his feet. What is the point? It is probable that at this time that taking off your shoes was a sign of respect, much like it is still in oriental lands. Perhaps it would be the equivalent to a man taking off his hat when the flag approaches, or taking off your hat for prayer or when you come into church. It was a gesture of reverence and respect.
Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.
That sounds strange to you but this is a common response when you encounter the Almighty. When Isaiah saw the Lord He was afraid (Isaiah 6). When the disciples witnessed Jesus calm the storm they were afraid. God is so awesome that He is intimidating. But there may be even more to it. When we see God for who He is . . . when we see His purity and goodness it is like the light being turned on in our heart. For the first time we see our sin for what it really is and we know that we deserve to be consumed by God! We shrink away because we know that we do not deserve to be in God’s presence.
The LORD said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”
It’s a great story. It’s filled with interesting details. It’s a slice of history. But the question you are right to ask is: “So What?” What should we learn.
THE DESERT TIMES ARE TIMES OF PREPARATION
For forty years Moses was in the wilderness. FORTY YEARS! By the time his “call” came he was 80! It might seem that the best years of Moses’ life were wasted. He had forty years of training in Egypt. At forty years old he was confident, powerful, filled with energy and ambition. It seemed like the perfect time for Moses to make his mark for God.
But God needed a different kind of person. He needed one who was dependent on the Lord, one who was confident in God’s promise rather than his own ability. He needed a servant not a celebrity. So Moses was sent to the desert. Those years were not wasted . . . they were years of training.
Please understand, Moses didn’t know why he was in the desert. He doesn’t know the rest of the story. We can only imagine what was going on in the head of this well-trained former hot-shot from Egypt. Did he spend years pouting? Did he spend time in regret? Did he resent his circumstances? We don’t know. All we know is that God was waiting for Moses to be ready to lead? God knew the state of the Israelites but would not move until Moses was ready to do the job right.
Think about this. Do you feel you are in the desert? Do you feel that there is very little that you can do at present? It could be that you are in God’s desert training camp. You may not know what God is doing. You may not see any purpose in your circumstances. It could be that God is using your circumstances to get you to look at Him. It’s possible that He is working on your heart. So study hard. Learn well. As long as you resist, as long as you fight Him, you will remain “on the bench”.
The movie “The Karate Kid” is a good illustration of what we are talking about. Daniel wanted to learn Karate but instead of learning kicks and punches his coach had him painting fence and waxing cars. He was getting frustrated at the delay in his training. What he didn’t realize at the time was that this was his training. He was in the desert and didn’t realize that the Master was in the process of molding him and preparing him to reach the goals he desired.
Let’s look at something else. Do you feel you have passed your prime? Do you claim you are too old to be of any service to the Lord? Then maybe you need to remember Moses. He was 80 before he even started his work for the Lord! Could it be that God has spent your whole life preparing you for such a time as this?
- Maybe the Lord was putting you in a financial position to be able to serve Him full time
- Maybe you were learning skills He could use in a great way
- Maybe he was waiting for your audience or companions to be born
- Maybe he was putting together a support system that would work with you.
Just because you are older doesn’t mean that God is finished using you.
GOD KNOWS WHAT IS GOING ON
“I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians.
For 400 years the Israelites have been in Egypt and for most of that time they have been enslaved. Their babies were killed, their freedom restricted, and there must have been many times when these people wondered why God didn’t care. But the Lord tells Moses that He sees, he hears, and he is concerned. And now, He has come to rescue them.
I know, you wonder, “Why the delay?” Me too. But God knows what is going on. He saw the oppression of His people and waited . . . He has His reasons. And when we finally see why God does what He does, we will bow in wonder and praise.
This is true not only of Israel, it’s also true for us
- He knows our weaknesses
- He knows our past
- He knows our potential
- He knows our pain
- He knows what’s best for us
- He knows how we can be used most effectively
Do you ever feel that God has forgotten you? You feel that He must have turned away and is no longer listening to your cries for help. God is not deaf to your cries, He is preparing to come to your aid.
There is no better example than Christ’s coming into the world. God saw our situation . . . He knew we were like sheep without a Shepherd and he came down in the person of Christ, to rescue us. The timing was perfect and the offer of salvation has been proclaimed throughout the world. He knows what we need. He knows where we are. He knows how to help.
Our job is to turn to Him and trust Him. He has provided what we need and now it is our job to place our confidence in Christ’s work and not our own. We can dig in our heels or we can run to His open arms. We can argue or we can rest. We can find life or continue to know frustration. The choice is ours.
WE MUST BE READY TO SEE GOD WHERE HE CHOOSES TO REVEAL HIMSELF
It May be Dramatic. In this case it was a burning bush. For some people it may be an emotional experience, a vision, or a dramatic opportunity. When these things happen we need to pay attention. Moses could have turned away. He might have written it off thinking he must be seeing things. But that’s not what he did. Instead, Moses took a closer look. He was open to be instructed. What would have happened if Moses had not walked toward the bush . . . . then we can only assume that God would not have spoken.
It May Not. But God does not always speak in this way. Do you remember the account of Elijah? Elijah was exhausted and felt that the world was against him. He went to the mountains, ate some food, and then took a nap.
The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. [1 Samuel 19:11-13]
God often speaks to us in quiet whispers. He may speak to us,
- through the words of a child
- a song
- a sermon
- a book
- a gentle whisper to our ready heart
- the counsel of a friend
Late one evening a professor sat at his desk working on the next day’s lectures. He shuffled through the papers and mail placed there by his housekeeper. He began to throw them in the wastebasket when one magazine–not even addressed to him but delivered to his office by mistake–caught his attention. It fell open to an article titled “The Needs of the Congo Mission.”
The professor began reading it idly, but then he was consumed by these words: “The need is great here. We have no one to work the northern province of Gabon in the central Congo. And it is my prayer as I write this article that God will lay His hand on one–one on whom, already, the Master’s eyes have been cast–that he or she shall be called to this place to help us.” The professor closed the magazine and wrote in his diary: “My search is over.” He gave himself to go to the Congo.
The professor’s name was Albert Schweitzer. That little article, hidden in a periodical intended for someone else, was placed by accident in Schweitzer’s mailbox. By chance his housekeeper put the magazine on the professor’s desk. By chance he noticed the title, which seemed to leap out at him. Dr. Schweitzer became one of the great figures this century in a humanitarian work nearly unmatched in human history. Chance? No. Providence. [ Dan Betzer, Ft. Meyers, Florida. Pentecostal Evangel. Leadership, Vol. 12, no. 3.]
When He Speaks We Must Listen. Moses turned to the bush rather than dismissing it. If we are going to be led by God then we have to train our ears to listen. In order to do that several things have to happen. First, we must approach Him reverently. Moses could not hear unless he respected the one who was speaking. Unfortunately, reverence has given way largely to arrogance and a casualness or over-familiarity which shows a lack of respect to the Lord rather than reverence. As a result, people run after their whims and no one seems to have a clear word from the Lord. We need reverence once again in our churches.
Second, we must be humble enough to be instructed. As long as we “have it all figured out” we will not learn because we will not be listening. We need to realize that God can speak through anyone. He may speak through the person we have concluded has nothing to say. He may speak through an opponent. He may speak through a child. He may speak through one who’s mind seems to be “slipping”. We must put aside our foolish pride and stereotypes and listen. If we are not listening we will miss God’s whispers.
Third, we must expect God to speak. This is not an expectation that is anchored in arrogance. It is not a demand that God speak to us. It is an expectation that comes from readiness. We must be ready to hear and to obey.
God spoke to Moses through something common, like a bush. He placed His fire in that bush and used it in an extraordinary way. The same can be true for you. If you are willing, God can set you afire and use you in ways you never dreamt possible. You can be His holy ground. But first, you must turn to Him in faith. You must receive the provision He has made on your behalf. You must stop relying on yourself and start relying on Him. Chuck Swindoll writes,
I believe there are many who have not responded to God’s call on their lives–many who may miss opportunities to flame brightly for Him, like a radiant city shining on a hilltop. I speak to so many who are waiting for some kind of curious sign in the heavens, some engraved invitation hand delivered by an angel, some wondrous, mystical moment. And all God is waiting for is to hear you say, “I’m here, Lord. I’m Yours, thorns and all. Just set me afire.” (Swindoll, MOSES p. 107)