The story of the Burning Bush is iconic. Every Sunday School student has drawn it, and it’s almost too famous – when we know something so well we can take it for granted. That’s dangerous: always be on the look out for the new thing God’s trying to tell you.
For instance, it took me years to notice how God waits for Moses to spot the bush before He speaks. This isn’t a sudden Road to Damascus experience, it’s a pause, a pregnant moment in history. We don’t know how long the bush was burning, only that the conversation was initiated when Moses went to investigate. God seems to be waiting for him.
But then Moses noticing things is what brought him to this point in the first place: he may have been raised in a palace, but despite this privilege he still noticed the suffering of the Hebrew slaves; later he sees Zipporah and her sisters attacked by shepherds and intervenes to save them, an act that draws him into another adopted family and gets him the job that takes him to the Burning Bush and an encounter with God.
You know, the God who has also recognised the suffering of his people.
Maybe, despite his later protests, Moses is exactly the right person to lead the Hebrews out of slavery because he and God both share an attentiveness to injustice (and notice that what really catches Moses’ attention is that the bush is on fire but not destroyed – it’s wrong and out of step with how the world should work, so how does that reflect on his earlier attention to injustice?). And that comes at a cost: Moses is forced to reconsider his identity, abandon his privilege and become a shepherd. It’seems a bush in the desert that burns, not a palace in Egypt.
(I suspect Shiphrah and Puah would have spotted the bush, had they been there.)
God appears to Moses, but waits for Moses to take the first step toward him, to plant his feet on holy ground. It’s a dynamic that echoes throughout the Exodus, God doing the heavy lifting but with Moses serving as herald. It’s a lopsided partnership, but a partnership nonetheless. And maybe that partnership is important, as it’s not just about defeating Pharaoh, it’s about making the Hebrews into the people of God.
That means we need to be attentive to what’s going on around us, to see where darkness reigns and to spot where the Kingdom needs to come – especially if that needs to break down our own privilege, the injustice we perpetuate with our own hands. And as we step towards those places, we’ll see that God is already there, waiting to transform situations but also his people. Because bushes still burn.