Sermon - Brad Brookins
Exodus 1-4 The Burning Bush
Exodus 3. 7-10
7 Then the Lord said, ‘I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, 8and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 10So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people…out of Egypt.’
Here is the story of Moses up to today’s reading.
Moses is born shortly after Pharaoh issues his deadly decree that all Hebrew baby boys were to be thrown into the Nile River. Moses’ mother finds a way to save her baby’s life.
The child is bundled into a floating basket and sent him downstream, right in front of Pharaoh’s daughter, who is there for her morning bath. She opens the basket, finds the baby inside and, we can only assume, immediately falls head over heels in love.
With courage and compassion she defies her father’s command, takes the boy home and raises him as her own son. She names him Moses. His name means “one pulled out” of the river.
Moses is raised to power and privilege, but he doesn’t forget where he came from. One day, when he is 40 years old, he is out surveying the work being done for his grandfather, Pharaoh, by the Hebrew slaves. He sees an Egyptian taskmaster beating one of his Hebrew brothers. He kills the Egyptian and buries his body in the sand.
When he is found out Pharaoh wants his head. So Moses flees across the desert into the wilderness of Midian.
There at a well he meets the 7 daughters of Jethro. They invite him home for dinner. “What are you doing way out here?” Jethro asks. “Not much”, Moses replies. “Then stay with me and marry my daughter and settle here”. And Moses replies, “OK”.
And that’s how Moses, the grandson of Pharaoh, became Pharaoh to a flock of sheep. Fast forward 40 more years and you come to today’s story.
Moses is herding Jethro’s sheep past Mt Horeb—not our Mt Horeb, of course, but the mountain that would later be known as Mt Sinai. He notices, off to the side a ways, a bush engulfed, but not consumed, in flames—not something you see every day unless your eyes are accustomed to noticing the presence of God in ordinary things.
“I must turn aside and see this great sight”, Moses says, “and see why the bush is not burned up”. He approaches the bush and the voice of God booms out—not something you hear every day unless your ears are attuned to noticing the voice of God in ordinary places.
“Moses! Do not come any closer. Take your shoes off, for you are standing on holy ground”. Moses slips off his sandals and stands barefoot before a flaming bush. Is this what holy ground feels like?
“I am the God of your father” the voice says, “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Moses hides his face.
Then he hears words that must have surprised him. No Egyptian god has ever spoken this way—“the Lord said, ‘I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them…to a…land flowing with milk and honey.”
Back in Egypt, Pharaoh—who was himself a god, ran the whole country like a Bangladeshi sweat shop. He closed his eyes to the misery of the people; his ears never heard their cry. Pharaoh’s concern was production—more bricks to build more cities. He used people like he used shoes. When they were used up he tossed them aside.
That’s the god Moses knew. How strange these words must have sounded in his ears: “I have observed their misery… I have come down to deliver them”.
Of course, what happened next was pretty unusual, too; and for Moses even more unsettling than a burning bush in the middle of the wilderness.
“I have seen how the Egyptians oppress them” God says. “So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people out of Egypt.”
And thus begins one of the great adventure stories of all time.
There are a dozen sermons in the story I just told you; and dozens more in the stories that follow. All of them would be worth preaching, too.
But I’m saving them for another day. Instead, in the few minutes that remain I’m going to do something I only very occasionally do, and go all “geeky” on you and talk not about what the Bible says, but about what the Bible is.
There’s something in this story that people often miss. But when they see it—when they understand what is going on in a story like this, everything changes.
When I began preparing, a couple of weeks ago, for this morning, I read the burning bush story and one line jumped right out and demanded my attention. This is verse 8 & 9 in chapter 3:
God says, “I have come down to deliver (Israel) from the Egyptians, and to bring them to…a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites.
Maybe this is just the way my brain works, but when I read that I wondered—did anyone think to ask the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, or the Jebusites what they thought of this plan? It was, after all, their land that was about to be taken away.
Isn’t this a bit odd? God delivers Israel from oppression in Egypt in verse 8 and turns Israel into the oppressor of Canaan in verse 9. Is that OK? Why was it wrong for Egypt to oppress Israel but right for Israel to oppress Canaan? Would God hear ever the cries of the Jebusites and come to their aid? Is God this inconsistent?
Do you see a problem here? Do these contradictions bother you?
Maybe they do, but that’s not the problem I want to talk about. It is the a problem behind that problem that I’m interested in. I don’t want to talk about the contradictions within the Bible. I want to talk about how we talk about those contradictions.
I told you this was going to be geeky; but at least it will be short
There are two ways most of us come at this problem of contradictions in Scripture.
Some folks will say the Bible is God’s holy word. It is not inconsistent. To say so shows weak faith. To question the Bible, they say, shows great disrespect to God and to God’s word; it dishonors something that should always be revered.
On the other hand, some folks say “Of course there are inconsistencies and contradictions in the Bible. Open your eyes. They’re everywhere”. Unfortunately, many of these people then conclude that this “holy word” must not be all that holy. If God can’t get his story straight, they wonder, why pay attention to the book at all.
Now neither of these strategies is very effective for reading and understanding the Bible. Both, in fact, are dead ends. You get nowhere when you question nothing. You get nowhere when you toss everything out.
So what do we do?
Well, there’s good news and bad news here. The good news is that there is a way through this conundrum. The Bible is not a dead end. The bad news is that it takes a little work to get there.
Here’s the thing, figuring out what the Bible is and how we should read it is an adult, grown up problem that requires the use of our adult, grown up brains. We aren’t in Sunday school anymore.
You can’t send a man to the moon using the math you learned in 3rd grade. Just so, we can’t understand this strange, foreign and ancient book with only the tools we were given downstairs on Sunday mornings 40, 50 or 60 years ago.
This is not 3rd grade work.
Now I’m not saying—and listen carefully to this—I’m not saying we can’t believe in God without doing this work. And I’m not saying we can’t have a rock solid faith without doing this work. We can, and many of us do.
But I am saying that if we want to understand this book—and you don’t have to but if you want to, we have to work at it. It takes effort to avoid these two dead ends of asking no questions at all or accepting no answers at all.
But here’s the other thing—all I can do this morning is point out the need. The worship service is not the place or time to solve this problem. The right time and place these days is downstairs around the kitchen table at 9 o’clock on Sunday mornings, where Ruth is leading us through through these very stories and questions. If you’re interested, that’s the place to be.
This morning, though, I’ll leave you with today’s story—which happens to be one of the best examples in the Bible of how to work with the Word of God.
Moses comes to the burning bush and hears God’s word—up close and personal. What does he do? He covers his face and begins arguing with God—not with the Bible, as we have to, but directly with God.
“Bring my people out of Egypt”, God says.
Five times Moses responds with the ancient Hebrew equivalent of, “You must be kidding!”
“Who am I to do this?” he says.
“What if they don’t believe me?” he says.
“I don’t even know your name!” he says.
“I’m no good at public speaking!” he says.
And finally he pleads, “Lord, send somebody else!”
Moses engages God in deep and contentious conversation. He is no puppet in this story, waiting to have his strings pulled. And this is good, because God isn’t looking for a puppet, God is looking for a partner.
Partners talk to each other; sometimes they fight. “Come now” God says in the opening chapter of Isaiah, “let us argue it out!”
Moses show us how to handle the Word of God.
And here you find the good news for this morning. The word of God—as Moses heard it and as we read it every Sunday, is no dead end. It is, instead, an invitation to conversation with our Creator.
This is what we need to hear in today’s story.
Well that, and this: Friendship is hard work. Friendship with God is hard work. Do it anyway. It’s worth it.
The full text for this week—excerpts from Exodus 2, 3 and 4, follows this set of questions. Better than excerpts, though, would be to read all of the first 4 chapters of Exodus. This will help you make the most sense of the story and these questions.
1. If you grew up being told that God never listened to you, wouldn’t keep a promise if he did remember it and would never show concern for your well-being, how do you think you would feel after hearing Exodus 2. 23-25? Would you have a hard time
believing it? How do people change their deeply held beliefs about God?
2. Moses was a curious guy. Ex. 3:3 “Moses said, ‘I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” Has there ever been a time when curiosity about the world or the Bible or God led you in a direction you previously could not have imagined going? Describe the curiosity and where it took you.
3. A bush, even a burning one, seems a humble metaphor for God. Do you see any significance to the bush as a symbol? Any significance to the fact that the bush burns but is not consumed?
4. Ex. 3:8, 10 God says, “I have come down to deliver” Israel from their slavery…”So I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people out of Egypt.” Why does God ask Moses for help? Does God need Moses’ help? How do you understand the interplay
between divine will and human action in the Bible? In your life?
5. A contemporary ethics question: Ex. 3:8 God wants to bring Israel to the land of “the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites”. Did anybody ask the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, or the Jebusites what they thought of this plan? Should they have been asked? The European settlers believed God gave North and South America to them as their Promised Land and that the genocide of the indigenous peoples (also know as Indians) was an acceptable price to pay. Were they right?
6. “What’s in a name?” Ex 3.13-15 God’s name, YHWH (Yahweh) translates as “I am who I am” or “I will be who I will be”. But what do you think the name means?
7. Ex. 4:13 “O my Lord, please send someone else.” Have you ever, against your will or your better judgment, followed what you believed was God’s direction? Describe the situation and how that worked out for you?
23 After a long time the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned under their slavery, and cried out. Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God. 24God heard
their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 25God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them.
Exodus 3. 1-15
Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. 3Then Moses said, ‘I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.’ 4When the Lord saw
that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ 5Then he said, ‘Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’ 6He said further, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. 7 Then the Lord said, ‘I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, 8and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country
of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the
Egyptians oppress them. 10So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.’ 11But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh,
and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’ 12He said, ‘I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt,
you shall worship God on this mountain.’
13 But Moses said to God, ‘If I come to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your ancestors has sent me to you”, and they ask me, “What is his name?” what shall I say to them?’ 14God said to Moses, ‘I am who I am.’ He said further, ‘Thus you shall say
to the Israelites, “I am has sent me to you.” ’ 15God also said to Moses, ‘Thus you shall say to the Israelites, “The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you”:This is my name for ever,
and this my title for all generations.
Exodus 4. 10-17
10 But Moses said to the Lord, ‘O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.’ 11Then the Lord said to him, ‘Who gives speech to mortals? Who
makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? 12Now go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak.’ 13But he said, ‘O my Lord, please send someone else.’ 14Then the anger of the Lord was kindled against Moses and he said, ‘What of your brother Aaron the Levite? I know that he can speak fluently; even now he is coming out to meet you, and when he sees you his heart will be glad. 15You shall speak to him and put the words in his mouth; and I will be with your mouth and with his mouth, and will teach you what you shall do. 16He indeed shall speak for you to the people; he shall serve as a mouth for you, and you shall serve as God for him. 17Take
in your hand this staff, with which you shall perform the signs.’