Digging in Deeper: Exodus 3:2-4

“Then the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire within a bush. As Moses looked, he saw that the bush was on fire but was not consumed. So Moses thought, ‘I must go over and look at this remarkable sight. Why isn’t the bush burning up?’ When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called out to him from the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ ‘Here I am,’ he answered.” (CSB – Read the chapter)

How good are you at paying attention to what’s going on in the world around you? Some people have a keen eye to catch every detail of their surroundings. Others seem more like they walk around in a permanent fog. This can be tricky when we serve a God who sometimes likes to be subtle. It often feels like it is hard to catch what God is trying to say. We just wish He would do something big and flashy like set a bush on fire without burning it up, and then speak out of it when we draw near…just like Moses got here. Let’s talk about what’s going on in this famous God-encounter and what it might mean for us.

I remember having a conversation with a young man who had walked away from his faith in college. He kept talking about the lack of evidence in favor of God’s existence. It was honestly a laughable assertion from a novice who really didn’t have any idea what he was talking about seeing as how all of his information came from a few different atheist websites that were far more interested in scoring debate points than actually making good ones. But you can’t say that in mid-conversation unless you’ve got a lot of relational credibility to burn. So instead, after he had rejected a number of different lines of positive evidence I set before him, I finally asked him what kind of evidence he would actually be willing to accept as legitimate. He rather flippantly said that if God wrote a big “I’m real” across the sky, he might consider the proposition.

And wouldn’t we all in that situation? We all wish that God would be obvious and explicit with who He is and what He wants us to do. We don’t like having to live with uncertainty and doubt. We much prefer to have everything laid out for us in nice, neat, orderly lines so that we just have to follow them and get everything right. We’d rather do a paint-by-number picture than tackle a completely blank canvas. Now, of course, there are folks whose personality points them in exactly the opposite direction. They would much rather have less from Him and figure things out on their own. But whether you think this would be a good thing or an entirely too restrictive one, it is undeniable that God’s making Himself a lot more obvious would simplify a whole lot of our journey through this life.

And it’s not like He hasn’t done that sort of thing before. Just look at all of the examples of His communicating in ways that literally no one could miss throughout the Scriptures. I mean, sure, He gets a little more subtle toward the back of the book, but in those early stages of His revealing Himself to us, He was often about as obvious as He could be. I mean, a giant pillar of cloud sitting in front of you all day which turns into a pillar of fire by night is pretty hard to miss when you’re wondering where you should go next on your journey. It was equally hard to miss a burning bush that wasn’t actually burning.

I suppose brush fires from poorly tended campsites or lightning strikes on a mountain weren’t terribly unusual in the ancient world – no more than they are now. Perhaps over the years that Moses was grazing Jethro’s flocks he encountered wildfires on multiple different occasions. Still, they probably were not an everyday sort of occurrence. So, when he was tending the sheep around Mount Horeb in the Sinai wilderness, a single bush that was burning probably caught his eye. At the very least it caught his eye because he wanted to protect the sheep from the blaze if it spread. But a single burning bush that hadn’t spread to any of the brush around it was unusual, so he went over near it to investigate. When he did, he noticed something even stranger: the burning bush wasn’t actually burning.

This is actually one of those places where our tendency to read the Scriptures with our boring voice on works against our really getting into the story. We read these verses as very flat, but the language and word choice of the original Hebrew is a great deal more exciting-sounding than we make it out to be. It’s also a lot funnier than we make it out to be. Taking the language on its own terms, Moses discovers this bush that’s burning. But it’s not simply a bush on fire. The fire is coming from within the bush. Don’t miss that. The Lord appeared in a flame of fire within a bush. Fires typically come from the outside-in. This one was coming from the inside-out. So, naturally, Moses goes to check this out.

And I know Moses ultimately wrote this to sound very formal, but you have to believe this wasn’t what actually passed through his brain in the moment. Instead of, “I must go over and look at this remarkable sight. Why isn’t the bush burning up?” it was probably something more like, “Whoa! That bush is on fire, but it’s not burning! What on earth is going on here? I’ve got to go check this out.” And then when God calls out to Moses from the bush, Moses’ response to hearing his name called from out of a burning bush was probably not, “Here I am.” It was probably something more like, “Ahh! Who said that?!? I’m right here!” In any event, Moses’ call and ensuing instructions were absolutely undeniable.

Why doesn’t God do this same kind of thing with us? Why make us guess and wonder? Why not just lay it out for us in exacting detail so we can follow along and not make any mistakes? Well, there are several answers to that question. The first response is that sometimes God actually does make Himself and His plans that obvious to us. For starters, we have the Scriptures themselves where God lays out a great deal of what He wants for us to be doing in the kind of exacting detail we’re seeking. Once you are consistently doing all of the things He tells you to do in there, then you can start to ask for greater clarity in other things.

But I know that’s not what you’re really thinking. You’re thinking about the details of everyday life. Should I go here or there? Should I buy this or that? Should I take this job or that one? Well, again, God does sometimes give people explicit clarity in these matters. Talk to people who have been following Jesus faithfully for a long time, and you will likely hear some stories about how they received a word from God in some way that made clear to them exactly what they should be doing in a particular circumstance.

The truth, though, is that God doesn’t do that kind of thing often. Yes, we have many such stories recorded for us in the Scriptures of His doing it, but those stories cover only a handful of people relative to the total population. For the vast, vast majority of people who were committed to following Him with their lives, their experience was very much like yours and mine is. They made the best decision they could in a given situation based on the best information available to them at the time and with the intent of honoring God with their actions. God often doesn’t give us something more explicit than that because His doing so would take away any reason for us to have faith in Him. It wouldn’t allow us to grow in our willingness and ability to really trust in Him.

When you simply do what someone tells you all the time, you stop growing as a person. It weakens your decision-making abilities. You cease to have integrity. Character atrophies. God doesn’t want any of that for us. So, He lets us grow. He’s lets us experiment. He’s gives us grace when we make mistakes. He gives us plenty of direction in a big-picture sense, but lets us put the pieces in place. He actually does better than even that. We have something Moses could have never imagined and would have been overjoyed to have at his disposal. We have the Holy Spirit. We have God’s Spirit in us, directing our every step if we will only learn to listen to Him.

There’s still one more reason God doesn’t do this kind of thing often. For some people – the very people in fact who often demand His doing it before they’ll believe in Him – He could be as obvious as writing His name across the sky and it still wouldn’t matter. The young man I was talking with several years ago had decided He didn’t want to believe in God. A lack of evidence wasn’t even remotely the problem. He didn’t want to believe. Someone who doesn’t want to believe something isn’t going to believe it no matter how hard you try to convince them otherwise. Just as Jesus told us to do, God doesn’t cast His pearls before swine either.

So, where does this land for us? It lands here: a great majority of the decisions you will make in your life are not ones for which you will have clear and unmistakable direction from God on which option you should choose. There is, however, explicit and undeniable direction from God on how you should make them. You should make them in such a way that you are loving the people around you and honoring His character. The option that most falls in line with that is the one you should choose. If there is more than one option that checks those boxes, then you really can’t go wrong, so you don’t need to worry about it. Follow Jesus’ lead in loving people and you’ll always be on the right track.

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