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Pentecost 22 Devotion on the Burning Bush

Today, the Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost, our Old Testament Reading comes from Exodus 3:1–15. We take our devotional reading from LifeLight Leaders Guide: Exodus, Part 1.

Scripture Readings

  • Exodus 3:1–15
  • Psalm 148; antiphon: v. 13
  • 2 Thessalonians 2:1–8, 13–17
  • Luke 20:27–40

Read the propers for today in Lutheran Service Builder

Devotional Reading

“Fire!” How frightening the cry “Fire!” can be! We may envision the house going up in flames! And how fascinating fire can be: sitting by the fireplace or campfire, singing, chatting, letting the dancing flames conjure up dreams and memories. Or fire may be used as a signal: the stranded motorist lights a warning flare beside the highway, protesters burn their enemy in effigy, American Indians of old light fires on hills to send smoke signals.

Over several days, Moses had driven the flocks of sheep and goats belonging to his father-in-law, Reuel, for miles across the desert. (3:1, 18:1–27) Reuel (2:18), which means “friend of God,” was probably his father-in-law’s given name, while Jethro was perhaps a title (for he was a priest), likely meaning “his excellency.” (3:1) Arriving at his destination, the slopes of the mountain range of Horeb, Moses could easily find grass and oases, food and water for the animals. The difficult journey over, he might now relax while watchfully observing the flocks. Perhaps Moses mused about his luxurious past at Pharaoh’s court, the tragic struggle of his Israelite people as slaves in Egypt, and his inability as a fugitive to help them.

Fire! Suddenly, there it was: fire in the wilderness! Frightening. Could a bedouin’s tent be burning? No, not that. Could it be a signal fire? No, only a bush burning. Still, fascinating! How did it start? By lightning? But there was no thunderstorm! Fascinating indeed, for the fire kept on burning, but the bush didn’t burn up!

Moses was drawn to the burning bush, but then he learned that it was indeed a signal for him, and it became frightening. (3:2, 4) A divine messenger, an angel, was the cause of the fire, and God Himself spoke to him out of it. Fire was often a symbol of God’s presence or activity, usually of His anger and judgment, and therefore was frightening. But it might also indicate His holiness or a revelation, as here. God being present, the place became holy, sacred. It was like the place where God appeared to Jacob with the vision of the angels ascending and descending on the ladder, so that he consecrated it and named it “Bethel,” which means the “house of God.” The ancients among various peoples, and many even today, would remove their shoes at a sanctuary, for shoes become dirty from profane ground and were out of place on holy ground. Fire also became the symbol of revelation in the New Testament, as divine “tongues of fire” appeared on the disciples’ heads when the Holy Spirit inspired them to preach the Gospel in languages unknown to them (Acts 2:3–4). Here the Lord God spoke to Moses from the revelatory fire that burned but did not consume.

Who was this God? The Egyptian god of fire? The Canaanite Baal, god of lightning and storm? No, He was Moses’ own God, the Israelites’ God, the God of their forefathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This God had revealed Himself to these patriarchs, promising them protection, descendants, land, and especially that they would be a blessing to all the peoples of the world.

Here this God of the Israelites had a purpose in this unique means of self-disclosure to Moses through the burning bush. He revealed that He had “come down to rescue them” from the power of the Egyptians and “to bring them up” into that good land He had long ago promised them. (3:10) He called Moses, instructing him: “Go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring My people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

Have you ever been bowled over by a request to fulfill a task for which you were absolutely convinced you were unqualified and incompetent? So was Moses. Sure, he had been raised in Pharaoh’s palace, but now he was a fugitive with a price on his head, an outlaw. Besides, he had once tried to help the Israelites but had failed miserably. In the many intervening years, Moses had learned well the lesson of humility. He was a simple shepherd; all he had now were several hundred sheep and goats, whereas he would need an enormous army of thousands of chariots and hundreds of thousands of soldiers.

But God brushed aside Moses’ first objection with a simple promise: “I will be with you.” This was the assurance of God’s presence, protection, and empowerment. Indeed, it was the basic foundation of all biblical faith. If God is with us, then we never need be afraid. If God is with us, then “who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). If God is with us, then “who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Romans 8:35). For, ultimately, God is with us in Christ Jesus, our “Immanu-El” (“with us is God”; Isaiah 7:14), our divine Redeemer, Savior, and Intercessor. God also promised Moses a sign for proof (Exodus 3:12): “When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”

Genesis 4:3–4, 26—God did not reveal to Moses a new name, for His name Yahweh (usually translated as LORD) was known already from the beginning. But never before had God revealed the full significance of His name, that is, His real nature and character. True, He had saved Noah and his family from the flood and had protected the patriarchs from various dangers. But never before had He rescued an entire people from slavery or proven Himself victorious over mighty gods. God indicated He could do this and wanted to do this when He explained the true meaning of His name for the first time (this is the sense of Exodus 6:3): “I AM WHO I AM.” His name Yahweh can be understood in Hebrew to mean “He is,” “He will be,” or even “He causes to be.” So, with God speaking of Himself, it is rendered “I am.” (3:12) God describes Himself as the God who will be with His people to save them and bless them.

Therefore, since Genesis 1, this is the first great declaration of monotheism, that the God of Israel is the one and only God. This truth Moses later clearly confessed in his final song (Deuteronomy 32:39).

Devotional reading adapted from LifeLight Leaders Guide: Exodus, Part 1, copyright © 1991, 2002 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.

Hymn of the Day

Hymn of the day is Do Not Be Afraid by Michael Larkin, copyright © 2019 Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved. 

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