High Noon at the Burning Bush

Exodus 3:1-10

May 16, 2022 | Ray Pritchard

We all want to be used by God.

Every Christian I’ve ever met feels that way. We want our lives to count for Christ, and we want to influence our world for Jesus.

But we have our doubts.
Do you think God can’t use you?
Do you think you’re not good enough?

Do you think God can’t use you?

Think again.

Look at some of the people God used in the Bible:

Moses stuttered.
Timothy felt inadequate.
John Mark was rejected by Paul.
Hosea’s wife was a prostitute.
Jacob was a cheat.
David had an affair and had a man murdered to cover it up.
Solomon wasn’t so smart after all.
Abraham lied about his wife—twice!
Isaac lied about his wife.
David was too young.
Peter denied Christ three times.
Jonah ran from God.

Jonah ran from God.

Sarah laughed at God.
Lot was totally messed up.
Miriam was a gossip.
Gideon and Thomas both doubted.
Peter walked on water—then he sank.
Elijah struggled with depression.
Esau sold his birthright.
Some of the apostles doubted the resurrection.
Reuben slept with his father’s concubine.
Peter compromised the gospel.
John the Baptist acted strange.
Martha complained about her sister.
Samson slept with a prostitute.

Samson slept with a prostitute.

Noah got drunk.

The list goes on and on.

During a radio interview, the host asked me why so many Bible characters had serious flaws. My answer was simple. That’s all God has to work with. All the perfect people are in heaven. The talent pool has always been thin when it comes to moral perfection. In heaven, we will all be vastly improved. But until then, he chooses imperfect people so he can display his power through human weakness.

You think God can’t use you?
Think again.

All God asks is that we make ourselves available to him.

That brings us to Exodus 3, the story of Moses and the burning bush. It takes place on the backside of the desert, not far from Mount Sinai.

Here’s what we need to know by way of background:

Moses is now 80 years old. We can divide his life so far into two segments of forty years each:

40 years in Egypt, 40 years in the desert.
40 years of fame, 40 years of obscurity.
40 years of luxury, 40 years of austerity.

Let me say it another way. Moses is now 80 years old. He’s well past retirement age and well past his prime, at least when compared to most men.

No pickleball for Moses!

He has reached the age when men cash in their 401Ks and buy an RV.
By this time in life, most men focus on their grandkids, and they learn how to play pickleball.

Now and then we hear about a man who starts a new career in his 80th year—but it’s rare. When you reach 80, you’re coming down the homestretch, rounding the final turn, collecting your Social Security, and, yes, you’re learning to play pickleball.

A lot of men never make it to 80.

Something happens—cancer, stroke, heart attack, Covid, a fall, an accident, or perhaps you lie down for a nap, and you never wake up.

It happens.

Isaac Watts reminded us of this truth:

Time like an ever-rolling stream
Bears all its sons away,
They fly forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day.

As Charles Barkley likes to say: “Father Time is undefeated.”

Father Time is undefeated

He’s right.

Yet here we have Moses at the age of 80, about to get his marching orders from God.

Not only that.

He’s going to live another 40 years. Almost everything we remember him for happens during those 40 years.
When most men are slowing down, Moses is moving into overdrive.

What happened at the burning bush 3500 years ago changed world history. Let’s see how it happened. It starts with an …

#1: Ordinary Day

“Meanwhile, Moses was shepherding
         the flock of his father-in-law Jethro,
the priest of Midian.

He led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to
         Horeb, the mountain of God” (Ex. 3:1).

Even today, we’re not sure where Midian was. It’s clearly part of the Sinai Desert, but it may have extended into Saudi Arabia, on the east side of the Gulf of Aqaba. When we think about Midian, we are talking about a barren place, more like the backside of the moon. Midian was a dangerous place to live if you were not prepared because the heat and the predators and the lack of water could quickly kill you.

That’s where Moses spent the second forty years of his life.

Everything in this story hangs on one fact. Moses meets God during an ordinary day. It’s not as if he got up this morning and said, “My whole life is about to change.” At the age of 80, he had every reason to think nothing would ever change.

It was just one more day with the sheep in the desert.
But his life was about to take a sudden turn in a new direction.

All our questions lead back to God

All our questions lead back to God sooner or later. All our smaller issues lead us back to the One who sits on the throne of the universe.

So here’s Moses doing his job in a remote place, doing what he has done each day for the last forty years. He doesn’t have an inkling God is about to speak to him.

While Moses takes care of the family business, God is about to change the trajectory of his life.

That leads to a crucial insight. 99% of life is ordinary. It’s the same old stuff day after day. You get up in the morning, take a shower, put your clothes on, eat breakfast, get the kids ready for school, go to work, come home, read the paper, watch TV, eat supper, play with the kids, flop into bed dead-tired, and then get up the next morning and do it all over again.

That’s the way life is. It’s the same thing day after day.

What’s the first step in discovering the will of God? You begin by doing what you already know to be the will of God in your present situation.

You don’t need to worry about God’s will for tomorrow or the day after tomorrow, much less next week, next month, or next year. Just get up each day and do the will of God for that day, and in the doing of God’s will today, you will discover God’s will for tomorrow.

Or said another way, what do you do while you’re waiting for the bush to start burning? Elisabeth Elliot gave this simple answer: “Do the next thing. There is always a next thing that needs to be done.”

Do the next thing!

So many of us live for those mountain-peak experiences when the clouds part and God seems so close to us. Many people wish those spectacular moments would happen every day. Often when we say, “God, show me your will,” what we really mean is, “Lord, give me some feeling, some insight, some spiritual revelation.”

And God says, “I have already shown you my will. Now, get up and do it!”

What is God’s will for a student? Do your homework.
What is God’s will for a doctor? Get up and do your rounds early in the morning.
What is God’s will for a pharmacist? Fill those prescriptions and do it right.
What is God’s will for a banker? Take care of my money, and don’t lose it!
What is God’s will for an accountant? Take care of those books and do it right.
What is God’s will for a teacher? Make your lesson plans and come to class ready to teach.
What is God’s will for a salesman? Know your product, make your contacts, go see your prospects, and move the merchandise.

If you are a young mother and you want to know what God’s will is, it has something to do with dirty diapers. God’s will for young mothers is more than dirty diapers, but it’s not less than that.

God’s will for a secretary is more than typing, but it’s not less than that.
God’s will for you is more than showing up and doing a job, but it’s not less than that.

What is God’s will for Moses?

Take care of those sheep.
Find them some water.
Keep the wolves away.

Take care of those sheep!

God’s call came to Moses during ordinary obedience. The same will be true for us today.

People ask, “Can God speak to me today?” I tell them not to worry about it. God has your number on speed dial. He can ring your phone any time of the day or night. And you won’t be able to put him on call waiting!

So here’s Moses in the desert. It’s been forty long years of hot days and cold nights. Forty years of dust, dirt, wind and sand. Forty years with the sheep in the wilderness. Forty years looking for the next oasis.

This story begins on a completely ordinary day. But then there is an …

#2 Extraordinary Bush 

“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?’” (Ex. 3:2-3).

A bush in the desert is not extraordinary. Nor is it unusual that a bush is burning in the desert. After all, it’s hot and dry, and the temperature can easily rise to 120 degrees in the desert. Fire is a common occurrence in those conditions.

But it’s extraordinary that the bush burned but was not consumed. That’s what caught Moses’ attention. It’s not just strange; it’s downright incredible. If we saw the same thing, we would walk over to take a closer look.

God can make any bush burn

God can make any bush burn any time he likes. And he can make the bush burn without being consumed.

In fact, any bush will do!By this strange sign, God was saying to Moses, “What I did with this bush, I can do with you.”

First, there is an ordinary day. Second, there is an extraordinary bush. Third, there is a …

#3: Personal Call

“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. 

‘Do not come closer,’ he said.
‘Remove the sandals from your feet,
         for the place where you are standing
         is holy ground’” (Ex. 3:4-5).

Always pay attention when a name is repeated twice in the Bible:

“Mary, Mary.”
“Jacob, Jacob.”
“Moses, Moses.”

The repeated name is a sign of intimacy. It means something important and very personal is about to be revealed.

When God calls his name, Moses responds by saying, “Here I am.” It’s a Hebrew word that comes into English as “Hineni” (pronounced hee-neh-nee). It was Moses’ way of saying:

Here I am.
I’m ready to serve.
What do you want me to do?

It’s what a servant says to his master.
It’s what a little boy says to his father.
It’s what believers say to the Lord God.

 “Here I am!”

Hineni. Here I am.

Abraham said it in Genesis 22:1.
Jacob said it in Genesis 31:11
Moses said it in Exodus 3:4.
Isaiah said it in Isaiah 6:8.

Let’s give Moses credit for responding positively. He doesn’t try to hide, and he doesn’t try to evade the question. That’s crucial because when God calls, we can always find an excuse:

“Not me, Lord.”
“Ask someone else.”
“I’m busy.”
“I’m happy right where I am.”

When God calls, we need to pay attention. That’s why God told Moses to take off his shoes. “This is holy ground, Moses. Don’t take it for granted. Show some respect.”

Remember that Moses is in the “backside of the desert,” a long way from civilization.
Yet God met him there.

In the tough stuff of life, we rarely get a choice in advance, which is good because if we did, we would be tempted to run the other direction.

But it is in moments like this that we discover what we believe.

When Moses said, “Here am I,” think about what he didn’t know.

We rarely get a choice in advance

He had no idea what was to come.
No idea about facing Pharaoh.
No idea about the 10 plagues.
No idea about crossing the Red Sea.
No idea about the Ten Commandments.
No idea about 40 years in the desert.

He didn’t know because he didn’t need to know.

We have a hard time with that notion because we all want to know the future. Before we say yes to God, we want to be sure it will work right for us. Will we be happy if we marry this person instead of that person? If we take this new job, will it work out for us? We want a guarantee of success before we move to Salem, Oregon, or Biloxi, Mississippi.

So let me pose a scenario and then ask a question.

Imagine that God offered you a chance to see into your future. Suppose he said, “It’s all there in a manila folder on the table. It tells you all about your next 10 years. Go ahead and open it.

There’s only one catch.

It’s all there—the good, the bad, the happy, the sad, the hard times, the tragedies, and the victories—but you can’t change any of it.”

Would you open it?

Not me!
I’m running as fast as I can in the other direction.

Life works best one day at a time.

It’s better not to know.
Life is hard enough as it is.
Life works best one day at a time.

That’s the point I’m trying to make here. Moses didn’t know about the challenges ahead of him because he didn’t need to know. The same is true for us.

All God asks is that when he calls, we answer:

“Here I am.”
Let him fill in the details.

There’s one final thing in this passage. After getting Moses’ attention, God gives him a …

#4 Divine Revelation

“Then he continued,
‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham,
         the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ 

Moses hid his face because
         he was afraid to look at God” (Ex. 3:6).

If you start at verse 6 and read down through verse 10, you discover nothing is said about Moses until the last verse. In the end, this story isn’t about him. It’s about God!

These four sentences have been a great help to me over the years:

Let God fill in the details

It’s not about me. It’s not about now.
It’s all about God. It’s all about eternity.

In this passage, God isn’t telling Moses anything about Moses. Instead, God is saying, “Let me tell you who I am.”

He’s the Personal God—”I Am.”
The Egyptians had all sorts of gods they worshiped. But the God of the Bible is not like those heathen deities. He is the God who created all things. That God has come down to speak to Moses.

He’s the Eternal God: “I Am.”
Note the present tense: “I am,” not “I was.” Fifteen hundred years later, Jesus will make this same argument to the Sadducees during Holy Week (Matthew 22:31-32).

“I am,” not “I was”

He’s the Faithful God: “The God of your father.”
But all the “fathers” have failed—Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, all of them. Abraham lied about his wife—twice. Isaac lied about his wife. Jacob was a cheater. And those boys! The things they got into. Some of it is genuinely shocking. It makes you want to say, “God, is this the best you’ve got?” The answer is yes. Remember, all the perfect people are in heaven. The rest of us are broken clay pots. Some more broken than others.

But that’s how God works.
That’s the genius of his plan.

He takes broken, messed-up people, and he uses them.

What a God!
What amazing grace!

God keeps his promises to fallible men!

When they fail, God never gives up on them. He keeps his promises to fallible men because he is faithful even when they fail.

He’s the Powerful God—”I have seen and heard.”
He is not deaf, nor is he uncaring. He understands what his people are going through.

He’s the Saving God—”I will rescue them.”
This is what Exodus 3:8 says:

“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.”

That’s a promise from Almighty God. He will come down from heaven and deliver his people from their slavery in Egypt. At this point Moses has no idea how it will unfold. He doesn’t know yet because he doesn’t need to know right now.

God repeats himself to make sure Moses gets the message:

“And now the cry of the Israelites
         has reached me,
         and I have seen the way
         the Egyptians are oppressing them” (Ex. 3:9).

This answers the unspoken question: “Lord, don’t you know what’s happening down here?” Yes, he knows. “Don’t you care?” Yes, God sees and he cares.

God sees what you are going through

God has been working during these forty years in the desert. He’s been perfecting his man, getting him ready for the greatest trial of his life.

You might say, “Forty years is a long time.” Yes, it is. But God will not move until the time is right and his man is ready.

That time has come at last.

Finally, we get one command for Moses in verse 10:

“So now, go.”

That’s it. That’s the whole call right there. And here’s his job description: 

“I am sending you to Pharaoh
         to bring my people the Israelites
         out of Egypt” (Ex. 3:10).

So now, go. For the moment, that’s all he has to do. Just go, and in the going, God will reveal the next steps to him.

Think of it this way.
Moses only has one job: Go!
Moses is never told to deliver the people.|
That’s God’s job. Moses can’t do that.
Just go. Everything else is details.

What do we learn from this story?

1. Don’t be impatient to discover God’s call on your life.

You can’t rush the river of God’s purpose.

Moses was 80 when God called him. Perhaps a better way to say it is that God spoke to his spirit years earlier and gave him a desire to deliver his people. But the time was not right until many years later.

You can’t rush the river

Let us learn from this the value of patience. God’s will is like a sunrise, not a sunburst. It doesn’t suddenly appear before us, like the sun shining at noonday. The will of God rises slowly before our eyes, starting with a few rays of light that pierce the darkness. We see a shaft of light here and another one there, but mostly we walk in darkness. As we keep walking, light slowly fills the sky until at last the darkness has vanished, and we are walking in the sunlight of God’s will.

If you are in the desert right now, be patient.
As you wait for further guidance, be faithful.
When that guidance comes, be obedient.

2. God knows how to make bushes burn.

In this passage, God only gives two commands:

  1. Take off your shoes.
  2. Go.

Take off your shoes to stand before the burning bush and put them back on to go face Pharaoh. “Moses, put your shoes back on. You’ve got a long hike before you get back to Egypt.”

Do you think God can’t use you? Think again.

God uses imperfect people!

God specializes in calling imperfect people. He delights to take nobodies and turn them into somebodies who do great things for him.

Let’s return one final time to the burning bush. At age 80, Moses probably thought his days of greatness were behind him. But the burning bush was God’s way of saying, “You thought you were burned out, but I’ve got big plans for you.” Chuck Swindoll used a unique word to describe what God is looking for. He wants men and women who are burnable for him. He can take a desert scrub bush and turn it into a burning flame that will not be consumed.

What kind of bush qualifies?
If you are willing to burn for God, he can use you!

Are you burnable?
Are you usable?

All needs needs is a burnable bush

God is looking for men and women who will burn for him. You may think your time has come and gone. You may feel dried up and useless. You may think your past disqualifies you.

Think again, my friend.

All God needs is a bush that is burnable.
Any old bush will do.

Why not you?

All God asks is that we make ourselves available to him.

May we all say, “Hineni!”
Lord, Here I am. Send me!

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?