I know you're hot to hear about my encounter with the burning bush ... and I want to tell you about it. It made enormous changes in my life. Before I explain about the bush I think you should know a little of the background leading up to it. I was eighty years of age when I saw the bush. Imagine it; eight decades old.
I was born three years after my brother Aaron. In the interval, Pharaoh, the reigning king of Egypt, issued a decree that every male child born to an Israelite be drowned. That meant me. My mother could not bear to comply with this heinous law. She hid me.
When I was three months old she decided to do something that might save me. She put me in a wicker basket she had coated with pitch so it would float. My mother placed the basket, with me in it, among some reeds along the Nile River. My sister Miriam stayed a little way off and watched to see what would happen.
You realize of course I don't remember these events. Miriam told me about them later. Anyway, Pharaoh's daughter came to bathe in the Nile. She spotted my basket and ordered a maid to fetch it to her. She saw me ... a baby boy. For some reason, she was delighted to find me. Miriam approached her and told her she knew a woman who had lost her baby and could nurse this baby for her. The princess agreed.
This was a very slick maneuver and fortuitous for me. Miriam took me home to be nursed by my own mother who was still lactating. I suckled for my first three years then was brought to Pharaoh's daughter who adopted me. Ironic, isn't it ? I, an Israelite, became a prince in the palace of the king who ordered all like me to be drowned at birth.
Through my first forty years I was able to maintain contact with my birth family. Our people, Jacob's descendants, had prospered and multiplied during our exile in Egypt. We were numerous. Pharaoh became fearful we would side with his enemies in event of war. He may have been right.
The way we were treated in Egypt was horrible. It got worse and worse. My people were basically enslaved. They were made to work incredible hours. I hated this situation but I had no power to change it.
One day I was out among my people when I saw an Egyptian supervisor brutalizing an Israelite. I struck him forcefully. The blow killed him. I didn't know I had it in me to do that. I buried his body in the sand. The next day I had a run-in with two of my own people. They were arguing and scuffling. I tried to break it up. One of them said to me, "Who made you a prince or a judge over us? Are you intending to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?"
I realized the news was out. Next thing I heard is Pharaoh ordered me killed in reprisal. What would you do? I split. I hightailed it out of Egypt and went to Midian. As luck would have it, I met up with some lovely sisters at a well. Shepherds had tried to chase them away but I intervened and helped them get water for themselves and their flock.
To make a long story short; they came back and invited me to their father's home. I ended up marrying Zipporah, one of his daughters. Life was very different from my days in the palace of Pharaoh, who incidentally, died during my forty year sojourn in Midian.
Life was simple and satisfying. I was a shepherd. I'm not kidding. I was herding my father-in-law's flock. We were in the wilderness (I later got to hate that word) near Mount Horeb. Maybe you don't know how sheep behave? They move about slowly, nibbling at grasses. They stayed within the sound of my voice. So the sheep and I were sort of aimlessly wandering along when I thought I saw a fire burning..
A fire. Way out here? I couldn't imagine anyone else being out here nor any reason to have a fire in the daytime. I didn't smell anything cooking. Curiosity drove me to get closer and see what was going on. There was a fire alright. A bush, or shrub, of the kind that grows in dry ground, was on fire.
I looked and realized the fire was burning really well yet the bush was not being consumed. It was an amazing sight. While I was standing there mouth agape, a voice called out to me from the midst of the fire. The voice said ...
I said, "here I am."
Then the voice said,
"Do not come near here; remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground. I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob."
I fell down on my face. GOD. Yawveh. "I AM".
Can you wrap your head around this? GOD Himself talking to me from a fire.
God said a lot of things to me and I said some back to Him. In a nutshell, HE wanted ME to go back to Egypt, assemble the Israelites, and lead them our of bondage to the land He had promised to Abraham. ME. HE wanted ME to do this. "Fat chance", I told Him. No can do. We argued back and forth. He won.
For you who want details I've left a complete written record of this event, word for word, and everything that happed during the next forty years. You'll find it some books I left. If you are Jacob's descendant you'll find it in the Torah in Books Mose2, Mose3, Mose 4 and Mose 5. If you are not familiar with Torah you can find it in the Christian Old Testament titles Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. I'm talking thousands of words ... no way I'm going to repeat it all here.
So God persuaded me. Actually, He commanded me. I raised every objection and excuse I could think of but He wasn't buying it. He showed me a couple of extraordinary miracles on the spot to convince me He knew how to do this. I thought He could have done it Himself but that's not how He does things. He prefers to work through humans who serve His requirements. He picked me and there was nothing I could do about it.
I resisted. He insisted. Tell me what it's all about. Go and get my people out. Can't do this .. I'm just a man. You will because I say you can. I resisted. He insisted.So my brother Aaron and I went off to do His bidding. God visited a bunch of plagues on Egypt. Pharaoh was finally amenable to letting his Israelite slaves go. We left. We had hardly gotten started when he changed his mind and sent an army to bring us back and resume our slave labor. Bad choice. We crossed through the Red Sea on a dry path. When the army, hot on our heels, got on the path the sea closed and drowned them. The horses and riders fell into the sea. We were free.
The first third of my life I spent as a prince of Egypt.
The second third I spent herding sheep.
My last third was spent shepherding God's chosen people; the whiningest, grumblingest lot you ever met.
Forty years marching through the wilderness to get to the Promised Land. We could have been there in less than a year or so if not for naysayers in our midst. They wanted this, they wanted that. They wanted to go back to Egypt and be slaves rather than bear the burdens of our designated trek. Basically, they went from praising and thanking God to decrying His harshness. Back and forth.
My relationship with the Almighty had become quite intense. He spoke to me frequently, issuing commands for me to pass on to the people. Frankly, He terrified me. This came about because through time with Him I began to realize His unlimited power over anything and everything. He was bound and determined to save "His People" and I was His instrument. It got so bad at one point I asked Him to just kill me and release me from the job.
Stretch your imagination. Think of a city in your time with a population of two million. Imagine all the people in Kansas City Metro Area packed up their families, household goods, clothing, cattle, sheep, goats, buckboards and wagons if any, plus all the gifts their neighbors gave them as going away good riddance tokens.
The entire lot starts streaming out across the plains, mostly on foot. They set up camp. For the next forty years they wander around getting to the Rio Grande so they can cross into Mexico (which doesn't really fit the "Promised Land model but illustrates the idea. You may be wondering how I know about things in your time. I keep up. I'll explain in a minute).
Tents, people, oxen, sheep, goats, doves. There hasn't been a tent city to compare since. Not only that, they are on the move. A year here, a year there, a few months someplace else, then march on. We spent the first stage at the foot of Mount Sinai in the Wilderness of Sin (how apropos, sin). It was there God called me up the mountain to receive instructions. God gave me two stone tablets, engraved with commands ... ten of them. That was only the beginning.
If you read the book Mose 3/Leviticus you will be stunned by the sheer number and complexity of instructions for behaviors and sacrifices. I came to my own conclusion that God was using a method one might use to tame a wild beast. Confinement, restrictions, rewards and punishments, to form this Egyptianized people into the Chosen Ones He began with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Speaking of sacrifices, after all the hundreds of rules given us, He says through a prophet named Hosea, "For I desire mercy and not sacrifice, And the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings." Some centuries later, He incarnates His Son Jesus who then says, "But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice.' For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance." Sometimes God's intentions are beyond human knowledge. I learned to trust Him and just go with it. Eventually all the naysayers died off leaving eager younger people anxious to enter the Promised Land, defeat the incumbent tribes, and take possession as God had promised. As it turned out, I was prohibited from entering because of a display of temper .. a misjudgment on my part. Shortly before the people crossed the Jordan, God had me confer the leadership role on Joshua son of Nun. Joshua took them over.
I meanwhile, was elevated to sainthood. God took me to Himself. He buried my carcass in the sand where no one would find it. I think that was lest they dig me up or build a shrine and worship my remains. It's sort of like the shroud of Turin. If it were proved to be the likeness of Jesus, people would worship it. Humans have a tendency to worship anything but the Sovereign Deity Himself.
I think it's because they can't see Him or really even comprehend His being. He talked to me often but I could not see His face. He said it would kill me to look on His face. Scripture is filled with admonitions to 'Fear the Lord' and this is misunderstood to mean be in terror. True, I could not go closer to the burning bush without being immolated, but many times I was right there in His radiant presence and no harm came to me. I recommend you seek His presence. Since He sent Christ to earth, you have an open door to His throne. You can approach Him ... talk to Him ... listen to Him ... without fear while knowing that His power is unlimited and something to fear if He becomes angry. But know this: God is slooooow to anger and full of love and mercy.
So God took me to Himself. Once He sent me back ... with Elijah ... to appear with Jesus when He was transfigured before His close disciples. Since then, maybe a couple of thousand earth years, I've been enjoying being among the heavenly host and near my God, ... and yours, ... unless you are foolish enough to reject Him.
From time to time I wonder what history to your time would have been like if I had ignored the fire instead of checking it out.
Written by © Wayne Hepburn, October 2012