Why This Burning Bush

by A.W.Tozer on May 10, 2022

THE WORD PORTRAIT of Moses in the Old Testament is summed up well in Exodus 33:11. There the Bible says, "The Lord spoke unto Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.”

One of the important conversations between the Lord and Moses is preserved for us in Exodus 3, when Moses turned aside in wonder to see why a burning bush was not consumed by the fire within it. Out of the bush came the voice of the Lord telling Moses that he had been chosen for the difficult task of liberating the Hebrew nation from slavery in Egypt.

Moses was an effective emancipator, liberating an entire nation from the grinding slavery of the Egyptian Pharaohs. Moses was a prophet. It was said of Christ that He was a prophet like unto Moses. Moses had a major role in the establishment of God's Law, the greatest moral code ever given to mankind.      

It is difficult to overstate the greatness of the man or the brilliance of his career.

We should quickly review here the kinds of preparation Moses had gone through for his leadership role under God. Reared in Pharaoh's palace, he had been educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians. He had the prerequisites for almost any kind of career. In our day a man with his qualifications would be sought for election as a bishop or the president of any of the great church denominations.

Then, too, Moses had a most unusual but highly effective postgraduate course. God took him out of the activity and the noise of Egypt and placed him in the silence of the open spaces. He kept the flock of Jethro, his father-in-law. Tending the sheep, he learned lessons of meditation and observation that he could only have learned in the silence.

Probably more important than anything else, Moses learned to know himself. That knowledge was a part of God's preparation of the man for his future tasks. We, today, know everything but ourselves. We never really come to know ourselves because we cannot get quiet enough.

I have thought much about Moses spending those evening hours alone with his sheep. There is an old proverb that says, "If you would be alone, look at the stars."

It was Emerson who commented that if the stars should come out only one night in a thousand years, everyone would drop what he or she was doing and in awe "look at the shining city of God.” But because we see them all the time and because we are busy, we pay very little attention to the stars. We have too much noise and too many distractions!

Yes, Moses was a man unusually qualified to embark on one of the great undertakings of history. But in God's eyes his preparation was still not complete. God was planning an incident, an event, in which Moses would come into personal encounter with Himself, the living, eternal God.

It was God's plan that Moses should learn an overpowering sense of reverence in a dramatic person-to-Person encounter with Deity. Moses’ preparation could not be complete without such a meeting.

Coming to this Exodus text that relates the experience of Moses at the burning bush, we discern that God first revealed Himself to Moses as fire. 

Some groups in the world have believed that God is fire. So they have worshiped the flame of fire burning on their altars.

We have many human ways to ignite a fire. And fire is indiscriminately. Fire can burn a building or cook a stew. God is not fire, but He is like fire. Fire is the nearest comparison God can use to illustrate to His poor, half-blind children what He is like.

To Moses, God appeared as fire. Moses knelt down in awe and reverence as God spoke to him out of the bush.

I think we are agreed that Moses had an overwhelming experience in that personal encounter with God. He received God's commission to deliver Israel. And ultimately he would receive the Law of God and organize the great Hebrew nation from which Messiah would come. All of this because Moses met God.

Previously, God had been just a good and pleasant idea to Moses. The idea of God is a distant and nebulous concept, and the average person tries to deal with it on the basis of intellect. As an orthodox Hebrew, Moses' idea of receiving God had been only in the intellectual sense.

Now he finds himself in the very presence of the living God. The fire in the bush was God welling within the fire and shining out through the fire.

Now he experiences God personally. God becomes vital and living.

This incident brings to our minds the fact that there are two kinds of knowledge. There is a knowledge that comes from description. One person describes a thing to another, and the other person gains some knowledge of it. We can give knowledge to others by description.

Then there is the knowledge that comes from experience. It is possible to describe a battle fought in a war. But the soldier who has gone through the hell of actual shot and shell and fire knows the battle by personal experience. The memory is for a lifetime. It is something he cannot escape.

It was in this sense that Moses met God at the burning bush. He was a man experiencing the presence of God. To Moses, God was no longer an idea from history but a living Person willing to become involved with His creation, mankind.

There are lessons for us in Moses’ encounter with God at the bush in the wilderness. Why did the Almighty God use a scrubby bush to reveal His presence and glory? It would seem that the bush was just a common acacia plant. It had no intrinsic worth. It was in itself completely helpless. And it could not back out. It was caught there, indwelt by the presence of God and fire.

Like the bush, we will never know God until we are helpless in His hands. We will never be of worth to Him until there is no escape. As long as we can run, as long as we know we can depend upon our avenues of escape, we are not really in God's hands.

Much of our trust in God depends on the fact that things have never gone wrong for us. The crisis time has never come. We figure that God is out there somewhere in case we come to that place of "last resort."

Let me tell you with assurance that the happy Christian is the one who has been caught—captured by the Lord. He or she no longer wants to escape or go back. The happy Christian has met the Lord personally and found Him an all-sufficient Savior and Lord. He or she has burned all the bridges in every direction.

Some of God's children are dabbling with surrender and victory. They have never reached that place of spiritual commitment which is final and complete and satisfying. They still retain their escape routes. I have come to a sad conclusion about some of the professing Christians around us today. They are poor examples of what Christ is trying to do in our world because they have never willingly given up their doors of retreat. They can get out any time they want to. They can appear to be walking with the Lord as long as things are normal. But when the tight spot comes, the time of crisis, they opt out. They want the human solution.

I thank God for the little bush! It was caught, it was helpless. But it was radiant and useful and enduring in the presence and hands of the living God. The other lesson is this: the bush was purified in the fire.

As a farm boy, I was aware of all those "free boarders" that attached themselves to the leaves and the life of the average bush. I knew about the bugs, the worms, the larva forms, the fungus spares. They were always there.

But turn a fire loose in the bush for five minutes and all of the "free boarders" would be consumed. No germs or microbes or fungus growths remained after the fire.

God Himself is the holiness and the purity we need. Some people think of holiness as something they have for a time, but suddenly God allows them to lose it. Holiness in the Christian life is nothing else but the Spirit of God dwelling, filling, satisfying the surrendered, committed, trusting believer. 

When will we admit and confess that holiness comes with the presence of God? When will we believe that a true encounter with God brings purity of heart? 

Christ is not just our Sanctifier. He is our sanctification. He Himself is our holiness. If Christ lives within our hearts, then just as the fire dwelt within the burning bush in living encounter and experience, so we will  be cleansed and pure. How could it be otherwise if Christ who is holy and pure lives out His life in us?

Think also about the blessedness and the security of that desert bush. Nothing harmful could come to it while it was filled with the presence of God.

There was not a goat anywhere in that part of the world that would have dared approach the bush. The buzzard circling overhead would have been quickly singed by its flame.

If the bush had been burning in that way in our day, do you know what we would do? We would advertise a great Bible conference. We would spend tens of thousands of dollars promoting an international "retreat." We would eat up all the ham and sweet potatoes in the area while we talked and gossiped. Then we would pass a resolution to build a fence around the area containing that miraculous desert bush.

Friend, our preservation and our security do not depend on bylaws and regulations. Our security lies in the presence of God in the midst of His people.

It takes the church a long time to learn some of these lessons. Centuries ago, a serious-minded monk named Simeon Stylites climbed to the top of a pillar 60 feet high and stayed there for 30 years. He said it was his way of trying to preserve his holiness.

My comment is this: If Simeon Stylites had read the third chapter of Exodus, he would have learned that when the fire of God dwells within a person, he does not have to climb 60 feet and be completely without elevator service to be in spiritual safety. Many years after Moses encountered the personal presence of God in the burning bush, he prayed a wonderful prayer. He said, "Let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us.”(Psalm 90:17).

The beauty of our Lord was in that bush and in the fire. When Moses saw that beautiful blaze at twilight in the wilderness, he said, “I will now turn aside, and see this great sight.” I heard of a Christian woman who was teaching this episode to her Sunday school class.

"We gather from his reaction that Moses had a scientific bent,” she said. "Moses turned aside to do scientific research.”

Oh, no! Moses was not a scientist. It was the attraction of the presence of God that turned Moses around. And I assure you that it is the beauty and the attractiveness of the presence of God that still turns people around.

After my conversion at age 17,1 traveled in fundamental Christian circles. I yearned earnestly for godliness for my own life and for those around me.

I had a great desire to be in fellowship with those who were saintly.

I confess that I found much theology but little saintliness! I confess also, at this later date, that I do not care what denomination or group my brothers and sisters in Christ come from if the saintliness of God by the presence of His Holy Spirit is upon them. If Jesus is being glorified in their spiritual lives and service, my heart that still yearns for godly fellowship is attracted to them.

I thank God for every remembrance of simple, godly men and women throughout my ministry. They prayed earnestly, putting their faces up to God, their eyes closed in sacred reverence, until I felt I could see a beautiful light from heaven shining on their countenances. 

We need this. How we need this!

Oh, for the sense of sacredness, reverence and delight in the person and the work of our Savior! It is this more than any other thing that brings beauty to life.

It was a lesson Moses learned. I could wish that every young person going into the Christian ministry could learn it. I could wish that every Christian might learn it!

Christian believers are called to be burning bushes. They are not necessarily called to be great, or to be promoters and organizers. But they are called to be people in whom the beautifying fire of God dwells, people who have met God in the purifying crisis of encounter!