Exodus 3:4–5 (ESV) … “When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”
What was the significance of the burning bush?
Some have suggested that it represented the situation of Israel in Egypt: like the bush, the people of God were enveloped in the flames of hardship, cruelty and oppression, yet they were not consumed. God was keeping his people alive.
Others have suggested that what we have here is a revelation of the brilliant, burning glory of God. The image of fire conveys the idea of purity, holiness, power and majesty.
The Puritan John Owen nuances this, however, and suggests that God was giving Moses an early symbol, or type, of the one whom he himself prefigured, the Lord Jesus Christ. This is how Owen puts it: ‘The eternal fire of the divine nature dwells in the bush of our frail nature, yet is it not consumed thereby. God thus dwells in this bush, with all his goodwill towards sinners’.
Each of these interpretations has merit, although given the language God uses in this passage, we should perhaps rule out the first. In some sense, God uses this burning bush to reveal something about his own character and glory, and the glory of his unchanging, mediated salvation which remains the hope and encouragement of those who are in slavery and bondage.
He is the God who knows the needs of his people
Israel has not been forgotten by God. As he promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (see how this formula from 2:24 is used in verse 6 and repeated in verses 15 and 16), he remains the God of his people. His eye is on them, his ear has heard their cry, and his heart is towards them (v. 7). In Egypt, in sin, in difficulties of all kinds, God is aware of what his people need.
He is the God who breaks in to save his people
‘I have come down to deliver them,’ he says in verse 8, and to bring them to a better land. He will not leave his people where he found them, nor as he found them, but will intervene for their salvation. He did this in Egypt, but supremely in the Incarnation, when ‘the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ (John 1:14).
He is the God who does not change
Just as our attention was drawn to the significance of Moses’ name (2:10), so now our attention is drawn to God’s name. He is the great ‘I am’ (the Hebrew form of which gives us the name ‘Jehovah’). He remains the same, and his covenant promises stand in spite of all the opposition of Egypt.
He is the God who authenticates his words with powerful signs
God promises Moses that he will ‘strike Egypt with all the wonders that I will do in it’ (v. 20). That is the function of miracles in the Bible: to show the reality of the words of God’s servants, culminating with Jesus himself. It is important to note that miracles appear sparingly in the Bible, and are always used for the purpose of showing that God’s messengers have his commission and his approval.