Exodus 3:4 – 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.”
What is this text saying?
This verse is part of one of the best known stories in the Bible (partially due to the popularity of the film The Ten Commandments, starring Charlton Heston as Moses). While Moses was tending to his father-in-law’s sheep, he was startled to see a bush on fire, yet not being consumed by the flame. Exodus 3:3 says he turned aside from where he was going to examine this amazing sight.
Why is it important?
The story of the burning bush chronicles God’s call to Moses to assist Him in freeing the children of Israel from Egyptian slavery. Having witnessed the oppression of his people Moses had greatly desired to see them released from bondage. He had even killed an Egyptian who he caught beating an Israelite, an act which forced him to flee Egypt for his life.
Now at the age of 80 any hope Moses might have had to see Israel free, or to play any role in that liberation, was long past. But it was precisely now that God appeared to Moses to share with him a plan for Israel’s freedom, a plan that involved Moses return to Egypt after 40 long years. Most importantly God promised Moses He would be with him (Exodus 3:12).
How can I apply this?
The principle at work here is not often discussed, yet it is one of the most significant in all of scripture. It is the principle of Rest. It was when Moses turned aside from his work, when he took rest from his planned path, from his intended labour, that God took the opportunity not only to speak to Moses, but to awaken the great hope of his heart: the freedom of Israel.
When we rest from our labours, from what we think or feel is of importance, and turn aside to seek the things of God, He does three critical things for us:
Restoration: When we rest in God, He restores us to the true purposes for our lives. Moses probably would have continued as a shepherd for the rest of his life, had God not stepped in and reminded him of his true destiny: to liberate and shepherd of the nation of Israel.
Reliance: When we rest in God, we are relying on His provision rather than what we are able to accomplish in our own power. Moses knew He couldn’t convince Pharaoh to release Israel, but God demonstrated His power and told Moses of the great and terrible miracles He would perform. When Moses finally obeyed, it was with the knowledge that he would have to rely on God to do what he could not.
Revelation: When we rest in God, He reveals Himself to us. At the burning bush God called Himself “I am”—a simple phrase in English, but in Hebrew it roughly translates into “I am whoever I need to be, whenever I need to be, wherever I need to be, now and for all eternity”. It was in this state of rest that God began to reveal His awesome nature to Moses.
When we rest in God, He also reveals us to ourselves. Even though it had been Moses desire to help free Israel, he didn’t think he was up to the task God was now calling him to. But when Moses said he couldn’t speak, God told him it was He who had made his tongue and would direct his speech (Exodus 4:10-12). When Moses said no one would listen to him, God used the tool Moses was familiar with—his shepherd’s rod and cloak—to perform miracles that would convince Israelites and Egyptians alike (Exodus 4:1-7). Every time Moses said “I can’t” God responded “With me, you can.” God revealed to Moses that he was capable of and destined for the great things the Lord had ordained him for.
One final point: Note that the text says ‘when the LORD saw he turned aside to see’. It was when Moses responded to the invitation to draw closer and rest by turning aside from his original path that God spoke to him. How many of us pass by metaphorical ‘burning bushes’ daily because we’re too busy, too consumed with our own priorities? How many of us unwittingly miss out on the opportunity to draw closer to Him? How many amazing blessings do we miss out on, never finding out what God desires to call us to?
Whether we receive the blessings of rest depends on our response to the invitation to rest. Jesus took time early each morning to rest in His Heavenly Father through prayer and by doing this He allowed God’s instruction to set His direction daily (Mark 1:35). This gave Jesus victory in everything He faced. On the other hand, the offer of the Promised Land was an invitation to rest for the people of Israel, an invitation many of them rejected so God said of them, “They shall not enter my rest” (Psalm 95:11). These people perished in the wilderness, just days away from the Promised Land.
God has given us a specific invitation to rest in His commandments:
Exodus 20:8-11 – “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
This Seventh day rest (from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday) is an opportunity to put away the concerns of the world and draw close to God for restoration, reliance on Him, and revelation of His will. This isn’t about the day you go to church, or the denomination you belong to. This is about your relationship with God. It’s about your choice to accept His invitation to enter His rest, or to reject it. How will you answer Him? I invite you to search the scriptures for yourself and affirm this truth, then to give Sabbath rest a try and to see what God has in store for you.