The afternoon and evening had nearly spent their allotment of daylight as Moses approached the base of Mount Horeb. He was already closer to the land of Egypt than he’d been in years and he found inside himself a strange and uncomfortable stirring as he drew nearer to where he had grown up. Having lived so long in the country of Midian, Moses had nearly forgotten his former life, but images of his past came unbidden to his mind and a troubled heaviness grew in his gut.
Though he had thought them as good as buried in the past, to his mind arose the images of the swirling desert sands, the cruel rays of the sun beating down, and the crack of a slave master’s whip as it cut open the flesh of a Hebrew slave. He remembered the rage that exploded within him as one of his own people fell to the ground too weak and weary to continue the grueling labor of crafting bricks for their Egyptian overlords. And he saw once again the back of the slave master to him… too easy a target to ignore, and too marked with guilt to pass by. He had thought that no one would know and that no one would see as he himself lashed out and struck the man down, killing him. He had hoped that no one would spy him burying the man’s body, covering the evidence of his loyalties with a blanket of sand.
But the incident HAD been seen. What he had thought was hidden was somehow known both to his own people and to the people who oppressed them. The Egyptian’s body, like Moses’ memories, proved too easily uncovered and the fact of his crime inescapable. And not only had it been seen, it was also reported, provoking Pharaoh to put a price on his head. Even the people, for whom he’d intervened, lashed out at his impulsiveness instead of rallying around him as a hero. So what choice did he have but to run away?
Forty years later, haunted and bound still by the brashness of that moment, he now tended sheep, spending each day in the effort of finding something green to feed his wooly charges in the parched vastness of the Sinai Desert.
As the glow of the evening sun finally faded and the shadows of night grew in length and breadth, a glimmer flickered over the crest of a small ridge nearby, giving it a red-gold aura.
Wondering if he had led his sheep into the path of other shepherds, he cautiously approached, slowly trudging his way up the incline until his eyes reached the summit of the hill and could see down into the small wadi (gulley) before him. It looked like a campfire… but he realized that it wasn’t; it was a bush ablaze with flame, its dry branches and leaves sighing as if a wind were passing through them. “How strange,” he thought. “It doesn’t look like it’s burning up.” His feet seemed to take on a life of their own and he found himself trudging down towards the bush, like a moth to a candle’s flame. As he drew closer to it a feeling of suspense began to grow inside him. Little did he know that he was about to have a watershed moment far more significant than his having murdered an Egyptian slave master.
As his eyes gazed intently into the flames roaring through the branches of the acacia bush in front of him, an emotion that was both awe and a sense of thrill ran through him and it seemed that he stood at the brink of something extraordinary. And then… a Voice spoke. It spoke directly to him and somehow It even knew his name. “Moses!” It murmured. Moses was stunned. Where was the Speaker? In the flames? But how could that be? That was impossible! And Who was it that was speaking to him? “Moses!” the Voice repeated. Moses finally found his voice and answered in a hoarse whisper, “Here I am.”
The flames in the branches of the bush did not abate, but only reached higher, licking the night sky with their brilliant inferno. Still the bush remained unsinged without even a faint scent of its burning reaching the terrified man’s nostrils. The Voice spoke again. “Do not come any closer. Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Moses reached down hastily, and frantically tore off the thongs holding his sandals in place. He stepped out of his sandals and, with knocking knees, stood before the Voice. “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob,” said the Voice. As what the Voice had said began to sink into Moses’ mind, as well as recognition of just Who this was Who was speaking to him, he began to cower in fear and threw his face downward towards the ground, his arms shielding his eyes.
But even as he did so and the shock of this unthinkable encounter overloaded his mind, there was a tone of graciousness that resonated within its words. “I have seen the misery of My people in Egypt, Moses. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am burdened for their suffering,” As the message infiltrated Moses’ mind, his heart stirred and leapt within him. His own heart’s burden, shouldered by God? Could He… did He really care? The man, kneeling in the dry and gritty dust, found moisture building in his eyes. A tear ran down his cheek. “I have come to rescue them,” the Voice soothingly said. “I have come to bring them to a new land, a good and spacious land flowing with milk and honey.”
More tears trickled down Moses’ face as he listened to the words of deliverance spoken by the mouth of God Himself. God had remembered His people. God had heard them cry out in their hurt and had remembered His promises to their ancestor, Abraham. After all this time, God was going to deliver His people from their bondage. And not only was He going to save them, He was going to give them a new home and was going to take care of them. Moses could hardly believe his ears. He found that the trickle running down his cheeks had turned into a wellspring of joy and thanksgiving.
“Moses,” said the Voice. “It’s time to go. I’m sending YOU to bring my people up out of Egypt.” Moses choked and his head snapped up in amazement and horror. “Huh?!?” Surely he hadn’t heard right.