I will now turn aside

Exodus 3:1-4
1 Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian. And he led the flock to the back of the desert, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.
2 And the Angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush. So he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, but the bush was not consumed.
3 Then Moses said, “I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush does not burn.”
4 So when the LORD saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.”

The burning bush has got to be one of the most original devices that God ever used to get someone’s attention. In fact, when you think about all the men and women God called to His service, almost every time He called them directly, except for Moses. Noah, Abram, Jacob, Gideon, Samuel, and even Elijah–they all heard the voice of the Lord before they experienced any physical phenomena. But Moses was different, and if we think for a moment, we will see why.

Moses was an orphan adopted into Pharaoh’s house, and then after murdering one of Pharaoh’s overseers, he ran away and ended up in Midian, on the other side of the Red Sea. Not a Hebrew, not an Egyptian and not even a man of Midian, Moses was a stranger in a strange land. In fact, when he married a daughter of the priest of Midian and she bore him a son, Moses named the boy Gershom, which means “A Stranger There.” (Exodus 2:22) Moses belonged nowhere and to no people, and as a shepherd, he took his father-in-law’s flocks to very remote places. It was in such a place that God caught Moses’ attention.

The burning bush was a summons to Moses to come home. When we look at Moses’ subsequent wanderings, we realize that in all his life Moses never had a place to call home, could never name a city or a kingdom from whence he had come or to whence he would return. In fact, his very name means “Drawn Out”–a reference to the fact that he was drawn from a river by Pharaoh’s daughter, but also a reference to the fact that Moses was drawn out of every place he might have called home. So where is home for such a man? Moses’ home was always with God.

The burning bush is a lighthouse, a beacon to Moses, a call for him to stop wandering. And like any dutiful captain, he turns aside from his usual course to seek that place. Moses has not yet heard the voice of God, and although he lives with the priest of Midian, he does not yet have a relationship with God. When God speaks to Moses, the wandering shepherd does not flee, does not cower in fear, does not abase himself before the burning bush. No, Moses simply stands there and says “Here I am.”

“Here” is that place where Moses has finally arrived. For the rest of his life, Moses would always know the presence of the Lord, and although Moses would shepherd the Israelites on a long and dangerous journey, Moses himself would never enter the place that God’s people would call home. “Here” is Moses’ only home: the presence of the Lord. In fact, Moses would spend so much time in God’s presence that it would transform him, turn him from a stammering shepherd into a powerful leader, from a homeless sinner into a shining prophet. Moses followed that beacon and stood before the presence of the Lord and said, “Here I am,” and acknowledged that wherever he happened to be with the Lord, then that place was his home.

I live right now in a two-bedroom apartment in a town in Iowa, but I’ve had my share of wanderings, too. American society is very transient that way, constantly shifting people around the country and the world to new jobs and new homes. We have become a wandering people, and we have become people without roots, without foundations. We live in communities but we tend not to become part of them, lest we get too involved in others’ lives. We shy away from the commitment to town and community and even to local churches. It’s much easier to play the wanderer and not develop too many ties, not give too much time, not share too much of ourselves.

But the burning bush–the lighthouse of the gospel–calls us to turn aside. The voice of God calls to us through the Bible, and God is waiting for us to turn aside and come to Him. The call from the bush is specific and intentional, and He uses our name because He knows who we are, where we have been, and what we need. God is calling us to follow the signs and wonders to Him, to stand in that holy place on our own two feet, to speak to Him directly and say “Here I am.”

Are we there? Are we wandering in the back of the desert near God and not even aware of it? And when we see the burning bush of God’s calling on our lives, are we turning aside or just glancing at it as we pass by? God isn’t looking for passers-by. He is not looking for silent, passive people who refuse to put down roots. God is looking for people who will come to Him, who will be curious, who will investigate, and who will commit to coming home to Christ. God is calling us home to Him, to serve and to lead, to speak the words He will give to us, to share the gospel and live changed lives, to spend all the rest of our days in His holy presence.

Moses turned aside from his life as a shepherd and was transformed. The gospel of peace with God will do that to people. God had a very specific mission in mind for Moses, and He has specific missions for each of us, too. (Ephesians 2:10) Jesus Christ is calling us to turn from where we’ve been, to repent of our past lives and seek His face, to live in His presence. And although we may wander to different places and find new families and communities, our home will always be with the God who loved us so much that He gave His only begotten Son to call us to repentance and salvation. The beacon of Christ is calling out to us from that burning bush. Will we turn aside?

Holy Father God, in Your presence is fullness of joy. I would dwell in that presence, experience that joy. I will turn aside, Lord God, and see Your Son, who calls my name from the tree where He was slain, who calls to me from the empty tomb, who asks me to come to Him wherever I may be. Here I am, Lord. Send me. Send me wherever You will. Send me, and I know that wherever I may go, whatever I go through, I will never be separated from Your love–and that, Precious Lord, is all the home I need. Amen.


About Glenn Pettit

I am a deacon at The Well of Iowa, and a father and grandfather. Called to teach and to preach, I write fresh messages about the Bible every now and then.
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