Moses and the Burning Bush

Based on Exodus 3–5
Retold by Paul Katula


Pharaoh found out that Moses had killed an Egyptian. His guards chased Moses into the desert, but they didn't find him. In the desert Moses met a wise man named Jethro, and Moses married one of Jethro's daughters. During the next 40 years, they raised their family in the desert.

One day, Moses led Jethro's sheep to the far side of the desert, to Horeb, which was known as the mountain of God. There he saw something very strange. At the foot of the mountain, he saw a bush on fire. But the fire did not spread. And the bush did not get burned up by the fire.

Then Moses heard a voice call him: "Moses, Moses!"

"Here I am," Moses replied, with his shepherd's staff in his hand.

"Don't come any closer," the voice continued. "Take off your sandals, for the ground on which you are now standing is holy ground. I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob."

It really was God

When Moses heard the voice, he fell to his knees. He was afraid to look at the bush, which he knew was God.

Then the Lord said, "I have seen how cruel the Egyptians have been to you and the other Hebrews, who are my chosen people. The time has come for me to rescue you from the Egyptians.

"Therefore, I promise to bring you back to the land that I promised to Abraham and Isaac a long time ago. This is known as the promised land of Israel, which is a lovely land, with plenty of water for you to grow your crops.

"So go now, Moses, and tell Pharaoh that you will be the one chosen by me to lead my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt."

God further instructed Moses that the Hebrews were to take with them gold, silver and clothing, which they should "receive" from their Egyptian neighbors. If the Israelites asked for these "gifts" from their Egyptian masters, and the gifts were received, the Israelites would know that the parting was done in good faith. Otherwise, the Israelites would always think of the Egyptians as their enslavers, and nothing more. God didn't want the Israelites to leave on bad terms.

Making Excuses
Moses said, "Why have you chosen me? I'm not really that important. Certainly, I'm not important enough to tell Pharaoh he should let the Hebrews leave Egypt."

God's answer was simple: "I will be with you."

"But no one's going to believe that I speak for you," Moses protested. "How am I supposed to show the people who you are?"

"Tell them I AM WHO AM," God said. "That is my name. Tell them that. Tell my people that the God who made them my people also chose you as my servant, my servant who will take them out of Egypt — away from being slaves to the Egyptians. Tell them I have sent you."

But Moses was tough to convince. He still insisted that the people would never believe him. They would never believe he had actually talked to God. This made God a little frustrated.

"The older people will believe you," God said. "To prove that I'm with you, first ask Pharaoh if you can take people on a journey into the desert for just three days. During that time, the people can worship me, as I have commanded them. When Pharaoh says no — and I'm pretty sure he will — then I can work miracles and strike down the Egyptians."

"But what if they still don't listen to me?" Moses asked.

With that, the Lord told Moses to throw his shepherd's staff to the ground, which he did, and God turned the staff into a snake. That scared Moses, so he ran away from it at first, but when he picked up the snake again, it turned back into his shepherd's staff.

Moses was out of excuses, except for one. He confessed to God that he wasn't very good at public speaking: he said he couldn't do a good enough job of presenting the request to Pharaoh, so God solved that objection, too.

"You can bring your brother, Aaron, and he can speak for you," God said.

Pharaoh Turns Down Moses' Request

Now that Moses was out of excuses, he bowed his head and accepted his role as God's chosen one. Moses' brother joined him on the way to Egypt, after Moses had said good-bye to his family.

They told Pharaoh directly, "The Lord, the God of Israel, says, you should let his people go, so they can worship him for three days in the desert."

"Why should I obey this God?" Pharaoh questioned. "I don't even know this God, so no! I won't let the people of Israel go!" he decided.

God told Moses to try again, which he did, but Pharaoh never agreed to let the Israelites go to the desert for three days to worship God. God's anger is the subject of another story: the ten plagues.

The MORAL of the STORY

Ever since the beginning of creation, God's people have grown farther away from God. With Adam and Eve, God spoke directly to them, but since that first sin, we have made God farther away from us and put other forces in between God and ourselves.

Yet every time, God finds a way to reach us. This might be through a loved one, a special friend, a coach on your soccer team, or a book you read or a movie you see. With Moses, it was the burning bush that brought God right in Moses' face. And I do mean, in his face.

The Jews didn't consider a man worthy to look directly at God. In fact, the Bible says no one can see God and live to tell about it (see Exodus 33:20). However, Jesus used the "I AM WHO AM" name to describe himself (see John 8:58), and just think of all the real people who looked upon him. Even Mary, his mother, held him tenderly in her arms when he was a baby.

The question for us is, How will we act when we come face-to-Face with God? Moses wanted proof, but he didn't really need this proof for himself. Remember, he fell to the ground by the bush before he asked for proof. Really, Moses just needed something he could take back with him, to prove to the people who didn't actually see the burning bush that it really was God who gave Moses these instructions.

So, when God comes into our lives, into our hearts, up close and personal with us as his children, his perfect creation, his true people, will we say yes, as Moses eventually did? We have had stories and teachings over the past 2000 years to help us recognize what is Christlike in our lives and what is certain to be the work of the Evil One. Do we accept God's call and listen to the "bush" whenever he sets it on fire? Imagine, What are the "bushes" in your life? How does God set them on fire? Is it a friend who needs help with something in her life? A loved one who needs some special attention that only you could give? Or what?

The story of the burning bush tells us that we should listen to God and do something about it. We should be able to say yes to God for whatever he calls on us to do. We should learn everything we can about him, so that we will recognize him when some "bush" is "on fire" right before our eyes. Take off your sandals. Realize that the ground on which you are now standing, because God's presence is in every place, is holy ground, and you are a holy person as one of his greatest creations.

Copyright and Contact Information:
Copyright 2005 by Paul Katula. All rights reserved; however, this story may be distributed as told for educational purposes without restriction. Written in Aurora, Ill. Last updated Nov. 23, 2005. (630) 362-6542,