Do you ever imagine alternate scenes? Here’s an alternate scene for Exodus 3. Moses is shepherding his flock on the mountain-side along with Julius, his faithful co-shepherd. One day, Moses sees a bush that’s on fire.
“Julius! Get that flock off this pasture! Now! There’s a bush on fire over there and as dry as it’s been the past month, it’s going to spread like wild-fire. Wait! It is a wild-fire. Never mind, just get those sheep outa’ here.”
Then Moses and Julius go to work and move their whole flock to the other side of the mountain. Meanwhile, God-in-the-bush mutters to Himself, “I don’t think that’s how this was supposed to go.“
And that is not how it went. Instead, Moses turned aside, not to look at a fire, but to see what God was doing. I usually have no idea what God is doing at any given moment, but I can be reasonably sure that if I saw something as unnatural as a bush on fire that was not burning up, I would certainly think that God had something to do with it. I expect that this response is nearly universal among people. When unnatural, weird things happen, we tend to think in terms of God, or at least the supernatural. So, Moses turned off the beaten path. He walked away from the sheep or whatever he was doing, to see what was going on.
Many of us are like Moses in the alternate story: God does something extraordinary and we cannot or do not see it. We are too busy just living. It was no accident that a burning bush appeared only after Moses had spent 40 years in Egypt and another 40 years wondering, “What in the world am I doing in Midian, raising a bunch of stinking sheep?” Likewise, it is a grace from God that some of us get to a point in our lives when some event, extraordinary or otherwise, catches our attention, and we “turn aside.”
* * * * *
Moses was not a shepherd when he showed up in Midian. Exodus 2:19 characterizes him simply as “an Egyptian.” I imagine that, over a forty year period, though, Moses became a better-than-average shepherd. I would expect this because Moses, unlike all the other shepherds in his area, was presumably well-educated, having been raised in Pharaoh’s house. He would have had the finest of everything, including spending his formative years around the best and the brightest that Egypt had to offer. Nevertheless, Moses was on a shallow trajectory that would have him living in Midian, shepherding sheep, until the day he died.
Then God-in-the-bush showed up, and everything changed.
The journey from Midian to Egypt was Moses’ first introduction to God’s main message: everything must change.1 No more shepherding sheep. Profit is now passé. Success is redefined. God is front and center. Purpose is determined by someone else. The concept that “everything must change” is very simple, but in reading the story of the burning bush in Exodus 3, it is hard to miss the fact that Moses could not hear what God was telling him. Everything Moses said amounted to a reason why God’s idea was a really bad one. When we read the story, we find ourselves screaming at Moses: “But don’t you realize what a fantastic opportunity this is? This is a chance to be one of the greatest people in history!“
Why couldn’t Moses hear? Is God a bad communicator? Or did something else impede his ability to hear what God was saying? Somehow, I understand Moses. Along with most other people in the church these day, when I read the Bible, I understand the words, phrases, and sentences, but somehow I just don’t get it. Oh, I think I get it, but when I compare my life to the great men and women of the Bible, it is clear that I am missing something really big. I just don’t know what; Moses didn’t either.
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Many of the “heroes” of the Bible were rather bad people. Paul was not very nice to the Christians of his day. Peter talked a big line, but when push came to shove, he bailed…on the Savior, no less. David engaged in an adulterous affair and conspired to have the woman’s husband murdered. Moses could have delegated the job to an underling, but Moses chose to murder a man with his own hands. Nevertheless, like a coward, he ran for his life. The fact that these people, who by most measures were real losers, eventually did get it, gives me great hope.
The question is, how did Moses make the leap from being a non-hearer to a hearer, from being the reject-from-Egypt to being one of the most valuable instruments in God’s hand in the history of the world? It started with turning aside. That’s it. Just “turn aside.” Once Moses turned aside, everything began to change. Like most people I know, I am destined to go through my life never having turned aside, living close to God only vicariously through a pastor or the lives of Moses or David, or one or two other friends who truly live in union with God. We all stand at very high risk that “Everything must change” will never become “Everything has changed.”
For Moses, everything changed when he turned aside to the burning bush. In my case, there has been no burning bush, but there have been other significant events in my life. But, like Moses, I have not heard what God has been saying. My journey has been long, with periods of darkness and fog intermixed with only short periods of faded light. I suspect that Moses, for a time, was in the same boat. Have you ever wondered what Moses was thinking about over the weeks or months that it took to get from Midian to Egypt? Do you think for one minute that when he turned around and left the burning bush that he had all the answers to the myriad questions pouring through his head? By way of Moses’ story, I learn that darkness and fog are normal. Not surprisingly, my life has tracked differently than that of Moses. I have been standing in front of my “burning bush” for two years now where, until recently, I have been unable to hear what God was saying, and been uncertain where to go next. (Thank God He is patient!)
At least I turned aside and, as Robert Frost put it, that is bound to make all the difference.2 Though I can not be Bobby Hull, the great hockey player, I truly believe that I can be like Moses, the loser.
1 My reader may recognize the last phrase in this sentence and interpret my use of it as an allusion to Brian McLaren’s book, Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope. The title of this book did, in fact, inspired my use of the phrase “everything must change”. However, as I will show in subsequent posts, I am using this phrase quite differently from the way McLaren uses it in his book (I’m guessing, since I have not read McLaren’s book). “Everything must change” is a modern way of saying what Jesus told his disciples on many occasions: “You have heard that it was said…but I say to you…”
2 The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And being one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.