At the core of Exodus 3 blazes one beguiling image: the bush that burns and yet is not burned up. The burning bush captivates Moses’ attention as he passes by, and it has captured the imagination of interpreters of the story ever since.
Moses, raised as the adoptive son of Pharaoh amid all the wonders of Egypt, has never seen anything as miraculous as this. He draws close — and finds God in the flames. The God of his ancestors appearing here, now, on a mountain in the wilderness. This is a personal encounter: God calls Moses by name and instructs him to remove his sandals, as befits a mortal on holy ground. Moses stands barefoot at the boundary between earth and heaven, history and eternity.
This passage is saturated with artistic and theological possibilities. Moses’ personal history, and the history of the Israelites in slavery, makes for a charged emotional landscape. God’s words reveal the shape of Israel’s future, Moses’ divinely-appointed task, and aspects of God’s own identity. The divine name, ‘YHWH,’ is associated with breath, life, existence. When God speaks out of the fire, Moses encounters the powerful, indefinable, genderless and elusive presence of God.
Keywords: fire, personal encounter, God’s divine name