Gazing into Divine Fire

How or when Horeb was hallowed as the mountain of God, Moses himself did not know. It was something everyone in the area knew, and had been known by generations reaching back into the misty past. YHWH Himself deemed it holy ground (3:5), and it could only be such if He chose it for His earthly dwelling. Why God should choose a barren place deep in the wilderness is something that provokes thought. We cannot help but contrast it to the great Tower of Babel in the heart of human metropolis, or the famous Temples and Pyramids of Egypt. Sinai is not very accessible, a feature that it shares with original Eden with its garden whose entrance was left guarded by cherubim with flaming sword. Hidden away in the depths of formless earth, one of the three primal elements of chaos, YHWH desired His people to come to Him and serve Him there (3:12). This is counter intuitive; Eden was plush with greenery, Horeb was a rocky waste in the howling wilderness. We do not expect to find God in such a place.

Moses no doubt was drawn to the mountain; it was not by accident that he led his flocks nearby. What he was hoping for is hard to say, but we can be assured that he did not expect to see what he saw on that day of destiny ─ the fire of God! God was watching him before he saw the bush. When he saw it he curiously approaches, but God solemnly calls out his name twice to warn him not to draw near and to take off his sandals. This was no territorial spirit, a mere mountain genie. It was the Creator-God who identifies Himself as the God of his fathers, of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (3:6). It is at this revelation that Moses reacted in terror to hide his face. It was a combination of two realities that got to him. First, that he found himself in the presence of uncreated light; second, that this God is relational, the One who entered into covenant with his forefathers long ago, and who knew him by name, and sought him out. We humans can be fairly casual before a general deity like an impersonal “force” or “nature,” but when God gets personal, everything changes.

Moses gazed into the fire of God. In Hebrew thought, we become what we take in with our eyes. There is a direct link between our senses and our spiritual interiors. Something happened in the depths of his spirit that, in this case, is paralleled to the burning bush. A fire was lit in Moses that burned within without destroying him. This is the way with the fire of God; rather than burn away person-hood, individuality, and the powers of body and soul, it enhances them. We become like God but in a completely unique way. We grow into authentic being. On the contrary, the fires of lust, kindled by improper gazing, devour our person-hood and powers of body and soul.

Moses, like Abraham (Gen. 22:1) and Jacob (Gen. 46:2) before him, responded to this divine encounter with the Hebrew hinnēnî, “here I am,” placing himself at the disposal of God. He will never be the same. The encounter set him on fire. He may doubt many things in his future, but he will never doubt the encounter. It is more real to him than anything he ever experienced, even his wife Zipporah and son Gershom. As we meditate on this scene we find that the burning bush is real to us as well, even millennia after the fact, and even though we were not actually there at the moment. But the story becomes ours by meditating on it, and we find ourselves there in our imaginations gazing into the divine fire. The same fire burns within us. The fire makes us alive, and gives us the courage to respond to God with “hinnēnî.”

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