Do you ever have that experience where you read a section of scripture (or a section of any familiar text, but this is a blog about the Bible) and suddenly notice something you missed before, that helps you see something in a new way? I know I'm not the only one who does that.
One of mine is in Exodus 3. This is the beginning of a REALLY familiar story:
Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, "I will go over and see this strange sight--why the bush does not burn up."
When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, "Moses, Moses!"
I'd guess nearly anyone with a Sunday-school background has some idea of what happens next: God sends Moses back to Egypt, Moses talks to Pharoah, God sends plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, etc. We mentally skip ahead to that stuff, because we know it's coming and we know it's really important.
Skipping ahead means missing things, though, like the thing I noticed when I read this section and paid attention.
What first grabs our attention here? The burning bush, because it's WEIRD, right? It's a BIG WEIRD SIGN from God! Actually, take another look. It seems like the bush must not have looked that weird -- at least, not at first.
After all, Moses doesn't say "Wow, that bush is on fire in the middle of nowhere all by itself. I wonder how that happened? I'm going to go look." Neither does he say "What an amazing and strange-looking fire, I've never seen anything like it before." Apparently the fire looked like ordinary fire, and the fact that a bush was on fire in the desert wasn't important enough by itself to pique his curiosity. It was only when he realized the bush wasn't burning away to nothing that he decided to take a closer look.
Now think about any time you've watched wood burn. It takes time. Twiggly thin wood takes less time than big chunks of it, but it still takes time. Green, live wood also takes longer than dead wood.
Not only did Moses not take special note that the bush was merely on fire, he doesn't take note of it until he realizes the bush isn't being consumed. That's what finally gets his attention, and there's some gap of time involved. Maybe not a big gap, but some gap.
This is what I finally noticed in this passage: God Almighty came down into a desert, sat in the shrubbery, and waited for an itinerant shepherd to notice him.
This is the very same God who would later make the mountain smoke and quake, when his people Israel came before him there. He told Moses later on "you really and truly cannot see my full glory, because it will kill you dead." He's the God who entered his first temple with such force of glory and majesty that the priests could not enter or minister. This very same God chose, in this instance, to sit in a bush and wait to be noticed.
Our God is a God of mercy and patience. That's what this scene tells me. He's not "too good" to perch in the shrubbery and wait on a shepherd. On the contrary, he is SO good he tamed his glory so a shepherd could stand close enough to speak to him. He's SO good, he had the patience to wait for the right moment to make his introduction.
(I also tend to think it shows God's sense of humor. Am I the only one who imagines God must have laughed to himself as he perched in the branches? Just like we laugh when we find ourselves in ludicrous-but-real situations?)
Mercy and patience. That's what God-in-the-shrubbery teaches me.