IHow well do you know the LORD who spoke to Moses at the burning bush? (Ex. 3:1-14) Have you met the LORD who revealed himself at the burning bush? Do you know what matters most to him?
The passage of the burning bush is foundational for our understanding of God. It is the beginning of a whole new experience of God in history. If you understand what the LORD said to Moses at the burning bush, then you will better understand Jesus’ words and actions.
One of the first things that God tells Moses is, “I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.” (Ex. 3:6) In other words, the LORD of the burning bush is the God who journeyed with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. God made a covenant with them. Moses is being reminded of God’s fidelity and promise to be with them. He is reminded of the promise that they would have descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and would inherit the promised land. Those promises were made 400 years before God spoke to Moses at the burning bush.
That kind of God is different than the gods of other ancient cultures. For other nations, God was totally transcendent, far off in the heavens. Their gods did not journey with them; they were not close to them and guiding them each day. They did not see God as being involved in their personal history or helping them in their struggles.
However, the LORD of the burning bush is deeply concerned about his people. He says, “I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry of complaint against their slave drivers, so I know well what they are suffering. Therefore, I have come down to rescue them.” (Ex. 3:7-8) This revelation was life-changing for the Israelites. It was a revolution in their understanding of God. The LORD is a God who hears their cries, knows their suffering and comes down to rescue them.
When you pray, do believe that this is how God cares for you in affliction? Or do you wonder if he hears you? Do you just pray because you are supposed to pray, but without a sense that God is deeply concerned about you, your family, and those who suffer in our world?
Many Christians do not pray to the LORD who said to Moses, “I have witnessed the affliction of my people and have heard their cries for help, so I know well what they are suffering. Therefore, I have come down to rescue them.” Instead, they pray to a God who is totally transcendent, who is far off in the heavens and has little or no concern for them. Who is the God to whom you pray?
We are a lot like the Israelites who didn’t believe Moses. He knew that this experience of God would be hard for them to believe. So he said to God, Look, the Israelites are probably not going to believe me. They will think that I had heat stroke or something, and imagined this whole thing. “If they ask me, ‘What is this God’s name?’ what am I to tell them? God replied, ‘I am who am.’ . . . This is what you are to tell the Israelites: I AM sent me to you.” (Ex. 3:13-14)
What does it mean when God says that he is ‘I AM’? Biblical scholars have struggled to understand this name of God. Many said that ‘I AM’ means that God is the essence of existence. He is the source of existence, or the beginning of all things. ‘I AM’ means that he is the Creator.
But in the Jewish culture, they understood something more. God is not only the Creator, but also the Redeemer who rescues the oppressed. When God said that his name is ‘I AM,’ it was not a philosophical way of describing his presence. Rather, the LORD’s presence was concrete in history and active in their midst. God is saying,“I AM present for my people and with my people. I AM with you in your distress. I hear your cries and answer your pleas. I will accompany you on your way.”
Do you pray to God as both Creator and Redeemer? When you pray, do you imagine God as far off in heaven or as One who is closer to you than your closest friend? We should pray with both images. Many relate easily to God as Creator, but you cannot stop there or else God is kept at a distance. As the Redeemer, God comes down to rescue the afflicted.
The Israelites experienced the LORD as their Redeemer at the Red Sea. As Christians, we experience the LORD as Redeemer in Jesus’ deep compassion for lepers, the blind, the crippled, the sick, the widow of Nain, and in so many other events. By his life, Jesus helped us understand that this is what the name ‘I AM’ means. He said, “I AM the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.” (Jn. 10:11) I will protect you from wolves. I will guide you and watch over you. I will die for you.
As we celebrate the Eucharist, we experience how God pours himself out to be totally present in a mystical way. Jesus opened our hearts to this mystery when he said, “I AM the Bread of Life.” I exist to fill you with my Life. I AM living in you. I will always be with you.
During Lent, we are called to renew our relationship with God through repentance. The first level of repentance is to be open to who God is and what God does. Every one of us needs to a change of heart regarding God as both Creator and Redeemer. If we don’t get that right, then we will fail to get the second level of repentance right, which is to let our relationships be transformed by this fresh experience of God’s love.
At the first level, to repent means to believe that God hears my cry for help, knows my affliction and will rescue me; it means to listen to a God whose first concern is for those being oppressed. At the second level, to repent is to bring that experience to the people around me. For Moses that meant that he had to go back to Egypt and help free the Israelites caught in slavery. He was called to be an agent of God’s redemption.
For us, it means that we need to listen to the cry of the oppressed in our world and do something about it. That includes the child in the womb who is helpless, as well as to the pregnant mother who often feels totally alone. There are so many other kinds of people whom we are called to be agents of God’s protection. One group is especially appropriate.
We should recall God’s commandment regarding resident aliens (i.e., foreign immigrants without rights) to the people of Israel. “You shall not oppress or afflict a resident alien, for you were once aliens residing in the land of Egypt.” (Exod. 22:20) This commandment is tied directly to the revelation of God at the burning bush and how he rescued them at the Red Sea. Throughout the Old Testament, it is repeated again and again to remind them and us that our treatment of others who are afflicted should reflect how God has rescued us.