Moses before the Burning Bush by Domenico Fetti (circa 1614)
This post is on the Bible readings for Sunday, August 31. As always, you can see the full readings at The Lectionary Page, but here are some highlights and commentary.
The Old Testament reading for today, Exodus 3:1-15, skipped over the “crime and flight” of Moses that occurred between last week’s account of his birth and this Sunday’s account of Moses and the Burning Bush. (See also On the Bible readings for August 24.)
Between Exodus 2:10 and today’s Exodus 3:1, Moses changed in status from being a Prince of Egypt – literally – to a “felon on the run.” Here’s how Isaac Asimov summarized the episode:
As a grown man, Moses found himself sympathizing with the Israelite slaves, presumably out of humanity and possibly because he had learned of his own origins. [I.e., he learned that he too was Hebrew, even though he was raised as the adopted son of Ramses II.] In a fit of anger, he killed an Egyptian overseer and, when this was found out, left Egypt hurriedly, to avoid execution at the orders of an angered Pharoah.
(From Exodus 2:11-25.) Moses fled to Midian, just across the Red Sea and thus just outside Egyptian jurisdiction; “the shortest distance Moses could have traveled and placed himself outside the boundaries of Imperial Egypt.” (Apparently they didn’t have bounty hunters.)
Asimov went on to explain that while Moses was in Midian, “getting married and having a son, a crucial change took place in Egypt,” to wit: the strong Pharoah Ramses II died and was succeeded by “the far weaker Merneptah … usually thought of as the Pharoah of the Exodus.” (See also Merneptah – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, which noted this new Pharoah was the 13th son of Ramses II, and only came to the throne – at almost 60, “ancient” at the time – because the first 12 sons “had predeceased him.”)
All of which set the stage for Moses having a personal experience with The Force That Created The Universe, in the form of the Burning Bush, as shown above. Moses was sheep-herding for his Midianite father-in-law Jethro (see also On Jethro inventing the supreme court), when he came upon a strange sight: “he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed:”
In the narrative, an angel of God is described as appearing in the bush, and God is subsequently described as calling out from it to Moses… When Moses starts to approach, God tells Moses to take off his sandals first, due to the place being holy ground… When challenged on his identity, Yahweh replies that he is the God of the Patriarchs … and that he is Yahweh [from the Hebrew] meaning he who is he, or I am that I am… The text portrays Yahweh as telling Moses that he is sending him to the Pharaoh in order to bring the Israelites out of Egypt, an action that Yahweh is described as having decided upon as a result of noticing that the Israelites were being oppressed by the Egyptians.
See Burning bush – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Or as Exodus 3:14-15 put it, God spoke to Moses and said, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I AM has sent me to you. . .’ This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations.”
In other words, in his experience with the Burning Bush Moses had a theophany. See Theophany – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, which said the term came from the Greek meaning “appearance of god,” and “refers to the appearance of a deity to a human or other being.”
It also noted the term has “acquired a specific usage for Christians and Jews with respect to the Bible: It refers to the manifestation of God to man; the sensible sign by which the presence of God is revealed. Only a small number of theophanies are found in the Hebrew Bible, also known as the Old Testament.”
One of those Old Testament theophanies was the experience of Moses and the Burning Bush, an event that not only changed his life but also altered history, and of which Wikipedia said:
As a powerful religious symbol, the burning bush represents many things to Jews, Christians and Muslims such as God’s miraculous energy, sacred light, illumination, and the burning heart of purity, love and clarity. From a human standpoint, it also represents Moses’ reverence and fear before the divine presence.
Incidentally, we all aim at just such a “personal experience with the Divine” by going to church and/or reading the Bible on a regular basis. (In that way, we seek to emulate the experience of Moses “and the bush,” though not necessarily with the same spectacular results.)
For more on you yourself achieving just such a Personal Experience with the Divine, see prior posts such as Spiritual boot camp or On Thomas Merton. (Or just type “mystic” or “mysticism” in the “Search” box above right.) For more on the rest of the readings for this upcoming Sunday, see “On the readings for August 31- Part II.”
The upper image is courtesy of File:Domenico Fetti – Moses before the Burning Bush – … (commons.wikimedia.org/…/File:Domenico_Fetti_-_Moses_before_th…). See also Domenico Fetti – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, which noted that Fetti (c. 1589-1623), was “an Italian Baroque painter active mainly in Rome, Mantua and Venice.”
As to Isaac Asimov on Moses’ “crime and flight,” see Asimov’s Guide to the Bible (Two Volumes in One), Avenel Books (1981), at pages 129-130.
The lower image can be seen at Ezekiel’s Vision (Raphael) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, which noted that it is “a c. 1518 painting by Raphael showing the prophet Ezekiel‘s vision of God in majesty. It is housed in the Palatine Gallery of Palazzo Pitti, Florence, central Italy.” See also Ezekiel’s Vision by Raphael – Facts & History of the Painting, which added these comments:
…the prophet [Ezekiel] standing at lower left part of the drawing is almost unnoticed. God is accompanied by cherubims, and symbols of the evangelists [Matthew, Mark, Luke and John] such as the ox, lion, eagle and angel dominated the whole painting. The intricate illustration of the clouds and sharp detail at the rays are also impressive, making the painting truly a masterpiece.
The notes to the post Spiritual boot camp added this reflection:
The words “mystic” or “mysticism” seem to give some Christians apoplexy. Try it on a Southern Baptist some time! But seriously, one online dictionary defines a mystic as “a person who seeks by contemplation and self-surrender to obtain unity with or absorption into the Deity or the absolute.” Again, arguably different words but the same idea. . .