I like reading the Old Testament of the Bible. It’s interesting to pictures some of the events from today’s perspective looking back into history. In reading it, we find that the God of history interacts the same with us today.
I read Exodus 2 & 3 about the beginning of Moses’ life and see the complexity of how God cares for his people and is concerned for their suffering. When we face suffering in life, chronic pain, long-term disability, injustice and oppression today, we can rely on the divine interaction of God who is concerned for us and takes joy in our healing, redemption and reconciliation from a sinful world.
Pastor Marty Gale from the Jewish Celebration Congregation in Loveland, Colorado helped reveal to me some further truth about the burning bush event in Exodus 3 recently.
When God came to meet with Moses from the midst of a burning bush, God is concerned for the suffering of His people. He draws Moses closer to Himself by igniting a bush without consuming it on Horeb, the mountain of God. Moses draws closer, but is told that the location is Holy ground and must keep his distance. Pastor Marty enlightened me by saying that the word “bush” is not in the Hebrew text, rather it’s the word sneh, which is thorn. English translations prefer the word bush because of the story it provides, but Acacia-wood thorn bush is the appropriate translation.
Thorns come from Genesis 3:18, where Adam must cary the curse of his sinful action into the rest of his days while harvesting the earth and tilling the ground. Thorns are a representation of sin, for they are introduced into creation as a result of sin. Thorns represent sin and sinful man.
God mentions in Genesis 6:3, that His Spirit will not contend with mankind forever, meaning that God is working out a plan to make His presence dwell with sinful man and combine the relationship as originally intended in creation. When God encounters Moses at the event of the burning “thorns”, His fire from heaven is from within the thorn bush, rather than consuming it. Fire from heaven is God’s present reality all throughout the Old Testament as representation of God’s presence. Elijah calls down fire from heaven a number of times as judgment from God on sinful humanity. The fire by night and pillar of cloud by day are representations of the Holy Spirit of God leading wandering Israelites through the wilderness as a guide. Fire is present in the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle to represent the presence of God. Even James and John the “sons of thunder” in Luke 9 ask Jesus if they should call down fire from heaven to consume the Samaritan town for not believing that Jesus is the Messiah. Jesus reassures them that the timing for such things was inappropriate.
We read that the thorn of Acacia wood is woven to make a crown for Jesus to wear at his crucifixion. He dons the sin of man upon his brow where blood is mingled down upon his face. His willingness to take the sin of humanity upon himself at the cross is the mark of God’s presence dwelling with humanity forever.
In Acts 2, the culmination of the burning “bush” event takes place when, 7 weeks after Passover, at Pentecost, the Spirit of God like a violent rushing wind blows through the room where the disciples were gathered and what appeared to be ‘tongues of fire’ came to separate and rest on each one of them. The fire of God is present and dwelling with the thorn of mankind, but is not consuming them. The fulfillment of the burning bush in Exodus 3 takes place after the power of the resurrection of Jesus, and the church is born with power from God as divine presence and human thorny sin dwell together.
2 Corinthians 5:17-21, possibly my favorite collection of missional scripture, tells the church in Corinth, and correspondingly tells us as believers in Christ, that we are reconciled to God. Not by work that we have done, but by the ever generous grace of God who reconciles us to Himself through the blood of Jesus Christ, so that we might have the ministry of reconciliation. We who believe in a God who is concerned for our suffering, are to become reconcilers for those who feel hostile to God.
The old way of life, separation from God – distance from the divine due to our sinful thorn, is gone now. The new way of life has come. New life living is forever inaugurated in the blood, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, so that our thorny sinful lives might be filled with the divine fire presence of God from within and not consumed. God is not distant from us any longer. We have been drawn near to God to dwell with His divine nature in Christ through the Holy Spirit and become missionally reconciling to our neighbor.
Suffering is real. I read today in the Associated Press that “as many as 2.4 million people may be victims of human trafficking worldwide at any given time, calling it “a shameful crime of modern-day slavery.”. Suffering is chronic and crime is a trillion dollar business. It’s an example of the thorn of humanity taking aim at the claims of God and questioning His concern for relief of human suffering.
When reading the text of the Old Testament, the calling of God in the burning “thorn” bush to Moses and fulfilling it’s metaphor in Acts 2’s Pentecost presence of the Holy Spirit from within sinful humanity… we see that God dwells with his people once again, but doesn’t rely on the unstable vow of humanity, rather God relies on His Covenant Promise to Abraham in Genesis 12 that one day “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you [Abraham].”
We suffer & it is not fair. The thorn of sin is a curse we must endure, but thanks be to God who is concerned for our suffering, hears our cries and is quick to rescue, send the Redeemer in Christ Jesus and reconcile us to God. May we come to know that our reconciliation to God, His Holy Spirit fire dwells within us and does not consume us or destroy. He fills us so that, like a burning thorn bush, we become ministers of reconciliation.