The Voice from the Burning Bush
Exodus iii: 1, to
have been a great change in the life of Moses, after
he had spent forty years in the palace as a prince,
to go out into the wilderness of Midian, and live
there as a shepherd. He saw no more the crowded
cities, the pyramids, the temples of Egypt, and the
great river Nile. For forty years Moses wandered
about the land of Midian with his flocks, living
alone, often sleeping at night on the ground, and
looking up by day to the great mountains.
He wore the rough skin mantle of a shepherd; and in
his hand was the long shepherd's staff. On his feet
were sandals which he wore instead of shoes. But
when he stood before an altar to worship God he took
off his sandals. For when we take off our hats, as
in church or a place where God is worshipped, the
people of those lands take off their shoes, as a
sign of reverence in a sacred place.
Moses was a great man, one of the greatest men that
ever lived. But he did not think himself great or
wise. He was contented with the work that he was
doing; and sought no higher place. But God had a
work for Moses to do, and all through those years in
the wilderness God was preparing him for that work.
All through those years, while Moses was feeding his
flock in Midian, the people of Israel were still
bearing heavy burdens and working as slaves in
Egypt, making brick and building cities. The king
who had begun the hard treatment of the Israelites
died, but another king took his place, and was just
as cruel. He was called by the same name, Pharaoh,
for this was the name given to all the kings of
One day, Moses was feeding his flock on a mountain,
called Mount Horeb. This mountain was also called
Mount Sinai, and is spoken of by both names in the
Bible. On the mountain Moses saw a bush which seemed
to be on fire. He watched to see it burn up, but it
was not destroyed, though it kept burning on and on.
And Moses said to himself:
"I will go and look at this strange thing, a bush on
fire, yet not burning up."
was going toward the bush, he heard a voice coming
out of the bush, calling him by name, "Moses,
Moses!" He listened, and said, "Here I am."
The voice said, "Moses, do not come near; but take
off your shoes from your feet, for you are standing
on holy ground."
So Moses took off his shoes, and came near to the
burning bush. And the voice came from the bush,
"I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham,
and of Isaac, and of Jacob. I have seen the wrongs
and the cruelty that my people have suffered in
Egypt, and I have heard their cry on account of
their task-masters. And I am coming to set them free
from the land of the Egyptians, and to bring them up
to their own land, the land of Canaan, a good land,
and large. Come, now, and I will send you to
Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, and you shall lead out
my people from Egypt."
Moses knew what a great work this would be, to lead
the Israelites out of Egypt, from the power of its
king. He dreaded to take up such a task; and he said
to the Lord:
"O Lord, who am I, a shepherd here in the
wilderness, to do this great work, to go to Pharaoh,
and to bring the people out of Egypt. It is too
great a work for me."
And God said to Moses:
"Surely I will be with you, and will help you to do
this great work. I will give you a sign of my
presence with you. When you have led my people out
of Egypt, you shall bring them to this mountain, and
they shall worship me here. And then y ou shall know
that I have been with you."
And Moses said to God:
"When I go to the children of Israel in Egypt, and
tell them that the God of their fathers has sent me,
they will say to me, 'Who is this God? What is his
name?' For they have suffered so much, and have sunk
so low, that I fear they have forgotten their God."
You remember that Moses had been out of Egypt and
afar from his people for forty years, a long time,
and in that time he did not know whether they had
continued the worship of God.
And God said to Moses:
"My name is 'I AM,' the One who is always living. Do
you go to your people and say to them, 'I AM hath
sent me to you.' Do not be afraid; go to your
people, and say to them what I have said to you, and
they will listen to you and believe. And you shall
take the elders of your tribes, the leading men
among them, and shall go to King Pharaoh, and shall
say to him, 'Let my people go, that they may worship
me in the wilderness.' At first he will not let you
go; but afterward, I will show my power in Egypt,
and then he will let you go out of the land."
But Moses wished some sign, which he could give to
his people, and to the Egyptians, to show them that
God had sent him. He asked God to give him some
sign. And God said to him:
"What is that which you have in your hand?" Moses
said, "It is a rod, my shepherd's staff, which I use
to guide the sheep."
And God said, "Throw it on the ground." Then Moses
threw it down, and instantly it was turned into a
snake. Moses was afraid of it, and began to run from
And God said, "Do not fear it, but take hold of it
by the tail." Moses did so, and at once it became
again a rod in his hand.
And God said again to Moses, "Put your hand into
your bosom, under your garment, and take it out
Then Moses put his hand under his garment, and when
he took it out it had changed, and was now as white
as snow, and covered with a scaly crust, like the
hand of a leper. He looked at it with fear and
horror. But God said to him again:
"Put your hand into your bosom once more." Moses did
so, and when he took it out, his hand was like the
other, with a pure skin, no longer like a leper's
And God said to Moses, "When you go to speak my
words if they will not believe you, show them the
first sign, and let your rod become a snake, and
then a rod again. And if they still refuse to
believe your words, show them the second sign; turn
your hand into a leper's hand, and then bring it
back as it was before. And if they still will not
believe, then take some water from the river, and it
shall turn to blood. Fear not, go and speak my words
to your own people and to the Egyptians."
But Moses was still unwilling to go, not because he
was afraid, but because he did not feel himself to
be fit for such a great task. And he said to the
"Oh, Lord, thou knowest that I am not a good
speaker; I am slow of speech, and cannot talk before
And God said, "Am not I the Lord, who made man's
mouth? Go, and I will be with your lips, and will
teach you what to say."
But Moses still hesitated, and he said, "O Lord,
choose some other man for this great work; I am not
able to do it."
And God said, "You have a brother, whose name is
Aaron. He can speak well. Even now he is coming to
see you in the wilderness. Let him help you, and
speak for you. Let him do the speaking, and do you
show the signs which I have given you."
At last Moses yielded to God's call. He went from
Mount Sinai with his flocks, and took them home to
Jethro his father-in-law; and then he went toward
Egypt, and on the way he met his brother coming to
see him. Then the two brothers, Moses and Aaron,
came to the elders of Israel in the land of Goshen.
They told the people what God had said, and they
wrought before them the signs which God had given.
And the people said, "God has seen all our troubles,
and at last he is coming to set us free." And they
were glad, and gave thanks to God who had not
forgotten them; for God never forgets those who call