|Series Theme: Meditations in Lessons from Israel|
Meditation No. 2
Meditation Title: God of History
Ex 3:5,6 "Do not come any closer," God said. "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground." Then he said, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob." At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.
These studies, we said in the first meditation, are to learn from God's interactions with Israel , right back from the time when Moses first encountered the Lord. So here we are at the burning bush where the Lord attracts Moses and then starts to talk to him. It is at the beginning of the conversation that the Lord identifies Himself. If we have been Christians any length of time this is perhaps a familiar episode in the life of pre-Israel, and so maybe we take it rather for granted. But put yourself in Moses shoes. He is an Israelite refugee, who fled from his people forty years ago, has lived with a Midianite priest and his family and has probably lost all contact with the stories of his people. So who or what, he might legitimately think, have I got here? Whatever is going on? Am I hallucinating?
It is into this possible scenario that the Lord speaks. “Do not come any closer," God said. "Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Note for the record that the One speaking is simply referred to as ‘God' here. That is about to change but for now the writer (whether Moses or some later scribe) simply identifies Him as ‘God'. The first thing Moses gets from God is a warning: “Take off your sandals for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Why take of his shoes? Presumably because the inference would be that his shoes would be dirty and nothing dirty should come into the zone of this burning bush. The inference must also surely be that if he defiled this holy ground he might not live! So the first real lesson that comes out from this interaction with God is that God is holy and we need to be careful how we approach Him.
Having given this initial warning we then come to the crucial part of God identifying Himself to Moses. Now He will do this in more detail in a few minutes, but for the moment He simply says, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” Immediately this puts the Lord in context. He is the One who has been revealed by His dealings with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is the God who has history, personal history! There is content to this history. This is something most of us take for granted and think little about, but it is crucial. Our faith is not built on clever ideas; it is built on history, on what has happened, that involved God interacting with mankind. The Bible is full of history – history about God – as someone has put it, it is all about “His-story”.
When the Lord starts out with “I am the God of your Father,” He reminds Moses of his ancestry. He may be a wandering shepherd, but he's also a Hebrew and the Hebrews had history that took them back to the land of Canaan . It was a history that started with Abraham: “I am… the God of Abraham.” It is probable that the stories about Abraham, that we find in Genesis 12 onwards, were conveyed down through the family, so God's call on Abraham and the subsequent story about how God enabled them to have Isaac, would be known by Moses, as would God's helping Isaac to have twins, and of His subsequent dealings with Jacob ("I am …, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.") It is all this knowledge that produces the reaction that we find in Moses: “ At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.”
So why was that? Well stop and think about it. You have heard the stories throughout your childhood about this ‘God' who wasn't just ‘out there' but who came and invaded your private space and who said and did things that changed the course of your life. It's one thing to hear about it in childhood, but it's another thing to find that He is real and He's here!
I believe that the more we read and study the historical accounts of God's dealings with Israel, the more we will come to see His reality and the more we will come to see His ‘other-ness', His holiness. There is no one like Him. He is unique; He is almighty God, creator and sustainer of the universe and He can speak into and change His world as and when He wants to. As long as He seems to stay ‘out there' we can cope with that (and this applies to many Christians today as well) but once He seems to come near and make His presence known, that gets a bit scary – and understandably so!
Jesus' disciples had this same experience once or twice. Much of the time they seemed to be able to cope with him – until he did something that took him onto another realm. Peter was scared out of his life in his boat when Jesus produced a massive shoal of fish and we read, “Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus' knees and said, "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Lk 5:8). Later, when Jesus calmed a storm at sea, “In fear and amazement they asked one another, "Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.” (Lk 8:25). Yes, this is the God, (THE only God) who has history, who we can read about in His book, but who still lives today and delights in coming and making His presence felt. Expect Him!