Now that’s a command none of us want to hear! A police officer’s authority gives him the right to enforce laws and order a driver out of the car if he is violating traffic laws or endangering the lives of others. To be given such an order should invoke fear of both the law and the officer’s authority, for it has been set in place by God Himself. (…for there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God, Romans 13:1.)
If we truly fear the Lord, we will fear His authority, whether it is expressed in His Word or the laws of man. Our first lesson in fearing authority is often with our parents. When my three siblings and I did something wrong, my father would talk to us as we stood in a line before him. After he confronted us with whatever childish offense we’d committed, he would look each of us in the eyes individually and ask, “Do YOU understand? Do YOU understand? Do YOU understand?” By the time he addressed sibling number four with “Do YOU understand?” we were all painfully aware of his authority and our lack of respect for it. All that, without even a smack on our backsides or the slightest display of physical punishment. He wasn’t a large man, nor was he ever mean or abusive, but the mantle of authority the Lord placed on him as head of our family was undeniably substantial.
Moses had up close and personal encounters with God on several occasions, and he had great respect for the undeniably substantial weight of the Lord’s authority and holiness. One day, as he was trekking along in the desert, he noticed a bush burning. Oddly, the fire did not consume the bush and no doubt that peculiarity intrigued and compelled him to investigate it. Here’s the account in Exodus 3:1-6 (NKJV):
Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro, his father-in-law, the priest of Midian. And he led the flock to the back of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush. So he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, but the bush was not consumed. Then Moses said, "I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush does not burn."
So when the Lord saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, "Moses, Moses!"
And he said, "Here I am."
Then He said, "Do not draw near this place. Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground." Moreover, He said, "I am the God of your father — the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look upon God.
The NLT records verse 5 as, “Do not come any closer,” the Lord warned. "Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground. In effect, God was saying, “Step away from the bush!” The same fear of authority resulted as in the example of the police officer and the traffic violator, but for a much weightier reason than to enforce a law.
The Angel of the Lord spoke from the burning bush, and the Angel did not speak until Moses approached the bush to get a closer look. The Angel of the Lord is none other than Jesus Christ. God Himself was in the bush. He is described in Hebrews 12:29 as a consuming fire, for our God is a consuming fire, yet the fire did not consume the bush.
The holiness of God was in the bush. How quickly Moses responded to the Lord’s voice! The instant he heard the command, “Step away from the bush!” he did. Then came the command to take off his sandals because the ground was holy. Again, no questions asked, just instant obedience, fear, and reverence of the Voice coming from the bush. Moses understood the holiness of God to the degree that many do not believe in this day of reckless morals and carefree living. Even his own people were ignorant of understanding God’s authority and holiness at times.
What if Moses hadn’t regarded the Lord’s voice? If he hadn’t recognized the Voice as holy and divine, he might have run right up to the bush and been consumed by the flames. What if he’d have scrambled to find water to douse the bush to prevent a deadly brush fire that could have endangered his flocks? That would have seemed a practical, protective measure any good shepherd would have done. He had to have sensed profound holiness and authority in the Voice.
Sometimes the Lord does unusual, even startling or unsettling things to get our attention in an effort to draw us closer to Him. Someday we will fully understand the fear of the Lord as we stand in His presence in Glory. For now, we understand the fear and holiness of the Lord in part as we experience His presence in times of worship, prayer, and waiting on Him as we journey through life. As far as I know, there have been no other occurrences of burning bushes since Moses’ encounter. But one need only sense the comfort of the Holy Spirit in times of sorrow, or the awakening of hope within a downcast soul, or the healing touch of Jesus removing disease, or the awesome glimpse of an angel on assignment to sense the undeniable holiness and authority of the living God, right here, right now.
Later in the book of Exodus, after the Lord parted the Red Sea for the Israelites so they could escape the terrors of the Egyptians, Moses sang a song of praise that included this verse in Exodus 15:11: "Who is like you, O Lord, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders?” He had learned, in the strangest, most terrifying moments of his life, that divine protection automatically occurred when God’s authority and holiness enveloped him.
So it is with us. When a troubling situation comes upon us, it could be a burning bush the Lord is allowing to draw us closer to His holiness and authority, for therein lies His protection, provision, and power. When we “step away from the bush,” recognizing that the Lord is in the bush, we can expect to hear His Voice guiding and directing us through troubling times. For us, He will be “majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders”!
© Chris Werre