Shemot · Tekoa Manning · Torah Portion

Shemot Part II, The Burning Bush

Moses picks up his staff and continues moving his father-in-law’s sheep along the rugged terrain. He has been doing this for 40 years, and it has been therapeutic and back-breaking. The heat of the noon-day sun beams down upon him as he ponders being a shepherd for so long. His occupation has undoubtedly given him much time to think and converse with the God of his fathers, but Moses wonders if he missed his calling. He longs for more.

His mother, Jochebed, told Moses that he had an assignment to free his people from their burdens, but Moses knows that can never be. Not after his past.  He’s made too many mistakes. Moses can still hear the voice of his fellow Hebrew. He had tried to bring correction years ago, but was met with the retort of “Who made you, Moses, to be a ruler and judge over us? Are you planning to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?”
Moses had been so grieved over his people’s high taxing, heavy labor, and their bondage, but he was not mature enough then to deal with his emotions. Moses was still enraged over the stories his parents and siblings had told him of how all the male babies had drowned in the Nile and were eaten by crocodiles. How the innocent blood of these newborn sons filled the water, and a stench rose through the air. Beautiful life snuffed out and by who? His own adopted grandfather. He heard stories of how his people wept and wept until they had no tears left. Moses understood grief.

On the backside of the desert, alone, Moses has come to know the Holy One’s Voice. He has had much time to meditate on the lessons he’s learned as a shepherd and all the ways he has gained understanding from his sorrow.

Moses has had many hours to replay the events of Egypt and his family he left there, but what has haunted him from his past the most was the man’s life he had taken. His hands had shed blood and he had buried him in the sand. If Moses tries hard enough, he can still see the young man he killed and feel the sand in his hands packing and covering the Egyptians body. Now aged and worn from the many miles of travel–his skin bronzed from the sun’s heat, yes, now as his hair has turned white with age, he knows he had acted foolishly and out of anger. Oh, how he longed to go back in time and change the circumstances, but this too was impossible. It had taken years for Moses to get over his past. Moses recalls the day he raised his hands toward heaven and said, God of my fathers, if You have forgiven me, I now forgive myself! Suddenly the sky had lit up, and a light rain began to wash his tears and moisten his face. He had laughed so hard, and Moses had felt so free afterward that he fell to the ground and prostrated himself–laughing and crying in release as the rain fell softly over him.

Moses has gained keen eyesight for spotting wolves and predators that attack sheep, and he has learned their demeanor—sneaking around salivating, watching from hidden places, and waiting to pounce on one of the younger, weaker lambs. Once when he was bringing the sheep to the river to drink, a little lamb lingered back and would not drink. Moses picked up the lamb and carried it. He took rocks and made a still area, so the water was not rushing swiftly, and he coaxed the lamb to drink. While caring for the little ewe, he noticed a rustling in the trees and saw a wolf ready to pounce on one of the smaller sheep. Moses drew his sling and nailed the wolf sending it yelping away.

 

Moses knows that his sheep know his voice. When the other shepherds bring their sheep to the river to drink, Moses calls, and his sheep, and only his sheep, follow him. He laughs at a memory of Zipporah calling from the sheep gate and trying to get them to follow her. They would not. His wife had been a great blessing during the birthing season. His sons and wife, one year, delivered almost 300 lambs with the help of Jethro and the servants. Zipporah is strongly built and tougher than many a man, but Moses sees her softer side, and when she is transparent, she is lovely to behold–an excellent mother.

Today Moses feels exhausted, and he is concerned about his future and his parents and siblings in Egypt. Besides a few secretive meetings, he has not seen his family much in 40 years. Moses realizes time has run swiftly like a gazelle past him and his reflection in the river keeps getting older and what has he done with his days under the sun? His mother and father spared his life, but for what? To tend sheep. Moses flashes back to when he was a young man. While visiting the Pharaoh with his mother, he had placed the Pharaoh’s crown on his head. Soon whispers began to spread that Moses would one day usurp the kingdom. But instead, he had fled and was a wanted man. His time in Egypt seemed like another lifetime when he was another person.

Moses continues pondering the many things that are troubling him. He wonders what it is about Mount Horeb that draws him to it. Will he die here on this mountain? The sun is starting to lower on the horizon, and Moses realizes he needs to get the sheep back home to safety. Predators are prevalent at night.

Suddenly as he turns to leave, he sees a bush, and it is lit with flames as if on fire. Moses stops. He feels a wind stirring in his spirit that he has never felt. “What is this sight? I must go over and see this marvelous vision. Why is the bush not burning up? Moses takes steps and stands in front of the spectacle in awe. Suddenly a Voice speaks, and it resonates with his insides. It is the loudest voice Moses had ever heard, and yet it is a whisper—it fills him with both wonder and fear.

“Moses, Moses!”

“Here I am.”

“Do not come any closer to the bush. Remove your sandals for this place where you stand is Holy ground. For I am the God of your fathers. I am the God of Abraham and Isaac, and Jacob.”

“I have indeed seen the affliction of My people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their oppressors, and I am aware of their sufferings. I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached Me, and I have seen how severely the Egyptians are oppressing them. Therefore, go! I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring My people the Israelites out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:7-10, ESV).

Moses is trying to wrap his brain around what he is hearing. His mind is filled with concern and worry, and why the God of His fathers would send him?

“Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

Moses ponders his identity and a lifetime of mistakes. What power or authority could he possibly have? He had to flee for his life after he murdered the Egyptian. Someone may still be seeking my life, he thought.

“Moses, I am Your God, and I will surely be with you, and this will be the sign to you that I have sent you to free your people. When you have brought the people out of Egypt all of you will worship me on this holy mountain for the great deliverance you will see with your own eyes!

“Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is His name?’ What should I tell them?”

 

Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you. ‘The God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’ This is My name forever, and this is how I am to be remembered in every generation.

“Go, assemble the elders of Israel and say to them, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—has appeared to me and said: I have surely attended to you and have seen what has been done to you in Egypt. And I have promised to bring you up out of your affliction in Egypt, into the land of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites—a land flowing with milk and honey.’

The elders of Israel will listen to what you say, and you must go with them to the king of Egypt and tell him, ‘The LORD, the God of the Hebrews, has met with us. Now please let us take a three-day journey into the wilderness, so that we may sacrifice to the LORD our God.’ But I know that the king of Egypt will not allow you to go unless a mighty hand compels him. So, I will stretch out My hand and strike the Egyptians with all the wonders I will perform among them. And after that, he will release you.

And I will grant this people such favor in the sight of the Egyptians that when you leave, you will not go away empty-handed. Every woman shall ask her neighbor and any woman staying in her house for silver and gold jewelry and clothing, and you will put them on your sons and daughters. So you will plunder the Egyptians.” (Exodus 3:16-22, ESV)

Moses stands and weighs the weight of what he is hearing. It is heavy to contemplate.  He is fearful, and Moses realizes that when he had the fire in his soul and the Chutzpah to take on Pharoah, the strength of a young man, the mind of a young man, the fearlessness of man and the boldness to correct his brethren, he blew it. He doesn’t have the ability to lead people now. Back then, perhaps. Now? No way. No how!

Oh, mighty Elohim, behold, the people will not believe me. Why would they listen to my voice? They won’t believe me. They will say, “The Holy One did not appear to you!”

“What is that in your hand, Moses?”

“A staff.”

“Throw it on the ground, Moses.”

Moses threw it on the ground, and his staff became a serpent.

Moses jumped and then ran from the serpent.

“Put out your hand and catch it by the tail”

Moses obeyed in wonder and caught the serpent, and the serpent became a staff.

Moses these signs will follow you that they may believe that the LORD, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.”

“Again, the LORD said to him, “Put your hand inside your cloak.” And he put his hand inside his cloak, and when he took it out, behold, his hand was leprous like snow. Then God said, “Put your hand back inside your cloak.” So he put his hand back inside his cloak, and when he took it out, behold, it was restored like the rest of his flesh. “If they will not believe you,” God said, “or listen to the first sign, they may believe the latter sign. If they will not believe even these two signs or listen to your voice, you shall take some water from the Nile and pour it on the dry ground, and the water that you shall take from the Nile will become blood on the dry ground” (Exodus 4:6-9, ESV).

Moses meditates on the blood of all the male babies born during his day that filled the Nile and now, the Holy One is telling him that if the people do not believe him, he will be able to turn water into blood? Oh, the burden of what Moses is hearing is too much for him to bare or comprehend . And, all his weaknesses and mistakes and inability to lead a people are crashing into him. THUNDERING!

“Oh, my Lord, I am not eloquent, either in the past or since you have spoken to your servant, but I am slow of speech and of tongue.” Then the LORD said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the LORD? Now therefore go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you shall speak.” But he said, “Oh, my Lord, please send someone else.” (Exodus 4:10-13, ESV).

Suddenly, the bush glowed with such heat, Moses could feel the anger of the Mighty One, and he regretted his weaknesses and lack of seeing his identity.

****

Jill Hammer 27 Tevet, The Snake and the Branch:

Moses expresses doubts about this mission. The Holy One gives Moses a sign, turning Moses’ staff into a snake and then back into a staff. This staff is a symbol of “gevurah,” strength. It is at the same time part of a tree, a symbol of the Tree of Life; and as a snake, which is able to put its tail in its mouth, it is the circle of life.

Moses has been a staff: He has supported his wife and father-in-law and nurtured his flock. Now he is to become a snake and bite at the heel of Pharoah. The Divine asks Moses to respect and nourish the circle of life. Moses must be willing to turn back into a staff, back into a nourisher and sustainer, when that is needed. According to Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliiezer, the staff of Moses has been a gift to humanity since Creation. It teaches us to be gentle as well as fierce.”

The Jewish Book of Days, pg. 153, Jill Hammer.

Part I click HERE

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