Meditations in Exodus: 9. Attention Getting God
Ex 3:2,3 There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight–why the bush does not burn up.”
Have you ever wondered why it happened? I mean, why didn’t God just speak to Moses out of the air so to speak where he was standing in the desert? Why the burning bush? I can only speculate because not reason is given in the text but is it because when God catches our attention in such a way, He wants our whole attention and in a sense He wants us to stand still giving Him our whole-hearted attention so that we are more likely to hear and take in what He is saying.
A burning bush would not be such a strange sight but a bush on fire that is not being consumed is something else. It is clearly God’s way of catching Moses’ attention. Now we have to acknowledge that the accounts in the Bible of God interacting with individuals tends to be limited to key people, people who had significant roles in the ongoing life of Israel and therefore we not put ourselves in the same category, but we will come to that in a moment. We don’t know how the Lord originally caught Abram’s attention but when we get to Jacob we see He gave him a dream, as he did with Joseph. Solomon later also had a dream as did Joseph in the New Testament. Various individuals had direct encounters with angels, for example Gideon and of course Zechariah and Mary in the New Testament. To say such encounters were attention getting would be an understatement.
When one starts thinking about disciplinary judgements (i.e. ones that bring change of behaviour but not death) we might suggest that every such judgment is an attention getting exercise with the end goal of drawing Israel back to God. This we see again and again in Judges and on various occasions in the other historical books of the Old Testament. When it comes to grabbing the attention of the wider population in the Old Testament period the Lord mostly used prophets, mostly men, a few women, to whom He spoke and who He required to speak to the people. Again, without doubt, attention getting exercises!
In the New Testament, John the Baptist was God’s initial primary attention getting exercise followed shortly by the biggest one of all, His Son Jesus. With John the Baptist He used John’s words to attract people but with Jesus He went much further and used power and signs and wonders to grab the attention of the crowds. On the Day of Pentecost it seems all that took place was especially designed to be attention grabbing. The Lord could have gathered the disciples in an out of the way country location to pour His Spirit on them, but He seems to purposefully do it in the middle of Jerusalem where very soon a massive crowd gathers to enable the first Christian sermon to be preached. In the days that followed, signs and wonders at the hands of the apostles continued to be a primary way that the Lord got people’s attention so they could then hear the Gospel. The more you think about it, the more these attention-getting events occur in the Bible.
It seems so often we are caught up in the affairs of our lives and it needs something dramatic to break in so that the Lord can speak to us. When you examine the testimonies of a large number of people, you find that some sort of crisis brought them to a standstill in their lives so that the Lord was able to speak into them, bring conviction and the truths of the Gospel to them. Those crises might have been a life-threatening illness, a loss of a job, a bankruptcy, a divorce, a loss of a loved one, a serious accident, or a host of other things that focus our attention. At such times we are brought to a halt and we find ourselves thinking about life issues in a new way and in the midst of that the Lord convicts us of our sin and our need of a Saviour.
Whenever something strange or out of the ordinary takes place today I now ask the question, is the Lord doing something here, is He wanting to say something, is this just a change in the hearts of people, and what are the opportunities that are opening up here? I must also add that I wonder sometimes, ‘Is this the Lord bringing judgment on this people?’ Often the things that go on around us in the world are just the effects of a fallen world, a broken world, or of the sin of people in this world, but even there we may ask, ‘Is this a sign of the Lord lifting off His hands of restraint to bring judgment (see Rom 1:24-28 where “God gave them over to….”) There is an interesting little description of some of king David’s men in one place: “men of Issachar, who understood the times and knew what Israel should do.” (1 Chron 12:32) Was that because they discerned the activity of God like few others did?
I wonder are we people who, without getting superstitious or spooky, watch for signs of the Lord seeking to catch our attention in order to be able to speak into our lives? Busyness is surely one of the curses of the modern day, witnessed by people constantly complaining about how fast time seems to be passing. In such an environment it is so easy to miss the Lord’s still small voice (e.g. 1 Kings 19:12) and so sometimes I am sure He allows things to come our way to challenge us, to question us, to make us stop and think and then be still and listen. Moses was taken up with his sheep and he had to keep a constant eye out for the occasional sheep straying, and so the Lord needed something that grabbed his attention even more than his sheep because He wanted to have a conversation with Moses.