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Moses's Secret

Written By Susan Hanson

Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, "I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up."  When the LORD saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, "Moses, Moses!" And he said, "Here I am." Then he said, "Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground."  —Exodus 3:1-6

For 40 years Moses had been hiding from his past. As a young man, he had witnessed an Egyptian beating a Hebrew worker, and in his anger at the sight, Moses had killed the Egyptian and buried his body in the sand. Though he initially thought he had gotten away with the crime, Moses soon learned that he had been seen by two other workers. His secret was out. 

Fearing retribution from the Pharaoh, Moses escaped to Midian, located in what is now northwestern Saudi Arabia. There he worked tending sheep for Jethro, the priest of Midian, who in gratitude gave Moses one of his seven daughters, Zipporah, in marriage. Secure once more, Moses could now go about the ordinary business of raising his sons, Gershom and Eliezer, watching after his father-in-law's livestock, and building a life for himself and Zipporah.

According to The Legends of the Jews—a rich compilation of stories drawn from the Talmud, Midrash, Kabbalah, and other sources—Moses did his job extremely well: "During the forty years Moses acted as [Jethro's] shepherd not one sheep was attacked by wild beasts, and the herds multiplied to an incredible degree. Once he drove the sheep about in the desert for forty days, without finding a pasturing place for them. Nevertheless he did not lose a single sheep."

It was into this life of competence and control that God ultimately intruded. Having taken the sheep into the desert once more, Moses walked toward Mount Horeb, which he knew to be a holy place. Upon approaching, though, he saw something that amazed him—a bush that appeared to be burning without being consumed. And from this bush Moses heard a voice, a voice that called him to once again leave a comfortable life, return to Egypt, and lead his people to freedom.

What this story teaches is more than the futility of running from God. It also reminds us of the ways that perfectionism, of wanting to get things absolutely right, can interfere with our relationships, including the one we have with God. As this incident is related in The Legends of the Jews, "It was the wish of God to hold converse with Moses, who, however, was not inclined to permit any interruption of the work under his charge. Therefore God startled him with the wonderful phenomenon of the burning thorn-bush. That brought Moses to a stop, and then God spoke with him."

O God, let me always be open to your interruptions, to the myriad ways you move in and out of my everyday life, to your call to leave what is comfortable for the sake of a hurting world.