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The story of the burning bush is one of the most well known of the Hebrew Bible. It’s easily brought to life in our imagination, no matter how different it is than our every day life. It’s a common scene (at least in the time of shepherding as a principal career) and also the unique revelation of the name of the God of the Bible יהוה– YHWH – Yahweh, or Jehovah “I AM who I AM”
Moses miraculously survives the Egyptian genocide of Hebrew males. Raised by the daughter of Pharaoh, he becomes a multi-cultural elite, who bridges two cultures and people. Yet eventually he has to choose between his adopted family which oppresses his family of origin. He flees before he can be arrested and tried for treason. While hiding out and away from his life path. he becomes a shepherd. One day encountering something that’s both normal and unexpected. He approaches the bush that is burning yet doesn’t burn up, and removes his shoes. A sign of recognition that this place and space is holy: set apart. He has to set aside his pre-existing ideas to see and hear what’s there.
It’s in that every day – ordinary, yet set apart space, that Moses encounters the living God who has long been pursuing him. How many other times did Moses possibly not turn aside, stop and listen or look at what God was trying to tell him???
In the encounter God reveals the divine name: יהוה pronounced Yahweh (Jehovah in Latin). It is a common word and an utterly unique name. It’s the word for “to be” היה [hyh] but written without vowels. It is the word we translate as “God”. And many times is clearly used as a personal name. The way it is written makes it unpronounceable, and was intended to be so. It’s also hard to pin down exactly. It isn’t marked with a time or tense. So the name can be translated as “I AM who I AM” or “I will be who I will be” or even “I was who I will be.” It points to the way that God is and acts which is beyond the limits we known and our imagination – even our notion of time.
Observant Jews do not pronounce יהוה nor do they read aloud proposed transcription forms such as Yahweh or Yehovah; the name is too extraordinary to be said ordinarily. instead they replace it with a different term. Common substitutions in Hebrew are Adonai (“My Lord”), and HaShem (“The Name”).
It’s this Holy Being who is in our daily quotidian and also in the extraordinary, who walks beside us and before us, that Moses receives his call to do what seems to be beyond him, that which terrifies him, and that which ultimately defines him. Hopeless, hiding in the desert, Moses is transformed and recreated; his fear and doubt replaced with hope and trust.
Questions for the practice of Examen & Contemplation
• What grabs you in the story of the burning bush?
• How do you struggle to hear God in every day life?
• What shoes might you need to take off to encounter God?
• How do you hear an invitation to act, speak, or be for God in today’s world of disruption, reckoning and division.