Reflections on Exodus 3: Moses and the burning bush, I Am Who I Am

Aurora Leigh (excerpt – 1856)
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it, and pluck blackberries,
And daub their natural faces unaware….


— Nagarjuna, Precious Garland (cited by Dalai Lama)

May I always be an object of enjoyment
For all sentient beings according to their wish
And without interference, as are the earth,
Water, fire, wind, herbs, and wild forests.
May sentient beings be as dear to me as my own life,
And may they be dearer to me than myself.
May their ill deeds bear fruit for me,
And all my virtues bear fruit for them.
As long as any sentient being
Anywhere has not been liberated,
May I remain [in the world] for the sake of that being
Though I have attained highest enlightenment.

MOSES — Dr. Kirk Lewis

This was not his first
brush fire.
A careless ember from a campfire.
A lightning strike.
All it took in the arid wilderness
to start a fire.
He had no idea how this one started.

After 40 years in Midian,
Moses had seen his share of wildfires.
At first glance,
this one looked no different.

Weary from an endless day.
Leading his sheep to
greener pastures
Moses saw the fire as he crested the hill.
A quick assessment deemed it a
minimal threat.
He thought,
“A little sand.
Smother the fire.
Problem solved.”

Moses took a few steps toward the flame.
He stopped abruptly in his tracks.

For a long moment,
Moses stared intently into the
heart of the flame.

“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.’

In that moment,
Once Moses saw something more
than a typical fire…
Only then,
did God call out,


Fire requires a balance between fuel, oxygen, and heat; this is the same for your spiritual walk. We have a responsibility to balance the elements that keep the fire going. — Curt Landry

Fire is another popular representation of the Holy Spirit. The fire that appeared on Pentecost was reminiscent of the burning bush on Mount Sinai from which God spoke to Moses. During the Exodus, the people of God were led by a pillar of fire at night. Fire calls attention to the strength and force of the Holy Spirit. — Loyola Press
An awake heart is like a sky that pours light. — Hafiz

The real glory is being knocked to your knees and then coming back. That’s real glory. That’s the essence of it. ― Vince Lombardi Jr.

Never lose a holy curiosity. — Albert Einstein

“Reflecting his glory” means that God is taking  the shards of the world and our broken lives and restoring his glory to them. We become a place of intersection where people can meet God as he makes us holy … We may be broken but we are recreatable. — Kevin Scott, Recreatable: How God Heals the Brokenness of Life 

The thing about light is that it really isn’t yours; it’s what you gather and shine back. And it gets more power from reflectiveness; if you sit still and take it in, it fills your cup, and then you can give it off yourself. — Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith

Apprehend God in all things, for God is in all things. Every single creature is full of God and a book about God. Every creature is a word of God. — Meister Eckhart

On FIRE, but not BURNED  Exodus poems 5 Andrea Skevington

Do angels speak
from every bush?
Whispering in the
rustle of leaves,
the low hum of insects –
or louder, clearer,
more insistent.
Was that holy fire
for one place,
one purpose,
or might it
happen –
could it happen –

The bush on the hill
of Horeb was aflame,
we read of it –
worth turning aside
from the work of tending
sheep, or finding water,
turning aside to see.

But I glimpse, too, a deeper
peeling back an ordinary
moment to reveal
depth, and warmth,
and truth.

I catch a glimpse,
a hope, of
each living thing
with a heart of life-fire,
not of burning,
not of perishing,
but of God-fire growing,
giving, sustaining, all.

Maybe, angels still speak,
louder, clearer,
telling us
to take off our shoes,
for the very earth is holy.

Telling us
of a God who has talked
with our ancestors,
those who walk behind us
speaking old wisdom
we tend to forget.

But most of all
these living flames
speak of affliction,
they spark forth
in suffering,
roused by
the pain of all things,
of a suffering people,
they call to the work of

the body of one
who will listen to
this voice,
who will turn aside
to gaze on
holy flames.

BLESSING at the BURNING BUSH — Jan Richardson

You will have to decide
if you want this—
want the blessing
that comes to you
on an ordinary day
when you are minding
your own path,
bent on the task before you
that you have done
a hundred times,
a thousand.

You will have to choose
for yourself
whether you will attend
to the signs,
whether you will open your eyes
to the searing light, the heat,
whether you will open
your ears, your heart
to the voice
that knows your name,
that tells you this place
where you stand—
this ground so familiar
and therefore unregarded—
is, in fact,

You will have to discern
whether you have
defenses enough
to rebuff the call,
excuses sufficient
to withstand the pull
of what blazes before you;
whether you will
hide your face,
will turn away
back toward—
what, exactly?

No path from here
could ever be
ordinary again,
could ever become
unstrange to you
whose seeing
has been scorched
beyond all salving.

You will know your path
not by how it shines
before you
but by how it burns
within you,
leaving you whole
as you go from here
blazing with
your inarticulate,
your inescapable

Commentary on the NAME of GOD: I am who I am

YAHWEH. I AM WHO AM. I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE. I AM WHO I AM The God of our ancestors, of Sarah, Abraham, Hagar, of Moses and Miriam. Who in the wilderness sent manna, the bread of heaven. The God of our ancestors. The God of Mary and Joseph, the God of Jesus of Nazareth, the God of the disciples, the apostles, Peter and Paul, Mary and Joanna, Eunice and Lois, Thomas and John, Mary and Martha, Persila and Aquilla, “I AM the bread of life. Jesus explained to them, I am the bread of life, no one who comes to me will ever be hungry: no one who believes in me will be thirsty.
The God of our mothers and fathers. “Teacher” they said, “Give us this bread from now on.” Jesus explained to them, “I am the bread of life, No one who comes to me will ever be hungry: no one who believes in me will be thirsty.”
YAHWEH: I AM WHO I AM. … we can be heard to cry, “Who is God?” A legitimate question. Big Bang. Stardust, DNA. Evolution. Expanding universes. Quantum leaps. Higgs Boson. Expanding consciousness. String theory. Black holes. 14 or 26 dimensions of space and time. Metaphysics. Metamorphosis. Meta-literal. YAHWEH: I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE. Who is this God? I AM the bread of life. Give us this bread. — Rev Dawn Hutchings

Finally … the self-naming of God in Scripture is “I AM WHO I AM”—a name without gender. I suspect that’s because, though God is a person, God is not a human being like us. The people of Israel received a strong warning from God about this in Deuteronomy 4:15-17: “You saw no form of any kind the day the Lord spoke to you at Horeb out of the fire. Therefore watch yourselves very carefully, so that you do not become corrupt and make for yourselves an idol, an image of any shape, whether formed like a man or a woman, or like any animal on earth or any bird that flies in the air…”— Rachel Held Evans, full article:

… the freedom of the children of God (Romans 8:21, Galatians 5:1). … I am who I am. I have nothing to prove or to project to make you think I am anything more than who I am. … sees religion as the fingers that merely point to the moon. And now I am sitting on the moon! …
There is no need … to appear to be anything other than who you really are … fully non-dual, fully detached from self-image, and are living in God’s full image of you—which includes and loves both the good and the bad parts of you (Matthew 22:10). This is total non-duality. You are living in God’s gaze: I am who I am in God’s eyes, nothing more and nothing less. This is the serenity and the freedom of the saints.
Maybe this is what Jesus meant when he said it is “those who become like little children who will enter the Kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3) … you return to that early little child that you once were—running naked into the room of life. I am who I am who I am. God has accepted me in that naked being, and I can happily give myself back to God exactly as I am. I am ready for death, because I have done it now many times, and it has only led me into Larger Worlds. — Fr. Richard Rohr

The great struggle of the Christian life is to take God’s name for us, to believe we are beloved and to believe that is enough. ― Rachel Held Evans

Here lies the mystery of “I am who I am.” In my younger days, this reminded me of Popeye (“I am what I am”). Nowadays, this reminds me of the phrase, “It is what it is” (which I still do not fully comprehend). Within biblical times, the name was deemed too holy to pronounce, so it was read as adonai or “Lord.” The JPS finds this name untranslatable and merely transliterates the Hebrew into “Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh.” Some just transliterate the letters as YHWH. Whatever the precise understanding, the answer “I am who I am” is not just a declaration of a name, but assurance of God’s presence in the call. — Roger Nam

The Tetragrammaton  … is the four-letter Hebrew … יהוה‎ transliterated as YHWH or YHVH), the name of God in the Hebrew Bible. The four letters, written and read from right to left (in Hebrew), are yodh, he, waw, and he. The name may be derived from a verb that means “to be”, “to exist”, “to cause to become”, or “to come to pass”.  While there is no consensus about the structure and etymology of the name, the form Yahweh is now accepted almost universally, though the vocalization Jehovah continues to have wide usage.
…. Observant Jews and those who follow Talmudic Jewish traditions do not pronounce יהוה‎ nor do they read aloud proposed transcription forms such as Yahweh or Yehovak; instead they replace it with a different term, whether in addressing or referring to the God of Israel. Common substitutions in Hebrew are אֲדֹנָי (Adonai, …or Elohim…in prayer, or HaShem (“The Name”) in everyday speech.—

Collected on blog of Rachel Held Evans (full article:

“Serve” and “worship” are the same word in Hebrew, `avad. THE question in exodus plays off of this double meaning: will Israel `avad (“serve”) Pharaoh and his gods as slaves or will Israel `avad (“worship”) Yahweh as his people on Mt. Sinai. — Peter Enns, biblical scholar, author, teaches Old and New Testament, Eastern University

As a kid, the Exodus story was a feel-good story of liberation that provided the backdrop for a riveting dramatic film and for my pastor’s equally captivating sermons. As an adult, I now interpret it as a story of oppressed becoming oppressors. God hears the cry of the Israelites but not the Canaanites and other peoples in the what the Israelites regard as their “Promised Land.” As well, I no longer understand the Exodus as a story of liberation for African-Americans. Emancipation did not bring about an end to lynchings, segregation, and racial discrimination. For African Americans, there was no deliverance from their oppressors, and there was no Promised Land. Despite significant gains, for African Americans in the 21st century, in some ways, little has changed. — Nyasha Junior, Assistant Professor of Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, Howard University School of Divinity.… Simply looking at a map shows us the journey from the Egypt to Israel is not a long one. Scholars estimate it would take about 3 weeks or so to walk it. Why does it take the Jewish people 40 years?
Jewish folk wisdom gives us a memorable answer: “It took 4 days to take Israel out of Egypt. It took 40 years to take Egypt out of Israel.” The Israelites had been slaves for 400 years. They could not become a free people overnight.
History is littered with examples of people trying and failing to become free. Look at France after 1789 Revolution. After a few years of chaos, tyranny returned in the form of Napoleon. Look at Egypt after the overthrow of Hosni Mubarek. After some confusion and an election, the army reasserted control.
Freedom takes time. Before they had freedom, the Jewish people had to learn responsibility. They had to build community. They had to create new institutions. In other words, they had to undergo what Nelson Mandela would later call “The Long Walk to Freedom.”
True freedom is discovered not in the absence of responsibility. It is found when we embrace it. For Jews the symbol of embracing responsibility is accepting the Torah from God at Mount Sinai. That is the most important part of the Exodus: not the plagues, not the splitting of the red sea, not even Moses saying to Pharaoh “Let me people go.” Freedom begins in responsibility. — Rabbi Evan, author and rabbi for Congregation Solel, Chicago

The truth is that there would be no Moses, no crossing of the Red Sea and no grand tale of liberation if it weren’t for the women woven throughout Exodus. These women on both sides of the Nile River exhibited a subversive strength that pushed back against Pharaoh’s edict of death, saving one boy who went on to save an entire people.
The midwives were clever and courageous in the face of a tyrant. Jochabed, Moses’ mother, practiced wild hope as she placed her baby on a raft of reeds, sending him across the waters of the Nile. An adolescent Miriam showed bravery beyond her years, approaching an Egyptian elite on behalf of her brother. Bithiah, Pharaoh’s daughter, enacted a bit of restitution with the audacious adoption of a Hebrew boy she drew from the water. These women, separately and in solidarity with one another, made Moses possible.
A mother who nursed him on lullabies and stories of old, the plaintive laments of bereft mothers, the songs yearning for freedom rising from the brickyards – they all shaped him. Moses followed in the wake of these women as he went toe-to-toe with Pharaoh. Their example and even their songs raised a revolutionary liberator.
Exodus women took risks, harnessed their intelligence and gathered their resources to enact justice in many small ways that overturned an empire. Moses, in the company of such women, liberated and led the Hebrews. Miriam became a prophet and partner to her brother for years to come. They are the unsung heroes, Exodus strong, singing freedom. — Kelley Nikondeha, Communities of Hope

Scroll to top