BACKGROUND NOTES (& OTHER NEAT INFO):
GOD WORKS THROUGH AN OUTSIDER.
The action for the most seminal story in the Hebrew Bible, the freeing of the Israelites from slavery in Egypt, is set in
motion here by an outsider. Moses, though undeniably a son of Abraham, raises his family away from the people of Israel, in
the homeland of his Midianite wife Zipporah. Here God continues the precedent of acting through an outsider or foreigner,
therefore reinforcing the idea that faith is built on God’s love for all.
WHERE EXACTLY DOES THIS EPISODE TAKE PLACE?
Introductory notes to this book in the NOAB/NRSV point out that Mt. Horeb is the same as Mt. Sinai and is “probably
a Midianite holy place. Its location is unknown, but three poems support the notion here that it is southeast of Israel, rather
than in what we now call the Sinai Peninsula.”
This map, though small, gives alternate routes for the Exodus, including a northern one. The possible location for Mt. Horeb/Sinai
described in footnotes cited above would lie along the northern route.
GOD NAMES ITSELF
It’s in this story of the burning bush that the Lord God articulates its own name: “I AM THAT I AM.”
This name has become known to English language readers as ‘Yahweh.’ This name, based on characters from the Hebrew
alphabet represented in English as YHWH, may most accurately be translated as “he will cause to be.”
This translation has active rather than passive connotations, and introduces a God who is without fail very active in human
life and affairs, by no account a remote or disinterested God.
WHY IS THIS STORY SO IMPORTANT?
Moses’s response to the call of God from the burning bush launches the story of the Exodus. In that the deliverance
promised by the gospels mirrors the movement toward freedom of the exodus, Canadian writer and scholar Northrop Frye has written
that “metaphorically, the Exodus is the only thing that really happens in the Old Testament.” [Biblical and Classical
Myths, by Northrop Frye and Jay MacPherson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2004), p. 92.]
WHAT IF THE BIBLE BEGAN WITH THE BURNING BUSH?
Frye poses this interesting question in a later chapter in the book cited above. Here are just a few paragraphs where he
outlines this idea. The whole chapter is well worth reading:
“In many respects, the account in the Bible might have been simpler if it had begun where the story of Israel in effect
begins, with God appearing in a burning bush to Moses. Moses in Egypt, having escaped from the original massacre of the Hebrews
and having been brought up as an Egyptian, looks over the landscape and sees a bush burning, yet without burning up. The emphasis
is on the ear rather than the eye: the fact that the bush burns is merely there to attract Moses’ attention; but it
is the voice that speaks from within that is important….
“Now if you begin the story there, you have immediately wiped out the whole dreary chess game that is traditionally
known as theodicy. That is, how are you going to reconcile the existence of a perfectly good God with a horribly bad world,
and yet without involving the good God in the bad world in any causal way?... Here, there is a situation of tyranny and exploitation
going on to start with: the first datum is injustice, tyranny and exploitation. God then announces that he is giving himself
a name and a highly partisan role, and is going to enter history in the side of the oppressed classes. Never mind how you
got into the situation: how you get out of it is the important thing….
“And it is a matter of highest importance for our understanding of our own cultural traditions that the tradition we
have derived through Judaism and Christianity from the Bible has this revolutionary factor which the Exodus story gives to
it. All the characteristics of the revolutionary mind are adumbrated right there, and you find most of them repeated in Marxism
“That is what is distinctive about the Biblical tradition and is what that tradition has contributed to modern theories
of history, both progressive and revolutionary. It is something which, so far as I know, is confined to that tradition. I
don’t find it in the Orient or in the classics.”
There’s some terrific art out there depicting the burning bush.
Find on this page a wonderful sculpture by Phillip Ratner
There’s an equally wonderful Ratner painting on this page.
Here’s a painting by William Blake.
Here’s Marc Chagall. Scroll down to the fourth image on this page.
For many more burning bush images, start at this page on Biblical Art on the www.
US singer/songwriter Steve Earle has a song that mentions the burning bush. I won’t get into interpretation here. See
what you think. Here are the first and last verses to ‘You Know the Rest:’
Moses went up to the mountain
To see what he could see
Well he come down talking 'bout a burning bush
Says 'This is how it's gonna be'
He's scared to death
You know the rest
Well this song ain't got no reason
Hell this song barely rhymes
Well it come to me when I was asleep
And it wakes me up sometimes
I can't get no rest
You know the rest
Superstar Irish Christian rockers U2 also have a song that turns on this story. It focuses more on the naming element of the
story but I’m sure you will recognize the context. Here’s the first verse and chorus from ‘All Because of
I was born a child of grace
Nothing else about the place
Everything was ugly but your beautiful face
And it left me no illusion
All because of you
All because of you
All because of you
I am...I am
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. What is Moses doing when he sees the burning bush?
2. Where is he? Is he in Egypt
3. What is unusual about this bush on fire?
4. Where does God tell Moses he is standing?
5. What name does God give as God’s own name?
6. What does this name mean?
7. Does Moses jump in with both feet and accept God’s assignment, no questions asked?
8. Have you ever had a burning bush moment in your life, when God called you to take on a certain challenge?
9. What form did your burning bush take for you?
10. Have you ever felt you were standing on holy ground. How did you respond to that awareness [looking for some gesture or
sign of high respect paralleling Moses taking off shoes.]
11. If you accepted God’s challenge, did you end up going on that journey alone? With other people? How did these other
people help you achieve your goal?
12. Is there an image of the burning bush somewhere around your church [stained glass window, altar cloth, church denominational
13. Can you name ways that your church family has responded to a challenge God has put before it on holy ground?
Please find below suggested workshops for this unit. For each one, when you are in real time with the children:
1. Quickly review or recap the story with them before starting activity. Each week, see how much more detail each group of
kids can supply on the story they've been studying.
2. Link or explain your activity to the current story.
ARTS WORKSHOP 1 – PIN LIGHT SUNCATCHERS
ACTIVITY: MAKE PIN LIGHT SUNCATCHERS. THESE WILL ILLUSTRATE GOD CALLING THE CHILD’S NAME FROM A PLACE OF ILLUMINATION.
• card stock weight construction paper (red, yellow or orange)
• push pins
• hole punch
• lengths of yarn
Have the children cut a burning bush shape out of the coloured paper. (Make sure they leave a fairly large centre section
for their names).
They will write their names to fill the centre section. Then with a pushpin, outline the letters in pinholes. Punch a hole
in the top and thread with yard to hang.
The sunlight shining through the pinholes will illuminate their names giving the effect of God calling their names.
ARTS WORKSHOP 2 – HOLY GROUND FLIP FLOPS
ACTIVITY: MAKE SPECIALLY DECORATED, NON-STREET SHOES SUITABLE FOR WEARING ON HOLY GROUND. WILL HELP THE CHILDREN ESTABLISH,
RECOGNIZE AND APPRECIATE THE KIND OF RESPECT THAT COMES WITH SHARING HOLY GROUND.
• enough pairs of dollar store flip flops for all children in your class.
• glue gun or craft glue
• fancy findings, such as jewels, feathers, beads, seashells, glitter, fake flowers
Well, in the real story, Moses was told to take his sandals off to show respect.
But what our children understand from everyday life is that if they are a guest in someone’s home, they take off their
Sometimes here in Canada in winter boot season, we plan to leave wet, sloppy snowy shoes at the door, and put on indoor shoes
or slippers we have brought with us.
So in this lesson we are creating something that brings on the mood of respect that goes with holy ground.
To make the slippers: Glue fancy findings to the top straps and perhaps the side soles of the shoes.
ACTIVITY: Make ‘Burning Bush Chili.’ Create holy ground by making an event of it, and inviting the congregation
to come for lunch and be reminded of how God calls us by name.
• ground beef, onions, chopped mushrooms, 2 cans kidney beans, 2 cans tomato soup, chili powder. (My son insists on
adding chopped leftover sausage as well to his chili.) Bring some butter and a bag of nice soft dinner rolls for your fiery
Brown ground beef and drain. Add onions and mushrooms. Drop in beans, drained, and soup. Add 3 teaspoons mild chili powder.
Bake in the oven for approx 1 hour, or until chili starts to bubble and is warmed thru. (You could also try cooking this faster
in a microwave oven -- uncovered, for 5 minutes. Stir well. Cook 10-15 minutes longer until thickened and bubbly, stirring
once during cooking.)
ACTIVITY: ACT OUT PLAY FOR THE BURNING BUSH STORY.
MATERIALS: costume box, script.
Click here for a script for younger and older children.
ACTIVITY: HEIGHTEN THE CHILDREN’S FAMILARITY WITH STORY OF THE BURNING BUSH THROUGH THE COMPUTER PROGRAM, ‘EXODUS
ADVENTURES,’ FROM SUNDAY SOFTWARE.