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What Came Before:
It must have been a great change in the life of Moses, after he had spent forty years in the palace as a prince, to go out into the wilderness of Midian, and live there as a shepherd. He saw no more the crowded cities, the pyramids, the temples of Egypt, and the great river Nile. For forty years Moses wandered about the land of Midian with his flocks, living alone, often sleeping at night on the ground, and looking up by day to the great mountains.
He wore the rough skin mantle of a shepherd; and in his hand was the long shepherd’s staff. On his feet were sandals which he wore instead of shoes. But when he stood before an altar to worship God he took off his sandals. For when we take off our hats, as in church or a place where God is worshipped, the people of those lands take off their shoes, as a sign of reverence in a sacred place.
Moses was a great man, one of the greatest men that ever lived. But he did not think himself great or wise. He was contented with the work that he was doing; and sought no higher place. But God had a work for Moses to do, and all through those years in the wilderness God was preparing him for that work.
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Moses and the Burning Bush, William Blake
"Take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground."
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All through those years, while Moses was feeding his flock in Midian, the people of Israel were still bearing heavy burdens and working as slaves in Egypt, making brick and building cities. The king who had begun the hard treatment of the Israelites died, but another king took his place, and was just as cruel. He was called by the same name, Pharaoh, for this was the name given to all the kings of Egypt.
One day, Moses was feeding his flock on a mountain, called Mount Horeb. This mountain was also called Mount Sinai, and is spoken of by both names in the Bible. On the mountain Moses saw a bush which seemed to be on fire. He watched to see it burn up, but it was not destroyed, though it kept burning on and on. And Moses said to himself:
"I will go and look at this strange thing, a bush on fire, yet not burning up."
As Moses was going toward the bush, he heard a voice coming out of the bush, calling him by name, "Moses, Moses!" He listened, and said, " Here I am." The voice said, "Moses, do not come near; but take off your shoes from your feet, for you are standing on holy ground."
Moses And The Burning Bush,
Moses Before the Burning Bush
Domenico Fetti, 1614
So Moses took off his shoes, and came near to the burning bush. And the voice came from the bush, saying, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, and of. Isaac, and of Jacob. I have seen the wrongs and the cruelty that my people have suffered in Egypt, and I have heard their cry on account of their task-masters. And I am coming to set them free from the land of the Egyptians, and to bring them up to their own land, the land of Canaan, a good land, and large. Come, now, and I will send you to Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, and you shall lead out my people from Egypt."
Moses knew what a great work this would be, to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, from the power of its king. He dreaded to take it up such a task; and he said to the Lord, "O Lord, who am I, a shepherd here in the wilderness, to do this great work, to go to Pharaoh, and to bring the people out of Egypt. It is too great a work for me."
And God said to Moses "Surely I will be with you, and will help you to do this great work. I will give you a sign of my presence with you When you have led my people out of Egypt, you shall bring them to this mountain, and they shall worship me here. And then you shall know that I have been with you."
And Moses said to God "When I go to the children of Israel in Egypt, and tell them that the God of their fathers has sent me, they will say to me, Who is this God? What is his name? For they have suffered so much, and have sunk so low, that I fear they have forgotten their God." You remember that Moses had been out of Egypt and afar from his people for forty years, a long time, and in that time he did not know whether they had continued the worship of God.
God said to Moses "My name is ’I AM’, the One who is always living. Do you go to your people and say to them, "I AM hath sent me to you." Do not be afraid; go to your people, and say to them what I have said to you, and they will listen to you and believe. And you shall take the elders of your tribes, the leading men among them, and shall go to King Pharaoh, and shall say to him, ’Let my people go, that they may worship me in the wilderness.’ At first he will not let you go; but afterward, I will show my power in Egypt, and then he will let you go out of the land."
But Moses wished some sign, which he could give to his people, and to the Egyptians, to show them that God had sent him. He asked God to give him some sign. And God said to him, "What is that which you have in your hand?" Moses said, it is a rod, my shepherd’s staff, which I use to guide the sheep." And God said, "Throw it on the ground." Then Moses threw it down, and instantly it was turned into a snake. Moses was afraid of it, and began to run from it.
And God said, "Do not fear it, but take hold of it by the tail." Moses did so, and at once it became again a rod in his hand. And God said again to Moses, "Put your hand into your bosom, under your garment, and take it out again."
Then Moses put his hand under his garment, and when he took it out it had changed, and was now as white as snow, and covered with a scaly crust, like the hand of a leper. He looked at it with fear and horror. But God said to him again, "Put your hand into your bosom once more." Moses did so, and when he took it out, his hand was like the other, with a pure skin, no longer like a leper’s hand.
And God said to Moses, "When you go to speak my words if they will not believe you, show them the first sign, and let your rod become a snake, and then a rod again. And if they still refuse to believe your words, show them the second sign; turn your hand into a leper’s hand, and then bring it back as it was before. And if they still will not believe, then take some water from the river, and it shall turn to blood. Fear not, go and speak my words to your own people and to the Egyptians."
But Moses was still unwilling to go, not because he was afraid, but because he did not feel himself to be fit for such a great task. And he said to the Lord, "Oh, Lord, thou knowest that I am not a good speaker; I am slow of speech, and cannot talk before men."
And God said, "Am not I the Lord, who made man’s mouth? Go, and I will be with your lips, and will teach you what to say. "But Moses still hesitated, and he said, "O Lord, choose some other man for this great work; I am not able to do it."
And God said, "You have a brother, whose name is Aaron. He can speak well. Even now he is coming to see you in the wilderness. Let him help you, and speak for you. Let him do the speaking, and do you show the signs which I have given you."
At last Moses yielded to God’s call. He went from Mount Sinai with his flocks, and took them home to Jethro his father-in- law; and then he went toward Egypt, and on the way he met his brother coming to see him. Then the two brothers, Moses and Aaron, came to the elders of Israel in the land of Goshen. They told the people what God had said, and they wrought before them the signs which God had given.
And the people said, "God has seen all our troubles, and at last he is coming to set us free." And they were glad, and gave thanks to God who had not forgotten them; for God never forgets those who call upon him.
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