Reading the Burning Bush: Voice, World and Holiness by Oliver Davies

Posted: March 4, 2012 in Old Testament
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Oliver Davies’ article, “Reading the Burning Bush: Voice, World and Holiness,” seeks to “read anew” the classic Biblical text of Exodus 3.  Davies claims that traditional readings, including Judaism, of this particular text have had a particular “metaphysical” bent (439).  This metaphysical approach has led to “abstract” thinking that has divorced itself from practical reality (439).  Furthermore, Davies holds that our reflective thinking over this passage cannot be separated from our experiences in real life.  In other words, experience shapes our understanding.  Thus, reflection that does not regard the “real” is empty.  This metaphysical viewpoint, in Davies’ viewpoint, must also be separated from our reading of the text so that we can approach the text “on its own terms” (440).  The author looks to explain the significance and process of this human and divine interaction that is captured in God and Moses’ interaction in Exodus 3.

For our author, this text is set in the realm of the senses (i.e. sight and hearing).  God hears the Israelites crying due to their enslavement.  God then looks upon the Israelites and heeds their cry (440).  Exodus 3, with its background found in Exodus 2:23-25, plays off these same senses that are used of God: sight and hearing.  Moses turns to see this bush that is burning but not consumed.  Moses has now focused on the bush just as God has focused on the Israelites suffering.  Moses then hears God’s voice call from the midst of the bush, again paralleling God listening to the Israelites cry.  This concern for “seeing” and “hearing” invites us as readers to experience the text in the “here and now” of our own lives.

This divine encounter, or theophany, is pre-empted by Moses’ curiosity “about something which is somehow out of the ordinary in the world” (441).  Through this encounter the idea of sacred space or, “holy ground,” “suggests divine presence but also the separateness which is consequent upon it” (441).

God is portrayed as being moved into action by compassion forIsrael’s oppression.  However, Moses will be the “instrument for this liberation” (442).  God, however, is not merely a bystander in this deliverance.  God gives Moses His name: Yahweh.  This indicates a new intimacy to which God is calling the Israelite community.

Davies then begins to explain that the nature of this text is not simply a portrayal of Moses’ encounter with God.  This text also serves as a “burning bush” experience for us as well.  Like Moses andIsrael, we are called into a “fuller intimacy” with Yahweh.  This is not simply a psychological exercise.  We can experience God in the “here and now” of everyday existence.  Davies does not believe that the historicity of the burning bush is of importance.  Rather, the implications are for practical experience overrides any such desire to uphold or oppose such miraculous possibilities.  Furthermore, we should be presently aware when reading the text for the possibility of “divine disclosure.”  God’s revelation does not occur apart from the sensible.

I believe Oliver Davies points out an important aspect to remember when reading the Bible: being present.  Or, more aptly, reading God’s Word is an invitation to encounter God in the “here and now.”  These are not merely stories designed to be informative but formative.  Likewise, God’s revelation speaks into the “sensible” world, like He did in the story of creation.  God interacts with His creation.  However, this does not only confine God to the sensible realm.  As Davies points out, God’s action in the world is often beyond our understanding but we can view the effects of God’s action.  There is a similar principle in seeing the effects of the wind’s movement through the tree tops.  Like Davies, I too believe that God’s revelation is always an “issuing out” for God’s people.  He draws us near in relationship to be a holy community.  Davies, for me, reminded me of the importance of being aware of God in the “everyday real.”

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