Something I have not seen before hit me like a ton of bricks this morning as I studied this famous and familiar passage (Exodus 3:1-12). I wanted to post it here because I do believe it will help others to be brought into a state of wonder as it did me. The scene begins with Moses, keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro. The text communicates an orinary day until Moses saw something. Something extraordinary. He saw a bush that was burning, yet it was not consumed. He says, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not consumed.” From there God reveals himself and speaks through an angel to Moses. The two thoughts God communicates next are astounding:
The Transcendence of God: “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” The holiness of God. A most terrifying and wondrous reality. Moses is immediately warned, “do not come near!” God’s holiness is an attribute of God that has been neglected in modern churches at large. We are told of the comfort and love of God so often, but the attribute which is the only one ascribed to God thrice times, “holy, holy, holy!” we have neglected to cry out from the pulpits as the angels cry out in heaven. God is above us, he is superior to us. He is eternal, we are dust and nothing without him. This reality of God’s transcendence would help us to be shocked at the next part of the passage, namely, God’s Immanence.
The Immanence of God: The very next thing God says after he tells Moses to stand back is that he is drawing near, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people…and have heard their cry…I know their sufferings…and I have come down to deliver them. (italics mine).” This God who is holy and above us is at the same time more near to us than we could possibly imagine, the paradox of this is astounding, that the God who just told Moses to stand back and not come nearer to his presence has told him that he sees רָאָה (rā·āh) and knows יָדַע (yā·ḏǎ) what his people are going through. And these words for sees and knows mean to be intimately acquainted with, it’s essentially the same type of seeing and knowing as when the person you love most dearly is in pain, and their pain becomes your pain, their sorrow becomes your sorrow. This Holy God who has just told Moses to stand back has just said in the same breath he’s more near to his people than Moses could possibly imagine, and that he has come to deliver them. The paradox and beauty of these two attributes woven together is a wonder. It is two golden strands threaded together throughout the entire Bible. Look for it.
These two golden strands come to life most fully on the cross, where the immanence of God is displayed in Jesus as he dies for his people, and in Jesus’ immanence he forever alters the way God’s people experience God’s transcendence. Through his death the Father tears the curtain from top to bottom. The curtain of the temple, blocking the holy of holies, where God’s uttermost presence dwelt… where not just anyone could have access… “stand back!” says the curtain. But it is torn, never to rise again and in its place, Jesus stands and says, come. Come to the Father through me. This is why the writer of Hebrews tells us now, “draw near.”