Exodus 3 tells us in brief but balanced terms something of fundamental importance concerning our relationship with God.
Through the burning bush, God attracted Moses’ attention so that he would come near (v. 3). When that was accomplished God spoke to him. He didn’t say, “Hey you,” or “Sheep guy,” or anything like that. He called him by name. Since Moses had been in the desert tending his father-in-law’s sheep for the last forty years (with no word from God that we’re aware of), it would have been understandable for him to think that God had forgotten him. Theologically he would have known better, but practically it would have been a real temptation. (It can be a real challenge at times to line our biography up with our theology, can’t it?).
What we have then is a picture of intimacy—God drawing Moses near and speaking his name. Given his recent history, this episode had to have been an oasis in a life that had been dry and barren.
Then something else happens, something mildly surprising. The God who has been pursuing Moses tells him, “Do not come any closer,” (v. 5). The One who drew him near now draws a line. He is told to remove his sandals “for the place where you are standing is holy ground,” (v. 5). The intimacy between God and Moses is unlike that of two people. It is a fueled by God’s approachability and desire for relationship, but bounded by how radically unlike us He is in His attributes and character, and how reverentially He must be treated because of that. So in this little snapshot taken in the desert thousands of years ago, we have the essence of how we are to relate to our Father—with holy intimacy.
It’s important that we maintain balance in this area so that neither God’s approachability through Jesus nor His holiness gets overemphasized at the expense of the other. If we dwell too much on the holiness of God, the idea is created that God is distant and unapproachable. Too much of God’s approachability and He becomes our buddy—who suddenly thinks and acts just like we do. Neither extreme is healthy or biblical.
This holy intimacy leads to something very important—our transformation. Because the God who draws near to us in Jesus is so radically unlike us (which is why in the gospels we see Jesus constantly surprising people), we are called to leave our old, sinful ways behind and become like Him (Ephesians 5:1ff). But we can’t/won’t be transformed from a distance—we must draw near in reverence and submission. The whole process of “becoming” is predicated on holy intimacy.
May we live before Him with sandals off and hearts open!
And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18).