Bush Ablaze


“This is my Father’s world.
I walk a desert lone.
In a bush ablaze to my wondering gaze
God makes His glory known.”
(Maltbie D. Babcock)

It was all over for Moses. Once he had entertained dreams of greatness, leading his people to freedom from bondage in Egypt. He’d grown up privileged, educated in the best schools. Born to be a leader—that’s what he once was.

Then he killed an Egyptian and tried to hide the body in the sand, but he was caught. With Pharaoh about to arrest him, he ran. And ran. And ran. All the way beyond Egypt, beyond the wrath of the king. He escaped, swallowed up in the desert of Midian.

Here the once-proud prince who had been destined for greatness became a shepherd. No more martial arts, no more palace intrigues: his life centered around finding pasture and water. His host, Jethro, had a daughter, Zipporah, dark complexioned; Moses fell in love with her. They married and she bore him two sons. Now a man of the desert, his expectations of grandeur evaporated.

But one day everything changed. He saw a small bush—but there was something strange about it. It seemed to be on fire, but it kept on blazing.

When Moses came closer to see what was going on, he heard a voice speaking. From within an altogether ordinary plant, it was God. Moses’ eyes opened wide. He no longer saw a bush; he knew himself to be in the presence of God.

Near the house where we live there is a vacant lot. It’s the only one in the neighborhood; all the others were long ago snatched up and built on. Although the lot is well-situated, it never sold. When the winter rains water the earth, thick, tall grass totally covers the lot. By April the rain spigot shuts off and the color of the lot goes from emerald green to yellow. By June the field is tinder dry and a fire hazard. Someone shows up to mow and relieve the fears of anxious neighbors.

Then the lot lies bare and brown for month after baking month. Only in October will fresh showers return to bring life to the earth.

Every year during the hot, dry stretch something happens in the empty lot. A bush begins to grow. Not pretty, it’s a scraggly thing of yellow green. No moisture falls, but the bush continues to grow until it is a couple of feet across. Where does it get its life? The air is powder dry, the earth, dust.

All through the dry months, the intriguing bush lives out its life cycle. Before the rains appear, its weak green leaves turn to brown and it nears the end of its little day in the sun. By now its long scraggly limbs have begun to turn in on itself until it becomes spherical in shape. Then a strong wind blows in and breaks its tenuous hold on the parched soil. The bush begins to tumble. It wanders through the world as a child of the wind, born to go on tumbling.

I was that bush, that tumbleweed. I tumbled through life, blown hither and yon by every gust of wind.

Just a bush: youngest of nine, born in the depths of the Great Depression. Prospects were bleak. I was the only one of my siblings to have the opportunity to finish high school—all the others quit and went to work as soon as they turned 14.

A bush growing up in a desert place. But a Voice came to me and set me ablaze. That Voice taught me to lift my sights, to dream impossible dreams, to take control of my destiny. Still a bush, but no longer blown hither and yon by every gust of wind.

Slowly, gradually, the Voice taught me to see every bush ablaze with divine glory. It taught me that the Hand that guides the universe makes its glory known in the simplest, most unlikely objects of creation.

Now I can see; the desert is ablaze with glory. Sun, air, sky, stars, trees, flowers, every blade of springing grass is a simple gift, a gift of grace.

That’s the way God works. The one who is infinitely great inhabits the ordinary.

In the Hebrew Scriptures we encounter a mysterious person who is simply called “my servant.” This messenger of Yahweh will change the world, not by guns and bombs, not by armies and war, not by power and persuasion. He will transform the world by humility, gentleness, and love. He makes no speeches, beats no drums. He takes a bruised reed and holds it tight so that it does not break. He fans the flame of the smoking ember and brings it back to life. Throughout His life the Servant takes upon Himself the sickness, cares, and suffering of humanity—and in a tragic, triumphant climax stretches out His shoulders to carry the entire load of sin and guilt of a race that has lost its way.

The Scripture describes the Servant’s coming to the rescue of lost humanity:

He grew up before him like a tender shoot,
and like a root out of dry ground.
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
(Isaiah 53:2, NIV)

A bush, springing up in the desert. Don’t be deceived. Look again at that bush. It’s ablaze with glory. Open your eyes: that bush ablaze cradles the God of the universe, full of grace and truth.


BY William Johnsson

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