The bush that burns without being consumed (Exodus 3) is a puzzle. It's just as puzzling to readers today as it was to Moses thousands of years ago. We want to stop and examine this phenomenon just as much as he did. Why is the bush not burned?
Clearly this meeting is full of revelation from God. This is where He revealed His eternal Name to His servant Moses. The signs of the staff-tuned-snake-turned-staff and the hand-made-leprous-made-clean also revealed something about God's power and character. The instruction for Moses to remove His sandals because the ground was holy further revealed God's character. But what was the fire in the bush saying?
Moses gives us an indication that the significance of this theophany (a display of God's presence) is radically different than we might at first think in Deuteronomy 4:24: "For Yahweh your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God." How does the man who first meets God in the symbol of a bush not being consumed with fire end up declaring that this same God is a consuming fire?
What we find here at the bush is nothing less than the wonder and mystery of the gospel. The fire of God speaks everywhere of His judgment. It was fire from God that consumed Nadab and Abihu for not worshiping in the commanded way (Leviticus 10:1-2). He is the jealous God that consumes all who will not worship Him in eternal flames (Deuteronomy 4:24, Revelation 14:11). This fire is holy fire from a God that is "of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong" (Habakkuk 1:13). And yet here, in this dry bush in the desert - a plant that should be consumed almost instantly - the fire dwells but does not consume. And standing before the bush is a murderer (Exodus 2:12).
From the expulsion from Eden to this point in God's revelation of Himself to man there has only been one sin enumerated that carries with it the death penalty, and that's murder (Genesis 9:6). So now here, standing before the presence of the Judge of the universe is one who has no right to appeal the sentence he deserves, and yet God appears as a flame that does not consume. Herein is the essence of the gospel: the God who made us is a holy and just God who must punish sin, and yet He is also merciful and gracious, giving life where death is due.
How can He do this? This is the wonder of Christ and His substitutionary atonement. Sin must be consumed by God's holy wrath, it cannot simply be forgotten. To simply forget sin would mean that God has no concern for justice. But in Christ, God is shown to be both just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:26). This is because Jesus stood in Moses' place and took the wrath of God that Moses deserved onto Himself. He became a curse for him so that he would not be cursed (Galatians 3:13). The fire did not consume the dry kindling because the heat of its flame had been redirected to a Substitute.
We will all meet this flame at one point, if we haven't already. He is always a consuming fire, but for those whose faith is firmly in Christ, the fire is a beauty and a wonder, for the heat of the blaze has been spent on another. Many, however, will meet this fire on different circumstances and it will be torment, for it will consume them in their sin, and they will wish more than anything that those that they love who are still alive could know the Savior (Luke 16:19-31).
Don't wait until it gets to that point. This fire now burns all through the highly flammable pages of a book we call the Bible, and yet it is not consumed. It reveals all we need to know of this great and awesome God. It speaks of His Law, His justice, and His grace through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. You can meet God on the same terms that Moses did, and find the same Savior that he did (Hebrews 11:23-26). Don't miss the wonder.