Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert…
In the brier we have a symbol of the people of Israel. From this time till the cursing of the fig-tree, which had no fruit on it but only leaves, the chosen people of God are frequently and variously referred to under the figure of a bush or tree. Here they are represented as a low, contemptible brier, in contradistinction to the tall majestic trees, which proudly rear their heads to the clouds, and are gazed at and admired by the world. Hence the brier was symbolical of Israel, as a people despised by the world. The fire is always used in the Scriptures as a symbol of Divine holiness. And this is the case here; for the record expressly says that the presence of God was made known in the fire. The burning brier, therefore, was a symbol of the community of God, in which the holiness of God had its abode. The brier was burning in the fire, but it was not consumed, although from its nature it deserved to be consumed, and could easily be so. It was a miracle that it was not consumed. And thus was it also a miracle of mercy, that the holiness of God could dwell in a sinful community without consuming it. But in the midst of the thorns of the natural life of the community there was hidden a noble, imperishable germ, namely, the seed of the promise, which Jehovah Himself had prepared. It could not, indeed, be set free without the pain of burning, but by that burning it was made holy and pure. There was also another fact of great importance represented by this symbol, viz., that the fire of Divine holiness, which burned in Israel, without consuming it, served also as an outward defence. Hitherto, every one who passed by might ridicule, injure or trample on the insignificant bush, but henceforth whoever touched it would burn his own fingers.
(J. H. Kurtz, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb.