Today’s Reading: Exodus 1-4
In John 1, we read that the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. Rightly, we understand that this is Jesus. We know that Jesus came into the world. Wrongly, many of us think that this is the first time that Jesus appeared in the world. The Word made flesh was when Jesus, God, became a man, became like one of us. But, it was not the first time that Jesus appeared in the world. Jesus, the Word of God, was and living active in the creation from the beginning of creation. The entire Old Testament testifies to this.
Exodus 3 is one such testimony of Jesus.
In this chapter, Moses leads his flock to the west side of the wilderness. Throughout the Bible, east is the direction away from the presence of God. But, as we move west, we draw closer and closer to God’s presence. So, it’s important to recognize that Moses led his flock to the west side of the wilderness to Horeb, the mountain of God.
Verse 2 says, “And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed.”
It is important to recognize that the angel of the Lord is Jesus in his pre-incarnate form, before he took on flesh and became a man. I have written about this before – most recently in Jesus Meets a Woman at a Well and God Provides Himself the Lamb.
The angel of the Lord is not just another angel that God sends to do something. We know this because in every place the angel of the Lord appears he speaks in a way that equates himself with God, but he also seems to be in submission to God. After the angel of the Lord appeared, notice that the rest of Exodus 3 says that “God called to him”, “I am the God…”, “the Lord said…”, “Moses said to God”, “God said to Moses”, and so on. Is it the angel of the Lord or God speaking to Moses? Is Moses speaking to the angel of the Lord or to God? Yes and yes.
Also, it is very important to see that the angel of the Lord “appeared” to Moses. Typically, when the angel of the Lord shows up in scripture, we read that he “appeared.” This is not referring to a vision, but a physical manifestation of the presence of God. Not physical in the sense of God made flesh, but a physical manifestation none the less. Appeared is the Hebrew word ra’ah. Generally, it means to see, to show, to look at. But, most of the time when it is translated “appeared” it is referring to the Lord manifesting himself to someone.
John 1:18 says, “No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” Then, in John 6:45-46, Jesus says, “Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me – not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father.” Jesus says we can hear the Father, but we can’t see him. If we have heard the Father, then we will come to Jesus. Jesus, the angel of the Lord, who is from God, is the only one that has seen the Father.” Further, in John 14:7, Jesus says, “If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” To see Jesus is to see the Father, because Jesus is in the Father and the Father is in him.
Therefore, when the angel of the Lord appeared to Moses, he did not see the Father. No one has ever seen the Father. But, Moses did see Jesus.
How did the angel of the Lord appear to Moses? In a flame of fire out of the midst of the bush.
This Hebrew word for bush (which sort of sounds like Sinai – is it a pun?) is only used five times in the Bible. Four are found in the passage we are looking at. The fifth is in the blessing Moses speaks to the tribe of Joseph in Deuteronomy 33. Joseph will be blessed by “the favor of him who dwells in the bush.” This bush is a brier or species of bramble. What is significant about brier or bramble bushes? They have thorns. Adam’s sin caused the ground to be cursed and, because of the curse, the ground would produce thorns. (Consider that the dry ground that appeared on day three in Genesis refers to Jesus.) So, in this sense, thorns are the fruit of sin. The angel of the Lord, Jesus, appeared in the thorny bush. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “For our sake he [God] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin.” And, seeing Jesus in this thorny bush gives new meaning to 1 Peter 2:24, which says, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree.”
The angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in a flame of fire. Did you know that there are actually bushes in the wilderness that secrete an oil that, when under enough heat, will catch fire? They are called gas plants, or burning bushes. But, generally the flame burns out quickly. But, in verse 3, Moses says, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” I think Moses was used to seeing one of these bushes catch fire. But, what caught his eye was that the fire on this bush lingered. The fire on this bush did not go out. Moses saw that the bush was burning but was not consumed. The word “consumed” literally means to eat or devour. But, it also means destroyed. The angel of the Lord appeared to Moses in a bush that was burning but was not destroyed.
In the Bible, fire symbolizes judgment. The angel of the Lord appeared in a thorny bush that was on fire but not destroyed. Jesus was made sin for us and bore our sins on the cross but was not destroyed. Jesus is the burnt offering. Referring to his crucifixion, Psalm 22:14 says, “My heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast.” Jesus’ heart was burned and melted like wax on the cross. And, when Jesus’ side was pierced on the cross blood flowed out. Revelation 1:15 says that John saw Jesus’ “feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace.” His feet that touched the ground, which was cursed and produced thorns, were burnished like bronze in a furnace. But, immediately after John sees this, in verses 17 and 18, Jesus says, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore.” Jesus was burned but consumed, burned but not destroyed. “I died, but ‘I Am’ alive forevermore.”
Notice that angel of the Lord, Jesus, appeared out of the midst of the bush. The midst is the place where God dwells. The Word of God, Jesus, was made flesh and dwelt (tabernacled) among, in the midst of, us.
Meditate on where the angel of the Lord appeared to Moses. And, meditate on where Jesus has appeared to you. We truly see Jesus in the innocent, just, and righteous one that was made the thorny bush of sin, burned on the tree, died, but was not destroyed, and is alive forevermore. The sin, the burning, the death Jesus died was done by his own creation. Jesus, the one through whom all things were made (John 1:3). Or, as Colossians 1:16 says, “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through him and for him.” What Jesus created murdered him.
How was Jesus burned but not destroyed? How was Jesus burned, murdered by his own creation, but not destroyed, alive forevermore?
In Luke 23:34, when Jesus was on the cross, in a flame of fire in the midst of his creation on the tree, he said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Forgiveness. Life overcoming death.
He was not destroyed because he forgave. He defeated death and became a life-giving Spirit because he forgave.
This is to know Jesus. In 2 Corinthians 5:21 and 1 Peter 2:24, why did Jesus become sin for us? Why did he bear our sin in his body on the tree? “That we might die to sin and live to righteousness.” “So that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
What does this look like?
In the Lord’s prayer, Jesus tells us to pray “forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” In Mark 11:25, Jesus says, “And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.” Paul writes in Colossians 3:13, “bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.”
To know Jesus is to be aflame in the burning bush with him and not be destroyed but live forevermore with him through forgiveness. But, this is to know, not just Jesus, but God.
Moses sees this burning bush that is not consumed and asks the name of the one he is speaking to. The angel of the Lord responds, “I Am.” Reread Revelation 1:17-18. Jesus says “I Am” the first and the last. “I Am” the living one. I died. But, “I Am” alive forevermore.
In Exodus 3:15, the angel of the Lord, Jesus, says, “This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.”
Jesus! I am the burning bush in the midst of all men that was not destroyed. I forgive you!