This article is another of our studies on the mysterious character of the angel of the LORD. As we go through the appearances of this person in the Old Testament, it will quickly become obvious that this is no ordinary angel. In fact, my conviction is that this is none other than the pre-incarnate Jesus, the second Person of the Trinity before His appearance in Bethlehem. My goal in these posts is to demonstrate how the Scriptures present the angel of the LORD as divine and thus to show that He prefigures Jesus Christ. I also want to discover what characteristics the angel of the LORD displays which will later be manifested by Jesus in His earthly ministry. Finally, an objective in all my posts is to show the beauty and the power of the Scriptures, and to make plain that the Scriptures are God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16).
EXODUS 3: MOSES AND THE BURNING BUSH
The basic story of Moses and the burning bush is very well known. Many people in our culture even today can tell you that Moses was in the desert and God spoke to him out of a bush that was burning but was not being burned up. It is as we dig deeper down into the details of Exodus 3, however, that we begin to see the complexity and the mystery of what, on the surface, appears to be a simple story. Our focus here will be on the angel of the LORD and trying to determine his identity. As the story opens, Moses has been a shepherd in Midian for forty years. One day, he wanders over into the west side of the wilderness and comes near Mount Horeb.
2 Then the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of the bush; and he looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not being consumed.
COMMENTS: Observe that the Scripture explicitly says that the angel of the LORD (AOTL) appeared to Moses. The AOTL was visible to Moses, as if the AOTL allows God to be seen.
Also, “the AOTL appeared to him in a blazing (flaming) fire from the midst of the bush.” We will see later in Exodus 3:4a that “God called to him (Moses) from the midst of the bush.” The repetition of the exact phrase is the literary means of intentionally connecting God with the AOTL.
The final comment from this verse is the author’s choice of the Hebrew word for “blazing,” elsewhere translated as “flaming.” This same Hebrew word appears in two other passages involving the AOTL, in Judges 13:20 when the AOTL announces the conception of Samson and in Isaiah 10:17, an allusion to the destruction of the Assyrian army by the AOTL.
The point of these comments is that they begin planting seeds in our thinking that this AOTL is not just an ordinary angel but may be much more.
4 When the LORD saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.”
COMMENTS: In commenting on Exodus 3:2, we had observed that the AOTL appeared, and that God called to him from the midst of the bush. The message being communicated by this repetition of phrase is that persons who do the same things are very closely related to each other.
There is further mystery here, as “the LORD saw that he (Moses) turned aside,” but then God is the one who called to Moses from the midst of the bush. For those keeping track, we now have the AOTL, the LORD, and God all in the midst of the bush.
One of the characteristics of this appearance of the AOTL, and of appearances of the AOTL in general, is that there is intentional ambiguity about identity. When the AOTL and God and the LORD appear in the same scene, it is difficult to determine where one ends and the other begins. This is done intentionally in the text to convey the idea that there is a lot of overlap in these characters. So, right now it seems that the AOTL is closely related to God.
Since God is now calling to Moses from the midst of the bush, we need to ask the question, “What happened to the AOTL?” The AOTL does not appear again in the chapter. Where did He go? Did He just disappear? Also, when did God enter the scene? The solution could be that the AOTL is the visible manifestation of God. It could be that the AOTL is “the image of the invisible God” (spoken of Jesus Christ in Colossians 1:15).
Another interesting observation is seeing how God calls Moses. “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” In an earlier encounter with the AOTL in Genesis 22, we saw that the AOTL called Abraham by saying, “Abraham, Abraham!” And he said, “Here I am.” (Genesis 22:11) Again, it is significant when the Scripture presents this sort of repetition: A double calling of the name with a response of, “Here I am.” This serves to create further ambiguity between God and the AOTL. “If they speak the same way, maybe they are the same person.”
Up to this point, then, both the AOTL and God act from the midst of the bush, but also both God and the AOTL call people in the same way. Hmmm. They certainly have a lot of similarities.
16 Go and gather the elders of Israel together and say to them, ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob has appeared to me, saying, “I am indeed concerned about you and what has been done to you in Egypt.”’
COMMENTS: We are skipping down to this verse (3:16) to see what God instructs Moses to tell the people of Israel: the LORD, the God of Abraham has appeared to him. What is interesting is that, in this chapter, only the AOTL is recorded as having appeared to Moses (Exodus 3:2). What do we conclude from this? The conclusion seems to be that when the AOTL appears, it is as if the LORD Himself has appeared. An appearance of the AOTL is an appearance of the LORD.
GENERAL COMMENTS: It is difficult to tell how many people are in this scene. We see the AOTL, the LORD and God all mentioned in this chapter, but the Person talking with Moses is only one person. In other words, the name changes between the AOTL and the LORD and God, but it is obviously the same person speaking throughout.
Even though the angel of the LORD is only mentioned once (in 3:2), it seems that throughout the chapter, the AOTL is the visible manifestation of the LORD and of God. Just as Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, could say, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father,” so in the Old Testament the one who had seen the AOTL had seen the LORD.
SDG rmb 3/18/2021