The Angel in the burning bush

One of the best examples of God revealing himself through an angel is seen near the beginning of the book of Exodus. This is the occasion where God gives Moses the mission of leading the Children of Israel out of Egypt, where they had lived for four centuries and become enslaved.

On this occasion Moses is deep in the Sinai desert when he sees a bush which appears to be burning. However, while the bush is full of flames it is not being burned by the flames. When Moses comes closer to see what is happening he discovers an angel in the bush, who speaks God’s words to him.

The episode is found in Exodus 3:

"Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 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. And Moses said, 'I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.' When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, 'Moses, Moses!' And he said, ''Here I am.'”                          (Exodus 3:1­4)

Notice that verse two tells us that the being who appeared to Moses in the bush is an angel. However, in verse four we read that in this incident it was God who spoke to Moses.

What is happening is that the angel is acting as a revelation of God. God reveals himself through other beings who are not themselves God; in this case he is revealing himself through an angel.

The incident is referred to in the New Testament. This provides a commentary on the passage in Exodus:

"Now when forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in a flame of fire in a bush."

                                                                                                                                                                                             (Acts 7:30)

This passage confirms that it was an angel who appeared to Moses. The passage also goes on to comment on how the message of God was revealed.

"This Moses, whom they rejected, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’ — this man God sent as both ruler and redeemer by the hand of the angel who appeared to him in the bush."                      (Acts 7:35)

 

God sent Moses to lead the Children of Israel out of Egypt, but he did so by the angel. The angel speaks the words of God, but is also described as though God were himself present.

 

Exodus chapter three is clearly the place where God sends Moses to Pharoah by the hand of the angel. These are the words of God that the angel speaks:

Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.”           (Exodus 3:10)

 

The chapter also contains the words of the angel when he first appears to Moses:

"And he said, 'I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.' And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God."                          (Exodus 3:6)

 

The angel speaks the word of God as though God was present and as though God was speaking.

 

A similar situation may appear when one is watching a television set. One might be looking at a news broadcast and see the prime minister giving a speech. What one is looking at is not, of course, actually the prime minister. It is an image of the prime minister in the liquid crystals that make up the screen. Nevertheless, if someone comes into the room and asks you what you are looking at, you might well answer 'I am looking at the prime minister' rather than the more accurate 'I am looking at the image of the prime minister on a television'. In the same way, the Bible refers to the angel as though God was present rather than using the somewhat longer idea of the angel acting as the image of God.

Further down the passage Moses asks God what is his name. (verses 13–15). God answers with the words 'I am that I am' - the most personal name of God. Nevertheless, God does this through the angel, who acts as the image of God.

God spoke to Moses in this way on several occasions:

"Not so with my servant Moses. He is faithful in all my house. With him I speak mouth to mouth, clearly, and not in riddles, and he beholds the form of the LORD. Why then were you not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?"          (Numbers 12:7,8)

The word which is here translated as “form” really means image or likeness. The point is that Moses speaks to God in a conversation, as one speaks to another human; nevertheless it is the image of God that Moses sees, not God himself.

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