Moses at the burning bush

Moses at the burning bush

For hundreds of years interpreters have offered multiple explanations concerning a symbolic meaning attached to the burning bush. The very mention is a fascinating paradox capturing the imagination. To mention just a few; God dwelling in the midst of His people without them being consumed, the destiny of Israel tried but not extinguished, and standing before the glory of God with unshod feet.[i] Of even greater significance and of paramount importance nonetheless, is what we can learn of whom Moses met at the burning bush.

Moses led the flock of Jethro, his father-in law to Mount Horeb (Sinai). Later, the children of Israel would serve God at that mountain, and it would also be where Moses would receive the Ten Commandments.

Who was the angel?

The first thing to consider is the immediate statement; “The Angel of the Lord appeared to him  in a flame of fire from the midst of the bush (Exodus 3:2a).”Who was that angel? Rashi doesn’t answer this question directly though when he arrives at Exodus 3:12, he refers to it as a vision and understood the thorn bush to be a sign that the Lord had sent Moses, that he would be successful and save him.[ii] Similarly Hezekiah Ben Manoah notes some commentators  view the angel as a disembodied intelligence with no physical aspect; though comprehends Egypt to represent the fire and Israel as the bush not consumed[iii]. Rashbam understand the angel to perform a representative ambassadorial function as ‘the angel, who is called G-d seeing he is carrying out G-d’s assignment.’[iv]

A further question requires carefully enquiry, how can it be reconciled that an angel speaks to God from the burning bush in Exodus 3:2, yet God speaks to Moses from the burning bush in Exodus 3:4? Furthermore in Exodus 3:6, Moses hid his face since he was afraid to look upon God. In the 1906 Jewish Encyclopaedia and in the context of rabbinical literature, a claim appealing to midrash is used in an attempt to solve this enigma. One opinion is that the angel appeared first and was immediately preceded by the Shekinah, others say it was Michael, whilst other more mystical explanations state that nothing is void of the Shekinah.[v]

Yet, none of the above are satisfactory responses, nor do they use midrash effectively to determine accurate meaning on this passage. Jacob Ben Asher more helpfully cites Ibn Ezra who compares this passage with Jacob’s wrestling as having seen G-d face to face, which is impossible in view of Exodus 33:20 with when God hid Moses in the cleft of the rock and he couldn’t see God’s face and live.[vi] Jacob Ben Asher then quotes Nachmanides who doesn’t concur with Ibn Ezra, though instead neatly surmises that Moses would undoubtedly not be afraid to look at the vision of an angel and that Michael was that angel and as the one Jacob encountered before his death and in Genesis is described as G-d, with some of God’s essence within him.[vii]

Midrash on Exodus 3

The problem remains that in Exodus 3:2 and Exodus 3:4, the angel of the Lord and the Lord appear to be used interchangeably and this appears to contradict Exodus 33:20 in that no man can see God’s face and live. Jacob wrestling with God has some parallels with this passage and discounts the event being a vision since Jacob retained his limp and he was amazed that he saw God and lived. In addition there are other texts similar to this one where the angel of the Lord and the Lord appear to be addressed interchangeably such as when Gideon meets the angel of the Lord in Judges 6:11-27 and Judges 13:1-25. To confound things even further in Joshua 5:13-15, Joshua meets the Commander of the army of the Lord, removes his sandal as in Exodus 3:5 and worships.

God has a Son

This problem can be solved if we consider what the Bible says concerning the nature of God and that the scriptures reveal that God has a Son. Hence Moses met God’s Son in His preincarnate form. Psalm 2 speaks of the Messiah’s triumph and kingdom and states “I will declare the decree: The Lord has said to Me, ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You (Psalm 2:7).’ Also, “Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and you perish in the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little, blessed are those who put their trust in Him (Psalm 2:12).’

In Proverbs 30, we read the wisdom of Agur where a series of rhetorical questions concerning the greatness of God are asked. “Who has ascended into heaven, or descended? Who has gathered the wind in his fists? Who has bound the waters in a garment? Who has established all the waters of the earth? What is His name, and what is His Son’s name, if you know (Proverbs 30:4)?”

Again in Isaiah 9 where there is the government of the Promised Son prophesied. “For unto us a Son is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgement and justice from that time forward and forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this (Isaiah 9:6-7).”

The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob

This distinction made to Moses that He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob was important then as it is today. Abraham was also the father of the Ishmaelites and Isaac, the Edomites.[viii] Egypt worshipped many false gods and Israel needed to be loyal to the one true God. Furthermore, this statement upheld the doctrine of the resurrection. In other words, those three patriarchs lived because He was still their God. Yeshua (the Lord Jesus) explained the same to the Sadducees when they questioned him concerning the resurrection (Luke 20:37-38). He also stated “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he my die, he shall live (John 11:25).” The death and resurrection of Yeshua, is the guarantee of our resurrection also.

The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob would use Moses to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt. In as similar way, the Lord delivers those who trust in Him from Pharaoh (type of Satan), Egypt (type of the world) and onto the Promised Land (type of heaven). Until then we are shackled by sin and are enslaved by sin and cannot free ourselves from it. Only the sinless Messiah can forgive us our sins since He was sinless and through His atoning sacrifice reconciles us to God.

Who am I?

In response to the remarkable assignment God had given Moses, he asked, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the children of Israel out of Egypt (Exodus 3:11)?”This question was doubly ironic. Formerly in Egypt, Moses tried to intervene and save his countryman and ended up slaying an Egyptian. The next day he tried to settle a dispute between two Israelites, one of whom recalled the incident the previous day, so he subsequently fled to Midian. He knew the Egyptian customs and royalty better than any Israelite, yet he wasn’t as confident in his abilities as in former years. Nonetheless, there is a parallel for us in that we cannot save ourselves. The identity of the person not trusting in the Lord is with the sin that separates them from God. We must therefore focus on the Deliverer and His strength, not our abilities, strength or ingenuity.

I AM THAT I AM

When Moses anticipated that the Israelites ask him what His name is, He responded “I AM WHO I AM”. This might sound a strange question though we must remember the children of Israel had been enslaved in Egypt for four hundred years and they worshipped all manner of gods. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is sovereign, unchanging, uncreated and the first and the last.

In the Brit Hadasha, John’s Gospel is centred around the seven “I AM’ statements” concerning who Yeshua (Jesus) is.  He said, “I am the bread of life (John 6:35).”, “I am the light of the world (John 8:12)”, “I am the door (John 10:9), “I am the good shepherd (John 10:11)”, “I am the resurrection and the life (John 11:25).”I am the way, the truth and the life (John 14:6)” and “I am the true vine (John 15:1).”These I AM statements are claims to being the Messiah but also to divinity. In John 10:30, Jesus said “I am My Father are one”. Also in John 8:58, Jesus said “Before Abraham was, I AM.” In Revelation 1:8, Jesus said “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End,” says the Lord, who is and was and is to come, the Almighty.”, and in Revelation 1:18, “I am He who lives and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore.”

What does this mean? Moses spoke of a greater prophet, who would be like Him (Deuteronomy 18:15-22) . Yeshua also performed many miracles. If we compare what Jesus said and did, the I AM statements, His claims to divinity and His resurrection, we discover that Yeshua is the prophet like Moses and the angel of the Lord in His preincarnate form who wrestled with Jacob, appeared to Moses in the burning bush, met Joshua as the Commander of the army of the Lord and appeared to Gideon and to Samson’s parents. This also means that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. The greatest miracle was His resurrection. Though we may die, if we turn to Him and trust in Him and follow Him, trusting in His grace not our works and His atoning sacrifice, we shall live and go to where He has gone ahead of us.


[i] William MacDonald Believers Bible Commentary (Thomas Nelson; Nashville, 1995), p91

[ii] https://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/9864/showrashi/true

[iii] https://www.sefaria.org/Chizkuni%2C_Exodus.3.2?lang=bi

[iv] https://www.sefaria.org/Rashbam_on_Exodus.3.2?lang=bi

[v] Marcus JastrowLouis GinzbergMorris Jastrow, Jr.J. Frederic McCurdy http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/3845-burning-bush              

[vi] https://www.sefaria.org/Tur_HaAroch%2C_Exodus.3.1?lang=bi

[vii] https://www.sefaria.org/Tur_HaAroch%2C_Exodus.3.1?lang=bi

[viii] Adam Clarke https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/acc/exodus-3.html