Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
What’s the difference between a stranger and someone you know? The difference is that in order to get to know someone they have to tell you about themselves; reveal themselves to you. To know God means that God first had to reveal himself to us. Otherwise, we would not know who God is. Oh, we might know that there is a god or gods up there somewhere. That’s pretty obvious. Nature, conscience, and reason all tell us that there must be a God who created all this and that we are accountable to him. But that wouldn’t tell you who God is. You would never know how God feels about you. Just to know that there is a god up in the heavens is not enough. Even the demons know that much, and they tremble with fear. No, we need God to reveal himself to us for us to know him rightly. And that is what God does in the burning bush. The God in the bush makes himself known: specifically who he is and how he will act.
The Identity of the God in the Bush
Our text says something really strange happened. A bush was on fire, but it wasn’t burning up. That would grab your attention on a cold, dark night in the wilderness! The thorny bush just kept on burning and burning. How long we don’t know. Moses’ curiosity was peaked, “I must go across and see this remarkable sight. Why ever does the bush not burn away?'” (v. 3, REB). That is when the bush started talking to Moses! I’m sure that got his attention! Moses was then told to take his sandals off because the ground on which he was standing was holy (v. 5). Why was it holy? The place where he was standing was holy because the holy God was there.
This was a manifestation of God Himself. But, verse two says, “And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush…” This Angel of the Lord is no ordinary angel. Ordinarily, when we use the word angel, we’re thinking of those created heavenly beings spoken of in the Scriptures who serve God and do His will. But the word angel also means “messenger” or “one who speaks the words of God.” Verse 2 says the Angel of the Lord appeared. But, verse four tells us, “When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush . . . ” In verse six, the one speaking says, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Did you notice the transition? Moses starts by calling him the angel of the Lord. Next, he refers to him as the Lord Himself and later identifies this “angel” as the God of Israel. The identity of the two is interchangeable.
What would you have done? “And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God,” (v. 6b). He bowed and worshipped. The angel is truly God. He is the same God who created the heavens and the earth and made the promises with Abraham and renewed them with Isaac and Jacob. Now He appears to Moses in the burning bush and reveals Himself as “I AM WHO I AM.” No created angel can claim this identity. The identity of the angel is not left in doubt. He clearly declares Himself as the Lord God.
In John 8:56–58, Jesus was answering the criticism of the Jewish leaders. “‘Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.’ So the Jews said to him, ‘You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.’ So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.” Could Jesus have claimed to be anyone greater? He claimed to be God in the flesh. That’s what He meant when He said, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” That’s the I AM, who revealed Himself to Moses in the unconsumed burning bush of Mt. Sinai. The most holy, Name of God He applies to Himself and claims to be older than Abraham, though only about 30 years old. Little wonder they took up stones to throw at Him! Would we, I wonder. Oh, we don’t throw stones at religious crazy people any more. We’d be more likely to institutionalise, drug, put away, or simply ignore Him. Think of it. A thirty year old contractor from a small village claims to be the God of Israel. What would you say to that? The angel of the Lord is the pre-existent “Word of God,” the Lord Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity revealed in the Old Testament.
The Lord Jesus revealed His name to Moses from the bush. He said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.'” Our Savior is the great I am, the one who is, and who was, and who is to come. Jesus is the revelation of God. He identifies himself this way frequently: ”I am the Good Shepherd.” “I am the light of the world.” “I am the vine; you are the branches.” He who revealed Himself to Moses in the branches of a bush has now taken on human flesh and blood so that you might become His branches, that you might be joined to Him and draw your life from Him. Apart from Jesus, the branches wither and die and are burned in judgment. But abiding in Jesus, the branches thrive and share in the fire of His divine life. Jesus Christ is indeed a holy vine that took root in Bethlehem, and that has now spread throughout the earth.
The Actions of the God in the Bush
Notice again how the God in the burning bush reveals himself: “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. . . . I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey. . . .” (vv, 6-8).
God is not some impersonal supreme being who sits above us in the celestial clouds, wondering what’s happening on earth. He’s not like a watchmaker who winds the universe up to let it run on its own. He knows what’s happening here on earth; he’s aware of the condition of his people; he knows us each by name. What’s more, he acts in history to save his people. The time had come for God to “come down to rescue them.” He miraculously entered their history. They will always know that he is responsible for their deliverance.
The God who reveals himself as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob–this is the God who remembers his promises and acts on them. The children of Israel were in slavery down in Egypt. They were crying in distress, groaning under their oppressive burden. What will God do? He heard their cry and remembered the promises he made to Abraham, that he would make of him a great nation, bless him, and bring his children into the Promised Land. He will free the Israelites from their slavery in Egypt! They had a homeland reserved for them by God’s promise. It was a good land and a spacious, or broad, land, “a land flowing with milk and honey.” It was theirs because the God of the burning bush is the God who acts to save his people. That was the promise the Lord God had made with the patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The God in the bush is the God who remembers his promises.
The Lord revealed himself as the God who acts in history to redeem and rescue and deliver his people from their distress. That is why Christ came, to be our Redeemer. In Christ, God stepped into history to save us. We were in bondage to sin and Satan and were unable to free ourselves. But just like God acted to deliver the people of Israel, so he acts to deliver us. For Israel, it was the blood of the Passover lamb on the doorpost that spared them from death and set them free from their slavery. For us, it is the blood of Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. God himself, in Christ, sheds his own blood to set us free and bring us into new life and the Promised Land. By his suffering and death on the cross, the holy blood he shed for us there, our sins are forgiven, death passes over, and we are delivered. Christ has risen from the dead and leads us out, leading the way for us through the wilderness of this world. And he will, at the Last Day, bring us up and into the Promised Land of heaven.
Which God do we worship? We worship the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob. We worship the God who revealed himself in the burning bush as the one who would deliver Israel from slavery. And the same God who manifested Himself in a burning bush revealed himself fully in the person of our Lord and Saviour. Christ is the God who redeems us. He acts in history to deliver on his promises. By his death and resurrection and his coming again, Jesus Christ sets us free from our slavery to sin. He gives us new life–a new way of life, suitable for God’s people–and eternal life. You and I will join the multitude around the throne, singing and giving him the praise, honour, and worship due only to the Lord, the God who revealed himself to us and acted to save us.
May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.