Tom Rout is a minister in training at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University and all round good egg. This is an adaptation of a recent talk he gave on Exodus 3.
Exodus 3 Lent meditation (read Exodus 3 here)
As we’ve seen over the last few days, the situation for God’s people Israel looks bleak at the beginning of Exodus. But the closing verses of chapter 2 suggested that help might be on its way…
Today in chapter 3, we discover how the Lord will save his people from their slavery, a historical story teaching us the way He would ultimately deliver people all over the world from their slavery to sin.
With that background in mind, let’s pick up the story in chapter 3:7-8.
“The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”
What fantastic news for the Israelites! The Lord God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob has come down from heaven to take up their cause. This is such a crucial lesson for us to take in. In the Bible salvation is something the Lord takes responsibility for. His people aren’t expected to fix the problem of slavery to sin themselves. What a relief! The Lord has taken this most important of all matters - our salvation - out of our feeble hands and steps in among us to sort it out Himself! He’s the reason we’ll be rescued.
Exodus 3 tells us more about this God who has come down from heaven to save his people.
It’s a well-known story. Moses’ days living in Pharaoh’s palace are long gone. Now he is just a simple herdsman, looking after sheep that belong to his father in law. It’s another ordinary, lonely day in the desert with no-one but the sheep for company… UNTIL!
Suddenly Moses sees this amazing sight. A bush, ablaze, on fire… but strangely not consumed. Just burning, burning, burning.
So over he goes to take a closer look. But he’s in for a shock. As if the burning bush wasn’t enough of a surprise - there’s someone inside it! But who?
This is one of the real treasures of Exodus.
According to verse 2 it’s a figure called ‘the angel of the Lord’
As we read on, though, it’s clear that this ‘angel of the Lord’ is no ordinary angel. Verse 4 says that God called to Moses from within the bush. And in verse 6 this figure claims “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” This angel is a divine being. (In the Bible people who meet God are told to take their sandals if they haven’t fully grasped that they are in God’s presence! Compare vs. 5 with Joshua 5:13-15)
Some of us will be wondering whether this angel can really be God?
Maybe we have verses like John 1:18 in our minds, which says that ‘no one has ever seen God.’ But think for a second. That verse continues in a very interesting way:
‘No-one has ever seen God but God the one and only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.’
Can this angel really be God? Yes he can.
If we’re confused, the answer is found in the Trinity.
The Bible makes clear that God the Father is never seen by human eyes. But it also tells us that God the Son can come down be seen by humans. So the divine figure who Moses met in the burning bush is the fully divine Son of God.
The name ‘angel’ shouldn’t trouble us. Angel simply means ‘messenger’, or ‘sent one’. And the Son of God is the one supremely sent from heaven to do the will of God in the world.
Just a few weeks back at Christmas we used all sorts of Old Testament names for the Son of God: Remember the famous line from Isaiah chapter 9: ‘He will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace’. These were all special names for Jesus, the Son of God. That’s how we should think of ‘The angel of the Lord’ It’s one of the Old Testament’s favourite names for Jesus who came and had dealings with men and women many times before he was finally born as a baby at Christmas time.
It is this divine figure, the Son of God, who has come down from heaven in Exodus 3 to lead the people of Israel out of their captivity. Another great lesson: In the Bible salvation is a work that Jesus came down from heaven to perform for us.
As we go through Exodus over the next few weeks we will see this divine Angel leading the Israelites through the Red Sea and journeying with them across the wilderness, guiding them to the promised land, in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.
Exodus 3 is well known for one other thing. It’s the chapter in which Moses is commissioned to lead Israel out of Egypt (3:10).
The question is, why did the divine Angel appoint Moses to lead the people, when Moses was clearly so reluctant to be used? (See 3:11+13; 4:1,10 + 13) Why didn’t the Angel just do it himself? After all, he is the Son of God, the one appointed to save God’s people from slavery. Did he need to use a man like Moses?
It seems the Divine Angel appointed Moses to deliver Israel out of slavery in Egypt to teach us about the way in which He would one day go about delivering the world from its slavery to sin.
When Jesus came He would not come in his divine glory or exercise his sovereign power. Instead he lived as a man just like us who shared all our human weakness. Even as a grown man serving God’s purpose in the world, he never relied on his own strength. Instead he trusted completely in God. The gospels tell us that Jesus the man performed His miracles in the power of the Holy Spirit. In John’s gospel Jesus says some remarkable words, ‘I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself, he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son does also… by myself, I can do nothing.’ (John 5:19, 30) In all things Jesus learned to lean on his Father and ultimately entrusted himself to God to deliver him from death.
Maybe that’s why Moses is appointed in human weakness and in dependence on God’s strength. Because it teaches us how God would deliver the world from slavery to sin: by sending his Son to become a weak and humble man, someone who didn’t rely on his own strength, but relied in all things on His Father.