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Who is in the burning bush?

All the Johns agree:

But let us inquire who this Angel was? since soon afterwards he not only calls himself Jehovah, but claims the glory of the eternal and only God. Now, although this is an allowable manner of speaking, because the angels transfer to themselves the person and titles of God, when they are performing the commissions entrusted to them by him; and although it is plain from many passages, and especially from the first chapter of Zechariah, that there is one head and chief of the angels who commands the others, the ancient teachers of the Church have rightly understood that the Eternal Son of God is so called in respect to his office as Mediator, which he figuratively bore from the beginning, although he really took it upon him only at his Incarnation. And Paul sufficiently expounds this mystery to us, when he plainly asserts that Christ was the leader of his people in the Desert. (1 Corinthians 10:4.) Therefore, although at that time, properly speaking, he was not yet the messenger of his Father, still his predestinated appointment to the office even then had this effect, that he manifested himself to the patriarchs, and was known in this character. Nor, indeed, had the saints ever any communication with God except through the promised Mediator. It is not then to be wondered at, if the Eternal Word of God, of one Godhead and essence with the Father, assumed the name of “the Angel” on the ground of his future mission.

He is expressly called an “Angel” Exod. 3:2 – namely, the Angel of the covenant, the great Angel of the presence of God, in whom was the name and nature of God. And He thus appeared that the Church might know and consider who it was that was to work out their spiritual and eternal salvation, whereof that deliverance which then He would effect was a type and pledge.  Aben Ezra would have the Angel mentioned verse 2, to be another from him who is called “God,” v 6: but the text will not give countenance to any such distinction, but speaks of one and the same person throughout without any alteration; and this was no other but the Son of God.

This redemption was by Jesus Christ, as is evident from this, that it was wrought by him that appeared to Moses in the bush; for that was the person that sent Moses to redeem the people.  But that was Christ, as is evident, because he is called 'the angel of the LORD' (Exodus 3:2).

Given such unanimity among our reformed forebears (who themselves appealed to 'the ancient teachers of the Church') our modern reluctance to identify Him who dwells in the bush is deeply concerning.  Martin Downes puts it well in a recent post:

It is somewhat ironic that the championing of progressive revelation has gone hand in hand with a diminished confidence in the revelation of Christ in the Old Testament.  Historically it is as if the church has regressed and not progressed in her confidence that it was "Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt" (Jude 5, ESV).

Amen!  Read his whole post here.

My sermon on Exodus 1-3 is here.


0 thoughts on “Who is in the burning bush?

  1. Rich Owen

    Yep. Amen to that.

    In the last month alone, I've come across two books which manifest this loss of confidence in a big way. It's worrying. And to be honest, loss of confidence is a very gracious way of describing the situation. In some cases it is almost as if the authors *intention* is to disprove that the OT scriptures speak explicitly of Jesus.

    Which is utterly mental.

  2. Pingback: The Angel of the LORD – the pre-incarnate Christ | St. Augustines Anglican Church, Neutral Bay

  3. Dev

    well.. not surprising

    the intention of the world is to suppress Christ

    therefore the Christian needs to see Christ in everything, for He is in all things, and all things in Him

  4. Hiram

    I find it annoying to end when I read statements like: "The Angel of the Lord may perhaps be the pre-Incarnate Christ. aren't really sure..."

    The problem seems to be that instead of accepting what the Bible teaches us about the revelation of God's truth to man, we want to utilize a postmodern constructivist epistemology. As if the truth made itself, or was made by the biblical prophets and authors who were simply one-upping one another.

  5. Glen

    Tell me if I'm wrong, but I reckon the divine identity of the One Sent from the LORD is clearer in the Old Testament than it is in the New. Certainly there are more verses (and more straightforward verses) in the Old regarding the divinity of the Angel than there are verses in the New regarding the divinity of Jesus. Indeed the argument for Christ's divinity in the New (for me anyway) is underpinned by this divine ontology in the Old (ie the category of 'God from God.')

    I find it very difficult to relate to those who refuse to identify the Angel as our God from God. The same hermeneutics when applied to the NT yield Arianism plain and simple.

  6. Hiram

    "Certainly there are more verses (and more straightforward verses) in the Old regarding the divinity of the Angel than there are verses in the New regarding the divinity of Jesus. Indeed the argument for Christ’s divinity in the New (for me anyway) is underpinned by this divine ontology in the Old (ie the category of ‘God from God.’)"

    I agree. What is baffling is that there are some who attempt to state that YHWH is the name of the Father, but the passages you point out clearly show us that Jesus is YHWH Incarnate. Even John the Baptist declares that Jesus is YHWH in the flesh when he says:

    "I am one the one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the LORD [YHWH]"!

  7. Tim

    Hate to be picky, but I have to take issue with Downes' statement that says it was "Jesus" who saved the people out of Egypt. If we are at all serious about biblical theology then we have to take care to avoid such anachronisms. Of course I know what he means but "Jesus" was a figure of history from the 1st Century whose name made its first appearance in Joseph's dream (Matt 1.21)... Of course we believe that this same person was also present in the Old Testament, but not as "Jesus", it was as the promised redeemer, the holy one of Israel, whose divinity was established then, if not his historical identity (ie. Jesus)... it just doesn't make any sense to speak of "Jesus" at all before the 1st Century apart from to identify him retrospectively as one and the same person as the Christ of the Old Testament. Apologies if this seems petty or laboured.

    Heartily agree with the point he is making though! If it is not Christ who directly saves both old and new testament saints then we can have no confidence in the gospel at all.

  8. Tim V-B

    Tim, Downes is simply quoting Jude 5. There's a manuscript issue, whether it should read 'Lord' or 'Jesus' but ESV goes for Jesus, and we all know the ESV is more infallible than the original...!

    Also 2 Cor 8:9 where Jesus Christ becomes poor. If we take this as a reference to the incarnation, then Paul is calling God the Son "Jesus Christ" in reference to his pre-incarnate state.

    What's the concern behind your comment? Definitely correct that we need to focus on Christ "who for us men and for our salvation came down to earth". The "scandal of particularity" that God became a particular Jewish man is actually our greatest treasure!

  9. Si Hollett

    Tim, your issue is with Jude, not Martin Downes!

    But I know what you mean - Jesus is a name only picked up by 'the second person' at the incarnation. It's given to Hoshea son of Nun, who is a type of Jesus bringing people to the land, 1500 years before, but the idea of a "greater Joshua" doesn't crop up again until Joseph is told what to name his step-son.

    I think Jude wanted to hammer home the point, make you unable to get round it without changing the text. Of course, changing the text is what happened "The Lord delivered his people out of Egypt" is the NIV, as later manuscripts go with that. There's some wriggling room there, with that change, that it's a general 'God saved' or something.

  10. Glen

    And don't forget Zech 6:12 - the Priest/King/Branch is called Jesus. And add Phil 2:5 to 2 Cor 8:9 as another instance of Paul calling the pre-incarnate Son 'Christ Jesus'. (I'd also add Hebrews 4:8 but I'm a bit nuts like that).

    But on the Jude thing: it's quite easy to explain how the original Jude manuscript might have been watered down from 'Jesus' to 'Lord'. Pretty unlikely that it went the other way, don't you think?

  11. Tim

    Yes, apologies to Downes - should have checked the context of the quote.

    Even if the version of Jude 5 which says "Jesus" is the original version (NA-27 prefers "Lord"), it still is merely a case of retrospectively identifying Jesus as same Lord who was active in the Old Testament, now revealed to us through the incarnation. The key distinction here is that the new testament believers/writers were able to identify Jesus of Nazareth as the same "Christ" of the old testament faith, whereas believers before the incarnation could not. If we are speaking of them, then it is 'unnatural' to put the name "Jesus" on their lips in the context of their old testament faith, even if it is on their lips right now in heaven...! :-)

    I guess the concern behind the comment is that in the discussion specifically of Christ in the old testament (what Glen's original post was addressing), it pays to be careful to explain things in terms of the context of the text and faith of the people of the time (who had faith in "Christ") and qualify any mention of "Jesus" in terms of progressive revelation and what the Spirit has revealed to us as new testament saints. It's quite cool that I read this just as I was preparing a Bible study for this evening on Hebrews 1:1-3!

    "We wouldn't speak of an ancient Roman invasion of 'Kosovo', so why should we speak of the old testament believe in 'Jesus'?"

    Of course, in a general sense, it really is no big deal, and actually such 'theologically intentional anachronisms' (this side of the incarnation, such as those we find in the NT - thanks for all the examples!) are precious for the Christian believer, since they remind us of the unity of scripture, that it really was God who died on the cross and it really was 'Jesus' who saved the people out of Egypt. For the purpose of clarity in discussion, however, in a theological discussion I would prefer to avoid tying myself up in historical and biblical knots by constantly referring to 'Jesus' in the old testament. This is also why I prefer Goldsworthy over Blackham on the same subject.

    Please do let me know if I am being pedantic as I am sure I am in the presence of more hardened (in a good sense) theologians!

    Tim, are you the brother of Josh by any chance?! :-)

  12. Glen

    Tim A,

    It sounds to me like you are actually on Blackham's side on the most fundamental issue: ie that OT faith was concretely and consciously in Christ.

    Progress is not the fundamental issue in Goldsworthy v Blackham. It's the object of faith. If you say it's Christ - I'd say you're an anonymous Blackhamite.


  13. Tim

    Hehe, perhaps theologically, if only in affirming Blackham's fundamental point (although I wouldn't say that Goldsworthy 'doesn't' affirm Christ as being the object of OT faith?!).

    My problem with Blackham is not 'so' much his theology but his terminology (which has a knock-on effect on the way what he is saying is perceived). As a philologist, I'm a bit of a stickler for words... :-)

  14. Paul Blackham

    I guess I'm not absolutely convinced that the New Testament writers are being anachronisitic. I'm just a bit uncomfortable with the idea that they were being inaccurate or not being careful about what they were saying.

    I remember being told many times, around the time of the debate, that we should not follow the exegetical methods of the New Testament writers [or even Jesus Himself!]; that their conclusions are ok but their assumptions and methods would not be acceptable to modern Biblical studies. I found that hard to accept.

    Given Zechariah 6 and Moses' renaming of Hoshea [to pick the most obvious examples], it is not clear to me that the ancient church did not name the Messiah 'Jesus'/'Yeshuah'.

    The fact that an entire book of the Hebrew Scriptures is simply called 'JESUS' cannot easily be overlooked. Given what is said about Yeshua, son of Nun, and the way that the book functions, it is hard for me to imagine that this was not understood in a Messianic way.

    I'm just not convinced that the Hebrew saints thought in the way that the recent biblical theology movement suggests. Whenever I get into the specific details of the Hebrew text, working through it carefully verse by verse, I find such a depth of theological understanding, far beyond the kind of thinking assumed in so many of the broad brush overviews.

    The more of Philo that I read the more amazed I am by ancient Hebrew theology. [NOTE: I do not take the 19th century view of Philo as a Platonic synthesiser, but rather see him as doing what he himself claims that he is doing - presenting the very best of Hebrew Biblical studies to a wider Greek audience]. For example, the language of 'Father and Son' is in Philo although several people have claimed to me that it is a new Testament rather than an Old Testament way of speaking about the Living God.

    In addition, we can take this to a slightly deeper level, as Jews for Jesus do, who recognise the name Yeshua in many more places throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. "Yahweh is my Yeshua" etc etc. The issue of naming the Messiah as 'Yeshua' in the Hebrew Scriptures has been a major issue for Jews for Jesus down the years.

    When this whole debate first began I quite deliberately and consciously opted to continue what I thought Jude was doing and what I found quite commonly in the apostolic fathers and also within the Puritans.

    Given that the word 'Trinity' was invented in the second century, is it anachronistic to use this word in any Biblical studies at all? At least one person made this very claim to me a few weeks before I debated Graeme at Oakhill.

    At the time, and still today, I find it too subjective and too dependent on wider theological opinions when someone says, "an ancient Israelite at this time would have believed/thought in this way". Reading Hebrews 11 has always made me quite cautious about saying that sort of thing. Abraham pitched his tent... and the writer to the Hebrews explains Abraham's thinking... and it was not the thinking that I originally imagined.

    The issue that I was concerned about 10 years ago was the claim that the ancient church did not consciously trust in Christ. The claim that shocked me then, and still shocks me today, was the idea that the ancient Israelites trusted in earthly promises rather than Christ Himself.

    As long as the church loved and trusted Christ, it was of little interest to me how much anybody at any time knew about the technical details.

    Having said that, however, I think Kaiser is absolutely right when he says that the sufferings of Christ and the glories that follow have always been essential to the faith. So, trust in Christ always involves an understanding of His sufferings and sacrifice.

    I have to admit that I feel that there is a power and weight in the name of Jesus that reaches to the beginning and the end of the universe itself. Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever - and His is the only Name given to humanity by which we can be saved. It may just be me, but I worry when we are not speaking this name throughout our theology.

  15. Dev

    slightly side issue...

    always very intrigued that basically this is Jesus talking to Himself..

    like He comes portraying the Father, to talk to the true Exodus-leader in the flesh

    truly the Father has given Him every role to play...

  16. Glen

    Thanks Tim. What I object to in a Goldsworthian paradigm is the thought that trust in promises regarding land, progeny, blessings or trust in sacrifices and temple ritual is then 'deemed' to be faith in the Person of Christ even though the believer doesn't actually trust in Messiah. That certainly has been his position. If Goldsworthy doesn't say such things anymore and has come out in favour of conscious trust in the Messiah then Hallelujah - call me a neo-Goldsworthian. But I don't think he has, and in fact his reluctance to shift on this issue (as far as I can see) troubles me deeply.

    I also wonder whether it's deeper than a philological objection. I don't suppose you're equally uncomfortable with Paul calling the great patriarch AbRAham in Genesis 15 (cf Gal 3)?? Do you consider that anachronism to be equally unacceptable? To me, even if you disregard OT knowledge that Messiah = Yeshua, to oppose statements like "Jesus saved them out of Egypt" is equivalent to opposing statements like "AbRAham trusted God." Do you see a relevant difference between the Abraham and the Jesus example?

    Paul! Great to hear from you :)

  17. Tim V-B

    Going back a few comments, yes I'm related to a certain Josh. But (and here I'll issue a warning: pious thought coming) most of I'm related to a certain Yeshua!

  18. Tim

    @Glen @Paul -- (I'll try and answer both in one reply, keeping it as brief as possible. Paul, I hope you don't view my comments as being frivolous in any way. At Wycliffe last year, we did briefly discuss this in a student-led book group and largely came down on the 'Blackham' side theologically but with the same unease regarding these points regarding language. Hope this becomes clearer below).

    The Abram-Abraham example is actually an excellent one to demonstrate what I'm trying to get at. We wouldn't say in the context of Genesis that God called "Abraham" out of Ur, right? In fact, if we were referring to this part of the Bible, we would probably make a big fuss about drawing the distinction between the two names in relation to the story because the whole purpose of God's call was to turn Abram into Abraham. Gal 3 refers to 'Abraham' in the context of his faith, so the text gives us these categories which are diluted if we delete the use of 'Abram' from our vocabulary. Another example is Paul - we are very happy to talk about 'Saul', referring to Paul's earlier days and we often make much of the fact that previously he was known by a different name.

    The same principle, when applied to Christ/Jesus actually serves in the end to make an important theological point (this is where the interaction between philology/history and theology comes into play). When Abraham and Paul were revealed in history for who they were called to be, this entailed a change in them and a conformity to Christ. When Christ was revealed in history (as Jesus), however, this entailed no change at all in his person, for he is the same yesterday, today and forever. This is what makes the prayer of Simeon so poignant. Also see the distinction drawn in Luke 2.26-27 - it hardly seems like an incidental one.

    So as you can see, I am in hearty agreement with the basic idea that the OT and NT saints had the very same object of faith and this was the person and work of Christ. The reason why I am so hesitant to say they consciously trusted in Christ 'Jesus' is because, while they had the same knowledge pertaining to many of the particulars of 'Jesus' as a (promised) historical person as we do (and thus had the same object of faith as we do), this was not attached in a universal sense to the name 'Jesus'. It was only when Christ was revealed in history 'as' the historical figure of Jesus and 'Jesus' became a meaningful name for the saints.

    What I think I am struggling to understand is where the insistence that OT saints spoke specifically of 'Jesus' comes from. Not a single NT believer can have faith apart from calling on the name of Jesus (whom they must understand as the Christ), whereas the 'majority' of OT believers (ie. protoevangelium), if not all, would have trusted explicitly in the person and work of Christ (with the same basic content of his sufferings, death and resurrection cf. Mk 8.31), yet without being able to invoke specifically the name of Jesus.

    My basic point, I think, is this. If the content of both the names "Christ" and "Jesus" are in the end identical «in terms of faith», then it really is no big deal (and fundamentally an equivalent statement, theologically) to say that OT saints trusted explicitly in the person and work of "Christ" and NT saints in the person and work of "Christ Jesus". All I am maintaining is that the content of these names was different «in terms of history», which affects our discourse in the first instance and could influence how our theology is perceived down the line (cf. later point on 1 Peter 1). The controversy for me arises when it is suggested that the content of "Christ" and "Jesus" is identical «in terms of history», ie. in terms of how these words were understood in the context of different periods of salvation history. This is patently not the case in my opinion and is the point where I have to err on the side of caution, however much I agree with and support Paul's basic theological project.

    Paul, my suggestion is not at all that NT writers are being inaccurate or careless, nor am I denying that we should be able to look back on the OT as NT believers and speak - as they do - of 'this same Jesus' being the one working in the lives of the people and nations back then. In fact, all our preaching on the OT should explicitly invoke the name of "Jesus" to emphasise this point that it was the same 'person' upon whom they believed who has now been revealed in history and died on a cross and rose again and intercedes for us today and will one day return (all details, I might add, which were also revealed to them concerning the Christ). It is a very different thing, however, on the one hand to speak of Jesus retrospectively, as NT saints can and do... and on the other to place the name, "Jesus" onto the lips on OT saints and understand their confession of faith to be identical to ours terminologically. I don't believe the biblical text or the witness of salvation history give us this freedom.

    So just as we must affirm that the God of OT saints was triune, yet without them ever being able to invoke the word 'trinity' in any meaningful sense, we must also affirm that the Christ of the OT saints was identical to Jesus, without them ever being able to invoke - in the same sense as we do - the name 'Jesus' (perhaps barring the occasional exception, as per Paul's examples, which I do take seriously).

    I categorically deny that that OT saints did not consciously trust in the person and work of Christ and if this is what was being suggested 10 years ago then perhaps I haven't understood the debate at all! :-) Yet at the same time I do believe that this is not the same as saying - as I am saying now - that they would not have been able to associate this person with the historical figure of "Jesus". Seen in this light, my concerns must seem very small, for they are primarily matters of narrative and historical detail rather than the grand conclusions of theology (where I see no real difference). I do feel they are worth airing, however, and I really appreciate the time you have given to address them and help us all wrestle through the issues at hand.

    I heartily agree with your glorious conclusion, Paul, that there is a power and weight in the name of Jesus that reaches to the beginning and the end of the universe itself. I think where I differ with you is that for me this truth serves to make 1 Peter 1.10-12 come alive to me in a way I feel it probably wouldn't if "Jesus" was a meaningful term to OT saints in the same way it is to us today. As this text affirms, the sufferings and glory of Christ was something that the OT saints understood very well. But this glorious figure of Jesus, this 'person' (1.11a) in whom they trusted without knowing his 'full name', has been revealed to us now (1.11a) as Jesus of Nazareth with their help, for they were serving us by the Spirit.

  19. Paul Blackham


    Thanks for that careful and well thought out response. Great stuff. Yes, the key issue is not just the name "Jesus" but that Divine Person, the Second Person of the Trinity, the Logos, the Great High Priest, the Promised Messiah, the Holy One of Israel, the Captain of the Host, the Fairest of Ten Thousand, the Son of Man, the Angel of the LORD, the Rider on the White Horse, the Son of David, the Seed, the Lamb of God, the Alpha & Omega, the Desire of All Nations. He is the One who must always be the object of our love and trust, the One we follow and obey.

    I understand the points you are making. From where I am coming, those who have spoken against referring to 'Jesus' in the Old Testament have usually been uncertain of Christ as the object of the one faith of the church in all ages. I can see that if we are all crystal clear on Christ as the conscious object of faith, then I can appreciate the point you are making.

    We can't rule out referring to Christ in the Old Testament as 'Jesus' [given the New Testament example], but I hear your concern for keeping a distinction. You are noting the pattern of Paul in Acts 17:2-3 - "Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ,” he said."

  20. Tim

    Paul, I couldn't have put it better myself! (Note to self: take lessons on brevity and conciseness from Paul) :-)

    It seems we my have been talking slightly at cross purposes with regard to some of the larger issues underlying this subject. Nonetheless, this has really helped clarify several crucial things for me and I look forward in future -- in my own life as well as my teaching -- both to promoting the continuity of Christ as the conscious object of faith in the whole of history as well as being careful in how I express and qualify this glorious truth in relation to the context I am referring to.

    I think the Acts 17 example is a great one also to show us all how realising this truth should not lead us into smugness but rather into worship and evangelism. It is also a testimony to our dependence on the Spirit, since only he can convince anyone that "Jesus" is the "Christ".

  21. woldeyesus

    "Who is in the burning bush" as self-sufficient fire? (Ex. 3: 1-15)

    Who else but the same LORD God Almighty, self-revealed as self-sufficient source of life, in Christ's perfect and transfigurative death on the cross; and called forever by the same name, "I Am Who I Am" (John 8: 21-28)!

    Hence, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and for ever" (Heb. 13:8).

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