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“The Angel of the Lord Appeared”
“Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb. And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked, and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed. And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt. And when the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I. And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground. Moreover he said, I am the God of thy 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 upon God. And the LORD said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows; And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey; unto the place of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Now therefore, behold, the cry of the children of Israel is come unto me: and I have also seen the oppression wherewith the Egyptians oppress them. Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt.” (Exodus 3:1-10)
We live in the most religious age the world has ever known. Multiplied millions of dollars are given by people every year to build huge, elaborate “church” buildings. In some places thousands of people crowd into huge auditoriums every Sunday to sing the songs of Zion and listen to a man preach. Their sincerity cannot be questioned. They hope, by their religious devotions, to attain everlasting life and salvation. As I behold their devotions, I feel like Paul when he came into Athens and beheld the devotions of the Athenians on Mars Hill. I want to cry out to the world around me, “God is not impressed with silver, or gold, or stone graven by art and man’s device. God is Spirit. If you worship him, you must worship him in spirit and in truth. Outward religion, without heart faith in Christ, is damning.”
Paul tells us, “Bodily exercise profiteth little.” That is to say, the mere exercise of religious duties and devotions, even when performed with great sincerity and zeal, are of no benefit to your soul. “But godliness with contentment is great gain.” Godliness is Christ in you. Godliness is the knowledge of and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. That is indescribably great gain. And that is what I want for you. Apart from living faith in Christ, there is no pardon for sin, no cleansing from iniquity, no reconciliation with God, no access to him, no acceptance with him, no peace in your soul, no hope of heaven, no escape from hell, no salvation! It is by the divinely ordained means of public worship, by the preaching of the gospel, that God the Holy Spirit conveys grace and salvation to our souls (Romans 10:17; Hebrews 4:12; 1 Peter 1:23-25). We are infallibly taught that the preaching of the gospel is the divinely appointed means of spiritual life and blessing. There is no substitute for it.
The blame for so much empty, lifeless religion in our day must be laid squarely at the pulpit. Multitudes of those men who fill the pulpit, whose responsibility it is to preach Christ to eternity bound sinners, Sunday after Sunday only scatter chaff, and never preach the pure wheat of the gospel: — “Jesus Christ and him crucified.” “Christ is All” in the Book of God. “Christ is All” in redemption. “Christ is All” in salvation. And Christ will be All in eternity. Let Christ be All in the pulpit. God cannot be known, sinners cannot be saved except by God the Holy Spirit revealing the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.
The Book of Exodus
Most people who are familiar with the Bible, when they think of the Book of Exodus, immediately think of three things: The Exodus, The Giving of the Law, and The Wilderness Wanderings of Israel. Few, very few realize that this blessed book of inspiration, in all its details, was written to reveal “Jesus Christ and him crucified.” It is my hope in writing these studies that God the Holy Spirit will discover Christ to you in the Book of Exodus.
Angel of the Lord
“Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb…And the angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush...And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God.”
“The Angel of the Lord” appeared to Moses. As we have already seen, “the Angel of the Lord” is our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. There is no question about this. The Angel identifies himself clearly. He is the eternal “I AM.” The One who is speaking from the burning bush is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. “The Angel of the Lord” announced that he is Elohim, the self-existent God; and beside him there is none else. He is the absolute “I AM.” He said to Moses, “I AM THAT I AM.”
This was a manifestation of God himself. Moses hid his face from him because he was afraid to look upon God. The same Angel of the Lord had appeared to Sarah, Hagar, Abraham, and Isaac four hundred years earlier. The Angel of the Lord speaks of himself as God, while at the same time declaring that he is One sent from God. The Angel of the Lord is described throughout the Old Testament in exactly the same way our Lord Jesus is described in the New Testament. — He guides and protects his people (Exodus 14:19). — He is the constant Companion of his chosen in the wilderness, the One who keeps us in the way (Exodus 23:20-33; Numbers 20:16). — He punishes sin (2 Samuel 24:15-17). — He is seen ministering to his servant Elijah (1 Kings 19:7). The Angel of the Lord fights our battles and wins them (2 Kings 19:35; 2 Chronicles 32:21). — The angel of the Lord is always dependent upon the Lord, and always subordinate to his commands (1 Chronicles 21:27), showing that he is the Servant of the Lord
Yet, he is addressed as the Lord himself, showing that he is himself God (Exodus 23:23). The Angel of the Lord exercises prerogatives that belong to God alone in forgiving sin and commanding obedience. His deity is never left in doubt. In Exodus 23:20-33 he is the Angel of the Covenant. When he revealed himself in the Old Testament, people always recognized him as God and responded to him as God. Joshua 5:13-6:2 shows him possessing the attributes and authority of God. The name Jehovah is never rightly applied to anyone other than the God of Israel (Isaiah 42:8). Yet, the Angel of the Lord bears all the titles of deity. He is called Jehovah and Elohim. And, throughout the Old Testament, he was worshipped as God, because he is God.
In addition to all these things, we see the Angel of the Lord talking, walking, and eating with men as a man in the Old Testament Scriptures. Yet, even when he appeared in the form of a man, speaking of the Lord God in the third person, his Godhead is clearly revealed and known. People recognized that he is God, praying to him and honoring him as God as they worshipped him, offering sacrifices, which he accepted. This Angel of the Lord is himself God over all and blessed forever (Exodus 33:20; Genesis 16:13; 32:30; Exodus 33:11).
Clearly, the Angel of the Lord is one of the persons of the eternal Godhead. He is not a created being, but God himself. He is the Shekinah, the Glory. The glory of God is seen in him, because he is Jesus Christ our Savior, in whose face alone the glory of God shines forth.
The Angel of the Lord, in all those pre-incarnate appearances recorded in the Old Testament, appeared in the form of a man, recognizable by men. Yet, he appeared in such glory that he was always recognized as God in human form. They seem to have been like the appearances of our Lord in the Gospels, after his resurrection, like his appearance to the apostle Paul on the road to Damascus, and like his appearance on the Mount of Transfiguration before Peter, James and John (Matthew 17:1-8). In other words, they were pre-incarnate revelations of Christ in his resurrection glory, that glory which is the reward of his accomplishments as our Redeemer. He appeared to men in the Old Testament, as he did to John in Revelation 4 and 5, as being exalted because he had finished his work of redemption as the complete, full revelation of the triune God (John 1:18).
Let me briefly summarize what the Scriptures reveal about the Angel of the Lord. The Angel of the Lord is distinct from God, yet, identical with God as he revealed himself in the Old Testament. His name is Jehovah (Exodus 23:20-21). His presence is the presence of the Lord (Exodus 32:30, 34; 33:14). The Angel of the Lord is the pre-existent “Word of God,” the Lord Jesus Christ, the second person of the holy Trinity (John 1:14-18; Colossians 1:15; 2:9). The Angel of the Lord appeared to men many, many times in the Old Testament age. Then, in the fulness of time he appeared once in the end of the world, in the Man Jesus Christ, to make atonement for our sins, to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself (Hebrews 1:1-3; 9:23-28).
The Angel of the Lord was and is none other than the Word, who, not only was “with God”, but “was God”, and “was made flesh” and “came unto his own.” By our Savior’s incarnation and accomplished redemption, everything revealed by the Angel of the Lord in the Old Testament was performed. But when he came into the world, our Savior was not a newcomer on the earthly scene. The prophet Micah declares of him, his “goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” (5:2). In the first chapter of Revelation the resurrected, ascended, glorified Son of Man was seen by the apostle John walking in the midst of the churches.
The Angel of the Lord in the Old Testament is revealed perfectly in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ when he took upon himself human flesh. God manifest himself fully in visible form in the person of our Savior, his darling Son.
This is he whom Isaiah saw in the year King Uzziah died (Isaiah 6), sitting on his throne, high and lifted up, who filled the temple with his glorious presence. As the seraphs sang the song of his holiness, the temple filled with smoke, the foundations trembled, and Isaiah exclaimed, “Woe is me, for I am undone! I am a man of unclean lips: and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” Who was it that Isaiah saw on the throne? He saw the pre-incarnate Son of God. He saw Christ in his pre-incarnate glory on the throne. — “These things said Esaias, when he saw his glory, and spake of him” (John 12:41).
The angel of the Lord in the Old Testament is the Christ of the New Testament, the eternal God, our Savior. The apostle John who observed our Redeemer every day for three years explained it this way in 1 John 1:1-3.
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life; (For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and show unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;) That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.”
Appeared to Moses
It is Christ, the Angel of the Lord, who appeared to Moses in Mount Horeb forty years after he fled from Egypt. All that time he had been secretly preparing his servant in obscurity for the great work of delivering his people out of the hand of Pharaoh. William Law wrote…
“God frequently ordains that early obscurity should lead to most distinguished work. Dark hours precede the break of day. Joseph rises from prison to sit beside the king. From the sheepfolds David is called to occupy the throne.”
The set time had now arrived. Deliverance must be accomplished. Therefore, “the Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush.” The bush blazed with fire; but it was not burned. The flame had no ability to destroy, or even harm the bush. The fire blazed in fury; but the bush defied the flame. At first Moses was stunned; but, soon, his amazement turned to awe, and “God called unto him out of the midst of the bush” (vv. 4-6).
“And when the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I. And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground. Moreover he said, I am the God of thy 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 upon God.”
God’s presence made the place holy. The One who appeared to Moses in human form as the Angel of the Lord spoke to him as God. Who can this be except Christ our Mediator? God the Father never appeared as man. God the Holy Spirit never appeared as a man. But our ever-gracious Savior, the Son of God, anticipating the time when he would come to save us from our sins, appeared to Moses as the God-man, our Mediator.
What brought our Savior to the burning bush? What moved his holy heart to appear? The answer is given (vv. 7-8).
“And the LORD said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows; And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey; unto the place of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites.”
What blessed tenderness there is in those words! What assured compassion! Our Savior ever appears to comfort the sorrowing. The Son of God ever appears to meet the needs of his people. The Lord Jesus Christ is always God at hand (Philippians 4:4-5). Let us never faint in the hour of trial, and never doubt in time of trouble and sorrow. You may walk through a dark valley. Your road may be rough. You may be called to lay your head on the hard pillow of sorrow. Troubles may roll over you, wave upon wave. But the eye of Christ’s infinite, eternal love ever watches over you. His heart of love ever throbs with sympathy for you. The ear of his love hears your cry. The hand of his love will, in due season, be outstretched to deliver you. Yes, our Savior ever appears to comfort the sorrowing. At his own appointed time, he will bring you forth into a large place and deliver you, because he delights in you (Psalm 18:19).
This appearance of the Lord Jesus Christ as the Angel of the Lord was deeply engraved upon Moses’ heart. He never forgot it. Moses’ path through the wilderness was not easy. His toils were hard and his afflictions grievous. But in his trials he was constantly sustained by this experience, by that which God showed him in the bush. The remembrance of this checked his fears, revived his strength, and refreshed his soul. This was his Ebenezer. He never forgot it. It was his lifelong comfort.
After forty more years had passed, and the man of God reached the conclusion of his appointed time and service, just before his lips are silenced in the grave, he pronounced a legacy of precious gifts, brilliant with prophetic splendor, upon God’s people, gifts of boundless mercy, crowned with “the good will of him that dwelt in the bush” (Deuteronomy 33:16). As he was about to leave this world of woe, Moses remembered “the Angel of the Lord,” and declared him to be the source of all blessedness to his people, according to “the good will of him that dwelt in the bush.” May God ever give us grace to bask beneath the sunshine of his good will. His favor is life. His smile is deliverance from all woe. His good will is everything.
It is obvious that the name, “the Angel of the Lord,” primarily means that Christ is Mediator between God and man, the One by whom and in whom God is revealed to men. He is the channel of communication between God and men, between heaven and earth.
In Eden’s happy hours, before the sin and fall of our father Adam, God and man walked together in sweet communion. As a loving child, Adam drew near; and as a loving Father, God welcomed his presence. No barrier stood between God and man. No obstacle separated them. All was light, without darkness, joy without sorrow, sweetness without bitterness.
Then Adam by transgression fell, and sin entered. Instantly a breach was made between God and man. Man was separated from God. How can that breach be removed? How can the wall of separation be taken away? How can man be reconciled to God? — “The Angel of the Lord appeared.” In his mission we have the answer. When he appeared, the Lord God said, “Deliver him from going down to the pit: I have found a ransom” (Job 33:24).
Our God-man Mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ, spans the gulf between the holy God and fallen man. He brings heaven to earth, and raises earth to heaven. Thus the mountains separating us from God are swept away. Our Savior is the Ladder constructed by our God, resting on earth and soaring into heaven. By this Ladder, God comes down to Man and man ascends up to God (Genesis 28:10-12).
I remind you, again, that he who is our Savior, the only Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus, the Angel of the Lord, is both God and man in one glorious Person. He is very God of very God, co-equal with the Father in being, in eternality, in majesty, in dignity, in power, and in glory. In him is all preeminence. Take away his eternal Godhead and the whole fabric of salvation crumbles into dust. No expiation can be made, no sin pardoned, no soul saved. But that can never be! All his mighty deeds on earth are stamped with Deity. His footprints are the footprints of God. His voice is the voice of God. Everything written of him in the Book of God says, “Behold your God!” Of all things revealed in the Bible, nothing is more distinctly clear than this: — “The Angel of the Lord” is himself God over all, blessed forever. What God is, he is. What God knows, he knows. What God wills, he wills. What God does, he does.
If he were only God or only man, we would be without hope, or, as Paul puts it, “of all men most miserable” (1 Corinthians 15:19). Reconciliation to God would be impossible. But without ceasing to be God, without diminishing of absolute Deity, God the Son became a man. He humbled himself to be “the firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:29), that he might be our Savior (Hebrews 2:14, 17). Being both God and Man, this mighty Daysman, our Kinsman Redeemer, the Mediator between God and Man, is able to lay his hands upon both God and man and unite the two!
As “the Angel of the Lord,” he reveals God to men. He lived our life, died our death, suffered our sufferings, paid our every debt, bore our every curse, made atonement for our every transgression, redeemed us from all iniquity, and worked out for us a heaven-deserving robe of perfect righteousness. Glorious as that is, there is more. — The Lord Jesus came to open out the Father’s heart, to tell us the Father’s will, to shine before us as the express image of his Father’s person.
He is “the Messenger of the Covenant.” Almost the very last word given in the Old Testament was, “Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the Messenger of the Covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the LORD of hosts” (Malachi 3:1). It is the great privilege of all who are taught of God to know that before time was, an everlasting covenant secured our everlasting salvation. And everything in that covenant hangs upon Christ, so fully hangs upon him that he is himself the covenant (Isaiah 42:6; 49:8).
He is the Surety of the Covenant, who was trusted with our souls by our heavenly Father, and the Surety in whom we trust our souls (Ephesians 2:12). But not only is he the Surety, he is also the Messenger of the Covenant, — “the Angel of the Covenant,” the One by whom and in whom its mysteries are revealed and its wonders are opened in the sweet revelation of boundless grace.
Through him, the Eternal Word, the eternal counsels and purposes of the Triune God are revealed. The Lord God declares of him, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye him” (Matthew 17:5). We are urged with sweet promises of mercy by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit to hear, come to, and trust Christ, the Angel of the Lord, our Covenant Surety (Isaiah 55:1-2; Matthew 11:28-30; Revelation 22:17).
In him “are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). He has come, who is the Light of the world, that those who follow him should not walk in darkness, but should have the Light of life. The Sun of Righteousness is never eclipsed. The door of heaven’s storehouse of infinite grace is never shut. Does your soul thirst for God, for the living God? Would you know God as he really is? Then, fly away to “the Angel of the Lord.” He says, “Look unto me.” “He that hath seen me, hath seen the Father” (John 14:9). He is the Light of life. May God the Holy Spirit cause us ever to gaze upon the Light (2 Corinthians 4:6).
In the face of Jesus Christ, “the Angel of the Lord,” all the attributes of God shine forth as sunbeams shining from the Sun of Righteousness. In this world of woe we see nothing but “lamentations, and mourning, and woe” (Ezekiel 2:10). Misery stalks us through the earth. Wretchedness sits beside every hearth. Tears are ever flowing from every eye, burning the cheeks of every soul. Every mortal heart sighs and heaves with sorrow. Pain is the constant companion of every man born of woman. Earthquakes, and storms, and floods, and famine, and wars and rumors of wars, sickness, sorrow, and death are the things we have seen and the things we expect to see in this world.
Multitudes ask, where is the God of love and the love of God? Then, “the Angel of the Lord” appears, and all is bright. In him, and in him alone we see that “God is love.” The proof is his own mission (1 John 4:9-10; John 3:16; 1 John 3:16). Beholding the crucified Christ, we know that “God is love.” And, as we see the love of God shining from the wounds of our dying Redeemer, we see shining through his bleeding wounds every attribute of our God, and see them conspicuously glorified. Justice is fully honored. All that justice demands, Christ gave. Not one debt remains. All is satisfied. Truth is triumphant. Not one word falls to the ground. Not one promise is unfulfilled. Not one threat is put aside. It is declared that, “Without holiness no man shall see the Lord.” But “the Angel of the Lord” appears and assures us that perfect holiness is ours in him, that we are made new creatures in him, that old things have passed away, and all things have become new.
Blessed Angel of the Lord, our God and Savior, we adore you as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Ever appear to us and fulfill in us your own word.
“O righteous Father, the world hath not known thee: but I have known thee, and these have known that thou hast sent me. And I have declared unto them thy name, and will declare it: that the love wherewith thou hast loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (John 17:25-26)
Fulfill in us “the good will of him that dwelt in the bush.” You, and you alone have the words of eternal life.
“Here I raise mine Ebenezer;
Hither, by thy help I’ve come;
And I hope by thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home.”