Angel of the LORD: Part Five

Exodus 3: Moses’ Burning Bush Experience
2 And the angel of theLord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. 3 And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” 4 When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am. ESV
On Mount Sinai Moses had perhaps the most defining moment of his life. In Exodus 3 God appears to Moses as he is keeping the flock of Jethro, his father-in-law, at the mountain of God. It may be best to understand this location as referring to Mount Sinai which was considered a holy mountain. However, the identification or exact location of Mount Sinai is doubtful.(26) This experience was so profound on the life of Moses. So much so that that this mount is the same place he would later bring Israel back to after the exodus from Egypt (See Exodus 19:2-3).

In The Jewish Trinity Sourcebook author Yoel Natan literally pushes his interpretation of the Trinity further from true Biblical monotheism. He suggests that "mountain of God" should read, “He led the flock to the back of the wilderness, and came to the mountain of All The Gods.”(27) This may not be so bad since he is referencing a location but in the same verse identifies “Gods” or Elohim here as referring to the Trinity. Natan also suggests, "Often in sections where there is a mix of singular and plural words referring to Yahveh, the singular words do refer to The Trinity."

Elohim is translated as god, gods or God (28) and never person or persons. In context of the Jewish Deity it always refers to the One True God. This term is also used in Genesis 1:26 when God addresses the angels and says “Let us...”. God communicating or addressing angels is a common feature in the Old Testament (Gen. 1:26, 3:22, 11:7, Isa. 6:8, Job 38:7). Elohim is used to refer to both pagan gods and Yahweh God. It is translated in the KJV as “thou are mighty” in Genesis 23:6; “with great” in Genesis 30:8; “thy gods” Genesis 31:32; it is also used in Judges 16:23 to refer to the god Dagon of the Philistines. 

Elohim can also be used to refer to everything we can comprehend about the divine reality or God. This is why El is accompanied in the word to emphasize that Elohim alone "exhausts everything comprehended in the category of divine reality."(29) Its reference within the context of  Jewish monotheism means God not gods or god. G.T. Manley and F.F. Bruce, commenting on the names of God, suggest that Elohim "is appropriate to cosmic and world-wide relationships (Gn. 1:1), because there is only one supreme and true God, and he is a Person; it approaches the character of a proper noun, while not losing its abstract and conceptual quality."(30) They go on to suggest that Yahweh "in contrast with Elohim, is a proper noun, the name of a Person, though that Person is divine. As such, it has its own ideological setting; it presents God as a Person, and so brings him into relationship with other, human, personalities. It brings God near to man, and he speaks to the Patriarchs as one friend to another."(31)

Yahweh is shown to be God of gods (Deut. 10:17). Yahweh is Elohim (God) and declared that no one is besides Him. (Deut. 4:35). The singular personal pronoun "Him" that is often used in reference to and actually by Yahweh can refer to one person. Yahweh's communication with the Hebrews is always as something like a person to person relationship. I have yet to find one experience where more than one divine person is represented as being Yahweh. Trinitarians can make such claims based upon a Kierkegaardean sense of faith but not one completely committed to the Biblical message.

Natan is using anachronistic Trinitarian presuppositions and concepts to read more into these texts than is necessary. His obvious bias is apparent though. Major Christian translations such as the NAB, NRSV, ESV, NASB, NKJV, and NET render this “the mountain of God.” Even Jewish translations such as those done by Everrett Fox, Robert Alter, Richard E. Friedman and the Tanakh (JPS) all render Elohim here as “God.” The LXX does not even render Elohim and instead only has “mountain of Choreb.” Abegg, Flint, and Ulrich in their rendering of the Dead Sea Scrolls even have “mountain of God.”(32) 

No ordinary situation would have probably caused Moses to get distracted from tending to his flock. After seeing this bush Moses turned aside to see this great sight. Fire and smoke are frequently used symbolically with divine presence (See Ex. 13:21-22). In this passage we have no mere man or an angel. It is God Himself who calls out to Moses. God is communicating His presence and message to Moses. It will change his life forever. 

As we saw with Abraham in Genesis 18 the use of "angel of the LORD" here could be a way of previewing the events that are to be reported.(33). It may be like saying, "This is how it happened..." Different meanings have been suggested here though. In the Commentary Critical and Explanatory of the Old and New Testaments it is suggested, “Here the preternatural fire may be primarily meant by the expression “angel of the Lord””.(34) The Jewish Study Bible suggests this is an angel that "takes the form of fire, a substance evocative of the divine because it is insubstantial yet powerful, dangerous, illuminating, and purifying.” (35) In any case, God appears to Moses as the angel of the LORD(36) and something supernatural is happening. As Moses draws near God speaks from the burning bush. Robert Alter, professor of Hebrew and Comparative Literature, notes:
“In what follows, it is God Himself reported as speaking to Moses from the burning bush. Either God first assigns a divine emissary to initiate the pyrotechnic display that will get Moses’ attention, or the piety of early scribal tradition introduced an intermediary into the original text in order to avoid the uncomfortable image of the LORD’S revealing Himself in a bush.”(37) 
As we noted in previous posts by scholars such as Lampe, Dunn and the Oxford Companion to the Bible that the idea of God Himself reaching out to communicate His message may have been replaced with the need for intermediaries between the untouchable and unknowable. Between God and humans. It is God Himself who has come near to communicate His message and presence to Moses. God is not contingent upon persons or intermediaries.

Such a divine act is not predicated or determined by how many persons God may or may not have nor upon a need for an intermediary. These are all human conclusions of the events. God can be a perfect and complete self that is capable of interacting with and entering into His own creation. The burning bush that was not consumed cannot be explained by natural phenomenon. This suggests to us that God is not hopelessly unknowable or merely prior to creation but at the same time willing to engage it in real time and space. 

The movement of these verses is very fluid as it moves from the angel of the LORD being thought of as merely an angel or a burning bush to being Yahweh Himself. Notice the angel of the LORD was said to be “in” the bush and yet God calls out from the bush. Yahweh serves as His own messenger. The meaning is clear that messenger or angel of the LORD referenced here is used with reverence as a synonym of Yahweh Himself. R. Alan Cole suggests a similar interpretation when he suggests, 
“The angel of the Lord: literally ‘messenger of YHWH’. As verse 4 speaks of God Himself calling to Moses out of the bush, ‘angel’ here is probably only a reverential synonym for God’s own presence, as in the Patriarchal stories (Gen. 18:1; 19:1)...Advanced angelology does not occur until the apocalyptic books of the Old Testament (Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah). Throughout the whole of the earlier period, it would be better to translate the word ‘angel’ as ‘messenger’ and leave it to the context to decide whether this emissary is human, superhuman, or simply a reverential way of referring to God Himself, as apparently here.” (38)
In the ESV above we read “LORD” and “God”. The first term "LORD" is actually the Hebrew word for Yahweh and the latter "God" is Elohim. John I. Durham has suggested, “there was no inconsistency: the addition of Elohim (v 4) to the messenger, the fire, and Yahweh of v 2 simply provided four designations of the same and single reality.”(39) We cannot assume by the language of these verses that more than one divine person is present and speaking. Yahweh Himself. That would be to say too much about the passage. It was obviously not revealed unto Moses and the Hebrew people. We shall look closer at this when we discuss Judges 13. Notice Exodus 3:5-6:

5 Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”6 And he said, “I am the God of your 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 at God. ESV

Exodus 3:2 contains the first mention of Yahweh (Yahweh's messenger) in that book. Once Yahweh had the attention of Moses he lays out an essential element in Monotheism. Here God cannot be confused with any god of the Orient. He cannot be simply an impersonal "what" in the context of Biblical revelation including the Old Testament. Yahweh  immediately reveals His identity to Moses as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  In verses 7-9 God continues to let Moses know that He is greatly concerned about the suffering of His people. An obvious expression of feeling or emotion. God here is not a "what" but a "who" that speaks as a "He", "me" and is called a "Him". 


26) Negev, A. (1996). The Archaeological encyclopedia of the Holy Land (3rd ed.). New York: Prentice Hall Press.

27) Natan, Yoel. (2003) The Jewish Trinity Sourcebook : Trinitarian Readings From The Old Testament. Copyright (c) 2003 by Yoel Natan. All Rights Reserved.

28) Henry, C. F. H. (1999). Vol. 2: God, revelation, and authority (185). Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books.

29) Holladay, W. L., Köhler, L., & Köhler, L. (1971). A concise Hebrew and Aramaic lexicon of the Old Testament. (16). Leiden: Brill.

30) Wood, D. R. W., & Marshall, I. H. (1996). New Bible dictionary (3rd ed.) (420). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.

31) ibid. pg. 421

32) Abegg, Martin Jr & Flint, Peter. & Ulrich, Eugene. (1999) The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible. (28) New York, NY: Harper Collins Publishers.

33) "a kind of preview or superscription to the events reported in 3:2b–6, which are then described in chronological sequence. This is a rhetorical device occasionally used in biblical narrative. In some languages it may be necessary to make this explicit by adding the words “and this is how it happened” at the end of the clause. The And at the beginning of the verse may be understood as “There” (3:2 TEV), or “In that place." (Osborn, N. D., & Hatton, H. (1999). A handbook on Exodus. UBS handbook series; Helps for translators (55). New York: United Bible Societies.)

34) Jamieson, R., Fausset, A. R., Fausset, A. R., Brown, D., & Brown, D. (1997). A commentary, critical and explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments (Ex 3:2–3). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

35) Adele Berlin, Marc Zvi Brettler, Michael Fishbane. (2004) Jewish Study Bible: The Jewish Publication Society TANAKH Translation. (110) New York, NY: Oxford University Press

36) Keil, C. F., & Delitzsch, F. (2002). Commentary on the Old Testament. (Ex 3:2–5). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson.

37) Alter, Robert. (2004) The Five Books of Moses: A Translation With Commentary. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company

38) Cole, Alan R. (1973) Exodus: Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. (64) Downers, Grove: Inter-Varsity Press

39) Durham, J. I. (2002). Vol. 3: Word Biblical Commentary : Exodus. Word Biblical Commentary (31). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.

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