Is God or an angel speaking in Exodus 3:2-6?

The angel of the LORD appears to Jacob in a dream (Gen 31:11), calls to Abraham from heaven (22:11, 15), and appears directly to Hagar (16:7-11; though calling to her from heaven in 21:17). Here he appears to Moses in a flaming bush (Exod 3:2), yet Moses apparently sees only the bush burning, not an angel, until God speaks to him from the bush (3:3-4).

This is not the last occasion on which the angel of the Lord will act. The angel of God acts to protect Israel, moving the cloud to obstruct the pursuing army, in 14:19. In some passages, the angel speaks as if God, as apparently here (3:2-4; cf. Gen 16:10; 21:17-18; 22:11-12, 15-17; 31:11-13; Judg 2:1), whether as God’s agent (cf. Gen 22:16?) or because God’s name was in him (Exod 23:20-21). Some who saw the Lord’s angel also feared that they had seen God (Judg 6:22; 13:21-22; cf. Gen 32:30).

In any case, there should not be too much surprise at this point that the one speaking to Moses is the God of his ancestors (Exod 3:6) whose stories occupy much of our current Book of Genesis. Yet Moses hides his face lest he gaze on the LORD (3:6); he knows that no one can see God’s face (besides references above, see Exod 33:20). Moses’s fear here is quite different from his eagerness to see God’s glory in Exod 33:18, a request that the Lord grants albeit without showing Moses his face (33:20, 23; despite the idiom in Exod 33:11; Deut 34:10).

(For other posts on Exodus, see http://www.craigkeener.com/category/old-testament/exodus/.)

Meeting the holy God—Exodus 3:1-5

God sometimes meets us in the ordinary events of our lives, but calls us into his extraordinary plan for our lives. God met Moses in something as mundane as a bush, but quickly revealed to him that God himself is not mundane. God is holy, and wholly other.

In Exodus 3, God draws Moses’s intense curiosity with a burning bush that is not consumed. Moses turns aside to see “this great sight” (Exod 3:3)—this Hebrew term for the “sight” next appears in Exodus at 24:17, where the Israelites see the LORD’s glory “like a devouring fire” on the top of this mountain. God could reveal himself to his people as a devouring fire (Deut 4:24; 9:3). As Exod 3:3 describes what Moses saw, the beginning of verse 4 describes what God saw: when YHWH saw that Moses turned aside to see, then God called to him from inside the bush.

“Moses! Moses!” the Lord calls (Exod 3:4). The doubling of Moses’s name evoking God’s earlier poignant revelations to Abraham and Jacob (Gen 22:11; 46:2). Moses answers the same way his ancestors had: “Behold, I,” usually translated, “Here I am” (3:4). The response might be equivalent today to something like, “Yes, Sir. I’m here, listening up!”

“Don’t come closer,” God warned. Instead, Moses was told, “Take your shoes off your feet, because you’re standing on holy ground” (Exod 3:5). Later, God’s people could not come near God’s presence on the mountain (19:12-13, 21-25); likewise, only priests could enter the sanctuary and almost no one could enter the holiest place in the tabernacle (Lev 16:2; Heb 9:7). (God expelled Adam and Eve from Eden after they sinned; likewise, he would expel Israel from the land holy to him when they sinned, Lev 18:8; 20:22.)

God is holy and must be approached with reverence. There were appropriate times to have one’s shoes on (Exod 12:11), but not on holy ground (Josh 5:15), just as God’s people should not profane an altar by using tools on it (Exod 20:25). (Removing sandals could also be used for mourning, Ezek 24:17, 23, just as hiding one’s face [Exod 3:6] could, 2 Sam 15:30; Esth 6:12.) This was a conventional, cultural way of revealing respect. Christians in other cultures today may reveal our respect in other ways than taking off our shoes in church (especially if we have not washed our feet in awhile). The principle, however, remains. God is holy, and must be approached with our best signs of respect.

(For other posts on Exodus, see http://www.craigkeener.com/category/old-testament/exodus/.)