The Angel of the Lord
And the angel of the Lord 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. ()
“And the angel of the Lord appeared to him...” This phrase introduces us to the deliverer God chose. God called a shepherd from watching sheep on the backside of the wilderness to go to Egypt and deliver His people from slavery and lead them to the Promised Land. God chose a shepherd of sheep to become a shepherd of people.
Our story today starts with Moses on the west, or backside, of the wilderness. This is on the Sinai Peninsula, the west side of which borders on Egypt.
God is not affected by geographical distance. He is omnipresent. This means He is everywhere all the time. But, Moses is human. Geographical distance influences him. The farther west he goes, the closer he gets to his suffering people. Moses is alone with his wooly companions. Sheep are good listeners, but their responses are a little hard to decipher. They tend to have a one-word answer, “Baa!” With such conversationalists for companions, Moses has many hours and days on end to think and let his mind wander. As he gets closer to Egypt, his mind wanders through the events of his past. He remembers the suffering of his people. He remembers the murder he committed and how he had to flee. We know he remembers these things because we just read what he wrote about them in Exodus chapter 2.
In 40 years, Moses’ thoughts of Egypt have become a habit. Like well-worn ruts, his memories slide from one to the next, until there is an interruption. A bush is burning. Flame and fire are coming out of a bush, but, wait, the bush is not being burned. The fire is not consuming it. So, Moses says to his sheep, “Excuse me a minute, but I have to go over and see this great sight. The bush is on fire, but the fire is not burning the bush! I have to figure out why.”
The sheep gave their typical answer, “Baa!”
Exodus 3:2 says, “And the angel of the Lord appeared to him...” The word in Hebrew that Moses used is simply the word for seeing. However, in the Hebrew, it is the first word in the sentence. So, the effect is one of suddenness.
I want to draw a parallel in our lives from this fact.
God comes to us when we are not expecting Him. His coming or appearing is often an interruption.
The rapture will be like that. It will come at a day and hour when we are not expecting it. The flood came like that. People were buying and selling and getting married until they were not. It was all interrupted. Jesus explained this to us. In Luke 17, Luke records the words of Jesus.
Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot—they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all— so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed. ()
We must be ready at all times because we do not know on what day or at what hour the Lord will come.
In the Chronicles of Narnia, C. S. Lewis repeats on several occasions that Aslan “is not a tame lion.” God is not predictable. He does not always appear in the same way, nor does He come on our schedule. However, He does come at just the right time and exactly suited for the need of the moment. Moses was carrying on his life as usual when suddenly God appeared. This is why it is essential for us to be about the Father’s business. We are stewards or caretakers of what He has given us. He will come at a time that we do not know, and we need to be taking care of what He has given us.
As Moses approaches the bush, Exodus 3:4 tells us, “God called to him.”
It is important that we note who is talking to Moses. Exodus 3:4 tells us that “Yahweh” saw that Moses turned aside and that “Elohim” called to him. Exodus 3:2 tells us that “the angel of the Lord” appeared to him. The word translated “angel” is the word “messenger.” So, some translations say, “the messenger of Jehovah appeared to him.” This is referring to Jesus before the manger, before He was born of the virgin. This will be important as we go through the book of Exodus as we realize who is leading the people through the wilderness. The Apostle Paul explains it this way:
For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. ()
The same God who called Moses is the God who, by the Sea of Galilee, said to Peter, James and John, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:19)
This is the same God who called Samuel in the middle of the night. When Samuel was still a boy, God came and stood beside his bed. This is what Samuel wrote about the experience.
The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called Samuel, and he said, "Here I am!" and ran to Eli and said, "Here I am, for you called me." But he said, "I did not call; lie down again." So he went and lay down. And the Lord called again, "Samuel!" and Samuel arose and went to Eli and said, "Here I am, for you called me." But he said, "I did not call, my son; lie down again." Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. And the Lord called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli and said, "Here I am, for you called me." Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, "Go, lie down, and if he calls you, you shall say, 'Speak, Lord, for your servant hears.'" So Samuel went and lay down in his place. And the Lord came and stood, calling as at other times, "Samuel! Samuel!" And Samuel said, "Speak, for your servant hears." ()
Notice it says, “And the Lord came and stood, calling as at other times.” This is none other than Jesus. Jesus was at the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. (John 1) Jesus is active in the Old Testament/Hebrew Scriptures, and we see Him as the “Messenger of Jehovah” in Exodus 3.
Everyone’s experience is different, but God calls each of us. For Moses, it was a burning bush. For Samuel, it was by his bed in the middle of the night. For James and John, it was by the Sea of Galilee. For Paul, it was on the road to Damascus. Jesus says to each one of us:
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. ()
God’s call is also individual. God called to Moses specifically for a specific purpose.
In Moses’ case, God’s call was for Moses to stop shepherding sheep and start shepherding God’s people.
When God got Moses’ attention, Exodus 3:4 says, “He said, ‘Take your sandals off your feet.’” And then, verse 6 says, “And he said, ‘I am the God of your father Abraham...’” God appeared. God called. And, God said. Whatever God says is important. By His word, the world and everything it contains was created. By His word, the universe and everything in it continues.
The first thing God does is establish with Moses that He is Holy and cannot be approached by man in his sinful state. Sin must be dealt with if we are to have a relationship with God. The taking off of the shoes is symbolic for putting off the dirt of the world. In eastern cultures, it is still customary to take off one’s shoes upon entering a building or house to “put off” the dirt of the world or outdoors. We still approach God only by the washing of our sins by the blood of Christ. After establishing this necessary relationship, God next establishes who He is in relation to Moses and Moses’ people.
Moses was reminded of his people by his proximity to the border of Egypt, and God says that He is the God of those people. This takes me to a truth expressed in Psalm 23:1.
God tells Moses who He is, and this gives context for all of Moses’ life. Who God is gives the meaning and purpose of Moses’ life.
God calls Moses to be the shepherd of His people Israel, but God was and is their shepherd. Jesus spoke of being a shepherd in John 10, and He said:
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. ()
God chooses men and women to be His under-shepherds or hired hands. Moses was a good shepherd because as the Scriptures say:
Now Moses was faithful in all God's house as a servant, to testify to the things that were to be spoken later. ()
After Moses, many different shepherds were called, and some were faithful, and some were not. God chastised the shepherds of His people in Ezekiel 34:2.
Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord God: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? ()
The problem with these shepherds was they were not faithful to take care of the flock. People trust their leaders, and when that trust is betrayed, people suffer.
Exodus chapter 3 starts with Moses watching the flock of his father-in-law, and this is not a coincidence. Moses is not the owner of the sheep he is caring for. He is a hired hand or under-shepherd. Moses learned to be faithful when the profits and fruit of his labor belonged to someone else. Also, Moses watching the flock is significant because the picture or idea of shepherding runs throughout Scripture as how God cares for His people and how God’s people are cared for. Today we have people called “pastor,” which means “shepherd” and comes from the Latin word for shepherd. However, “pastors” are under-shepherds. We all are God’s people. It is required of pastors that they be faithful and feed God’s flock.
We are all stewards of what God has given. We are all His under-shepherds in one form or another. We all have families, jobs, relationships and responsibilities that have been entrusted to us. Who God is provides meaning and purpose to our lives. Who He is provides context to our lives.
Even today, God appears, calls and speaks.
Are we listening?