Introduction: Moses begins his encounter with the burning bush by bowing in reverence “because he was afraid to look at God” (Ex. 3:6). This gives us our first clue to the identity of the Messenger identified in the bush as “The Angel of the Lord” (verse 2). This “Angel” always appears on the scene at crucial moments of redemptive history. In fact, without an understanding of who He is, we cannot understand redemption, or the book of Exodus itself. After all, is it not this same “Angel of the Lord” who appears in Judges 2:1 and claims that it was He who “brought Israel up out of Egypt”? No wonder Moses bows with his face to the ground, and may we also bow in reverence before this Divine messenger as we unfold the identity of this “Angel” from Exodus 3:2 in this week’s Bible notes, taking a broad survey of different Old Testament books in which He is identified.
Monday: read Exodus 3:2 and Isaiah 63:9. At the beginning of the story of redemption in Exodus, this “Angel” appears in the burning bush. (See also Acts 7:32 where this “Angel” is identified as “The God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.”) But today we note how Isaiah, the prophet who writes to the exiles in Babylon, reminds them that their God, who was “distressed by their distress” (Isaiah 63:9), sent the “Angel of His Presence” to save them! “Presence” here is actually the word “face.” What does Isaiah describe here? He points first to God the Father, grieved over the afflictions of His people, who then sends from “before His Face” the very One who stands before Him in constant communion at His Throne: no one less than the “Angel of the Lord.” It is this Divine “Angel,” connected directly with the glory of God’s “Face,” who comes down to save Israel.
Meditate and Pray: What a comfort for us to be reminded that the whole Trinity is at work, even in the Old Testament, to save God’s own. Just as God the Father is “distressed in our distress” (Isa. 63:9), so His Spirit is “grieved” (Isa. 63:10) at our rebellion. Who then saves the day? Answer: God the Son, the “Angel of God’s Face,” who comes down to bring His people out, not only of Egypt, but out of the evils of sin and Satan, and into the shepherding care of God!
Tuesday: read Exodus 3:2 and Hosea 12:3-5. We refer today to Jacob’s encounter with the Angel that spoke to Moses from the burning bush. Just as Moses feared because of his glimpse of the burning glory of God in the bush, so Jacob in awe confesses of his encounter with the Angel of the Lord, that he had, “…seen the face of God and been spared” (Gen. 32:30). But it is not just the Divine glory of this Angel which Jacob experienced; it was His taking the form of a man. Therefore, we may well ask, “Who is this man with whom Jacob wrestled?” Hosea tells us that Jacob struggled with the Angel whose name was “The Lord God Almighty.” He struggled with God who appeared to him in the form of a man. This heaven-sent wrestler was no mere man but God in human form! Who does that make you think of? Surely we can agree with scholars who say that this appearance of the Lord as man anticipates the Incarnation, when God’s Son sent to earth would wrestle with our sinful, desperate condition even as this Angel wrestles with Jacob!
Meditate and Pray: Thank God for His Son’s willingness to come down to our level; to roll up His sleeves and get dirty in a tearful confrontation with our sin and weakness. Thank Jesus that His solution to our sin problem, and to the many relationships broken by our guilty past, is not a superficial one. He is committed to healing the breaches and removing the guilt of our lives by wrestling in our weakness and helplessness, even as # 239 in our Trinity hymnal celebrates:
“Who is this so weak and helpless, child of lowly Hebrew maid, rudely in a stable sheltered, coldly in a manger laid? ‘Tis the Lord of all creation, who this wondrous path has trod; he is God from everlasting, and to everlasting God.”
“Who is this, a Man of Sorrows, walking sadly life’s hard way, homeless, weary, sighing, weeping over sin and Satan’s sway? ‘Tis our God, our glorious Savior, who above the starry sky is for us a place preparing, where no tear can dim the eye.”
Wednesday: read Exodus 3:2, Genesis 32:24-25 and 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. A mechanic or auto-body technician deals with a damaged car by stripping it down to the bare frame in order to build it again properly. In the same way, the Son of God (called “a man” in Jacob’s encounter, but elsewhere designated “the Angel of the Lord”) comes down in human form to wrestle Jacob down to a place of total dependence on God: limping hip and all! By this deep and permanent injury, Jacob learns the nature of real faith as he leans on the Lord for each further step in his life. In the same way, Moses at the burning bush has been debilitated after 40 years in the desert. All his self-confidence in his own abilities is gone: to the point that he repeatedly refuses to be “sent” back to Egypt! He even argues with God because of his overwhelming sense of weakness – see Exodus 4:1; 4:10 & 4:13 – saying finally, “Send someone else.” For Moses it was not a limp which made him weak – it was inability to speak for God, being “slow of speech and tongue” (Ex. 4:10). Our weakness may be very different. Yet we also need to be laid low, unto constant dependence on God’s power, through our “Angel,” Jesus Christ!
Meditate and Pray: Thank God that, for Jacob, Moses and for us, “God’s power is made perfect in our weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Thank Him especially that, at our weakest point, faith finds victory and hope. As Prof Ed Clowney says about Jacob’s victorious weakness, “Lame as he was, blinded by tears, he clung the more fiercely to his awesome adversary. If he could not win by strength, he would prevail in weakness.” As we shall see, this will be the exact nature of Moses’ victory also: “Prevailing in weakness.” As hymn # 449, verses 3 & 4, put it:
We go in faith, our own great weakness feeling,
And needing more each day Thy grace to know:
Yet from our hearts a song of triumph pealing,
“We rest on Thee, and in Thy Name we go.”
Yet from our hearts a song of triumph pealing,
“We rest on Thee, and in Thy Name we go.”
Thursday: read Exodus 3:2 and Genesis 32:25-28. We speak about Jacob’s limp and can understand his struggle from our shared experience of human weakness. But what about the apparent weakness of the Heaven-sent “Angel of the Lord,” appearing in the form of a man in Genesis 32:25? That verse begins: “When the man (we know that this ‘Man’ is none other than the One whose Face Jacob calls “The Face of God” in verse 30) saw that he could not overpower Jacob, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip… .” How in the world can God in human form wrestling with Jacob be described as “unable to overpower him”? Or in terms of verse 26, how can this same mighty Angel of the Lord plead with Jacob to let him go, so that in the end Jacob is proclaimed as the one who “overcomes God” in verse 28? Only when we consider the Son of God’s willingness to become the ‘Man of Sorrows’ who died in weakness on the cross can we understand His willingness to ‘become weak’ against Jacob as a way of foreshadowing the ‘weakness’ of the Incarnation! He took the form of a ‘Man’ of weakness with Jacob as a sign that one day He would indeed become Man in the most humble and lowly of form.
Meditate and Pray: Thank God for the Son’s willingness to let men lay hold of Him by faith. Just as He came down to Jacob’s level, so that Jacob by faith could clutch Him in His humanity, so He comes down again to the burning bush in Moses’ day – so that even lowly Hebrew slaves could “hold on for dear life” to their humble God, dwelling with grace in a burning bush! No wonder, when the enslaved Hebrews hear about this appearance to Moses in the bush, we read that “They bowed down and worshiped” (Exodus 4:31)! Worship Jesus for this fact today: All through the Gospels, and to the point of exhaustion, Jesus allowed all sorts of people to lay hold of Him: lepers; prostitutes; tax collectors; beggars; blind and lame. And every time their God-given faith was victorious, compelling Jesus’ compassion and power to bless them even as He blessed Jacob and Moses. Let us love Jesus for His willingness to be claimed by faith, and thank Him that even the weakest can lay a hand upon Him and claim blessing!
Friday: read Exodus 3:2 and Genesis 48:15-16. We have traced back the appearances of the “Angel of the Lord,” before Moses, to the patriarchs, such as Jacob, in order to learn to appreciate how timely the appearances of the “Angels” are for God’s people in their need for redemption. Moses needed to learn how redemption would be accomplished also. He had thought, when he was younger, that it would be the strength of his arm and sword which would save (remember Exodus 2:11-13). But the redemption of erring, guilty sheep like us, “who all like sheep have gone astray,” cannot be accomplished by a shepherd who merely leads in strength or displays shepherding know-how. Not even the mighty Moses could truly “redeem” from Egypt. Only this “Angel,” who would one day become man and, in the language of John 10:10-18, “lay down His life for the sheep,” could truly redeem. This is what makes the Lord Jesus a Redeemer and Savior. Jacob celebrates this when He speaks of the Lord Jesus as “The Angel of the Lord who delivered (the word is “redeemed”) him from all harm” (Genesis 48:16).
Meditate and Pray: Let us celebrate knowing that our Jesus, the Old Testament “Angel of the Lord,” is also “the Lamb that was slain.” Jesus proves His worthiness to be our great Shepherd-King by continually putting Himself in harm’s way (even to the point of the Cross), so that not one of His sheep would be lost! Thank Jesus for being such a courageous, sacrificial Shepherd with this prayer:
“Lord Jesus, thank you that you show your unique commitment to us, your flock, as our only Shepherd, in the way that you alone are willing to lay down your very life for the sake of the sheep. Make us to be among your friends and admirers who rejoice at each lost sheep you find. Help us to obey the command which you give in Luke 15:6: ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ Amen.”