<< Exodus 3:2  : Moses at the Burning Bush >>

Brb76_500_315 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. Exodus iii. 2.

HERE, at the early portion of this divine history, is an extremely interesting and important event in the life of Moses. To appreciate this incident, we must bear in mind his previous position in the Palace of the Pharaohs. He had been educated by the Princess, who had adopted him, and who is styled the daughter of Pharaoh. On an obelisk dug up in Upper Egypt, in hieroglyphic characters, the daughter of Pharaoh is a title applied to one of the royal ladies of this period. We must regard Moses as a Prince in exile, the adopted son of this royal lady, we must go with him into the desert, imagine the lowly occupation to which he was obliged to descend, think of hint in a far different scene from that which had been familiar to his early days;--in the solitary plains of the wilderness near Horeb, alone with great thoughts, and great devotion; pondering over his duty to his people, and preparing for his glorious career while he was feeding the flocks of Jethro his father-in-law. In this respect we have parallels with many of the illustrious of the earth. Exile and solitude prepare the soul for great things. In our own countrys history, we are reminded at once of Alfred in the isle of Athelney, who had to take refuge in what was then a wilderness of our land. Finding he could no longer maintain the liberties, and defend the persons of his people, he passed into one of the wilds of those times, and was content to live with the herdsman and his wife, and to do humble work with them, and so to wait for better times, communing with his own great griefs and equally great designs and hopes. This is the representation of Moses, and that of every man who has ever brought out great things for others. It is a law of water always to rise to the level it has left, it can rise no higher, and it is Just so in human life. He who does great things amongst men, must first have great thoughts from which they proceed. He who comes forth and makes a name, effects a glory, frees a country, or does aught that will make him beloved for generations to come, and be one of those real princes, true kings of men, who shall still rule and bless mankind for thousands of years; each of these must be one who has pondered over great things; one, who, either in the desert or desert-like city, has retired to be alone with God, to meditate on noble things, to think what God requires of him, to think of heaven, to think of the great needs of his country and mankind, and thus to prepare those high purposes, which shall afterwards be realized and become part of human history, and human blessing. Such are the reflections opened to us by the account of Moses in the desert.

And here allow me to say, that such solitary musing is not for great men alone, or for those gifted ones who stand out as the uncrowned kings of many generations; but it must equally be so with every man who accomplishes important things in his own history. He must be a ponderer over himself, over his past, his present, and his future. He who lives merely in the giddy whirl of present gain or enjoyment, who simply goes to market and sees how much he can make, he who hurries about in the mere toil and business of the day, and has no time for serious or deep thoughts, is never in the way to do that greatest of all great things, to give himself to God, to conquer his evils, and to take those steps that shall eventuate in his being an angel of heaven. Oh! it is a thing surpassing all other things, for a man to know himself, his origin, and his end, and to determine that he will be an angel and not a fiend. The very moment a man enters upon his being, it is a settled matter that he will either be one or the other,--that he will make in himself a little heaven or a little hell, and then enter the abode for which he is prepared. There are his incipient evils,--those impulses to wrong in a man, which will if unchecked, grow to utter ruin; but let it be ever remembered by all of us, we are not hopelessly and entirely sinful, we have impulses to angelic life,--we have germs of heaven within. The Lord took a little child, in order that he might hold it up as a lesson respecting every little child, of such, said He, is the kingdom of God. Yes! we have germs of heaven within us. No man will ever be lost because he had not the possibilities of being an angel; but if he smother these, if he destroy his own conscience, if he put down these perpetual uprisings for right which disclose themselves in his nature, he will become an eternal wreck. Often the thought comes to us, at least in the earlier period of our lives, what a difficult thing it is to be good! It is also difficult to become evil. A man cannot make himself into a fiend all at once. There will be celestial impulses, there will be solemn thoughts, there will be angelic presences, there will be truths coming to him in a thousand forms, and good uprising in him also; and it will take him far more trouble to crush these out and become a fiend, than it would have been to become honest to himself, to mankind, and to God, and thus become an angel, and be happy in heaven for ever. My yoke is easy and my burden is light, the Lord said. The work of Egypt was not easy, the burden there was terrible. A man has to pay most severely on earth for the privilege of going to the infernal world. There is more trouble for him here, more misery for him, more slavery for him, more disgrace for him, more bitterness for him a thousand times than there is for others, that he may have the sad lot of being a devil for ever and ever. Why then does he not take the straight path and live for heaven? Well then, is it, that these truths should be brought home to every one of us, and that there should be times of solitary thought and quiet reflection. We are to have our wilderness,--our period when there is no one, present but God and ourselves, when we may ask ourselves, Shall I be an angel, or shall I heedlessly make my life wretched both in time and eternity? If we act wisely, if we really seek to become servants of the Lord Jesus, then shall we be like Moses,--in our wilderness for a time, seeing visions of highest freedom, of hope and joy, and hearing the voice of God.

Before taming to that spiritual truth upon which we are to dwell especially, allow me to draw your attention for a few minutes to the theological lesson which arises from the fact before us, end which is important in its relation to some other doctrines of the Holy Word. We learn from it the mode in which God manifested himself to Moses, and to the holy men of the Old Testament. It will have occurred, no doubt, to every thoughtful person, that whilst in the Old Testament, and especially in relation to Moses, we find the Word states, that he spake with God face to face, end again, like as a man talketh with his friend, yet in the New Testament we read, as in John i. 18, no men hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him. The interview given in this chapter reconciles the discrepancy. God 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 in the 14th verse it is said, And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM, and He said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you. There is no doubt therefore, that the sacred test intended to teach us, that God Himself was thus revealed to Moses.

The mode however, is indicated in verse 2. Before the incarnation, God spoke to man by filling an angel with His Spirit. When God assumed humanity Himself, in which He dwells for ever, for in Jesus Christ dwells all the fullness of the Godhead, bodily, He spoke with His own mouth. Before the incarnation, when He wished to communicate with any of His creatures on earth, it was by filling an angel with His Spirit for a time, the powers of the angel being suspended, and God using him as an organism. Thus it is said here, And the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a flame of fire. You will find this taught in the New Testament likewise. When Stephen was delivering his sermon to those who were about to stone him, he says, The law was given by the disposition of angels.Acts vii. 5. And when the Apostle Paul was speaking upon the same subject, he says, The law was given by angels--Heb. ii. 2--and that apparently difficult passage which occurs a little lower in the same chapter, where it is said in the incarnation, He took not on Him the nature of angels, but He took on Him the seed of Abraham,--Heb. ii. 16--teaches the same truth. It is this truth that reconciles the varied statements which are frequent in the Sacred Scriptures, that the Lord spoke with Moses, and yet it was not the unclouded essence of the Godhead which was seen or heard, but God acted by means of as angel. It was not God Himself, in His own unutterable purity and incomprehensible majesty, for no man could thus see God and live, but it was God appearing end acting through the angelic nature. But when this mode of communication would suffice no longer, then the Everlasting Father appeared in the Son, and the Divine Savior, the present God, said, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? He that hath seen me hath seen the Father.

Having thus dwelt upon the personal history of Moses, as a leader preparing to do the great work, which, in the providence of the Lord, he had to do, and having dwelt somewhat upon the theological bearing of the account of the mode of the divine appearance to Moses, allow me to ask your attention while we consider the spiritual sense of this divine event, and see how far it relates to those states and circumstances which are to be experienced in our own inward advancement in the regenerate life. Let me impress upon your attention that in all these circumstances, even the most minute, there is a spiritual meaning as well as a literal one. Moses is represented not only as being near the mount of God, but as feeding the flocks of his father-in-law, Jethro, and then the Lord revealed himself there to him.

You will find a parallel to the record, in that which is given in the earlier part of the Gospel according to St Luke, respecting the shepherds, to whom the revelation concerning the coming of the Savior was given. They are described ax feeding their flocks by night. And these peculiarities are not merely interesting incidents, but are mentioned for a far higher object. They are to represent to us the condition of soul, which prepares a man for receiving the revelation of the Lord at any time. He must be feeding the flock. And we shall perceive what that condition of soul is, if we bear in mind that flocks in the Sacred Scriptures, are the spiritual emblems, or correspondences, of holy and charitable feelings. The flocks mentally, are the kindly dispositions of love to our neighbor, and every desire to do him good. These form a leading portion in the character of a man who is one of the Lords sheep. My sheep hear my voice, the Lord says, and they follow me. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd goeth before his sheep, and calleth them by name. It is precisely in this way, that you will find from time to time in the Sacred Volume those who are truly following the Lord, represented as lambs or as sheep. Behold I send you forth as lambs, the Lord says, in the midst of wolves. Because the true Christian has those innocencies of feeling, those inward affections, that inward guilelessness which disposes him to love the Lord and to do good, without any claim to ostentation, or any feeling, but that lamb-like disposition which desires to follow the Lamb of God. These things in the soul constitute a little flock of holy feelings and internal affections of good. The Word says, Fear not, little flock, for it is your Fathers good pleasure to give you the kingdom.Luke xii. 32. Now whenever a person who has not yet fairly entered upon his regenerate life, is waiting, wishing, and hoping, in perplexity, darkness and ignorance, one who has a new state breaking in upon him, but yet knows not what the Lord will do for him, or what He will do with him, and while he waits is cultivating kindness, purity, and prayer, he is spiritually feeding his flock. He comes to the Divine Word, and as far as he is able to see it, he speaks in the spirit that is expressed in the 23rd Psalm, The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul; He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for His names sake. In such a case, although he is yet in a gentile condition, although he knows scarcely anything, and only has a sort of blind aim to do good and be good, he is represented in the Sacred Scriptures,-- in the spirit of this history, by Moses in the wilderness keeping the flocks of his father-in-law, and in the Gospel, by the shepherds keeping their flocks by night. Just as the angel of the Lord appeared to Moses, just as the angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds, so will it be with him. You remember that glorious scene in which it is said, first, that the heavens opened and the glory of the Lord appeared, and the angel (first one angel) said unto the shepherds, Unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And then, presently, a multitude of the heavenly host were heard, praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, on earth peace, good-will towards men. Just so will it be with us. One holy ray of light brings us good tidings of great joy, then a whole multitude of hopes, of loves, and of joys, break in.

It is said, the angel appeared in a flame of fire out of the midst of the bush. On various occasions, when appearances were made to the patriarchs and the prophets, they were represented as appearances of fire. Of course, a novice in divine things as Moses was at that time, will wonderingly note this fact, that there was a flame of fire, and yet the bush was not burnt; and he will marvel, until he is aware, that scenes connected with eternal things are beheld by the spiritual sight being opened, when the soul can see things that are higher than nature, but which do not directly affect nature. We have stated that in the Sacred Books where visions are spoken of, it is not unfrequent to mention fire of the character of that before us. You will remember the vision of Elishas young man, mentioned in the second book of Kings--vi. 17--when he saw horses and chariots of fire roundabout Elisha.

Fire is indeed a beautiful and important symbol, in the Word of God, of love,--of celestial love where it is heavenly fire, as here; and of infernal love where infernal fires are described, as in some parts of the Word of God. Celestial fire is the affection of doing Good, the burning desire to bless, such as John had when the Savior said of him, he was a burning and a shining light. This glorious fire proceeds from the Lord Himself, who is an infinite fire of this divine affection, for God is love. This holy fire gladdens all the angelic minds, and hence it is said, He maketh His angels spirits, His ministers a flaming fire.--Ps. civ. 4. This fire descends into the good mans soul to regenerate him, and hence it is said of the Lord, He shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. The love of the Lord revealing itself to Moses, and through him to every soul which comes into the condition represented by Moses, was signified by this flame of fire.

Every earnest soul which has been taking care to feed the flock of good affections, every such soul is at the mount of God, and is having a holy glow within, of this fire of the kingdom of heaven.

We are informed that this fire was seen in a bush; the literal idea of a bush being that of a series of low trees. In the original language it is somewhat more expressive. The word is not used many times in the Scriptures, but is used on all occasions when this particular circumstance is referred to. It is a word that signifies plants of the bramble kind-that is, such plants as the raspberry, blackberry, and plants of that description. Thus spiritually, it represents things useful, but of a low kind of use; plants of this class are nearly related to the rose, but fruit-bearing also. The vegetable world is symbolic of those thoughts and principles which row up in the mind, as trees grow from seeds. The nobler principles are represented by the nobler trees, the olive, the vine, and the fig. The truths of love to the Lord, charity to man, and obedience, are trees of righteousness, the planting of Jehovah (Isa. vi. 3). But in the spiritual world, as representations of spiritual qualities, plants of the bush description are the symbols of the lower things of divine truth; such things would seem to imply those every-day truths, which even the humblest man may read and gather for himself. They are the things of the letter of the Word. Compared with higher and more glorious principles which form the spiritual paradise, they are not magnificent, they are only bushes. The Lord says, Thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water whose waters fail not. But these states are found only in the higher stages of the regenerate life, when a man has made great advancement, when the higher things of heaven have been revealed to him, and love has been cultivated by him. But even amongst the bushes, the divine reveals itself. The flame of fire appears in the bush. When the simple mind is learning, perhaps from the history of Joseph, the troubles through which the patriarch had to pass, and thinks of his own troubles, of his own dangers, of his own perils; in these simple histories, the divine love shines through to such souls, like the flame of fire in the bush. It speaks to the young man striving to be good, speaks to the maiden determined that she will live for heaven, such comforting words as these: Fear not, for I am with thee. Be not afraid what man can do unto thee. Fear not, even what hell with all its tempting powers can bring around or upon thy soul. I give unto you power to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you.

When the divine love thus speaks in its promises, in its consolations, in its exhortations, and urges us to gird up our loins and begin to work for salvation and for heaven, it is then, just like this flame, a hallowed fire in the bush. Then a men knows that he has an interest in divine things, and resolves to be true and earnest to break up his spiritual slavery, to renounce all the things of evil. He will break loose from his spiritual bonds, and as for Pharaoh and his host, he trusts that they will sink and die before the power of the God of heaven, and he will come out a free man, having the glorious liberty of the children of light. Wherever such is the case, and it is often some particular text or portion of the Word that thus comes home with its holy light and love, then, that is spiritually for him, as it was here for Moses, the flame of fire in the bush when it is not consumed. The fire of love does not consume. It is recreative, it burns with a holy light. All is blessing, cheering and encouraging. Nothing now makes him afraid, but on the contrary, everything cheers. His heart is filled with holy courage, comfort and joy.

Such is the sacred lesson which we should learn from the spiritual view of Moses by the burning bush. Let me in conclusion, my beloved friends, again impress upon all, that this history was written for us. It is not an historical relation simply of what occurred in days gone by. It is given to be realized in its spiritual import by every one of us. Have we commenced our march from Egypt? Have we freed all the impulses of the soul from spiritual slavery? Have we cast off the manacles of sin, and determined to live for heaven? If we have not yet begun, are we meditating and musing upon this great thing? Are we feeding flocks in the desert near the mount of God? Are we taking care, that until our path becomes clear to us, we will do all the good we can, cultivate all that is kindly, and promote the happiness and comfort of our fellow-creatures? Are we doing all this, and so feeding the flocks of our souls? If we do this, we shall find in a little time that we are near the mount of God, for His righteousness is like the great mountains (Ps. xxxvi. 6). And the divine fire will glow to save and warm, but not to consume.

Author: Jonathan Bayley --- From Egypt to Canaan (1869)

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