Click here to join the effort!
THE BURNING BUSH
Exodus 3:2-2.3.3. 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. And Moses said, I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.
IF God have on some occasions revealed himself to persons, when, like Saul, they have been in the very act of committing the most heinous sins [Note: Acts 9:4.], he has more generally favoured them when they have been occupied, like the shepherds, in their proper calling [Note: Luke 2:8-42.2.9.]. Moses was keeping the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, when God appeared to him in a burning bush, and gave him a commission to deliver Israel from their bondage in Egypt. By this extraordinary appearance God not merely awakened the curiosity of Moses, but conveyed to him some very important instruction; to elucidate which we shall,
Shew what was intended by the burning bush—
It was intended to represent the state and condition—
Of the Israelites in Egypt—
[They were cruelly oppressed, and every effort was made to destroy them [Note: Exodus 1:9-2.1.22.]. Nor had they in themselves any more ability to withstand their enemies, than a thorny bush has to resist the action of fire. Yet not only were they preserved from destruction, but they even multiplied in proportion as means were used to prevent their increase.]
Of the church of God in the world—
[The church, whose state was typified by that of Israel, has at all times suffered by persecution, though it has enjoyed some intervals of comparative rest. And, considering that all the powers of the world have been confederate against it, we may well be amazed that it has not been utterly consumed. But it has endured the fiery trial to this hour, and still defies the impotent attacks of all its adversaries.]
Of every individual in the church—
[The declaration that “all who would live godly in Christ Jesus should suffer persecution,” has been verified in every place and every age: “the third part are, and ever will be, brought through the fire.” And it is no less than a miracle, that, when the believer has so many enemies, both without and within, he does not “make shipwreck of faith and of a good conscience.” But the furnace, instead of destroying, purifies and refines him; and his very graces are perfected by the trials that endanger their existence [Note: Romans 5:3-45.5.5.].]
Having pointed out both the primary and more remote signification of this phenomenon we shall,
Account for the miracle which it exhibited—
Well might the sight of a bush burning, but not consumed, excite the astonishment of Moses: but his wonder would cease when he found that God was in the bush.
The person here called “the angel of the Lord” was Christ—
[The angel expressly called himself “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob;” which sufficiently proves that he could not be a created angel, seeing that it would be the most daring blasphemy in any creature to assume that incommunicable title of Jehovah: yet it was not God the Father: for St. Stephen, recording this history, informs us, that “God sent Moses by the hand of the angel [Note: Acts 7:30-44.7.35.]:” consequently the angel was God the Son, and not God the Father. Indeed Christ, who is elsewhere called “The angel of the covenant,” was the person, who, in all the appearances of God to man, assumed the human or angelic shape; thereby preparing the world for the fuller manifestation of himself in his incarnate state. And it is on this account that he is called “The image of the invisible God [Note: Colossians 1:15.].”]
It was his presence with the Israelites that prevented their destruction—
[He was in the bush, and therefore the bush was not consumed: so he was in the midst of his oppressed people; and therefore the Egyptians could not prevail against them. Christ was among them before he gave them any symbol of his presence; for it was he who rendered the assistance of the midwives unnecessary, and emboldened them to withstand the commands of Pharaoh. He was afterwards with them in the pillar and the cloud, protecting them from the Egyptian hosts, and stopping the progress of their enemies till they were overwhelmed in the sea. When, for the punishment of their sins, he refused to go with them, they were sure to be overpowered [Note: Numbers 14:42-4.14.45; Joshua 7:4-6.7.5.]: but whenever he returned in mercy to them, they prospered and prevailed.]
It is that same presence that preserves the church and every member of it—
[Christ has said, “Lo, I am with you alway, even to the end of the world;” and hence it is that “the gates of hell have never prevailed against the church;” yea, we are assured, they never shall prevail. We are also told that “he dwelleth in the hearts” of all his people [Note: Ephesians 3:17.], and is “their life [Note: Colossians 3:4.] ;” and that, whereinsoever they live and act, it is not so much they, as Christ in them [Note: Galatians 2:20.]. It is by this consideration that he encourages them to “go through fire and water,” persuaded that no evil shall happen to them [Note: Psalms 46:5.]. And to his continued interposition and support they must ascribe their preservation in every danger, and their deliverance from every enemy [Note: Psalms 124:1-19.124.5.].]
Let us now “turn aside and behold this great sight” (let us turn from every worldly thought, and inspect this wonderful appearance, not with curiosity, but profoundest reverence); let us observe herein,
To what state God’s most favoured people may be reduced—
[Your afflictions may be heavy. But are any discouraged by reason of their great trials? Be it known that tribulation is the way to the kingdom; and all, who arrive there, have trodden the same path [Note: Acts 14:22; Revelation 7:14.]. Nor need we be alarmed at any fire that is kindled for us, since Christ will be with us in the midst of it [Note: Isaiah 41:10.], and “bring us out of it purified as gold.”]
What they may expect at God’s hands—
[In seasons of great trial we are tempted to think that God has forsaken us: but he never was more immediately present with the Hebrew youths, than when they were cast into the furnace; nor did he ever feel more love to his own Son, than in the hour when he cried, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” Let us then learn to trust God, and expect that, when we walk through the fire, we shall not be burned [Note: Isaiah 43:2.].]
What in the midst of all their trials should be their chief concern—
[Moses in his valedictory address to the twelve tribes, congratulates Joseph on “the good-will of Him who dwelt in the bush [Note: Deuteronomy 33:16.].” And most truly are they blessed who are thus interested in the divine favour. To them God is “a wall of fire” for their protection [Note: Zechariah 2:5.]: but to others he is “a consuming fire” for their destruction [Note: Hebrews 12:29.]. Alas! alas! in what a fearful state are they, who shall be “cast into the lake of fire and brimstone,” into “a fire that never shall be quenched,” and in which they shall continue unconsumed to all eternity! Oh! “who can dwell with everlasting burnings [Note: Isaiah 33:14.] ?” But, if we are reconciled to him in the Son of his love, we have nothing to fear: we have nothing to fear either in time or eternity: for, however painful our state in this world may be, he will support us with his presence; and in the world to come, we shall be for ever beyond the reach of harm, even in “his immediate presence, where is the fulness of joy for evermore.” Seek then his favour; yea, seek it with your whole hearts — — —]
GOD’S PRESENCE WITH HIS PEOPLE
Exodus 3:12. And he said, Certainly I will be with thee.
THERE is nothing more amiable in the character of a saint than true and genuine humility. Without that virtue, all graces are defective, and all attainments worthless in the sight of God. But it is no uncommon thing to see other dispositions assuming the garb of humility, and claiming an excellence which they do not possess. The Prophet Jeremiah, when called to the prophetic office, declined it under an idea that he was “a child, and unable to speak.” But God said to him, “Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I shall command thee thou shalt speak [Note: Jeremiah 1:4-24.1.7.].” His pretended insufficiency for the work was, in reality, no other than a cover for his dread of the dangers to which it would expose him: and therefore God, in order to remove the impediment, replied, “Be not afraid of their faces; for I am with thee, to deliver thee [Note: Jeremiah 1:8.].” Thus Moses, when God said to him, “Come now, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt;” replied, “Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt [Note: Exodus 3:10-2.3.11.] ?” This was specious enough, and had the semblance of true humility; but it was only a pretext, and a cover to his fears and unbelief. He had, forty years before, exerted himself with great vigour in behalf of that people, and had even slain an Egyptian who was contending with them: but they had thrust him from them, saying, “Who made thee a ruler and a judge over us?” and Pharaoh had sought his life, as forfeited to the laws of the land. Now, therefore, he was afraid that the people would shew the same disregard of his efforts, and that his slaughter of the Egyptian would be visited with the punishment which the laws of the land denounced against him. This indeed, did not at first sight appear to be his real motive: but his numerous refusals of the office delegated to him, repeated as they were under a variety of pretexts, clearly discovered at last what was in his heart, and justly excited the displeasure of God against him [Note: Exodus 4:13-2.4.14; Exodus 4:19.]. But the very first answer of God should have been quite sufficient to remove every apprehension. God said to him, “Certainly I will be with thee:” and, having that assurance, he should without hesitation have gone forth to his destined labours.
Let us consider,
The extent of the promise—
As relating to him, it comprehended all that he could wish—
[True, his work was arduous, and to unassisted man impracticable: but, if God was with him, what could he have to fear? He would be guided by a wisdom that could not err, and he aided by a power which could not be overcome. With such an assurance, what had he to do with discouragements? Could Pharaoh hurt him, whilst he was under such protection; or the Israelites withstand his solicitations, when enforced by such powerful energy on their minds? Every difficulty should have vanished from his mind; and he should have leaped for joy at the prospect of effecting so great and good a work.]
But it relates to us also, and pledges God to an equal extent in our behalf—
[A similar promise was given to Joshua, on an occasion precisely similar [Note: Joshua 1:5.]: and that is quoted by the Apostle Paul as applicable to every true believer: “God hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee: so that WE may boldly say, The Lord is my helper, and I will not fear what man shall do unto me [Note: Hebrews 13:5-58.13.6.].” Here the very promise made to Moses, is renewed to Joshua, and declared to belong to us also. Whatever difficulties, therefore, we may have to encounter in the discharge of our duty to God, we need not fear: his promised presence shall be with us in our efforts, and his almighty power secure to us a successful issue.]
The more minute consideration of the subject will fall under the next head of my discourse, whilst I endeavour to shew,
The encouragement it affords to us—
We may properly view it, in the first place, as applicable to Ministers—
[Ministers have, if I may so speak, the very same office delegated to them as was assigned to Moses: they are sent to bring men out of spiritual thraldom, and to deliver them from a bondage far more terrible than that of Egypt. The power that opposes them is fax stronger than that of Pharaoh; and the unhappy captives are in love with their chains: they are themselves as averse to leave their hard taskmaster, as he is to lose their services. Were we to go in our own strength, we should soon desert our post; as Moses did, when, in reliance on his own arm, he prematurely proffered to the people his assistance. But with the promise of God’s presence, a promise specifically given to us by our Divine Master for our encouragement [Note: Matthew 28:18.], we go forth with confidence; and to every obstacle that is in our way, we say, “Who art thou, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain [Note: Zechariah 4:7.].” We know that the persons to whom we speak are as incapable of hearing our words, as dry bones scattered upon the face of the earth: yet do we not despond, or even doubt the efficacy of our ministrations for those to whom we are sent: and, in dependence on this word, we hope and believe, that the word which we speak shall prove “the power of God to the salvation” of those who hear it. We are not unmindful of the question put by the Apostle, “Who is sufficient for these things?” but, if the rod of Moses wrought effectually in his hand for the deliverance of Israel, we have no fear but that the word of God, by whomsoever administered, shall be alike effectual for all the ends for which it is sent. It is “the rod of God’s strength;” and not all the powers of darkness shall be able to withstand it.]
But it is also applicable to God’s people generally throughout the world—
[To this extent, as we have before observed, St. Paul applies it: and every believer needs it for his support. Every one is engaged in a great work, for which no finite power is sufficient: every one, therefore, needs to be encouraged with an assurance, that God will be with him in all his endeavours to perform it, and will secure to him the desired success. Believer, hast thou much to do for God, even so much as thou couldest have no hope of effecting without the arm of Omnipotence exerted in thy behalf? Hear what God has said for thine encouragement: “Fear thou not, for I am with thee; be not dismayed, for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness [Note: Isaiah 41:10.].” See here, how God, in every successive part of these promises, accommodates himself to thy weakness and thy fears. When he says, “I am with thee,” a thought may perhaps arise, that he will be with thee only to witness thy defeat: he therefore adds, “I will be thy God.” Does a sense of thy weakness press upon thee? he further says, “I will strengthen thee.” Art thou still discouraged, because the work is left to thee? he adds, “I will help thee.” Art thou still dejected, through an apprehension of thy failure at last? he takes the whole responsibility on himself, and declares, for thy comfort, “I will altogether uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.” This may serve to shew (what we forbore to specify under the former head) the extent to which this promise goes, in relation to every thing which our necessities may require.
Again; Hast thou also much to suffer for God in thy Christian course? Doubtless thou must have some cross to bear, else thou couldest not be conformed fully to thy Saviour’s image. But, whether thy trials be more or less severe, the promise in my text secures to thee an effectual help, and a sure deliverance. For thus saith the Lord: “When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee: for I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour [Note: Isaiah 43:2-23.43.3.].” Here again the extent of the promise clearly appears, and its perfect sufficiency for every trial to which thou canst be exposed.
Is there yet a lurking apprehension that in the extremity of death thy heart will fail? At this season, also, shall the presence of thy God afford thee effectual support: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me [Note: Psalms 23:4.].” Now, though the valley of this shadow of death may comprehend the whole of the present life as beset with snares and difficulties, yet it must include the closing scenes of life, as well as those that have preceded it; and, consequently, when our flesh and heart fail, we may be assured that “God will be the strength of our heart, and our portion for ever [Note: Psalms 73:26.].”]
Learn from hence—
To undertake nothing but in dependence on God—
[When God vouchsafed his assistance to Israel, no man could stand before them: but when they went up against the Canaanites in dependence on an arm of flesh, they were put to flight and slain [Note: Numbers 14:43-4.14.45.]. So it will be with us, if we presume to engage in any thing without first asking counsel, and imploring help, from him. God is jealous of his own honour: and if we place our reliance on any thing but him, we must expect a curse, and not a blessing, on all our labours [Note: Jeremiah 17:5-24.17.6.].]
To shrink from nothing to which he calls us—
[If Moses was forbidden to shrink from the duties imposed on him, what shall we not willingly and confidently undertake for God? We must not contemplate human means, when the path of duty is clear; but must expect him to “perfect his own strength in our weakness.” With him it is alike “easy to save by many or by few:” nor need we doubt a moment, but that “through Christ strengthening us we can do all things.” “If God be for us, who can be against us?”]
To despair of nothing which we undertake at his command—
[We may be in the path of duty, and yet find many difficulties, even such as may appear utterly insuperable. Moses himself was so discouraged by his want of success, that he complained of God as having disappointed and deceived him. But he succeeded at last: and the very difficulties which had discouraged him served but the more to illustrate the power and grace of God. So may we find it for a season: but we should bear in mind, that his word, which he has pledged to us, is immutable, and that his counsel shall stand, though earth and hell should combine to defeat it. Let us then “commit our every way to him;” and, with a holy confidence, advance, “strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.”]
THE SELF-EXISTENCE AND IMMUTABILITY OF GOD
Exodus 3:14. 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.
IT is of great importance that Ministers should be considered as ambassadors of God. And that they should deliver nothing which they cannot enforce with, Thus saith the Lord. Without this, their word can have but little weight. But ministrations thus supported will produce the happiest effects. Moses was commissioned to offer deliverance to the oppressed Israelites. But he rightly judged that they would ask, from whence he had his authority. He therefore inquired of God, what answer he should return. And received from God the direction recorded in the text.
To understand the words aright, we must consider,
The title God assumed—
The Deity had hitherto revealed himself to man by the name of God Almighty. Though he had been called Jehovah, he was not fully known by that name, even to his most highly-favoured servants [Note: Exodus 6:3.]. He now was pleased to assume a title similar to that; but, if possible, of still plainer import—
The name, I AM THAT I AM, represents him to be,
[Creatures have only a derived, and therefore a dependent, existence. They are now what they once were not, and may again cease to be. But God from all eternity was precisely what he now is. To him therefore this august title may be properly applied. Nor are there wanting other similar descriptions of him to confirm it [Note: Psalms 102:27; Revelation 1:4.].]
[Every creature in earth and heaven is liable to change. But “with God there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” He himself claims immutability as his own peculiar prerogative [Note: Malachi 3:6.]. And in this view, the title assumed in the text must ever belong to him.]
[No words can convey, or imagination conceive, an adequate idea of God [Note: Job 11:7; 1 Timothy 6:16.]. Hence God does not endeavour to explain his nature to Moses. But, by declaring himself to be what he is, intimates, that he is what can neither be comprehended nor expressed. His answer, in effect, was similar to that which he afterwards gave to Manoah [Note: Judges 13:17-7.13.18.].]
The title thus explained, it will be proper to consider,
For what end he assumed it—
The Israelites were extremely debased by means of their long bondage. It was necessary therefore to prepare their minds for the intended deliverance—
[Though they groaned under their oppression, they were too much reconciled to their yoke. They rather affected a mitigation of trouble, than the attainment of liberty. Though the promises made to their fathers were not wholly forgotten, the accomplishment of them was not cordially desired. Indeed, they scarcely conceived it possible that their emancipation should be effected. Hence it was necessary to stimulate their desires, renew their hopes, and confirm their expectations, of a better country.]
The title which God assumed was admirably adapted to this end—
[If God was so incomprehensible a Being, he could easily devise means of executing his own sovereign will and pleasure. If he was the one self-existent, independent Creator of the universe, all creatures must be wholly subject to his control. And if he were absolutely immutable, he could not recede from the covenant entered into with their fathers. He therefore could not want either inclination or power to deliver them. Yea, He could not but deliver them for his own great name’s sake. He could not be I AM, if his promised interposition should be either withheld or defeated. Thus the declaration of his name must inspire them with confidence, and induce them willingly to put themselves under the direction of Moses.]
What a solemn attention does the Gospel demand!
[The Gospel is a message of mercy to those who are in bondage to sin. And they who preach it are ambassadors from the great I AM. Jesus, who sends them forth, assumes to himself this very title [Note: John 8:58.]. To the same effect also his character is drawn in the Epistle to the Hebrews [Note: Hebrews 13:8.]. He has commissioned his servants to go forth into all the world [Note: Mark 16:15.] ; and promised (as God did to Moses) to be always with them [Note: Matthew 28:20.]. Shall we then make light of the mercy which He offers to us; or doubt his power and willingness to fulfil his promises? Shall we thrust away his servants, saying, Why dost thou interfere with us [Note: Acts 7:27.] ? Let us remember who it is that speaks to us in the Gospel [Note: Luke 10:16.]. Every faithful Minister may say, I AM hath sent me unto you. Nor, though miracles have ceased, shall signs be wanting to confirm the word: the deaf shall hear, the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers be cleansed. And blessed is he whosoever shall not be offended at the Redeemer’s voice [Note: Matthew 11:5-40.11.6.].]
What encouragement is here afforded to those who are groaning under spiritual bondage!
[God brought out his people safely, notwithstanding all their difficulties; and in due time put them into possession of the promised land. Shall the spiritual redemption offered by him be less effectual? Are not his power and faithfulness the same as in former ages [Note: Isaiah 59:1.] ? Will he not remove our obstacles, supply our wants, and destroy our enemies? Surely there are none so weak but they shall be made to triumph [Note: Isaiah 49:24-23.49.25.]. Nor shall the Prince of Darkness oppose with more success than Pharaoh [Note: Romans 16:20.]. Behold, then, I AM hath sent me to proclaim these glad tidings. Let all arise, and cast off their yoke, and burst their bands asunder. Let not unbelief represent the obstacles as insurmountable; nor fear induce you to comply with the imperious dictates of the world [Note: Pharaoh, after many successive plagues, agreed first that they should sacrifice to God in the land, but not in the wilderness; then that they should go into the wilderness, but not far; then that the men should go, but without the women or children; then that the women and children, but not the flocks. Exodus 8:25; Exodus 8:28; Exodus 10:11; Exodus 10:24. Thus the world would prescribe limits to the service we shall pay to God.]. Behold! the Pillar and the Cloud are ready to conduct your path. The great I AM is for you: who then can be against you? Go forth; and universal nature shall applaud your steps [Note: Isaiah 55:12.].]
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Exodus 3". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/
Second Sunday after Epiphany