BIBLE STUDY SERIES #74, 75 and 76

28 March, 1993

THE BURNING BUSH - PART I

By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.

In our series of Bible Studies through the Book of Genesis, we have been examining the Biblical account of The Almighty God's preparation of a means of Salvation and Redemption for His fallen Creation, and we have now come to the Third Chapter of the second Book of the Bible, the Book of Exodus. We are about to examine the opening verses of that chapter.

Abraham's descendants through Isaac and Jacob have developed into a whole nation of thirteen tribes, now living in Egypt, and they are now subject to service under the taskmasters of the Egyptian Pharaoh as, in our imagination, we again approach to view the scene.

Being sought on a charge of murder, Moses has fled from Egypt to the wilderness of Sinai, and the quiet existence of a shepherd, content to live in the tribal domain of Reuel, the Priest of Midian, (who was also called Jethro). He has married Zipporah, daughter of Jethro, by whom he now has two sons. Eighty years of age, but still in excellent health, he moves the flock of Jethro, his father-in-law, from pasture to pasture about the silent desert's fringe.

Keil and Delitzsch note that the life of Moses in Midian "was still a banishment and a school of bitter humiliation. He gave expression to this feeling at the birth of his first son in the name which he gave it, viz. Gershom." Moses began to accept and submit to God's will, and this is expressed in the name of his second son, whom we find named in Exodus 18:4 as Eliezer, meaning "God is help". Keil and Delitzsch continue: "The pride and self-will with which he had offered himself in Egypt as the deliverer and judge of his oppressed brethren, had been broken down by the feeling of exile." They point out that this had developed a "firm confidence in the God of his fathers, who had shown himself as his helper by delivering him from the sword of Pharaoh."

Sometimes it is in the silence that we can best hear the Word of God, and it seems that Moses, "learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians", as Stephen described him in Acts 7:22, must be led away to a desert place in order to complete his further training and preparation for the work which Almighty God had planned that he should accomplish. On days of his solitary existence he no doubt continued to ponder the bondage of the children of Israel whom he has left behind in Egypt, and prayerfully to consider how God might some day move to relieve their suffering.

I think that silence, while, on occasion it may permit the lonely to dwell on sad thoughts, can actually be one of the more important means by which Almighty God can get our attention. It is often through the periods of silence that God can cultivate in us a reflective spirit, open to Himself, and willing to allow His will to guide us in our ongoing purposes of life.

By inserting a pause in the conversation, a time of attentive silence at an appropriate point during a lesson, a teacher can sometimes cause a pupil to reflect once again on some immature conclusion, and to develop a more logical and structured approach to a problem. The very silence can be pregnant with meaning. Students will learn something more completely if they are not supplied all the answers. Silence throws the student back upon that student's own resources, and encourages the student to attempt to supply a more perfect conclusion to a problem than would otherwise have been the case.

True, there are occasions when much stress and loss of time is avoided by a satisfying guiding indication of direction. We profit by reading an instruction manual. In Psalm 32:8 we read "I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye." Here is an association of silence and instruction. It combines both. The guidance is present, but it requires the participation of the seeker to be effective.

Let us turn our attention to the Scripture passage found in Exodus 3. I am reading the passage, starting at verse 1, and I shall insert comments as we read:

1. Now Moses kept the flock of Jethro his father in law, the priest of Midian: and he led the flock to the backside of the desert, and came to the mountain of God, even to Horeb.

The Companion Bible notes that the backside of the desert "Would be the West side, very fertile." Keil and Delitzsch comment that Moses had passed through a desert to the higher ground and better-watered pasture land of Horeb. It states "Water abounds in this district; consequently it is the resort of all the Bedouins when the lower countries are dried up."

2. 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.

Keil and Delitzsch mention that the flaming bush was a thorn-bush and upon reading this, I am at once reminded of the Crown of Thorns which was pressed upon Our Saviour's brow in Pilate's Hall (Matthew 27:29), and of the famous Glastonbury Thorn in the West of England which is stated to have grown from the staff brought by Joseph of Arimathea, and which he is stated to have thrust into the soil of Avalon.

Here again, a note in the Companion Bible draws attention to the appearance of God to Abram, in Genesis 15:17. There, sealing God's Covenant with Abram the sacrificial animals and birds were divided in the form of an avenue through death, and God's presence is there described as of a "smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces." thus sealing the covenant through death. On that occasion, God had made the promise that He would bring Abrham's descendants out from Egyptian oppression "in the fourth generation." Now, fire, this time God's presence, in a burning bush, is presented before Moses, as he is about to be designated as the human means for the furtherance of this purpose.

In a later study, we shall find those themes of God's presence, Covenant, Death, a Tree, Life and Salvation all leading forward to God's provision of Salvation, apparent in Christ's sacrifice on the Cross. On a later occasion, we shall also plan to spend some time on a study of the whole topic of fire as it relates to God's presence and to His relationship with His people. We continue at verse 3.

3. And Moses said, I will now turn aside, and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt.

This is marked as one of the outstanding days of all history. For forty years, while Moses has been absent, the children of Israel have continued to endure their lot. Now, at the termination of those forty years, the intervening period of endurance has been completed. God is about to move on behalf of His people. The fire is symbolic of the purity of The Almighty while the bush reminds us of the thicket which held the horns of the substitute sacrificial ram on mount Moriah which Abraham was granted in place of the sacrificial offering of Isaac in Genesis 22:13.

4. And when the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I.
5. And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.
6. Moreover he 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.

Here again is further confirmation of our identification of a theme being carried forward through the generations of His people, and leading towards their Salvation. We should, perhaps, note that God has not made any apparent evidence of His presence, or of His ongoing purposes through a number of generations of the children of Israel who had only the tribal stories, the national memory of God's past interactions with their ancestors. It must sometimes have appeared that the God of the Patriarchs was only a mistaken and imaginary concept of their forefathers. They continued to suffer the oppression of Egypt for generations while their sons were killed and their freedoms were removed.

We of the British-Israel-World Federation, along with like minded groups in other lands, believe that the modern-day descendants of those same children of Israel are now manifested in the generally Anglo-Celto-Saxon and kindred peoples of the world. For these people of modern-day Israel, feeling in a new financial and political sense the oppressive pressures equivalent to that of the Egyptian bondage of their ancestors, it may appear a somewhat similar situation. Today, God has become something of a mythical memory to many, and they need to be reminded of this Biblical experience of their ancestors. God was not absent through all those generations of silence, only silently moving events towards their salvation by the measured pace of time.

As we close, we might meditate upon the fact that Almighty God is always present, yet often appears silent to the point that many ignore His presence. He has a Great Plan, and He is marking off the hours and years steadily to its conclusion. We, like the Israelites of old, may be tempted to forget this. Prayerfully, let us remember, conscious of the apparent signs of impending activity on a vast scale as the Prophets have spoken.

4 April, 1993

THE BURNING BUSH - PART II

By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.

We are at that season of the year when we commemorate Palm Sunday and Passover, so it seems quite appropriate that our ongoing series of Bible Studies should have brought us to that part of the Old Testament wherein Almighty God is moving to liberate His people from bondage. Jesus Christ is the supreme sacrifice to which the blood of the Passover lambs has pointed forward all down the centuries, and His sacrifice on Calvary is the culmination of the process by which Redemption of Israel and Salvation of "whosoever believeth in him" (John 3:15-16) have become available to mankind.

We are presently examining those Scripture passages which form an introduction to the great confrontation of Moses and Pharaoh, preparatory to the release and exodus of God's people from bondage. On our last programme, we were in the process of examining the passage taken from Exodus 3:1-6; a passage in which God has revealed Himself to Moses in the fire of a burning thorn-bush on the rocky slopes of Horeb.

The New Bible Commentary, Revised, states that "Mt. Horeb, or Mt. Sinai (the former usually denotes the mountain range and the latter the particular peak in question), has been identified in ancient tradition with Gebel Musa, located at the tip of the Sinai peninsula. This fits in with the tentatively plotted path of the Israelites in their wanderings... . Here, far from Egypt, the deliverer is finally prepared by God by being humbled in spirit..., admitted into God's purposes...and assured of God's presence and power... . "

That reference goes on to assert, contrary to the view put forward by another commentary which I shall mention in a moment, that the burning bush could not be a symbol of Israel. Explaining that God is living, it points out that the bush was not consumed, and that therefore the flame was self-maintaining. It was holy fire. (fire or flame was an emblem of the purity that constitutes a threat to sinners...). That reference continues: "This is not only a revelation of God Himself, but also a mirroring of what God was to become in the life of Moses, and of what was to be the source and mainspring of his ministry..."

An alternative opinion is put forward with regard to the symbolism involved in the fire and the bush by Keil and Delitzsch who make reference to the particular meaning of fire in its usage as a means to destroy and to purify. Thus the bush might symbolise the nation of Israel at that time presently under the flame, that is, the oppression of the Egyptian taskmasters. Israel was being afflicted, yet not consumed by the fire.

Of these two sources, the first commentary concentrates on the quality of everlasting fire, and the second on the everlasting bush which was not consumed. Commentaries provide us with useful Biblical insight which thoughtful minds may consider, but on some occasions we must read what these sources provide to us, and then prayerfully seek our own conclusions after weighing merits of each of the viewpoints presented to us. Both may have some commendation and I will leave the resolution to the listener in this instance.

The New Bible Dictionary, under the topic "Fire", when listing some uses of fire in the Biblical record includes mention of the fact that one use was in the destruction of idols. That source lists symbolic aspects of fire accompanying each with suitable Biblical references. Fire variously represented God's glory, protective presence, holiness, righteous judgment, and wrath against sin. It was also used of the Holy Spirit, of prophetic inspiration and religious feeling. In other contexts fire is used as a literary symbol of sin, lust and affliction.

Of the passage we are examining, the New Bible Commentary, taking note of the fact that in verse 4, the angel of the LORD is called both Jehovah and Elohim, says: "We may thereby infer that it was the second Person of the Trinity who appeared to Moses...No personal form appeared, but the flame and the voice were themselves evidence of the presence of the Lord."

Let us review verses 4-6 again. As on former occasions, I shall insert some comments as we proceed.

4. And when the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here am I.

Here, the Companion Bible notes that, as with Abraham in Genesis 22:11, God repeats the name of Moses twice for emphasis. This is one of a very few times of special importance in the Scriptural record when God addresses some person for a particularly noteworthy reason.

5. And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.

In verse 5, we find God granting Moses a certain assurance indirectly by indicating how he is to react in this situation. He is to remove his shoes. The removal of the shoes is an act which removes that which is worn to protect from dirt and which may, in consequence, have dirt adhering thereto. Many religions understand this act as one of reverence and the leaving behind of that worldly symbol with its contamination. God being holy, the tracking of dirt into His presence is not allowed. It is an act of respect for the deity.

The reference to holy ground is better understood if we consider that the word "holy" means "separated" or "set apart" (particularly for God). It may be rendered as "consecrated", "dedicated", "hallowed", "holiness", "saint" and "sanctuary" according to a note in the Companion Bible.

6. Moreover he 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.

Verse 6 contains the passage to which Jesus made reference as the proof of the doctrine of resurrection in Matthew 22:31-32 where Christ says:

31 But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying,
32. I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.

I think it will be of interest to examine a related source. If we consult the non-Biblical Book of Jasher, we find that it presents the same story in a simple and straight forward fashion, but it does add one or two details that might be of interest. We read from Chapter LXXIX of the Book of Jasher:

1. And in those days Moses was feeding the flock of Reuel the Midianite his father-in-law, beyond the wilderness of Sin, and the stick which he took from his father-in-law was in his hand.
2. And it came to pass one day that a kid of goats strayed from the flock, and Moses pursued it and came to the mountain of God to Horeb.
3. And when he came to Horeb, the Lord appeared there unto him in the bush, and he found the bush burning with fire, but the fire had no power over the bush to consume it.
4. And Moses was greatly astonished at this sight, wherefore the bush was not consumed, and he approached to see this mighty thing, and the Lord called unto Moses out of the fire and commanded him to go down to Egypt, to Pharaoh king of Egypt, to send the children of Israel from his service.

That account mentions the location as "beyond the wilderness of Sin". The Hebrew name Sin means, according to Young's Concordance, "cliff, place", and the reference is to "A desert between Elim and Sinai on the E. of the gulf of Suez." If we consult a Biblical map we will find that this wilderness or desert of Sin is marked on the South-West part of the Sinai Peninsula. The stick which Moses carried is especially mentioned here as one given to him by the chief of this Midianite clan, so perhaps it held significance as a mark of some authority or distinction among the people of the tribe.

Mention of that kid of the goats which strayed reminds us that God's people had also tended to stray from Him by this time, and needed to be recalled to God's service. Let us now return to our Biblical account, at verse 7.

7. And the LORD said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows;
8. And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land unto a good land and a large, unto a land flowing with milk and honey; unto the place of the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites.
9. Now therefore, behold, the cry of the children of Israel is come unto me: and I have also seen the oppression wherewith the Egyptians oppress them.

We have not time today to complete our examination of this passage but we may make one worthwhile observation. There, in verse 9, is perhaps the clue regarding what God intends. It is the cry of His people. God had measured the times of stress in order to allow the pressure of bondage to drive His people to a moment of submission to Himself. He has heard their "cry".

Of what did that "cry" consist? Was it simply the scream of hurt? Was it, perhaps, a realisation that they had no other recourse but to revive their relationship to the God of their fathers? Was it for this moment of contrition and appeal that God had provided the years of stress, and the passage of time measured through those generations while God seemed a silent myth?

God was awaiting the cry of His people. Today, God awaits a similar cry. Relating a prophecy concerning the coming "day of the LORD", wherein a great opposing army will threaten God's "holy mountain", the nation of His people, Israel, the Prophet Joel, in Joel 2:16-17, makes the matter plain.

16. Gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children, and those that suck the breasts: let the bridegroom go forth of his chamber, and the bride out of her closet.
17. Let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep between the porch and the altar, and let them say, Spare thy people, O LORD, and give not thine heritage to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them: wherefore should they say among the people, Where is their God?"

As a closing meditation let us consider our part in raising that cry from the lips of modern-day Israel, for the intervention of our Almighty God in the affairs of mankind to effect the Redemption and the Salvation of that which belongs to Himself.

11 April, 1993

THE BURNING BUSH - PART III

By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.

Our present series of Bible Studies has centred upon the theme of God's Great Plan for the Redemption of God's people, the descendants of Jacob-Israel, and for the Salvation of those whom His Holy Spirit calls.

As organized Christianity has developed and cultivated the observances of Holy Week, Good Friday and Easter Sunday in order to commemorate the Crucifixion, Death, Burial and Resurrection of Our Lord, it is important to realise that the full significance of these events cannot properly be understood apart from the totality of the Old Testament preparation which leads up to, and which forms the actual setting of, these events in time and space.

Properly, the chief dates of observance ought to be timed to occur on the annual dates relating to Passover, for part of the significance of Christ's Sacrifice is liable to be totally missed by the average church attender, let alone the populace at large, if these events are not associated with, and linked to, the prior national experience of Israel in the Exodus, which occurred centuries before, and which we are presently studying.

For those who have not heard our previous programmes, perhaps it will be of assistance in understanding some of the statements which we make if I briefly explain that we, of the British-Israel-World Federation see the modern-day descendants of this same Israel people to be represented chiefly in the Anglo-Celto-Saxon and kindred peoples and nations of the world today. We believe that history clearly vindicates Biblical prophecy in this regard.

Thus far, we have followed the Biblical account in some detail from week to week, through the Book of Genesis, and the first chapters of Exodus. Our last two studies have brought before us the picture of Moses, learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, who having killed an Egyptian oppressor, fled from Egypt, and has now found the relative safety and tranquility of family life as the son-in-law of Reuel, the priest of Midian in the Wilderness of Sinai.

Here, for the last forty years, while Egyptian bondage continued to oppress the tribes of Israel, Moses had been quietly tending the tribal flocks and, as he did so, he was learning the vital lessons concerning how one must adapt to life in that semi-desert environment. God was working in this, for the lessons learned here would later prove vital as He calls Moses to lead the Children of Israel from their present bondage through this same wilderness.

It may, incidentally, form a worthwhile lesson for us also, if we note the time that Almighty God had taken in this preparation of God's "man of the hour", for Moses would not be prepared for the task of leading God's people through the Exodus experience until he had experienced those forty years of his youth in Egypt, acquiring all the "wisdom of the Egyptians" in Pharaoh's court, followed by the later forty further years of experience in this Sinai Wilderness.

While all this preparatory training was proceeding, during those eighty years, it must have seemed to many that God was totally absent or uncaring. There had been nothing but silence during all that time, while the Children of Israel cried for assistance from God. Perhaps many, in their bitterness, had even come to assume that the old tribal stories of a God Who cared, and Who had made all those wonderful promises to previous generations was merely a nice but incorrect assumption, an impractical dream of their forefathers, having no reality at all.

Certainly, the harsh realities of pain and bloody suppression were very real. Some, at least,must have begun to lose all hope, and to view the old stories of that God of Abraham, of Isaac and of Jacob as no practical reality in their own day. Perhaps they assumed that He could be dismissed as any sort of practical answer to their present dilemma.

Doesn't that thought appear to parallel the outlook of many in our own generation today? I believe that we, in this generation, are moving, under God's Great Plan, towards an Exodus like that experienced by those ancient Israelites. Like them, many of us may also have lost all hope of seeing any similar mighty acts of God as Satan's grip is wrested away, and the yoke of financial and political bondage and oppression is lifted from our people. I believe that there are hints in Scripture which outline prophetically a new Exodus for God's people. It may be an Exodus of a different order, but I feel sure that the pattern of the Exodus from Egypt so long ago was a demonstration for the benefit of our own generation of something yet to come.

On our recent programmes, we watched in our imagination as Moses was drawn to focus his attention upon the burning bush on the slopes of Sinai, and as he there encountered The Almighty God, through that very real, yet also very symbolic, bush which burned, yet was not consumed. Removing his shoes, as ordered, Moses there heard God speak.

God had announced His identity in the words "I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." The New Bible Commentary states that "The name of Moses' mother Jochebed...(`Jehovah gloried') shows that his parents were worshippers of Jehovah," Young's Concordance translates the name Jochebed as "Jah is honour", which appears to confirm this in a parallel thought.

After explaining to Moses that He had seen their affliction, heard their cry, and knew their sorrows and oppression by the Egyptians, God now instructs Moses. We pick up the conversation at Exodus 3:10 as The Almighty God continues speaking.

10. Come now therefore, and I will send thee unto Pharaoh, that thou mayest bring forth my people the children of Israel out of Egypt.

What a thrilling moment! After these many years, Moses learns that God will at last begin the active removal of Israel from Egypt! That for which the Israelites had groaned and prayed for generations was now about to become a reality! How those words must have thrilled Moses' heart! What was his response? Let us continue.

11. And Moses said unto God, Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt?

What do we hear? Can we believe this? Moses' reaction ought, we might assume, to be one of exultation. But here, it seems, he is attempting to evade the matter! We may think this quite amazing, but do we, ourselves, ever have a similar reaction if we have prayed continually through many years for something of a general nature to happen, and then finally received God's answer as, in effect, He says "You are the one I have chosen to bring this matter about"? That is quite another matter! Pray nice neat prayers - yes, by all means - but Lord, don't ask ME to be the one to carry it out!

Concerning this reaction, Keil and Delitzsch comment that "Some time before he had offered himself of his own accord as a deliverer and a judge; but now he had learned humility in the school of Midian, and was filled in consequence with distrust of his own power and fitness. The son of Pharaoh's daughter had become a shepherd, and felt himself too weak to go to Pharaoh."

The New Bible Commentary (Revised) states of Moses that "His old impulsive nature has been humbled and now his reluctance before the magnitude of the task is brought to light, and is overcome by suitable assurances. Four objections are advanced by Moses and each is answered by God." That reference then proceeds to list these objections. Briefly, as we shall see, they are: 1. The problem of Moses' apparent complete unfitness for the task, 2. The ignorance of the people of Israel in Egypt, 3. The question of authority to speak, and 4. A lack of eloquence.

God proceeds to give the required assurances, answering to Moses' first objection.

12. And he said, Certainly I will be with thee; and this shall be a token unto thee, that I have sent thee: When thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve God upon this mountain.

Here, Keil and Delitzsch and the New Bible Commentary (Revised) both show that this sign was a pledge of success, but that it would also require faith on Moses' part. By these words, God has promised to remain with Moses continually, right through the forthcoming time of danger and stress. Moses is to be assured by the inclusion of that pledge of a future event involving worship by himself and the children of Israel on the very same mountain where Moses now stands. It should be heartening to realise that similar promises describing the development of the Kingdom of God on the earth in its fullness at the Second Advent of Jesus Christ now call us to express a similar faith and commitment. Now, however, Moses raises his second objection.

13. And Moses said unto God, Behold, when I come unto the children of Israel, and shall say unto them, The God of your fathers hath sent me unto you; and they shall say to me, What is his name? what shall I say unto them?

We will have to leave the reply of Almighty God for our next study, for the matter raised here is important, and the explanation of God's answer should not be hurried. For the present, let us meditate upon the thought that, just as Almighty God was moving to release His people from bondage in the time of Moses, even so, He is moving today to bring about a similar yet far more complete result in the lives of His bewildered and sometimes reluctant people of the present time. We may not believe it. We may not even realise it, but the coming Kingdom is to affect all who live on the earth when Christ returns in Power and Glory to take the throne of David, and to reign over the house of Jacob forever, as the angel Gabriel told the Virgin Mary at the Annunciation.

RETURN TO BIBLE STUDY
RETURN TO B.I.W.F. HOME PAGE