Listening or seeing – which is more important?
How come Moses met God … and lived?
Remember this warning from God?
"You cannot see my face, for no-one may see me and live." (Exodus 33:20)
So none can survive a session with Father God.
This is why the Angel of the LORD seems to be none other than Jesus himself. After all, As Jesus himself tells us in John 14:9, “… Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father …” And this is why these encounters are not fatal encounters, as threatened. Yet one nearly was.
“Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, ‘I will go over and see this strange sight— why the bush does not burn up.’ When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, ‘Moses! Moses!’ And Moses said, ‘Here I am.’ ‘Do not come any closer,’ God said. ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.’ Then he said, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.’ At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.” (Exodus 3:1-6)
This ought to be the clincher to our argument. The Angel of the LORD here uses the Ineffable Name of God, the closest we get to His personal name. The place is also designated as holy ground. No ordinary angel would utter this name and expect no consequence. No ordinary angel would have the cheek to declare the place of his visitation as holy ground. As with the Isaac episode, this is a key moment in the life of God’s people and there’s no wonder that God makes an appearance, in the form of the Angel of the LORD.
There is added significance in the Midrash, which examines the bush itself. It asks, “why a burning bush” and suggests that, just as the bush burns but is not destroyed, so the children of Israel (and the Jews throughout history) suffer, but are never destroyed. Here the Midrash is giving added colour to the Biblical account. It is not replacing it or contradicting it, but drawing out meanings that aid our understanding of God’s word.
Later in the career of Moses, when he leads the Children of Israel out of Egypt, we see that they had their own GPS (God’s Positioning System) to help them.
“By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night.
Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people”. (Exodus 13:21-22)
Wait a minute, isn’t this God Himself?
“Then the angel of God, who had been travelling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them.” (Exodus 14:19)
No, it’s the Angel of the LORD, this time identified with pillars of cloud and fire.
Moses speaks more of this Angel of the LORD. This individual would have the authority of God Himself.
"See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared. Pay attention to him and listen to what he says. Do not rebel against him; he will not forgive your rebellion, since my Name is in him. If you listen carefully to what he says and do all that I say, I will be an enemy to your enemies and will oppose those who oppose you. My angel will go ahead of you and bring you into the land of the Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hivites and Jebusites, and I will wipe them out. (Exodus 23:20-23)
Although Christian tradition places Isaac in late childhood, the Hebrew word used for him, naar, best describes him as a bachelor of marriageable age. In fact Jewish tradition places Isaac at around 36 years old, on account of his mother’s death soon after this episode, at the age of 127, which was 36 years after his (improbable) birth when she was at the ripe old age of 90. If we accept this scenario then we concede that Abraham was 100 years old at the Binding of Isaac and in no position to forcefully control the situation. Therefore Isaac must have been a willing sacrifice, rather than a helpless youth. An interesting thought.
A Lib Dem candidate who was due to stand in the upcoming election...