In the previous article, we started looking at the third name repetition in the Bible found in Exodus 3:4 where the LORD called out to Moses from within the burning bush. We considered the gracious appearance of God and the wonderful picture of the burning bush. In this article, we’ll look at an important truth and a clear revelation.
Verse 4 reads, “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.”
Notice how the angel of the LORD, who was in the midst of the burning bush, is spoken of here as the LORD and as God. When the LORD saw Moses coming towards the bush, He called out to him, “Moses, Moses.” And Moses replied, “Here am I.”
This is not the only time in scripture that the angel of the LORD calls out to His servants in this way. In Genesis 22, the angel of the LORD calling out to Abraham at that crucial moment when he was about to sacrifice Isaac, saying, “Abraham, Abraham” and Abraham said, “Here am I.” Then in 1 Samuel 3, the LORD called out to Samuel, “Samuel, Samuel.” And Samuel answered, “Speak for thy servant heareth.”
This repetition of Moses’ name is a repetition of endearment. The Lord was expressing affection for and friendship with Moses. When Moses heard his name mentioned twice, he would have understood that he was being addressed by someone who loved him and cared for him and was drawing nigh to him. This was important for Moses to know. The Lord was appearing to him not for the purpose of killing him or doing him harm but for the purpose of communing and speaking with him.
But this truth that the Lord loved him and was drawing nigh to him is to be balanced by the truth that the Lord is also the Most Holy God. You see, even before formally identifying Himself, the LORD saw that it was necessary to teach Moses about His holy nature and character. Moses was allowed to draw near the burning bush but there came a point where he was allowed to go no further.
Verse 5 says, “And he said, Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.” It was important for Moses to learn this lesson well because in time to come, he would have to teach the Israelites the same truth.
In Exodus 19, the Lord told Moses to say to the people, “And thou shalt set bounds unto the people round about, saying, Take heed to yourselves, that ye go not up into the mount, or touch the border of it: whosoever toucheth the mount shall be surely put to death: There shall not an hand touch it, but he shall surely be stoned, or shot through; whether it be beast or man, it shall not live” (Exo. 19:12-13).
The same is true of the tabernacle. The people were allowed into the courtyard of the tabernacle but they were not to enter the tabernacle itself. Only the priests were permitted into the holy place, but even they were not allowed to proceed beyond the curtain into the holiest place. That was reserved for the high priest and only once a year on the Day of Atonement.
These things were designed to teach the people that the God whom they worshipped was a Holy God. He was not to be trifled with or taken lightly. God is Holy, not only in the sense that He is without sin, but He is holy in the sense that He is distinct and separate from everything else that is creaturely.
It is this second aspect of God’s holiness that is often overlooked by many, and yet this is the fundamental meaning of God’s holiness. The basic meaning of the Hebrew word for “holy” means to “cut” or to “separate.” When we say that God is holy, we mean that He is distinct and separate and different and set apart from everything else in this universe. God’s holiness speaks not so much of His righteousness but His otherness.
The best word to describe the holiness of God is the word “transcendence.” Transcendence means to climb across or exceed the limits. To transcend is to rise above something, to go above and beyond a certain limit. God is above and beyond us.
Most of us would have come across the expression “a cut above the rest.” For example, we may say that the sprinter Usain Bolt was a cut above the rest when he won the 100m sprint in a world record time of 9.58 seconds.
Well, God is a cut above the rest in the highest sense of the word. He is an infinite cut above everything else. Moses was called to keep his distance from the burning bush where the angel of the LORD was, in order to show, in a very literal way, the gap between the divine and the human, between the creator and the creature.
But in addition to keeping his distance, Moses was told to take off his shoes or sandals because the place where he was standing was holy ground. It’s important to note that it was God’s presence that made that place holy. Once God departed from it, it ceased to be holy ground. There is nothing holy about Sinai or Horeb in and of itself. It only became holy when God’s presence was there. The same is true of Palestine or the land of Israel. Palestine or Israel today is no longer the holy land, and if I may add, we should refrain from calling it so, because God’s holy presence is no longer there or for that matter in any particular location as it was in biblical times.
But coming back to our text, why did the LORD instruct Moses to take off his sandals? What was that a symbol of? Well, the feet of man signifies his creatureliness. It is with the feet that a person is connected to the ground or dust or that which is base and lowly. Moses’ removal of his sandals was a symbol of his creatureliness in the presence of the most Holy and infinite God.
So the important truth that God was teaching Moses in this encounter was that while He loved Moses (as seen in the endearing repetition of his name), He was also at the same time the transcendently holy God, and Moses was to be careful to maintain a holy fear and reverence for Him in His awesome presence.
This brings us to our fourth window into this passage, namely, a clear revelation.
Thus far in this encounter, God had not clearly revealed who He was. Moses, of course, would have understood that the One who was speaking to him was no ordinary human being but a divine person, who had supernatural power. The miracle of the self-sustaining fire that did not consume the bush would have told him that.
But the purpose of this whole theophany was not merely to bring Moses into contact with divine power. Rather, it was to serve as a prelude or run-up to greater and clearer revelation of who He was and what He was about to do for His people.
Here we are reminded that miracles or miraculous signs are not sufficient to reveal to us who God is and what He requires of us. We need the clear revelation of God’s word. And this is what God gives to Moses from verse 6 of Exodus 3 and onwards. Moses receives a clear verbal revelation from God.
Verse 6 says, “Moreover he said, I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Moses was not just standing in the presence of the living and true God, the maker of heaven and earth. He was, but more than that, he was in the presence of the God of the covenant – the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.
The words ‘I am the God of thy father’ could refer to the fact that Moses’ biological father Amram was a member of the covenant and that the covenant promise to Abraham concerning succeeding generations was being fulfilled in Moses’ own family.
Or the phrase “the God of thy father” could simply refer to the way that God introduced Himself to the Patriarchs in the book of Genesis, and Moses was familiar with that title. But either way you take it, the message is clear – the covenant God had appeared to Moses, who was himself, a descendent of Abraham and a member of the covenant.
The God of his father had not left or forsaken them. He had not forgotten to be gracious to His people. The promises that He had made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob hundreds of years ago had not fallen to the ground or failed. God remembers, as we saw in chapter 2 verse 24. The God of the covenant is a faithful and unfailing God. And His faithfulness to His people continues into all eternity. Notice how God says, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” He does not say, “I was the God of Abraham…” even though when God appeared to Moses, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had all passed away a long time ago.
The clear implication is that because of God’s everlasting covenant, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob continue to enjoy a living and loving relationship with God even after their physical death and departure from this life. Even now as we speak, these patriarchs are enjoying blessed communion with God in the glories of heaven. And Moses himself has since gone to join them in that blessed place.
…to be continued next issue