Jesus in the Old Testament is a sermon series on finding Jesus in the whole Bible. The Angel of the Lord — Who is this mysterious character that seems to speak on behalf of God one minute, and then be God the next? Who is the true messenger who mediates between God and his people? Recorded on May 23, 2021, on Exodus 3:1-12, by Pastor David Parks.
So all year, we’ve been focusing on the Person and Work of Jesus. And today, we’re starting our last sermon series under this annual theme called Jesus in the Old Testament. Christians believe that the man, Jesus of Nazareth, existed before he was born. Not in The Great Before, as a pre-made personality like in the movie, Soul. But as God the Son, existing from eternity past. So when Jesus was born as a human being, we talk of him being sent into the world, of one who was God being made flesh. Now, the three-in-one nature of God the Father, Son, and Spirit became clearer by the time of the NT, but even in the OT, we see certain images and characters who prefigure/reflect/foreshadow the person/work of Jesus. In fact, after the resurrection, Jesus himself taught that the whole Bible was about him. I preached on this back in March. And that’s what this series is all about: finding Jesus in the OT. Well, the first of these prefigurations that we’ll consider is the mysterious character of the Angel of the Lord. Who is the Angel of the Lord? That is a great question. If you have a Bible/app, please open it to Ex 3:1.
Exodus 3:1-12, “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 wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 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. 3 So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.” 4 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.” 5 “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” 6 Then he said, “I am the God of your father,[a] 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. 7 The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. 8 So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 9 And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” 11 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” 12 And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you[b] will worship God on this mountain.”
So Moses was an Israelite born when his people were slaves in Egypt. Over the hundreds of years that the people of Israel were in Egypt, the favor of the Egyptians/Pharaoh turned against them and in Moses’ day, they were being harshly oppressed and abused. In the providence of God, Moses, however, was raised in Pharaoh’s household with all the wealth and prosperity that would bring. So if there was anyone who had the education and the political relationships to lead God’s people out of captivity in Egypt, it would’ve been Moses. But it didn’t seem to work out. When Moses grew up, he was pulled into a dispute between an Israelite and an Egyptian and wound up killing the Egyptian. Let’s start back at v 1 and work through this text.
Exodus 3:1, “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 wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.” So after he killed the Egyptian, Moses was forced to flee from Egypt to Midian which is the modern country of Saudi Arabia. And Moses was accepted as a refugee there. He married a girl, started a family, and worked as a shepherd for his father-in-law. Now here, some 40 years later, at what Moses likely believed to be the end of his career as a shepherd, he was on a journey several weeks from his home in Midian. And he found himself on Mount Horeb, the mountain of God, which was also known as Mount Sinai. This mountain was to be a very important place in the Bible as it would be the location of where God would both call Moses and establish his covenant with his people with the Law and The 10 Commandments and so forth. But now, the scene opens with only Moses and a flock of sheep in the scrub of the desert wilderness. v. 2.
Exodus 3:2-6, “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.” Now here, we have what is called a Theophany, or an appearance of God to a human being. And how does God appear to Moses? Well at first, Moses, who is the author of Exodus, writes that the Angel of the Lord appeared to him. And how does he appear? Well, the first thing to catch his attention is this bush that was burning but didn’t seem to burn up. Of course, that would be very unusual, and people of this time were intelligent enough to recognize that this was not the sort of thing that happened all the time. What was going on? Moses was curious and moved closer to investigate. And it says that when the Lord saw he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush. From then on, it seems to be God himself who is interacting with Moses. It was God who called to him. And when he did he said, I am the God of your ancestors and Moses was afraid to look at God. So who is speaking from the burning bush; is it God or not? And that is a great question, but let me come back to that. v. 7.
Exodus 3:7-10, “The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.” So here, in this theophany, God reveals his character to us. God is not far off and removed, but he is near. He cares. He has heard the cry of his people and is concerned about their suffering. And isn’t that good news? Isn’t that good news that this is what God is like?? Even more than that, it is God who has come down to rescue them and deliver them into the land that he had promised to Abraham years before. Then, God commissions Moses to go to Pharaoh and bring Israel out of Egypt. How would Moses respond to this unusual conversation, with the angel of the Lord? Would he take his place as the leader of Israel that he had wanted to be all those years earlier? Now that he had spent 40 years in the wilderness of Midian, would he now go back to Egypt, to all those people he had run away from? v. 11.
Exodus 3:11-12, “But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.” So Moses is a little hesitant, probably thinking of how his first attempt to lead his people went all those years ago. But God is so merciful. God graciously reassures Moses that he isn’t being sent alone. God says, “I will be with you.” And gives him a sign that what he is saying is true. Now, the story of the Exodus is fantastic and unfortunately, we’re going to have to stop here for this morning. The story of the Exodus, as a whole, is a picture of the person/work of Jesus. It’s a story of salvation by the grace/power of God from the bondage of slavery. It’s a story of a people who are called into a new, covenantal relationship with God in the kingdom of God. Does that sound familiar to you? That is our story in Christ. But for today, and for the rest of our time today, we’re not looking at the whole of the Exodus, we’re just looking at this mysterious character of the Angel of the Lord. Who is this, and what does he have to do with Jesus? Well first, let’s step back and ask this question: what is an angel? There’s a store in downtown Appleton called Angels Forever, Windows of Light where you can buy crystals and gems and other things to tap into the spiritual power of angels. Is any of that real?
What is an angel? The Hebrew word for angel is the word, malak, which means messenger and has a root in the idea of one who is sent, meaning sent with a message/mission. The Greek word is, angelos, which is where the city of Los Angelas gets its name. The bible presents angels as created spiritual beings who interact at times with people in the world; angels are not other gods/goddesses. They are not controlled by crystals or other trinkets, but rather are created beings who are supposed to do the will of God. However, some angels have rebelled against God, led by a powerful angel named Lucifer. Unfortunately for the curious among us, the details of this angelic rebellion are not very clear. I suspect that if the Lord thought the details would be helpful to us, he would’ve shared them with us. But ever since, these fallen angels are now called demons and Lucifer became known as the Satan/Adversary/Devil. Now again, the devil is not a god, nor is he as powerful as God, as if good and evil were equal but opposing forces. However, angels are more powerful than human beings, apart from the power of the Holy Spirit, and they seem to be immortal creatures. This means that the Devil and his angels have had countless generations to perfect their subtle craft of deception, temptation, and destruction. The most common spiritual attack is not a possession like that of the movie The Exorcist. But rather, the slippery question, “Did God really say…?” In other words, questioning the word of God, with the implication that God must not have your best in mind in his word or in his will. That is the serpent’s deception in the garden and has been the main strategy of demonic attack ever since. If you want to defeat the devil, read your Bible and believe it. He has no power compared to the power of God.
Who is the angel of the Lord? So angels are created spiritual beings who are to be messengers of God, sent by God and doing the will of God. We see angels functioning in this way in other places. Angels like Gabriel announcing the birth of Jesus or Michael appearing to the prophet Daniel. We also see the word for angel used to refer to human messengers as well. In Malachi 3, God says he will send his messenger who will prepare the way before the coming of the Lord. The messenger here refers to John the Baptizer. However, the character of the Angel of the Lord seems to be a different character than other angels or demons or even other people in the bible. As mysterious as it might seem, the Angel of the Lord seems at times to be both a messenger sent by God and God himself. And we saw that in our passage today. Who was speaking from the burning bush? Was it the Angel of the Lord speaking to Moses or was it the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? The answer seems to be yes. The Angel in one moment seems to be separate from God and in the very next moment, God himself. What is going on here? Who is this person?
Jesus is the messenger who mediates between God and his people. The angel of the Lord makes a number of appearances in the OT. He speaks to Hagar in Ge 16, he intervenes at the last minute when Abraham was about to sacrifice his son, Isaac, in Ge 22. The angel of the Lord would go with the people of Israel after they left Egypt and later appeared to Gideon in Judges 6 and other places in the OT. But then in the NT, the character of the angel of the Lord seems to disappear. However, there’s a new character who seems to be both with God and who was God. John the Apostle says his name is Jesus. In John 1:18 John says, “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.” Jesus was with God as the Son of God but Jesus was also God himself. As the God-man, Jesus Christ was sent from heaven as both a messenger of God, revealing God to us. But also as the true angel, one who perfectly did the will of his Father in heaven. Was this mysterious character of the Angel of the Lord a pre-incarnate Jesus? Who else could it be? The messenger of God speaking the very word of God; God himself. So why did Jesus come into the world? Because the world needed a perfect sacrifice. The world needed the cross of Christ. So Jesus didn’t stay in heaven. He came and he died and rose again for us. To both reveal to us who God is but also to rescue us into a new relationship with God in the kingdom of God. 1Ti 2:5-6a, “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.” In the OT, the angel of the Lord is a prefiguration of the work of Jesus. And just might be Jesus himself. Jesus is the messenger who mediates between God and his people. No one comes to the Father except through him. Are you ready to listen to him? And believe in his name? If so, know that he goes with you just as he promised Moses. And his presence makes all the difference, even today. Let us pray.