William J. Stewart | Christ In The Old Testament
The Burning Bush
As we have noted already in the course of our study, “…no one has seen God at any time…” (John 1:18; cf. 6:46; 1 John 4:12). Yet there are times in the Old Testament where we read about God appearing to man. This is not the Father, but the Son, who has come to declare the Father to us (John 1:18; 14:9-10).
Exodus 3 speaks of the Angel of the LORD appearing to Moses in the burning bush. This person is described through the text as “the LORD” (v 4) and “God” (v 4, 6). As we have noted before, when we see a reference to the Angel of the LORD, we should understand it to be the pre-incarnate Christ. The Lord Jesus appeared to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the book of Genesis as the Angel of the LORD—now, that has become part of His identify, “the God of Abraham … Isaac … Jacob” (v 6).
As the conversation proceeds, in addition to being the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Angel of the LORD also says of Himself, “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:13-15). Jesus would reveal Himself to be I AM (John 8:24, 28, 58; 9:9; 13:19; 18:5, 6, 8).
As the text continues, Moses suggests that perhaps the Israelites might not believe that the LORD has appeared to him (Exodus 4:1). This would not be a concern if Moses did not plan on claiming that the LORD appeared to him. But the LORD did appear to him—the Christ.
In Acts 7:30, Stephen clearly states of Moses that the “Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire in a bush.” Again, Moses is said to be the
ruler and deliverer who was sent “by the Angel of who appeared to him in the bush” (v 35).
The Angel of the LORD, the pre-incarnate Christ, showed Himself to Moses at Horeb, sending him to Egypt to bring the Israelites away from their captivity, and promising that he would again serve God on that very mountain.
A Pillar of Fire
After the final plague in Egypt, Pharaoh let the people of Israel go. Exodus 13:17-18 tells us,
Then it came to pass, when Pharaoh had let the people go, that God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near; for God said, ‘Lest perhaps the people change their minds when they see war, and return to Egypt.’ So God led the people around by way of the wilderness of the Red Sea. And the children of Israel went up in orderly ranks out of the land of Egypt.
This text tells us that God led the people, but does not specify whether it was the Father, the Son or the Holy Spirit. However, just a few verses later, we find that
…the LORD went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so as to go by day and night. He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day or the pillar of fire by night from before the people. (Exodus 13:21-22)
Still, the text does not say who the LORD is here, but does indicate an appearance. A chapter later, when the Egyptians came after the Israelites, we read the following:
…the Angel of God, who went before the camp of Israel, moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud went from before them and stood behind them. So it came between the camp of the Egyptians and the camp of Israel. Thus it was a cloud and darkness to the one, and it gave light by night to the other, so that the one did not come near the other all that night. (Exodus 14:19-20)
The One identified as God in Exodus 13:17-18 and the LORD in Exodus 13:21-22 is here revealed to be the Angel of God, which would be Jesus Christ. He went from leading them to following behind them, that they might be protected from the Egyptians. When Paul wrote about the exodus from Egypt in 1 Corinthians 10:1-4, he stated that “…they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.”
With Paul’s description of the exodus, there is no doubt who it was that led the people out of the land of Egypt. It was the Christ. Yet again, we’ve seen an appearance of the Christ in the Old Testament.