MOSES GETS A GLIMPSE OF GOD
Dear Friends in Christ,
There are people who became successful late in life. Ben Franklin was seventy years old when he signed the Declaration of Independence. Julia Child was in her mid-thirties when she asked what a shallot was. She moved to France with her husband and became enchanted with French cooking. She was 51 when she published her first cookbook. Ray Kroc was 61 when he bought his first drive-in that would turn into the multi-billion dollar hamburger empire of McDonald’s Corporation. Grandma Moses didn’t start painting until the age of 76. She lived to 101.
Getting a late start in life could be said of Moses too. He lived to be 120 years old, but his life was two thirds over when God called him to do what he most famous for - leading the nation of Israel to the Promised Land. At the age of 80 he received the opportunity to see what few have gotten to see on this side of the grave; “Moses Got a Glimpse of God.” 1) He got to see that God is triune; 2) He got to see that God is holy; 3) He got to see that God is love.
The first forty years of Moses’ life was spent in the palace of Pharaoh. He was drawn out of the Nile where his mother had hidden him in a water proof basket. Pharaoh had decreed that all the Jewish newborn baby boys were to be tossed into the Nile because the slave nation of Israel was getting too large. Mom hid him. As God guides history he grew up in Pharaoh’s palace. You should know the story.
Then there was the next forty years. He fled Egypt when he killed an Egyptian who was beating up a Jewish countrymen. He hooked up with Jethro, his future father-in-law, and herded sheep for the next forty years.
Then there came the last forty years. God had a great plan for Moses’ life. One day as he was grazing Jethro’s sheep. “He led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.”
Yes, this is the same place to which Moses would one day lead the people of Israel. Horeb was the mountain range but Sinai is the mountain where God would give Israel the Ten Commandments. But before Moses could lead, God called him to lead them. “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.” Notice what it says here. The Angel of the LORD appeared to him…”
There are 99 occurrences of the word “angel” in the singular and there are 81 occurrences of the plural “angels” in the Old and New Testaments. These are the created beings God gave to serve “those who are heirs of salvation.” You have had angels in your lives many times and most of the time didn’t know it. But there are also a number of passages, like the one here, which mention, not AN angel, but THE Angel of the LORD. The Angel of the LORD is not a created angel but the Creator himself. Look at this and other places closely.
The first time the Angel of the LORD is mentioned in the Bible is in Genesis 16. Hagar was the first to come into contact with the Angel of the LORD. She was the maid-servant of Sarah. Abraham and Sarah were getting old, but God had promised to give them a child from whose seed all the nations would be blessed. One day Jesus would come from the family of Abraham, but they had no child. But Sarah wasn’t experiencing morning sickness and she didn’t get a hankering for pickles and ice cream. Sarah and Abraham decided to help God out. Sarah gave Abraham her servant Hagar to conceive a child so that child could be part of Jesus’ family tree. That’s wasn’t God’s plan. God didn’t need Sarah and Abraham’s advice or help. But a child was born. It didn’t work out well. There was jealousy between the women. Finally Sarah insisted that Hagar and son Ishmael be sent away.
Hagar left wondering what would happen to her. Genesis 16 states that Hagar fled into the wilderness. In verse seven it says the Angel of the Lord found Hagar by a spring of water in the wilderness. The angel of the Lord advised her to return and then promised, “I will so increase your descendants that you will not be able to count them.” The Angel of the Lord made a promise that no created angel could make—her son Ishmael would be the father of a nation of people. Only God can do that. Hagar knew this wasn’t just an angel. She gave this name to him: “You are the God who sees me.” Hagar recognized the Angel of the Lord as God.
In Genesis 22 we find that head scratching test of Abraham’s faith. God told Abraham to sacrifice his long awaited son as a burnt offering to him. When Abraham arrived at the site and made the necessary preparations, his arm was cocked and ready to slay his son. The Bible says, “The Angel of the Lord called Abraham out of heaven, and said . . . Do not lay a hand on the boy. Do not do anything to him, for now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” Notice the Angel of the Lord speaks of God in the third person, “I know that you fear God,” but then adds, “You have not withheld your son, your only son from me.” The Angel of the Lord distinguishes between himself from God, the Father and at the same time he identifies himself as God. A couple verses later he says, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” All of this can be very confusing and unexplainable if we didn’t know that God is Triune – one God, but three persons.
Many believe, as I do, that the Angel of the LORD is really God the Son – Jesus in the Old Testament, the second person of the Godhead in the Old Testament.
The Hebrew word for “angel” literally means messenger. Angels delivered messages – and some of the most important. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” and “He is not here; He is risen just as he said!” were spoken by angels. Good words! Good messages! What unusual name is Jesus called in John 1? He is called the “Word.” “The Word became flesh and lived among us full of grace and truth.” He came to deliver the message of God’s love for the world. He came to be the message of love God promised for the world. There are many places in the Old Testament that speak about the Trinity. The Angel of the Lord is one of those.
The Lord also reveals that he is holy. As Moses looked at the burning bush he is told not to get come any closer. God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”
My wife makes me take off my shoes in the parsonage. Some of you want me to take off my shoes when I come to your homes. I know I am not entering holy ground. You have your reasons. The ground on which Moses stood wasn’t holy in itself, but what made it holy was the fact that God was present. Taking off sandals showed respect and honor.
There is no doubt that God is holy – perfect and sinless. Unfortunately God’s holiness is not something that many take seriously. Why? No one is even close to being holy. Often people ask, how can God expect holiness when no one can be holy?
I know a man who was a postal inspector for thirty plus years. Most Sunday nights he would fly to a different part of the nation to audit post offices for the week. He once told me when he went to New York City everyone knew they never played by the rules. Graft and fraud were simply taken for granted. His job was to keep it within an acceptable range.
That doesn’t happen with God. There is no wiggle room. He applies his holiness to all. Yet, people simply think he is like the Pillsbury Doughboy. You poke him in the stomach with some sin and he giggles. Be clear on this: God has never let his standards down. We are still required to be holy to get to heaven. That’s why the righteous life of Jesus is so meaningful for us. He provides the holy life we need. He lived it for us. It is ours by faith.
Here we can learn another lesson in the Quincentennial year of the Reformation. The Bible teaches us there are deliberate sins; they are called mortal sins. They are done intentionally. There are also sins of weakness. These are called venial sins. Lutheran church father C.F.W. Walther called them “every day sins.” Sometimes we don’t even know we are doing them.
What is the difference? Mortal sins are sins that cause the Holy Spirit to leave. They are committed when we know better but do it anyway. Kind of like drawing your own line in the sand and not respecting or honoring where the Lord draws the line in the sand. It amounts to defiance and rebellion. The Holy Spirit who gives us faith won’t remain where he isn’t welcome.
You might think that venial sins are not nearly as bad as mortal sins, faith- destroying sins. That’s what the Roman Church taught and still does. In fact they say that venial sins are not damnable; you can make up for them with a few years in that imaginary place called purgatory.
That’s not what the Lord says. Every sin is damnable. “Whoever keeps the whole law and yet offends in just one point, is guilty of all,” says the Scripture. Every sin offends God. Because God is holy! That’s why we confess, “I am by nature sinful and unclean.” Forgive me for what I have done and have failed to do, known and unknown. Every sin needs the Lord’s absolution and forgiveness.
Someone said, “Sin is as great as he who is offended by it.” God is offended by all sin. He cursed sin. “The soul that sins is the one who will die.” He created hell for those who sin. All humanity deserves to go there.
The Bible says, “Fear God.” There was a time when that phrase confused me. I didn’t like that word. Yet that’s what Moses felt. When the Angel of the LORD identified who he was, “Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.” That’s also felt by us and our sinful nature because God is holy.
Yet there is another way to look at that phrase “Fear God.” Respect God. You see we also have another nature that God created in us that knows God is also a God of love. The Lord reminded Moses of that too from the burning bush.
The Angel of the LORD said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” Give that some thought. There was a time when Jesus quoted those words. He said it to the Sadducees at the temple during Holy Week. That Sadducees didn’t believe in any life after death. Jesus reminded them of the time the Angel of the Lord had said, “I am the God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob.” Even though Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were dead for almost two millennia, God continued to be their God in the life after death.
Apply that to Moses. Even though Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were dead for hundreds of years, the Angel of the LORD reminded Moses that he remained their God. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were by no means paragons of perfection. They had their faults, but the LORD remained their God. They were and are godly patriarchs, not because they were the perfect in behavior, but because they had faith in him who would come to forgive.
The Angel of the LORD is also our God, not because we are paragons of perfection either. He supplies us with the righteousness that we are lacking. That’s why Jesus lived perfectly for thirty three years. He lived for us. But he also paid for every sin, mortal and venial, by dying in our place. Our Lord is the God of love.
Moses learned a lot that day he saw the burning bush. He got a glimpse of God, the Triune God, the holy God, the God of love. So do we!