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, in Exodus 3, that has become part of His identity. Verse 6 reads, “…’I am the God of your father—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face for he was afraid to look upon God.” NOTE – when Bible translations capitalize the word “LORD”, it is because the original Hebrew language read YHWH (Jehovah). This distinguishes it from “Lord” (Hebrew, Adonai) which is a generic term for one with authority.
In addition to being the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the Angel of the LORD called Himself, “I AM WHO I AM” (Exodus 3:13-15). This is a statement of eternal existence. Jesus identified Himself as I AM (John 8:24, 28, 58; 9:9; 13:19; 18:5, 6, 8).
As the text continues, Moses suggested that perhaps the Israelites might not believe that the LORD had appeared to him (Exodus 4:10). This would not be a concern if Moses did not plan on claiming that the LORD had appeared to him. But the LORD did appear to him—the Christ.
In Acts 7:30, Stephen clearly stated 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 who appeared to him in the bush” (Acts 7:35).
The Angel of the LORD, the pre-incarnate Christ, showed Himself to Moses at Mount Horeb, sending him to Egypt to bring the Israelites away from their captivity, and promising that he would again serve God on that mountain (Exodus 3:12).
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 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 which was visible. 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 of 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 the pre-incarnate Christ. He went from leading them to following behind them, that they might be protected from the Egyptians. Notice, the apostle Paul wrote about the exodus from Egypt in 1 Corinthians 10: “Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ (v 1-4).
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.
The Christ appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in Genesis. His appearance to them was used to identify Himself to Moses also.
Moses first met the Angel of the LORD in the burning bush, where He identified Himself as I AM – the eternally existing one. The LORD continued to interact with Moses in Exodus.
The New Testament corroborates that it was the Christ who led the people of Israel from Egypt and through the Red Sea.