What a cluster of types confront us here! Moses is a type of Christ in His prophetic office. Joseph was a type of Christ as the one separated from his brethren. And here too is the burning bush, at once a type both of Christ and the Church.
In this chapter we have Moses’s last words to Israel, in the form of a blessing. He had to warn and threaten them in the previous discourses. Now he can bless them with a free mind, knowing that, whatever may intervene, they shall in Christ be eventually blessed as here stated. His blessing on each tribe, and on Israel as a whole, is both a prayer and an inspired prophecy. We observe too that this blessing resembles, but also differs from, that of Jacob. It lacks the severity found in the former.
Now the blessing of Joseph, which of course is inclusive of Ephraim and Manasseh, is the largest blessing and includes: (1) Great plenty in a material sense, (2) The goodwill of the Lord, and (3) Great power.
But our concern is with the second because that is the part of the blessing which carries down to all ages, as the portion of the true Israel of God. Let us then seek to understand what is involved in the goodwill of him that dwelt in the bush.
1. It is the goodwill of God – astonishing.
When Moses turned aside to see this great sight, why the bush was not burnt, God called unto him out of the midst of the bush and said, “Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground. Moreover, He said, I am the God of thy father. And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God” (Ex 3:5,6).
Years, yes centuries, had passed without a revelation of God such as Abraham had known. But now the same God was revealing Himself in the usual awe-inspiring manner to Moses. “God looked upon the children of Israel, and God had respect unto them” (Ex 2:25). Here again, at the time appointed, was the symbol of the divine presence – a symbol akin to that of the Shechinah cloud of glory which filled tabernacle and temple. A great sight indeed, fitted to solemnize, if not indeed to terrify. We do not read that our first parents were terrified of God until they sinned. Then they were afraid and sought to hide themselves. So would we all if we were confronted with a symbol such as Moses saw. Being guilty sinners, we cannot face God, who is of purer eyes than to behold evil.
Is it not an amazing thing that Moses should speak of the goodwill of God? Is not He the Holy One, distinct from every creature, exalted above them in indescribable majesty? He is separate also from moral evil, infinitely pure. Our reaction to the revelation of this holy Being should therefore not merely be a sense of insignificance and awe, but of fear and shame. Our consciences declare our guilt and unworthiness and the fact that a holy, just God is angry with sinners every day. “Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished” (Prov 11:21). “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven” (Rom 1:18). O how wonderful that despite man’s sin, Moses can speak of the goodwill of God! Who could have thought, had God not revealed it, that God can look favourably and kindly on sinners of Adam’s race?
Have you ever seen this God who appears to men like a flame of fire? Have you ever seen Him in his essential justice and truth as the One who threatened you with everlasting burnings because of your sins? If you have never quailed before Him as Moses did, you have reason to be afraid this day, for you have evidently no knowledge either of God, or of yourself, and Christ the Saviour means nothing to you. On the other hand it is a good sign if you really do wonder and are amazed – even while you rejoice in the glorious fact of His revelation of grace – that there is goodwill in Him who dwelt in the bush.
2. It is the goodwill of the covenant God of Israel, Jehovah – understandable.
“I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham” (Ex 3:6). Not only was the One who dwelt in the bush God, but He was the Lord, the covenant-keeping God of Israel. All God’s dealings with men have been by covenant, and thus necessarily involving grace. There was much grace in the covenant of works. But after the fall, God revealed the existence of a better covenant, whose grace was far more extensive inasmuch as it included pardon and acceptance for guilty men.
Following the first promise, the prototype of all to follow, came a succession of promises and prophecies to the Church, pre-eminently a covenant society. They were renewed to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and now, at last, to Moses. It is a perpetual covenant that shall not be forgotten (v 15). God had been silent throughout the many generations in Egypt, but not forgetful.
And here, my friends, is the reason why God, the Holy God who dwelt in the bush, shows goodwill. Because He is God in covenant, He can be just and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus. The covenant of grace makes goodwill possible – nay certain to those within its bounds.
3. It is the goodwill of Christ the Redeemer – worthy of trust.
“And the angel of the Lord appeared . . . and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed” (Ex 3:2). The angel is also called God, thus informing us regarding the Person who appeared to Moses. It was the eternal Word, the second Person, who was afterwards made flesh. Christ is often called “the Angel” (Gen 48:15,16 and Ex 23:20), also “the Messenger”: “And the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, He shall come, saith the Lord of hosts” (Mal 3:1). And in the New Testament how often Christ refers to Himself as the One sent to reveal God’s character and counsels.
How appropriate this title is! Only through the covenant between the Father and Him could any gracious communication be made to fallen men. Only through Him could God be known to us as anything other than the righteous Lawgiver and Judge. Thus every message of mercy was through Him or in His Name.
So it is here. He saw the affliction of His people and was come to deliver them and bring them into a good land. This was to be the plainest and most instructive type of redemption in the Old Testament Church. The One whom Moses saw then was the eternal Word in most significant symbol: a bush, burning but not consumed – when He appeared in the fulness of time to take away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.
The desert bush is the emblem of the human nature of Him who is “a root out of a dry ground” (Is 53:2). The fire which did not consume represents His inconceivable sufferings as the bearer of sin and the curse. Fire is frequently the emblem of suffering and of the terrible nature of divine wrath, as in the burnt offering and the Passover lamb. “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (Matt 27:46). In these terrible sufferings we see the true character of sin and its punishment, and we need frequently to contemplate both. Scripture helps us here for it sets the Atonement before us in great variety of type and symbol. But these lead up to the one true sacrifice of Him who came to seek and to save that which was lost.
But the bush was not consumed and there we are taught the truth that the work was finished. The uttermost penalty was endured to exhaustion; the law is magnified and made honourable. “It is finished” (John 19:30).
Can you who are believers doubt Christ’s goodwill? Think of what He humbled Himself to become for you! “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 8:9). Consider Him that bore such contradiction of sinners against Himself. “He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from Him; He was despised, and we esteemed Him not. Surely He hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted” (Is 53:34). Consider His dying love. Do you doubt His goodwill? He is the One who dwelt in the bush.
We know what a difference it makes to life in this world when we enjoy the favour of our fellows. Life is easier and more pleasant. What a change there would be in world affairs if there existed goodwill! But far more important to us as individuals is that we enjoy the goodwill of God, of Him that dwelt in the bush. Do you have His goodwill now? If not, you are a miserable, lost soul and there is no room for complacency on your part.
But if you have His goodwill, it means that every other good gift springs from this, and you have this to thank for it. It also means that you can lack many such gifts and yet be happy and rejoice – as Habakkuk said, “Although the fig tree shall not blossom, neither shall fruit be in the vines; the labour of the olive shall fail, and the fields shall yield no meat; the flock shall be cut off from the fold, and there shall be no herd in the stalls: yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation” (Hab 3:17).
In His favour is life; seek it earnestly.
1. Printed from Mr McPherson’s notes, which he would have expanded in delivery. This sermon was first preached in Dornoch on 4 March 1962.