Who appeared to Israel at Sinai?
'The LORD talked with you face to face in the mount out of the midst of the fire' (Deut 5.4)
LORD spake unto you out of the midst of the fire: ye heard the voice of
the words, but saw no similitude; only ye heard a voice.'
Whilst no direct visible similitude was witnessed at Sinai, the manifestation of God's presence was so direct and emphatic
that Torah describes it figuratively as a 'face to face' experience.
experience even more intimate and even more dramatic was given to
Moses, so that again he is described as one whom 'the LORD knew face to
in striking contrast to all subsequent prophets.
Yet as we have argued elsewhere, the Bible in both halves is emphatic God in the absolute has never and cannot be seen by sinful man.
'My face shall not be seen' (Ex.33.23b)
was a great promise to sustain in trial to Moses that HaShem who
had spoken to him to commission him, would bring His people to worship
at the very same Sinai.
'Certainly I will be with thee; and this shall be a token unto thee, that I have sent thee:
When thou hast brought forth the people out of Egypt, ye shall serve God upon this mountain.' (Exod.3.12)
Yet the Torah is also strangely explicit about who it was who actually appeared to Moses.
וַיֵּרָא מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה אֵלָיו, בְּלַבַּת-אֵשׁ--מִתּוֹךְ הַסְּנֶהThe angel of the LORD appeared unto him in a flame of fire (Exod.3.2)
can this be? At such a crucial moment, at the very foundation stone of
Israel's nationhood, why should HaShem entrust a mere angel to
Knowing full well Israel's subsequent defection into
the worship of spirits and created forms, was this not a move fraught
Nor was this appearance peripheral or circumstantial,
The Angel was 'in the flame of the fire' and 'in the midst of the bush', the very place from which HaShem spoke.
He was right at the heart of this critical revelation, not subservient, but essential to it.
When Moses turns aside to observe the phenomenal burning, it is the LORD Who sees and God Who calls him by name. (Exod.3.4)
Although it is the Angel who appears to Moses, Moses is afraid to look upon God
- the intense danger of a Creator-creature confusion appears wholly vindicated.
וַיַּסְתֵּר מֹשֶׁה, פָּנָיו, כִּי יָרֵא, מֵהַבִּיט אֶל-הָאֱלֹהִים.
'And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God.' (v.6b)
- It is here that HaShem reveals not the sound but the meaning of His Glorious Name.
- It is here that He commissions Moses to deliver Israel from powerless slavery.
- It is here that a dialogue that sets the foundation for the entire Levitical priesthood takes place.
How then could such sacred and vital transactions be conducted with a mere creature right at the very heart of proceedings?
this not like a cherub sitting in the midst of the Ark of the Covenant,
usurping the same throne he was to guard from dishonour?
Is this not assuming a prerogative that belongs only to the Eternal, the Most High, the Uncreated?
Could this creature then not justly be charged, 'Thou hast set thine heart as the heart of God'?
Is a mere created spirit, a once non-existent slave of the Creator, in effect, saying 'I am a God, I sit in the seat of God'?
If this was so, it could not be a holy angel that stands between God and Moses.
Moses later writes of this experience in his blessing of Joseph:
'for the good will of him that dwelt in the bush' Deut.33.16
וּרְצוֹן שֹׁכְנִי, סְנֶהThe
word for bush is the cursed thorn bush of Sinai, the emblem of a
blessing that comes from a curse for a dying man, with a dying hope
for a dying nation.
Here in this Angelic manifestation is Resurrection in the midst of a curse .
Word, the Messenger Who dwelt in the bush is no ordinary Angel, no mere
creature, He is the Angel of the Covenant, the Alpha and Omega.
Here is the God of Israel manifest in His Word, in His beloved Begotten, the only true and eternal Son of the Father.
? מַה-שְּׁמוֹ וּמַה-שֶּׁם-בְּנוֹ
This is the revealed God of Sinai, HaShem, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit - the One eternal, complex, relational Deity of the Tenach - One King, One Shepherd, One Saviour.
All other gods are strange gods to the fathers, to Moses, to Israel at Sinai, and the prophets, even though advocated by Rambam himself.
you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods [of Ur]... or the gods
[of Canaan]..., but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.'