The burning bush in Exodus 3 is a picture of the entire economy of God. God’s economy is His plan and arrangement to dispense Himself as life into His chosen people to become one with them for His corporate expression.
To see this we need to know two things about how the Bible was written. Two verses guide us:
For his words are: Rule upon rule, rule upon rule; Line upon line, line upon line; Here a little, there a little. –Isa. 28:10
Now these things happened to them as types, and they were written for our admonition, unto whom the ends of the ages have come. –1 Cor. 10:11
The first verse indicates that all the Bible has to say on any truth is scattered throughout the whole Bible. The whole truth is scattered throughout the whole Bible. To have a full understanding of any topic we must collect all the relevant verses, view them together, and hold them in a creative tension. We must respect the corporate witness to the truth and not sacrifice any passage. For instance, there is no one chapter in the Bible called, “The Chapter on Baptism.” The Bible is not organized like a systematic theology book. To discover the fullness of the biblical revelation of baptism, the will of God, God’s calling, or even something as seemingly simple as creation, we must become hunters and gatherers. The revelation is “here a little, there a little.”
For instance, if we were to consider Christ’s relationship to creation we would need to gather many verses:
- Heb. 1:10—Christ is the Creator
- Col. 1:16—Christ is the sphere of creation
- John 1:3—Christ is the means of creation
- Rev. 3:14—Christ is the 0rigin of creation
- Col. 1:15—Christ is the Firstborn of all creation
- Heb. 1:3—Christ is the sustainer of creation
- Col. 1:17—Christ is the holding center of creation
- Col. 1:16—Christ is the end and goal of creation
The second guiding verse (1 Cor. 10:11) indicates that many of the events of the OT are types for NT realities. In this way, much of the OT has a deeper denotation and a spiritual significance. The OT is bustling with types, shadows, figures, and allegories (Rom. 5:14; Col. 2:16-17; Heb. 9:8-9; Gal. 4:24). What the children of Israel experienced typifies the spiritual realities in the NT that the church is enjoying (this does not minimize in any way the significance or question the reality of the historical happenings in the OT). Augustine memorably put it this way:
The New Testament lies concealed in the Old, the Old lies revealed in the New.
The Old Testament, you see, is the promise in figure and symbol; the New Testament is the promise spiritually understood.
So when we read about the burning thornbush in Exodus 3 that was not consumed, we should ask ourselves if there is any deeper significance involved. And there is—it just so happens that the entire economy of God can be seen here.
Diligence and Dependence
These two characteristics of Scripture—its scattered truth and its spiritual significance—test our diligence and our dependence. We must be diligent to search the Scriptures and collect all it has to say, and we must be dependent on the Lord who authored them by coming to Him as we read. John 5:39-40 captures this twofold requirement. We need to be diligent for aggregation and dependent for revelation. Proverbs 23:23 indicates that we must pay a price to buy the truth. This is diligence. No lazy person can have the full knowledge of the truth. Ephesians 1:17 indicates that we must pray for a spirit of wisdom and revelation. This is dependence. No person by their natural intelligence alone can have the full knowledge of the truth.
We must be diligent and dependent and we must pay and pray.
The Symbolism of the Burning Bush
To start out on this exegetical journey, three verses need to be viewed together.
For our God is also a consuming fire. –Heb. 12:29
But if [the earth] brings forth thorns and thistles, it is disapproved and near a curse, whose end is to be burned. –Heb. 6:8
And the Angel of Jehovah appeared to [Moses] in a flame of fire out of the midst of a thornbush. And when he looked, there was the thornbush, burning with fire; but the thornbush was not consumed. –Exo. 3:2
The paradox of these verses is that although God is a consuming fire and the destiny of thorns is to be burned, the thornbush in Exodus 3 is burning but it is not consumed. What does this mean?
Thorns are a sign of the curse. Hebrews 6:8 is a direct reference to Genesis 3:17-18 where God cursed the earth because of man’s sin. Sin brought in a curse and the law made this curse official and imposing on man. The fire in Hebrews 12:29 signifies God’s holiness (this is a chapter on holiness). If cursed sinners, represented by the thorns, come into contact with the fire of God’s holiness they can only be consumed. But the greatness of this sight to Moses was that although the fire burned, the thornbush was not consumed!
In Genesis 3, three negative things came in to frustrate God’s eternal purpose—sin, death, and the curse. Because of these negative elements man was alienated from God (Eph. 4:18) and excluded from the tree of life by a flaming sword (Gen. 3:24). At the end of Genesis 3 three symbols are used to portray man’s relationship to God in the fall. The thorns signify sinners under the curse, the flame of fire signifies the demand of God’s holiness, and the tree of life signifies Christ as the eternal life.
Because of God’s eternal love for man, He refused to give man up to the flames. But because of God’s unyielding righteousness, He was bound not to relinquish the flame. So Christ became a man to bear the holy wrath of God’s judgment on the cross. During the last three hours on the cross, Christ bore the full issue of the fall. He became what we were, and in our place suffered the righteous judgement of God.
- Christ was made sin—2 Cor. 5:21
- Christ was made a curse—Gal. 3:13
- Christ tasted death on behalf of everything—Heb. 2:9
On the cross, Christ offered Himself to God as a sin offering and was burned outside the camp by the fire of God’s holy wrath (Heb. 13:11-12). He was the Lamb of God roasted with fire (Exo. 12:9). Because He was under the flame of God’s holy wrath, He said “I thirst” (John 19:28) and “My heart is like wax melted within Me” (Psa. 22:14).
Christ came to cast fire on the earth (Luke 12:49). This is the fire of His divine life and indwelling Spirit, not the fire of judgment that the sons of thunder wanted to call down out of heaven to consume men (Luke 9:54-56). Because He bore the flame of God’s judgment in our place, we can bear the glory of God’s holiness for His manifestation and know the Spirit’s indwelling as the “favor of Him who dwelt in the thornbush” (Deut. 33:16). This is the entire economy of God in picture form.
The church is the Triune God burning within a redeemed humanity. This is the divine economy.