This is part four of an eight part blog response to a posting by Daniel O. McClellan entitled, “The Angel of Yahweh in Early Hebrew Bible Narrative,” which was dated June 16, 2011 on WordPress.
In this post Daniel’s statements on the story of Moses and the Burning Bush (Exodus 3) will be examined. Daniel starts with,
“The angel is only mentioned in v. 2, and afterward God himself is the interlocutor. “
There is a trend with some people to give less significance to words which appear less frequently in scripture than others. In this case the Documentarian view is focused on the one occurrence of the word, “Malach”(messenger), as if the mathematical formula of ‘less is less true’ and ‘more is more true’ is the code by which he will discern the “real” text.
Daniel has also convinced himself at this point that the ‘Angel’ is not speaking on behalf of God. It appears he has wholly excluded the possibility that the reason the ‘Messenger’ is called the ‘Messenger of the Lord’ is because He speaks a message on behalf of the Lord. Daniel has identified the words as spoken directly by the Lord based on the phrases such as, “…God called to him out of the bush…” but it is entirely possible to interpret phrases such as these as God calling out to Moses through the Messenger. This is the whole point of the Lord’s Messenger. The Angel serves as a mediator between God and man in order that the Lord’s Presence does not overcome man.
Daniel gives the following reasons for determining that only God is the interlocutor:
- “In v. 6 God even states, ‘I am the God of your father . . .'”
- “Moses even lowers his gaze because he is afraid to look upon God.”
- “…v. 2′s statement “and the angel of Yahweh appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush” does not fit the narrative. It preempts Moses’ noticing the bush (which follows “and he looked, and behold!”) and his moving close enough to it for the entity to speak out of it…”
Before I answer the first reason I need to point out how easily Daniel excludes verse 2 along with other Scriptures in the Bible. This is because he is a Biblical Minimalist. He is not really interested in all of the texts but only those which support the Documentarian worldview. At the same time he excludes texts he also vehemently defends certain narrow interpretations of others. The problem with this approach is that the Documentarian, by trying to arrive at one correct interpretation, does not consider any other interpretations.
The first reason given to exclude verse 2 is verse 6 where God states, “I am the God of your father…”. Daniel has essentially refused to reconcile these two verses by simply acknowledging that the Messenger speaks on behalf of God, and so only the strict narrow interpretation of verse 6 is considered. He has prematurely dismissed verse 2 in his consideration of verse 6, and so his interpretation of verse 6 is out of context. He is basically stating that exhibit A is a fabrication because exhibit B does not seem to line up with exhibit A but this is only if we pretend that exhibit A does not influence how we understand exhibit B. Daniel is attempting to prove away the existence of the ‘Angel’ but all he has really stated is that verse 6 does not fit into one narrow interpretation of verse 2.
The second reason he gives is that Moses lowers his gaze because he was afraid to look at God. It continues to intrigue me how devoted some Documentarians are to certain interpretations while they ignore all others. Clearly Moses was afraid to look upon God but this still does not mean that it was not the Angel which Moses was afraid of. If the Lord was using the Angel as His mouthpiece and likeness then a portion of the Lord’s Presence is manifested and Moses most certainly would have been afraid. Moses is likely afraid of the Lord no matter what form He assumes. Whether the Lord appears in a cloud or the Angel of the Lord appears in the fire. It is also entirely possible that Moses understands later after the appearance that this was the Angel of the Lord, but these interpretations are not allowed by Daniel because they include verse 2 in their consideration.
At this point I should reiterate that the existence of the ‘Angel’ as well as the idea of the ‘Angel’ is not dependent on the Hebrew word, “Malach”. It is entirely possible that even if the word never existed in Scripture that religious thinkers and men of faith would have come to understand that the Lord uses mediation and a mediator to communicate with mankind. In this case even if verse 2 did not exist in Exodus chapter 3, the entire section could be interpreted as Moses encountering God through an intermediary, but Daniel has chosen to take a hard-line on this and is suggesting that without verse 2 there is only one correct interpretation.
In his final reason for dismissing verse 2 Daniel concludes that the verse preempts the chapter. The basic definition of “preempt” is to appropriate, seize, or take for oneself before others. In other words verse 2 messes up the “correct” interpretation. Stated another way he is saying that verse 2 affects the interpretation of the chapter. Well, this seems obvious because that is what words do. They give us context and key us in on overall meaning. In this case he has only given the reason that it does not fit into the Documentarian interpretation of chapter 3, therefore it does not belong.
He continues by stating in so many words that it makes no sense because Moses saw the bush first and not the ‘Angel’ therefore it cannot be correct. If I had a nickel every time a critic said the Bible didn’t make sense I’d be a rich man. Daniel notes that the phrase, “…and he looked and behold!” does not fit with the first part of verse 2 because first Moses apparently sees the Angel and then ‘behold!‘, he sees the burning bush. Notice how tightly Daniel holds onto his interpretation that Moses saw the Angel prior to seeing the burning bush. No other understanding of verse 2 is considered! Again we are to believe that a theoretical Post-Deuteronomic editor made a glaring mistake and left a mess of jumbled non-sense. I brought this point up previously but it needs to be revisited again.
Apparently the hypothetical Post-Deuteronomic school was such an inept collection of scribes that they could not edit their theology into one coherent sentence! Yet despite the supposed poor sentence structure, over many centuries for all to see, only now the Biblical critics have discovered this alleged mistake.
The problems are very likely not the Hebrew but how verse 2 is translated and/or interpreted. These problems can occur when a poor or a difficult translation into English is interpreted a certain way based on the most common grammar rules of English without consideration of the textual context. The majority of verses in the Bible which don’t seem to make sense can be attributed to either improper or incomplete translation or interpretation, and I believe this is the case with verse 2.
An alternate interpretation of verse 2 could be that it is an introduction to the event before it transpires. This would be similar to the Creation accounts given in Genesis which incidentally most critics also incorrectly interpret as two creation accounts. The New International Version of the Bible translates Ex. 3:2 with this interpretation in mind:
“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.” NIV
In this translation the first part of the verse serves as a type of explanation of the story to follow.
There is another very likely interpretation of verse 2 and that is in regard to the nature of the appearance of the Messenger of the Lord. The assumption by the critics is that the Messenger appeared in bodily form in the flames but the Hebrew text does not say this. In fact, based on the context of the story, it is clear that Moses does not see anything other than a burning bush which he turns to go investigate.
Daniel is tied to the words, “and the angel of Yahweh appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush“, and he says in so many words that the Angel appeared to Moses first but the narrative conflicts by showing that Moses saw the fire first. I would suggest that it is possible that the correct interpretation is that the ‘Malach Adonai’ is not appearing in the form of an ‘angel’ but the Messenger of the Lord is appearing in a non corporeal form in the flames of the fire, and this is why Moses only sees the burning bush from a distance. This interpretation seems to line up well with the other places in Exodus where the ‘Angel’ appears as a Cloud by day and a Fire by night (Ex. 14:19). Consider also a later understanding in Psalm 104:4:
“Who maketh his angels spirits; his ministers a flaming fire:” KJV
It would seem from this understanding that angels or in this case the ‘Angel’ can appear as a spirit (wind) or a flaming fire, so it could be very likely that the ‘Angel’ in the fire of the burning bush not only appears in the fire but appears within the fire as the fire. This would certainly explain why Moses saw the fire first and seems to be a very plausible interpretation.
Daniel concludes this section by stating:
“The most likely reason is that the statement is a late interpolation meant to contextualize the comments that followed. Without the statement, it is God himself speaking to Moses.“
He has essentially dismissed Exodus 3:2 in this sweeping statement which assumes only one narrow interpretation of the text. Above I have offered a few plausible interpretations which reconcile verse 2. If one is to find the Documentarian view more to their liking then they should do the responsible thing and offer reasons why the interpretations I have presented are not just as likely. If as I predict no one can fully disprove anything I have written in this post then what Daniel has presented as a likely interpolation suddenly seems not as likely.
This ends part 4 of this 8 part series. I look forward to the next and as always Keep Ceeking Truth. :-)