As a Bible translator with Wycliffe Bible Translators, I have been working under the assumption these past 30+ years that the New Testament is essential for understanding how God has revealed Himself to mankind in our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. For example, it is in the pages of the New Testament that we come to know God in this way because it is Jesus who reveals Him in bodily form, a form that we can see, hear, touch, and feel (cf. John 1 and 1 John 1). Furthermore, it is in the pages of the New Testament that we come to know the truth about who God is and what His desires for us are with respect to how we find our peace with Him (i.e., in the gospel of peace). These thoughts have been at the forefront of my mind as reasons for why Amy and I are doing our translation work among the *Makori people of W. Africa.

But if this is true about the New Testament, is this the whole story? Why have an Old Testament anymore? Or, better yet, what exactly does the Old Testament give to us that we don’t get from the pages of the New Testament? The short answer I believe is simply “the holiness of God.” In the pages of the Old Testament, we get the revelation of God that says He is “holy,” that is, set apart or different from the men and women that He has created. Sure, we are created in His image, the imago dei, implying we are in some ways like Him, but despite the important similarities, there is also a vast difference, too. He is holy, pure, and complete, in and of Himself, without need of anyone or anything else to make Him whole. Some of these attributes were brought home to me recently in a Sunday School class I was able to teach for my friend, Mark Ott.

Mark had asked me to teach his class for him one week while he was away. Since our Sunday School class was being taught by Robert Riggs at the time (i.e., Robert had just begun teaching through Exodus), I needed to find something to teach for a one-off lesson. What to do? Since Robert was going to teach Exodus 3 and 4 that week, Moses and the Burning Bush, I thought that would be the perfect lesson for us, as well. Interestingly, this Old Testament narrative and dialogue reveal several of the essential attributes of God that make this passage an all-time favorite for believers in the New Testament church.

First, when God appears to Moses in the burning bush, it is noted in Exodus 3:2 that “he saw that the bush was on fire but was not consumed” (CSB). What an incredible sight! This part of the story captures an essential, foundational attribute of God, which is first given to us here in the form of a tangible, visual aide, and is then elaborated upon more fully later in the passage. The attribute I am talking about is that God is self-sufficient or self-sustaining in and of Himself; He is dependent on nothing or no one for His existence. As mentioned above, He alone is complete and whole in and of Himself (cf. the notion of a perpetual machine that needs no outside energy to maintain its function, which, of course, is impossible). For God, He does not need any outside input, energy, or otherwise, to exist. This is a truly remarkable, essential aspect of what God is like.

Second, when God appears to Moses, it is also noted at Exodus 3:6 that “Moses hid his face because he was afraid to look at God” (CSB). As Christians, we believe that people cannot look directly at God and live (cf. Exodus 33:20), and so, Moses’ reaction here to seeing God in the burning bush that was not consumed (i.e., the God who is pure light) makes sense. Thus, Moses was seeing or experiencing God’s essence or essential being in some manner. Notice that there are two opposing attributes of God that are present in this encounter, though. First, God manifested His transcendence to Moses in that He is different from us in His being and quality: He is far and away, far removed from any likeness to us as human beings (i.e., we are not pure light, nor are we self-sustaining). But second, God also manifested His immanence to Moses at the same time in that He wanted to come to where Moses was at: He is near and up close to him, right in his personal space and experience. Thus, these paradoxical attributes of God (i.e., His transcendence and His immanence) are simultaneously revealed to Moses in this single event. No wonder he was afraid!

Third, when God appears to Moses, it is also noted at Exodus 3:14 that God reveals His name to Moses, that is, “YHWH,” or “I AM WHO I AM” (CSB). This is what is called God’s covenant name and it means that He is the covenant LORD, the one who is the sovereign Creator over all of His creation. The implication drawn from the covenant name is that those who belong to Him, like Moses himself, are the non-sovereign creatures, the ones who owe their obedience and very lives to Him. In this way, He is our Lord, and we are His servants. The Old Testament uses a covenant formula from time to time as a short-hand way of acknowledging these truths by saying “He will be our God, and we will be His people.” Thus, in His name alone, we are reminded of these important attributes of who God is, and by extension, of who we are, as well.

In summary, these essential qualities or attributes of God are revealed to us in this extraordinary event with Moses (i.e., that God is holy, self-sustaining, dependent on nothing or no one; that He is both transcendent and immanent at the same time; and that His covenant name is YHWH, the great “I AM,” who the one who is our LORD just as we are His servants). As mentioned above, it is from the pages of the Old Testament that we first learn about who God is, what He is like, and that He desires to have a covenant relationship with us. Thus, these important qualities and attributes inform us about His nature and essential being, things that are necessary for our understanding long before we even get to the pages of the New Testament.

by Eric Fields, Elder

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