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Burning Bush

BURNING BUSH. A thorny bush that Moses saw burning and from which he heard the Lord speak (Exod.3.2-Exod.3.3; Deut.33.16; Mark.12.26). Many attempts have been made to identify the bush, but without success. The incident is important because it is the first direct statement in the Bible linking holiness with the very life of God and making fire the symbol of that holiness. The flame that needs no fuel to maintain it (“the bush...did not burn up”) represents the eternal, self-sufficient life of God. Where this God is, holiness is, and sinners can draw near only by meeting the conditions God imposes (“take off your sandals”). This is the seed from which the whole Mosaic system grows. The unapproachable fire is seen in all its majesty on Mount Sinai (Exod.19.18), and this in turn is reflected in the undying fire on the altar (Lev.6.9). The same God who made the simple provision for Moses to draw nigh (Exod.3.5; cf. Josh.5.13) provided the sacrifices.

BURNING BUSH (סְנֶה, H6174, thorny bush). Exodus 3:2 reads “flame of fire out of the midst of a bush...the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed.”

The writer believes that this phenomenon was one of God’s miracles; in this case, it doesn’t matter what the name of the bush was. Those, however, who do not believe in God-given supernatural happenings aim at finding natural explanations.

Various theories have therefore been put forward. The first is that the plant was Dictanus albus, sometimes called the gas plant, Dittany fraxinella, or burning bush. This, however, grows only three ft. tall, and is looked upon as an herb and not a bush. The plant is covered with tiny oil glands, and so, if a match is struck nearby, it will burst into flame. It then burns for a short time without damaging the leaves or stems. As it burns for a matter of seconds, as well as because of its size, it could hardly be the burning bush of Exodus 3:2.

Because of the Heb. name seneh, there seems no doubt it was a spiny shrub, because even today the Arabs use the word “sanna” as a general term for shrubs of this character. Therefore, it would prob. be the thorny acacia.

Those who must find an explanation for the flames suggest that the bush was covered with a large crimson-flowered mistletoe (which does grow on the acacia). When in bloom, and with the sun shining through, it does look like a flaming fire. Remember that Moses was first a well-educated Egyp. prince, and second a country shepherd, and so he should have known this blossoming mistletoe well.

It was not the American Burning Bush, Eunonymus Americanus, because this was not known in the Holy Land.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)


1. Meaning and Use:

2. Identification:

Exact identification of the particular kind of bush in which God appeared to Moses is impossible. Attempts have been made to identify it with the blackberry bush, as by the Septuagint and also by the monks of the Convent of Catharine on Mount Sinai who grow the blackberry there in token of their tradition. The cassia has also been suggested. Both identifications are failures, the former because the blackberry does not grow in that region unless imported and tended, the latter for philological reasons. Nothing in the language used gives any clue to the species of the bush. The generally accepted view that it was some kind of thorn bush is an assumption with scarcely other ground than that there are so many thorny bushes in that region. This fact does, however, give to the assumption much probability.

3. Interpretation:

The old Jewish commentators have many things to say in explanation of this theophany (compare Jewish Encyclopedia). That one thing which will meet with much response from the Christian heart is that the unconsumed bush with the fire in the midst of it indicated that the Israelites would not be consumed by the afflictions in Egypt. The application of this view to God’s people under affliction in all ages is often made by Christian homilists. But this cannot have been the primary meaning of theophany. Of the many theophanies and other Divine manifestations with fire, the specific signification must be learned from a careful study of the circumstances in each case. The fire does not seem to have any one fundamental meaning running through them all. In addition to the references already given, compare Ps 18:8-12; 50:3; Eze 1:4; Mic 1:1-4; Hab 3:3-6; Heb 12:29.

The exact meaning of the Burning Bush as a method or medium of revelation may appear as follows:

(1) The flame in this bush was not the flame of persecution by God’s enemies without, but the flame of God’s presence or the presence of His angel within.

(2) The idea of burning and yet not being consumed is brought into the narrative by Moses’ wonderment in the moment of his ignorance, before he knew that God was in the bush.

(3) The real significance of the flame in this case seems to be light and glory and preservation where God manifests Himself graciously. This is the universal idea of revealed religion.

The prevailing idea of God in the religions round about was that God dwelt in darkness. The approach to the gods in Egyptian temples was through ever-deepening gloom. It was thought that God was very dangerous and apt to be a destroyer, so that a priest must always intervene. God as a gracious Saviour was the new idea revelation was bringing to the world. This was now first clearly announced, but was not to be fully revealed throughout the time of the long line of priests until the Great High Priest should come and make a "way of approach" that we may come "with boldness unto the throne of grace."