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What Does The Burning Bush Symbolize?

Unburnt Bush 237x300 What Does The Burning Bush Symbolize?Post Author:  Darrell

I have long cherished the story of the Lord’s appearance to Moses in the Burning Bush from Exodus Chapter 3.  I am sure you know the story. Moses left Egypt and set up his home in Midian.  The Lord appeared to him in the midst of the burning bush in an effort to get his attention and call him back into His service to free the Children of Israel from the Egyptians.  At first glance, the use of a burning bush appears to be nothing more than a tool to get Moses’ attention.  It seems to be a way of saying, “Hey you!  Pay attention!  This is not just your run-of-the-mill conversation.  I am serious!”  However, I have to admit that in the back of my mind I have often wondered if there is a deeper meaning in the Lord’s choice of a bush that burns with fire yet remains unconsumed.  It seems to be a very specific choice.  So why did He choose it?

As some of you know, my wife and I have become catechumens in the Eastern Orthodox Church.  As a result, I have spent some time this Christmas season reading the hymns of the Church as they relate to the birth of Christ, and I have come across an interpretation of the Burning Bush that has really intrigued me.

The Orthodox Church makes heavy use of typology, a method of exegesis that views older biblical events, places, and things as a foreshadow or prefiguration of later biblical events, places, and things.  There is an ancient teaching that the burning bush is a Type of the Virgin Mary and the Church.  The reasoning goes like this:

  1. God is referred to numerous times in the Bible as the Consuming Fire, e.g., Exodus 24:17, Deuteronomy 4:24, Deuteronomy 9:3, and Hebrews 12:29.
  2. Jesus and the Holy Spirit are both Fully God.
  3. The Burning Bush, despite the presence of the Lord, remained unconsumed.
  4. Mary, despite bearing Jesus in her womb, remained unconsumed.
  5. The Church, despite the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, also remains unconsumed.

 I must admit that I never noticed this relationship before, but coming across it and pondering it has really touched my heart.  Mary carried the All-Consuming fire in her womb, yet God condescended Himself enough so as not to consume her.  Mary is, in many ways, the Unburnt Bush (this is a title given to her in Orthodox Tradition).  Today, the Church has the All-Consuming fire living within it.  God condescends Himself enough to take up residence in our hearts, yet we, like Mary, remain unconsumed.  How glorious this is!

You showed Moses, O Christ God,
An image of your most pure Mother
In the bush that burned yet was not consumed,
For she herself was not consumed,
When she received in her womb the fire of divinity!
She remained incorrupt after her pure childbearing!
By her prayers, O greatly merciful One,
Deliver us from the flame of passions,
And preserve your people from all harm!
(Orthodox Kontakion Hymn)

Glory to Jesus Christ!


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Comments

  • Fr. Christopher

    Great post. Here is another icon of Mary depicted in the midst of the flames unconsumed.

  • Anonymous

    I have been for some years involved in a Bible study that is decidedly Christian, yet sets great store on reading, esp. the OT, from a Jewish perspective.

    Coming home one night from that group, I was very interested to hear an older radio preacher suggest reading the burning bust as the people Israel. The equivalencies you raise hold up here as well. He did not make a big point over it, so a gather it was a thought he had received and been only lightly interested in.

    Is that image at all familiar to you?

  • Boz

    You know that is a made-up story, right?

  • Anonymous

    Eric,

    I have never heard that interpretation, but it makes sense. From an Orthodox view, Mary is the culmination or pinnacle of Israel, and she brought forth the Savior who gave birth to the Church, which is now the true Israel of God.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Father Christopher. That is a beautiful icon. I have never seen it before.

  • Anonymous

    Boz, I don’t “know” it’s a made-up story.
    I have no evidence that it is made up, except that I have never, well rarely, seen such a thing myself. Moses also is recorded as thinking it pretty bizarre.

    The physics of something burning that is not itself consumed is neatly covered by the use of a wick and fuel. There is no problem with this “technique” for any of the allegories mentioned. All that remains is for God to speak. If there is a God, then He can speak if He so chooses. If there is not a God, then all is symbolism; although of what, I don’t know.

    But even for those who devalue any historicity of these accounts, the lessons for Jews and Christians to learn from them remains untouched. I believe in the historical veracity of this, and many other stories. but I won’t quibble about the last 5% until we agree on the most important 95%.

  • Anon

    Congratulations on your entry to the catechumenate: may God grant you many, many years! I pray you and your wife will find rest in the peace of Christ’s Holy Church.

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