Reading Time: 3 mins

O Adonai: A Scandalous Confession and the Burning Bush Jesus

Reading Time: 3 mins

On each of the seven days leading up to Christmas Eve (December 17-23), Chad Bird will provide a meditation that focuses on the ancient “O Antiphons,” each of which addresses Christ by a different Old Testament name. Today’s reflection on “O Adonai” is the second in the series.

Yesterday had us staring into the vast amphitheater of creation, watching the Wisdom of God carve out caverns and kindle fire in the hearts of stars. Today we step into a very different space. We’re in the Sinai wilderness. Sheep bleating. Sand swirling. Sun scorching. And there, shuffling along with his flock, is an octogenarian named Moses, just out earning a paycheck from his wife’s dad.

He spies a bush pregnant with flame but no ashes blackening the ground. His curiosity piqued, Moses advances to inspect the mystery. And at that moment his life—and, indeed, the life of the world—is irrevocably changed.

“Moses, Moses,” a voice says.
Hineni is his Hebrew response: “Here I am.”

“Here I am.” Now we know who this “I” is. We know about Moses’ infant voyage down the Nile in his itty-bitty ark. His coming to age in Pharaoh’s house. His deep-sixing of an Egyptian guard. And the last four decades of his life on the lam, during which he met and married Mrs. Moses, raised a pair of youngsters, and got into the shepherding business. Yes, we know Moses.

The more important question is this: Who’s in the bush?

The Fire Voice

That’s not as simple a question as it might appear. First, we’re told “the angel [malak] of the Lord” is in the bush (Exod. 3:2). In Hebrew, malak, though usually translated “angel,” is the more generic noun “messenger.” Okay, so the messenger of Yahweh is in the bush. Simple. There’s your answer.

But not so fast. Next we read, “When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush” (3:4). So, Yahweh sees and God calls? Now this is getting confusing.

Next, the Fire Voice identifies himself, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (3:6). Then he proceeds to say that he is the great “I am” (3:14) whom we call Yahweh.

So, who’s in the bush? The messenger, God, or Yahweh? Well, yes.

Throughout the Old Testament, the Malak of the Lord, his messenger or spokesman, visits individuals or groups, beginning with Hagar (Gen. 16:7ff). He speaks as God, has the name of Yahweh in him (Exod. 23:21), acts with divine authority, and is called both Elohim and Yahweh. He is obviously divine but still distinguished from God as his messenger.

Who is this? He’s the Son of the Father, his Spokesman, his Word-Man. Jesus is in the bush. Jesus is God. Jesus is Yahweh. Jesus is Adonai.

O Adonai, Come!

Today, December 18, the church sings the second of the “O Antiphons.” Each of these antiphons addresses the Messiah by a different name. All are steeped in Old Testament stories and imagery.

On this day, we sing to Christ as Adonai:

“O Adonai and ruler of the house of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the burning bush and gave him the Law on Sinai: Come with an outstretched arm and redeem us,” (LSB 357).

In Hebrew, Adon (the simple form of Adonai) can be a term of respect or courtesy for an earthly figure like a husband, brother, father, king, or prophet. In these cases, it is often translated “lord” (think of the phrase “lords and ladies”). However, Adon is also used to refer to the Lord of lords himself (Deut. 10:17). The longer form, Adonai, is another name or title for Yahweh himself.

A Scandalous Confession

Let me warn you: in our relativistic religious age, today’s antiphon is highly scandalous. It is a bold, unapologetic confession that the God of the Old Testament, who appeared to Moses in the burning bush, and who later gave the Ten Commandments to Israel, is none other than Jesus of Nazareth.

This confession will win no applause in ecumenical circles; it is unapologetically exclusive. He who claims to worship the God of the Old Testament, but does not acknowledge that Jesus is that God, worships a false god. Yahweh is Jesus. Elohim is Jesus. Adonai is Jesus. He is Wisdom who created the world. He is Adonai who redeemed Israel from Egypt.

In brief, we know no God apart from Jesus the Christ. And in Jesus Christ, we know everything we need to know about God. As the Messiah himself says, “He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9). “In him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,” Paul affirms (Col. 2:9).

To go looking for God apart from Jesus Christ is to find nothing but an idol.

Outstretched Arms of Mercy

What we need is for Adonai to look for us. “Come with an outstretched arm and redeem us.” With his arm, the Lord redeemed Israel from the death grip of Pharaoh (Exod. 6:6). He stretched out that strong arm to cast down plague after plague, to slay the firstborn of their enemy, to split the Red Sea, to transform rocks into rivers, and to guide his people to the land flowing with milk and honey.

Stretch out that same hand, O Adonai, to redeem us. And he will. He will stretch out his infant arm to touch his mother’s face. He will stretch out his hand to heal a leper. He will stretch out his hand—both hands—to have them nailed to the bloody wood, on which we are redeemed.

O Adonai, our Lord Jesus, Messenger of the Father, Bearer of the Spirit, Ruler of the house of Israel and Head of the Church, wrap us in your strong, redeeming arms of mercy.


*Yesterday, we looked at "O Wisdom," which you can read here. In tomorrow’s article, we will look at “O Root of Jesse.”