Moses and the Burning Bush ; Michiel van der BORCH ; illuminated miniature on vellum from Jacob van Maerlant’s « Rhimebible » of Utrecht ; manuscript MMW 10 B 21; Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague



Moses and the burning bush

Unerstand the scene


Moses is in Egypt; he is grazing the sheep of his father-in-law when he sees a bush burning without being consumed.

Moses wears a shepherd’s clothing; his flock is near. He has taken off his sandals as a mark of respect as God has asked him to do. The sandals or shoes are quite visible.

The bush burns without being consumed, that is to say without smoke and without its branches disappearing, but flames can be seen.

God being invisible should not be represented; here it is the Lord’s angel.



Moses is normally a young man but he is sometimes confused with the one he will become later (See Moses and the Law)

The bush can be of a very great size and sometimes it is the whole mountain that is ablaze.

God is sometimes present under the form of a hand but one can also find the figure of Christ, and even that of the Father, depending on the date of the painting. Some classic painters have represented this scene in a vast landscape in which it is lost; others have put the stress on Moses.

The biblical narrative

The Book of Exodus, chapter 3

Moses, a young “son of Israel” is brought up at the court of Pharaoh but he must soon flee from Egypt and settle among the nomads of Madian.

One day he grazes the cattle of his father-in-law; he comes “to the mountain of God, even to Horeb.

And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush: and he looked and, behold, the bush burned with fire, and the bush was not consumed. And Moses said, I will now turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush is not burnt. And when the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses. And he said, Here I am .

And he said, Do not draw near hither: put off your shoes from off your feet, for the place whereon you stand is holy ground.

Moreover he said, I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. And Moses hid his face; for he was afraid to look upon God.

Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you: this is my name for ever, and this is my memorial to all generations. (Exodus 3:2-6 + 15)



It is a capital moment in the revelation of God’s name in the Bible. Until then, God was only the God of the ancestors; he reveals himself now as the Being “I am”


See similar pictures


From the burning bush a voice rises but how to represent it? Hence a rather traditional image of God with the features of Christ or of the Father.


Moses and the Burning Bush; Schnorr von CAROLSFELD; 1851-60; engraving from “Bibel in Bildern”




Moses and the Burning Bush; Sébastien BOURDON; 1642-45; oil on canvas; The Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg.

 Hermitage museum


Some artists prefer to refuse any human image of God.


Moses before the Burning Bush; Domenico FETI; 1613; oil on canvas; Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Web Gallery of Art



Moses before the Burning Bush; Marc CHAGALL; 1960-66; oil on canvas; Musée National Message Biblique Marc Chagall, Nice.

Académie Nice


The representation of the scene at the heart of a natural landscape gives a particular meaning to the relation between God and Nature.


The Burning Bush; Matthaeus MERIAN; 1625-30; engraving; from “Icones Biblicae”.



The Burning Bush; Francisco COLANTES; 1634; oil on canvas; Musée du Louvre, Paris

Web Gallery of Art


When it is the “Virgin and Child” who is enthroned on the burning bush, it is always a representation of God. As if Moses saw the future incarnation of God.

But this also a Byzantine theme; the bush burning without being consumed is a symbol of the virginity of Mary.


The Burning Bush; Nicolas FROMENT; 1476; canvas on wood; Cathédrale Saint Sauveur, Aix-en-Provence, France

Web Gallery of Art





Further developpements


God has a name

The name of a person has a meaning. This name can refer to a saint, model or protector, or to a famous figure. The name gives a reference, some meaning, to the person with the name and some believe their destiny is determined by their Christian names. To give a name to God has therefore a deep meaning.

To say the name of God is not indifferent either and swearwords always concern “the name of God”.


The God of the Bible

can be defined as the Being in opposition to nothingness but also to the other gods of paganism that have each a name and a particular form.

The name revealed in the burning bush is written “IHVH”.

These 4 Hebrew letters (or tetragrammaton)        correspond to the verb “He is”. The vowels are not written in Hebrew and so it is difficult to know how to pronounce it since only the High Priest was allowed to do it only once a year, on Yum Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

Therefore Jews do not pronounce the name of God as a sign of respect; when they read IHVH, they say “Adonai”, that is to say “Lord”.

Christians said “Jehovah” in the 19th century; nowadays, there a certain agreement to pronounce “Yahve”.


The divine triangle

The equilateral triangle was as early as Antiquity a symbol of the divine; it became the sign of God, one and Trinity and, in the 17th century, the tetragrammaton was inscribed inside a radiating triangle.

Refusing to represent God, these letters are an attempt to show who he is: the Being beyond any being (the Name that is not pronounced), the Trinity (the triangle), the Light (the rays).

This image can still be found in churches and on buildings but the 4 letters are sometimes replaced by an eye; the whole then takes a more esoteric meaning like “the All-Seeing Eye in the luminous Delta” of Freemasonry.





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