Today is Ash Wednesday – the first day of Lent. Forty is a number used often in the Bible and is the reason that Lent has 40 days (Sunday’s don’t count). In Noah’s time it rained for 40 days and nights, the people of Israel wandered in the desert for 40 years, Moses was on Mount Sinai for 40 days and most importantly Jesus fasted in the wilderness for 40 days.
In the Acts of the Apostles we are told that, after Moses fled Egypt he was in the land of Midian for 40 years: “And when forty years were expired, there appeared to him in the desert of mount Sinai, an angel in a flame of fire in a bush.” (Acts 7:30) So Moses was prepared by God for 40 years before the Burning Bush event, the turning point in his life and a turning point in human history.
But did you know that the Burning Bush has often been seen as a symbol of Mary who carried God within her womb?
“The bush, then (as some hold) is a prefiguration of the Virgin Mary since she made the Savior blossom forth, like a rose growing out of the bush of her human body; or rather, because she brought forth the power of the divine radiance without being consumed by it. Hence we read in Exodus: ‘The Lord appeared to Moses in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush; and looked and behold the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed’ (Ex 3:2) ” Rabanus Maurus (Benedictine Monk d. 780)
St. Gregory, the fourth century Bishop of Nyssa, seems to have been the first to connect the idea of Moses and the burning bush to Mary, the mother of Jesus. Gregory wrote in his On the Birth of Christ that as the bush was in flames, but not consumed, so Mary had God present inside her and was not consumed.
In Eastern Christian tradition the Burning Bush is seen as a symbol of Mary – The burning bush appeared to Moses in Exodus 3:2. In the song of The Burning Bush sung during the month of Kiahk (the fourth month of the Coptic calendar between December 10 and January 8 ) they say:
The burning bush seen by Moses
The prophet in the wilderness
The fire inside it was aflame
But never consumed or injured it.
The same with the Theotokos Mary
Carried the fire of Divinity
Nine months in her holy body.
Again it was said of Christ that He is a “consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:29). The fire burning inside the bush is a symbol of Christ and the bush itself symbolizes the Virgin.
Triptych of the Burning Bush, by Nicolas Froment, in Aix Cathedral
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