Meditations in Exodus: 72. A Regular Practice
Ex 33:7 Now Moses used to take a tent and pitch it outside the camp some distance away, calling it the “tent of meeting.” Anyone inquiring of the LORD would go to the tent of meeting outside the camp.
We now observe something that went on, and presumably had gone on for some time, in the life of Israel that involved the Lord and Moses. There is no indication of when this practice started or whether the Lord instructed it but we read, “Now Moses used to take a tent and pitch it outside the camp some distance away, calling it the “tent of meeting.” Anyone inquiring of the LORD would go to the tent of meeting outside the camp.” (v.7) So Moses had set up this tent outside the camp, indeed at a distance from it, and it was designated the ‘tent of meeting’ the place of meeting with God. Its purpose was to allow anyone who wanted to seek and inquire of the Lord to go to the tent for that purpose. Anyone could go. We should distinguish this early ‘tent of meeting’ from the Tabernacle which was later constructed and set up with a design that was complex and specific and it was set up in the middle of the camp, whereas this is a simple tent set up outside the camp.
Now whether the people generally used it we don’t know but Moses certainly used it: “And whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people rose and stood at the entrances to their tents, watching Moses until he entered the tent.” (v.8) There would seem to be an inference behind this that Moses did this frequently. Now before we move on it is worth noting the change that has come about in terms of relationship between God and man. When the Lord first set up a relationship with an individual, it was with Abram but in his case the Lord came to Abram at certain limited times to communicate with him. Certainly he built an altar to the Lord (Gen 12:7, 26:25) but that was the extent of his communication-relationship with the Lord. Now, well over four hundred years later, Moses has an ongoing relationship with the Lord whereby he went out on a regular basis to meet with the Lord.
Now we read, “As Moses went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and stay at the entrance, while the LORD spoke with Moses. Whenever the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance to the tent, they all stood and worshiped, each at the entrance to his tent.” (v.9,10) Whenever Moses went to the Lord at the tent of meeting, the Lord signified His presence meeting with Moses by bringing the pillar of cloud to stand at the entrance to the tent, so the people would know. This awesome sight stirred them to stand and focus in the direction of the tent and to worship the Lord outside their tent entrances.
Thus, “The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his young aide Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent.” (v.11) This relationship appears unique in the Old Testament, this ‘face to face’ encounter. We see the impact of it later on when Moses comes down the mountain from meeting with the Lord but it also applies to his meetings at the tent of meeting: “When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the Testimony in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the LORD….. When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face. But whenever he entered the LORD‘s presence to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the LORD.” (v.34:29, 33-35)
The glory on the Lord was reflected on his face and stayed with him after the encounter. Now this may seem a strange thing to us who now take for granted easy access to the Lord wherever we are because His own Holy Spirit now indwells us. Thus we may purpose to have a ‘quiet time’, a time involving prayer and waiting on the Lord. For us it requires no special place although the wise Christian makes such a time in a place of isolation away from others.
Indeed, the apostle Paul uses this example of Moses’ face shining when he talks about the work of the Holy Spirit in us: “We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (2 Cor 3:13-18) He makes the point that it seemed like the Israelites were blind to the wonder of what was happening and that same blindness comes like a veil over their minds even today when the Law of Moses is read. It can only be “in Christ” that this blindness can be removed, when someone “turns to the Lord”. Thus when someone does this, that veil or that blindness is removed and we have an openness with the Lord via His Spirit who changes us bit by bit so that His glory is reflected in us.
But note the change came about in Moses – and in us – by being in the Lord’s presence. Now in one sense we are always in the Lord’s presence because He indwells us by His Spirit and we are being changed by Him as a regular part of the sanctification process, but I also believe that when we take time aside (the ‘quiet time’ at the very least) we come away changed; we may not be particularly aware of it but I believe it is so.
So what do we take from these reflections? It is good to turn aside on a regular basis to meet with the Lord. When we do a change takes place within us. Finally, perhaps we need to purposely give thanks to the Lord for the access we have to Him under the new covenant so that we do not take it for granted and become casual about it.