Meditations in Exodus: 73. The Presence & Glory of the Lord
Ex 33:13 If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”
We come now to a beautiful interchange between Moses and the Lord. It is a passage that many commentators skim over because it has a number of unclear elements to it. However, this has to be the greatest interchange recorded in the Old Testament between a man and God. We have just seen that the Lord would speak to Moses face to face, and this is an example of that. Moses has a worry. The Lord has just said, “I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you,” (v.3) and that leaves Moses worrying.
He starts out expressing it by telling the Lord that he is aware of his incredibly privileged position: “Moses said to the LORD, “You have been telling me, `Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, `I know you by name and you have found favor with me.” (v.12) i.e. I know the job you have given me, but it is a big job so who is coming with me to share it. You have shown me that you know me and that I have found your favour and that is good for starters but I need more if I am to succeed in doing this.
Then he makes the first of two (or possibly three) requests of the Lord: “If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.” (v.13) i.e. if I am to succeed with this job, I have learnt I need to do it your way and I need to know your way or, to be more precise, your ways. I need to know how you work so that I can work in the same way and be pleasing to you and get it right. These are your people after all and if I am to care for them and lead them, I really need to have this insight. We seem to have got on all right so far, (implied) but I sense there is much more to come and I need your wisdom.
He gets his answer: “The LORD replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (v.14) It would appear that Moses’ recognition of his need makes the Lord backtrack on his original, “I will not go with you.” The Lord’s presence had been with them in the pillars of cloud and fire and clearly up on the mountain, but with their greater revelation of Him or greater awareness of His holiness through the mountain experience, there is a fresh awareness of just what it means to have His Presence with them. It could mean their destruction but with Moses’ request the Lord responds with, “and I will give you rest.” Now whether that means I will take you to your rest in the Promised Land, or I will take away the burden of leading this people and so by my presence will make it easy for you, or something else, is unclear.
Moses doesn’t ask for clarification but merely notes that the Lord’s absence would make going up to the Promised Land an impossibility: “Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” (v.15,16) i.e. (as a future prophet will say) we are called to be a light to the nations but we can’t be that without your light in our midst, without you we are no one special. Moses is beginning to catch on! And so, “the LORD said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.” (v.17) The Lord gives two reasons for complying with Moses’ request. First, “I am pleased with you.” i.e. what you have done so far has been exactly in line with my will and you have lead this people out of Egypt and been my mouthpiece to them, and that has been good! Second, “I know you by name.” i.e. you and I have a face to face relationship, I know you (and by implication) and I enjoy your company and who you are.
Moses clearly feels he is now on a good footing and so asks for something else: “Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.” (v.18) i.e. show me more of yourself, don’t just hold yourself at a distance, please let me have a greater vision of you. To this we see, “And the LORD said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” (v.19,20) i.e. you will be able to catch a sense of what I am like – merciful and compassionate full of goodness – but to actually see me is a bridge too far. (for the reasons we mentioned previously).
But the Lord isn’t going to leave Moses in a completely frustrated position, He will allow him to have a greater vision than he’s had so far: “Then the LORD said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.” (v.21-23)
I don’t know if you have the same question mark that I have? Up on the mountain Moses and the elders had ‘seen’ the Lord so why does Moses ask what he asks and why does the Lord respond like this? We must conclude that the revelation up on the mountain was limited and although they were fully aware of who was before them, somehow it was not a full and clear revelation.
Now what does this all say to us? Well the first thing it screams to me is that there are various ways the Lord reveals Himself to us with varying degrees of revelation. I think this accords with my experience; I have had revelations of who the Lord is that vary in depth of understanding and had various experiences of Him. No, I have never ‘seen’ Him (which is why I am still alive). I have seen things about Him as I have read His word inspired by His Spirit. I have sensed His Presence so strongly that it made me tiptoe around the house for the remainder of a day. I have been in a room where lights, His limited glory, flickered around the room for five minutes. I have been in a prayer time where His presence was almost tangible. Yes, there can be many variations of our interaction with the Lord from the cold me speaking words into the air, to some of these more intimate and (as I’ve used the words) almost tangible presence.
But there is another question lurking in the background? How much do I want to ‘know’ the Lord – I’ll have to be content with that for I cannot ‘see’ Him. The Bible challenges me that I can “draw near” to Him, e.g. “let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith.” (Heb 10:22) Will I take time to do that or be content with the cold questioning prayer?