Seeing God

Exodus 33:1-23

The Mt. Sinai encounter with God that began with a tremendous potential for loving, serving and glorifying God has ended with the Golden Calf Debacle. It is time to move on—but not with the LORD, who brought the people out of Egypt. Moses is about to hear this terrifying and heart wrenching news. Because the people have forsaken the LORD, God will forsake them. Exodus 33:1-3—

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Leave this place, you and the people you brought up out of Egypt, and go up to the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying, `I will give it to your descendants.’ I will send an angel before you and drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way.”

I WILL SENT AN ANGEL BEFORE YOU. This angel appears to be an ordinary angel, so to speak. This angel is not the ANGEL OF GOD’S PRESENCE, known as THE ANGEL OF THE LORD, who is an OT appearance of the Second Person of the Trinity, the preincarnate Christ. Possibly the same one promised before in Exodus 23:20—

See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared.

God promises to drive out the inhabitants of the Promised Land to make way for Israel’s possession of it, but He will not go with them because of their apostasy. The LORD’S anger towards the apostate Israelites was such that He would not be able to constrain Himself.

This the THIRD TIME God has called Israel a STIFF-NECKED PEOPLE. He is making it clear to them that He had not come to redeem His people because they were superior.

THE LAND FLOWING WITH MILK AND HONEY was abounding with all the necessaries and good things of life. Their QUEST FOR PLACE, however, was in jeopardy because of apostasy. Because they were a stiff-necked people, they had forfeited their PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP with the LORD by breaking the COVENANT. God’s wrath could erupt at anytime. Therefore, Yahweh will not to go with them lest He might destroy them on the way!

Exodus 33:4-6—

When the people heard these distressing words, they began to mourn and no one put on any ornaments. For the LORD had said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites, `You are a stiff-necked people. If I were to go with you even for a moment, I might destroy you. Now take off your ornaments and I will decide what to do with you.'” So the Israelites stripped off their ornaments at Mount Horeb.

What a fickle people. Now they would rather risk the danger of being destroyed than being deprived of the LORD’S presence. They begin to mourn and took off their ornaments.

What a strange request! God said TAKE OFF YOUR ORNAMENTS. Why? It seems the ornaments— jewelry—symbolized their profane and pagan hearts. To take them off would be a sign of repentance— their turning from self to the LORD. It was a second opportunity to identify with Yahweh. To chose His ways instead of the world’s ways.

The removing of the ornaments might be liken to WATER BAPTISM. It was an outward sign that the Israelites were willing to forsake the old and embrace the new.

The ORNAMENTS might have been religious medallions of one type or another. The experience under Jacob at Bethel suggests that this may be the case, for when the patriarch led the people in recommitment to the LORD, it says in Genesis 35:4—

So they gave Jacob all the foreign gods they had and the rings in their ears, and Jacob buried them under the oak at Shechem.

The rings were in some way associated with foreign gods, and putting away the rings was related to dedication to the LORD.

In Exodus 33:7-11, we find the people have abandoned worshiping idols, and even worship Yahweh, but something’s amiss—

Now Moses used to take a tent and pitch it outside the camp some distance away, calling it the “tent of meeting”. Anyone enquiring of the LORD would go to the tent of meeting outside the camp. 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. 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. 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 assistant Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent.

Before the Tent of the Meeting of the Tabernacle is constructed and erected and placed at the center of the camp, a temporary one is used by Moses. It is a simple tent. It is placed outside the camp some distance away—possibly symbolic of Israel’s relationship with the LORD. The tent outside the camp reminded the people that their sin was an alienating force in their relationship with God. They could worship God but from a distance. He was outside their community!

Here God meets with Moses. Just as friends speak face to face, Moses spoke with Yahweh. Yet, Moses did not see God’s face. Once again Joshua is mentioned for he is the man God being prepared to succeed Moses.

The presence of pillar of the cloud at the tent entrance evoked a spirit of worship from the people.

As the time approached for Moses to lead the Israelites to the Promised Land, he became concerned as to the identity of the angel God had promised him. He believed that a mere angel was no substitute for the presence of God. I am amazed at modern man’s craze over angels in the last ten years. Even some Christians have joined the bandwagon. Some would rather be TOUCHED BY AN ANGEL instead of depending upon and enjoying the indwelling presence of God in our their lives in the form of the Holy Spirit. Not Moses, He rather have God’s presence than an angel’s. Exodus 33:12-13—

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.’ 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.”

Do you think Moses is becoming a pain in the neck? He keeps reminding God that this nation is His people. He knows that God’s presence is essential to Israel’s testimony before the world. Without it they would indistinguishable from the rest of the world.

Notice that Moses is becoming very intimate with God— `I KNOW YOU BY NAME AND YOU HAVE FOUND FAVOR WITH ME.’ But Moses also knows that that intimacy has always has the potential to keep on growing and growing. How do we grow in our personal relationship with the LORD? Moses knows—TEACH ME YOUR WAYS SO I MAY KNOW YOU AND CONTINUE TO FIND FAVOR WITH YOU.

The most important thing in life is KNOWING GOD. 2 Peter 3:18 exhorts every believer to—

Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Do you know what Peter wrote in the preceding verse, verse 17—

Be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of lawless men and fall from your secure position.

The apostle wrote in 1 Peter 1:12-17—

Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.

Moses was surrounded by apostates who had fallen from their secure position. God’s grace overflowed to Israelites in the Exodus, but they failed to set their hope on His grace. Instead, they conformed to the evil desires, however, not of ignorance, but in full knowledge of what God expected.

The Israelites had said, “We will do everything the LORD has said.” So Yahweh gave the Ten Commandments and put on an awesome display with thunder and lightening and along with a trumpet so that the fear of God would be with them to keep them from sinning.

If we do not have a reverent fear of the LORD, we will be prone to rebel against God and move away from His holiness. That’s one of the many reasons why I believe that Proverbs 9:10 is the key verse of the Bible—

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

Like Peter, Moses knew that growing in the knowledge and grace of LORD was the key to remaining in God’s favor. Spiritual growth that comes by grace and knowledge are the best preventive medicine for apostasy.

In contrast with the strained relationship between Israel and the LORD, Moses will experience intimacy with God.

Exodus 33:14-16—

The LORD replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” 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?”

I WILL GIVE YOU REST is related directly to the life of the people in the Promised Land—ultimately, the nation of Israel will find rest with God in the land according to the OT prophets. Israel’s QUEST FOR PLACE will be realized under the COVENANTS because they will come to have a PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP with the LORD.

Christians are like the Israelites. We are pilgrims, the wanderers, those who are aliens and strangers on this earth. We look forward to entering into God’s REST. Chapters 3 and 4 of Hebrews, tell us that the rest promised to Israel was a type of that promised to Christians.

Israel’s Canaan rest is similar to the life of victory and blessing we gain as we walk by faith and claim our inheritance with Christ while on earth. Ultimately, there is a future eternal rest in heaven that God’s has promised if we remain faithful to Him.

Moses knew that he needed the presence of God with him or they would not experience REST. He knew that he could not make it on his own. What does that say to us? How often to we try to make it through the situations of life on our own instead of relying upon God’s presence? Are you allowing the Holy Spirit to fill you, or looking for some angel to come guide you through life? Moses did not want an angel, he wanted God! And the LORD showed him mercy and compassion. At the end of his life, at age 120, Moses spoke to a new generation of Israelites and told them in Deuteronomy 31:5-6—

The LORD will deliver them to you, and you must do to them all that I have commanded you. Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”

After His resurrection, Jesus echoes this promise in the Great Commission—“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Before His crucifixion, Jesus told His disciples in John 14:16-17—

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you for ever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.

Hebrews 13:5 tells the Christian—

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”

On Pentecost, Jesus kept His promise. The believers were baptized with the Holy Spirit. The wonder of it all! We have the indwelling presence of God—THE HOLY SPIRIT. Yes, he talked face to face with the LORD as He revealed Himself in the PILLAR OF CLOUD. But that’s a small thing in comparison to being born again, to having the indwelling presence of God every moment, every hour, every day, every year.

I would never trade Moses’ experiences of seeing and talking with God, for the Holy Spirit! No matter where I am or what I do, God is with me all the time!

Again, Moses has presented a compelling argument to Yahweh that focuses on hallowing His Name. Exodus 33:17—

And 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.

Christian, have you ever thought about what it means that God knows you by NAME? It’s one thing to KNOW God by Name, its another thing for GOD to KNOW YOU BY NAME! Jesus warns in the Sermon on the Mount—

Not everyone who says to me, `Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, `Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, `I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matthew 7:21-23).

Remember what the LORD told Moses in Exodus 32:33—

The LORD replied to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book.”

Last week we discovered from the Scriptures that God was talking about the LAMB’S BOOK OF LIFE and those BLOTTED OUT are not listed with the righteous. What God is telling Moses is, “I know you by name Moses, your name’s written in the Book of Life.”

Moses, however, is not satisfied with knowledge of the LORD and being known by God, he desires a more intimate relationship—something more personal. Exodus 33:18—

Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”

Don’t you just love Moses? Never satisfied, always wanting more! This same desire was echoed by the apostle Philip when he said to Jesus in John 14:8—

“Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

I believe every Christian should have a desire for a greater intimacy with God. Although, Moses talked to God face to face, He never saw His face. God’s presence was always hidden by the pillar of the cloud, or the burning bush. Exodus 33:19—

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.

God said that He would cause all His GOODNESS to pass before Moses. By His GOODNESS, the LORD meant His whole character and nature. A further aspect of the revelation of God’s glory was the proclamation of His Name. The Name of God includes His nature, character, person, doctrine, and standards of living. In this context, His Name includes HIS MERCY and COMPASSION—that is, His GRACE and DEEP-SEATED FEELINGS.

Paul quotes this verse in Romans 9:15 and applies it to the sovereignty of God in salvation.

Exodus 33:20-23—

But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” 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.”

To be covered by God’s hand in the clef of the rock! What a wonderful place to be! Absolute security! Nothing, not even God’s glory can harm you!

YOU CANNOT SEE MY FACE, FOR NO ONE MAY SEE ME AND LIVE. This statement by God is very difficult. It does not contradict FACE TO FACE in verse 20. FACE TO FACE is a figurative expression suggesting openness and friendship. What’s difficult is that Jacob wrestled with God, the Preincarnate Christ, and we read in Genesis 32:30—

So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”

And God appeared to Manoah and his wife and Manoah was certain they would die. Judges 13:21-22—

When the angel of the LORD did not show himself again to Manoah and his wife, Manoah realized that it was the angel of the LORD. “We are doomed to die!” he said to his wife. “We have seen God!”

Of course, they did not die—Monoah’s wife conceived and gave birth to Samson. Therefore, it seems whenever God appears in the form of the Angel of the LORD, He veils His face—His absolute glory. So FACE is related to God’s glory.

Moses could know God’s goodness, mercy and compassion, but could never view the brightest displays of God’s glory—He could only observe the backside of them as it were.

What did Moses hear and see? He heard God proclaim His Name—YAHWEH—I AM WHO I AM. He heard of God’s goodness and grace—how God shows mercy and compassion to whomever He chooses. He saw God’s back, but not His face—Moses saw God’s glory. He did not see God’s face in full majesty, but what he could bear. To see God in all His glory would bring physical death to mortal man.

Let’s return to Philip’s request of Jesus. John 14:8-14—

Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.” Jesus answered: “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, `Show us the Father’?

Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves.

Later in history, the LORD passed by what may have been the same clef of the rock (cave) for the discouraged prophet Elijah in 1 Kings 19:11-13—

The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

Have you been listening to the GENTLE WHISPER of the LORD?

But you know what? God answered Moses’ prayer. He saw God’s glory on a mountain top in the Promised Land. It took 1,480 years! Luke 9:28-31—

[Jesus] took Peter, John and James with him and went up onto a mountain to pray. As he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning. Two men, Moses and Elijah, appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus.

How impatient we are? God answered Moses’ prayer the best way possible at the time, but Moses had to wait upon God’s timing to see His glory.

Years after the Transfiguration of Jesus, one of the apostles wrote in John 1:14—

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

And how can we see the glory of God today? 2 Corinthians 3:18—

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.

We are to reflect the glory of Christ, and show forth His likeness. We have been created in the image and likeness of God, which became defaced by Adam’s sin and spiritual death.

But being born-again, begins the restoration process of the glory of God to His image and likeness— salvation starts this transformation. Like the caterpillar that spins a cocoon, we need to emerge a beautiful butterfly.

If others are to see the glory of God, we like the caterpillar must emerge from our cocoon like a butterfly by being transformed into Christ’s likeness with an ever-increasing glory.

How do we do this? Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ by allowing the Spirit of God to renew of our minds as He applies the Scriptures to our life.

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