Because the final few chapters of Exodus are mostly repeats of things that we have already studied, we are quickly coming to the end of our series and the book itself. In fact, I expect next week to be the last week that we spend in Exodus.
All of this works out perfectly as I look at things however because our final two chapters will focus on two areas that perfectly sum up the entire book. This week we will focus on the glory of the Lord.
We’ve seen the glory of the Lord in subtle ways as well as a quite literal way in this book. God’s glory is shown as Moses is born and successfully saved from Pharaoh and then ultimately given the best education that the world had to offer in Pharaoh’s household.
As the ten plagues fall upon Egypt, God is shown to be mightier than the idols of Egypt time and time again. The mightiest and most important gods of Egypt were powerless to stop the Lord from doing whatever He pleased with the Egyptians.
And God’s glory shows up literally in what we commonly refer to as the Shekinah glory. It is the pillar of cloud that leads the Israelites in the daytime and the pillar of fire that lights their path and keeps them warm at night.
Today we see the glory of the Lord once again in a fairly literal sense. Exodus 33 also answers a question that you might not have thought to ask out loud but every person wonders about in some way. In short, this chapter answers the question of “What kind of God is God?” The answer may surprise you because we tend to make God something that is easily understandable when He is not.
A few weeks ago I talked about how we can often find the most important point of a passage in the middle of it rather than the beginning or the end. I don’t know if this chapter is intentionally set up that way but I see a very important point in the middle of this passage.
Let’s start at the beginning of Exodus 33.
33 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.’ 2 I will send an angel before you and drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 3 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.”
4 When the people heard these distressing words, they began to mourn and no one put on any ornaments. 5 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.’” 6 So the Israelites stripped off their ornaments at Mount Horeb.
In case you forgot where we were at last week, Moses came down off the mountain and found the Israelites bowing to the golden calf. This didn’t go over well to say the least. At the end of the day 3,000 Israelites be struck dead and a plague would be inflicted upon many more. God was so angry with the Israelites that He threatened to destroy them and start over with Moses.
This has set the stage for what we just read. God has not given up on the Israelites and He will still bless them because of Moses and the faithful remnant who did not break His commands. But God will not dwell among them like He might have if not for their sin. If God were to dwell with them He may destroy them because of their sins.
This is the first thing that we are to learn about the glory of the Lord. The glory of the Lord cannot coexist with sin. In fact, it will destroy sin and sinful people. Sin ruins our fellowship with God. In the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve walked with God. They had fellowship with Him until the fall occurred. Then that fellowship was destroyed. Instead of walking with God, they hid from Him.
Although the Israelites would not have enjoyed the same fellowship with God as in the Garden, I believe that God planned to re-establish some of that fellowship. Instead, that fellowship is ruined before the Israelites even have the chance to enjoy it. It is ruined by sin.
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. 8 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. 9 As Moses went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and stay at the entrance, while the Lord spoke with Moses. 10 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. 11 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.
The Israelites may have missed out on fellowshipping with the Lord but that opportunity is not ruined for Moses. This is what I believe is the most important part of this chapter. We may have messed up our fellowship with God in the Garden and the Israelites may have blown it because of their sin, but there is still hope.
We are sinful people. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. There are different things that are meant with regard to fellowship however. Our sin separates us from God. This means that without the forgiveness of our sins we cannot be with God. But we also know that our forgiveness has been bought and paid for by Jesus Christ on the cross.
If you’re a Christian, your fellowship with the Lord in heaven is assured. And that is great news. That’s something that we should all be pretty excited about. Our life is to be more than just waiting things out until we get to heaven. We can have fellowship with God now at this very moment. This is what Moses experienced.
We’re told in this passage that God spoke with Moses face to face. It also says that God spoke to Moses like a man speaks to a friend. Obviously we don’t have the opportunity to speak to God face to face as Moses did. But we do have the ability to speak to Him as a friend and that’s something that I don’t think that we take good advantage of.
The church talks about prayer all of the time. But when we talk about prayer, usually what we think about and what we do is just supplication. Supplication is nothing more than asking God for things. Now, there’s nothing wrong with asking God for help – we’re supposed to do this – but if that is all our prayers are, then we’re missing out. Our prayers should be thought of as just communicating with God. Yes, we talk to Him when we ask for healing or when we pray for wisdom. But this isn’t how we talk to a friend. We might ask a friend for help when we’re moving and we might even ask to borrow money when we’re a few dollars short on our rent, but we have other real conversations as well.
Here’s a question for you. What do you think Moses and God talked about? My guess is that it was similar to what you might talk to a friend about. “The Israelites are exhausting me today.” “I had a really great experience today talking to so and so today.”
Do we talk like this to God? Usually not. That’s the thing about fellowship though, God wants to hear about our day. God wants us to tell Him about what makes us happy and He wants to know what has been bugging us. And like a really good friendship, He even wants to know when we’re mad at Him.
A friendship isn’t going to work well if there is a problem in the relationship that isn’t resolved. We’re obviously going to do plenty of things wrong to harm the relationship. But there will be times that we may feel that God has done us wrong.
Now, the theological thing to say is that God obviously never does wrong and if we’re struggling with something that has happened, the problem is with us. But that knowledge doesn’t help the situation. If you are angry at God about something, tell Him. God isn’t going to apologize for whatever the situation is but He may help you understand what has happened better.
All of this is what it means to be a friend of God. This is what it means to have fellowship with God. This is what Moses had when He spoke to God face to face.
12 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.’ 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.”
14 The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
15 Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. 16 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?”
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.”
18 Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”
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. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”
21 Then the Lord said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. 22 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. 23 Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.”
This is the other side of the glory of the Lord. God is approachable and we can be friends with Him, but He is holy and we are not. Isaiah realized this perhaps better than anyone else.
6 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another:
“Holy, holy , holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”
4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
5 “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”
6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for. ”
We can have fellowship with the Lord because our sins are forgiven but we can’t come face to face with the Lord because we are still in sinful flesh. Even though Moses has great fellowship with the Lord, He can’t see the full glory of the Lord. Even though Isaiah is a prophet of God, He knows that He can’t see the Lord face to face because He is still a sinful person.
Moses isn’t allowed to see the Lord’s face but God does grant Moses the ability of seeing His back.
In this chapter we learn that God is both approachable and unapproachable. We are reminded that our sins are forgiven but we still have the affects of sin present while we inhabit these sinful bodies. God’s glory is more than we are capable of witnessing and yet we can speak to Him as a friend.
The most important thing to remember from this chapter though is that God wants our friendship. We were created for fellowship with God. We need to get beyond thinking that fellowship with God is just praying a bit. Instead He wants us to talk to Him just as we would any other friend. We need to speak to God just like Moses would have.