SCRIPTURE • Exodus 33:12-23 (NIV)
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.”
I can’t imagine the Israelites had regrouped enough to even be in “damage control mode.”
Maybe they were in “Do-your-best-to-keep-things-from-falling-apart-even-more-mode.” It must have felt like the world was collapsing all around them. It was a disaster.
And, the worst part of all? It was their fault.
The background for this scripture passage is the dramatic event of the golden calf.
It was one of those moments … a really bad decision … it caused so much trouble … it would be so much work to put things back together. Maybe at this point, they couldn’t even imagine a way to put things back together.
Moses had been on that mountain so long.
His absence weighed on them. Maybe they felt distance in their relationship with God while Moses was away? In their anxiety, they convinced Aaron, Moses’ brother, to build their own gods who would go before them. The damage was done. Their attempt to bridge the distance they felt from God on their own ended in disaster. They had been so quick to turn away from what God commanded. They created an idol … they made an image of God … they broke God’s commandment. Aaron’s excuse was so bad. He said the people asked for gods, he asked for gold jewelry, threw the gold in the fire, and bam! There was this golden calf. Earlier the story tells us Aaron “fashioned it with a tool.”
The damage had been done.
God was upset.
Moses was upset.
The people must have been terrified.
A few of the Bible commentator’s notes I read about this passage pointed out that this story raises two questions that must have haunted God’s people – 1) Will God be present with them now after this disobedience, and 2) If God isn’t present, what would it mean for the journey toward freedom … could they still be free people with their own land, blessed to be a blessing, if God isn’t with them? Their identity and purpose were in question … who were they without God? What would their future look like without God?
How would they deal with their failures?
How would they make things right? Could they make things right?
With the exception of a particularly violent act, that I think might reflect more of Moses’ anger and a critique of the levitical priests, than God’s intentions, Moses seems to be coming into his own as a spiritual leader.
Moses’ conversation here with God is very different from his earlier conversations with God. Moses sounds so much more connected to God. He sounds more familiar with God … much more confident in his place with God. Do you remember the guy, who when he was called to this task of leading God’s people out of Egypt toward freedom, pretty much begged God to “send someone else?” In Exodus chapter 33, verse 11, the verse just before the passage Gerrits shared with us, we hear, “The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.”
Moses seems different.
At the beginning of the story, he seemed so uncomfortable in his interactions with God. Now Moses seems to be almost pushing God … “God, who are you sending with me? What is the future for us going to look like? Teach me your ways, God. Show me your glory, Lord.” Moses is a courageous advocate for these people he has been called to lead – people we know haven’t been easy to lead. Moses seems to want to know God more.
Earlier in Exodus, I caught myself thinking Moses seemed kind of like the Forrest Gump of prophets and spiritual leaders. He kind of bumbled his way along. Anything good that happened was more in-spite of Moses than because of Moses.
Now, Moses seems like a formidable force.
He prays boldly to God.
He doesn’t beat around the bush.
Is he leading the people or what? Is God going to go with Israel? If God doesn’t go with them what will make them different from any other nation? Couldn’t God just show Moses his ways? Wouldn’t God just reveal his glory to Moses? Don’t you remember, these are your people, God?
Have you ever had someone ask you, or maybe even asked yourself, “Is it ok to say this to God?” “Is it ok to pray about this?” “Is it ok to ask God for this?” If Moses’ example has anything to add to our understanding of prayer, it looks to me like the answer is, “Yes.” These bold prayers to know God better and to advocate for the people God loves, made it into the Bible, so surely they give us some freedom and affirmation in our prayers.
So, one lesson from Moses could be that it is ok to be bold in our prayers.
Another lesson from Moses might be, prayer is not like rubbing some magic lamp … God is not some sort of genie who is obligated or required to answer our prayers. God is big. God is mysterious. God is not under our control. Our prayers don’t manipulate God … God will do what God wants to do. Moses’ prayers reveal some of the tension of faith … the tension of life with God … we are invited to pray boldly … our prayers matter, but our prayers don’t control God.
I love this pictured God’s goodness will pass in front of him.
I imagine Moses was in a hard situation and he was a guy who could use a shot of goodness. I could see Moses in a disenchanted … discouraged … worn out mindset. God responds to Moses’ prayer by offering an experience of God’s goodness.
What would happen in our faith … in our lives … in our world if we prayed we would experience God’s goodness … if we asked God to open our eyes to God’s goodness in action all around us? What would it look like? How would it shape us? How would it change us?
I love imagining what it must have been like to experience God’s goodness … God’s glory … passing by while Moses was tucked away in that cleft of the rock … the soft part of God’s hand protecting Moses from that overwhelming presence … that mind-blowing goodness.
John’s Gospel introduces Jesus, saying:
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth … 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.
When we see Jesus, when we read about him in the Gospels, when we see people living lives in tune with Christ’s purpose, when we pray, when we reach out beyond ourselves to serve and love in Christlike ways, we encounter God … we see God’s glory and goodness made known.