This is the ninth sermon in our summer sermon series on the life of Moses. Blessings to you!
SCRIPTURE – Exodus 33:12-23 – Moses said to the Lord, “See, you have said to me, ‘Bring up this people’; but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ 13 Now if I have found favor in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” 14 He said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” 15 And he said to him, “If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here. 16 For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us? In this way, we shall be distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth.”
17 The Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” 18 Moses said, “Show me your glory, I pray.” 19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The Lord’;[a] and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.”21 And the Lord continued, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; 22 and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; 23 then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.”
Delivery Man Sermon Series
#9 – Glimpses of God
August 26, 2015
As we continue our sermon series today on the life of Moses, let me give a quick recap of our journey so far, because it will have a bearing on today’s passage. We know that Moses was born in Egypt and raised by Pharaoh’s daughter, but fled the country after he killed an Egyptian. He settled down in Midian, got married, and became a shepherd. One day, while tending to his flock, he sees the burning bush and hears a call from God to go back to Egypt to rescue the Israelites from slavery. To show Moses that God means business, God gives Moses God’s name to tell to the Israelites – “tell them ‘I Am Who I Am” sent you.” The giving of God’s name establishes a relationship between Moses and God.
Moses goes to Egypt and after some intense negotiations and 10 plagues, Pharoah lets the Israelites go, but quickly has Pharaoh’s remorse and decides to get them back. Pharaoh traps them at the Red Sea, but God parts the sea and the Israelites pass through, while the Egyptian army gets swallowed up. Finally, the Israelites are free from slavery and headed toward the Promised Land.
The problem is that the Israelites aren’t very good traveling companions. Before the Red Sea mud is off their feet they start complaining about the lack of food and water and un-luxurious traveling conditions. God responds to their grumbling, but the ungrateful Israelites grumble even more. Then God gets mad and Moses intervenes, things settle down, and then it the cycle starts all over again. The relationship between God and the Israelites is a bit dysfunctional.
The finally make it to the base of Mt. Sinai, where the Israelites set up camp while Moses goes up the mountain to receive the 10 commandments from God. The Israelites accept the commandments and pledge their undying loyalty to God…until about a week later. While Moses is gone up the mountain, they break the first two commandments by fashioning a Golden Calf which they can worship in God’s place. God finally loses patience and threatens to wipe out the whole lot of them and start over with Moses, but Moses talks God out of it.
That’s where we left off last week. An important point to note in the Golden Calf story is that, at one point, Moses is so mad at the Israelites for breaking the commandments that he takes the stone tablets, on which the commandments are written, and smashes them on the ground. By doing sot, Moses breaks the covenant that had been made between God and the people. Their relationship is strained, their vows have been broken, God is ready to wipe them all out, and once again, as we’ve seen many times before in this story, the Israelites are at a dead-end. God went into God’s room and slammed the door, the Israelites went into their room and slammed the door, and Moses is caught out in the hallway, completely helpless.
In the beginning of our chapter today, God commands the Israelites to leave Mt. Sinai and head toward the Promised Land, where God will drive out the foreign nations – the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Termites, and the Cellulites – so the Israelites may live there. Then God says, “Go to the land flowing with milk and honey, but I will not go with you, or else I would destroy you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.”
My youth group was driving from Chicago to Kansas City in two church vans for a mission trip. About three hours into the drive, the lead van pulled off to the side of a busy highway. I was driving the second van, so I followed suit, worrying the whole time what was wrong. Did someone get sick? Is the van having problems? The driver got out of the van, stalked around to the side door, opened it, and dragged out one of the middle school boys. He grabbed him by the arm, marched him to our van, opened the door, and said with deep exasperation, “Here. He’s all yours.”
I think that might be how God is feeling here. God basically says to the Israelites, “If we make this journey together, one of us won’t reach the destination.” We talked last week about how God is often portrayed in the Bible in human terms, and in this instance, God’s frustration with the Israelites boils over. “Fine, you all go, but I’m not going with you.”
So in our passage today, we’re overhearing a conversation between God and Moses that takes place right after this pronouncement. We know that Moses and God share a close relationship, to the point that the Bible tells us the Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. I don’t take this literally, as if they stared at each other, but it is a testimony to the intimacy of their relationship.
Moses is disturbed by God’s pronouncement, and lets God know about it. He says, “Look, you told me to lead these people, but how do I do that if you’re not with me? If you really trust me, God, give me your exact marching orders. Tell me step by step what I’m supposed to do. Show me your ways.” This is a critical moment in the relationship between God and Moses. By asking to be shown God’s way, and then asking to see God’s glory, Moses is seeking to know God as much as possible. The more he can truly know God, the more comfortable he will feel in his faith, which is probably true for every single one of us. I know it is for me. “If we could only know you, God! Show us! Tell us! Let us see your face! Post a neon sign so we’ll know exactly what to do.”
In this world of ambiguity and competing agendas, sometimes we just want to KNOW, don’t we? We may not be lugging around a million stiff-necked, cow-worshipping ex-slaves, we may not be able to part the water in our bathtub, but we have our own burdens and anxieties, don’t we? We need a pep talk from the Big Coach now and then. We need God to pull out a clipboard and show us exactly what the plan is. Most of the time in my life I’m OK with trusting, but sometimes I need to know. I think that’s where Moses is in our story. At this critical juncture, he needs to know God is with him.
And God says…”No.” God doesn’t offer Moses a glimpse of the plan, but God offers him something even greater. After some negotiations, God retracts his earlier threat and promises to go with Moses and the Israelites to the Promised Land, saying, “I will do the very thing that you asked; for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” Moses was so focused on what he thought he needed to know, that he forgot that he was known. We do that too, right? We have this strong desire to know and we forget that what really matters is that we are known by God. No matter what happens, good or bad, we are known by God.
Moses asks for God to confirm this promise by showing Moses God’s glory. In one of strangest instances of humanizing God in all of scripture, God hides Moses in the cleft of a rock, covers the opening and passes by, removing God’s hand so that Moses can see God’s back. Have you ever seen that? I bet you have. In the moment, we have trouble seeing God, concluding that God isn’t with us or God doesn’t love us. But in hindsight, as we look back, we can see where God has been, what God has done, how God has left a mark in our lives, like the divine wake God leaves behind.
Through this action, God recommits to Moses and the stubborn, stiff-necked Israelites. At the burning bush, God sealed the agreement with Moses by giving God’s name. Here, God seals it with a more intimate encounter. The only way to know someone more closely than knowing their name is meeting them in person, even if it is only from the back. In the next chapter, Moses will make two new tablets and write God’s laws on them, re-establishing the covenant that was broken with the Golden Calf. Once again, through God’s grace, a dead-end turns into a path through the wilderness.
That covenant will last, even though the Israelites will continue to break it. God gave them all these laws to help them know how to be God’s people in this world, and yet time and time again the people broke them. So God sent prophets to the people, folks like Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel, to remind the people of the covenant God made with them. The people would repent for a time and recommit themselves to following the laws, but they were humans, so eventually they would revert back to their sinful behavior, breaking their end of the covenant even though God was honoring God’s end.
Finally, God threw up God’s hands and said, “This isn’t working.” It would have been completely understandable if God had given up on us, if God had truly turned God’s back on these stiff-necked people and left them to rot in the cesspool of their own unfaithfulness and sin. But instead of turning God’s back, God turned the other way. In Jesus Christ, God turned around so we could see God’s face. Through Christ, God says to us, “Here I am. I love you. I want to know you. I am with you.” We have seen God face to face.
We’re told that after Moses came down from the mountain his face was radiant because of his encounter with God. The Bible says, “Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory on his face.” In fact, his face shone so brightly he had to wear a veil. That’s what a personal meeting with God will do to you. Which makes me wonder…if we have met God face to face through Jesus Christ, do our faces shine? Can people look at us and just know that we have seen God? Does anything about who we are and what we say and how we live radiate the love of God to others?
Through Christ, God has said to us, “I am with you. My presence goes with you.” And each day, we have a chance to see this presence, to glimpse God’s glory all around us. Where do you see it? I see it anytime I visit a newborn in the hospital. Maybe you see it in a radiant sunset or a blooming flower. Maybe you hear it in a cat’s purr or a loved one’s voice. Maybe you smell it in fresh baked bread or taste it at the communion table. God’s glory is ALL around us! God IS with us! We have seen it!
Poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote, “Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God; but only he who sees, takes off his shoes. The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries, and daub their natural faces unaware.” Do our faces reflect the glory we have seen? Do our words echo the joy that fills us? Do our actions imitate the grace we have received? The glory of God has been revealed to us – to us! How can our lives be the same? How can our faces not reflect that amazing fact? Show the world what you know, that you are known, and that God is with you.