Driven by God’s Presence
February 23-24, 2019
Here we are in Exodus 33. One of the keys to understanding chapter 33 is that it follows chapter 32.
I’m telling you this is going to be deep. No, actually this is true. Here’s why. Because of everything that happens in 32, it really must be understood to understand chapter 33. What had happened was this; the people of Israel thought Moses had gone too long up on the mountain. Remember that he was up on Mount Sinai receiving the law and the commandments, but they did not know what had become of him. They insisted that Aaron make a god to go before them. They had not heard from Jehovah for like 40 days, and so they needed a god, apparently, any god.
Aaron told them to tear off the gold, the gold rings from their ears, and from this he fashioned a golden calf out of the molten gold. Then they said, and we don’t know who the “they” is here, but they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” Now, that is an interesting phrase, an interesting use of the plural in that phrase, “These are your gods,” because there is just one calf.
To make this story even more interesting and more intriguing, Aaron builds an altar before this golden calf, obviously for the purpose of worship, and then he made this proclamation. Listen to what he said. “Tomorrow,” he said, “We shall hold a feast to Jehovah.” Now the phrase, “These are your gods,” comes into focus.
Now we understand a little bit more. Oh, they weren’t trying to cast off Jehovah, no, they wanted to add the golden calf, which is to say you can take the people out of Egypt, but it’s hard to get Egypt out of the people. The Egyptian god, Apis, was a sacred bull, and it was worshiped in the Memphis region in Egypt; actually, very near Cairo, today.
This sacred bull, Apis, was the son of Hathor who was the mother of the sun god Ra. This sacred bull was the god of fertility and represented the strength and vitality of Pharaoh himself. Now, in other words, they want to Jehovah, but they also wanted the golden calf; the god of fertility, the god of virility and power. I tell you there’s a great lesson here, because you can’t have both. Many try, but you can’t have both, because you can be sure that God is not pleased.
Indeed, they held this feast and they began to dance before the golden calf in a very lewd way, which is actually a nice way to say it. They had a party. When Moses and Joshua came down from the mountain, Joshua said, “The sound of war is coming from the camp.” Moses said, “That is not the sound of war that I hear, I hear singing. That’s what I’m hearing.”
Then Moses, when he came and he saw what was happening, he became angry and he took the tablets that God had written the law and he took any threw them down. This whole scene is made famous by Charlton Heston, you might know. He threw them, down broke them, and took the golden calf and grounded in the powder and made the people drink it. Then he called out to Israel and he said, “Whoever is for Jehovah come to me now.” I love this part where it says, “The sons of Levi all came to Moses,” and he said, “Strap on weapons and purge the camp.” It was a tragic day.
All of that is the backdrop to chapter 33, for what happens here is very, very important. We’re going to start in verse 1. We’re going to read several verses because I want us to really understand the whole of this story. We begin in verse 1.
The LORD spoke to Moses and he said, “Now, depart from here and go up you, you and the people whom you have brought up from the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I said to them, “To your descendants I will give this land.” I will send an angel before you and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite. Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey, blessings and richness, but I will not go up in your midst because you are an obstinate people,” literally, the word is stiff-necked people, “Lest I destroy you on the way.”
We’re talking about the near presence of God. Now, when the people heard this sad word, they went into mourning, and none of them put on his ornaments, the jewelry and expensive things which they had brought from Egypt. For the LORD had said to Moses, “Now, you say to the sons of Israel, you are an obstinate and rebellious people. Should I go up in your midst for one moment, I would destroy you. Now, therefore, put off your ornaments from you that I may know what I will do with you.”
The sons of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments from Mount Horeb onward. Mount Horeb, Mount Sinai, the same. You might say, “Where did they even get me things? I thought they were slaves.” This is true, but when they were leaving Egypt, the Egyptians actually gave to them many of these things of gold and silver, “Take them. Take them and go.”
Verse seven, now, is very important to see. “Now, Moses, he used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, a good distance from the camp, and they called it the tent of meeting. It came about that everyone who sought the LORD would go out to the tent of meeting which was outside the camp. It came about that whenever Moses went out to the tent, that all the people would arise, stand, each at the entrance of his tent, and they would gaze after Moses until he entered the tent.”
“It came about that whenever Moses entered the tent,” that pillar of cloud, if you remember that pillar of cloud that was with Israel all the time they were in the desert, that, “The pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and the LORD would speak with Moses.”
“When all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent,” it says, “All the people would arise and worship each at the entrance of his tent.” Thus the LORD, now listen to this verse, “Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face just as a man speaks to his friend.” That is a beautiful verse. “When Moses returned to the camp, then his servant, Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent.” That’s also interesting. More on that later.
Now, starting in verse 12, we see Moses now interceding in behalf of Israel at the tent of meeting. Moses said to the LORD, Jehovah, “You say to me, “Bring up these people,” but you yourself have not let me know who will you send with me,” like who is this angel? “Moreover, you have said, “I have known you by name and you have found favor in my sight.”
“Now, therefore, I ask, ‘If I have found favor in your sight, let me know your ways that I may know you, so that I might find favor in your sight and consider too that this nation is your people.’”
The LORD responded, listen to this response, because the LORD saw that were mourning over all these, had put off all of their ornaments, they stood and arose whenever Moses would go out, and so the LORD responded. Verse 14, “My presence shall go with you and I will give you rest.”
This meant so much to Moses that he said, in verse 15, to the LORD he said, “If your presence does not go with us, then do not lead us from this place. For how then can it be known that I have found favor in your sight I and your people? Is it not by your going with us so that we, I and your people, may be distinguished from all the other people who are upon the face of the earth?” Israel is distinct among the nations. This is true.
“The LORD said to Moses, ‘I will also do this thing of which you have spoken, for you had found favor in my sight and I have known you by name.’” Then Moses said-- He just wanted to ask one more thing -- Moses said, “I ask, I pray, show me your glory.” It’s a big thing to ask. “He said, ‘I, myself, will make all my goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of
the LORD before you, for I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious and I will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.’”
I. God is Faithful to His Promises
Now, there are more verses, we’ll look at them next week. I want us to look at these because of how they apply, not only to Israel but to us, starting with this understanding, that God is faithful to his promises. You see all that happen in Chapter 32 and then you see his faithfulness. God had promised this land to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, promised to give them to their descendants.
He said to Moses, “Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey, it’s a great place of blessing,” but he said, he would not go up in their midst, he’s talking about the mere presence of God, of course, because they’re an obstinate, they’re rebellious people, lest He destroy them on the way. Now, this is an interesting part of the story. Many wonder, “What is this?”
A. His mercies are new every morning
I suggest to you that there is a principle that guides our understanding, and it’s this, “His mercies are new every morning.” Here’s what I mean. The mercies of the LORD, first of all, is something that we all very much appreciate and are very thankful for, because everybody in this room has failed at one time or another.
Therefore, we understand, “Hey, if God had given us what we deserved, we would be in great trouble. It’s by His mercy that, in fact, he does not give us what we deserve.” You look at what’s happening here in Israel and, certainly, this is the low point, very definitely the lowest point so far in their relationship to God. They were, in fact, a rebellious people. They were, in fact, obstinate and stiff-necked, therefore, He said His angel would go before them but He, Himself, would not go in their midst lest He destroy them on the way.
I’m convinced that God is saying this for no other reason than mercy. He’s holy in every way. He knew that if they’re going to continue being stiff-necked, and obstinate, and rebellious, that it would not end well, that He couldn’t be in their midst or they would be destroyed. He uses this phrase stiff-necked, it’s a great word because it describes in many way; the neck in many ways represents the attitude.
Many of you know our story. We raised five kids and now we’ve adopted our granddaughter, so that makes six. As they’re growing up, I found that the neck is a very comfortable and an easy place for a dad to put his hand right. It is very comforting thing. For a child with a willing heart, it’s a very comforting thing, because that hand is big and it’s strong, and it’s like, “Hey, that power is for me.” It’s very comforting to know that safety, that security, and that power that surrounds me, and that hand sitting on my neck is like, “Ah, that’s good,” if the heart is willing.
If they resisted, and you can sense it right away, it’s like, “Argh.” If they resisted, I have a question, and my question is, “Am I for you or am I against you?” You tell me. Am I for you or am I against you? If I’m for you, then everything I am, the power that it represents is for you.
The amazing thing is that in spite of everything that happened in Chapter 32, God is steadfast to his promises. He told them, “Go up go up to a land flowing with milk and honey, a place of richness and blessing.” I tell you, that is a statement about God’s faithfulness and His mercy.
2 Timothy 2:13, Paul writes to Timothy, “If we are faithless, He remains faithful for He cannot deny Himself.” Or how about Romans 3:3? Paul is writing and he’s referring to Israel, and he said, “What, then, if some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, now will it?”
Now, many years later in the history of Israel, they will, again, come to a very low point where they want the gods of the world, and it will lead to their destruction. Even while the soldiers of Babylon are pouring into Jerusalem, Jeremiah, the prophet, very famously writes these words, in fact, these words are so famous that one of the greatest hymns of the church actually comes out of these verses. It speaks to the faithfulness and the kindness of the LORD.
Lamentation 3:21-23. “Even as the Babylonians are pouring into Jerusalem,” he writes, “This I recall to my mind, therefore, I have hope. The LORD’s loving kindness is, indeed, never cease. They fail not, for His mercies never fail. His compulsions never fail.” Here’s where we get the words of that famous song.
B. We have an advocate with the Father
It’s a testimony to God’s heart, actually. You go back now to Exodus 33, and here’s a thing that we also see out of this, that we have an advocate. This is a great thing. We can see in Moses interceding, being an advocate for Israel, but it speaks to our relationship. We have an advocate with the Father. Moses interceded for the nation of Israel, but it was because of the relationship that Moses had with God that was the foundation and the reason that he could intercede.
In fact, that relationship was so amazing. You see the depth of it in verse 11, “God spoke to Moses as a man speaks to his friend.” This is a powerful thing, and should remind us of something that Jesus said to the disciples. This is out of John 15:15, where Jesus said, “No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing, but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from my Father I have made known to you.” That speaks to the kind of relationship that God wants.
When Moses heard that God would not go up in their midst, he appealed to God, he interceded on behalf of Israel. “Consider,” he said, “That this nation is your people,” and as a result of Moses advocating and interceding, God said, “My presence will go and I will give you rest.” This is important because it’s a picture for us. Moses is a picture, in fact, of Christ Jesus. If it were not for what Jesus has done as an advocate for us before the Father, we would all be in big trouble.
In fact, let me just give you a great verse out of Romans 8:33-34. Listen to these verses. Romans 8 is amazing, but listen to these verses. “Who will bring a charge against God elect?” “You tell me,” he says. “Hey, God is the one who justifies, who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised and who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes in our behalf, for us.”
Listen to this one, 1 John 2:1. “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.” Okay, now that is God’s heart right there. “I’m writing these things to you that you may not sin; and if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous, for He himself is the perpetuation for our sins.” That’s an amazing verse. Absolutely amazing.
C. His presence gives power to purpose
It’s important for us to grasp this because many do not. Many are convinced that when they blow, they do something that’s trespass against the LORD and they fail again, they’re convinced that God cast them off, “I am done with thee, be gone” That’s not what we read. It’s an amazing thing to see this verse, “If anyone doesn’t, we have an advocate.” Jesus becomes an advocate for you in your behalf with the Father. That’s amazing.
Notice this out of Exodus 33. Notice this, that His presence, the presence of God, the near presence of God gives power to purpose. Notice verse 15, after God said that his presence would go with him, this meant so much to Moses that he says this, he says, “And if your presence does not go with us, do not lead us from this place.”
It says though Moses is saying, “It’s not Your purpose in my life that drives me, I’m driven by Your presence. That’s more important than anything else in my life.” God promised a land flowing with milk and honey, and it says, Moses is essentially saying, “I don’t want the land unless you’re in it.
I don’t want the milk, or the honey, or any other blessing unless You are in the midst of it.”
The presence of the LORD is everything. That’s what Moses cherished more than the land, more than the milk, more than the honey, or any other blessing. Therefore, he gives us an example, we should cherish the presence of the LORD in our lives as well.
Let me give you Psalm 139:5-6, where David writes these great words, “You, LORD, have enclosed me behind and before, and have laid your hand upon me.” Like, “Yes, lay your hand on my neck. You can put your power on my life, because you’ve enclosed me behind and before.” Notice what he says, “Such knowledge, it’s too wonderful for me. It is too high I cannot attain to it. This is so amazing, so beautiful, so wonderful, that you’ve enclosed me behind and before, laid your hand on me. This is amazing.”
How about Psalm 73:25-26, and then we add verse 28, “Whom have I in heaven but You, LORD? Besides you, I desire nothing on this earth. Now, my flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart, and God is my portion forever.” Now, as for me, the nearness of God is my good. I have made the LORD God my refuge. It’s like that verse that says, “The name of the LORD is a high tower, the righteous run and are saved.”
II. Desire More of God in Your Life
Going back to Exodus 33, what we see is a tremendous example in the heart of Moses. A great example. What we see and how we can apply it is this, desire more of God in your life. When Moses was interceding in behalf of Israel, he asked for something personal, something more, something for him. He made a request that God was very pleased with. Why did Moses ask this? Because Moses was seeking a deeper spiritual life.
A. “Let me know your ways”
Can you just imagine what Moses has seen already, what he has seen of the LORD? He has seen God destroy Egypt, he has seen God part the Red Sea, he has seen God bring forth the water out of a rock, He provide manner for all the people, he’s received the law and the commandments, he’s spoken to God as a man speaks to a friend, and yet, he wants more, and so he asks for this thing, personal. He says, “LORD, let me know your ways.” He asked for a reason, “Let me know your ways, that I might know you, and that I might find favor in your sight.”
I tell you, this is a very deep spiritual understanding. To grasp the significance of what he is saying will bring tremendous maturity. “I want to know your ways, that I can know you.” Moses wanted to know what God is like. He wanted to know His ways. He wanted to know God more, because he knew that the favor of God, the blessing of God, would come from knowing God’s ways, knowing God’s heart, and then living by those ways.
I was thinking of an analogy. I love following the news and knowing what’s happening in our world, but then the commentaries and various things that people add. It’s an interesting thing I see, there’s a trend, that many articles are written about successful people and the way that they live their lives. Many people find this very intriguing. Articles like, “10 habits of Warren Buffett.” People are interested, “What are the habits of Warren Buffett?” Or, “Seven ways to organize your life like Satya Nadella.” He’s the CEO of Microsoft. “Yes, I want to know, how does he do it, how does he live?”
Why? Why do people want to know these things? Because they want to be like them. “Yes, I would very much like to know how Warren Buffett thinks. I very much like to know that.” Why? Because they want to be like him.
You see, that’s the thing. How much more should we desire to know the ways of God? Because God is greater than any human. I want to know His ways. I want to know His thoughts. Let me know your ways, LORD, that I might know you. I want to know your heart, that I might live the same. I want your ways to be my ways.
Now, we’ve seen a sampling, you might say, of some of the ways of God. Exodus 23:4 where He says now, “If you meet your enemy’s ox or his donkey wandering away, it’s got loose and it’s out wandering, you shall surely return it to him.” Now, that’s not the way the world is. I can tell you that. That’s not the way the world would be. He said, “But that’s my way. If you see an ox or a donkey of your enemy and it’s gotten out, it’s wandering away, you go and get it, and you bring it back to him.” That’s the way of God.
Exodus 22:26-27. He said, “Now, if you take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, his outer coat, you return it to him, and you return it to him before the sun sets because,” and then He adds this phrase, “For I am gracious.” Yes, that’s one of the ways of the LORD, right there. God is gracious. We love that. We love the fact that God is gracious, especially when we’re the ones receiving it. Isn’t that true?
Which reminds me of a story of the time that I got stopped for speeding.
Now, I’m sure it’s hard to imagine that I would get stopped for speeding, but let me give you a backstory. I’m at work and I get a call from my son who’s at school. My son calls and he says, “Dad, I’m sick. Can you please come and get me?” This is the backstory. “Please come and get me.” I said, “Of course, my son. I will come and rescue thee.” Okay, not really, but that was right, that was the idea.
I’m on my way to the school. I’m driving through this neighborhood, and sure enough, a sheriff’s deputy pulls me over, he’s a motorcycle police officer. He stops me, comes up to the window, “Can I have your driver’s license and registration?” “Okay.” Then he looks at me and he says, “So, what do you do for a living?” Argh, why does he have to ask that? I tell him, “I’m a stockbroker.”
Okay, not really, not really. No, I tell him, I was like, “I’m a pastor.” He goes, “Aha. I’ll be right back.” He goes, oh, boy. He’s on the radio or whatever, and he comes back and he says, “I have a question. You are a pastor?” I said, “Yes.” “You tell me, what should I do here?”
I said, “Well, I was speeding. I deserve a ticket. However, grace is a good thing.”
He said, “I’ll be right back.”
He goes, and he does whatever. He comes back and he hands me my driver’s license and registration. He said, “You know, you have the same birthday that I do. I have a policy. I never give a ticket to anyone that has the same birthday as me. Happy birthday.”
I’m thinking, “Oh, LORD, I love your grace.”
Here’s the thing. To know God’s ways means that not only do you receive the ways of the LORD, but you want to have those ways for yourself. In other words, it’s one thing to say, “Yes, LORD, I love to have your grace.” It’s another thing altogether to say, “LORD, teach me to learn to give grace. I want to be like You. I want to know what it means to give grace, to speak grace, to live grace.” That’s a whole different thing.
God’s ways are distinctly different than our ways. He says, “Let the wicked forsake his way. Let the unrighteous man forsake his thoughts, and let him return to the LORD.”
Isaiah 55:8-9, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.”
You see, some people, they receive salvation and that’s enough, that’s enough for them, but there are others who want more than that. They seek a deeper spiritual life. Moses is an example of a man who wants more. He’s an example for us. We should want more. “I want to know your ways, and I want your ways to become my way.” Then, Moses dares to ask for yet more, because the LORD says to him, “I will do this thing that you’re asking. I will do this thing.”
B. “Show me your glory”
He says, “LORD, please, one more thing. Show me your glory.” This is a big thing. “Just one more thing. Show me your glory.” Now, I tell you, Moses, he has already seen more of God’s glory than any human that has ever lived to this point. He has seen more of God’s glory than Abraham, or Isaac, or Jacob, so much so that Moses had been in the presence of the LORD to the point that when he returned from the mountain, there was actual light of God’s glory that the people of Israel could actually see on his face. Moses knew that was not the fullness of God’s glory, there was more. He had experienced enough to want more, and he had the boldness to ask for it.
This is important, because if you’ve ever experienced the nearness, the presence of God in your life, you know that it is a beautiful, beautiful thing to the soul, because it’s like the sweetness of heaven tasted on earth. The presence of God, the infilling of the Spirit, the soul ignited by the presence of the LORD. If you have ever experienced that, then you know how wondrous, how sweet, how great it is, to the point that you would say, “I want more of that.” I want my soul to be filled. I want my soul to be ignited. I want more.
It’s interesting because in many ways this should remind us of a conversation that Jesus had with the disciples. Jesus is having this conversation. This is John 14, which is an amazing chapter, and you’ll recognize these words, where Jesus at one point says, “I am the way, I am the truth, I am the life. No one comes to the Father but through me.”
Philip, hearing these words, he says to the LORD, and it’s very much like what Moses said, he said, “Show us the Father and that’s enough for us. I want to see the Father. Show me the Father.” Jesus responds, John 14:9. He said to him, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” How can you say, “Show us the Father,” but you see the heart behind it? It’s the same. I want to see your glory.
In verse 20, it’s an interesting thing, in Exodus. He says, “No one can see the face of God and live,” and yet you know what the Scripture tells us, that when we stand that day, before the LORD of God in heaven it says we will see Him face to face. There is a glory that is awaiting us.
1 Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we will see Him face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I have been fully known.” There is a glory awaiting us. God made Himself known to Moses starting with that encounter that Moses had with God in the fiery bush, you remember. That’s the first time that Moses encountered God. Interestingly, it was on this very same mountain.
That was the beginning of a relationship that continued to grow through the trials, through the conflicts in Egypt, and the leading of the people of Israel back to this very same mountain. That relationship continued to grow to the point where it says in verse 11, “Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses as a man speaks to his friend.” I submit to you that we need our own tent-of-meeting experiences with God. No, God will not meet us in a pillar of cloud and nor will we speak to him face to face, but we can have meetings with God.
Now, the first meeting that you have with God, let’s call it the come-to-Jesus meeting. You need a come-to-Jesus meeting. If you have not asked Jesus into your heart as LORD and Savior, that is the beginning of a glorious, wonderful, beautiful relationship. You need a come-to-Jesus meeting. If that’s the only meeting that you ever have with the Lord, then you’re not going to grow very much in your relationship to him. We need our own tent-to-meeting experiences. We need personal, intimate, devotional, spiritual meetings with God.
Now, what happens here in the church, what happens in this assembly, it’s a beautiful thing. It’s wonderful. We’re gathered together as an assembly before the presence of the LORD. God is in this place. It’s a beautiful thing. In fact, the Scripture tells us, “Do not neglect the assembling of yourselves together.” It’s beautiful. We need this. This is very, very good. We need personal, intimate, devotional, spiritual meetings with God.
You know why many people don’t have spiritual meetings with God? Because they have a golden calf. You can’t have both. It does not work. God will not reside there. You cannot have both. Many people, they’re not growing in their spiritual life. Moses says, “I want something deeper.” We need tent-to-meeting experiences. We need personal, intimate, devotional, spiritual meetings with God.
Those who are mature in their relationship to the LORD, know that the presence of God is more important than anything else. It’s more important than any program that any church could put together. Is more important than any purpose you might have in your life. Be driven by His presence. “Let me know Your ways. I want to know Your ways, because I want Your ways to be mine. I want to be like You, but then, LORD, let me ask one more thing; show me your glory.”