Encounters with God is a sermon series about the theophanies or divine appearances and how they reveal the stunning character of God and his heart for a world that is lost without him. At Mount Sinai, Moses asks God to teach him His ways and show him His glory so he might know God better. God responds with an incredible display of His glory and with the stunning revelation of His character. Do you want to know what God is like? Recorded on Nov 14, 2021, on Exodus 33-34, by Pastor David Parks.
All year, we’re talking about The Greatness of God. And today, we’re continuing a sermon series called Encounters with God. In the Bible, when God appears to someone it’s known as a theophany or divine appearing. And these encounters are wild stories, full of surprises. God never seems to act how we would expect. However, these stories reveal the stunning character of God and his heart for a world that is lost without him. Today, we’ll consider another encounter of Moses with God in Exodus 33. Last week in part 1, we saw the famous story of Moses and the burning bush, and we saw God’s faithfulness to save. Today, we’ll get just a little view of the glory of God. If you have a Bible/app, please open to Exodus 33:12. We’ll read through this story together and unpack it as we go.
Exodus 33:12-17 (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.”
Ok, let’s pause here. So last week, we saw God appear to Moses in the burning bush and send him to lead the people of Israel out of captivity in Egypt and into the land that God had promised to Abraham and Sarah and their descendants. Moses was understandably a little hesitant given both his qualifications and the immensity of this task. But eventually, he went and did what God called him to do. Now here, the people of ancient Israel are free and are camped at Mount Sinai. This is the same place where God called to Moses from the burning bush back in Exodus 3. Moses is back with a whole nation of people. Now, God had miraculously freed his people from the hand of Pharaoh, with signs and wonders and the parting of the Red Sea, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing. While Moses met with God on Mount Sinai earlier in Exodus and was receiving the Law which would govern the people in the promised land, the people fell back into idol worship in making the golden calf. After dealing with that disaster, Moses is back on the mountain talking with God.
In the passage we just read, Moses says to God, “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.” Now, maybe the incident with the golden calf revealed to Moses just how difficult this leadership task would be. So he makes this request, and this is such a great prayer request for us today. “Lord, teach me your ways. Teach me what you value. Teach me what you care about. Teach me what you despise. Teach me what to avoid. Teach me how to be wise. Teach me how to keep myself from evil. Lord, teach me your ways.” This is a wonderful prayer if you’re a young person here today. If you know you have a lot of growing up to do, pray this prayer (Lord, teach me your ways.). But this is also a wonderful prayer for an old person. Remember, Moses is 80 years old here. But what is 80 years old compared to an eternal God?? Do you think you might have something to learn from God when you’re 80 years old? I think we’ll still have things to learn from God when we’re 800 years old. Lord, teach us your ways. And why does Moses pray this prayer? Why does he make this request? For more wealth or fame or power? No. He says, “…teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you.” He asks this for two reasons. First, the heart behind this request is to know God. “I want to know you.” To know God is to know the one who made you and sustains you. To know God is to know the one who knows how things should work in this world. To know God is of the highest importance. Personal knowledge of God is what a relationship with is based on. Remember what Jesus says will happen on that future judgment day? To those who are not found to be among the people of God Jesus will say, “I never knew you.” Here, Moses isn’t an unbeliever. But he still prays that God would teach him his ways so that he might grow in his knowledge of God.
Second, Moses makes this request because of the grace of God. We have a great example here of receiving the grace of God (free/unmerited favor of God) in relationship with God. Moses says, you know me and I have found favor with you. Then (and pay attention to the order here), Moses asks that God would teach him his ways so that he would continue to find favor with God. It’s in a personal relationship with God that Moses finds favor with him. He has God’s favor/grace and it’s out of this standing before God that he then asks to learn God’s ways. So it’s grace first and then obedience to the law. So very often people get the order backward. They think I need to be a good person in order to earn God’s favor or blessing. But remember, not only the order of Moses’ request here but the order of the story of the Exodus. God saved his people from Egypt and then gave them the law. The law of God is what guides and protects the people of God who are God’s people by grace and grace alone. Ok! How does God respond to Moses? He says, “I will do the very thing you have asked because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.” Amazing. This is who God is. This is what God is like. And this has to be such a confidence boost for Moses. Why? Because if God is for us, who could be against us? If God is with us, what in all the universe could ultimately harm us? It’s in this assurance of relationship, this assurance of the presence/grace of God, that Moses makes his next request. v. 18.
Exodus 33:18-23 (NIV), “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.”
So after this wonderful assurance of God’s relationship and his grace, Moses asks to see what? God’s glory. And what is the glory of God? Well, this is one of those words you hear in church quite a bit but is actually kind of hard to understand. Let’s do a little work on this. The Hebrew word, kabod, is most often translated as glory, but it’s also translated in the Bible as honor, splendor, reputation, or wealth. Literally, it means something that is heavy or weighty but is usually is used in a figurative way. An example of this concept might be if someone shares something with you and you respond, “Wow, that’s heavy.” That means you just heard something big or serious or life-changing. All of these concepts suggest that glory is of highest importance or of supreme value/worth, something worthy of praise. And, of course, this is a perfect description of God. In many theophanies, the glory of God is seen as a radiant light. But for Moses, this request is just an extension of his desire to know God more. “Show me your glory. I want to see you, Lord!” Well, how does God respond?
God says, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence.” In other words, again, “I will do what you ask.” God will grant him a view of his glory. But there’s a problem. And this is the fundamental problem of the world. The problem is found in v. 20. “But,” God said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” You see, Moses is a good man. He’s a faithful and gifted man. But Moses is not a perfect man. And the sin in his life will cause a major problem for him if he stands in the presence of the fullness of the glory of God. In the holy presence of God, Moses would be destroyed. God knows this. Remember, God knows everything about Moses, even the thoughts and motives of his heart. But he still wants a relationship with him. He still wants to pour out his grace on him. So God makes a way for a sinful man like Moses to experience a degree of his presence and see a bit of his glory. “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.” And then, in the first part of chapter 34, God gives Moses some instructions for how this whole thing would go down. Let’s skip down to Exodus 34:5.
Exodus 34:5-8 (NIV), “5 Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. 6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.” 8 Moses bowed to the ground at once and worshiped.”
Do you want to know who God is? Do you want to know what God is like? This is what God would say about his character. This is what God would want you to know. First, God is compassionate, he is not cold and unfeeling. He is moved by the needs and the suffering of this broken world. Second, God is gracious. No other religion or philosophy in human history has ever envisioned God in this way. God is not a cosmic rule-keeper. He is gracious. God freely gives favor to sinful human beings. This is his nature. Third, God is slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness. Finally, our God forgives. He is, “maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” Now, God makes it very clear that this doesn’t mean that he overlooks sin or downplays the true wickedness, evil, and injustice in the world. He tells Moses that, “he does not leave the guilty unpunished,” and sometimes there are generational consequences to sin. Yahweh is a just God, one whose very presence would destroy a sinful person. He is holy and righteous and good. But remember, he is also slow to anger. He is compassionate and gracious. He is merciful and his mercies are new every morning. Our passage ends by saying, “Moses bowed to the ground at once and worshiped.” And rightly so. If anyone of us saw even a little bit of the glory of God, we would fall down and worship. We get a little sense of this in the presence of even created things. When we stand by the ocean or we look up at the stars at night out in the country, we immediately have a sense of awe and wonder. Our hearts naturally are drawn to worship things of glory. But no one and nothing in all the universe has more glory than the Creator. So Moses didn’t just get a little sense of awe rising within him. Immediately, he fell down and worshipped the Lord.
But while Moses was bowing in worship, I wonder if he was wondering at all how God’s various attributes, his love and his justice, his holiness and his grace, his perfection and his compassion would work themselves out with the people of Israel. Israel had already shown itself to be a stiff-necked people prone to wander and not very quick to repent of their sins. Would they be able to live in the presence of the glory of God or would they be consumed by him? God said he was slow to anger, but he didn’t say he never got angry. How would all this play out?? Well eventually, many generations later, God would again come down to be with his people. And his presence would walk among them. And they would see his glory once again. And God would establish a new covenant with them, one not based on the law, but based on the person and work of Jesus. For it is only in Jesus that all of who God is works together for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose. It is only in Jesus that we see God’s compassion and grace for men and women who would be lost to the power of sin and death and judgment. Only in Jesus dying on the cross for the sins of the world do we see that justice is perfectly fulfilled. Only by faith in Jesus do we see that God’s grace and mercy are freely given. And only through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead do we see that the power of sin and death have been destroyed once and for all. So as amazing as Moses’ encounter with God on Mount Sinai is, believers in Jesus today are far better off. Why? For we have the revelation of Jesus, the image of the invisible God. The one who said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” The one who promised to send his Holy Spirit who wouldn’t just go with us or before us as he did with the ancient people of Israel, but would dwell in us and guide us from within. Do you want to know God? Look to Jesus. Do you want to see God’s glory? Look to Jesus. Do you want to learn his ways? Follow Jesus. But if you do, his presence will go with you and he will give you rest.