Then he said to Him, “If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here. For how then will it be known that Your people and I have found grace in Your sight, except You go with us? So we shall be separate, Your people and I, from all the people who are upon the face of the earth.” (Exodus 33:15-16)
I love delving into the Old Testament with its rich history and breathtaking shadows and types of the age of grace. I love that our God left absolutely nothing to chance, but in every situation throughout the record of His interaction with His people, He provides illustrations, examples, lessons and pointers for the wonderful gift of Christ to come. Studying the Old Testament is a tremendous source of encouragement. We get to see how God wove truth into the daily lives of His people. We get to see that absolutely nothing was ever ‘left to chance,’ that there is a deep and rich and intricate tapestry woven by our God to reveal Himself and His unmeasurable grace, mercy and love for mankind.
It also reveals, through the characters that fill Old Testament pages, vital lessons for all believers, and adds to our understanding of the wonderful message of the New Testament. Take, for example, Moses – a figure who stands out in bold colours. Have you ever stopped to consider his story? It’s quite startling that God would choose this man to lead His people out of slavery in Egypt and through the wilderness to the Promised Land. As a Hebrew baby, he cheated death through a bit of clever trickery and manipulation by his mother and sister.
Raised as Pharoah’s grandson, he has the whole of Egypt before him, but his temper is his undoing. He murders a slave master and has to flee, and ends up in the desert, where he spends forty years herding goats. He has a self-acknowleged speech impediment, has married an Ethiopian woman – a fact which later brought much criticism from the Israelites – and still has a temper. Yet God chooses a murderer with a short fuse, a ‘non-kosher’ wife, and a speech defect to not only confront a man who was arguably the most powerful monarch of that time, but also to lead approximately three million men, women and children across an inhospitable wilderness towards a mere promise. Why?
One of the reasons, perhaps, is that forty years hanging with the goats is bound to instill a certain amount of humility, especially when one comes from what was essentially a pampered background. Hardship, toil and loneliness must have worked a change in Moses. Something definitely happened during that wilderness time to transform him from a hot-heated and arrogant young prince to the man we encounter in Exodus. It is remarkable that God not only used him to bring the people out, but He also chose him as the medium through which He revealed His entire Law. It is through Moses that the foundational teaching on which the Jewish faith – and ultimately Christianity – was built. A remarkable man. But why?
I believe that today’s passage defines this for us very clearly. His absolute, unshakeable desire for the constant presence of God. Not too long before this, God had told Moses that He would send them angel to go before them, to prepare them and protect them and lead them to the place He had prepared for them. In all honesty, most of us would have been thrilled. We’d have counted ourselves blessed and settled for what was, without doubt, a wonderful assurance.
Not Moses. His response is simple and determined. If You don’t go with us, we won’t go. End of story. It’s a startling response if we really think about it. Christians, who know the New Testament and have the incredible privilege of the Spirit of God Himself dwelling within us are spoiled. It may even be that the constant presence of God is so familiar that we take it for granted. We so often go about our lives, making our own choices, our own decisions, and pursuing our own desires or agendas, with little thought for incomprehensible power that works within us.
Moses did not have that assurance, and highlights a critical response that should make us stop and rethink both our blessings and our attitudes. While few of us may be tasked with a work of the same magnitude, we need to remember that any task is beyond our human ability. God never, ever calls anyone to anything that we could accomplish through our own strength, intellect, skills, talents and experience. While He may have sent all of these to prepare us, and does use everything to shape and train us, any task truly given by God requires Him working with, in and through us to accomplish.
If we learn nothing else from Moses, let us learn this. The constant, abiding presence of God is all we need. Everything else comes from that. It doesn’t make us perfect. We will still, like Moses whose anger got the better of him more than once during that long, stressful trek through the wilderness, make mistakes. But he knew enough to have the courage to say: ‘Lord, we’re not going anywhere without You. We’re not even taking a single step unless we know You’re there with us.’ He knew that this was the only thing that mattered.
God’s response was immediate and overwhelmingly complete. A pillar of cloud by day, and a pillar of fire by night. They served to shield, protect, guide…and remind God’s people constantly of His faithfulness, and of His glory. These two signs alone are enough for a long study we don’t have time for, but let me mention this – fire and water are both signs of the Holy Spirit, that same Spirit that lives within us to fulfill exactly the same purpose.
I’ve often heard people ask how God’s people, seeing the fire and cloud every minute of every day, could have turned away from God and rebelled against Him to the point where it cost the entire first generation of all who escaped Egypt the privilege of entering the Promised Land. Yet how often do we, a people who have that same Spirit dwelling within us turn aside to our own ways – if not in all things, then at least in some? It’s a challenging and humbling thought.
But Moses reveals another startling attitude. He knew that it was all about God. He knew that only the abiding and visible presence of God would show the world that He was their God and they were His people. He knew that only the constant presence of God, manifest among His people, could separate them from the nations. What a remarkable truth! We are God’s people because He has chosen us, has granted us His grace through salvation by the death of His own Son. Our believing in Christ sets us apart to and for Him. But it is His visible presence – the manifestation of His Holy Spirit in our lives – that reveals us as God’s people. Others look and see that the glory of God lives in His people.
We cannot reflect the righteousness of Christ without the presence of the Holy Spirit. We can accomplish no task without the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. We cannot reveal the grace and love of God without it. God Himself is the very source of everything that is required, and He uses us to reveal His glory to the nations. These weak, sinful, foolish vessels, so prone to sin and error, house the same glory from which men turned in fear and trembling. It is the same glory that descended on the tabernacle, that remained behind the veil in the holy of holies.
God has not changed and His glory has not changed. The only difference is that it was then outward and is now inward. It is no longer something we perceive from afar, but something we experience intimately. He is there always, but it’s up to us to say: Lord, we will only go with You. Not in our own strength. Not in our own wisdom. Not in our own skills and ability and experience. Only in You, and only so that the world may see Your glory revealed in a people wholly set apart for You.
Almighty God, Lord of All, we can only praise You and thank You for Your unfathomable grace. Change our hearts, Lord, so that we may perceive Your glory within. Help us to live lives that reveal You, that manifest Your flory and Your presence to the world.