Matt Blackwell speaks on Exodus 33:1-4, 12-18
In this New Year let us be marked by the very presence of God in our lives. Let the relationship we have with God not just be one of the many important things, but rise to be preeminent over all other things. That God’s presence would be a true value of ours.
Scripture speaks of God’s presence as being our safety, security and strength.
His nearness is our good.
You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Psalm 16:11 (ESV, emphasis added)
According to the Scriptures, the way we move into a year marked by safety, security and the fullness of joy, is by being in the presence of God.
We need to ask God to change our hearts’ affection, to make us long for and want His presence more in our lives.
The book of Exodus begins with the people of Israel in Egypt. They’ve been there for about four hundred years and have been enslaved to an evil pharaoh. God then raised up a man named Moses, who told the Pharaoh, “Let my people go.”
The plague has happened; they’ve gone through the parted red sea and have crossed over the wilderness. They’re on their way from slavery to the promised land that God has said He would give them.
Then Moses went up to Mount Sinai to receive from God the rules for building the tabernacle, the portable church. It was the place where the presence of God would go with the people.
The people had been waiting forty days down below. Complete chaos broke out in the camp. The people weren’t sure what happened to Moses, so they decided they needed a new leader, a new plan and a new god.
They went to Aaron, the priest, and presented their jewelry, asking for him to melt it all down and create a new god. He agreed to do so and crafted a baby calf, presenting it to them as their new god.
The people applauded and threw a huge party. When Moses and Joshua were coming down from the mountain, Joshua told Moses there was a war going on. They get closer and realize it’s not a war, but rather a party.
Moses was livid and God brought judgment on the people. Three thousand people died. The wages of sin is death.
On the tail end of that failure we reach chapter 33 where God continues His promise to His people.
The Lord said to Moses, “Depart; go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your offspring I will give it.’ 2 I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 3 Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” 4 When the people heard this disastrous word, they mourned, and no one put on his ornaments. Exodus 33:1-4 (ESV)
God was telling them He wanted them to go up and inherit the land promised to Abraham from Genesis 12. This was the land that had been passed on from generation to generation. He wanted them to finally be the generation to go up and inherit the land.
It was good news for them. They would finally have property and a place to call home. No longer would they be slaves in Egypt, but would have a place that was their own. They wouldn’t be impoverished anymore, but would live in a land flowing with milk and honey (symbols of prosperity and abundance).
They would also have peace. God would send an angel to drive out all their enemies.
A place to call their own, peace, prosperity; all the things they’ve wanted.
But there was a hitch.
3 Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” 4 When the people heard this disastrous word, they mourned, and no one put on his ornaments. Exodus 33:3-4 (ESV)
God said He was going to give them peace, prosperity, property, everything they had ever wanted, except not Himself.
Moses called it a disastrous word. To get everything they ever wanted, but without God, would be a complete disaster.
They mourned. They took off their jewelry and laid it all down, saying it all paled in comparison to God’s presence. They wanted His presence to go with them. They didn’t just want all the things He provided. They didn’t want peace, prosperity and property if God was not there with them.
They wanted God Himself.
Certainly they wanted the things He provided, but not at the cost of Him. They valued His presence with them as preeminent and the most important thing.
God’s Presence as Preeminent
12 Moses said to the Lord, “See, you say 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 therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” 14 And 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 with me, do not bring us up from here. 16 For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” Exodus 33:12-16 (ESV)
Moses was interceding before God for the people. He was telling God it was His presence they wanted. They didn’t want to go if He didn’t go.
Nothing else matters if God’s presence isn’t with us. All those successes, the diplomas, the marriages, the raises and promotions, none of it matter if God is not there with us.
Our hope and prayer is that God would go before us and that we would join Him in the actions that He’s already doing. We should say that if His presence doesn’t go before us, then don’t send us.
God is whom we should want.
16 For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” Exodus 33:16 (ESV)
Moses was saying it was God’s presence that made them unique and distinct. There was a value in God’s presence being among them. It was an issue of identity.
What makes you, you? What makes the Austin Stone Community Church what it is? Who are we? What defines us?
There are a million different ways that we define ourselves. We want to be known as the smartest, or the fastest or the wealthiest or the prettiest.
We judge these things as how they will create our identity. These things will show that we’re worth something, that we’re valuable. We are these things.
But Moses is saying that its God’s presence that should be our identity.
We spend so much energy, money, time, effort and stress trying to create a sense of identity in order to feel valuable, important and useful. We hope to find some latent potential that will be unlocked from within us. Then we’ll all of a sudden go from being a nobody to a somebody.
Every generation has this story within a movie; the movie of the ugly duckling girl who doesn’t fit in. Then all of a sudden, she takes her hair down, gets contacts instead of glasses, and dresses differently, becoming the most beautiful girl in school. Whether it’s Clueless, Can’t Buy My Love or another. We love these stories.
Why? Because she went from being a nobody to a somebody overnight.
We want that story to be ours. We want to be noticed, to be beautiful, to be somebody.
We want to have value.
The good news is we don’t have to prove our identity by the things we do or the way we look.
The Master Artist made you like you are.
We have our identity in being image bearers of the King. Our value is inherent and innate in us, because God is near to us and has created us. You are called to be like Him and you have been given purpose.
All of our energy toward creating an identity can now be shifted towards furthering and advancing His purposes in our lives.
That is what Moses was saying. If they went and got all of that stuff, but didn’t have God, they wouldn’t really have an identity. They would be just like all the other nations.
But God made them unique and distinct.
“Sin is building your identity-finding your greatest meaning, significance and security-on something besides God. Everyone centers his or her life on something, and whatever that is becomes by definition and function a) your god-something you adore and serve with your whole heart, and b) your “savior”-something you have to have in order to feel spiritually and emotionally significant and meaningful.” – Tim Keller
My hope for us is that we would find our identity and joy in God’s presence among us.
Let’s not spend our lives accumulating more, achieving more and spending this year trying to prove ourselves worthy and valuable.
We shouldn’t define ourselves by our accomplishments, but on Christ’s accomplishments and achievements.
Praying to Know Him More
How do we grow in the presence of God?
We want safety, security, joy, goodness and an establishment of our identity in Him. But how do we get that?
Moses simply just asks God for it.
He prays two specific things:
• To know Him more.
• To see His glory.
To Know Him More
13 Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” Exodus 33:13 (ESV, emphasis added)
Moses wanted to know God; His ways, the things He does, how He acts and responds, likes and dislikes. He wanted to know Him more.
15 And he said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. Exodus 33:15 (ESV)
He wanted to know His presence. The Hebrew word for presence is face. The face is the seat of someone’s emotions. It’s what shows whether the person is happy, sad, worried, stressed out. It’s the place by which you know somebody. He wants God’s face to be with them.
Have you ever been in love? Fallen head over heels for somebody?
Love begs for nearness. You will do whatever it takes to be close to them. You will do crazy and dangerous things, to be near them.
That is what the incarnation of Jesus was. It is God drawing near to us. That mission wasn’t safe, but He did it anyway. The Word became flesh. So He could draw near to us.
14 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14 (NASB)
The tabernacle is the place of God’s presence. Jesus became the physical tabernacle, the presence of God who dwelt among the people.
To See His Glory
18 Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” Exodus 33:18 (ESV)
Moses not only prayed that He wanted to know God, but he also wanted to see His glory, His weight, and His significance. He wanted to see the benefits of God and the beauty of God. He wanted to move toward God for being God, for who He is.
How often do our prayers fall short of these requests? We pray for things, for blessings, safety, provision. But how often do we pray to know Him more and to see His glory? Yes, God is useful to us. His love provides for all our prayers. But He’s also beautiful.
We need to see Him not just for what He can provide, but also for who He is.
God responded to Moses saying he couldn’t see the fullness of His glory or he would die. But He told him He would put him in a cleft of a rock and walk past him. Moses wouldn’t be able to see His face, but could look at God’s back.
6 The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, 7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation.” 8 And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped. 9 And he said, “If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.” Exodus 34:6-9 (ESV)
God told Moses He is eternally gracious, but He’s also righteously just.
Where these two things collide is at the cross of Jesus Christ. God’s righteous justice was poured out for the sins of humanity. Jesus absorbed that righteous anger. From that point, the grace of God is now given to all that will believe. So that we will be in His presence forever.
This is the hope we have. God’s goodness is seen in His grace and justice colliding at the cross. The cross is where we see both the benefit and the beauty of God fully on display.
Seek God’s Presence
As we move into the New Year, we want to tell God we absolutely want the blessings, but not if it means that we lose Him.
Let’s ask Him that we would grow in our experience and expression of His nearness. That is where our good and joy is found.
Let’s value His nearness. Let’s have His nearness be our preeminent priority.