Monday, September 17, 2012

Wrestling for Presence

The people that Yahweh has delivered from slavery have just committed the very epitome of idolatry. By constructing this golden calf, they have forsaken God's deliverance, God's Law, and God's presence with them. Now, in the opening verses of Exodus 33, we hear that this act of idolatry is driving God away from God's people. Graciously, God still plans to fulfill the promise of a land for this people; an angel of God will go with them to drive out those who inhabit the land. But God's own presence will not abide with the people "lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people."

But Moses won't have it. You can almost hear the accusatory tone in Moses' voice in v.12.
"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.' Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways..."
Who talks to God this way? Where is Moses' deference? His respect for the Holy God? Then in v. 15 we hear: "If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here." Is Moses giving God an ultimatum? "God, if you aren't going to go with us then don't even bother sending your angel because I'm not going anywhere."

Perhaps what is even more remarkable than Moses' boldness is that God accepts it. In fact, Yahweh's course of action is changed. God was going to depart from the people but instead God now responds to Moses by saying "This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name." Like Jacob, Moses wrestles with God and wins.

But Moses doesn't even stop there. He's won. He's changed God's mind and gotten what he asked for but still he pushes things even further, almost to the absurd. Moses says in v.18 "Please show me your glory." Moses wants to see the very glory of God and God finds a way to (mostly) grant this request as well. God tells Moses that he can hide in the cleft of the rock on the mountain and God will cover him with his hand while all of God's goodness passes by Moses.  Then God's hand will be removed and Moses will be able to see God's backside as God passes by.  (That's right. God is basically "mooning" Moses. "Moses, you asked to see my glory but this the best you get bud." And you thought God didn't have a sense of humor.)

There are a lot of really fascinating aspects to this passage of Scripture but there is yet one more I find most fascinating of all. Maybe its just the pastor in me, the part of me that so desperately wants to see people changed and transformed, that causes me to read the story this way. But the part of the story I find most fascinating is the change in Moses himself.

Do you remember the Moses of Exodus 3? Is the Moses who, here in chapter 33, wrestles so boldly with God, really the same Moses who was so fearful and timid in chapter 3? The Moses who was afraid to look at God in the burning bush is now the Moses who says "show me your glory". The Moses who offered objection after objection to God's call to deliver the people of Israel is now the Moses who wrestles God into staying with those same people. The Moses who said "Oh, my Lord, please send someone else" now boldly says "Don't you even think about sending anyone else." In Exodus 3, God promises Moses "I will be with you" and that wasn't enough for Moses.  Now God's presence is the only thing that matters to Moses. Is this really the same guy? What has happened to Moses?

Ten Plagues. Exodus. The Red Sea. Water from a Rock. Manna and Quail. Mt. Sinai. The Moses of Exodus 3 isn't the same person as the Moses of Exodus 33 because this is a Moses who has seen what God can do. As I've been working through the book of Exodus, I've pointed out a number of times that even though the people of Israel have been delivered they have not yet had their collected imaginations converted; they have not yet had their slavery so removed from them that they are able to re-imagine what is possible with God. But Moses has and can. In fact, it seems he refuses to imagine life any other way. Moses has tasted the presence of God in his life and it has changed him from a scared and timid shepherd into a man who wrestles with God and having experienced the presence of this mighty God, Moses refuses to accept anything less. Earlier I compared Moses to Jacob but that's not exactly right. After receiving a blessing from God, Jacob let God go. Moses has received blessing after blessing from God but he recognizes the one thing he can't let go, the one thing that is really worth wrestling for, is the presence of God.

In v.16, Moses says
"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?"
Moses knows that the only thing that sets Israel apart is the presence of God. Do we, the Church, know this too? What if we were a people who, having experienced the presence of God in our lives, fought with every fiber of our being to never let go of that presence? What if our our defining characteristic was our constant cry to God "Show us your glory!"

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