The words of God Himself – here is a place for you.
In our pebble-gathering walk together, I will often quote the wonderful words of God to Moses when Moses had to plead for Israel after the disaster of the golden calf at the foot of the mountain, thousands of years ago. It is a powerful and true anchor for all of us this very day. [Exodus 33:21]
Then the Lord said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock.
To fully appreciate the impact of this statement, let us look at the background. The nation of slaves, miraculously led out of bondage in Egypt, is nearing the end of their desert journey, in which they were kept and fed by God Himself through many miracles and the leadership of Moses. Moses and Joshua disappear on Mount Sinai for 40 days and Aaron, the ordained and anointed high priest is in charge. A misty cloud hangs over the mountain and they grow very uncertain about Moses’ disappearance, unsure if he will ever come back. He is an old man, after all, well into his eighties.
In an impulsive and superficial act of worship they build a golden calf, completely against all the instruction they have received for the last fourty years. The calf is reminiscent of the idols of Egypt, who worshipped images of cattle. They form the calf from their most precious possessions, gold they brought from Egypt. Aaron receives their gold and moulds a calf from it. [Exodus 32:3,4]
Then they said, “This is your god, O Israel, that brought you out of the land of Egypt!” So when Aaron saw it, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow is a feast to the Lord.
The word for Lord that is used is YAHWEH, their most holy word for God. One can almost think they were sincere in their worship to God. But deception is a terrible thing and will blind you into thinking that you please God with your precious things. In actual fact they reduced the Almighty, Omnipresent, Omniscient, Creator of all things to a small baby beast in the image of the abominable gods of a pagan nation. How could they do it? They did it because they wanted to worship something that fits more comfortably into their own fleshly thinking. The mystery of an uncontainable Godhead was just too big and the fear of something to big to comprehend was overwhelming.
It is easy for us to look back and judge, but the sin of the golden calf is dangerous indeed. How often do we serve God according to our own comfort?
True worship is a life of obedience. Full compliance to the will of God in all respects is not always so simple and compels us out of our comfort zones. The law of love and grace demands counter-intuitive responses to life. Self-denial, forgiveness, humility and unconditional love are not instinctive reactions in all circumstances. We need the Holy Spirit to guide and strengthen us for godly action, especially when we feel offended and wounded and our inner being demands revenge and anger. How will we cope with the hurt and storms of life?
We will triumph over life only if we find our place on the rock in His presence.
God sends Moses and Joshua to see the corruption of the people. Moses reacts in white-hot anger and breaks the stone tablets with the written law, which he has received from God on the mountain. Aaron realizes something is terribly wrong and tries to apologize his way out of the mess in his account to Moses. It is almost laughable: [Exodus 32: 24]
And I said to them, ‘Whoever has any gold, let them break it off.’ So they gave it to me, and I cast it into the fire, and this calf came out.”
Suddenly the calf just magically appeared! Moses make the people choose to stand with God and three thousand are killed in a purge. The next day he offers to go back up the mountain and plead for their forgiveness. This is a true leader, a true prophet – acting according to God’s own heart.
God proclaims that He will plague the people for punishment and then send them into the promised land. He never withdraws a promise – no matter what. Romans 11:29: For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.
The shocking part of the statement is that He will not go with them. They have trampled on their own glorious testimony of fourty years of miracle upon miracle, protection and provision without fail and betrayed His love and grace over them, blatantly and shamelessly. [Exodus 33:3]
Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; for I will not go up in your midst, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.”
And when the people heard this bad news, they mourned, and no one put on his ornaments.
Then Moses pleaded and said: [Exodus 33:15,16]
“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.”
This is still the distinguishing mark of the true worshipper of God. Those who dwell in His presence are separate, different, marked by His truth of a life of obedience and victory. They are not the powerless, name-only Christians who falter when things get rough.
Then Moses boldly asked: Exodus 33: 18:
“Please, show me Your glory.”
God’s response is a rare peep into the mysterious holiness of God and at the same time His desire to reveal Himself to mankind. It is precious in the love and compassion that exude from His words:
9 Then He said, “I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” 20 But He said, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.” 21 And the Lord said, “Here is a place by Me, and you shall stand on the rock. 22 So it shall be, while My glory passes by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock, and will cover you with My hand while I pass by. 23 Then I will take away My hand, and you shall see My back; but My face shall not be seen.”
It is your place – in the cleft of the rock with a special revelation of the goodness of God. God knew that after the sin, death and destruction, His goodness needed to be clear. That is what we need to see – His glory and goodness, more than anything. We cannot see it on our own. God reveals it.
When the people asked Moses what God looks like he described what he saw. He saw the character of God, revealed in the passing by of the glory in one Hebrew word – hessed – the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.
It is indeed a special place – a place of hearing and seeing those things that are hidden from most people. God promised if we put ourselves in the position to listen, we would hear. Isaiah 55:3:
Incline your ear, and come to Me. Hear, and your soul shall live.
In the verses that follow in Isaiah 55 it is significant that David is mentioned. Next time we will talk about the tabernacle of David that Jesus restored – according to the account in the Book of Acts.