Saturday, November 13, 2010

Experiencing God

Note: Tabernacle means 'tent' in Hebrew. Many of you are probably used to the word being left untranslated. However, the NASB translates it (correctly) as tent. So when you read 'tent' you may understand it refers to the traditional 'tabernacle.'

Today, it is my pleasure to share some thoughts with you on the 33rd chapter of Exodus. First, some context. The Israelites had been set free from Egypt and were currently going away from Egypt. They knew they had been freed from bondage and they knew God was leading them, but they knew not to what end. They had stopped at Mt. Horeb (or Sinai) to receive the Law. The Israelites, despite being led by a giant pillar of fire in the night, a giant cloud in the day and having all of their needs provided for regularly complained that they would have been better off remaining slaves in Egypt. In fact, Aaron (who should have been Moses' right hand man) had created a golden calf and claimed it was Yahweh, as if the holiness of God could be contained in idols made with human hands (see Isaiah 44:6-22). In anger, Moses had broken the tablets with God had written with His own finger, destroyed the golden calf and made the people drink water mixed with the dust of their 'god.' Moses then came to God to repent for the people, but the people were 'plagued' for their sin. God tells them to get ready to go the Promised Land of their forefathers, but also tells the Israelites that if He were to come directly among them for a moment, He would be compelled to destroy them completely. So, He orders, take off your jewelry (a sign of mourning) and repent.

Pausing for a moment, then, to wonder what Moses felt like at this time will be very illumating on the rest of our study. He had no reason to suspect anything positive could come out of this and, given the people's grievous sin immediately after receiving the ten commandments, had every reason to believe he and his people would die in the desert. With this real, human drama in mind, let us go to our text:
When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and the LORD would speak with Moses. And when all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise up and worship, each at his tent door. Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses returned to the camp, his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent. Then Moses said to the LORD, "See, You say to me, 'Bring up this people!' But You Yourself have not let me know whom You will send with me. Moreover, You have said, 'I have known you by name, and you have also found favor in My sight.' "Now therefore, I pray You, if I have found favor in Your sight, let me know Your ways that I may know You, so that I may find favor in Your sight. Consider too, that this nation is Your people." And He said, "My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest." Then he said to Him, "If Your presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here. "For how then can it be known that I have found favor in Your sight, I and Your people? Is it not by Your going with us, so that we, I and Your people, may be distinguished from all the other people who are upon the face of the earth?" The LORD said to Moses, "I will also do this thing of which you have spoken; for you have found favor in My sight and I have known you by name." Then Moses said, "I pray You, show me Your glory!" And He said, "I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion." But He said, "You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!" Then the LORD said, "Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock; and it will come about, while My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. "Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen."

(Exo 33:9-23)
As we catch up with Moses, he is feeling exactly as we would expect someone in his situation to feel. He cries out that if God is to let them die, then to do it quickly. But if they are to live and continue as God's people, Moses wanted some way to understand God. Specifically: "Now therefore, I pray You, if I have found favor in Your sight, let me know Your ways that I may know You, so that I may find favor in Your sight." Moses wants some personal evidence that God is who He says He is. He does not ask for some flashy miracle he can show other people, although there was certainly an entire nation of people torn with disbelief. He instead asks for God to reveal Himself personally. If you are looking to experience God in a way where others may be able to look on and say "Wow, she sure is righteous" or "He must have his act together," I am sorry to have wasted your time. This passage will be of little use in accomplishing that goal. But if you want to experience God on a personal level so you might be re-energized in your service to Him, read on.

The LORD then answered Moses' bold request favorably. He said that because Moses had found favor in His sight (grace in the KJV) and because He had known Moses by name (personally). So Moses makes his big request, the way he believes he can know God: "Please, show me Your glory." God answers this request in part. Moses will not see all of God's glory - the terror of God's justice, the incomprehensibility of His power and likely many other of His attributes would kill a man. Moses will be shown the glory of God's goodness. Even in that, Moses will see only the back of God's goodness - even to face God's goodness face on would be enough to kill a man! Moses was to go to a "place by Me,"  hide in the cleft of the rock when God passed by, so Moses would see only his back (not to be taken literally, but rather as the fading of God's glory as he passed).

We are now equipped to apply this to our own lives. So you wish to personally experience the glory of God. Be warned, that Moses found the results something to be hidden. The unveiled glory of the LORD will not leave people unchanged.
Therefore having such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech, and are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not look intently at the end of what was fading away. But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.

(2Co 3:12-18)
With that in mind, we see what Moses had to do to experience God. (1) He had to ask in faith. (2) He had to go where God commanded him. (3) He had to stand firmly on the rock. (4) God would do the rest.

We see the Holy Ghost, the Son and the Father all at work here. The Holy Ghost (seen as the cloud and as fire, cf Acts 2) showed the Israelites where to go, and represented the presense of God. The plainest reasing of this passage is that the guiding pillar showed Moses where the place by God was. Then, Moses (already protected by the blood of the lamb from back in Egypt) had to go on God's terms and stand firmly on the Rock. Clearly, Jesus is the Rock. Because the Rock was cloven, Moses had a place to hide. Often missed in this passage is that, when Moses stood firmly on the Rock, it was God who put him inside. It is only when we are protected by the cloven Christ that we may experience the Glory of God. He then protects us with His hand. This rings very true with the New Testament, where John proclaims of Jesus:
No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.

(Joh 1:18)

The KJV's translation of the NASB's "explained" is "declared" - entirely inadequate to get the real scope. The ESV translates it as "made Him known," which concurs with the NASB in Jesus' purpose.

So you want to experience God? It is impossible out of Jesus. You must first be saved, but then you must faithfully ask that God make himself manifest to you, going where He commands and standing solidly on the solid Rock. He will take care of the rest. If you do not veil it, people will be conformed to His image as a result. So stand bold.

This blog post does not lend itself to ending with questions - the exhortation is clear. I instead point you to two classic hymns: Rock of Ages and He Hideth My Soul.

Have you ever sang: "Rock of Ages/cleft for me/let me hide myself in thee/Let the water and the blood/From thy wounded side which flowed/Be of sin a double cure/Save from Wrath and make me pure"?
I leave you with He Hideth my Soul to ponder prayerfully. If you already know it, sing it from beginning to end, contemplating what it really means in your life. Even if you don't: read it slowly, it is sweet. Lyrics and Piano Score

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