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Exodus 33:7-17; The Undeserved Grace of God’s Presence

09/02 Exodus 33:7-17 The Undeserved Grace of God’s Presence

God had rescued out of slavery a people for himself. He had demonstrated his mighty power over their enemies. He demonstrated his provision and care for them in the wilderness. He entered into a covenant relationship with them, to be their God and take them to be his people. He promised to give them the greatest blessing imaginable; he promised he would be with them. But they had been unfaithful even before they had received the written terms of the agreement. They abandoned their promise to ‘have no other gods before’ him and to ‘not make for yourself a carved image …[to] not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God’ (Ex.20:3-5) Now, he said “I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” (33:3). He said “You are a stiff-necked people; if for a single moment I should go up among you, I would consume you.” (33:5). He would fulfill all of his promises, but he would not be with them. The people perceived this, not as a blessing, but as a disastrous word. There can be nothing more fulfilling, nothing more satisfying, nothing that nourishes the soul, there is no greater blessing than the presence of God. God promises that he will fulfill all his promises but he will remove his presence from his people. This is rightly seen as disastrous, for there can be no greater emptiness than the absence of God, so the people

strip themselves of their ornaments and go into mourning. But there is a glimmer of hope. God says ‘So now take off your ornaments, that I may know what to do with you’. This is the parent telling the rebellious child to sit in the corner and wait while I cool down and decide what the punishment will be. Will it be justice, swift and severe, or will he again show mercy? God had already proposed that he consume the people and start over with Moses (32:10). Moses pleaded with God that he not totally destroy them, and ‘the LORD relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people’ (32:14). Now, the Lord says he will send his angel with them, but he will not personally accompany them, in order to protect them from the absolute holiness of his presence.

Verses 7-11 describe the interim situation, building suspense and leaving us hanging as to what the answer will be to what God will do with his disobedient people.

Exodus 33:7 Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, far off from the camp, and he called it the tent of meeting. And everyone who sought the LORD would go out to the tent of meeting, which was outside the camp. 8 Whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people would rise up, and each would stand at his tent door, and watch Moses until he had gone into the tent. 9 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. 10 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. 11 Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses turned again into the camp, his assistant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent.

Contrast in Tents

Remember, back in chapter 25, God had said “let them make me a sanctuary, that I may dwell in their midst” (25:8). And he proceeded to give seven chapters worth of elaborate detailed instruction about this tabernacle, or tent of meeting, that would provide a central worship location for the whole camp of Israel. This was to be an ornate and highly decorated tent, made of the finest richly colored materials, embroidered with gold, fitted with furniture of gold and silver and bronze, with a whole order of priests, also adorned in elaborate outfits, set apart to make offerings for the people and bring them into the courtyards of God’s palace to enjoy meals in his presence. But now nothing of this has been made. The people by their sinful actions have forfeited the presence of God. Now, instead of an elaborate tent fit for a king, we are simply told that Moses pitched the tent outside the camp, far off from the camp, and called it the tent of meeting. No details, no decoration, no furniture. Just a simple tent. Not in the middle of the camp of Israel, but outside the camp, far off from the camp. No Levites and priests to guard and serve in God’s palace; just Joshua, from the tribe of Ephraim (Num.13:8,16), to stand guard over this simple tent. No sacrifices where they could find forgiveness, but only a fearful expectation of judgment. No entering into his courts with singing, instead each would stand at his own tent door and watch and worship from afar.

Consequence of Sin

This was a dramatic illustration of the consequences of sin. God would not dwell with this people. He could not stand to be among them. He would distance himself from this people. His tent would be far off from the camp. The people of Israel would not have God as their center. Instead any one of them who would seek the LORD must leave Israel behind and go out to the wilderness to find him. Israel was intended to be a light to the nations, God’s own people, so that any outsiders who would seek God must come in to Israel to approach this God. Now God is outside, and Israel must go out if they will have any dealings with him.

Respect for Leadership

We see here the attitudes of the people toward their leader changing. Remember when the people assembled against Aaron with their demand that he make them a calf? They said ‘as for this Moses, the man who brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him’ (32:1). There was no respect, no recognition that this was God’s chosen leader, no acknowledgment that God had called him and was using him as their mediator; they were ready to set him aside and choose their own leader. Now they were beginning to recognize and respect his position of authority. Whenever Moses would go out to the tent they would rise out of reverence. When they saw that God was meeting with Moses, they would rise up to worship God.

The Word of God

Moses’ authority was not because he was in some way better than them. He himself felt inadequate for the task, and when God called him said ‘who am I that I should …bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?’ (3:11); he even said ‘Oh, my Lord, please send someone else’ (4:13). Moses’ authority did not come from his natural abilities or from who he was at all; God said ‘I will be with you’ (3:12). Moses’ authority was recognized because God would speak to him. In fact, we are told ‘the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.’ We cannot take this to mean that Moses saw the face of God, for later in this very chapter Moses records God as saying ‘you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live’ (33:20). Being face to face with the invisible God (Col.1:15; 1Tim.1:17; Heb.11:27) is a way to express that this conversation was up close and personal, that Moses had lost nothing of the privileged intimacy he had experienced in the glory cloud on Mount Sinai. Notice the text does not say that Moses looked at God or that the LORD looked at Moses face to face, but that he spoke to Moses face to face. God’s word is always of utmost importance. It is what God says that takes priority. And this is what gave Moses authority with the people. They recognized that God spoke to him, that God gave him his word. What an awesome treasure we hold in our hands today! The very word of God written; his communication with us.

Friendship with God

What an awesome privilege! To be in the presence of the invisible God. To hear his voice. For the God of the universe to call me ‘friend’!

Psalm 25:14 The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear him, and he makes known to them his covenant.

This friendship was denied to the Israelites, who had no reverence for God and broke his covenant. They were kept at a distance. Jesus invites us back into friendship with him. He says:

John 15:12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another.

‘You are my friends if you do what I command you.’ Friendship with God means obeying his commands. Our problem is we are disobedient. We are rebellious. We do not have a proper fear of God. We, like the Israelites, are quick to run after other gods, to worship other things, our hearts are inclined to love other things more than God. That is why Jesus laid down his life for us. We needed someone to pay the debt we owe for dishonoring God. He died for us even when we didn’t deserve it. He died for us while we were still hostile toward him. He loved those who hated him. This is the kind of love Jesus demands from his followers. To understand this is transformational. None of us deserve to be loved. So when Jesus tells us to love one another as I have loved you, he is saying that we must love those who have done nothing to earn our love. We must love in a way that costs us something. We must love even those who are hostile toward us. We must actively pursue the good of the other. We show ourselves to be his friends when we understand how he loves and seek to love others like we have been loved by him. This comes not from extra human effort, but as a result of experiencing what it is to be loved by God when we deserve just the opposite. What a privilege to be invited into friendship with Jesus!

Moses’ Dependence on Grace

God is speaking to Moses as a friend, but has distanced himself from the rest of the people. He invites the people to demonstrate their repentance ‘that I may know what to do with you.’ Here we get in on one of these conversations in the tent.

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?”

God had told Moses that he would send an angel but would not go personally with the people. Moses argues that God must go with the people or nothing else matters. Moses is acknowledging his utter dependence on God and his own inability to lead without God. Moses is calling on God to make good on his word. You have said ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ God has shown Moses favor or grace. Moses didn’t deserve this. Moses makes his plea based on the fact that God had given him grace. The request? ‘Please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight.’ Because you know me and have extended undeserved grace to me, I want to know you, I want to know your character, your ways, so that I can continue to receive undeserved grace. Moses is saying ‘I didn’t deserve it, I don’t now deserve it, and I won’t ever deserve your favor. I want to grow in relationship with you so that I continue to experience your undeserved grace, because that’s what you’re like.’ And he adds ‘consider too that this nation is your people.’ They have been recipients of your undeserved grace. They don’t deserve it now, but will you still grant them your favor?

God responds ‘My presence will go with you and I will give you rest’, but it seems the ‘you’ here is singular. My face will go with you Moses, and I will give you individually rest. This is not good enough for Moses. He is not content to have God’s promise for himself individually, he wants God’s presence with the whole people. This is almost an ultimatum. You have told us to go, but we are not going anywhere without the promise of your presence with us. See how Moses inextricably connects himself with the people: me, us; I, I and your people; us, we, I and your people.

Evidence of Grace

Moses asks the question: what is the evidence of your grace in my life? You say you have shown us undeserved favor. What is it that shows that we are different from every other people on the face of the earth? The evidence of grace, this favor that is not deserved, is God’s presence. Moses is beginning to understand the heart of God and he is learning what it means to pray according to the will of God. The exodus event was intended as a way for God to get glory (14:4, 17) for his great name. It was a way to preach the greatness of God so that many would acknowledge him as the only true God and come to him. God’s promise to Abraham was ‘I will bless you …so that you will be a blessing. …and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed’ (Gen.12:2-3) and ‘in your offspring shall all the nations of the earth be blessed’ (Gen.22:18). Moses had already leveraged this in his prayer in chapter 32; he asked ‘why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’ (32:12)? God’s reputation among the nations is at stake. His question here is ‘how shall it be known,’ because the point of God’s taking a nation to be his own treasured possession is to put the riches of his grace on display for the nations to see. God’s people enjoying God’s presence with them as a result of his undeserved grace proclaims the glory of God like nothing else. What awesome encouragement to the worst of sinners that they too can find forgiveness when they turn to God if this hard-hearted rebellious people, so quick to turn away, were extended his grace when they repented. See God’s response to this prayer:

17 And the LORD said to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” 

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~

September 2, 2012 - Posted by | Exodus, podcast | , , , , , , , , , ,

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