I want to see your glory. That’s Moses’ prayer in our passage this morning, pure and simple. We know, already, that Moses has seen plenty of God’s glory. And yet, here in verse 18, Moses says to God, “Show me your glory, I pray.” And so Moses must be asking God for something more awesome, something deeper, something more profound from God that surpasses that which he has already seen and experienced. Moses was eighty years old when he first caught sight of that very strange and very alluring bush as it blazed away there in the wilderness, without being consumed, and now he’s nearly a hundred and twenty years old. He has seen and experienced much in the last 40 years. He is no stranger to the glory of God. He’s seen signs, and wonders and miracles, and he’s been a partner with God in bringing about some of those signs and wonders and miracles. And Moses is not alone in this: the whole people of God have shared in the witness to that glory. God’s glory has been a daily part of their lives ever since the day that Moses walked into Pharaoh’s palace and uttered those thundering words of God, “Let my people go!”
But in spite of the daily exhibitions of glory that both Moses and the people of God shared, it has not always been a glorious experience for Moses. He has been the shepherd of a stubborn and uncooperative people whose selective vision has failed to see the glory of God bursting out all around them, and instead, has elected to focus only on the hostile environment of the dessert that surrounded them.
Selective vision is a deadly malady. It caused the people of God to quite literally prefer the meat of slavery over the bread of heaven. God’s people grumbled and complained, seemingly completely unaware of the glory of God that was leading them, providing for them, caring for them, and quite gloriously lifting them up toward the Promised Land. Perhaps now that we’ve spent some time in this dessert of our own, we can better understand this business of selective vision. Perhaps we, too, have missed some of God’s glory, bursting out all around us, over the past few months.
Moses is tired. He’s worn out. He’s used up. He has spent 40 years proclaiming the gospel of God’s love and mercy and grace and glory, and no one seems to be paying much attention. And so the old guy has gone into a funk. He is struggling with depression.
In pondering the experience of God’s people in the dessert, it seems to me that their chief complaint, the complaint that led them into their deepest sin, that of idolatry, was that God never seemed to be doing enough for them. They always wanted more from God than they were getting, even though they had everything that they needed. This seems to be the paradox of all of human life. Adam and Eve wanted more than they had, even though they needed nothing. They lived in Paradise! The people of God wanted more than they had, even though they needed nothing, and we often find ourselves wishing that we had just a little bit more more than we have. Even Moses, in his “I’ve had enough of this business” state of mind, wanted just a little bit more from God, When he said, “Show me your glory, I pray.”
The truth in this passage, is that Moses has seen plenty of the glory of God. In this very chapter, in verse 11, the writer says, “Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.” That’s a hallmark of a pretty good relationship with God. So what else is it that Moses wants to see?
And so we have to ask ourselves, just what is it that we want to see? Or, maybe more appropriately, what is it that we should be seeing already? What have we witnessed of God’s glory during the this time while we are in exile? I am convinced that the glory of God is best evidenced when we find ourselves living on the edge. It is sad to think about, but when all is going well, or all is going normally, we don’t tend to think much about seeing God’s glory. I think I have learned during this in-between time that living on the edge has the potential to be one of God’s greatest gifts to us. Living on the edge is where stories of God’s goodness, and graciousness and steadfast love come from. Living on the edge is where signs and wonders and miracles can best be seen. Living on the edge is where we learn best that God’s gifts are truly sufficient. I don’t know if God’s people actually learned this or not. That really doesn’t matter all that much. What matters is what we have learned, and what we are continuing to learn.
At the end of this passage, God grants the wishes of our tired and used up old shepherd. But first, God gives Moses what he really needs. God says, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” That’s a powerful, two-fold promise. The assurance of God’s presence is necessary, for Moses, and for us. In this passage the assurance of God’s presence stems from God’s initial threat to step back a bit. God is pretty upset about that golden calf thing, and God has threatened to spend some away from his people. This is of course, a very terrifying thing. And Moses pleads with God to reverse his decision, and Moses prevails. God will continue on with his people. God promises always to be with his people. This is a promise that we must always hold fast to, especially in those times of our lives when it seems as though God has stepped back a bit. Second Chronicles 7:14 probably ought to be our theme verse as we wander through this new and frightening chapter of our lives. It reads: “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, the I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” There is no doubt in my mind that God is giving his people the opportunity to rediscover their purpose and to become renewed.
As important as his abiding presence, God also promises rest for poor old Moses. Moses desperately needed God’s rest and so do we. Moses was tired in body, tired in spirit, and tired in heart. Jesus echoed God’s promise of rest for all of us when he said, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28,29,30) What an awesome and loving invitation!
God’s presence and God’s rest go hand in hand. When Jesus invites us into his presence, he promises us rest: rest for body, rest for spirit and rest for heart.
Almost as an anti-climax, and for reasons that only God and Moses understand, God will reveal his glory to Moses. Moses will only glimpse God’s backside, even though the two of them have communed together, as friends, face to face. It is all metaphorical language of course, but perhaps this is more metaphorical than the rest! We just don’t know. We can’t know. This is a private moment, between God and Moses alone.
And so God will place Moses in the cleft of a rock, and God will cover him with his hand, and God will pass by, and Moses will catch a glimpse of God’s backside. Whatever happened in that moment, though, must have been wonderful. It provided Moses with the assurance of God’s presence and God’s rest. This moment re-invigorated Moses to take heart and to lead his people forward, once again. Even though Moses only saw the afterglow of God’s presence, it was enough. It was sufficient.
And yet, we are more privileged than was Moses. We have seen the face of God in the person of Jesus Christ. We have seen the glory of God. “And the word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14) And because we have seen his glory we have received the full promise of his presence and rest, and for us, it is also enough. It is also sufficient. In fact, it is everything that we need.
At Christmas time the choir sometimes sings an anthem called, Mary Did You Know? And one of the lines in that song goes like this: “Mary did you know that your baby boy has walked where angels trod? When you kissed your little baby, then you kissed the face of God.”
Mary knew. And so do we.