- The Glory of God
- Exodus 33:18-23
- Brian Brownlow November 25, 2018
I’ve got a question for you. How many of you would like to see God’s glory? I think most people would say “yes,” but I wonder how many of us know what that means. We use the term, especially in the church, quite often. We’re about to begin the season of Advent. The four weeks – and their corresponding Sundays – that lead up to Christmas are called Advent. During Advent, we talk about God’s glory quite frequently. In the story of Christ’s birth from Luke 2, the Angels proclaim the coming of the Messiah by saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
When I was in late elementary or maybe early middle school, I can remember a woman being at our church who didn’t regularly attend. I think we were having a revival. In any event, she kept raising her hand and saying, “Gloowwrrry!” Well, in that little church, responding to the message was not the norm. I don’t remember anyone even giving an occasional “Amen!” So, you can imagine how surprised I was at this. I’m embarrassed to say afterward I mocked her. Not to her face of course, but I would repeat her proclamation and laugh. What exactly is the glory of God and what do we mean when we use that expression? For the longest time I didn’t have a good answer to that question and some of you here this morning may not have a good answer either.
This morning I want to examine the idea of God’s glory, and I want to ask you to consider how you understand it. I would specifically ask you to think whether, for you, the glory of God is something that is past, present, or future. Do you consider the glory of God something that was manifested only in the past? Moses at the burning bush, the pillar of cloud and fire that went before the people when they came out into the wilderness. Is it something that you anticipate seeing or experiencing in the future? Do you believe that one day, possibly in heaven, that we will see the glory of God but that it is something reserved for a future event? Or, do you expect to see God’s glory right here, right now?
Over the last several weeks we’ve looked at several ways that we can walk in the will of God. Our series title, “Compass,” implies that God gives direction for our lives and that He sets the course and the path for all that we do. As we have walked through the book of Exodus, we looked at how a life lived with God will involve surrendering our will for His, living in obedience, persevering through trials and difficulties, doing all things at all times in an attitude of prayer. That we would live knowing that we’re not trying to get God on our team, but rather we give up everything to joining his.
This morning, I want to bring the series to a close by looking at the glory of God in Exodus 33:18-23. Please take out your Bibles and read with me.
18 Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.” 19 And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” 21 Then the Lord said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. 22 When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.”
Now for us to understand what’s going on here, we have to examine what has just taken place. I picked up in verse 18 of chapter 33. The first part of that chapter consists of God speaking to Moses in what was called the “Tent of Meeting.” The tent was pitched just outside of the camp, and it was the place where the people would go to inquire of the Lord. It was a prayer tent essentially. When Moses went into the Tent of Meeting, the Pillar of Cloud, that had been going before the people during the day, would cover the tent.
While inside the Tent in prayer, God tells Moses that He is about to give the Hebrew people the land that he promised to their father, Abraham. They are finally going to enter the Promised Land. They are going to possess the “land flowing with milk and honey” that God’s people have longed for ever since the time of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This is great news! However, there is a problem. God tells Moses that His presence is not going with them.
God is faithful, and He is always true to His promises. However, His people have not been quite so faithful. The text describes them as being a “stiff-necked people,” and in Biblical terms, that’s not a good thing! They have failed to live up to their end of the covenant. Just before this, while Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the Commandments from God, the people had built an idol by fashioning the image of a calf out of gold. God’s anger burned against them and he tells Moses that He will make good on His promise and send the people into the Promised Land – even sending angels ahead of them to drive out those who are living there. However, God’s presence would not go with them. He tells Moses that if His presence went with them – even for a moment – that He might kill them.
Scripture tells us that when the people heard this, they began to mourn so certainly they recognized the importance of God’s presence. However, from all that we know about many of them, I have to guess this mourning would have been short-lived. For some, I suspect this might not have sounded like such a bad deal. After all, they still get the “goodies.” They still get to possess the rich, fertile, land. A land flowing with milk and honey! Angels were even going to go ahead of them to drive out those who were occupying the land. The only drawback is they wouldn’t have God’s presence. Some probably would have shrugged and thought, “Oh well, 2 out of 3 ain’t bad.”
Do you remember the game show, Deal or No Deal? After the contestants had played for some time, the host would offer them a sum of money. The contestant could either hit a button and choose the deal, guaranteeing them whatever was offered, or, they could put a box over the button and say, “no deal!” By doing so, they gained the possibility of winning even more but also risked losing everything. I can picture some in the group rushing to hit the button and take the deal. The only problem was, Moses was in charge. He flips the box closed and refuses the deal. Moses tells God that they won’t go anywhere without His presence. He reminds God that, despite their sin, they are still His chosen people. Moses cries out to God and confesses that without His holy presence they have nothing. Moses gets it. He knows the real prize is not a land flowing with milk and honey but about the ever-abiding presence of God and without that, the people are guaranteed nothing. They might have some “goodies,” but nothing was worth losing the presence of God.
Because Moses gets it, God relents and agrees not to remove His presence from the people. Scripture explicitly tells us that God did this because He was pleased with Moses. It’s important to note that Moses was not perfect. Moses had not earned this. Moses pleased God because he acknowledged that he needed God’s presence above all else. Nothing else mattered.
That brings us to verse 18 where I began reading a few moments ago. Here, Moses does a very bold thing. God has just granted him a huge request, and Moses responds by saying, “now show me your glory.” If it had been me, I think I would’ve tried – “thank you!”. Perhaps a dozen thank you’s as I quickly and quietly bowed out. I’m reading this and thinking maybe Moses has pushed his luck just a little too far here. There’s wisdom in quitting while you’re ahead. But that is not Moses’ style. He doesn’t take the “2 out of 3 ain’t bad” attitude. We’re going to shoot for the moon here and ask for it all. Moses gets it. Just like he understood that the people were nothing without God’s presence, he knew that the power of God’s presence rested in the manifestation of His glory.
I know the word manifestation freaks some people out. It conjures ideas of poltergeists and other weird images. But a God who is spirit has to manifest Himself in the physical to interact with us. God created us in His image, and while he does not have a physical body, he interacts with us in genuine ways by manifesting – being real – with his people. That means being real with Moses and the Israelites that He brought out of Egypt and it means being real with you and me today. Moses gets it.
Does God respond by striking him down for being too presumptuous and asking for too much? No – He says in v 19, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence.” God’s favor rests upon Moses. Don’t forget, Moses hadn’t done everything right. Moses was reluctant. He made excuse after excuse when God called him. He’d gotten angry with the people and questioned God on a few occasions himself. God was granting Moses’ request because he came to Him both with boldness and humility. The boldness that comes with faith. Moses didn’t beat around the bush. He got right to the point and asked for the things that mattered. Moses gets it. At the same time, he confessed and proclaimed that without God he was nothing. That’s the place where God can use us. That’s where God can do great things and manifest His power and His glory in magnificent ways. It’s when we recognize that apart from Him we are nothing that we are solely dependent on His mercy and His grace. That’s where He can do a transformative work in us, and Moses got it.
In the same verse (19), God adds a statement of His authority, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” In granting Moses’ request, God makes it clear that it is his sovereign choice. Again, Moses has not earned anything. God is not giving Moses a treat for being a good boy. It is God’s name that will be proclaimed in Moses’ presence. The glory of God is the overflow that we get to experience by being in His presence. Earlier, in the context, I told you that Moses refused to go anywhere without the presence of God. “He wasn’t concerned about the “goodies.” Moses gets it. He knew that to receive the glory of God he had to be in the presence of God. God is not doling it out like candy to trick-or-treaters. When we abide and stay in His presence – refusing to go anywhere without it – we will get His glory. He will show His magnificence and power in our lives. Not because we’ve done anything good, but because we are in His presence where His glory naturally overflows. Again, Moses didn’t convince or manipulate God. Moses gets it. He puts himself in a position to walk humbly in the presence of God which is the only place we can ever experience His glory.
In verse 20, God says something interesting, “But, you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” This is interesting because earlier in the chapter (when Moses was speaking to God in the Tent of Meeting and said the people would not go anywhere without his presence), we are told that Moses would meet with God face-to-face, as you would a friend. This would seem to be contradictory. In one place we are told that Moses met God face-to-face, and here God says that no one can see his face and live.
Again, God is not in a human body. This issue is not physical proximity. God is telling Moses, and us, that his glory is so amazing that we cannot stand the fullness of it. Remember when God said earlier that He would not go with the people because if He was with them – even a moment – He might kill them? In that situation, God’s holiness, His perfection, combined with the people’s sinfulness was like gasoline and fire. God’s holiness could not be in the presence of the great sin of the people. So, it would seem that He turned His back on them. But I want to suggest to you this morning that that is one of the most powerful examples of God’s mercy. If God’s nature was such that He waits for his people to make a mistake so He can zap them with punishment, then He would have wiped out the Israelites long before they ever got to this point. God loved them so much, and His mercy was so great that instead of going with them and surely killing them, He chose to remove Himself.
Now, God knows that His glory is so magnificent that Moses, who was still a sinful man, could not stand in the full radiance of it. Even though God is pleased with Moses and wants to show him His glory, He knows that it would destroy Moses. That’s some big-time glory right there. So, God tells him to stand in the cleft of a rock, and he will place his “hand” over him to shield him. Again, it is not a physical hand that covers Moses. It is the amazing grace of God. Even when pouring out His glory on us God covers us in a way that our humanness can handle. The holiness of God is beyond anything we can imagine.
Much of our religious culture suggests that God’s mercy obliterates His holiness. Some would suggest that God lowers Himself to our level. His mercy and His grace trump His glory and holiness. But in truth, His holiness can never be eclipsed. He is merciful, and He is forgiving but not at the expense of His holiness, His majesty, and His sovereignty.
I hear Christians say, “We’re just busy right now, God understands.” God understands that my job is taking all my time right now. God understands that hobbies, kid’s activities, social commitments, sports, and the list goes on; life happens, God understands. I have a theory on that. I agree God understands. He understands that we have ignored the first commandment: you shall have no other gods before me. Because we do not fashion a calf out of gold, we think we have not created idols.
I’m going to confess something this morning. You know how to perk up an audience during a sermon? Tell them you’re about to confess something! Over the years I have accumulated a lot of tools. I don’t think they are idols – Debbie might disagree. I have recently used those tools to build my dream shop. Nearly 500 sq. ft. with 9 ft ceilings, a roll-up door and a place for all my tools. It even has a sink to wash out my paint brushes. I’m planning to use that shop to make new cabinets for our kitchen and bathroom that we are remodeling. Just had single pane windows replaced with double pane insulated super-duper windows. It was in the low 20s outside, and I put my hand up next to those babies, and you couldn’t feel a bit of cold. Opening up a wall between the den and kitchen to put in a new island with granite countertops. It is going to be awesome. You know what? I don’t feel one bit guilty. I don’t think God is angry at me. I don’t think I am being selfish or extravagant – I won’t really use granite. I’m too cheap for that. I’ll be a good steward. I really will. I don’t think God has a problem with our plans.
I also have a son who is a senior this year. His football team is undefeated and making a run in the playoffs. I love football, and I really love watching him play. I’m going to be at every game soaking up the experience and not feeling one bit guilty.
But, last week, the director of Disaster Relief for our conference asked me to go to Crosbyton with him to look at some homes that were severely damaged during a storm last summer. Phil Worrall, our director of Spiritual Formation and I drove over and met Malcolm Woods. Malcolm is a double amputee. Both legs were removed below the knee. He’s in a wheelchair, and he showed us where the water came pouring into his house. While that has temporarily been remedied, he also showed me the single pane windows in his house that he replaced, with tarps. Then he showed me his bathroom; a bathroom that he doesn’t use because he can’t get in there. When home health comes by the nurse empties his urine bottle, and sometimes he gets a sponge bath.
I can’t fix all of Malcolm’s problems. I certainly can’t repair all of the other houses in Crosbyton that have similar problems. I’m not God, and that is a good thing to know. I think Moses taught us that in our passage today. I can’t do it all.
Here is something else I can’t do. I can’t ask God to see His glory and then tell Him I’m too busy to be in His presence. I can’t go to Him and say, “I’m just too busy to help Malcolm right now. If it was next year, after Carson’s senior year just after the playoffs are over at least. I’ve got all this work to do on the house. I’ll never get our remodel done if I don’t get busy. Somebody else can help Malcolm. God, surely you understand!”
I started this morning by asking: How many of you would like to see God’s glory? I think most of us would answer, “Yes”! God wants to pour out His glory on you. It’s not only OK to ask for His glory, but He desires to give it to you. In this passage, and throughout the Bible, we see a good, merciful, forgiving God who loves us with an everlasting love. He wants to be our God and for us to be his people. But He is a holy God, and his glory will not be poured out on a stubborn and stiff-necked people who desire the presence of their idols rather than Him.
So, what are we supposed to do? Go find somebody’s house to fix? No, God wasn’t pleased with Moses because of what he did? He didn’t show Moses His glory because he had earned it. God was pleased with Moses because he got it. He knew that God’s glory overflows from His presence. Seek His presence. For me, right now, I believe His presence is in Crosbyton at Malcolm Wood’s house. Where is God’s presence for your right now? Find that, and you will see His glory.