Daily Thoughts from Exodus: The Face of God

The LORD said to Moses, “Depart; go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your offspring I will give it.’ I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.”

When the people heard this disastrous word, they mourned, and no one put on his ornaments. For the LORD had said to Moses, “Say to the people of Israel, ‘You are a stiff-necked people; if for a single moment I should go up among you, I would consume you. So now take off your ornaments, that I may know what to do with you.’” Therefore the people of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments, from Mount Horeb onward.

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. 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. 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, 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.

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.’ 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.” And he said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” And he said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. 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?”

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.” Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” And the LORD said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.” (Exodus 33, ESV)

Moses intercedes again on behalf of the people and Yahweh listens to him because Moses has favor with God. God has been speaking face to face with Moses (though the fact that Moses asks to see God’s face tells us that this is an expression of the close contact he had with Yahweh, not a literal face to face talk). Moses has used a tent to interact with Yahweh and he goes there again to present his case to God for going up with them rather than just sending an angel.

Interestingly, the tent was for anyone who sought Yahweh to meet with Him, presumable via Moses intercession.  Joshua would stay in the tent seeking Yahweh even after Moses left.  This is a model for us in our prayer.  But now Moses goes to intercede on behalf of the people and himself.

The people are in proper mourning about their misbehavior and rebellion and when Moses gets the answer he wanted he seeks to trade on his favor with Yahweh to see Yahweh’s face. Yahweh says no, I believe, because what Moses is really asking is to see all of Yahweh’s glory, which would likely kill the human being who experiences it, overwhelming the bodily system in ways it could not recover from. But Yahweh shows him His “back” or a form of His glory that Moses can handle, and declares His glory, His character, as Moses experiences this vision of God.

What do we care about enough to beseech God’s throne the way Moses did? And are we in such favor with God that He would grant it?

Never give up prayer, and should you find dryness and difficulty, persevere in it for this very reason.  God often desires to see what love your soul has, and love is not tried by ease and satisfaction.  (John of the Cross)

God is still on His throne, we’re still on His footstool, and there’s only a knee’s distance between.  Cold prayers, like cold suitors, are seldom effective in their aims. (Jim Elliott)

As St. Augustine says, God is closer to us than we are to ourselves.  Knowing this is the essence of prayer.  The posture our body and the words we use have no significance in themselves and are only pleasing to God as they express the feelings of the heart.  For it is the heart that prays, it is to the voice of the heart that God listens to, and it is the heart that he answers. You ask me what this voice of the heart is. It is love which is the voice of the heart. Love God and you will always be speaking to Him.  The seed of love is growth in prayer. If you do not understand that, you have never yet either loved or prayed. Ask God to open your heart and kindle in it a spark of his love, and then you will begin to understand what praying means. (Jean-Nicholas Grou, Devotional Classics)

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Ephesians 1:15-17 — Conversations with God

For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.  I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.

Has anyone heard of my faith in You, Lord Jesus, and my love for all believers?  Do I have a reputation for that?  I believe I do those things, but my faith in You and my love for Your people can certainly improve.  So hopefully there is someone praying that for me as Paul prayed it for the Ephesians and whoever else this letter was intended for.

He prayed that You would give them a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Jesus.  I’m not specifically sure what he meant.  Did he mean to ask You to send them prophets or teachers who would correctly teach them about Jesus?  Or did he ask You to work in their spirits individually and corporately to produce a fuller understanding of who Jesus is, perhaps based on what he was writing them in this letter?  In any case he wanted You to do something I’m sure You are most willing to do — enlighten us concerning Jesus and what it means to know and follow Him.

Why do we need someone to pray this for us?  Aren’t You quite actively seeking this for us already?   Perhaps we don’t “need” someone to do this for us, but they and we need to be asking You for this because of what occurs to us in the form of spiritual growth and growth in love when we do.  Perhaps we need to see that You are eager to answer these prayers and that in this way we can have a role in the spiritual growth of others.

Joy and Peace in the Gospel (Theology for Living from Philippians)

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 4, verses 4-7)

It seems a little odd that right after Paul mentions the names of the prime combatants in the church conflict (with whom, of course, most everyone has taken sides) and asks other leaders to help them resolve it, that Paul would not stay more immediately with this topic.  But in point of fact, he is on topic.

The enjoinder to rejoice in the Lord is tantamount to saying, “Rejoice in what God rejoices about,” which is the saving of souls who are in darkness by holding out the word of life in unity with one another.  The gentleness that is to be evident to all is that gentleness of interaction with one another in the Body of Christ that views one another as more important than oneself, that is concerned not only for one’s own interests only but also for the interests of others.

And that kind of selflessness extends itself to unbelievers, also.  They sense that the most important thing to you is not your personal agenda, your pet doctrines or behavioral distinctives, but the person in front of you — them.  When that is the case, it is not the individual who is offensive but only the gospel itself.  And that is what we want.

The flip side of this is freedom from anxiety.  The Philippians had been anxious about Paul’s imprisonment because they felt the gospel was limited by his personal limitations.  It was not, of course, as we have seen.  Confidence in the gospel and in the Lord’s ability to have it make progress, frees us to make good decisions in love, not desperation.  And that helps us stay in unity, as well.

When we hand over all our concerns to God in prayer and experience His incomparable peace guarding our hearts and minds, we are ready to be a part of the progress of the gospel.  We are able to see each other not as enemies to our selfish ambitions but sisters and brothers who can stand firm in one spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel.

NOTHING is more important than the progress of the gospel.  NOTHING!

Knowing How God Is Going to Answer Prayer (Theology for Living from Philippians)

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. (Paul’s letter to the Philippians, chapter 1, verses 18b-19)

Paul says several remarkable things here.  First, he continues his plan to rejoice despite the fact that some are preaching Christ from selfish motives.  But to his joy that Christ is being preached is added his joy over the fact that he knows that he is going to be set free once he makes his defense before Caesar’s court.  Where does he get this confidence?  It is not from his certainty that Caesar’s judges will always give a just verdict.  It is not from the confidence he has in his own ability to make a Perry Mason like defense that will have the judge weeping at his bench.  It is the next two remarkable things he says that give him the basis for his certainty.  And they can serve to give us certainty, also.

The second remarkable thing he says is that he knows he will be delivered (from death, I might add) because of the prayers of the Philippians.  The Philippians have certainly been praying for Paul, but they have also been keyed in to the idea that their monetary gift is what is going to be so effective in Paul’s situation.  Paul sees things completely different.  He did not send a missionary support letter and add that if the Philippians couldn’t finance him would they at least pray for him.  He really wanted the prayer more than the money.

I walked by a children’s Sunday school class the other day and overheard the teacher tell her students that the Bible tells us that the more people we have praying for us the more likely God will answer.  I don’t see that directly communicated in the Bible and it creates some unique concerns.  It is, no doubt, what motivates some to create prayer chains and to broaden those out across the globe if possible.  But if it is a numbers game how many does it take to tip the scales for God to answer?  My wife, bless her, argued that James’ statement, that the prayer of a righteous person accomplishes much (James 5:16), could suggest that if you have more than one righteous person praying you could accomplish even more.  Perhaps, but who would argue that Elijah was hindered in his prayers in any way because he was alone?

Nevertheless, when we have many people praying for us it may at least signal that we have many people who love us and should increase the chances that a righteous person is praying in faith for us.  We know from Jesus’ own teaching that God is eager to answer our prayers and provide justice for us (Luke 18:1-8), and of course Paul knew this.  He had the Philippians, who loved him, praying for him, people who had demonstrated that they were righteous in the way they had given to him financially from the beginning of their faith walk with God.  And he knew God was eager to provide justice for him in answer to prayer.  So Paul felt confident.

But the third remarkable thing Paul says and that increased his confidence of being released in answer to prayer was that he had the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.  When Jesus was instructing his disciples about what they would face as they preached the good news he foretold that they would experience persecution and would even be hauled before courts and required to give a defense for their faith (Luke 12:11,12).  They would not be arraigned for true crimes but for following him.  And he told them that they would not need to prepare their defense in those situations because the Spirit would teach them what they should say.

Paul was taking this promise to heart.  He believed the Holy Spirit would give him the right things to say in this most tense and frightening of times.  He had no doubt heard how the Holy Spirit filled Peter and John in this very way when they were brought before the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:8).  They were able to give a powerful defense.  They were still beaten as a show of the Sanhedrin’s displeasure.  But they were released.  Jesus didn’t promise release, however, but simply a supernatural ability to make their defense.

So I believe Paul had one more reason for believing he would be let off of the charges against him.  We’ll see this when we get a little further into chapter 1 of this great letter.  But even lacking Paul’s extra reason for confidence, these he states here are available to us as well.  We can sometimes know how God is going to answer prayer.  When we see the alliance of the factors we have seen Paul mention here, we can feel confident of God’s answer to our prayers.  When we are serving him in the gospel and facing persecution that is unjust, we may know that God is eager to answer our prayers for deliverance and provide us with the filling of the Holy Spirit to enable us.  Paul had experienced this many times.

Admittedly, not all saints are so delivered.  We need only think of Peter and James who were imprisoned at the same time (Acts 12).  James was immediately beheaded, but Peter was released miraculously.  Both had the church praying for them to get justice.  Only Peter experienced justice.  There are times when God’s purpose is to use our suffering as a testimony to the unbelieving world as to the strength and purity of our belief.  But in many cases He wants to demonstrate His power to provide for His children.