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    Exodus 33:12-23 

    12Moses 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.’  13Now 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.” 14And he said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” 15And he said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. 16For 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?” 17And 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.” 18Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” 19And 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. 20But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” 21And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, 22and 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. 23Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”

    When the future Oxford professor C.S. Lewis was 6-years-old, his family moved to a new house on the outskirts of Belfast from which Lewis could see the Castlereagh Hills. These beautiful, green Irish hills were often covered in rain and mist, and they came to represent something of profound significance. For Lewis, they represented a sense of longing for something that was tantalizingly just out of reach. Though those low green hills were quite close, they symbolized distant objects of desire. Lewis would later say those hills “taught me longing.” In his biography of Lewis, Alister McGrath writes this,

    “[The Castlereagh Hills] became a symbol of liminality, of standing on the threshold of a new, deeper, and more satisfying way of thinking and living. An unutterable sense of intense longing arose within [Lewis] as he contemplated them. He could not say exactly what it was that he longed for, merely that there was a sense of emptiness within him, which the mysterious hills seemed to heighten without satisfying…But if Lewis was standing on the threshold of something wondrous and enticing, how could he enter this mysterious realm? Who would open the door and allow him through? Perhaps unsurprisingly, the image of a door became increasingly significant to Lewis’ later reflections on the deeper questions of life.”

    Around that same time, Lewis had three early childhood experiences that eventually shaped many of his major life concerns. The first took place when a flowering currant bush in his garden triggered a memory of his old house. And all of a sudden it filled him with this intense longing, which almost overwhelmed him, but then it was gone. The moment passed, leaving him longing for that sense of longing that had now ceased. And there were other experiences like this, one triggered by the line of a poem, another which he could only describe as a pain in his heart—a longing for the sense of autumn. As he looked back on these childhood experiences, he realized that they all had something in common; they were all different manifestations of the same thing, which he described as an unsatisfied desire for what he could only call beauty or joy. 

    I suspect that all of us have had moments like this at one time or another where, all of a sudden, we are filled with a sense of desire or longing. Perhaps it's evoked by a nostalgic memory for the past, or some kind of experience of beauty that comes through art or books or nature or love. It fills us with this intense desire, even if we can't quite put it into words—to describe it. And then as soon as we seem to grab hold of it, it slips through our fingers. And we're left wondering how we could ever get it back. The question for us is: When we have those experiences, those experiences of beauty, those experiences of joy, of unsatisfied longing...The question is: Is that pointing us to something that is real and true? Is it leading us to a door that leads to a new way of living or thinking? Or is it nothing more than a cruel delusion? Are these experiences of beauty nothing more than a trick of the mind? “Lies,” as Lewis would later say, “breathed through silver?” 

    We're in the midst of a series focused on the life of Moses. And Moses has already witnessed dramatic displays of God's power. God has revealed himself to Moses at the burning bush. He has demonstrated his superiority over the Egyptian gods through the plagues that he visits upon Egypt. Moses has seen God part the waters of the Red Sea. He's seen God come down in a fiery cloud at night at Mount Sinai in order to enter into a special covenant relationship with his people. Moses has seen God's power, but he's longing for something more. And here in this episode in Moses’ life, he finally gets it. I'd like us to take us through this passage, and consider in particular, Moses' bold request and God's surprising response

    Moses’ Bold Request

    By way of recap, despite everything that God has done for his people by rescuing them from their bondage in Egypt, no sooner does God bring them out of the land of slavery when they turn on him by worshipping the golden calf. But Moses intercedes on behalf of his people in order to spare them a worse fate. Here at the beginning of Exodus 33, God tells Moses that he wants to finish the job. Bring the people up, out of the land, and lead them into the land that God has promised. But here for the first time, in Exodus 33, God announces that he wants Moses to go, but he's not going with him. In effect, he says, “Okay, look, I want you to go on ahead to the land of promise, but I am staying here.”

    Show Me Your Ways

    This sets up a series of three increasingly bold requests on the part of Moses. Moses here plays the role of negotiator for his people. Here's the first request that comes in v. 13. He says, “Show me your ways.” “Show me now your ways that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight.” Effectively what Moses says here is: “Hey, God, remember, you're the one that told me to bring your people up out of Egypt.” So far, the people's track record is not looking so good. And Moses wants to get a little bit more specific because he says: “Look, you told me to bring the people out of Egypt, but you never specified whom you were going to send with me. I'm not altogether sure who's going to make it into this new land that you have promised. So, show me your ways so that I may know you and find favor in your sight.” 

    Now you might say, “Isn't that a little odd? Doesn’t Moses already know God?” Yes, he does. But he wants to know him more. And in fact, he feels that he needs to know him more. He needs to know who this God is and and how this God works, because that's how he's going to know whether these people are going to make it into the land that God has promised in the first place. But Moses is smart enough to understand that the only way that he can know God more is if God reveals himself to Moses. And God agrees in v. 14: “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” 

    If Your Presence Will Not Go With Me...

    But Moses isn't satisfied with that response. So he presses on in v. 15: “If your presence will not go with me, then do not bring us up from here.” In other words, Moses is saying: “I'm not leaving without you. I'm not leaving without you.” 

    Consider this now. Right now at this moment, Moses and the people are at the bottom of the mountain in the middle of the wilderness, and God has promised to lead them to a lush land, the land of Canaan. He's promised to lead them to their dream home. But Moses says, “I would rather stay right here at the bottom of the mountain in the middle of the desert, then go to that dream home if you're not going with me.” Moses would rather have God than the dream home. And often times we do the exact opposite, don't we? We say we'd rather have the lush land, the land of Canaan, the dream home—even if that means God is not with us. But Moses gets it right. God is always preferable to his gifts. The gifts are of no value, if the giver is not with us.

    But hold on now. Wait a minute, though, because Moses says, “If your presence will not go with me, then do not bring us up from here.” But God had just said in the immediately preceding verse, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” So why is Moses asking God for the very thing that he's conceded that he will do? That's a little strange, isn't it? God says, “My presence will go with you.” Moses says, “If your presence will not go with me, then do not bring us…” Oh, that's the difference. God had said, “I will go with you.” But Moses says, “Well, if your presence will not go with me, then do not bring us up from here.”

    Moses is still concerned not merely for himself, but for the people. He wants to know that God will not only be with him, but that God will be with his people. And so Moses refuses to give in. He appeals to God's reputation. How will the world know that your people are special—distinct—that they will be the means by which you bring your blessing into the world—unless you go with them? Moses wants to be assured that despite everything that the people have done—despite their disobedience and rebellion - that somehow, someway, God will continue to be present with them in their life—no matter where they go, and no matter what they do. And amazingly, in verse 17, God says, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” 

    Show Me Your Glory

    But then comes the climactic moment where Moses makes his most bold request. V. 18: “Show me your glory.” “Show me your glory.” Now think of everything that Moses has witnessed at this point: the burning bush, the plagues of Egypt, the parting of the Red Sea, the fiery cloud that descends upon Mount Sinai. Moses has seen more than most of us could ever dream of. And yet, it's not enough. He has seen God's power, but he longs for something more. “Show me your glory.” 

    Now that word glory, it's a little bit slippery. It's notoriously difficult for us to define. In the Hebrew, the word “glory” comes from the root meaning “weight.” And so the glory of God speaks of the weightiness of God. God is the most weighty, the most substantive, the most significant, the most valuable being in the whole universe. 

    Yet, still, we sometimes have trouble getting our arms around this word. On the one hand, we know that “glory” has to do with fame or renown. An ancient hero might speak of seeking glory on the battlefield. And yet at the same time, we also know that the word “glory” has something to do with beauty and splendor. We might describe a beautiful sunset as “glorious.” And so how do we put these two ideas together: fame and renown? beauty and splendor? 

    One way to do it is to say that the glory of God is the outward shining of God's inward beauty. The glory of God is the outward shining of God's inward beauty. God is the most weighty, the most significant, the most valuable, the most praiseworthy, the most beautiful being in the entire universe. And God's glory is not just one attribute among many, but rather, God's glory is the infinitely superior value of all of his attributes. God's glory is what makes God God. The glory of God is the stunning brilliance of God's beauty. That's what Moses wants to see. He is longing for the experience of beauty. He's seen God's power, but it's not enough. He's got this deeper longing to see God's glory. 

    Why might that be? It very well may be because Moses is going through something of a crisis of leadership. Think of all that he has been through at this point. He's got to be physically exhausted, emotionally drained, spiritually depleted—and what does he need? He needs a fresh vision of God. He needs to see God for who God really is in all of his glory, because that's the thing that will lift him up and carry him through the days ahead in order to finish the job of bringing the people into the land that God has promised—to their dream home. 

    You may recall that one of the reasons why I chose to lead us through this life of Moses series this summer is because of the way in which the story of Exodus has played a pivotal role within the African American church. The story of Exodus has enabled the African American church to make sense of their own experiences; they have struggled for their own freedom and racial equality within this country. Certainly there are leaders along the way like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who have—like Moses—experienced a crisis of leadership. 

    I'll give you one example. When Dr. King first became the pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama, civil rights activism was not on his mind. Nor was it on the mind of the church. The church gave him a good salary, a comfortable home, and an educated congregation. And their hope was that King would burnish the reputation of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church and raise it to new heights that—as Dr. King put it in one of his sermons—“would stagger the imagination.” But all that changed on December 1 1955, when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus. And after that, Martin Luther King was thrust into the leadership of the Montgomery Improvement Association, which would oversee the bus boycotts. But by the very next month—that January—just a few weeks later, he was exhausted, and he was ready to give up. One night he returned home late after a long series of meetings, and he received a threatening phone call. And at this point in time he was receiving 30 to 40 calls a day like this. And he tried to go back to bed, but he couldn't get these hateful words—in this menacing voice—out of his mind. So he went down to the kitchen, and he made himself a pot of coffee. And there he is sitting at the kitchen table, and he recalled thinking that he just couldn't take it any longer. He's trying to figure out how he could quit without looking like a coward. So he placed his head in his hands, and suddenly, to his own surprise, he found himself praying out loud. And this is how he would later recount that moment. He prayed, 

    ‘Lord, I’m down here trying to do what’s right…But Lord, I’m faltering, I’m losing my courage. And I can’t let the people see me like this…I’m at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.’ And at that moment, as King would tell it, he seemed to hear ‘an inner voice…the voice of Jesus,’ answering him: ‘Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness, stand up for justice, stand up for the truth. And lo, I will be with you, even until the end of the world.’ That voice of Jesus, King recounted, ‘promised never to leave me, no, never to leave me alone.’ And with that, King would report, all his despairs vanished.

    You see, that night King had an experience of the living Jesus that would carry him through the rest of his life and ministry. And Moses is asking here for something like that. He wants an experience of God's beauty—an experience of the living God. So he says, “Show me your glory.” “Let me see you for who you really are.” 

    But there's just one little thing...If God granted that request to Moses, it would have killed him. Because God goes on to explain: No one can see me. No one can see my face and live.” This is a much underappreciated fact about God by us modern people. We take the presence of God somewhat lightly, but the prophet Habakkuk reminds us that God “is of purer eyes that can see evil.” God cannot even look at wrongdoing. If we, weak, fallen, and frail creatures that we are, were to stand in the presence of God and see him face to face, we would be incinerated. God has purer eyes then can even look upon wrongdoing or wrongful creatures like ourselves. 

    So God promises that he will show Moses his glory in a way that he could bear. He will show his glory to Moses in a way that won't kill him. And so, he promises that Moses will see something, and he will hear something. 


    First he says that he will see something. Somehow, God will cause his glory to pass in front of Moses in a physical manner. Moses asks God, “Show me your glory.” And God says in v. 19, “I will make all my goodness pass before you.” Moses wants to see his glory. God says, “I will make my goodness pass before you.” And then he goes on to explain in v. 22 that he will place Moses in the cleft of the rock, and that he will cover Moses with his hand. And after his glory has passed by, he will remove his hand so that Moses will not see God's face, but Moses will only see God's back. 

    Of course, this is highly symbolic language. No one—trust me—no one understands what it means to speak of God's face, God's hand, or God's back. But the idea seems to be that in the same way that you cannot stare at the sun without going blind, and yet you can see the beauty of its rays reflected in the atmosphere, so in a similar way, you cannot look God full in the face, but what he allows us to see is his afterglow. We cannot see God's face, but we can see his back. We can know God by the way in which he works in the world around us in our individual lives. We can see him by the effect he has on us. We can know God, by his actions, by the ways in which he reveals himself to us. We cannot see God's face, but we can see his afterglow. 


    But that's not all. God tells Moses he will not only see something, he will also hear something. As God passes he will proclaim his name, “the LORD,” which literally in Hebrew is “Yahweh.” That's the special name that God first revealed to Moses at the burning bush. So he will hear God proclaim his name. Moses wants to see God's glory. And God says, “I will show you my heart. I will show you who I am. I will proclaim to you just what kind of a God I am and how I work.” In the next chapter, Exodus 34, when all this unfolds, when God's glory passes by, while Moses is hidden in the cleft of the rock, the Lord proclaims his name: “the LORD, the LORD, merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love.” 

    Moses wants to know: “How do I know that you're going to go up with me and this disobedient and rebellious people into the land that you've promised? Because if you're not going with us, then there's no point in going at all.” And God reveals that somehow, some way, despite the fact that he is not a God to be trifled with... he is a God of righteousness and holiness of purer eyes than can see evil... they cannot even look at wrongdoing...Nevertheless, he is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Just think of all the things that God could do to impress Moses;God doubles down on love. You want to know who I am, you want to know what I am like, this is who I am. This is what I'm like. Moses asks for this indescribable experience of God's beauty that will lift him up and carry him through his life and his ministry. 

    What I would suggest is that, whether we realize it or not, this is what we long for. We long for an experience of beauty that is indescribable, beyond words, and which can only satisfy the deepest longings within us. And to know the mercy and the grace of God is the most beautiful thing that we could ever experience. The only thing that could heal the old ache in each and every one of our hearts. 

    Precisely because of some of those childhood experiences that he had, I believe that Lewis understood this sense of longing and the way that only God could fulfill it better than anybody else. One of my favorite sermons by Lewis is entitled, “The Weight of Glory;” the sermon that he first gave at the church of Saint Mary in Oxford in 1941. In it he talks about how many of us will experience a sense of longing that could be evoked by beauty. It could be evoked by reading a book, or taking in a painting, or listening to music, or by taking in a beautiful scene of nature; or it could be evoked by human love. And often times, when we have these experiences of beauty, we might mistake them for ends in themselves—that this is what we're really looking for, if only we could hold on to it for a little bit longer. But he says, “No, no, these experiences of beauty are not ends in themselves. They're merely a means to an end. They point beyond themselves to the only thing—the only one—who can truly satisfy—the source of beauty itself.” 

    This sermon is so good, it's worth reading a slightly longer excerpt. Listen to this. He says, 

    “The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never yet visited...

    “The sense that in this universe we are treated as strangers, the longing to be acknowledged, to meet with some response, to bridge some chasm that yawns between us and reality, is part of our inconsolable secret. And surely, from this point of view, the promise of glory, in the sense described, becomes highly relevant to our deep desire. For glory meant good report with God, acceptance by God, response, acknowledgment, and welcome into the heart of things. The door on which we have been knocking all our lives will open at last...

    “We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, even that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words—to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it...

    “At present we are on the outside of the world, the wrong side of the door. We discern the freshness and purity of morning, but they do not make us fresh and pure. We cannot mingle with the splendours we see. But all the leaves of the New Testament are rustling with the rumour that it will not always be so. Some day, God willing, we shall get in.”

    Now do you hear what he's saying? Our experiences of beauty create within us a sense of longing, a longing for something more, but the New Testament is rustling with the rumor that this deep longing is not some cruel delusion. It's not a mere trick of the mind. It's not lies threaded with silver, but rather this deep longing will be satisfied. 

    And how do we know? Because in the New Testament we're given something of a clue. When Moses asks, “God, show me your glory,” God allows him to see his goodness as he passes by. And Moses is hidden in the cleft of the rock. But that was not God's full and final answer to Moses’ request. To his requests, God had an even more surprising response in store. 

    Centuries later, Jesus goes up on a mountain. And he takes with them three of his disciples: Peter, James, and John. And on that mountain, Jesus' entire appearance is transfigured. The Gospel of Matthew tells us that his face shone like the sun, that his clothes became as white as light. And there are two men who appear and speak with Jesus. One is Elijah. Do you know who the second is? Moses! 

    You see, there's Moses. He asked, “God, show me your glory.” But God answers that request, not ultimately on Mount Sinai, but ultimately, on the Mount of Transfiguration. Because there he sees the glory of God, shining in the face of Jesus; as the author of Hebrews tells us, Jesus is “the radiance of the glory of God.” 

    How do we know that God will be with us no matter what, that he will never leave us or forsake us, he will never leave us alone, no, never alone, despite our rebellion and our sin? It's because of Jesus. It's because of what he has done for us through his life and his death and his resurrection; it’s because of what he's accomplished through his cross and his empty tomb. You see, that is how we know this sense of longing within us—to be acknowledged by God, to be embraced by God, to experience a love beyond our deserving that will never end—is not a fiction, but it is the most real thing about the universe in which we live. It's because of Jesus. 

    Jesus is telling us that because of who he is and what he's done, we can know that God is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. That's how we know that one day the door upon which we've been knocking all of our lives will be opened and we will get in. We will get into the new creation, the dream home that God has promised. And on that day, the letter of 1 John tells us that we shall be like Jesus. Why? Because we shall see him as He is. We will see Jesus face to face. 

    If you want to see God's glory, well, then all you have to do is look at Jesus, and you are peering into the very face of God. And there is absolutely nothing more beautiful than that!

    Let's pray together. 

    Father God, as we reflect on our own lives, we do know that, though it may be different for each one of us, there have been moments where we have explored that sense of longing for some kind of unsatisfied desire that might be evoked by an experience of beauty or perhaps a nostalgic memory of the past. But we pray that in and through Jesus, we would come to see that these fleeting moments that almost overwhelm us and then slip through our fingers are pointing beyond themselves to something that is real, something that is true. It's leading us to the door that opens up to a whole new way of living. And we thank you that because of who Jesus is, and what he has accomplished for us through his death and resurrection, he is the one who has opened up that door because he is the true source of beauty and the only one who can satisfy that deep longing and heal that old ache. And so we pray that you would help us by faith today to look at your beauty. Show us your glory. 

    We ask in Jesus’ name,