And he (Moses) said, I beseech thee, shew me thy glory.
And he (God) said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee: and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy.
The festive sounds that had filled the camp of Israel were ceased. Where but one day before there had been the noise of wild heathenish orgies, silence lay like a heavy shroud. Through Moses the justice of God had smitten the people. They had tasted the water made bitter by the ground dust of gold. Three thousand of their men lay dead because they had continued to dance among the tents in base disregard of Moses’ burning reprimand. The point of Moses’ actions had come home. Israel huddled in its tents under the bitter conviction of sin. In trembling fear, they awaited further exactions of the justice of God.
Moses had returned to the mountain to prostrate himself there before the Lord. He had told the people in departing, “Ye have sinned a great sin: and now I will go up unto the Lord; peradventure I shall make an atonement for your sin.” Once in the presence of God, he started to present his plea falteringly. “Oh, this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold. Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin . . . ;” But then he had stopped. He had meant to add a promise that henceforth the people would be faithful and true; but even before it was uttered, he knew that it was a promise upon which no one could ever rely. There was only one other alternative of which he could think. Sadly he continued with that. “And if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written.” He was ready to give his all for the salvation of the people. But God had refused. He said, “Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book. Therefore now go, lead the people unto the place which I have spoken unto thee: behold, mine Angel shall go before thee: nevertheless in the day when I visit I will visit their sin upon them.”
Moses trembled from what he had heard. Indeed, God had told him before that He would spare the nation, and even now that they should go on to the land of Canaan and He would send His Angel before them. Still the fact remained that the sin of Israel was yet to be visited. It could not be forgotten or overlooked by the justice of God. This became even more foreboding in what God had added. “Depart, and go up hence, thou and the people. which thou hast brought up out of the land of Egypt, unto the land which I sware unto Abraham and Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, Unto thy seed will I give it: and I will send an angel before thee; and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite: unto a land flowing with milk and honey: for I will not go up in the midst of thee; for thou art a stiff-necked people: lest I consume thee in the way.” It was this last element that worried him. So great was the sin of Israel that God could not dwell in their midst without consuming them. And what good to them was the land of Canaan if God did not dwell in their midst? They could go on, but it would be without divine revelation, without spiritual communion, and without spiritual life. Without the presence of God in their midst, the milk and honey of Canaan would be a curse and not a blessing.
The mind of Moses was in a quandary. Israel was the people of God. This he knew beyond a doubt. God had given that promise to their fathers, and He could not change. Just the day before, he had presented that plea to God, and God had repented from destroying the nation. And still, the justice of God could not be compromised either. Israel was wicked. They had sinned a great sin, and that could not be overlooked. There was good reason why God would not dwell in their midst. The very holiness of God would consume the people in their wickedness. But how could they be the people of God if He did not dwell in their midst?
With a troubled heart, Moses returned to the people to tell them what God had said. Sadly he informed them of his failure. He had not made an atonement. They must be visited for their sin. To this he added God’s command, “Ye are a stiff-necked people: I will come up into the midst of thee in a moment, and consume thee: therefore now put off thy ornaments from thee, that I may know what to do unto thee.” Soon the silence of the camp gave way unto mourning. The ornaments which they had worn disappeared. Sorrow and sad repentance was evident on every side. God was leading Israel into a deeper understanding of truth. Before they had trembled in the presence of God’s greatness, but there had also been a certain element of self-confidence. They had been bold to say, “All that the Lord hath said will we do, and be obedient.” And they had actually thought that they would be able to do this. Now, they knew better. Their self-confidence was swept away. Their sin and unfaithfulness could not be denied. All they could be was repentant sinners.
Still Moses was not satisfied. He felt the need of the revelation and guidance of God. For him it would be impossible to go on without it. However, if God would come into the camp to reveal Himself, it would only lead to disaster. Moses commanded that the tent of meeting which served as his headquarters should be moved without the camp. Perhaps God would reveal Himself there. The people understood the reason for moving the tent. Soon the most sincere of the children of Israel were to be seen going out to this tabernacle to express their repentance before God and to pray for His blessing. When finally Moses arose to go out to the tent, all of the people were concerned. Would God appear to him in the tent, or not? Each man stood by the door of his own tent and watched. Before their eyes, they saw Moses and Joshua, who accompanied him, proceed to the door of the tabernacle and enter in. Then it happened. The cloud of God’s presence descended to the door of the tent as it had in former days when Moses’ tent was still in the camp. It meant that God had not forsaken them completely. He would still reveal Himself to Moses and speak to him the words that they needed. In gratitude, the heads of the men of Israel bowed, and they worshipped.
In the tent, Moses slowly began to set forth his problem before the Lord. Neither he nor the people could do without the presence and revelation of the Lord. It would do them no good to be led to Canaan if the truth of God was not revealed unto them to feed and strengthen their souls. They needed God’s presence. Carefully and deliberately Moses began to speak. “See, thou sayest unto me, Bring up this people: and thou hast not let me know whom thou wilt send with me. Yet thou hast said, I know thee by name, and thou hast also found grace in my sight. Now therefore, I pray thee, if I have found grace in thy sight, shew me now thy way, that I may know thee, that I may find grace in thy sight : and consider that the nation is thy people.” The point which Moses wished to make was that he needed someone to strengthen and guide him if he was to lead the people. He could not do it alone. But if God did not go with them, in their midst, revealing the way of truth, how could Israel ever be brought to the blessings of the promised land?
God, anticipating the conclusion of Moses’ argument, immediately gave answer, “My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest.”
With unsurpassed joy Moses heard these words. A deep feeling of relief flowed into his soul. This was what he wanted to hear. In gratitude he answered, “If thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence. For wherein shall it be known here that I and thy people have found grace in thy sight? is it not in that goest with us? so shall we be separated, I and thy people, from all the people that are upon the face of the earth.”
Quietly and with love the Lord answered him, “I will do this thing also that thou hast spoken: for thou hast found grace in my sight, and I know thee by name.”
With pleasure Moses heard these words, and yet, his problem still remained. What about the justice of God? His holiness? His glory? How could God dwell in the midst of a wicked people and not consume them in anger? Encouraged by the assurances of God’s love, Moses found the boldness to make a most daring request. “I beseech thee, shew me thy glory.”
As surprising as was the boldness of Moses’ request, even more surprising was the answer. God replied, “I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy. Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live. Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock: and it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by: and I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back part; but my face shall not be seen.”
The camp of Israel was quiet that night and at peace. God would go on with them, even in their midst. He had told Moses that much. However, we may imagine that in the tent of Moses there was little in the way of sleep. On the morrow he was to go up unto the mountain and stand before the glory of God. God would make known unto him how He could dwell in the midst of a sinful people and not consume them with His justice. God would reveal the working of His glory.
Early in the morning Moses arose and made his ascent into the mountain of God. There in the mountain Moses stood before God on a rock. There God descended in a cloud and, while Moses was covered by His hand in a clift of the rock, God passed by in all of His glory. Only after He had passed was the hand lifted so that Moses might behold the back part of God’s glory. No description is given us. Human words could never suffice to tell of the beauty seen that day. It remained a secret wonderment hid in Moses’ soul. But neither does it matter; for the greater revelation of that day is recorded for us to read. As God passed by He spoke, and this is what He said, “The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.” In this way alone God would continue to dwell in the midst of Israel, even by dealing with them according to His eternal decree of election and reprobation. Before He had treated the nation as a whole as His covenant people. This He would do no more. Henceforth, He would make it evident that they were not all Israel that were of Israel (Rom. 9:6). He would have mercy upon whom He will have mercy. His forgiving grace and abundant goodness would be made known unto as many as He had chosen in love. They had been given eternally unto the Savior and He would bear the visitation of justice for their sins. But for the rest, their sins would be visited immediately by God’s justice. Henceforth the journey of Israel would be marked by the judgments of God as He would cut off from their midst those who were hardened in the way of sin. He would visit the sins of the wicked even unto the third and fourth generations of their reprobate seed. Only through their judgment could Israel be saved.
With humility, Moses heard these words and made haste, and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshipped.