Moses intercedes again on behalf of the people. And he uses God’s own words as his ammunition.
God was so angry with the children of Israel that He wanted to wipe them out over their searching after another God. Moses stepped up and pleaded on their behalf. God relented but that didn’t end the issue. There was still punishment due for this egregious sin. The first part of that punishment came at Moses’ hands and the Levites. Then God stepped in with a plague, of which we have no specifics. But the greatest “punishment”/consequence was God refusing to accompany Israel on its journey.
God would send His angel to lead the people and even to drive their enemy out but He said He wouldn’t go with them. He was separating, distancing, Himself from them. THEIR sin put the first brick in the dividing wall and God’s anger put the final pieces in.
Thinking about God’s withdrawal brings to mind the fears of the people that started this whole scenario. The people were afraid they no longer had God with them because Moses was gone. That prompted them to go searching for another god who would take care of them. We know that they were never abandoned in the first place, they just didn’t recognize God’s continued hand in their midst while Moses was away. Now they would be separated. They would have some of the blessings but not the Author of those blessings. They would be going through the motions with no heart behind it.
Another thing that struck me while thinking over this passage is that the fate of Israel without God going with them reminds me of Hell. NO. There will be NO blessings in Hell, but I believe the biggest torment in Hell is the absolute separation from God. Those inhabiting Hell will NOT be able to say they “didn’t know.” Creation itself cries out that there is a God. God has made certain His name and fame have spread across the world for centuries and beyond. Man’s own heart cries out for something greater than him. Those in Hell simply refused to accept the truth. THEY built the wall and God won’t knock it down. Their eternity is devoid of God’s presence. It is empty and meaningless. That emptiness and meaninglessness is what Israel faced without the presence of God.
I don’t know if the people begged Moses to talk to God about His decision, if their behavior prompted him to bring it up, or if he personally couldn’t imagine moving on without God. The idea was as impossible to him as living without breathing. If God wasn’t with him, he would go no further. I believe he would sooner have died than to lose his relationship with the Father. So how can he fix this?
I believe the first thing Moses did was give God some space and time to cool off. Moses didn’t stop meeting with God every day but he didn’t push God, for a while, to reconsider. When enough time had passed Moses was ready for step two.
Step two used God’s own words to remind Him of His promises. Moses didn’t inflate any of God’s statements or even demand He “toe the line.” He started with his own personal promises. “You told me to do this job but You haven’t told me who is going to help me.” “You said You know me by name and that I have found favor in Your sight but I need to know what You want me to do here so I can keep that favor.” Then he moved onto asking for the people’s sake, still using God’s own words. “You said that Your presence would go with Your people and THESE ARE YOUR people.”
Step three was to lay his heart on the line with God. “If You won’t go with us, don’t send us anywhere at all.” I believe that was Moses’ cry of his heart. He, and the people, would give up EVERY promise they had if God wasn’t part of it.
Step four was the same one Moses used on the mountain. “How will it look to the rest of the world? You claimed this people for Yourself and if they look the same as the rest of the world, how will anyone know the difference?” God WANTS us to be different. He wanted His people to stand out in the crowd. To show there was a difference in them because of their relationship with Him.
That last one did it for God. How can you be different if there is no difference in you? His people needed HIM. I believe His relenting had a lot to do with who was doing the asking too. Moses was a man God was well pleased with. He had stood the gap for the people on numerous times and would do so many more. God valued that. God also valued the fact that Moses did NOT let the people sway him. Moses would stick to the plan, mostly; but that’s another story for another time.
I believe God also looked at how the people had behaved since the incident. They had demonstrated repentance. They had followed Moses’ commands and lent their voices in worship when Moses met with God. They hadn’t come near Him, probably out of fear. But they hadn’t distanced themselves anymore either.
Since everything was going so well for Moses with his requests, he had one last one on his heart. All this time he had been faithful to follow God’s commands. He had talked with Him on numerous occasions. But his curiosity and desire for an even closer relationship compelled him to ask for one more favor. He wanted to SEE God. Not just the pillar of fire or smoke or even the burning bush. He wanted to SEE Who he was talking to. To put a face to the voice.
I have a feeling Moses’ request made God smile. His closest man on earth wanted to be even closer. But God also knew what answering this request would do to Moses. His glory is SO STRONG that man cannot handle it. So God did the next best thing. He gave Moses a “protected peek.”
Did you notice that God didn’t leave it up to Moses to keep his eyes closed? He didn’t say, “Now wait until I tell you before you open your eyes.” Instead HE put Moses in a safe place and covered his face for him. When it was safe HE removed His hand and let Moses see what no other man had. THAT was a special gift!
I wonder what God’s hand looked like. Did Moses have time to take in that sight as well? Did he see fingerprints? God sure left His fingerprints on Moses’ life. I would have been tempted to run my hands over the surface of God’s hand. Would I find it smooth and cool to the touch or warm and calloused? Could I have wrapped my arms around His finger or would His hand have fit in mine, even for a moment? As He touched Moses’ face to cover his eyes, what did that touch impart? I imagine the DEEPEST love possible passing into Moses’ skin and right into his heart in that moment.
Father God, I have Your Holy Spirit in my heart and life all the time, but I long to feel Your hand caress my face. I long to hold Your hand and examine its intricacies. Lord Jesus, I want to touch the scars You wear on my behalf. I want to kiss them and wash them with my tears! I want to look at the callouses born out of years of the carpentry craft. I want to feel the warmth contained in Your hands and be enfolded in Your arms.
Thank You for each and every time You have given me this experience through Your Spirit but I’m like Moses here and I want to put a face to the feelings. I know I have to wait until I leave this world, but the waiting only makes the final encounter that much sweeter!
Thank You Jesus for allowing me to walk this journey with You in my heart if not in physical person. Feeling You with me and KNOWING You NEVER leave me keeps me ever moving forward with You. Thank You Father for NOT giving up on Israel, no matter how many times they messed up. And thanks for NEVER giving up on me either!