The Shining Face

Series: God Reigns

Sermon by David Strain on Oct 23, 2016

Exodus 33-34

Now if you would please, take a copy of God’s holy Word in your hands and turn with me to the book of Exodus. We’ve been working through Exodus. Last time we were in chapter 32. Today we’ll think about chapters 33 and 34. You’ll find them on page 73, in the church Bible. In chapter 32, Israel has gone astray. They made a golden calf and worshiped the golden calf while Moses was up on the mountain communing with the Lord. And the Lord had judged them and many had died under His wrath and curse while yet He spared Israel. And here as chapter 33 opens, it’s very clear that, although God has spared Israel, communion with Him, fellowship with Him has not yet been fully restored. He tells them to get up and go to the land that He has promised but, verse 3, “I will not go up among you lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” And so there’s a real problem as chapter 33, opens. Moses is going to step-up, as it were, as the mediator, the one who can intercede on Israel’s behalf and avert spiritual disaster.

Before we pray and read the text, let me ask you to think about the question, “With whom should we have most affinity in this chapter? Where are we in this story?” And I want you to ask that question and to find this answer:  We are not Moses going into the presence of God communing with Him. We are Israel, waiting outside anxiously in the hope that our mediator will secure the mercy of God upon us. This passage is often misused to provide instruction on how to pray. This is not a chapter or chapters on how to have a great quiet time. These are chapters, rather, on where to find a great Savior, a great Mediator, a great Intercessor who secures the grace of God for us. Now with the text open before us, would you bow your heads with me as we pray?

Lord, Your Word is spread before us. Would You also open our hearts to receive its truth? Write it, as You do in this chapter with Your finger on the tablets of stone, would You write Your Word, Your Truth, on our hearts and incline them to love the Lord Jesus, trust Him, and to follow Him as the captain and agent of our salvation. For we ask it in His name, amen.

Let me summarize some of the material we find here and then we’ll take up the reading at verse 12 of chapter 33. So verses 1 through 6, God commands Israel to get up and to move on toward the Promised Land, but He tells them that He will not go with them because of their sin, lest He totally consumes them. And so Moses steps up to be the intercessor and mediator. In verses 7 to 11, we learn Moses has a tent; he calls it the tent of meeting. It’s not yet the tabernacle we’ve been studying but another tent serving sort of an interim purpose where he alone goes outside, far off from the camp, to meet with God and there to serve that great function as intercessor and mediator – the go-between between God and His people.

And in verses 12 of chapter 33 all the way through verse 9 of 34, we’re let in on the inside of Moses’ intercession on Israel’s behalf. We hear Moses pray; we see God answer. Then in 10 through 28 of chapter 34, there is a summary of God’s Law. It’s really a repetition of the commandments He gave them the first time He gave them the Ten Commandments before Moses smashed them at the foot of Sinai in response to Israel’s idolatry. These are repeat laws in summary form of material they’ve already received. And then in 29 through 35 of chapter 34, we see the shining face of Moses. Every time he comes out of the presence of God, God’s glory is still reflected and shining brightly on His face.

Let’s turn our attention then to the reading of God’s Word at Exodus 33 at verse 12. This is the inerrant Word of Almighty God:

“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.’


The Lord said to Moses, ‘Cut for yourself two tablets of stone like the first, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke. Be ready by the morning, and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai, and present yourself there to me on the top of the mountain. No one shall come up with you, and let no one be seen throughout all the mountain. Let no flocks or herds graze opposite that mountain.’ So Moses cut two tablets of stone like the first. And he rose early in the morning and went up on Mount Sinai, as the Lord had commanded him, and took in his hand two tablets of stone. The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation.’ And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped.  And he said, ‘If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.’”

Amen, and we praise God that He has spoken in His holy, inerrant Word.

I was reading something this week about military disasters and the author offered a definition of a military disaster. He said there are three parts of the definition of a military disaster. The first part is chronic mission failure; your forces fail to achieve their objective. The second part is successful enemy action; your forces fail but the enemy succeeds. And the third part is the total denigration of a force’s command and control structure; the leadership falls apart. Those are the three parts of a military disaster – chronic mission failure, successful enemy action, and the leadership structure falls apart.

Now think about Israel’s situation in Exodus chapter 32. Moses comes back down the mountain from meeting with God to discover that the people have immediately turned aside and strayed from the paths of obedience and broken God’s Law with their idolatry. Here is chronic mission failure. Chapter 32 verse 25, tells us their sin had made Israel a laughingstock in the sight of their enemies. Their enemies are being exalted and Israel is being humbled. Here is successful enemy action. And now in chapters 33 and 34, though God commands them to move on from Sinai toward the Promised Land, we hear Him declare, don’t we, “I’m not going with you. You’re going without Me, lest I destroy you utterly.” Their rejection of the Lord and of Moses seems to have resulted in the total denigration of the force’s command and control structure so that the commander in chief Himself, the Living God, almost disowns His people. It is, we might say, the very definition of a spiritual disaster waiting to happen or beginning to happen. That’s the situation, and these two chapters, as I said earlier, are taken up with Moses’ response in his office as the mediator and leader of the people of God as he seeks now to prevent that spiritual disaster that seems so eminent. The Lord must go with His people. They can’t go without Him. To do so would be to go forward without any hope. And so as chapter 33 opens, the future of Israel is hanging by the finest thread and it all depends on Moses.

Verses 7 to 11 of chapter 33, we’re told, as I said, Moses has this temporary sanctuary where he meets with God. He alone, at this point in the Biblical storyline, has privileged access. We’re told in verse 11, that the Lord used to speak to Moses there face to face, as a friend, as a man speaks to his friend. Moses has unique, privileged access to go to God, to speak with Him face to face. There is no one else. It’s got to be Moses. If there is to be a spiritual disaster averted, it will be because of the ministry of Moses. And in the central section of our passage, the portion we read together, verses 12 through verse 9 of chapter 34, verse 12 of 33 through 9 of 34, we get to go with Moses into the presence of God and to eavesdrop on his ministry of intercession as he acts as the mediator of God’s people and God’s agent of salvation.

Moses Praying for Himself in His Office

And there are three prayers that I want us to begin to notice; actually, there are four. We’ll come back to the fourth later. Let’s look at the three prayers that are found in verses 12 through 23, of the thirty-third chapter. The first prayer is there in verse 12. Do you see it? Here is Moses praying for himself in his office, praying for his work in his office as mediator. “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.’” In John 15:5 Jesus said to His disciples, “Without me, apart from me you can do nothing.” To seek to obey God without the grace and resources of God is to court disaster.

And Moses seems to grasp that principle here very quickly, doesn’t he? He has been called to lead the people through the wilderness into the land of Canaan. God told him to, “Bring up this people.” And while in verse 2 of chapter 33, He had promised an angel to go before them and to drive out the Amorites and the Perizzites and the Hivites and the Jebusites, Moses was not at all satisfied with that. The thought, you see, of leading the people without access to the mind of God for them was unthinkable. Now God had been clear, hadn’t He, that Moses had a special standing in His sight. Verse 12, “I know you by name. You have found favor in my sight.” And here now then Moses begins to press that statement upon the Lord on behalf of His people. Verse 13, “If I have found favor in your sight, show me your ways that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight.” That’s an interesting way to put it, isn’t it? “I found favor. Show me your ways that I might find favor.” What is he saying? He’s saying, “I please you! If you want me to keep pleasing you, I can’t do it without you?”

It puts me in mind of the Lord Jesus in John 17 at verse 1. On the night of His betrayal and arrest, He’s gathered in the Upper Room with His disciples. The dark shadow of the cross hangs over them as He lifts up His voice and begins to pray, “Father, the hour has come. Glorify the Son, Your Son, that the Son may glorify You since You have given Him authority over all flesh to give eternal life to all whom You have given Him.” That’s how Moses prayed! It’s the same concern. “I have to lead the people into the fullness of salvation, into the promised inheritance in Canaan. This is the work You gave me. This is the authority You gave me. Will You now fail to be with me as I complete the task?” Moses prays for himself first, for the resources to faithfully discharge his office as the mediator and leader of his people. He must have God if he’s ever to please the Lord. Apart from Him, he can do nothing.

God Answers Moses

And in verse 14, wonderfully God answers Moses. Do you see it? “My presence will go with you and I will give you rest.” I rather suspect were any of us in Moses’ situation at this point hearing this extraordinary promise, we would be entirely satisfied. It’s wonderful, isn’t it? What a gift these words are to Moses as he seeks to be a faithful leader. “I’m not going to desert you. I’ll be with you. And in the midst of all your wearisome labor, I will give you rest.” But Moses is not satisfied. This isn’t enough! If God will go with him and not His people, Moses cannot be satisfied. He is the go-between, between God and Israel, and so he cannot act for himself alone. He must always act for those entrusted to him.

Isn’t that how our greater than Moses, the Mediator of full and complete redemption, the Lord Jesus acts? Never for Himself alone but always for His people. Remember how as He hung on the cross to secure our salvation it was precisely along this line that the satanic temptation came against Him in the mouths of the mocking crowds. You remember what they said? “He saved others. Let Him save Himself!” The centurions joined in, the Roman soldiers, “If you’re the king of the Jews, save yourself!” Even one of the two criminals crucified on either side took up the taunt, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself! Act only for yourself! All of this suffering is surely unnecessary, Jesus. You’ve done enough! Save yourself!” But Jesus came not to be served but to serve and give His life a ransom for many. He is committed to acting not for Himself but for His people. That’s how Moses acts here. Even as he hears this marvelous promise from God, he will not act for himself alone.

Moses Second Prayer

It is not enough that God will go with Moses, He must go with His people. And so he prays a second time. Verse 15, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us so that we are distinct, I am your people, from every other people on the face of the earth.” Moses will not be separated from his people. He will not allow, as it were, he will not allow God to consider him or to treat him separately from those he came to lead and serve. “I and your people. I and your people,” he says over and over. That’s how our Lord Jesus always prays for us. Always. There’s no daylight between Christ and us. He can never be separated from the people with whom He perfectly identifies - His Church. He acts for us. He prays in Moses’ categories with regard to us. “Lord, remember Me and Your people. I’m so identified with them, what You do for Me, You must do for them. Whatever favor I find before You, show it to them. Whatever rewards are Mine, give to them.”

And in verse 7, we learn that God never turns a deaf ear to his mediator when he prays for his people. He doesn’t refuse Moses the type and He certainly never refuses Christ the antitype. “This very thing,” He says, “that you have spoken, I will do. For you have found favor in my sight.” Here’s an anchor for our salvation and hope before God. Our Mediator has found favor in the sight of the Lord and because He has, God listens to Him and gives Him everything He asks of the Father on our behalf. Jesus Christ never prayed for you and got a negative answer. Jesus never prayed for you and was told, “No.” Everything for which He prays is granted – your salvation and your security, your pardon and your purity; your progress here through your wilderness pilgrimage and the guarantee of a promised inheritance to come in the land of the new creation.

Moses’ Third Prayer

And then there’s Moses’ third prayer. Of the three this is the shortest, the most direct. It doesn’t come with any arguments attached or any reasoning to support it, unlike the others. It is, rather, a simple, heartfelt cry of spiritual longing for communion with God. Verse 18, “Please show me your glory.” If the first plea was a plea for assistance in his office as mediator and the second prayer a plea that God would go with His people, this third prayer is a cry of spiritual hunger; an expression of an appetite only God can satisfy. It’s the same thing that David expresses in Psalm 42 at verse 1. “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.” “Show me your glory. Show me your glory.” Or Psalm 73:25, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing or none that I desire on earth before you.” Or it might have been expressed in Pauline terms, “I count everything loss for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I want to know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.” “Please show me your glory. I want to know you.” Here’s the mark of Christian authenticity. Whatever else we may legitimately pray for, whatever else our souls might need, this is the master appetite, the controlling desire of the true Christian soul. “I am bankrupt without You. Show me Your glory. I want to know Christ. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing I desire on earth besides You.”

God’s Answer To Moses

Wonderfully, God promises to answer even this prayer, doesn’t He? Verses 19 to 23. He will make His goodness pass before him, proclaim His name to Moses. However, there are limits established. Moses won’t see everything; indeed, he can’t see everything. The finite cannot contain the infinite. “You cannot see my face,” verse 20, “for man shall not see me and live.” Instead, God is going to accommodate Himself to Moses’ capacity. There will be a real self-disclosure to Moses but he will not see everything. He is to come up onto the mountain to a certain rock designated by God and He will place him in the cleft of the rock and, whatever this means, He will cover him with His hand until He’s passed by and then Moses will be allowed to see the back but not the face of God. Those are metaphors. We call them anthropomorphisms – describing God as if He had a face or hands or a back. God is a Spirit without body parts or passions, infinite, eternal and unchangeable, upholding all things by the Word of His power. He doesn’t have a face or hands or back. But whatever this means, it’s simply a way of saying, “I’m going to show Myself to you but I’m going to accommodate it to your capacity so that you are not obliterated by the discovery.” It’s as though Moses were being allowed to peep through the keyhole into a wide and beautiful room. He has a true insight; he can see the glories behind the door, but it’s only a narrow slice. He can’t see it all, but he sees enough.

God’s Appearance To Moses

And if you’ll look at 34:1-9, you’ll see how this takes place as God appears and shows Himself to Moses. Before it all takes place, however, Moses is to go cut two more stone tablets to replace the two that he had broken. God is going to rewrite the Ten Commandments on those two tablets. And now, as much as Moses’ prayer is driven by the longing of his own heart for communion with God, now we learn even this encounter has reference to the good of the people of God. The two tablets of stone were symbols of God’s covenant relationship with Israel and they were broken because Israel’s sin had shattered fellowship with Him. And now they’re to be renewed; new tablets of stone. God will write His Law upon them once more. The relationship will be restored as a result of this encounter with the living God.

And so Moses takes the stone tablets up onto the mountainside and there the Lord appears to him and proclaims His name. Verse 5, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgressions and sin but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children to the third and fourth generation.” God preaches a sermon to Moses on the mountain. His text is His own name and all these attributes He piles up are simply an exposition of all that is entailed in the name, in the being of God. We don’t have time to work through each of them; it would be wonderful to do so. What a profitable Sabbath afternoon you will have as you meditate on these attributes of God and use them, perhaps, to refocus your lenses. Maybe your picture of God has gotten somewhat distorted. Is He overly judgmental and dismissal, cold and aloof? Or is your idea that God is a God of forgiveness simply a way of saying, “God will always let me off the hook no matter what.” Notice here the marvelous balance. A God of holiness, a God of justice who judges those who refuse to repent but a God of compassion and full of steadfast love and mercy, forgiving believing, repentant sinners.

O God, Pardon Our Iniquities!

And so God preaches to Moses and Moses hears that sermon and sees whatever it was that he saw precisely of God’s glory and even Moses knows now he’s not acting for himself alone. And so here in this most intimate and privileged moment of communion, Moses prays one more time, Verse 9, “If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people. And pardon our iniquities and our sin and take us for your inheritance.” That’s how the mediator of God’s people always prays. “They’re sinners! O God, forgive.” That was the very first thing our Savior said when, after the nails were driven into His hands and the cross was dropped into its stand, He looked out over His murderers – what did He say? “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do. Their ignorance is culpable. They ought to have known better but they careen ever onward into more and more perverse rebellion, the greatest expression of which are the nails holding My hands to the tree. Yet Father, their sin notwithstanding, forgive. Forgive.”

No Condemnation to Those Who are in Christ

That’s what Jesus is doing for His people right now! That’s how He’s praying for you right now. “Forgive him, forgive her, for whom I died.” Paul asks in Romans 8:34, “Who is to condemn?” It’s a great question! The world who thinks you are a fool for following Christ, standing where Christ stands in His holy Word, in obedience to Him, or conscience, that knows so much of your remaining corruptions, how dreadful and dark your heart remains. Satan, who fills his time assailing and accusing the people of God. All three offer their condemning testimony against you. “Who is to condemn?” Paul asks. Does God listen to such damning testimony? “No,” he says. “It is Christ Jesus who died, more than that who was raised, who is at the right hand of God who indeed is interceding for us.” And so, as all the evidence is paraded before God about your sin and your wickedness and your failure, Jesus is there saying, “Father, forgive.” Holding up His nail-pierced hands, pierced for you, saying, “Father, forgive.” So that, for you, believer in Jesus, there is therefore now nor can there ever be, there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.

And that assuring word is actually the function of everything else in the remainder of chapter 34. The renewal of that legal code that we find in verses 10 through 28 of chapter 34, what is that about? It’s the same Law He’s already given them. He’s really simply rewinding the tape back before chapter 32 saying, “Let’s make it as though the story of chapter 32 never happened.” And the shining face of Moses – isn’t that bizarre? He goes into the presence of God and he comes out and his face is shining so brightly with the glory of God. The people have to hide. They’re terrified. I don’t blame them! And yet poor Moses has to wear a veil like the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle that would shortly be built. Where the glory of God would reside there had to be a veil that no one may gaze into it. Here’s the glory of God. Even though it’s only reflected glory shining on Moses’ face, it too must be hidden from view except when Moses goes into God’s presence and comes out to deliver His Word to the people. They could see the shining face of Moses. What is that about?

I was at a conference this week and one of our former interns known to many of us, loved by many of us, Sean Morris and his wife, Sarah, were there with us and their little baby boy who has just begun to crawl. We were talking one even in the hotel room and their little baby boy comes crawling rapidly into the area where we were all sitting with a big smile on his face as though to say, “Don’t have too much fun without me now! I want to participate in all of this!” And as he gets close, he stops and sort of sits up and turns round – all those little rolls of baby fat, cute as can be – and looks for Sarah’s face. And as he can see Sarah’s face, “Okay, she’s looking. She’s here,” then he turns around and carries on, crawling some more towards us. Then he stopped again and looked back at Sarah’s face. “There she is. Alright.” And he can go on.

That’s what’s going on here actually. Israel can see, shining on the face of Moses, the glory of God and know, “The Lord is still with us. Our mediator may still go into His presence for us so we can go on.” Brothers and sisters, we have a better Mediator than Moses. And shining on His face, without a veil, shining on the face of Jesus Christ we have the light of the knowledge of the glory of God so that looking there we will find the grace to go on, through the wilderness, with all its challenges, looking to our Mediator from whom the glory of God shines, shining with love and grace and favor upon His people, not condemned but pardoned and sent onward toward the Promised Land. Look to the shining face of Jesus Christ and you will be given the grace you need to run your race with perseverance til you reach the Promised Land of glory yet to come.

Let’s pray together!

Our Father, we adore You for Your mercy that You do not treat us as our sins deserve, that You are the Lord, the Lord, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, a God of mercy, faithful, forgiving iniquity and transgressions and sins. Thank You that we know that because of the shining face of Jesus our Mediator who looks on us in love and conveys to us the pardon of Abba Father. Would You help us to fix our eyes on His face that we may press on in our own pilgrimage to Your glory and praise? Amen.

©2016 First Presbyterian Church.

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