Settling for Second Best

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During the debacle of the Golden Calf (Exodus 32) God tested Moses twice. When God said that His anger against the people was great that He was going to destroy them and make Moses into a great nation (32:9, 10), Moses interceded for the people and pleaded for their lives. Here was his opportunity to become truly great in his own right, and he passed it up. A little later, after he had seen for himself what the Israelites had done and realized how terrible the offense was, he went back to the Lord to beg God’s forgiveness for the sin the nation-to-be had committed—to the point of offering his own life as a substitute for theirs (32:30-32). Moses put himself on the line for the people he served.

Then God announced that He would send His angel to take Moses and the people to the land He had promised Abraham (33:2).

Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way” (33:3).

An angel is a pretty good deal and the end result would be the same—they would get to the promised land and defeat all their enemies along the way. Nothing wrong with that, right?

Once more Moses was tested—and passed. As Moses worshiped the Lord, he made this statement, “If your presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here” (33:15). Not even an angel would do.

Moses understood that Israel would certainly enter the promised land under the guidance of God’s messenger, but even an angel couldn’t make this herd of ex-slaves into this holy people called to be a testimony to the pagan nations. Only God could do that and if He didn’t go it wasn’t going to happen, and if it wasn’t going to happen, what was the point in going in the first place?

How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” (33:16).

As I thought about these verses, I wondered how many times I had gotten to a destination designed by God as part of my life-journey, but I had gotten there without Him? As a church, how many times have we seen progress because God has promised to bless His church and keep the gates of hell from destroying it (Matthew 6:18), but we have made that progress without the Lord’s presence. We’ve settled for an angel, thought we were doing just fine, and missed the real blessings.

Moses wasn’t distracted. He wasn’t willing to settle for second best because He knew that the whole deal wasn’t just to get to the promised land. He knew that the whole deal was to become the holy nation that would be a light to the pagan nations surrounding it. And that was something only God could do.

Over the past few days I’ve been reading some of Andrew Murray’s works. One of these, Power Of the Blood Of Christ, speaks about the real possibility of never experiencing the power of the blood of Christ even though we have experienced salvation through that blood—something like gaining the promised land without becoming the holy nation God intended.

Moses didn’t want an angel; he wanted God. In this passage this friend of the Almighty asked to get a glimpse of God. God gave him as much as it was possible to bear, but it was enough. And with it came the assurance that God would go with His people.

The example given to us here is an important one, whether it be on a personal level or on the church level. Have we settled for an angel, and left God behind?


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