Seeking the Presence
That was the proposition laid out before Moses in Exodus 33. After the incident of the Golden Calf, the Lord tells Moses this: “Leave this place, you and the people you brought up out of Egypt, and go up to the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying, I will give it to your descendants.’ I will send an angel before you and drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 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…’If I were to go with you even for a moment, I might destroy you’” (33:1-5).
Hey, the presence of an angel is a pretty good deal, isn’t it?
The Hebrews had lived with the dream of a return to Canaan for centuries and here it was within their grasp even if the God of their fathers didn’t accompany them. The offer might have been even more attractive considering the punishment they had just suffered at God’s hands on account of their recent rebellion.
Everything you want, and no higher authority to regulate your actions or to rebuke your failures.
But oddly enough, and considering what they had just been through, the Scriptures say that the people “began to mourn” (vs 4).
Moses went into the presence of the Lord to speak to the One with whom Israel’s leader had a particularly close relationship. Exodus 33:11 tells us, “The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speak to his friend.” The conversation is intimate but what a blessing to us that it is recorded.
Moses is a humble man. He knows he can’t lead these people on his own.
“You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me” (vs. 12).
Even an angel doesn’t cut it!
Moses knows that he has found favour with God, but that blessing on his life has not led him to presume that he knows all there is to know about carrying out his role, nor does he consider himself anything other than the conduit between God and His people.
“If I have found favor in your eyes, teach me your ways so that I might know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people” (vs. 13).
What a sigh of relief Moses must have felt when God responded to him with this: “The Lord replied, ‘My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” (vs. 14).
The first question was: If you were promised that every desire of your heart would be granted but God would not be with you, would you move ahead toward the fulfillment of your desires?
“If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. 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?” (vss. 15, 16).
What is success? The Hebrews would have been considered a “success” if they had moved ahead and laid claim to God’s promise to give them all they desired even without His presence. But Moses understood that it wasn’t success that distinguished the Hebrews from everyone else. It was God’s Presence in their lives that placed them a cut above all the rest.
That is a hard lesson to learn. We are often tempted to opt for God to bless us with the desires of our heart without blessing us with Himself.
But such a choice only makes us the same as everyone else—part of the common herd.
What makes us different—and influential in Kingdom business—is God’s Presence at work in us. To “know” him and His ways as Moses said. And to walk, not just with an angel, but alongside the Almighty Himself. It is not the blessing we need most—it is the “Blesser.” Everything else is a failure.