The last chapter recorded a grievous case of idolatry on the part of the Israelites; and although the Lord promised to give them the land of Canaan and fulfill His covenant with Abraham, yet He denied them the tokens of His presence that they had formerly been blessed with. This was very expressive of His displeasure, and now the people mourned for their sin. Out of all the bitter fruits and consequences of sin, the thing that true penitents will lament and dread the most is the departure of the Lord’s presence from them. Canaan itself would have been no pleasant land to the people without Jehovah being in the midst of them.
Moses took the tent where he had formerly been accustomed to inquire of the Lord, and he pitched it outside the main camp. This was a temporary place that was set up for worship until the Tabernacle was built. The people watched Moses as he went outside the camp to this tent; for now they were very desirous to be at peace with God, and they wanted to know what would come to pass. The Lord did not remove Himself entirely from His people; for if any of the Hebrews were truly repentant and desirous of worshiping Him once more, they could easily “seek” Him outside the camp (verse 7), and He would easily “be found” by them. The cloudy pillar which had withdrawn from the people when they were polluted with idolatry now returned to this tent outside the camp. If our hearts seek God with a desire to meet with Him, He will graciously come to us.
Once again, Moses pleaded with the Lord on behalf of the people; and he was very earnest with Him. He spoke as one who dreaded the thought of going forward without His presence to guide them. The gracious promises and mercy of the Lord toward us should not only encourage our faith, but also arouse our fervency in prayer. Moses’ intercedings remind us of the mediation of Christ, which not only saves us from ruin, but also entitles us to everlasting happiness. Jesus lives forever to make intercession for all who come to God by Him – and not because of any merit in themselves!
Moses then asked for a sight of the Lord’s glory, and this prayer was also heard. However, a full view of the glory of God would have overwhelmed even Moses himself. Mankind is lowly, and he is unworthy of such a thing; he is weak, and could not bear it; he is guilty, and could not help dreading it. Only the merciful display of God which is made in Christ can be endured by us. Nevertheless, the Lord did grant to Moses something that would abundantly satisfy him. Upon the mountain, there was a cleft in the rock that was a good place for Moses to catch a small glimpse of the glory of God as He passed by. This rock in Horeb was a picture of Christ the Rock – the Rock of refuge, salvation, and strength. Happy are those who stand upon this Rock! The cleft is an emblem of our Savior as the One Who was smitten, wounded, crucified, and slain.
What would happen next would portray the imperfect knowledge of God in the present state, even as it is revealed in Christ. Moses would see the Lord’s back as He passed by. This earthly view, when compared with the heavenly sight of God, is only like seeing the back of a man who has gone by without showing his face. The fullest and brightest displays of God’s glory, grace, and goodness are reserved for the saints when they come home to glory!
Have you ever wondered why Moses told us about all the sins of his people – the backslidings, murmurings, ingratitude, and idolatries – when he loved them so much that he could have given up his own life rather than see them destroyed? Wouldn’t you have expected that he would have said nothing about these faults, rather than publish their evil deeds to all the world until the end of time? Yes. And perhaps if Moses had been writing to please himself, or to please the Jews, he would have done so. But this was not the case. Moses was only the pen, so to speak, in the hand of the Spirit of Truth, Who had all these things written down for the warning and the teaching of Christians afterwards. The history of the Jewish people traveling through the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land of Canaan is very similar to what goes on in the heart and life of every converted person who is traveling through this world on his way to “the better land” in heaven. We have often observed this while going through the Book of Exodus, and here is just one example. Doesn’t it seem very strange that after all the manifestations that the Israelites were continually seeing of the power and goodness of their God, yet they would so often fall into idolatry and bow down to images? Yet do we not often do the very same thing? After all that we have felt of the love and mercy of our Savior in forgiving us, do we not continually set up one idol after another in our hearts? And do we not bestow upon it our best thoughts and affections, which should be His alone? Lord Jesus, turn our hearts to You, so that we may give You all our love!
Blessed Lord! With the Psalmist of old, we pray that You may never take Your Holy Spirit from us! Let Your grace descend upon us. Do not make us travel through the wilderness of this world unless Your presence goes with us on the way to our heavenly Canaan. Dearest Jesus! Without You, heaven itself would be no heaven to our souls. Place us in the cleft of the rock – even in Your wounded side, dear Redeemer. And in You and Your complete salvation, we shall behold Your glory and goodness passing before our eyes. Amen.
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