that I might know you as you are, and manifest the image of Christ in this world,
and the world to come. Amen.
Well, that’s what you might call mixed signals. One the one hand, God is still pretty mad about that c-c-c-cow — at least, touchy enough He’s still at risk of blowing them away. On the other hand, He seems to be trying to avoid that eventuality, and genuinely wants them to reach the promised land.
What are we to make of this attitude, which at least sounds a lot like emotional immaturity on God’s part? Is God Himself not used to this whole “chosen people” concept, as process theologians would have us believe? Or is there something more going on here?
In that context, it is fascinating to note the people’s reaction:
And when the people heard these evil tidings, they mourned: and no man did put on him his ornaments.
Which reminds a lot of what happened in David’s time, after Uzzah was slain after touching the ark. Perhaps a holy fear of the Lord really is the beginning of wisdom. I’ve been thinking a lot about fatherhood and leadership at work; paradoxically, a genuine fear of being punished for wrongdoing is essential for healthy respect, and even a feeling of security. At the same time, it is not sufficient; you also need relationship and hope. Which is perhaps why the author chooses this time to describe Moses’ traditional interaction with God:
And the LORD spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend.
I suspect that all three aspects — fear, friendship, and leadership — in order to generate healthy respect. In fact, i wonder if that is precisely why God “ups the ante” in the relationship by generating so much fear, in order to both raise the profile of Moses’ leadership before the people, as well as to drive Moses to a deeper relationship with Him:
And he said, I beseech thee, shew me thy glory .
A request which God honors:
And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy.
albeit with a caveat:
[I must admit, this can create some bizarre mental pictures (like, is God mooning Moses?!? :-). I must therefore (perhaps reluctantly) conclude that the language is theological or psychological rather than anatomical, and perhaps difficult for our modern minds to parse properly; we don’t have the same cultural connotations of “face” and “name” — or even “hand” — so it is perhaps unsurprising that “backside” would mean something quite different to them.]
The significant thing, though, is that even though Moses could always “converse face to face”, this is the first time he really gets to ‘see’ God (whatever that means), but even then it isn’t quite ‘total’.
And the LORD descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD.
Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear [the guilty]; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth [generation].
In some sense, i can relate: I have lots of acquaintances I talk to all the time, both at work on the Internet, whose heart I’ve never really seen. Somehow (in a way my poor brain can’t grasp, and I’m sure the Hebrew language is equally unable to convey) God is demonstrating His character to Moses, rather than merely talking about it.
This leads, as one might expect, to a reaction of humble worship:
And Moses made haste, and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshipped.
But, as one might not expect, it also leads to a bold request:
And he said, If now I have found grace in thy sight, O Lord, let my Lord, I pray thee, go among us; for it [is] a stiffnecked people; and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for thine inheritance.
For His part, God responds by making a covenant:
And he said, Behold, I make a covenant: before all thy people I will do marvels , such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation: and all the people among which thou [art] shall see the work of the LORD: for it [is] a terrible thing that I will do with thee.
A semi-ominous promise; even if the old English ‘terrible’ isn’t quite so negative it is today, it still is more grave than the contemporary ‘awesome.’ Regardless, that’s the bargain Moses knowingly entering into: he wanted to experience the whole God, terrors and all. He understood the danger, but he also realized there was no other way to accomplish his purpose of leading the Israelites to freedom. Remarkable courage, when you think of it. Yet, no more remarkable than the fact that God granted Moses what he asked for — at least as much as he could bear.
Dare I ask as much? Dare I receive as much?
O Father, I know you long for me to stand in Moses place: to intercede for those you love, and to lead those who once were in bondage, and now are in the wilderness, into your promised freedom. I know many of them are not able to bear your presence, due to their own fears, fickleness, or weakness; that is why you’ve called me to stand in the gap for them. Yet, I too am weak, fearful, and fickle. I know that I lack even the strength to carry them into your presence. So, like Moses I cry in desperation: show me your glory and grace! Come with me, and dwell with me, and the people I am called to serve. Inhabit my workplace, home, church, and community with your presence, that the world might know You are with me, and them. Transform me by a vital encounter with your manifest presence, that I may pastor a healthy fear of you, a fear that leads away from rather than towards destruction. I ask all this in Jesus name, Amen.
About the Title:
Today’s title is a pun on the widely re-used song title “Come and go with me.” It was perhaps made famous by Peter, Paul & Mary; The Beach Boys; and other secular singers. It is also a popular phrase in Christian children’s song, spirituals, hymns, and at least one contemporary hit.