Exodus 33:12-23; 34:5-7
One of the great paradoxes of the Christian life is our yearning for God’s presence. Once we start to truly fellowship with and worship our Savior, we start to get more of a sense of his closeness. As we sense him, we're utterly satisfied, and at the same time we’re not. We desire more, and yet we’re a little fearful of what might happen if we completely give ourselves over to him.
This is the heart’s desire of every believer who's started to grow in Christ, and it was manifested in this passage. The people of God had come within a hairsbreadth of being destroyed, because while Moses was receiving the Law, they were participating in disgusting sexual orgies and blatant idolatry. I want you to ponder that for a moment: The Lord wasn't even finished giving his Law to his people before they broke it (which is just a foretaste of their level of obedience throughout their history). Moses came down, saw what was happening, and in a burst of temper, smashed the stones on which the Law was written. He then spent the next forty days straight pleading for his people so that God wouldn’t just annihilate them and start over.
After spending so much time in his intimate presence for so many days, Moses asked for the unthinkable, for God to completely reveal himself. The Lord mercifully didn’t give him exactly what he wanted, since to be exposed to the full presence (or “face”) would be like standing at ground zero of a nuclear blast. However, he did partially give in to the request.
After putting Moses in the cleft of a rock and putting his “hand” over him (remember what we said about anthropomorphism), he passed by and allowed Moses to see his “back.” According to the NIV Study Bible, this is probably referring to the aftereffects of God’s passing by.
The interesting thing to me, however, is how God revealed himself to Moses. If Moses saw any physical manifestation, it’s not recorded. What the Lord did reveal, though was his “Name.” Wait a minute, I thought he revealed his true name back in chapter 3: “I am.” That name is used here, but this is more than just knowing what to call him. “Name” is used in Scripture to refer to your reputation and character. The Lord Almighty reveals to us here his true self. This is far more important than any physical manifestation, since the Lord can make himself appear however he pleases. What he is, however, never changes. He's the gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger, abounding in love and mercy, and he always will be. If you continue reading the Old Testament, this “name” of God is found multiple times. The Psalmist quotes this. Jonah was reluctant to go to Nineveh for this exact reason: “I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity” He knew what type of God had sent him, and we know also. Everyday, he shows me that he’s the same yesterday, today, and forever.
Father, you are truly the gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness. I love you.
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