“The Lord would speak to Moses, face to face, as a man speaks with his friend” (Ex 35:11)
In 2007 and 2008, I had the great privilege to spend three weeks in Egypt studying and retracing the Exodus story. At least 14 days of that time was spent in the rugged Sinai Desert. We climbed the mountains of Sinai on three separate occasions and each time spent the whole day reliving different parts of the Exodus. During one of these expeditions we were able to study the story of Moses and his encounter with God at the “Cleft of the Rock”. By re-reading and looking at the story in its original setting, we learned a lot more about this fascinating encounter with the God of Israel.
To reset the story line, the Golden Calf Incident has just taken place and God has refused to put up with the stiff-necked Israelites any longer. In chapter 33 vs. 12-17, Moses pleads with God to not abandon them, but continue to go with them and guide them. To paraphrase Moses, he says, “We don’t want to go unless you go with us!” We can’t make it without you!” This attitude is pleasing to God and He changes his mind and tells Moses that He will, indeed go with them. Moses then has another bold request for the Lord. In the NIV Translation Moses said, “Now show me your glory.” The Hebrew Bible translates it, “Let me behold your presence.” This is quite a request from a mortal man! God then puts Moses in a crack or cave in the rock to protect him and tells him that His presence will indeed pass by.
Exodus 34:5-7, tells the story of God making good on His promise to Moses to, “cause all my goodness to pass in front of you”. It is very interesting in these verses to see what God’s glory and presence was like. It wasn’t a huge display of power, thunder, lightning earthquake and fire like I thought I remembered. God’s presence, in chapter 33:19&20, looked like and was, goodness, gentleness, mercy and compassion. In chapter 34:5-7, it further describes his presence as compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness and also forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Moses had seen God in the wind at the Red Sea and in the earthquake and fire at Mt. Sinai, all done to save and protect His people. Now, as God’s presence was shown to him again, he was also seeing another side of God-his love and compassion for his chosen people.
After the “Cleft in the Rock” experience, Moses stayed with God for forty days and forty nights on Mt. Sinai, and neither ate nor drank.
Elijah had remarkably the same experience in 1 Kings 19:10-13. God told Elijah to go to the Mountain of God, which was almost surely the same Mt. Sinai that Moses had been at. It took Elijah forty days to get there and he neither ate nor drank. God put Elijah in a cave or cut in the rock there at the Mountain of God and told him to stand there as the presence of God passed by. Elijah saw the same manifestations that Moses had seen-wind, earthquake and fire. Then God revealed his presence to Elijah in the form of a whisper. The Hebrew word that is translated there as “whisper”, is “sod”, which means a whisper or gentle sound. This “sod” is the same gentle whisper that the lover uses in the Song of Solomon to talk to his lover in bed. God loves us like a bride! We don’t even think about God in this way! It’s the Ten Commandments, discipline and punishment that so often characterize our thoughts of what God’s presence must be like.
Have you asked to see God’s face, his presence? What do you see when you see Him? What does His presence look like to you? Is it the love that the groom had for his new bride? Is His presence goodness, gentleness, compassion and abounding in love and mercy? Or do you see Him as the harsh enforcer of the rules, disciplining from afar those who step out of line? God does expect His bride to be faithful to Him, but we haven’t caught the idea of how gentle and compassionate and loving He really is toward his bride (us)!
I picked up a good sized rock from the cave we were in and put it in my pack to carry down the mountain. I am using it as a bookend in my study. When I see it, I want to be reminded of what God’s presence and glory really look like.
These words are the lines of the chorus of a new song that sings of God’s presence:
Show me your face, Lord; Show me your face,
Then gird up my legs, that I might stand in this Holy Place,
Show me your face Lord, your power and grace,
I can make it to the end, if I can just see your face.
P.S. It’s interesting that Moses and Elijah are the two present at the Mount of Transfiguration, when God once again reveals his glory and presence to men. This time, however, He reveals himself in the presence of His Son, who is the ultimate example of God’s love towards his chosen people. He revealed Himself to us in and unbelievably special and sacrificial way when He sent His Son to die on our behalf.