According to a report conducted by Tearfund 42% of UK adults pray. They pray for: – Family and friends (68% of them) – Thanking God (41%) – Guidance (32%) – Healing (26%) – Worldwide problems e.g. poverty, wars and disasters (25%)
The common reason for prayer is recorded as 'establishing connection with God'. We want to know God and to be known by him it seems.
Over this next term we're looking at some of the great prayers of the Bible. We'll see prayers of great thanksgiving and of praise to God through to prayers of sorrowful repentance. We'll see prayers that look back to God's promises and prayers that look forward to Christ's return. We start though with this prayer of Moses in which Moses prays desperately for God's continued presence with Israel and to see God 's glory. Moses too wants to know God and to be known by him.
1. Moses desperately needs and desires God's presence 2. God reveals the fullness of his glory 3. Jesus guarantees God's presence and mercy for us
1. Moses desperately needs and desires God's presence
Some context as we jump into Exodus 33 (p65). Moses has ascended Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments. However, the people have grown impatient and have, under Aaron, constructed and begun to worship a golden calf. In doing so God's people have broken the covenant between them and God, they have sinned against the very God who rescued them slavery in Egypt and is in the process of delivering into their hands a land of their own.
Moses has prayed for the people asking in 32.31 that God would forgive their sin or else blot his name out. Now as we join chapter 33 Moses is meeting with God outside the camp asking for God's continued presence with his people.
Read with me from v12:
12 Moses said to the LORD, You have been telling me, 'Lead these people,' but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, 'I know you by name and you have found favour with me.' 13 If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favour with you. Remember that this nation is your people.
Now this is a little strange; Moses begins his prayer: 'So God, You have been telling me 'Lead these people', but you have not let me know whom you will send with me.' But God has told him who he will send, explicitly in fact just a few verses earlier in 33.1-3:
1 Then the LORD said to Moses, 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.' 2 I will send an angel before you and drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 3 Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey.
All sounds good so far doesn't it? Despite Israel's great sin they are still going to get the land God has promised them. God is even going to send an angel ahead of them to drive out Israel's enemies. If Moses was in your small group prayer time you'd think he'd had a pretty good week so far wouldn't you? Surely all his prayer requests are being answered, well not quite because 33.3b says this:
But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way.
When Moses says to God you haven't told me who you will send with me, he isn't asking for a clarification on which particular angel God will send ahead of them. No this is the beginning a desperate plea from Moses; we don't want an angel to go ahead of us we want you; YAHWEH the living God to go ahead of us just as you have done all through the desert. So Moses asks God to be with them even though God has previously declared, mercifully, that he will not go with them lest he destroy them completely along the way.
Now imagine that you were Moses at this point, would you have prayed this prayer? Would you have been so bold as to demand that God go with you? Shouldn't Moses have been counting his blessings at this point? Even though Israel has greatly wronged God he is still going to give them this land flowing with milk and honey, even promising the military victory. Surely most of us would have been happy with that, wouldn't we?
I think we would, we'd have happily settled for those promised blessings, the by-products of God's faithfulness. But Moses won't settle, he doesn't want the blessings, he wants above all the God who bestows those blessings. Moses knows that without God's presence this land flowing with milk and honey is meaningless, a hollow victory. It is God who is the real treasure the true desire of Moses heart.
Can we say the same? Is God the desire of our hearts or is he simply Father Christmas; the one who gives us a ticket to heaven and to whom we say thank you very much, move along now please. Moses knows that God's presence with his people is true paradise and so when God replies in v14: 'My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.' Moses doesn't let it go, he wants to be sure that God will go, not just with him, but with his people and so he continues his argument in v15:
15 ...If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.
We don't want to go anywhere without you being with us. In other words we don't want any of these blessings, we don't want this land flowing with milk and honey unless it is a land in which you are with us. We want you God, nothing else will satisfy, there is no substitute.
If you won't go with us what else will distinguish us from other peoples Moses argues in v16. Moses employs God's own mission statement as an arguement in his prayer. He prays according to biblical principles, saying to God we are meant to be a people you are redeeming for yourself, how will people know that unless you go with us?
God responds positively in v17. He will do this thing that Moses has asked. God will hold back his wrath and will go with his people. After being assured that God will go with his people Moses dares to ask that he would see God's glory. Moses wants some to see something of this great God who would go with Israel despite their unfaithfulness to them and God graciously and amazingly reveals himself to Moses in a remarkable way. Point two.
2. God reveals the fullness of his glory
So Moses asks God in v18; show me your glory and in v19 God responds:
19 ... I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 20 But, he said, you cannot see my face, for no-one may see me and live.
Moses asks to see God's glory and God responds by saying that he will proclaim his name in his presence but Moses, a sinful man, may not see God's face; 'for no-one may see me and live'. First Moses must prepare himself to see God's glory and so God gives him a set of instructions in verses 34.1-3:
1 The LORD said to Moses, Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones, and I will write on them the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke. 2 Be ready in the morning, and then come up on Mount Sinai. Present yourself to me there on top of the mountain. 3 No-one is to come with you or be seen anywhere on the mountain; not even the flocks and herds may graze in front of the mountain.
God is going to restore his relationship with Israel, he is going to re-write the law, replacing the first set of tablets which Moses had smashed to pieces when he saw the golden calf. God is gracious but he is also holy and so only Moses may approach him, not even a stray animal is to touch the mountain where God resides.We should learn from Moses encounter with YAHWEH:Moses approaches humbly. Moses knows that God is holy, he arrives on the mountain early in the morning v4 tells us having followed God's instructions carefully.Moses approaches on God's terms not his.
Then something remarkable happens, God preaches. God proclaims his name, he defines his very essence in Moses presence. These are incredible verses, in fact they become a motif throughout Scripture a repeated definition of who God is. So who is this God that Moses is so desperate to see, to be near? What does he say of himself? Look at v6,7:
6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.
Moses asks to see God's glory and God appears in a cloud and hides Moses in a cleft in the rock!? Why?God's glory is not external, it is not his appearance nor even his creation which is his glory. God's glory is in his character, he is glorious not primarily because of what he has done, or what he has made; incredible though each of these things are.
God's glory is intrinsic to him, it is who he is. It is his inherent goodness. This God YAHWEH; The LORD, the LORD is:
Compassionate - he looks on his people with empathy and passionate care. He is slow to anger - he takes no pleasure in his just wrath, preferring to show mercy and love, because; He is abounding in love.
This is the God that Moses so desperately pursues. The God who treats his people not according to what they deserve but according to this, his character which is his glory. Moses sees God' glory by understanding these his attributes.
Glasgow preaching example - better covenant we should expect to hear and see God. Ignores God's word where his attributes are clearly laid out and it ignores the hero of this book, Jesus who as we read earlier; is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his beingand who is the one who guarantees for us God's presence and mercy. That's our third and final point.
3. Jesus guarantees God's presence and his mercy for us
Moses knows his and Israel's desperate need of God. Now Moses has seen God's glory; his very inner being cut through with mercy, compassion and long-suffering love. It is this God that Moses is desperate to know and to have go ahead of him. It is to this God that Moses prays, even invoking his faithfulness to the previous promises he had made to Israel. But notice the second thing that Moses appeals to God with in v9, where he says:
9 O Lord, if I have found favour in your eyes, he said, then let the Lord go with us. Although this is a stiff-necked people, forgive our wickedness and our sin, and take us as your inheritance.
What are we to make of this? We can certainly follow Moses example in praying according to things God has already said but does God's answer depend on whether or not he is pleased with us? This is certainly worrying when we see that Moses has begun his prayer with this very reasoning in 3v12:
12 ...You have said, 'I know you by name and you have found favour with me.' 13 If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favour with you.
Does God need to be pleased with us in order to listen to and answer our prayers? Well yes and no. Certainly God hears the prayers of sinners when they ask him for mercy. That is how any of us approaches God the first time; as a sinner as one who God is by definition not pleased with.
Wonderfully though, for Christians that is not the way God views us now, we are forgiven and have been given Christ's righteousness; his good report. So when God looks at us he sees Jesus, the one of whom it was said: 'This is my Son, in whom I am well pleased'. So God is pleased with us when we pray to him because he is pleased with his Son Jesus and we are connected to him because of the Cross.
Moses here acts as a mediator for Israel; he goes to God on their behalf and asks for forgiveness from them. Moses even offers to be a substitute for Israel he would be blotted out for their sakes. Moses is only a shadow though, a marker pointing forward to Jesus the one who would be blotted out for our sakes. Moses prays; 'If you are pleased with me hear this prayer...', we may pray; 'Because you are pleased with Jesus hear my prayer'.
Moses asks for God's presence. He asks because he knows that any number of blessings mean nothing without relationship with the one who gives those blessings. Moses prays boldly and confidently; in view of God's promises to his people and because he he has told Moses of his favour for him.
This great God who shows mercy and compassion to his unfaithful people is our God. Just like Moses we are in desperate need of his presence. If we understood anything of his glory then we will too will desperately desire to be with him. We approach God not on our terms but on his, just like Moses did and we appeal to his goodness not our own.
And yet we approach confidently because of Jesus. We come to God joyfully, knowing that because he is pleased with Jesus he can be pleased with us. We come without fear because we are not hidden in cleft in a rock like Moses though we are hidden in Christ, in the Son that he loves, the Son who is the radiance of his glory.