Scripture Reference: Exodus 32, Exodus 33, 2 Corinthians 3
A Glimpse Of God's GloryDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | November 28, 2004
Selected highlights from this sermon
While Moses stood in the presence of God and prayed for the idolatrous and rebellious Israelites, we see three levels to his prayer.
From the request for pardon for the Israelites, to the request of God’s presence to lead them, to the request to see God’s glory, Pastor Lutzer shows us how we can use this prayer of Moses to enrich our own time of fellowship with the Lord.
Let me ask you today: why is it that we don’t pray more? Well, one reason I think is we think prayer isn’t really necessary. Can’t God do what He wants to do whether we pray or not? Can’t He take care of those missionaries? Can’t He guide Earl Bowers to the Ukraine and back safely without us praying about it? Can’t He supply money? Can’t He heal people?
Why in the world does God need our prayers? That’s one reason, I think, that we don’t pray as often as we should. This may be a second reason that is related, and that is to say, “I’m not sure,” we say to ourselves, “that prayer is going to change anything because I suspect God basically has His mind made up, and so He’s going to do whatever He wants to do.”
Both of these objections actually surface in on a basic misunderstanding of prayer, and we forget that the purpose of prayer really is to get us beyond our need (get us beyond the desire to be, and the desire to have money and all these other healed things), to get us beyond that and to commune with God. You see, God knows that only desperate people pray. And that’s why He brings so many things into our life to get our attention, so we begin prayer occupied with our need, but we end prayer hopefully occupied with our God. And that’s what prayer is all about. It’s a stepping stone to something better and something higher than most of the requests we bring into God’s presence.
George McDonald who greatly influenced C. S. Lewis said, “What if the main object in God’s idea of prayer is the supply of our great, our endless need of Himself? Hunger may drive a runaway child home, but he needs his mother more than he needs his dinner. Communion with God is the one need of the soul beyond all other needs (and notice now), prayer is the beginning (not the end, but the beginning) of that communion.”
Do you envy Moses who got to talk to God face-to-face? What Moses does in Exodus 32 (that you can turn to now) is He gives us some understanding regarding prayer. And we’d like to be able to end up where Moses ended up in the presence of God, seeing His glory.
In Exodus 32 the golden calf is built, and I’m going to be covering basically two chapters, so we’re going to have to do this very hurriedly, and I hope you take time to read the details on your own. What an amazing story! Moses stays on the mountain and so they decide to build this golden calf. And God is not amused.
“And the Lord said to Moses (in Exodus 32:7 and 8), ‘Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them.” Elsewhere God says, “These are My people.” Well, today they are acting like the people that belonged to Moses because they have made an idol.
And the Lord says to Moses in verse 10: “Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.” What a test! If Moses had been a prideful man he’d have thought, “You know, that’s maybe not a bad idea. Let me be the head of the nation regarding Abraham.”
So God was testing Moses, and in this story, I want you to notice three different levels of prayer that Moses experienced, and remember the purpose is that our prayer life might be changed at the end of this message and that we might view prayer differently for as long as we live. That’s the agenda.
First level of praying! The first level of praying is a prayer for pardon. Moses begins in verse 11 and he says… Oh, he implored the Lord his God. He said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn?” What he’s saying is, “Don’t destroy these people.” And Moses appeals to the reputation of God. He says, for example (verse 12): “Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With evil intent did he bring them out, to kill them in the mountains and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self.”
What Moses is doing is saying, “God, there are two reasons why You shouldn’t destroy these people. First of all, You shouldn’t because it would may You look bad in the eyes of the Egyptians, the pagans. The pagans are going to say, ‘God took them into the wilderness, but He couldn’t sustain them there and they died there under the hand of God. What kind of a God can lead people out but can’t lead them in?’ It makes You look bad.”
Folks, I want you to know it is true that the reputation of God in the world in some sense is bound up by our testimony, the way in which we live. When David committed murder and adultery, God says, “David, because of you the nations are spurning Me, and you have been a bad witness, David, to the nations that have heard about your sin.” You see, the reputation of God is bound up with the way in which we live.
When I was in seminary there was a student who was a colleague in the seminary at the time, a fellow student actually. He told this interesting story. He had a part-time job as many seminary students do, and he worked in this office, and he said that there was a young woman who was there with a very foul mouth. He said that she could swear (these are his words) like a, like someone who, I guess, is in the military. (chuckles) I’m being very coy here, not wanting to identify any particular branch. And he said, “Not only that, but she’d tell off-color jokes, and make all these innuendos. She smoked and she drank and she did the whole bit.”
Now, when this seminary student came, she said, “Oh, you’re from the seminary. Then I guess you’re a born-again Christian.” And he said, “Yes, I am.” She said, “This is going to shock you, but I am too.” And she said, “But nobody in this office is ever going to find out because,” she said, “I don’t want to be a bad witness, so you have to keep this quiet. In fact,” she said, “one of the reasons that I talk the way I do is so that nobody would even suspect I’m a Christian, so I don’t give a bad witness to Jesus.” (chuckles)
Now that lady had some problems we would say, wouldn’t we? But you know, she did have a point. And my point is this, that if you are a Christian, but you are not living like one in that office, keep your mouth shut about your Christianity because it will reflect unfavorably on the Gospel and on the people of God.
So Moses is praying here and he is saying: “Lord, what are the Egyptians going to think? The heathens are going to disrespect you.” And then he said, “Your own people… Remember, you made a promise. They are going to say that they were betrayed because You spoke to Abraham, Isaac and to Jacob, and You made this promise.” And furthermore, Moses goes on later on in the next chapter, and he says, “If anything, destroy me. Blot me out of the book that You have written.”
This isn’t the eternal Book of Life that Moses is talking about in chapter 32. Actually it is still the same chapter—chapter 32, verse 21: “But now, if you will forgive their sin—but if not, please blot me out of your book that you have written.” This is not the eternal Book of Life. It probably has to do with the register of those who are living. What Moses is saying is, “Kill me, but don’t destroy this nation.” So, you’ll notice we read that the Lord relented in Exodus 32:14, where is says: “And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.”
Now, to be clear, there was still a judgment. Some people died. Those who were rebellious and wouldn’t repent, they died. But God did not destroy the nation, and He forgave the sin of the people. That’s one level of praying—the confession of sin—isn’t it? It’s the level of praying that you and I do regularly. Not a day goes by that I don’t have to confess some sin either in word, thought or deed.
It’s the prayer of 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Aren’t you glad that God forgives those who call upon Him?
But Moses isn’t happy with that because God is talking to Moses and God brings up a subject that really triggers the life and the motivation of Moses. God says in Exodus 32: “I will send my angel to go before you.” And He says in chapter 33 even more clearly: “Depart and go from here, and I’ll give you the land.” Verse 2: “I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites (and the Megabytes). Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.”
God says, “I’m not going to go. The cloud of presence is not going to accompany you. It’s not going to be there for you, but I’ll send an angel.” Most of us at that point would have said, “Well, it’s better than nothing. I guess we can get along without the presence of God as long as an angel is going to guide us.”
But Moses now introduces us to another level of praying. If the first prayer was for the pardon of God, the second prayer is for the presence of God. Moses is going to say, “God, this is not good enough. You must accompany us.” That’s actually what Moses prays in chapter 33. And then you’ll notice in verse 14, God responds and says, “My presence will go with you and I will give you rest.”
And now Moses is speaking in verse 15. Isn’t this beautiful? He said to him, “If Your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here.”
“God, if your presence is not going to accompany us, then just let us stay here in the desert. It is better to be in the desert with the presence of God than on your way to Canaan and prosperity without the presence of God.” He’s saying, “We’re not going to go. An angel isn’t good enough.”
And then he says in verse 16: “For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” It’s gorgeous!
Moses is explaining something, which of course God understands, but God loves to hear it from the lips of His servant. He’s saying, “Lord, don’t You understand that what distinguishes us from all the other nations is the presence of God? It’s that that makes a distinction.
Yes, it was localized in the cloud in the Old Testament, but it is also applicable to us today. You’ve frequently heard me quote 1 Corinthians where the Apostle Paul says that when someone comes into your midst… Maybe today there’s somebody in the balcony who just kind of snuck in and wondered what in the world Moody Church is all about. But through the singing, through the reading, through the praying, what they should say when they leave here is, “Surely God is among them.” That’s what distinguishes us from all the people in the world.
And Moses is saying, “There is no place that can satisfy without God’s presence. There is no wealth that can satisfy without God’s presence. There is no pleasure that can satisfy without God’s presence. There is no marriage partner that will satisfy you without the presence of God.” Moses is saying, “We can’t go unless Your presence accompanies us.” Wow! God says, “Okay, my presence will go with you, and I’ll give you rest.”
Now, folks, put yourself in the sandals of Moses at this point. How many of us would have said, “Well, this is wonderful! The nation was not blotted out. God answered the prayer for pardon, and now His presence is with us. Now let’s get everybody together and let’s go.” That’s where I would have been, and probably where you’d have been too. Moses isn’t satisfied.
You’ll notice now he prays for the very person of God. He says in verse 18: “Please show me your glory.” Please show me your glory! Wait a moment! Who is making this request? Moses, who was up in the mountain for 40 days and 40 nights, is talking to God like a man speaks to his friend, the Bible says. He’s been up on the mountain and he and God have been communing, and they’ve been having fellowship and nobody had more of God in the Old Testament than Moses. And Moses is saying, “I’m not satisfied. Show me your glory.” Do you know what he’s praying? He’s saying, “God, show me as much of Yourself as I can take. Show me Your glory.”
Now, can we see God? Well, you’ll notice that the text says that God is gracious to those He wishes to be gracious to. He shows mercy on those that He shows mercy to. Verse 20: “But, he (God) said, ‘You cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.’” Nobody can ever see God as God. You’d be consumed. It would be like standing 100 yards from the sun to be able to see God.
You say, “Well, how then do we see Him?” We see manifestations of God. We sing “We have seen God’s glory.” John 1:18 says: “No man has seen God at any time,” the only begotten Son… You could translate it, “The only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.” See, that’s why we sing at Christmastime, “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see,” because if Jesus were not veiled in flesh, if the divine nature had not been hidden, you and I could not have seen Jesus. And a little bit of that was seen on the Mount of Transfiguration as it broke out.
Nobody can see God and live, but God says, “Moses, I will show you a little part of Myself.” You’ll notice He says: “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”
You’ll see a glimpse—a glimpse—of veiled glory and your prayer will be answered. Wow! Think of Moses up on that mountain.
Now remember that Moses didn’t make it into the Promised Land because of disobedience. And because he smote the rock when he was supposed to speak to it the second time, God said, “You know, you crossed the line because of your anger. Your temper got you into trouble, and therefore, you disobeyed Me. I know that there are excuses that you could make, but I told you what to do, and you didn’t do it.”
And Moses complained to God a couple of times and said, “Now, Lord, are You sure that You can’t work this out? I mean is this maybe just a little bit too harsh?” until God finally said, “Moses, I don’t want to hear about it anymore. You’re not going in.” So he dies on the other side of the land.
Now, let’s fast-forward fourteen centuries. Fourteen centuries later Moses makes it into the Land. Isn’t that wonderful? He had been forgiven by God and now who is there on the Mount of Transfiguration within the Land but Moses and Elijah? He’s finally there. It’s the grace of God, isn’t it? It’s just like you and me. We fail, we sin, and yet someday we’ll be in that land.
But, what is Moses doing fourteen centuries later? On the Mount of Transfiguration in a blaze of glory—white glory—Moses is absorbing the glory of God when it broke out of the body of Jesus. What is he doing? He’s getting more of God. And you think of Him praying this prayer: “Show me Your Glory.” And at the Mount of Transfiguration, and I’m sure in between times, that prayer (as Moses is in God’s presence) is continually being answered. And it’s answered there on the Mount of Transfiguration, and it is being even answered today, and it will be answered in the future. And what will Moses be doing forever? He will be doing what you and I will be doing forever. We will be beholding the wondrous glory of God, and worshipping with unrestricted hindrances.
I heard Joni Eareckson Tada say something one time. She said, “Do you know why I’m looking forward to going to heaven? It’s not so that I can walk.” Those of you who know her know that she’s a quadriplegic who has blessed millions of people through her life and witness. But she said, “It’s not that I might be able to walk.” She said, “It is that I might be able to have uninterrupted fellowship with God without the presence of sin in my mind.”
And I thought, “Joni, I can identify with that.” Uninterrupted fellowship with God without the presence of sin in our mind! Some of you have consciences that are condemning you so you feel that you can’t come into God’s presence. Some of you, because of failures, because of relationships think, “I have to have all of this straightened out before I can enjoy God.” God would say, “If you come through Jesus in humility and faith, even in this life you can begin to behold My glory.”
Well I love to turn to 2 Corinthians 3 where we can see this wonderful truth because we’re all listening today, and I know that if you are thinking like I am, the thought that comes immediately to mind is, “Isn’t Moses fortunate?” We don’t use the word lucky, but if we wanted to use it I think we could probably use it here. But isn’t Moses fortunate? I mean, imagine the presence of God, the glory of God, absorbed with God! Forty days with God uninterrupted without television, without a political election! Forty days in the presence of God! Wow!
But, you know, you and I have that privilege, too, through the eye of faith (2 Corinthians 3) if the contrast in chapter 3 is between Moses who was under the law and we who are under grace. And Paul says this in verse 17: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face…” Now remember Moses put a veil over his face so that the people would not see the fading glory. And by the way, Moses did not know that his face shone. Moses had unconscious godliness.
You know, there are some of you who have walked with God many years and your face glows, and you don’t know it, but some of us who know you see it. If you’re in the presence of God long enough it begins to happen.
And Paul says, “We all with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are (reflecting the glory of God) being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”
Now notice that what the text is saying is this. It’s saying that we have much greater opportunity first of all. In the Old Testament only Moses saw the glory of God. High priests went into the Holy of Holies on one day a year. They went in several times but only one day a year on the Day of Atonement. And notice it says, “We all.” We have more opportunity, so I stretch out my hands to this congregation and to those who may be listening by the Internet or radio or whatever, and I say, “We all have the opportunity to come.” You’ll notice that we have greater boldness—boldness with unveiled face. The Scripture says that we can come boldly into the presence of God to receive grace to help in time of need.
Greater opportunity! Greater boldness! Greater clarity! Here it says “Beholding.” My translation says “the glory of the Lord.” It may also be “reflecting the glory of the Lord,” but we know things about God that Moses didn’t know because of Jesus who revealed the Father to us. That’s why Jesus is so special. He said, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father.” The glory is veiled, yes, but “he who has seen Me has seen the Father.” When we see Jesus we’ve seen the glory of God.
And then greater transformation! You’ll notice it says that we are changed from one degree of glory to another degree of glory by the Lord, the Spirit, as we reflect the glory of God, like the moon reflects the light of the sun.
Now what does all this have to do with prayer? The real purpose of prayer is to help us to get beyond the requests to God Himself. The real purpose of prayer is not just for pardon, or even the presence of God, though that is, of course, critical, but also just God. Just God!
I’m reminded of what the Puritans used to say that I don’t fully understand. But they got ahold of something that we’ve lost in our generation. The Puritans used to say, “He who has God and everything else does not have more than he who has God only.”
Remember one man, George Mueller, who began orphanages in England by faith. He said, “The first duty of every Christian is to find his soul satisfied with God.” Why do we sin? Why do we fall into temptation? It’s our souls. Our souls are not satisfied with God. But if we were satisfied with Him, we would delight in His presence. We would bring our requests because we are asked to. We would pray for all of those things that we bring into His presence, but we would know that at the end of the prayer, what we really need is God.
The Prodigal Son went home because he was hungry, but he didn’t know that he needed his father far worse than he did a good supper. And so God continues to push us in His direction. Would it be asking too much to take out ten minutes every single day this week to spend not asking God for anything, but simply reading passages and enjoying God to get used to communing with the Almighty? And then we can say, “Lord, we love You. Show us Your glory,” and we’ll affirm that in Jesus we have seen it, and there’s more to come.
Will you join me as we pray together?
Father, I wonder if we all would be willing to pray, “Lord, show us as much of Yourself as we can take.” Oh Father, we pray, make us dissatisfied with all the things that we think are so important to our happiness. Help us to get beyond that, to enjoy your presence and to say, “I have God.”
I’m reminded of the Psalmist who said, “Whom have I in heaven but Thee? And there’s none upon the earth that I desire beside Thee. My flesh and my heart fails, but God is the portion of my heart forever.” Teach us that as a congregation. In all of our busyness, in all of our failures, we pray today, lead us to know You better, and to rejoice in Your presence—just us. Just us!
Whatever God has said to you today, would you talk to God right now? Some of you have never known God through Jesus. What you need to do is to embrace Him as Savior, and to say, “Today, I want to know God.” There’s only one way to know Him, and that is to accept His Son. You talk to God now.
Father, meet us where we are at, and lead us deeper into a knowledge of Yourself. May we pray with Moses, “Show us Your glory.” We ask in Jesus’ name, Amen.