After the golden calf incident, God decides to get on with the program in Exodus 33. He tells Moses it’s time to check out of the wilderness hotel, leave the staff a tip and head toward the Promised Land.
Only one thing has changed from the previous plan: God decides that instead of leading the people Himself, He will send an angel in His place. Please note, this is strictly a precautionary measure for the people as God’s patience is beginning to wear thin. Every parent knows their breaking point, and God knows if the kids in the backseat ask Him even one more time, “Are we there yet?” He might do something He’ll regret later. Like smoking the whole lot of them.
Still smoldering after their last slip-up, God gives His people some time out while He thinks about what He’s going to do with them. At this point, He’s had just about enough of their immature behaviour.
But even though they can be jerks sometimes — okay, a lot of the time — we see a touching moment as the Hebrews worship quietly from the doorway of their tents while God meets with Moses in the tabernacle.
Moses not only soothes God’s anger toward the people; he is adamant that they need God on this expedition. He even dares to say that if God isn’t going, he’s not going either. But before Moses finishes his sentence, God agrees to make the trip with them to the Promised Land, only because of His grace.
Amazed at his persuasive powers, Moses decides to go for it and asks God for no small thing. In the midst of the smoke and cloud that shrouds God’s presence, Moses asks Him to reveal His glory in an even greater way. And because they are friends (Exodus 33:11, 17), God obliges, setting the stage for His appearance. The rule remains in place, however, that no man can see God face to face and live, so God carefully arranges that Moses will see Him only from behind when He passes by.
This is a most unusual passage of Scripture. Think about it. God walked in the garden in the cool of the day with Adam and Eve, but that was only before the fall. This is that period of time between Eden and Golgotha and Adam and Jesus when He would bridge the gap between man and God. The fact that this is recorded in Scripture is significant and Charles Ryrie points out in his study notes that Moses’ request was later answered in full when he and Elijah stood face to face with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. Interesting stuff.
Here again, God reveals His infinite desire and willingness not only to know, but to be known. True intimacy demands nothing less. This scene discloses an almost childlike vulnerability to show Moses more about Himself while at the same time exhibiting a masculine tenderness and fatherly sense of responsibility to protect Moses and keep him from harm.
The exchange between God and Moses in this scene is also tender. It reveals a God who is moved by our simple request to know Him and become His friend. It shows us that God not only listens to us, but actually considers our point of view and is willing to respond.
This is prayer at its finest. I don’t even like to use the word prayer anymore. For whatever reason, that word has picked up religious connotations along the way. It makes me feel like I should get into an unnatural position, close my eyes and scrunch up my face so that even God can’t stand to look at me, all for at least three hours or I haven’t really prayed.
While I have spent some significant time talking and listening to God over the years, that scenario doesn’t describe my relationship with Him anymore. I’m not saying those things aren’t good and necessary, but I’m released from the burden of caring what others think I should be doing while I’m with God.
Although He’s much more than that, God has become my friend. But more importantly, I like to think that I’ve become a friend of God. I simply spend time and have personal exchanges with Him throughout the day. And there are days I do not pray much at all. That doesn’t mean I’m going to Hell. It just means I’m human and at times, inconsistent.
When prayer becomes legalistic, it’s done at the exact same time in the exact same way every day. That’s nothing more than religious activity. When you’re in relationship with God, or anyone for that matter, there is an ebb and flow. That’s what God is looking for – a real, authentic relationship in which you and He simply reveal more and more of yourselves to each other. Like a husband and His bride, over time you should find your relationship growing deeper instead of distant.
If prayer is painful and difficult, then you’re doing it wrong. Relax and just be yourself – God knows the real you anyway. Stop counting the hours and minutes you’re spending with God and start spending quality time together. A healthy relationship is a balance of talking and listening. As this video illustrates, we can all improve on the listening part. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you (James 4:8).