By Sherry Black
A Reading from Exodus 33:1-23
1 The Lord said to Moses, “Go, leave this place, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, and go to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your descendants I will give it.’ 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. 3 Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey, but I will not go up among you, or I would consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.”
4 When the people heard these harsh words, they mourned, and no one put on ornaments. 5 For the Lord had said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘You are a stiff-necked people; if for a single moment I should go up among you, I would consume you. So now take off your ornaments, and I will decide what to do to you.’” 6 Therefore the Israelites stripped themselves of their ornaments, from Mount Horeb onward.
7 Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, far off from the camp; he called it the tent of meeting. And everyone who sought the Lord would go out to the tent of meeting, which was outside the camp. 8 Whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people would rise and stand, each of them, at the entrance of their tents and watch Moses until he had gone into the tent. 9 When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and the Lord would speak with Moses. 10 When all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise and bow down, all of them, at the entrance of their tent. 11 Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Then he would return to the camp, but his young assistant, Joshua son of Nun, would not leave the tent.
12 Moses said to the Lord, “See, you have said to me, ‘Bring up this people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ 13 Now if I have found favor in your sight, please show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favor in your sight. Consider, too, that this nation is your people.” 14 He said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” 15 And he said to him, “If your presence will not go, do not bring us up from here. 16 For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us? In this way, we shall be distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth.”
17 The Lord said to Moses, “I will also do this thing that you have asked, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” 18 Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” 19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The Lord,’ and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one shall see me and live.” 21 And the Lord continued, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, 22 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; 23 then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”
God certainly seemed to be at wits’ end with these stiff-necked people, ready to blow them off the map. Moses had a response for each of God’s concerns, and finally God seemed to repent, to change his mind. Moses insisted that God go with them, otherwise the other nations wouldn’t know that Israel belonged to God. God then placed his divine favor on Moses; Moses found favor with God; God knew Moses by name.
Isn’t that what true relationship with God is all about? Previously, the Israelites were afraid of God, didn’t want anything to do with that fiery Presence on the mountain, and sent Moses to meet with God in their stead. But having a relationship with God means that, like Moses, we meet with God face to face, speaking to God as one speaks to a friend. And God speaks to us in return. God is awesome and mighty — and still we intimately approach him. And intimacy with God is risky. We may hear a few things we don’t want to hear! We come to God as we are, and engage with God from a human level. And in turn, he makes us like him: Moses is able to hear God’s inner thoughts, and he becomes Israel’s defender, like God has been.
This is how we were created to be. A human way is the only way we know to interact with God. We don’t know how to interact with “Omnipotent” or “Omniscient”; instead we look to God as Father, Friend, Savior, King; it is in these ways God has revealed Godself to us, and especially in Jesus Christ, Immanuel, fully divine and fully human.
The Very Rev. Sherry Black is a second-career Episcopal priest, and has been a full-time hospital chaplain for ten years. She also serves a small mission church as priest-in-charge, and is dean of her deanery.
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The Diocese of Lichfield – The Church of England
St. Anne’s Parish, Annapolis, Md.