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the cleft of the rock

The cleft of the rock (Exodus 33).

"Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people." (Exodus 33:13)

Where we are (Exodus 33).  The people, so powerfully delivered from Egypt and her gods, have quickly turned away from the Lord to worship a golden calf. The Lord says that he will give them the blessing of the promised land but not the blessing of his presence (33:1-6).  They, like us, are "stiff-necked".  Literally, this is, "people of a hard back-of-the-neck". This may be translated as "obstinate, stubborn, insolent, rebellious." The picture is of an unbending will.  God in his holiness will not dwell among an unwilling, unholy people who spurn his ways.  

The Bible says that the Lord relented from the disaster he could bring upon the people (32:12, 14). God does not in reality "change" his mind since he is omniscient and knows all things, and he certainly knows all that he ultimately plans to do (Num 23:19; Isa 46:10; Mal 3:6; Jn 21:17; Heb 4:13). This is language that describes how we experience God, who is timeless and eternal, dealing with us who live in time and history.  See for example, what the Apostle John said about Jesus, "He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do" (Jn 6:5-6). 

The tent of meeting (Ex 33:7-11). We get a snapshot of Moses' relationship with God. It is unique, and Moses is set apart from all others as one who relates to God "face to face, as a man speaks to his friend" (33:11).  Upon this basis, this favor he has from God, Moses intercedes for the people. In the Bible to know someone by name was more than having a label by which to address someone.  It meant to know the nature of the person (names often described character) and to have a friendship which included commitment to each other, and commitment to shared values and goals. Moses now asks that the favor shown to him -- as an individual in relationship with God -- be extended to the nation, as well. His language ("I and the nation") reflects what theologians call corporate solidarity. He wants God to embrace this stiff-necked people with the love that God has shown to Moses.  And, in wonderful mercy and grace, God agrees!     

A picture of Christ.  Moses foreshadows the person and work of our Lord Jesus, who is our mediator and intercessor before God.  Jesus brings our human nature before God and manifests God's nature to us. At Jesus' baptism the Spirit of God descends like a dove and rests upon him, "and behold, a voice from heaven said, 'This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased'" (Matt 3:16-17).  And again, on the mount of transfiguration the bright cloud of God's presence comes down, just like the pillar of cloud and fire at the tent of meeting (Ex 33:7-11), and a voice from the cloud says, "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him" (Matt 17:5). Jesus spreads his relationship with God (as his beloved Son) over us, that we might be embraced by God's favor and grace. We must not think that in this story God is somehow unwilling to receive us, and that God's Son forces God to be merciful, but rather, that the Father himself sent his Son down to accomplish this very goal. The Father ordains salvation; the Son accomplishes it; and the Holy Spirit applies that salvation to us. 

This is a wonderful prayer, as well, for us to pray: "please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight" (33:13).  We have received grace upon grace (Jn 1:16) and that should move us to seek God... a) to show us more of his ways and his will, b) to know him better and deeper, and c) to experience even more grace from him.  But there's more...  

"Show me your glory" (Ex 33:18-23)  Moses now asks, "Please show me your glory" (Exodus 33:18). What Moses is asking is to see the fullness of God's goodness in unfiltered magnificence.  Though he spoke with God in a friendly way, in a kind of face-to-face manner with the pillar of cloud at the door of the tent of meeting, Moses knew there was more, much more, to God.  (It would be like, having seen part of the Grand Canyon, to ask for an aerial view of it all.)  Now, God's glory (his radiance, magnificence) presents a mortal danger to fallible and sinful human beings, and even Moses is liable in that way. But God does not despise Moses' request, and so makes it that Moses can hear God's name (proclamation of God's character in words) and see his goodness in a tempered waySo, Moses is hidden in a cleft of the rock (33:22) and his prayer is answered! 

The Lord Jesus prays for you and me: "Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world" (Jn 17:24).  And at the end of time, "No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads" (Rev 22:3-4).  Even now we should pray to know his glory and goodness as much as we can possibly know in this life (2 Cor 3:18). May we be able to joyfully sing this hymn...
He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock
That shadows a dry, thirsty land
He hideth my life in the depths of his love
And covers me there with his hand
And covers me there with his hand

-- Fanny Crosby (1820--1915)

Here's a YouTube version of "He Hideth My Soul" with lyrics, by Haven of Rest.

Photo credit: Jack B on Unsplash. 
We are following the Robert Murray M'Cheyne (RMM) two-year reading schedule, as arranged by D. A. Carson. 
Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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