by Mike Ratliff
17 So the Lord said to Moses, “I will also do this thing that you have spoken; for you have found grace in My sight, and I know you by name.”
18 And he said, “Please, show me Your glory.”
19 Then He said, “I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” 20 But He said, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.” 21 And the Lord said, “Here is a place by Me, and you shall stand on the rock. 22 So it shall be, while My glory passes by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock, and will cover you with My hand while I pass by. 23 Then I will take away My hand, and you shall see My back; but My face shall not be seen.” Exodus 33:17-23 (NKJV)
The passage above takes place after Israel’s idolatry with the golden calf (Exodus 32). Moses is seeking assurance from God that He would not utterly destroy Israel but would go with the people and remain with them to continue to make them a set apart people from other nations (Exodus 33:12-16). God did assure Moses that He would not abandon them, but then Moses made this remarkable request of God–he asked to see His divine glory in vv17–18.
What does this show us? When I was a younger, not very mature Christian I really did not have an understanding of what Moses was asking here or why. This request is incredible for several reasons and it has taken many years for me to come to an understanding of this. If you grew up in American Evangelicalism as I did then you probably have had the same issues with this that I did.
First, this request shows us that the source of our assurance is God Himself, never us with our inherent frailties. Let that soak in for awhile. Moses had already seen God’s mighty act of salvation in delivering Israel from the Egyptians in the crossing of the Red Sea (Exodus 14). However, given the sin of Israel, Moses sought greater assurance that the Lord would not break His covenant with His people even though they had broken covenant with Him. The only assurance that could satisfy Moses was to have a vision of God Himself.
Second, Moses’ request is remarkable because in response God did reveal an essential truth about His glory namely, that it is all-consuming. As we see in the passage above, the Lord agreed to show Moses His goodness but not HIs face directly, for no one can see the face of God–the fullness of His glory–directly and live (vv.19-20). Moses would have to be content with a more indirect revelation of divine glory. He would get to see the Lord’s “back” but not the Lord’s “face” (vv.21-23). Since God is Spirit, and does not have a body like men, we know that “back” and “face” are anthropomorphic terms. The Lord does not literally have a face or a back like ours, but these are metaphors for a direct vision of God’s glory (face) and a lesser, indirect vision of the same glory (back).
The Lord was gracious in granting Moses’ request and letting Him see His glory only indirectly. One day, in fact, we will see the glorious face of God, but that cannot happen until all sin has been removed from us. We will see God because we will be like Him on that final day (1 John 3:2), but until then, any sinner who would see Him directly would be consumed. The Lord in His glory is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29), and so sin and sinner cannot be sustained in His presence. Until we are fully renewed after God’s image in our glorification, John Calvin comments, “it must needs be that the incomprehensible brightness [of divine glory] would bring us to nothing.”
For myself, I yearn for the day when all sin has been removed from me and I can stand in His presence, behold His glory and not be consumed. Yes, the real source of our assurance now is God Himself for He is sovereign, keeps all His promises and that means that if you are in Christ then you, like me, belong to Him and He loses none of His.
1 There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. 6 For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. 7 Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. 8 So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
9 But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. 10 And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.
12 Therefore, brethren, we are debtors—not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. 13 For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. 14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry out, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.
18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. 19 For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; 21 because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22 For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. 23 Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. 24 For we were saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.
26 Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. 27 Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.
28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. 29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. 30 Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.
31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? 33 Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written:
“For Your sake we are killed all day long;
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”
37 Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, 39 nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8 (NKJV)
Soli Deo Gloria!