Moses said to the Lord, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’ 13 If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”
14 The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
15 Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. 16 How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”
17 And the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.”
18 Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”
19 And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” (Ex. 33:12-20)
Moses becomes a man desiring to meet with God to a man whose very presence exudes God’s glory.
How do we become people who are so full of God that it is impossible to not see Him within us and upon us? We respond to hard moments of betrayal, frustration and the failings of others by desiring to know the affirming presence of God for ourselves personally and the wisdom of God to lead publicly. In this process we encounter a forgiving God who extends grace to the rebellious and intergenerational pain to the guilty and can separate our destiny from those around us, meeting us with profound intimacy even if others are dancing with the golden devils they have agreed to worship. Part of what is so incredible about Moses in the aftermath of the idol worship incident of Aaron and the Israelites is how it drives him deeper into his need for God, and how God affirms Moses so clearly in the midst of it.
A leadership class would probably want Moses to do a 360 review of what happened and take responsibility for his extended sabbatical of fasting and revelation and its impact on an evidently spiritually unprepared or unwilling group of people. But God doesn’t tell Moses, look what happened on your watch. Moses was following God. Other people didn’t. Moses was their leader. They did not pursue his example. When Moses went up the mountain on his feet to hear from God the people probably should have hit their knees to pray for his trip and have faithfulness in his absence. But what really strikes me is God’s ability to destroy codependent thinking and false responsibility in this moment.
Moses pleads with God for the very people who have wanted or will want to stone him for leading them. Wow. Moses killed a man and was anointed by God to bring commandments not to murder – because God is redemptive and our past behavior on earth is never the indicator of our future kingdom role from heaven. And just as God separated Moses from the wandering of his past so God affirms Moses in the intentionality of his present – God reached out to Moses in the wilderness, and now in the relationship Moses reaches out to God. Life has come full circle – God is not chasing Moses, Moses is chasing after God.
And it all happens when everything blows up for Moses as a leader whose own family betrays his trust and the very people he has suffered so much to lead recklessly abandon their faith. After this Moses has such a profound encounter with God you can’t even stand to look at the man because of the glory and holiness pouring out from his encounters with heaven. So often we think that God is going to hold back His goodness and intimacy because we haven’t met our goals. But all that is required is faithfulness, not false responsibility. People don’t like the fact that Moses disobeyed God and was prevented from entering the promised land. But God didn’t tie the future hope of Israel to the sins of its leader any more than He tied the sins of the nation to His intimacy with that same leader.
Don’t get caught up in the messes you see from others who know about God but are busy indulging their beliefs in what cannot save them and the idols of their own making. Get caught up in seeking God’s affirmation over how you are living your life. Not only does that pursuit result in you encountering glory, it results in the very people who have wrecked their lives around you who are related to you through family or other connections to encounter God through you. Moses didn’t have a disaster on his hands and say oh God I’m unworthy – that’s how he began his conversations with God, but he doesn’t talk with God like that anymore. He doesn’t say oh God I blew it – he actually says oh God I need to know I’m right with you! Moses looks at the failings of others and immediately seeks to know whether he is walking well with God himself. We can judge other people or have intimacy with God but we can’t have both. When people fail us, we are free from being defined by those failures because God’s affirmation of our lives and His promises of meeting Him aren’t contingent on the level of personal mess in your life but the degree of personal holiness in the midst of it.
You might have a mess on your hands.
People who should have known better may have made bad choices and you are close enough to the situation to be impacted directly by it, maybe even angry or brokenhearted about it – and possibly aware that great spiritual danger and personal judgement awaits those who are persisting in it. So what do you do? You turn to God in profound humility – in the case of Moses, through an extended period of fasting and sabbatical with God without interruption from leadership or personal obligations – and you seek to know Him and His affirmation so that you can experience the maximum allowable glory this side of death and hear God’s voice over your life announcing His character and work.
Fear not. God is smart enough to separate His walk with you from how others are walking around you. He’s also loving enough of others to bless them into promises that you and I can forsake by our personal disobedience. There’s lots of hope here. There’s also a big warning. We can be affirmed by God on the deepest of possible levels despite the sins of those we know, are related to or feel (or are called) to be responsible for. We can also forget that we cannot hide behind making it to our goals and thinking any means of getting there can be ok with God, relying on rebellious ways to get kingdom ends only resulting in not receiving earthly rewards otherwise promised. Moses still appeared to Jesus, was still honored, was still received – Moses didn’t lose his standing with God or eternal salvation. But just as the lives of others couldn’t get in the way of God affirming him, so the personal life of Moses couldn’t stand in the way of God’s promise to a nation.
Stay close with God. In the failings of others, seek Him out and ask Him to search you and affirm you. When growing weary of leading well in the kingdom, don’t strike the rock out of frustration, go up the mountain out of pursuit. Don’t bring down your anointing – the staff – in anger at the character of others, bring down from heaven the glory of God having shown you the character of Himself. You can use your power to bring down something in anger or come down with something of worth. Hard moments when other people fail should bring us to God, not keep us from blessing. So be wise – in the times when other people are very difficult to help, manage or lead, those are the moments which decide whether we go to the next level of encountering God or miss out on the next blessing of our earthly journey with Him. Moses has two main mountaintop experiences – he sees who God really is and what God really thinks of him in love and glory, and he sees all he could have inherited if he had stayed obedient. Let’s make sure our time on the first mountain sustains us to avoid the second. Not because we are better than Moses, but wise enough to humbly accept the lessons of his life. Oh one final note on that – when Moses is going to die without getting the ultimate blessing, he still lays his hands on the next generation of leader (Joshua) and anoints him for service. Bless even the futures that you won’t be a part of. God is still good.
He saw you first when you were wandering from your sins. When those around you are wandering in their own, go to Him first. Put your transformation into practice, and pursue what God says about you when everything has gone wrong around you.