Sermon Outline On Exodus 33:12-23
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.’ Now if I have found favor in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” He said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” And he said to him, “If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here. 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.” The Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” Moses said, “Show me your glory, I pray.” 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. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.” And the Lord continued, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; 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; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.”
Someone has said, “You cannot see God’s face and live.” An old saint said, “Then let me see God’s face and die!” (1) Moses has this incredible encounter with God! It begins in a rather strange dialogue. Moses is rather confrontational. “You tell me to bring your people out – to the land of milk and honey, but YOU refuse to tell me who is going to send with me.” Seems like Moses has had this conversation before. Moses continues his argument, “You say you know all there is to know about me and I am your favorite. Well, then show me your ways.” “And these people-these Israelites, these are YOUR people.” Sounds a little like the father saying to the mother, “YOUR son spilled the milk.”
This conversation is difficult to understand without placing it in its context. Way back in Exodus 20, God gives to Israel through Moses the ten commandments. “You shall have no other god’s before me.” “You shall not make for yourself an idol.” That’s the way they begin. No other god’s and no idols. Well, Moses comes down from Mount Sinai and shares the rules with the people. God then tells Moses to tell the people, “You shall not make gods of silver alongside me, nor shall you make for yourselves gods of gold.” (Ex. 20:23)
God’s pretty clear. No other gods before me. No idols. Don’t be shaping your gold into massive bulls or even calves! In Exodus 24:7 we find the response of the Israelites. They say, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.”
You know what happens. Moses is back on the mountain getting more details from God. The people get restless and say to Aaron, “We need gods to lead us. Here, take all this gold jewelry and fashion us a golden calf.” It’s at about this point that God says to Moses, “Get down there, YOUR people have already violated rules 1 & 2. Moses must be thinking, “My people. I thought they were Your people.” Needless to say, neither God nor Moses are happy campers.
God later describes the Israelites as a stiff-necked people. God says, “I am so angry that if I continue to be with them, I will destroy them. It is for their good that I will not accompany them to the land I promised. I will send an angel to guide them.”
It is shortly after this, that we pick up the dialogue between Moses and God. Moses reminds God, “These are Your people.” “You have promised to be present with them.” Moses reminds God that it is God’s presence with these people that makes them unique among all the people on the face of the earth. Moses pleads with God on behalf of these “stiff-necked” people.
Did you realize that the entire passage is a dialogue between Moses and God? We come away from the passage thinking that there has been this encounter, this revelation of the glory of God while Moses is tucked away in the clef of the rock, but the whole thing is a dialogue-words between two individuals, Moses and God.
We have a name for words exchanged between people and God. We call it prayer. Walter Brueggemann describes this encounter as “a model for daring, insistent prayer.” Moses crowds God “in insistent ways.” He asks to know God’s ways. He insists on God’s presence throughout their continuing journey. Moses then asks to see the “glory” of God. Brueggemann states, “Moses is a model for prayer, because he takes into full and knowing account the one with whom he must do business. He acknowledges not only the sovereignty of God but also his own considerable freedom in prayer.”(2)
How does God respond? God says to Moses, “Because I know all about you and I am pleased with YOU, I will do as you ask.”
Have you ever thought a situation or a person was hopeless? Have you ever questioned the possibility for world peace? For that matter, have you ever hoped for peace between people in your family, church, town, and country? Have you recently been disappointed in the brutality of political campaigning?
What can we do? How can we make a difference? God said to Moses, “Because I know all about you and I am pleased with YOU, I will do as you ask.” The daring and insistent prayers of a righteous man caused God to reconsider an unholy people, a disobedient people, a stiff-necked people.
Righteous people pleading with God make a difference. The church has the opportunity to take up the daring and insistent prayers of Moses. It is the prayers of the church that can bring hope in the face of despair, love in the face of hate, peace in the face of war and confidence in the face of fear. Gene Tucker suggests the moral of Exodus 33:12-17 is “ask and it shall be given, especially when asking for others.”(3)
Moses not only wants God’s presences, he desires to see God’s glory. Here is Tucker’s description of God’s glory. He says it is “the side of God that is revealed to and experienced by human beings.” Moses wanted a more intimate experience of God than receiving the decalogue on a mountain. He wanted more than a voice from a cloud, and God granted Moses his desire. Moses, the one who had more direct communication with God than any other person in the Old Testament, even Moses got only a fleeting glimpse of God. That is except for a long view of God’s back side.
The Spiritual Formation Bible has brief spiritual treasures on each page. For today’s text they share the words of Gregory of Nyssa.
Moses, who eagerly seeks to behold God, is now taught how he can behold him: to follow God wherever he might lead is to behold God. His passing by signifies his guiding the one who follows, for someone who does not know the way cannot complete his journey safely in any other way than by following behind his guide. He who leads, then, by guidance shows the way to the one following. He who follows will not turn aside from the right way if he always keeps the back of his leader in view.(4)
1. Robert C. Shannon, 1000 Windows, (Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Publishing Company, 1997).
2. Walter Brueggermann, “The Book of Exodus: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflectons,” The New Interpreters’ Bible, Abington Press, 1994, 942.
3. Gene Tucker, Preaching Through the Christian Year A, 477.
4. Gregory of Nyssa, quoted in The Spiritual Formation Bible, The Zondervan Corp., 114.