Charles Spurgeon – “Greatest request a man ever made of God.” I think he is right. How could Moses have asked for anything larger? To see God's glory is to see God himself. It was as if Moses is saying, "Let me see you as you really are." Usually when we pray, we want some special favour from the Lord. "Lord, help me find a job" or "Heal my child" or "Reveal your will to me" or "Increase my faith" or "Save me from this day of trouble." Those prayers are noble in themselves because they ask of God what only God can give. If we ask that a mountain be cast into the sea, we are asking for something we ourselves cannot do. So even our "ordinary" prayers honour the Lord because they teach us that God is God and we are not.
But this prayer of Moses stands alone. No other request can be compared to it. God's glory is the sum total of who He is - God's power plus his wisdom plus his justice plus his mercy plus his wisdom plus his holiness plus his love plus every other attribute of his character. God's glory is the shining forth of who God is.
We can only understand this request if we consider the context. Moses had just spent 40 days on Mount Sinai communing with the Lord. During those days on the mountain, God revealed to Moses his law and wrote the 10 Commandments on the tablets of stone with his finger. While Moses was with the Lord, the children of Israel grew restless so Aaron gathered gold earrings from the people and constructed a golden calf. They danced and shouted and proclaimed - 32: 4b. The people offered sacrifices to the golden calf and began to engage in wild revelry. The Lord knew all about it and told Moses that he was going to destroy Israel and start over with a new nation that would worship him and not turn to idols. But Moses interceded with the Lord for his stiff-necked, rebellious people. He reminded God of the promise he made to Abraham and he also said that the pagans would say he brought them into the wilderness just to kill them. So the Lord relented and did not destroy the people.
Then Moses came down from the mountain. When he saw the people and their wild celebration, he threw down the stone tablets in anger. He burned the golden calf, ground it to powder, mixed it with water, and made the Israelites drink it. Then he called for those who were still loyal to God to rally to his side. The Levites stood with him, and at his instruction, they went through the camp killing the idolaters. 3000 people died that day. The next day Moses pleaded with God for forgiveness for his people. He even asked God to blot his own name out of his book in order to save the people of Israel. God told him to lead the people away from Mt. Sinai and toward the Promised Land, but with one significant condition: 33: 3.
This is our greatest fear - that when we go, the Lord will not go with us. It happens more often than we think. In our haste to get on with life, we take control of the situation and the results never work out as we hoped. I wonder how many of us can look back at some major decision and say, "I see now that the Lord wasn't in that at all. I did that one all by myself." The tragedy of going on without the Lord is that we generally don't discover it until it's too late to do much about it. Wrong decisions can't always be undone. So Moses intercedes with God again. This time he says, "If you don't go with us, we' re aren't going to go." That's the right attitude to have. If God has led you out of Egypt, you'd better not leave him behind at Mt. Sinai. You're going to need his help to navigate the wilderness.
Then comes the great request in v. 18 - "Show me your glory." God's answer is a qualified yes. "I will show you my glory," he says, "but not all of it." 33: 20 - Moses will see God's goodness but he will not see God's face. Then God offers to hide Moses in the "cleft of the rock" while he is passing by. Moses will be able to see his back as he passes by - more than any man had ever seen before. That is the most Moses could see and not die.
1. We discover God's glory in the time of crisis.
Moses prayed, "Show me your glory," only after the children of Israel began to worship the golden calf. He prayed this way after he had broken the tablets of the 10 Commandments, and after 3000 Israelites had died, and after he had interceded with God several times. This prayer came after he had saved the nation from destruction, and after he had received God's promise not to abandon his people. No doubt the ongoing crisis had drained much of his natural strength. We all have our limits, don't we? Most of us can handle a little bit of adversity, and some of us can handle a lot of adversity, but everyone has a breaking point. It doesn't matter who you are or where you are or what your track record may be. We all have a breaking point and sometimes we discover it without warning. There is a lesson here.
You're not as strong as you think you are, and neither am I. You're not as wise as you think you are, and neither am I. You're not as clever as you think you are, and neither am I. You're not as self-sufficient as you think you are, and neither am I.
It is a good thing that God sends us through fiery trials or else we would never see his glory. We learn more in the darkness than we do in the light. We grow stronger in affliction than when the sun is shining and all is well. It is not coincidence that Moses discovers God's glory in a time of personal crisis. It will be same for us as well.
2. The revelation of God's glory comes at a personal cost.
God told Moses he would answer his prayer but not in the way he expected. In a sense, Moses had no idea what he was asking for. He wanted to see God's glory, but that meant seeing God in his essence. No man can see God's essence and live. The light would blind us and then it would consume us. So God told Moses he would hide him in the "cleft of the rock" so he would see God's back as the Lord passed by. That alone would be overwhelming to Moses, but at least he would not die.
Sometimes when we pray, we ask for things that we cannot bear alone. We want certain blessings but we have no idea of the cost involved. Certainly when we pray, "Lord, show me your glory," like Moses of old, we are asking for something that goes far beyond our limited abilities to receive. I can live without many things but I cannot live without a sovereign God.
Change and decay in all around I see,
Oh, thou who changes not, abide with me.
Moses received his answer, but not in the way he expected. It did not come without a revelation of his weakness. The same is true for all of us. We say we want to know the Lord better, we want to come closer to him in prayer, we want to grow in grace, we hope to move forward in our spiritual journey. But there is a price to be paid. No pain, no gain. We must see our own weakness in a personal way before we can behold his glory.
3. When this prayer is answered, others will know it before you will.
Exodus 34: 29 - He had been with God so long that some of God's glory "rubbed off" on him. His men saw his shining face and knew that he had been with God. Moses had no idea his face was shining until they told him. Evidently it was too much to look at so he veiled his face so he wouldn't blind his friends.
Sometimes we pray, "Lord, show me your glory," hoping for some deep personal experience that will transform us on the inside. Although we wouldn't say it this way, we secretly hope that by drawing close to God, we will have some experience that will make us better people, banish our doubts, increase our faith, free us from temptation, and fill our hearts with joy. In short, we want to know God better for our own benefit. But in Moses' case, the real benefit was seen by others. They saw the visible evidence of God's work before he did.
"Are you closer to the Lord today than you were a year ago?" I never know how to answer that question in a satisfactory manner. I certainly hope that I am closer to the Lord today than I was a year ago, but my judgment is flawed because I don't see myself clearly. I see what I want to see or I see what I would like to see. Sometimes I look at my life and feel that there has been no progress at all. The best way to answer a question like this is to ask the people who know me best. My wife, my children, people I work with every day, they know the truth about me. If I have been walking with the Lord, others will know it; they will see the light shining from me even when I'm not aware of it.
So do not be dismayed if you feel that you have made little progress spiritually. No matter how far we come, there is always more ground to cover for the Lord. Often when we think we're going in circles, we are actually ascending the mountain of the Lord. Sometimes it takes a friend who can say, "Look how far you've come. I can see God's work in your life." It was true for Moses. It will be true for us as well.
There is great encouragement for all of us from this ancient story. In a time of crisis Moses dared to pray a magnificent prayer to the Lord. He asked for more than any man had asked for before, and he received more than any man had ever received. Yet both the prayer and the answer came in a time of crisis through a revelation of Moses' own weakness. And the answer was seen by others before it was seen by Moses.
These things are here for our encouragement. Your trials are not meant to destroy you. God intends that you should use the hard times to draw near to him. If you are willing to be made weak, you will learn things about the Lord that you never knew when you were strong. This is always God's way. The strong have no need of God - or so they think. But the weak are hidden in the cleft of the rock - and they are the ones who truly see God. Amen.