Do we want to see the glory of God? Are we willing to do whatever it takes to see God’s magnificent radiance on display? In Exodus we find a particular experience that Moses went through that I think stands out from among the others.
Then Moses said, ‘I pray You, show me Your glory!‘ And [God] said, ‘I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.’ But He said, ‘You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!’ Then the LORD said, ‘Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock; and it will come about, while My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen'” (Ex. 33:18-23, emphasis mine).
This is amazing. Moses had asked to see the very glory of God and how did God respond? By saying yes. God knew that no man would be able to see His glory and survive; at seeing God’s glory, man in his complete sinfulness would not be able to behold such awesome, holy splendor. Therefore, God said He would put Moses in the cleft of a rock and cover his eyes while He passed by and let Moses gaze at His back.
The next day, when this was to occur,
“. . . Moses rose up early in the morning and went up to Mount Sinai, as the LORD had commanded him, and he took two stone tablets in his hand. The LORD descended in the cloud and stood there with him as he called upon the name of the LORD. Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, ‘The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generation.’ Moses made haste to bow low toward the earth and worship” (Ex. 34:4-8, emphasis mine).
There’s so much truth in these texts that reading it alone seems overwhelming, but I do want to highlight the reaction of Moses. Moses here had asked God to see His glory and He conceded; He allowed Moses to see His back so that Moses might not die in the process. Moses’ immediate reaction is in verse eight: “Moses made haste to bow low toward the earth and worship.” What a response! His reaction at seeing God’s back was of complete humility and acknowledgment of his unworthiness to gaze upon such a glorious God!
After having spent “forty days and forty nights” (v. 28) up on Mount Sinai, Moses came down. The text says that “. . . as he was coming down . . . Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because of his speaking with Him [God]. So when Aaron [Moses’ brother and priest] and all the sons of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone, and they were afraid to come near him” (v. 29-30).
Now stop and realize that this was Moses—a finite, imperfect, and sinful man who was reflecting the glory of the infinite, perfect, and righteous God on his face, even after he had finished being in God’s presence.
Are we, like Moses, in the presence of God sufficiently, that after leaving Him we walk into the world radiating a faint glimmer of the glory we experienced with Him? I’m not saying that we are to scare people with an angelic-like ray of light that blinds people, nor do I want to stretch this text and make it mean something weird and mystical. I also don’t mean that we’re supposed to shout to everyone how holy we are by the amount or manner of time we spend in God’s Word in communion with Him. But I do want to make a point that our time in the Word of God should be a time where we are entranced by God’s greatness, beauty, wonder, fury, and righteousness, and that that should affect our whole being— our words, our actions, our thoughts, and our motives.
What keeps us from being so impacted by the Word? One of the biggest problems, in my opinion, is that there is a growing plague of biblical illiteracy within the church. Plainly put, people don’t know the Bible. The frightening reality is that many people are content in their illiteracy, which seems absurd when we live in a day and age (and especially in our country) when knowing God’s Word couldn’t be easier to know; but more than that, God commands us again and again in Scripture to guide our lives and grow our faith by the Word itself.
Not long ago people underwent persecution in simply having the Bible in their common language (let alone studying it), yet many of us have no problem in giving the Bible a place on our bookshelf and read on sporadic occasions or when we feel “spiritual” or in the “holy mood.” Even today, countless Christians around the globe are reading it with fear and paranoia thinking that at any moment someone might come in and at least torture them and arrest them. Many even lose their lives for their love and faithfulness to the Word.
One of the results of this biblical illiteracy in our country is that people then have no way to distinguish truth from error—no discernment. This is all too prevalent in the church today. It seems as though believers are willing to accept anything and everything that sounds or seems Christian, when in fact it might very well be contradictory to the Word. There is no discernment because there is no standard, namely, the Word of God.
Paul, in writing to the young pastor in the Ephesian church, Timothy, wrote, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15, emphasis mine). Paul saw the importance of knowing God’s Word. Timothy was to have a zealous, fervent diligence in handling the word of truth which is the Word of God itself (cf. Jn. 17:17b), knowing full well that he was accountable to God Himself. Paul, during his final days before his martyrdom, wrote to Timothy:
“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing” (2 Tim. 4:6-8).
This was the closing chapter of Paul’s ministry here on earth. His death was imminent and he wanted Timothy to be steadfast and unwavering in his commitment to the preaching of the Word. Paul knew that while he was there, he would be able to mentor Timothy, but this was his final exhortation. He had passed the baton and the responsibility now fell on Timothy.
Paul exhorts him,
“I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths” (2 Tim. 4:1-4, emphasis mine).
Do you see Paul’s point here? Though his life was soon coming to an end, he couldn’t leave while not making it crystal clear that Timothy was to be ready “in season” and “out of season.” (Obviously, we’re living in an “out of season” time right now in America.)
If we are to rise above the biblical illiteracy that dominates the church, we need to go back to the source so that we won’t be as “. . . children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by the craftiness in deceitful scheming . . .” (Eph. 4:14). Satan is not kicking back in his EZ chair popping out on Halloween to scare children. No! His is a continual onslaught against the universal Church of God—constantly scheming ways to discredit and confuse the church with heresy and lies. But we praise and serve a God who is faithful and omnipotent, and one day He will come again and call us home. He promised that He would build His church and that the gates of Hades will not overpower it (Mt. 16:18). That is a comforting truth that underscores the sovereignty of God over all.
Our duty while on this earth is to stand on the truth of God’s Word, know it, cherish it, obey it, and proclaim it. We are to dive into the depths of the Bible and come out with its inexhaustible riches, wanting to go back and dive even deeper than before. We are to be like Moses whose desire was to see the glory of God. He was earnest and he got it. What’s stopping us?
God has given us His Word. Let us not cast it aside and open it on Sunday mornings alone. May we be known as people who stand firm, along with Paul, knowing that whatever new popular fad is going on in the church, it will by no means deter us from our rock-solid foundation, the Word. May we be people of the Book.