And the LORD said, “Here is a place by Me, and you shall stand on the rock. 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.
I feel compelled to confess to you that I don’t completely comprehend this passage in Exodus 33. At first glance it seems like an act of divine grace in which God preserves Moses’s life. God prefaces this statement by telling Moses that no man can see His face and live. Moses, in response, insists on seeing God’s glory. Then something spectacular occurs. God condescends Himself to man and agrees to Moses’s demands. . . but there is a caveat. Moses cannot see God’s face, for if he does he will die. Then, in an intimate act of divine protection, God shields Moses from His full glory so that he will not die.
A few months ago, I alluded to a song which references this encounter between Moses and God. The song, like the passage in Exodus, alludes to God’s protection of Moses from His glory, and speaks longingly for God’s divine presence. I don’t recall the exact lyrics, but it goes something like “I want to hide where the blazing fire cannot burn me . . . in the cleft of the rock… in your presence O God”. I’m certain that I did not remember the lyrics exactly as they were penned by the author, but you get the general idea.
Now to clarify, I am not claiming that the author of this song has taken the passage out of context. In fact, I’m quite certain that she hasn’t. What I am saying is that I simply don’t get it. It isn’t that I don’t understand why one would want to be spared of his life either. I get that. What I don’t understand (and there isn’t an easy way to say this so please bear with me) is this: what is so bad about the alternative?
Yes… God’s blazing fire consumes and destroys – it even brings pain. However, what is the object and purpose of God’s consuming fire? Is it something to be feared and shunned or something to be embraced? For answers to this question, I will turn to a familiar passage in Malachi 3:
But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like launderers’ soap. He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi and purge them as gold and silver that they may offer to the LORD an offering in righteousness
Consider also the following passage from Zechariah:
I will bring the one-third through the fire, Will refine them as silver is refined and test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name and I will answer them. I will say, ‘This is My people’; and each one will say, ‘The LORD is my God.
Again from I Peter 1:
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love.”
You see, the consuming fire of God is intended to purify us. It is for our benefit. Jesus likens it to a grape vine in John 15. When we have a branch which does not bear fruit, the Father takes it away (a painful process). However, even when we are bearing fruit, the Father prunes the fruit bearing branch so that it can bear more fruit (also a painful process). To resist this pruning is to resist the blessing which God has in store for us.
If I were to stand face to face with God this evening as Moses attempted, what would be the result? Instant death for sure… but what else? I dare say that it will not only bring instant death, but through death it will being eternal life! It would bring instantaneous purity, righteousness and holiness! God’s consuming fire is certainly something to be feared if you are without Christ. However, for those of us who are being transformed, it is something to behold! We long for the day in which our corruptible nature will be stripped away and we are raised incorruptible! Our hope is in that day in which our body of sin might be destroyed (Romans 6) and we are raised with Christ. Oh to be unshielded from the Glory of God and purified, once and for all from our bodies of sin!
The truth is, this is more than a distant reality- it is a reality which is here and which is now. St. Paul tells us in Colossians that God has made known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery- and guess what? It is not far off! It is Christ in you that is the hope of Glory! Oh to be purified by the Spirit of the Living God… to cast off the sin which so easily entangles us! Let us look to Jesus who authored our faith and who will perfect it. Let us not turn our souls to another! We have something far greater than Moses… we have the very person of God dwelling within us and purifying us from within.
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