Moses is favored by God, and like any favored child, some of his lessons are difficult ones to learn.  God calls on Moses to do hard things, and some of God’s ways of teaching can be terrifying.  Chapter 33 of Exodus finds Moses travel-weary and tired.  Up to this point, Moses has followed the Lord’s instructions and led the Israelites through the desert and away from Egypt.  The Exodus is underway and Moses is, albeit with some divine intervention, leading it.  However, as Chapter 33 of the Book of Exodus opens,  “Moses says to the LORD, ‘Look, you say to me, ‘Bring this people up; yet you have not let me know whom you will send with me.  And you, you said, ‘I know you by name, and indeed you have found favor in my eyes.’  And now, if I have really found favor in your eyes, then let me know your way, so that I may know you, in order that I may find favor in your eyes.  And look-this nation is really your people!”[1]

It is clear that Moses is in a strange place in his relationship with both God and with his fellow Israelites from reading these two verses.  He is obviously frustrated with the Israelites; he seems to want to disown them and give them back to God.  He throws them in God’s face like disobedient children.  For example, “And look – this nation is really your people!”  Exodus 13.  Beyond Moses’ frustration, however, I see and hear and feel more yearning for God in the words of the passage than anything else.  That is what I believe Moses felt, and that is what I am compelled to feel when I read and study these passages.  When Moses is talking to the LORD and he says, “Let me know Your way, so that I may know You,” he makes a very, very powerful request.  As a Christian, it is a request that may be more common, but is no less profound.  Consider C.S Lewis’s description of the modern mind and the modern search for happiness:

“The reason why it (something other than God making you happy) can never succeed is this.  God made us:  invented us as a man invents an engine.  A car is made to run on petrol, and it won’t run properly on anything else.  Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself.  He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to feed on.  There isn’t any other.  God can’t give us happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it isn’t there.”[2]

When ______describes the scene with the burning bush, she talks about God, “condescending to this”, and, “Our customarily elusive God now consenting to this undignified parade, with a physicality that borders on immodesty.”  Her answer, simply, is that God goes along with this whole show because he is flattered by it all.  She shows her hand most clearly when she writes, “Of course God capitulates, happily, even to the point of indignity.”  I see God’s actions differently.  Of course, they are actions that have everything to do with Moses, where he has been and where he is going.  However, I see Moses as full of pride and arrogance.  God is trying to get his attention and, just perhaps, demonstrate that little golden calves are no longer going to carry any weight.  Primarily, God is reminding Moses who God is.  The first thing God revealed to Moses out of the burning bush was the idea that, “I will be who I will be.” (Exodus 3:14).  This was the first time God’s true self was fully revealed.  More importantly, when God showed himself in the burning bush, two important things happened.  First, Moses was forced to take his shoes off.  This was a sign of supplication; it was the beginning of Moses coming to terms with his pride.  Second, he hid his face in fear.  Moses realized once and for all the awesome, unbelievable, Holy, amazing power of the LORD, and he was afraid.

This fear is natural and it is a foreshadowing of the absolute need for a Savior to come and mediate for us.  The God of The Old Testament is a jealous, often angry God, and He can be scary.  What is striking in reading these verses is how they parallel verses that come later in The New Testament.  For example, God is talking to Moses and wants to make it clear that He knows each and everyone by name.  “I know you by name, and you have found favor in my eyes.”  Exodus 33:12.  This parallels almost exactly the New Testament sentiment found in Matthew 10:29-31, which reads, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  Yet not one of them will fall to the ground without the will of your Father.  And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered, so don’t be afraid, you are worth more than many sparrows.”

Unlike Ellen Davis in Habits of the Heart, I do not see God as condescending to immodest peacocking behavior in His burning bush show with Moses.  Rather, I see him as putting on a frightening demonstration of power to check Moses’ pride and to keep Moses humble.  It is not until later, in the New Testament that we see the kinder, more gentle side of God’s love, when we are reminded that he loves us more than any bird in the sky, and so fully that He loves each hair on our heads.


[1]  NISB, Exodus 33: 12-13.

[2] C.S. Lewis, The Case for Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1989), 43.

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