I recently finished reading through Exodus with my quad girls. It has always been a favorite of mine as I see so many parallels between Israel’s wanderings and the Christian life. Our human fickleness contrasted with the steadfast faithfulness of God who never breaks His promises. Even as Israel faced the consequences of their own poor decisions and disobedience, God’s love for them remained.
One passage has stuck with me for days. It’s a passage that I’m sure I’ve read in the past, but stood out in a new way this time around. Exodus 33. Just prior, Moses is on Mount Sinai for 40 days as God gives him the Ten Commandments. Meanwhile, the nation of Israel grows impatient and quickly forget all God has already done for them. They build for themselves a golden calf to worship instead. Both the anger of the Lord and Moses burn against them for this sin and Israel suffers severe consequences for such disobedience.
Thus begins Exodus 33. The Lord instructs Moses to lead Israel on towards the Promised Land, sending an angel before them to drive out their enemies. However He says that His presence will not go with them due to the people’s obstinance. But Moses responds in verse 15 and 16, “If Your presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here. For how then can it be known that I have found favor in Your sight, I and Your people? Is it not by Your going with us, so that we, I and Your people, may be distinguished from all the other people who are upon the face of the earth?”
Think of it! God was sending Israel on from their wilderness wanderings towards the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey. He promised an angel to go before them to fight their enemies. Israel would finally be out of this never-ending desert and arrive at their Promised Land! If I were Moses, how tempting would it be to get this massive group of complaining, difficult people to their destination and be done with the struggle of leading them? How eager would I be to move from this place of total dependence and weakness to a land promised full of provision and ease? For generations, Israel would have heard of the foretold Promised Land. Would they not be jumping at the chance to get there as soon as possible?
Yet Moses’ response struck me powerfully. “Lord, if Your presence does not go with us, I would rather stay in the wilderness where You are than go to the Promised Land without You.” He was far more concerned with being with the Lord in a place of uncertainty than to go on to an easy place without Him. As recorded in verse 16, he rightfully said that it was the Lord’s presence that made Israel special, that set them apart in the earth. Nothing of Israel itself was exceptional. Quite the contrary. They were a fickle, whiny group of people who would receive miracles and yet crave their former slavery the moment anything got remotely hard. It was the God of Israel that made this nation exceptional! It was God’s presence! When given the choice, Moses emphatically chose to stay in the place of struggle with God’s presence as his guide than to move to a place promised for generations without Him.
Wow! This passage has given me great pause over the past many days. Am I more focused on what I want to receive from God or on experiencing His presence in the midst of trials? What do I crave more – arriving at my “Promised Land” or being in God’s presence even if that means remaining in a wilderness? Am I defined by my situation on this earth or by my relationship and intimacy with the Living God? Think of it – the Promised Land was a good place. After all, it was promised! But Moses rightfully recognized that no matter the destination, God’s presence along the journey was of paramount importance. He would rather stay in a barren land with obstinate people and have God’s presence than go to a place of ease and freedom apart from Him.
My hope and prayer is that given the same choice, I would respond as Moses did. I certainly have not always done so in the past, eagerly awaiting reprieve from seasons of trials and wanderings. But may Exodus 33 take firm root in my heart, that I would crave God’s presence in my life above anything and everything else. Lord, I want to be where You are.