His first task was to get the wicked Pharaoh to let them go. Moses exercised the power of God that softened Pharaoh’s will. He watched that same power save his people by the drowning of Pharaoh’s pursuing army in the Red Sea. God later provided water for his people in the arid desert.
After they escaped from Egypt, Moses then led the throng down the Sinai Peninsula to the base of Mount Sinai where they struck camp for a period of time. They were free. God had delivered them every step of the way.
During this time, Moses and his young assistant Joshua ascended for some time to the mountain heights, in order to receive the tablets of the law inscribed on stone by God’s hand. Moses’ brother Aaron was in charge of the camp below.
During this absence the people in the camp became restless. They rejected the authority of Moses and demanded that Aaron make gods for them that they could see.
From the gold jewelry the people turned over to him Aaron fashioned a golden calf. Soon a full-fledged pagan celebration was underway. That explained the wild shouting that Moses and Joshua heard as they descended the mountain.
The Lord was angry. His people had embraced idolatrous ways. He threatened to withdraw his Presence from the people of Israel for the long trek to the Promised Land.
In distress, Moses entered a period of deep engagement with God. In his intercessions, what would he ask for? A fresh release of the power that had overwhelmed Pharaoh? Or that provided water in the desert?
No, his intercessions were to ask God not to remove his Presence from his disobedient children. In the intimacy of the moment, Moses said: If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here (Exodus 33:15). God’s presence was precious to Moses.
The Lord relented and replied: I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name (Exodus 33:17). For Moses, God’s presence was also more precious than a release of his destructive power.
It was not God’s omnipresence that was at issue here (that God is everywhere at all times); it was his manifest presence (that the living God demonstrates his presence at specific times and in particular places).
For Isaiah God manifested his presence in the temple (Isaiah 6); for Saul of Tarsus it was on the road to Damascus (Acts 9). On the Day of Pentecost it was in the upper room (Acts 2:2).
Wherever it occurred it could awaken joy: In your presence is fullness of joy (Psalm 16:11). His presence supports even when fear attacks: Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me (Psalm 23:4).
Recently our daughter-in-law, Jan, spent time in the hospital. She reported to us afterwards that she awoke in the middle of one night with a manifestation of the Presence: the words of a Fanny Crosby gospel song brought to her mind. It was the last line of the first stanza that assured her that she was in God’s care and his presence was with her. The words? For I know what’er befall me, Jesus doeth all things well.
Photo credit: kishjar? (via flickr.com)