May Your Face Shine Upon Us
The people of God constantly need to know and be assured that God is with them, that His favour is upon them, and that He is taking them through to their promised home. When we lose that sense of the favour of God – the face of God shines upon us – we become fidgety, panicky, or depressed. That loss of the sense of the favour of God is the outcome of sin among the people of God – the idolatry or disobedience that we so readily and foolishly and wickedly engage with. No one who deliberately sins against God can have assurance of His favour. How can we know the favour of God then???
Some try to argue that we are never out of God’s favour, that any sense of His displeasure is simply a misapprehension on our part. God is not some pathetic figure, holding up his hands and smiling upon every whim or fancy of our own. He is not a benign, but impotent god, who will applaud whatever we do (especially if we couch it in spiritual or pious terms.) The disaster of the golden calf should alert us to this – and make us alert to avoid such folly! We need to know how to please the Lord.
Exodus 33 begins with the LORD calling Moses to take his people up to the land promised to the patriarchs – that much of the promise still stands. But the LORD will send an angel with them, rather than being personally present to the people “lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” To the people this is actually a disaster; they mourned; they put away all signs of ease and celebration. The LORD Himself not go with them??? Please, LORD, no!
That is the essence of Moses’ intercession (33:12-16.) He prays that the LORD will clarify the ways of the LORD, so that he may know Him and so find favour with Him. The sign of the favour of the LORD will be His presence with them (33:16.) It is this very thing that will mark out the nation of Israel from the other nations. The presence of the LORD among God’s people is the only thing that God’s people have going for them in their mission to the world. The LORD gives promise that His presence will be with them, but Moses presses further – that “the presence” will in fact be God in all His glory and goodness. And then he asks that the LORD pledge Himself to that promise by revealing that glory and goodness to him.
The glory and goodness of God (34:6-7) – which is the indescribable overflow of His compassion, grace, patience, steadfast-love and faithfulness – is the one thing that keeps the covenant between God and His people secure. The people of God will live by the favour of God. That favour is not push-over favour. It is favour that is free still to act in blessing or judgment. But the blessing and the judgment all work to serve the grace-covenant of God. How grace and favour works in the church made of sinners is unpredictable. It is grace which may thunder or woo, wound or heal. But all of God’s dealings with His people are from grace – working in us so that we can enjoy His favour, and seek to please Him.