The Knowledge of the Holy: Moses' encounter with the glory of God

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The Knowledge of the Holy: Moses' encounter with the glory of God

by I Gordon

As we move through this study on the Knowledge of the Holy, it is useful to look at some actual encounters that people had with God. By that I mean people that have had an actual one-on-one experience with the living God. One of those was our friend Moses. Now I won't say that this was a face to face meeting because God said to Moses that if he saw God's face... well, that would lead to the small issue of Moses dying. But it was a very close encounter nonetheless! This type of experience teaches us more about our God. We'll pick up the story half way through a conversation between Moses and the Lord. Let's have a look at what we can learn.  

Show me the glory

Exodus 33:12-23 Moses said to the LORD, "You have been telling me, 'Lead these people,' but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, 'I know you by name and you have found favour with me.' (13) If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favour with you. Remember that this nation is your people." (14) The LORD replied, "My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest." (15) Then Moses said to him, "If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. (16) How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?" (17) And the LORD said to Moses, "I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name."

(18) Then Moses said, "Now show me your glory." (19) And the LORD said, "I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. (20) But," he said, "you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live." (21) Then the LORD said, "There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. (22) When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. (23) Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen."

In the middle of a conversation about Moses leading the Israelites through the wilderness, Moses has a thought... Encouraged by the fact that the Lord has just said that He is pleased with him, Moses decides to take a chance. He wants to see God's glory! Now God knew exactly what Moses was asking but do you? What exactly is the glory of God? The Hebrew word for glory is 'kabod' and means 'honour, glory, majesty, wealth.' Previously Moses had met God at the burning bush which, while an interesting sight, didn't disclose the complete glory of God. But there was something within Moses that desired to see God with His full glory revealed... or at least to the extent that he was allowed! This raises some questions for our own lives:

  • Would you say that you are someone that desires to know more about God's glory and character?

  • Do you pray that God would reveal more of Himself to you?

  • Do you think, if you ask with the right motives, that God will grant that request?

moses in the cleft of the rockSo how did God respond to Moses' request? God seemed pleased by the request and said that He would pass by and show His goodness to Moses. But this was going to be far more than a lighting and effects display. No... God was more interested in revealing the glory of His character. Martyn Lloyd-Jones addresses this when he writes that God, in essence, said to Moses:

"I will let you see something. But, much more important than that, I will cause all my goodness to pass before you. I will give you a deeper insight and understanding into myself, into my character, into what I am. That is what you really need to know."

So we see that the 'glory' of God is related to the goodness of His character. God is good! Not partially good and partially not good. All of His attributes are perfect and good. We see also that the LORD would also proclaim His name, 'YHWH' to Moses. That is, Moses could learn about God's glory through God's name as well. God's would reveal to Moses His self sufficient, eternal unchanging nature through the meaning of His name. But note that Moses couldn't see God's face for He said that 'no man shall see me and live!' William MacDonald in the Believers Bible Commentary (Big Blue) writes

'No one can see God's face and live (v. 20). This means that no one can look upon the unveiled glory of God; He dwells "in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see" (1Ti 6:16). In that sense, no one has seen God at any time (1Jo 4:12). How then do we explain passages in the Bible where people saw God and did not die? For example, Hagar (Gen 16:13); Jacob (Gen 32:30); Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel (Exo 24:9-11); Gideon (Jdg 6:22-23); Manoah and his wife (Jdg 13:22); Isaiah (Isa 6:1); Ezekiel (Eze 1:26, cf. Eze_10:20); John (Rev 1:17).
The answer is that these people saw God as represented by the Lord Jesus Christ. Sometimes He appeared as the Angel of the LORD, sometimes as a Man, and once manifested Himself as a Voice (Exo 24:9-11; cf. Deu 4:12). The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, has fully declared God (Joh 1:18). Christ is the brightness of God's glory and the express image of His Person (Heb 1:3). That is why He could say, "He who has seen Me has seen the Father" (Joh 14:9).'

The glory of the Son (and sun)

glory of the sun (son)We have an example of God's glory in the splendor of the sun. Our sun (earth's closest star) gives light to our world. It literally is the light to this world. No sun, no light. Just as it is no Son, no light. Looking straight at the sun without protection can damage the retina and even cause blindness. It is simply to powerful, too radiant. In like manner no one can look right at the glory of God and live. But God provides a place that is safe... The LORD says to Moses that He will put him in the cleft of the rock and from there Moses will be allowed to view the LORD as He passes by. Believer, you have been placed in the cleft of the rock too... The Rock is Jesus! He is the rock that we both stand in and on, allowing us to see the glory of God. It is the ONLY place that mankind CAN see the glory of God. And when Jesus returns believers shall be allowed to see Him face to face for we will have been changed in an instant into His likeness! A.Z Tozer writes well about out position in the cleft of the rock:

"We must like Moses cover ourselves with faith and humility while we steal a quick look at the God whom no man can see and live. The broken and the contrite heart He will not despise. We must hide our unholiness in the wounds of Christ as Moses hid himself in the cleft of the rock while the glory of God passed by. We must take refuge from God in God. Above all we must believe that God sees us perfect in His Son while He disciplines and chastens and purges us that we may be partakers of His holiness. "

As the great old hymn states:

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee;
Let the water and the blood,
From Thy riven side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Cleanse me from its guilt and pow'r.

The impact upon Moses

Exodus 34:5-8 Now the Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. (6) And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, "The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, (7) keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children's children to the third and the fourth generation." (8) So Moses made haste and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshiped.

Exo 34:28 So he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he did not eat bread or drink water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.
"The children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses' face shone: and Moses put the veil upon his face again, until he went in to speak with him" (Exodus 34:35).

What do we learn about God from what was revealed to Moses? His name is YHWH - which is often pronounced 'Yahweh' or 'Jehovah'. This has the central thought of being the self existent eternal God. He is merciful and gracious, longsuffering, abounding in goodness and truth. But also righteous and just. And we see that this encounter had a great impact upon Moses. There are several points that we can take away for out own lives. When looking at the impact of Moses' encounter with God we can see that it produced the following:

  1. Humility - Moses humbled himself - He took his rightful place when in the presence of Almighty God.

  2. Worship - Moses' worshipped. This is the first mention of Moses worshipping. Anytime you see something of the majesty and character of God you must worship. Worship is our response to the glory of God.

  3. Supernatural - Moses had no food or drink for 40 days and 40 nights! (Ex 24:28) Now you can't go 40 days without water naturally. But the essentials of this life are no longer seen as essential! By extension it is God's presence within our lives that lifts us above the normal fleshly reactions and desires. 'Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full on his glorious face and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.'

  4. Teaches others - We read above that Moses wrote what he has seen and heard. In other words he wants to help others and give them the word of God.

  5. Moses was changed! - Moses shone with the glory of God. He was changed. People could see that there was something different about Moses and that that difference had to be God!


So is 'show me your glory' a prayer for today? Yes it is. We may not see the outward manifestation of the shekinah glory but the prayer to see the glory of God is still valid in regards to God's goodness, grace, character and nature. The Bible says that as we behold Jesus' glory, we are changed into that very glory! Let me leave you with some key scriptures from the New Testament concerning the glory of Jesus today. They are all worthy of our thought and meditation.

John 1:14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

2 Corinthians 3:7-9 Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was, (8) will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? (9) If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness!

2 Corinthians 3:18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.

2 Corinthians 4:5-6 For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus' sake. (6) For God, who said, "Light shall shine out of darkness," is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.