November 25, 2021
1 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Leave this place, you and the people you brought up out of Egypt, and go up to the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ 2 I will send an angel before you and drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 3 Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way.”
4 When the people heard these distressing words, they began to mourn and no one put on any ornaments. 5 For the Lord had said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites, ‘You are a stiff-necked people. If I were to go with you even for a moment, I might destroy you. Now take off your ornaments and I will decide what to do with you.’” 6 So the Israelites stripped off their ornaments at Mount Horeb.
Moses will be told shortly after this that God does go with him as he leads the people. Does God mean that he goes with Moses, but not the people? What would that mean in regard to our understanding of God being present everywhere (omnipresent)? I see here a use of hyperbole, overstatement of the situation. Stated strongly so that the people can see the contrast between their lack of faith, their sin, and God’s righteousness, holiness and faithfulness.
We know that God goes with the people and leads them all the way to the land with the pillars of cloud and fire. We know that God will bring them into the land and lead them in taking the land to be their own. Yet there is still that knowledge that as they are, and as they act, they cannot be in the presence of God themselves.
All of this is shown in the tabernacle and temple with the curtains separating the people from the most holy places. It is seen as the high-priest will only go into portions of the temple once a year. It comes even more clear to us now as we see that the way that was veiled and controlled has been opened in a new way through the grace of Jesus. We see that as we are made new in Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are given a new place before the throne of God. The writer of Hebrews will tell us:
14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.
And further in Hebrews 10
19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
We are given a place before the Father to come with our prayers, our worship, our whole lives, in his presence. For this, above all else, we give thanks and praise to God.
O God, your will is that all your children should be one in Christ. We pray for the unity of your church. Pardon all our pride and our lack of faith, of understanding and of charity, which are the causes of our divisions. Deliver us from our narrow-mindedness, from our bitterness, from our prejudices. Save us from considering as normal that which is a scandal to the world and an offense to your love. Teach us to recognize the gifts of grace among all who call upon you and confess faith in Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.