Reasons to see the glory

In the deepest recesses of our hearts, there lies a longing for something transcendent, something beyond our ordinary experiences.

Consider for a moment the allure of the supernatural, as depicted in tales of heroes and legends. It’s not merely about the ability to fly or exhibit extraordinary strength, but an innate desire for identity and recognition. Consider the Man of Steel – beyond the flights and feats of heroism, wasn’t Clark Kent’s real struggle to be seen, acknowledged, and loved for who he was and not just for what he could do?

Similarly, as we delve into the rich tapestry of Moses’ narrative, we are met with a poignant moment in Exodus 33:18 where Moses boldly implores God, “show me your glory.” At this juncture, Moses had already witnessed the astounding might and splendour of Yahweh. Why then, would he seek another sign, another revelation?

It’s an opportunity to seek God not just for the grand displays of His power but out of a desire for a genuine relationship with God.

It’s tempting, of course, to speculate. Why did God not challenge Moses? Why not ask, “Haven’t I shown you enough? What drives this insatiable curiosity?” Perhaps the heart of the matter isn’t about seeking more proofs of divine grandeur but a deeper intimacy. Moses, having beheld wonders and miracles, was, as we’ll see, yearning for an even more profound connection with the Almighty.

When we examine the events that unfurled after Moses’ audacious request, they paint a picture of a God who delights in drawing closer to His creation. He unveils more of Himself, not in rebuke or hesitancy, but in a gracious affirmation of the relationship He desires with His people.

For those of us navigating the intricate corridors of the 21st century, this narrative beckons with profound implications. We are often awed by the spectacular, the loud, the evident. Yet, the subtle invitation from the pages of Exodus is to pursue a meaningful knowledge, love and encounter with God. It’s an opportunity to seek God not just for the grand displays of His power but out of a desire for a genuine relationship with God.

Compare and contrast

What was at the heart of Moses’ request to God, and why was the request to please show ‘me’ your glory – rather than to Israel? The inquiries of John the Baptist (“Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”) and Moses (“Show me your glory”) in the Bible have some interesting similarities, but they also have distinctive contexts and implications.

Both were seeking confirmation; Moses, having led the Israelites and experienced God’s power and guidance, was looking for a deeper assurance and knowledge of God’s presence and glory, similarly, John, who had proclaimed the coming of the Messiah, was looking for confirmation that Jesus was indeed the one he had foretold.  They were also seeking intimate relationship with God, in fact as the narratives unfold we see Moses speaking with God “face to face, as a man speaks with his friend” (Exodus 33:11), and John fulfilling his role as the prophesied forerunner to the Messiah, described by Jesus as the greatest born of women (Matthew 11:11).  Both had times of doubt and their inquiries come at times of personal challenge.

Moses was leading a frequently (relentlessly) rebellious people through the wilderness

Moses was leading a frequently (relentlessly) rebellious people through the wilderness, and John was in Herod’s prison when he sent his disciples to Jesus with the question. But there are differences to the the two. Moses’ request was more about witnessing God’s majesty and understanding His nature more deeply. He wanted to see God’s glory, to be closer to Him. John’s question was specific to Jesus’ identity as the expected Messiah.

For both Moses and John the Baptist the divine response was different; God tells Moses that he cannot see His face and live, but allows Moses a glimpse of His back. In contrast, Jesus responds to John’s disciples by pointing to the miracles He has performed, saying, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor” (Matthew 11:4-5).

The context for the two was also different, and here we begin to understand the request of Moses for God to show him personally, His glory. Moses was leading an entire nation and shaping their religious identity and relationship with God. John was ushering in a new era, preparing the way for the Messiah and the establishment of a new covenant.

You can see obvious connections, but we need to focus on the matter at hand, “Please show me your glory.”

In context

To understand the weight of this request, it’s essential first to grasp the larger story. Moses has been chosen by God to lead the Israelites out of their enslavement in Egypt and guide them to the Promised Land. The journey is punctuated with a series of challenges, miracles, and divine interventions.

The scene in Exodus 33 that we are pondering unfolds after a particularly turbulent episode.The Israelites, in a moment of wavering faith, create and worship a Golden Calf, a direct violation of God’s command against idolatry. This sin deeply angers God, threatening to rupture or even decimate the unique relationship He has with His chosen people.

Amidst this concerning backdrop, Moses’ request can be interpreted as

  • A desire for assurance: In the wake of the Golden Calf incident, Moses could be seeking reassurance of God’s unwavering presence. Seeing God’s glory might serve as a potent reminder of His continued commitment to the Israelites, even in light of their transgressions.
  • A Quest for Deeper Knowledge: While Moses already enjoys a unique relationship with God – one described as speaking “face to face, as a man speaks with his friend” (Exodus 33:11) – his request might stem from a desire to understand God even more intimately.
  • An Encounter with the Divine: Throughout various religious traditions, an encounter with the divine’s “face” or “glory” often signifies an overwhelming, profound experience. Moses seems to be seeking this depth of encounter.
  • Affirmation of God’s Sovereignty: Recognising God’s unparalleled might and majesty, Moses’ request might also be an acknowledgement and wish to witness God’s supreme authority.

God’s response is both enlightening and intriguing. He informs Moses that no human can see His face and survive the experience. But in His grace, God provides a partial glimpse, allowing Moses to see His back, a metaphoric representation perhaps suggesting that YHWH’s full glory is beyond human comprehension.

We are not condemned by our ‘too-closeness’ to the One who is truly divine.

This encounter underscores an eternal tension: humanity’s longing to fully comprehend and encounter God versus the unfathomable and overwhelming nature of the divine. When you think about it in the light of the gospel you immediately see the vast, mysterious work of the Cross of Christ. We are invited to behold His glory, and in beholding it to be transformed, renewed and restored. Not condemned by our ‘too-closeness’ to the One who is truly divine. What a wonder it is to live in the light of the truth of Charles Wesley who beheld God’s glory, singing “Bold I approach, the eternal throne.”  Not consumed, but invited, welcomed and accepted.

Returning to Moses

Moses’ experience on Mount Sinai, where he encounters God’s glory, is closely linked with the giving (and then the re-giving) of the Ten Commandments after  the original tablets were broken by Moses in response to the Israelites’ idolatry with the golden calf.  The encounter shortly impacts Moses such that in Exodus 34:29-35, after speaking with God, Moses’ face becomes radiant. The transformation is so profound that Aaron and the Israelites are afraid to come near him resulting in Moses needing to wear a veil, which he removes when speaking to God and puts back on afterward when addressing the Israelites.

This radiance serves as a sign of Moses’ unique relationship with God and the divine authority behind the commandments he delivers to the people. He possesses a unique understanding and closeness with God, reinforcing his leadership role and authority among the Israelites.

If we are to worship Him with all of our heart, we need to appreciate just how magnificent and majestic He truly is.

In revealing His glory to Moses and the reason why it was good for us too, is that God discloses and emphasizes His merciful and gracious nature. In Exodus 34:6-7, God declares: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness…” This proclamation serves as a foundational understanding of God’s character for Israel, but it is little despite it’s majesty, in comparison to the unveiled glory of the gospel that was yet to be manifest to the world.

If we are to worship Him with all of our heart, we need to appreciate just how magnificent and majestic He truly is.  Perhaps we too should be praying, “Lord, please show me your glory” and then allowing Him like the Emmaus disciples, who, on the Emmaus road were offered food by the risen Jesus and ate, their eyes too were opened and they knew who their traveling companion was, that he had been raised, and that he was the focal point of all the Scriptures.

The yearning to witness and comprehend God’s magnificence is profound and widespread. Moses’ plea strikes a chord with countless believers longing for a more profound insight and connection with the Lord. In times of climatic upheavals, conflicts not only in Europe but globally, economic instability, and rampant corruption, our need for God is more palpable than ever. The allure of worldly idols may have clouded our vision, but echoing Moses, it becomes essential for us to implore, “Lord, show me your glory.”

Let our cry come before heaven, “Lord, unveil your glory to us. Manifest your Son, Jesus, to the nations, and illuminate them with your boundless splendour.”