May 27, 2020
Exodus 34:1-7 (NIV)
The LORD said to Moses, “Chisel out two stone tablets like the first ones, and I will write on them the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke. 2 Be ready in the morning, and then come up on Mount Sinai. Present yourself to me there on top of the mountain. 3 No one is to come with you or be seen anywhere on the mountain; not even the flocks and herds may graze in front of the mountain.”
4 So Moses chiseled out two stone tablets like the first ones and went up Mount Sinai early in the morning, as the Lord had commanded him; and he carried the two stone tablets in his hands. 5 Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. 6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”
We come to another of the most famous texts in all of Scripture. I want to call it, “Between a Rock and a God Place” or maybe “Between a God and a Hard Place.” Down through the ages, the Saints have referred to such places as thin places. They become forever marked as places where the atmosphere seemed to thin out as a window into the heavens opened up; places where glory kisses the ground. The expensive theological term for such encounters is “theophany,” and the Bible is filled with them. From Jacob’s dream of the ladder coming down to earth, through young Samuel’s encounter with the voice of God calling in the night, to Mary and the Annunciation, and Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, and on we could go. These encounters with the manifest presence of God narrate our shared story.
Let’s begin by remembering where we left off yesterday:
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.” (Exodus 33:21-23)
It’s a good moment to remind ourselves we aren’t tourists on a vacation to the holy land here. We are pilgrims on a journey into the mystery of the holiness of God. Don’t hear me wrong. At times, pilgrims do ride tour buses. You know—those ones with nice air conditioning and the large tinted windows on both sides. They can cover miles of territory in a day and lots of the time you are looking out the window gazing at the countryside as the guide points things out. A tour bus makes lots of short stops where the people get out and walk around a site a bit, snapping photos, visiting the gift shop, and otherwise learning all the things. Today’s excursion is much more than that. Today is why we came. More than walking around and grabbing a brochure and a snack, we will take off our shoes and get down low to the ground. We will put our ear to the ground and listen for the seismic reverberations of the ancient, ever-radiating Word of God.
In Genesis 3, after their fall from glory, the man and the woman covered themselves and hid from God. At the site of this holy visitation, Moses was hidden by God. God hid him in the cleft of the rock. A cleft is a crevice—a split in a rock face—like a small cave-like opening. Let’s go inside of the cleft and stand there with Moses. He has the two stone tablets, inscribed with the Law with him.
5 Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD.
In other words, he said Yahweh. It has been described as the very sound of breath. In the Hebrew Bible he says Yahweh twice. Then he goes on to elucidate the fullness of what this name means.
the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.
In case you read that too quickly. Let’s try it this way. Wherever you are reading this, find a way to get nearer the ground. Kneel, stand, and bow your body downward, prostate yourself, whatever you can do to signal to yourself the Lord is passing by. Now speak these words aloud so your ears can hear them just as Moses ears heard them:
the compassionate and gracious God,
slow to anger,
abounding in love and faithfulness,
maintaining love to thousands,
and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.
This is our God. This is why we came. This is the encounter we never get over. This is not a God to hide from but to be hidden in. His presence is healing because his nature is love.
As much as I would like to end it here and wrap this up into a precious moment, verse seven doesn’t stop there.
Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.
God’s deepest nature is love, yet his character is holy. As we have noted here before, the wrath of God is not some kind of angry emotion. The wrath of God is simply what happens when the the holiness of God meets up with anyone unprepared for his presence. This is why and how Jesus saves. He hides us in the cleft of his heart—his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. I love how Paul frames the invitation to abide in the Rock of Ages:
Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. (Colossians 3:1-4)
I remember growing up in my small town Methodist Church, on the front row between my Meemaw and Peepaw, and hearing him sing loud and slightly off-key, “Rock of ages cleft for me. Let me hide thyself in thee.” In that spirit, let’s sing our prayer today.
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,
Save me from its guilt and power.
Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All could never sin erase,
Thou must save, and save by grace.
Nothing in my hands I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress,
Helpless, look to Thee for grace:
Foul, I to the fountain fly,
Wash me, Savior, or I die.
While I draw this fleeting breath,
When mine eyes shall close in death,
When I soar to worlds unknown,
See Thee on Thy judgment throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in Thee.
The LORD, The LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.
Which of these images gives you the most encouragement and comfort today? Which do you struggle most to believe? Why?
Monday, June 1, we will dive into our first New Testament series of 2020, with Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. We are working on a special limited edition COVID-19 edition of WILDERNESS. You may pre-order it here. Note: it will take several months to get this finally pressed into a book, printed, and shipped.
For the Awakening,