The Cleft of the Rock (Exodus 33)

Date: 10/22/2017
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Type: Sunday Sermon
Organization: All Saints
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Exodus 33:12-23 - Then Moses said to the LORD, “See, You say to me, ‘Bring up this people!’ But You Yourself have not let me know whom You will send with me. Moreover, You have said, ‘I have known you by name, and you have also found favor in My sight.’ 13 “Now therefore, I pray You, if I have found favor in Your sight, let me know Your ways that I may know You, so that I may find favor in Your sight. Consider too, that this nation is Your people.” 14 And He said, “My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.” 15 Then he said to Him, “If Your presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here. 16 “For how then can it be known that I have found favor in Your sight, I and Your people? Is it not by Your going with us, so that we, I and Your people, may be distinguished from all the other people who are upon the face of the earth?” 17 The LORD said to Moses, “I will also do this thing of which you have spoken; for you have found favor in My sight and I have known you by name.” 18 Then Moses said, “I pray You, show me Your glory!” 19 And He said, “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.” 20 But He said, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!” 21 Then the LORD said, “Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock; 22 and it will come about, while My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. 23 “Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen.”

1) The Mission - In the context, Moses needed reassurance of God’s presence with Israel (cf. 33:3,5). In light of the mission to bring the people into the land of promise, Moses requests to know the ways of Yahweh so that he may know Yahweh (13). Since this nation is “Your” people, the LORD should reveal Himself. Yahweh’s answer is that “My presence shall go with you [Moses]” (singular, 14). Moses continues to implore that if His presence is not with them (plural), Israel will not be distinguished from other nations. Then, Yahweh confirms His presence with His people, “I will also do this thing of which you have spoken; for you have found favor in My sight and I have known you by name” (17). Thus, Moses mediatorial role succeeds once again. The LORD knows Moses’ character, i.e., “knows his name.” All those who minister effectively to others in the name of the LORD must be “known” in this way.

2) The Mystery - Moses’ request does not stop with imploring God for the resources of the mission (bring the people into the Land). “Then” Moses asks for more: he desires to see Yahweh’s glory (18). Remember, Moses has undergone a transformation. At first he was “afraid to look at God” (3:6). Now He wants to see His full glory. The LORD also answers this request. “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you” (19). God thus “equates his glory with all my goodness” (NBC). God will proclaim His name to Moses which comes with a description of His sovereign character: “and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion” (19). The answer to Moses’ request, however, comes with a condition. The condition is that “you cannot see My face.” There is a reason for this: God’s unmitigated presence would kill Moses (see John 1:18; 6:46; 1 Tim 1:17; 1 John 4:12). So the LORD covers Moses with His “hand” in the “cleft” of the rock and he sees the “back” of God. “‘Hand’ and ‘back’ are anthropomorphisms (i.e., descriptions of the reality of God in terms or analogies understandable to men)” (Kaiser, EBC). “While people truly can know God, they can never know Him exhaustively” Hannah, BKC). To know God as He is in Himself is the greatest thing; this is the beatific vision which will continue expanding throughout eternity for the blessed. But now, we need the Rock of Ages to cleft for us, the one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5).

Gregg Strawbridge Gregg Strawbridge, Ph.D., is the pastor of All Saints Church in Lancaster, PA. He became a committed follower of Jesus Christ at age 20, discipled in the context of a University Navigator Ministry. As a result of personal discipleship he went on to study at Columbia Biblical Seminary (M.A., Columbia, SC, 1990), as well as receive a Ph.D. in education and philosophy... read more