Grasping God’s Purpose: “The Companion” – Exodus 33

Believers are walking alone on the road, because they don’t want a companion that should be ever with them. They are walking hungry, because they have no sense of desperate need to be filled.  It is a strange time.

Near the end of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities, (a story set within the French revolution), a brief but touching scene reminds us of the importance and strength we draw from of a companion.  As a daily grim procession of prisoners was tugged through the streets of Paris for execution at the guillotine, the scene froze on two people who were facing death. The young Sidney Carton was a brave man who had once lost his way in life but had now found it again and was now offering his life in substitution for his friend, having taken his identity before the tribunal. A young girl was placed in holding beside him. They were not strangers – they had met before in the detaining prison. The young woman noticed the a serene courage on Carton’s face – a man who finally FOUND himself while preparing to give his life away. She said: “If I may ride with you, will you let me hold your hand? I am not afraid, but I am little and weak, and it will give me more courage.” They were taken together, and she joined her hand in his. When they arrived at the place of execution there was no fear in her eyes. She looked into the face of her companion, and said “I think you were sent to me by Heaven“. Facing death, the companion of strength and resolve gave her the needed strength to face a certain future.

What a great word – companion. It was derived from two Latin terms: “com: is with and “panis” is bread. The most basic meaning is “someone you break bread with” – the most common expression of familiarity and friendship. Companions are more than just familiar, they are necessary. Every believer has one. In fact, the very MARK of a believer is that someone has joined your journey, and you are no longer alone. The true mark of the believer is not simply LOVE, though it includes love. The true mark of the believer is not PATIENCE, though it includes patience. The true mark of the believer is not PEACE, though it includes peace.

Key Principle: The true mark of God on the life of a believer is the clear daily companionship he or she has with God. It is as clear to see as someone who is in love.

Exodus 33 explains the need to walk through life with an intimate and personal daily relationship with God, and the expectation that such companionship would naturally mark the life of a real believer. Four truths about this accompanied life are offered in the text:

Truth One: Companionship is held back by deliberate rebellion (33:1-3):

The first truth actually reaches back into Exodus 32, and pulls us back into the scene that sets the narrative of Exodus 33. You will recall that the people were openly in the willful and rebellious violation of idolatry, and though the leaders of the offense were killed, the others did not yet really seem yet to grip the consequences, according to the record. They didn’t seem to really “get it”. Here is the truth:

Our continual state of self-reliance can make distance between us and God seem normal, when it is not. It evokes the distance we felt in our lives before we knew God. To the believer, God is not a forced companion, but the very atmosphere of our life. He is as natural as air to a man or water to a fish. Because we have been invited into His arms, we need not live as those who do not know and love Him. He desires our life with Him to be in the midst of our journey, not pressed unnaturally into an occasional monastic respite from our real life. God is not a modern parent that has settled on weekends with us! He urges us to recognize His daily and enduring grasp of constant companionship along the rough and tumble of life. We must learn to intentionally live in His presence.

At the risk of being too wordy, let’s say it plainly. Rebellion is self reliance. Self reliance is the act of pulling ourselves back into the lifestyle of a godless pagan. It is living life on our own instead of living as one who shares daily hopes, dreams, goals, and joy with the God that loves us.  Rebellion attempts to break the benefit that salvation brought.

  • Rebellion brings terrible pain: In Exodus 32:28, Moses had the offenders dealt with severity. “So the sons of Levi did as Moses instructed, and about three thousand men of the people fell that day.Sin causes death. Rebellion cuts off the benefits of intimacy with God to those around me who need a relationship with Him. Those who have not yet learned to follow the Lord will often be cut off from their opportunity to do so by those who know God, but want to live carnally. We see it all the time in the third generation of those who are brought up in Christian homes. To be plain: when you walk in rebellion you nutor your natural ability to reproduce spiritually. God may work in spite of you – and often does in His mercy toward another – but your work as a tool in His hand is thwarted by your self will. The people who made the idol could not be used by God before the nations in their rebellious state. Some perished because in this way God showed the seriousness of their sin. 1 Corinthians 11, in a passage on the mishandling of the church as the body of Christ, says that it was the cause of some of the sickness in the believing community. In fact, Paul said, “some have died” because of it.

Here is a terrible truth: There are believers in hospitals today because they have chosen to live in rebellion to God. Not all sickness comes from sin, but SOME sickness does. It is the primary reason such believers were to call on the Elders to anoint them. It is NOT because the Elders possessed any special way to fix their problem, but because their problem was primarily a spiritual one. Rebellion opens the door to discipline, and closes the door to full use of God as He designed us to be used. It is for this reason we need to ask ourselves a question today: “What would God be doing through me if I wasn’t deliberately harboring sin and selfishly living for ME instead of HIM in this area of my life?” It is a worthy question!

  • Rebellion forces division in people: In Exodus 32:29, Moses called on the Levites to settle themselves, and recognize that their tough obedience in discipline was part of the consequence of their neighbor’s sin. “Then Moses said, “Dedicate yourselves today to the LORD—for every man has been against his son and against his brother—in order that He may bestow a blessing upon you today.” Those who are obedient to God find themselves shell shocked and horrified at the prospect of having been involved in the discipline of the rebellious ones. This also is a far too frequent occurrence in our day. The brazen rebellion of modern believers leaves mature believers shocked and often befuddled.

When a Pastor writes a book declaring Hell is not the promised destination of one who rejects Jesus Christ – he forces those of us who take seriously the “lost-ness of men” as declared by the Bible to stand against his unholy words. If we are deliberately making disciples, we must do so on the basis of the Word of God, and that does not allow us to stand silent while men reframe God’s Word into saying the opposite of what it clearly teaches. When a church ordains a man whose sexual orientation is a celebration of rebellion – trying to reframe the definition of LOVE in the Bible – we find ourselves in the position of declaring that church no longer in harmony with the clear teaching of God’s principles. We don’t enjoy doing this. In fact, it hurts us deeply. The brazen modern process of rewriting God’s Word by men of our generation has become a constant source of pain to real believers who seek God in His Word.

We understand what is happening, so let us make it plain. The modern Christian subculture has fed this moral slide in culture. Many a church has proposed that God’s prime focus is on here and now. We have allowed lost men to believe the Gospel was about Your Best Life Now, as though surrender and commitment were issues secondary to personal benefit in a walk with God. When we teach that God exists for OUR lives, OUR comforts, OUR desires – we embellish the modern and un-Biblical definition of God: He who exists to make my our life worth living. Such a self-oriented view of God opens the door to the next logical conclusion – God’s big goal is my happiness. If that happiness comes from my improper perception that my life would most be complete in a same sex union, then surely God wants that for me – because He knows that is how I feel – and my feeling of completion is really His big goal.

The church cannot both argue that God’s main goal is personal satisfaction in this life and that Scripture limits specific choices (as in our sexual expression) – or we simply confuse the world around us by our duplicitous message. In the end, our poor portrayal of God’s big purpose has opened the door to the “new morality”. Prosperity theology  bought and taught a world view that conflicts with Scripture itself – and we now reap the whirlwind.

In the end, the church of Jesus Christ must become more clear than ever – God made us. His honor and His glory are the purpose of human history. His boundaries are the right ones for us – no matter what else is said. The defection of parts of the “so called church” into a modern selfish world view is forcing a division between those who claim Jesus as their salvation, and those who claim Jesus as their Master in this life. It is driving a wedge between those who have a God who serves their desires and those who understand, as our forefathers understood, that our lives are to glorify Him. It is a painful division – but a necessary one. Our forefathers got it right, and we are heading in the wrong direction when we leave them behind. Rebellion is again forcing division

  • Rebellion hinders the leadership: In Exodus 32:30, the leader was forced to explain the sin and the consequences to the people. “On the next day Moses said to the people, “You yourselves have committed a great sin; and now I am going up to the LORD, perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” Some people are so used to stubbornness and rebellion, they cannot see the need to address the wrong in their lives. They live under the stubborn impression that their sin only affects their life, and they are fine with the outcome on that basis. Sadly, they aren’t even close. Again we must assert the Biblical truth: my choices affect my whole community. They affect my family. They affect my children. They affect my sharp perception of moral slide. These are days like few others in our country’s history. Our nation is turning a page to reject the premise of Christian thought: That God has created us for HIS PURPOSES. It will only be slowed by believers who boldly live the truth and step out of the shadows of moral gray to stand in the white light of truth.

Walk with God! Learn His Word! Lovingly and graciously share His truth with as much zeal as those who are brazenly proclaiming a new ethical system to replace the one our country was founded upon. I am never so amazed as when I find people who believe that Christians are insensitive when they share the Gospel. How strange, in a country that proudly displays those with moral perversion parading the streets, that I should shrink from speaking the truths that set men and women free!

The plain truth is that as more believers truly walk with God, more of the church’s leadership can be focused on those who are without Christ. All it takes for the enemy to hold back our advance is successfully dangling temptation before immature believers that are busily keeping the flames of sinful behavior burning at home and in their private lives. While rebellion rages in the house of God, leaders cannot focus on the advance of the faith.

  • Rebellion makes uncertain the future: In Exodus 32:31, the leader interceded for the people, asking God not to turn away from them in their stubbornness. “Then Moses returned to the LORD, and said, “Alas, this people has committed a great sin, and they have made a god of gold for themselves. 32 “But now, if You will, forgive their sin—and if not, please blot me out from Your book which You have written!” 33 The LORD said to Moses, “Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book.” It is clear from the reading that SOME of the people that were to be blessed in a walk with God were now cut off from that possibility because of their gross sin. In the mystery of God’s providence, we can only begin to imagine how this may work. Does the stubbornness of a drunk father that drives with his children in the car sever them from their opportunity to hear about Christ? Does his sinful behavior bring physical harm that will impair them from ever knowing God’s love? Does the emotional damage of living with him change their perception of their Heavenly Father, making them less open to His beckoning when it comes? We can only say this for certain – it is sure to make engaging God more difficult. Rebellion makes uncertain the future from the human perspective.
  • Rebellion stalls the forward movement of the work: In Exodus 32:34, God must push the leader forward. What slowed his progress was the sin of the people. He and God had just met together, and He had just engaged God’s goodness for an extended period. Sadly, the people pulled him from that high place, and he found himself covered with slime and mud  – stalled out in the work. God therefore instructed: “But go now, lead the people where I told you. Behold, My angel shall go before you; nevertheless in the day when I punish, I will punish them for their sin.” 35 Then the LORD smote the people, because of what they did with the calf which Aaron had made.” Here is the instruction: when sin causes the work to stall, deal with the sin and then re-start the work. It may be that it will be hard to re-start. Some of the sparkle of time with the Lord will be dulled by the reality of dealing with dirt – but it is part of the calling to lead.

In the final analysis, we need to recall this simple truth: Rebellion strains companionship. We cheat ourselves when we walk through life as a believer un-surrendered to God. Even when good things come, we cannot fully enjoy them. We are held back by a plague of doubt. An open heart invites God’s leadership and God’s blessing – but it also invites a quiet heart of joy.

Truth Two: Companionship is hindered by delayed repentance (33:1-6)

By the time we open up Exodus 33, we enter a conversation that has been ongoing. God was instructing the leader to keep moving on the journey, but a detail of that journey was still under consideration – would God in His personal and intimate manifest presence join with the people on the journey. God is always present. He is always in charge. He is always attentive to His creation, keeping it, guarding its path – yet God does not always manifest His presence.

Have you ever felt far from God, and you knew exactly why? Have you ever chosen to walk in disobedience and rebellion and felt Him remove some sense of His holy presence within? He is present, but the manifestation of His presence changed. That is exactly what Moses was concerned about for his people:

Exodus 33:1 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, “Depart, go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up from the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your descendants I will give it.’ 2 “I will send an angel before you and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite. 3 “Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; for I will not go up in your midst, because you are an obstinate people, and I might destroy you on the way.” 4 When the people heard this sad word, they went into mourning, and none of them put on his ornaments. 5 For the LORD had said to Moses, “Say to the sons of Israel, ‘You are an obstinate people; should I go up in your midst for one moment, I would destroy you. Now therefore, put off your ornaments from you, that I may know what I shall do with you.’” 6 So the sons of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments, from Mount Horeb onward.

When we look at the text carefully, we can pick out a number of truths:

  • God doesn’t turn the clock back on His purposes because of our behaviors. His plan doesn’t depend on our obedience – our blessing and participation in that plan does. God purposed to bring the people back because it was His pleasure to make the promise long before. Moses could choose to participate or not – but God was going to do what He promised to Abraham long before.
  • God wanted the people to recognize the benefit of His intimate presence in the journey and to openly express that they DESIRED God to go with them. They needed to ACT outwardly to show a change inwardly.

For every day we resist openly changing our allegiance from our lusts and desires to our unreserved duty to God’s purposes, we delay His good work in us again. God is at work changing everything in our lives constantly, but He leaves our heart to our demand. If we resist Him, He allows that resistance in our daily walk, and withdraws the sense of His presence and the security that brings. The longer we delay in repentance, the more we delay His open blessing.

Truth Three: Companionship is helped by determined requests (33:7-11)

God seeks those who seek Him. He wants to be wanted – not as a plumber who will fix our leaky pipes of life – but as a God we will hunger to walk behind – following in the paths He sets before us. He cannot be the servant to our fleshly hungers – that is not in His nature. He is, however, able to fill the greatest need we have – the need of HIM. Here is the greatest truth of the passage: God wants those who want Him, and many of us forget that is TRULY WHY WE CAME TO HIM IN THE BEGINNING.

The Setting for the request:

Moses was deliberate in his time to settle issues with God. He made a place and a time. His relationship with God was not haphazard… nor can ours be. Look at the lengths he went to in order to spend time with God: Exodus 33:7 Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, a good distance from the camp, and he called it the tent of meeting. And everyone who sought the LORD would go out to the tent of meeting which was outside the camp. 8 And it came about, whenever Moses went out to the tent, that all the people would arise and stand, each at the entrance of his tent, and gaze after Moses until he entered the tent. 9 Whenever Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent; and the LORD would speak with Moses. 10 When all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would arise and worship, each at the entrance of his tent. 11 Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses returned to the camp, his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent.

Don’t miss that God met Moses when Moses made it a priority to meet God. If he simply “got too busy” to spend time with God – the intimate sense of God’s presence would not have continued with him. God would not have left, but His presence would not be felt in the same way. Moses needed to meet with God, and the people needed to know that Moses was meeting with God. The passage is clear to state that people knew what he was doing. The people needed to see the importance of that work of intercession as much as Moses needed to do it. Intimacy with God must be cultivated in the quiet time with Him, or the leader, in the public time before others, will show waning strength. Many believers and many Christian leaders do not need more vacation from ministry – they need more deliberate time with God.

The Sound of the request:

Step into the tent, and listen to the private time between God and Moses. God decided to reveal what was said inside that personal space. The argument of Moses with God may have been inserted into the narrative by Joshua after Moses was gone – a point that may be the purpose of 33:11, and the place of Joshua. Moses argued openly with God: Exodus 33:12 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.

Moses sought God’s presence. He openly stated that it was HIS NEED. God saw the heart of one who knew the work was TOO BIG FOR HIM. In the sound of the request is the noise of deep humility. Moses knew he had to have God’s daily presence manifest before Him, over and over. Such a hunger pronounced Moses’ sense of God reliance. The last words of verse fifteen say it all: “If you aren’t going, let’s all stay!” Is that the sound of today’s Christian leader? I suspect not…

  • Our world celebrates self reliance. God’s Word celebrates God dependence.
  • Our world champions the self made leader. God’s Word champions the one made complete by God in the face of their personal weakness.
  • Our world invites men and women to think more highly of themselves. God’s Word pushes men and women into self doubt that leads to God trust.

Our world has produced the leaders of our modern church – a self dependent and self acknowledged lot, filled with confidence in the place where the Spirit of God longs to reign – in our own hearts. His intimacy is chased out of a heart filled with self-confidence.

The Sign in the request:

Here is the big truth of this whole account: The world will know we are His disciples by the mark of His very presence they see in us. Exodus 33:16 “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?”

When we sing: “They will know we are Christians by our love!” we must be careful that we don’t misspeak. In a world that interprets God’s love as their personal fulfillment and delight in this life – they can conclude that LOVE is actually the satiating of their desires. God’s view of love is that which is based on TRUTH and not DECEPTION. The people of God should be marked with the PRESENCE OF A HOLY GOD Who is cheerfully reflected in their loving demeanor and commitment to please Him. That is the LOVE of God’s Word. Unfortunately, LOVE in many modern Christian circles is now a “catch word” for the Biblical definition of LUST in the Bible. A generation ago, songs on the radio confused LUST with LOVE – now a generation of Christians is doing the same.

The simple truth is this: God’s presence marks obedient believers powerfully, and they have His manifest presence in their daily lives because they take the time to access it.

Truth Four: Companionship is honored by a definite response

We have said it many times and in many ways: God meets men who want to meet Him. He moves toward those who move toward Him! Moses had a heart to KNOW God, to walk in daily intimacy with God. You cannot read these words any other way: Exodus 33:17 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.”

God heard Moses’ words, but more than that He saw Moses heart. God didn’t leave Moses hungering – that isn’t His way. If we hunger for Him – He meets us where we stand.  I want to echo the words of John Piper with his statement: ‘The weakness of our hunger for God is not because he is unsavory, but because we “keep ourselves stuffed with other things”’.

Brothers and sisters, when we are not hungry, we do not seek Him. When we do not seek Him, we do not hear His mighty by gentle voice say:

  • I will come with you this week. You are favored and loved by Me.

  • I know your name, your trials, your pains, your uncertainties – and you can lean on Me.

  • I recognize the size of your journey and the strains it has placed upon you – and I will sit with you. I will smile at you.

  • I feel your awkwardness as you move through the room. Come! There is a place beside Me.

You will never open your heart to God, and have Him leave you standing there wanting. His Word is clear: “Draw near to Me, and I will draw near to you!” (cp. James 4:8).