Grasping God’s Purpose: “The Meeting” – Exodus 34

It happened this past Friday morning. I was quietly reading with wrapped attention the notes of a friend on “Facebook” that was leaving his home, probably for the last time. He was heading for hospice care after a long sixteen year battle with cancer. He was trying to find the words to say “Goodbye” to all of his friends. His race on earth, it seems, is about to be over. The sickness appears about to overcome his body, and he wanted to go out with some encouraging words one can only hear from men who have spent time gaining confidence in God’s character by learning His Word and talking with Him about serious life issues.

As I read my friend’s words, he reminded me of an important truth: No man dare meet God the first time at death. We can meet Him now, and know Him now – so that when we stand in His presence, we will experience the a warm embrace of a Savior and not the stern face of a judge. The choice is ours. All of us face death – but believers face death as a change of address from pain to promise, from uncertainty to assured fulfillment. You can hear it in our voices. We know this physical body is not our end, and its demise is our beginning.

The simple fact of living on a fallen planet in a body that betrays us more each day is this: Life down here can beat us down. It is for that very reason God led a man, long ago, through the desert – and kept a precious record of his struggles and failures. The arduous task of leading the children of Israel into to a land of promise, along with the trials of the more than thirty-eight years of heat and exhaustion culminated in the view of the promised land that God granted them. Life was difficult on the way – but Moses’ story was not just about the difficulty of the journey, but about navigating successfully a tough walk and arriving at God’s promised destination with the Lord as both his Master and his loving companion.

Today I want to look at the meeting of God and man. The context is important – for many of us met God at a point when we suspected we could soon break. Moses came to a place in his walk, very early in the leadership in the desert when the pressure of leading the people became overwhelming. The people whined, cheated on God, and seemed to lack any sense of common destiny. They were easily distracted and just as a easily placated. They thought as slaves – happy to have the next meal provided and the next mountain surveyed. They followed unless it was uncomfortable. Moses was wearing out and running on his last nerve, and they weren’t that far from Egypt yet. In frustration, and as a response to God’s Word that the Lord would send a “stand in” to travel with them (an angel) Moses begged God to meet Him face to face. Our text in Exodus 34, is God’s response. God met with Moses. The encounter changed his life – as it always does when one truly meets God at the point of desperation. Our story reveals an answer to at least three important questions:

  • First, what was required to be in such an audience?
  • Second, what did God reveal about Himself there?
  • Finally, what was God’s chief concern when they met?

Here is the point of the story: Fake meetings with God just won’t do when troubles are real. We need a time with Him that grips our lives and moves us deeply into His arms.

Key Principle: God wants to meet with us, to share Himself with us, and to reveal the dangerous places that lay about us.

Real believers MEET God, and the change God makes in them impacts their world. Don’t forget – real diamonds can cut glass. The reality of true diamonds is seen in the mark they make. So also, real Christianity is shown in the mark that God makes in our personal encounters with Him.

How should I come to God for a REAL MEETING? What is REQUIRED by God for such a meeting? Look closely at the text:

First, we come with a knowledge of our sin. Exodus 34:1 Now the LORD said to Moses, “Cut out for yourself two stone tablets like the former ones, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets which you shattered. When Moses wanted to come to God, it was with full knowledge of his sins of the past, but a hopefulness of a new future. God told him to cut stones to replace the ones he broke out of anger. That was WRONG. It was SIN. The reminder was necessary – because God doesn’t meet the arrogant. He hates prides and resists the proud heart. Self sufficiency is the opposite of longing for God.

There is a hunger in the human heart:

  • To be a part of something grand, something more important than the mundane life many of us live in.
  • To be loved by someone that sees us as incredibly valuable.
  • To know our origin, our purpose, and our destiny.

It is worth noting that an intimate knowledge of God provides food for all of these hungers like nothing else will.  Jeremiah 9:23 reminds us: Thus says the LORD, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; 24 but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD..

Today, I promise you it is worth taking the time to get to know Him better. He will make you a part of an incredible journey, wrap His arms around you and draw you into His love, and show you how you fit in bringing about the great destiny He has planned!

Second, we come on God’s terms. Exodus 34”2 “So be ready by morning, and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai, and present yourself there to Me on the top of the mountain. When Moses came, it was on God’s timing, with God’s instruction. Note that God called to Moses – because God wanted to re-initiate time together. Moses didn’t crawl through slop or beat himself in penance, but he knew he was wrong. He knew he didn’t deserve time with God – and that sense of personal failure and sinfulness was not destructive when it led him back to God. We have been raised in a generation so afraid to damage our self worth that we have missed the blessing of conviction. When you ache because you have been wrong – it is a gift to drive you back to the Savior’s arms. The difference between CONDEMNATION and CONVICTION is where it leads you. One leads you to withdraw from God, the other draws you tearfully back to His embrace as you look into His eyes for forgiveness.

Third, we come privately. Exodus 34:3 “No man is to come up with you, nor let any man be seen anywhere on the mountain; even the flocks and the herds may not graze in front of that mountain.” When Moses approached God, he came as privately – and it was not a show for others. Walking an aisle in a church service isn’t the only way to meet God – and often it isn’t even the BEST way. What God is looking for is the intimate and personal experience of your heart quietly surrendered – particularly in issues you may have never shared with another person. This is why I argue that we are a generation too quick to ask for counsel, and too slow to pray sincerely about our issues. God urged Moses to come privately and personally – with no grandstanding and no fanfare.

Fourth, we come with the intent to embrace Him. Moses didn’t come to bargain with God or re-shape His thinking – just to worship and celebrate Him. Exodus 34:4 So he cut out two stone tablets like the former ones, and Moses rose up early in the morning and went up to Mount Sinai, as the LORD had commanded him, and he took two stone tablets in his hand. 5 The LORD descended in the cloud and stood there with him as he called upon the name of the LORD. Note the meeting was preceded by OBEDIENCE to God’s command – because that is a requirement God will not breach. If we understand that He is God and we are not – we come in obedience to Him – not as an equal. This was WORSHIP – not COUNSEL.

I get concerned with the number of people who were raised with the Dr. Spock popular notion that they should only feel the need to obey in commands they feel they completely understand. In the world we live in, often heard are the voices of those who think the rules don’t apply to them, because they don’t see any real negative impact to their disobedience. The truth is this: We disrespect God’s position and offend His PERSON, when we try to negotiate out of obedience. Believers need to be very concerned about the way we handle God’s Word and God’s person. We dare not think that because He calls Himself my friend, that I am therefore His equal or His counselor – I am not, and I never will be. The friendship exists because He stoops down to me, not because I have such a stature as to look Him in the eye where I stand.

Fifth, we come to hear Him speak the truth. For the moment, listen to the words God proclaimed about Himself as He met with Moses. Exodus 34:6 Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; 7 who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.”

  • He began with a word about HIS EXISTENCE. God said: “LORD”: I AM THE “I AM” (Yahweh). God began with the open statement that He is the I Am… The beginning of wisdom is the reverence of the Lord, and the beginning of reverence is belief that He is exactly Who He claims to be. God states that He IS before He states what He has done. You can know Him by observing what He has done. He is a PERSON, not an obscure force or idea – intellect, emotion and will.
  • He continued with a word about HIS ABILITY. I Am the Strong and Mighty (Yahweh El). I Am the One Who is Able to perform any reality consistent with My nature that I desire to perform. (Jer. 32: “Is there anything too difficult for thee?”; Mt. 19:26 “All things are possible”).

That reminds me of the classroom where the professor was suggesting the Bible was mythology and the understanding of the students was shrouded in mythical understanding. The Western Civilization professor told the students: “Moses didn’t cross the Red Sea, it was the “sea of reeds” – so it was really no big deal. It was probably only 5” in depth!” A student shouted out from the back of the class: “What a miracle! The Egyptian forces drowned in 5” of water!”

People try to rationalize the POWER of God. Remember that He speaks the truth, and He claims He is able… Because of that truth: I dare to pray for the humanly impossible (not the spuriously ridiculous) because my God can do it!…When I am whipped or tired, I can crawl to Him, and He is not tired! He will watch over us when we admit we cannot watch over ourselves!…In regards to my enemy, I have the greater power with me!

  • He offered nine character statements about HIS NATURE.

I Am (NASB:Compassionate) Tender (Rachoom; tender), just as David reminds us in Psalm 57:10 For your mercy is great to the heavens! (At the time of David hiding in the caves of 1 Sam. 24).

I Am Gracious (Hanoon: compassionate; showing special favor or pity). Mary knew this in the Magnificat: Lk. 1:50: And His mercy is on them that fear Him from generation to generation.

I Am Longsuffering (Awrake Aphim: long nosed; slow to flare up). This causes me to understand God’s goodness without becoming presumptuous, or believing that God didn’t notice my sin.

I Am Abundant in Goodness (6b: V’rav chesed v’emet: and full of many covenant faithfulnesses). God is unending in His eternally good nature. (Ps 90: “From everlasting to everlasting..”) If I can do it, it is no fun for God! I can live beyond my nature, resolutions, abilities, for my life is in Him, and He is eternally faithful and good!

I Am Abundant in Truth (6b: v’emet: stability, sure foundation, reliable). God is the foundation everywhere, but is not manifest everywhere! People go to church to find God, He is not AT a place, He is always near. No point close to God than any other on the planet, but people closer and farther away!

I Keep Mercy for thousands (7: Nawtsar chesed: guarding my faithful loves). God is always looking out for His own, He is never in a bad mood for He does not change (Mal. 3:16 “I CHANGE NOT”).

I forgive iniquity, transgression and sin (7: nassaw awvone v’peshah v’ chata’ah: lifting the guilt; rebellion and those who missed the mark). You have NO skeletons in your closet that God doesn’t know!

I do not clear the guilty (7b: v’neqa lo : not clear defiant ones) God’s love does not blind Him to those who choose rebellion. He is a realist. ONE SIN kept Adam out of the garden (the blessing); ONE SIN kept Moses out of the land (his blessing). God loves you so He takes sin seriously. (Ps. 66:18 If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me!”)

I visit the iniquity up on the children (7b: y’neqa pikaad awvone: and reckon or factor that guilty defiance on the children). The sins of Abraham gave us a world wide conflict. Even though God loved him, He did not erase the effect of his sin, nor that of Adam, nor that of any man.

Stop for a moment and think about what God said about His own character. He isn’t hard, He is tender toward you. He isn’t impressed with your position, He cares for those no one else even sees. He isn’t rash – He puts up with a great deal before He steps in. He isn’t mean-spirited, for His nature is ever filled with goodness. He isn’t duplicitous, for His word is absolutely reliable. He isn’t negligent, for He stands constant guard over those who have entrusted themselves to His care. He isn’t grudging, for His forgiveness flows openly to those whose heart is softened and yielded. He also isn’t blind – He will draw us to Himself in loving compassion, but the results of our rebellion will outlive us.

Men and women, America needs to hear about the true character of the living God. The made up Hallmark cosmic do-gooder has supplanted the image of the True Creator across our land. The man-made God of indulgence – who gives me what I want with no view to how I act is NOT the God of the Bible. America is starving for the truth today – nibbling away at the husks of a self-made God that is not only morally ambiguous, but incredibly impotent. A God who can be shaped offers a morality that can be popularly changed – but His flimsy and whimsical frame cannot hold a struggling nation from the toppling over the edge. America needs to return to the God our fathers laid the foundations of government upon. Their reverence for an unbending moral uprightness based on humbled hearts toward our Creator must again fill our community centers, our courtrooms, our churches and our commercial establishments – or America will collapse into tyranny. Do not pass by God’s description without pausing and asking this important question:

If this is Who God is, am I living as though He is my God?

When we come to Him, we must come with a knowledge of our sin, we must come on His terms, we must come intimately , privately and wholly to Him. We must come to worship and to listen. When these things happen, there will be a responses as natural as breathing…

First, we will recognize how great He truly is. Moses couldn’t stand before God – he fell down to the earth. It was the right thing to do. Exodus 34:8 Moses made haste to bow low toward the earth and worship. We saw it with Daniel, who fell as a dead man at the feet of the Great I Am. We saw it with John in Revelation when he beheld the Risen Savior in His glory. At the foot of the Master, our lives will be changed. Our attitudes will be adjusted. Our standards, our goals and our longings will be changed…

The German artist “Dannaker” was known for his painstaking work on his sculpture. For two years he worked on his famous statue of Christ. When he felt he was finished he called to some children playing outside his studio and asked one of them to come in and evaluate his work. “Who is that?” he asked. The little girl prompt replied “A great man.” That reply struck at his heart, for he wanted a work that declared the power of a Risen Savior… not just a ’great man’. So he took up his chisel and for the next 6 years he toiled to recreate the masterpiece. When he was finished, again he asked a child to come into the studio and asked again: “Who is this?” The child replied: “It’s Jesus.” And thus, Dannaker’s powerful work was declared ready for the world. The sculptor later confessed to a friend that during those long weary days of working on this sculpting, Christ had come and revealed Himself to him. He had only transferred to the marble the vision he had seen. Sometime later, Napoleon Bonaparte desired to commission Dannaker to sculpt a statue of Venus for the Louvre. The money was good, and the employment was sure, but Dannaker refused. “A man,” he said, “who had seen Christ can never employ his gifts in carving a pagan goddess. My art is henceforth a consecrated thing.”

Second, we will become hungry for more of Him. Moses wasn’t exhausted by spending time with God – he was pleading for more of God’s presence. Exodus 34:9 He said, “If now I have found favor in Your sight, O Lord, I pray, let the Lord go along in our midst, even though the people are so obstinate, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us as Your own possession.”

Third, we will hear God’s direction clearly. Moses met the Creator of all, and God made the promise that His power would be seen uniquely by the people of Israel. Exodus 34:10 Then God said, “Behold, I am going to make a covenant. Before all your people I will perform miracles which have not been produced in all the earth nor among any of the nations; and all the people among whom you live will see the working of the LORD, for it is a fearful thing that I am going to perform with you.

God performs powerfully when men surrender wholly. We lack God’s power because we resist God’s control. We lack God’s blessing because we oppose His direction.

All that is required for the Lord to use us completely is for us to surrender to Him entirely – and that is the troubling truth of it all. Our churches are not losing to a superior message in the public square, our people are surrendering to personal desires rather than submitting to a Holy God. The future of our nation is much more determined by our personal submission to God than to our Congress, courts or chosen Commanders-in-chief. It is time for believers to stop blaming the White House and start looking to our own house. Judgment starts with the house of God. We must ask: “Am I truly walking with God? Am I praying for my neighbors? Am I lovingly sharing Jesus with those about me.” These questions are of far greater significance than some of the more distracting political posturing of our time.

Fourth, we will stop flirting with others. Moses heard from God a covenant of marriage – but God wanted fidelity in the relationships with others. Exodus 34:11 “Be sure to observe what I am commanding you this day: behold, I am going to drive out the Amorite before you, and the Canaanite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite. 12 “Watch yourself that you make no covenant with the inhabitants of the land into which you are going, or it will become a snare in your midst. 13 “But rather, you are to tear down their altars and smash their sacred pillars and cut down their Asherim 14 —for you shall not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God— 15 otherwise you might make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land and they would play the harlot with their gods and sacrifice to their gods, and someone might invite you to eat of his sacrifice, 16 and you might take some of his daughters for your sons, and his daughters might play the harlot with their gods and cause your sons also to play the harlot with their gods.

Think about what God told Moses. Don’t spend time looking at what the world wants. Don’t pattern your desires after their wants. Tear down the morally warped God defacing edifices they leave behind. Don’t eat the slop they are feeding you. Take a stand – first in your own heart, then in the public square. Don’t tolerate and play with things that can quickly gain great power over you. Is that the believer in our culture? Are we shielding ourselves from a godless pagan thinking? Are we calling our youth to a higher standard of life – or asking them to bring us a higher standard of living? I submit that some are flirting and walking the ledge of seduction, and others are seduced- engulfed in a new form of Pagan Christianity, where our prayers are canned and our power is a myth.

Fifth, we come to Him and are changed by the meeting. When Moses met with God, it showed on his face, as well as in his life! Exodus 34:28 So he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he did not eat bread or drink water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments. 29 It came about when Moses was coming down from Mount Sinai (and the two tablets of the testimony were in Moses’ hand as he was coming down from the mountain), that Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because of his speaking with Him...

Years ago, I heard a Pastor ask this question to the audience. He asked: “Do you recall HOW he changed Charlton Heston’s look to show this “God’s glory?” Heston’s hair became white and face became wiser and more mature. By today’s standards of film wizardry it looks a little odd, but it was still effective in communicating what God did in Moses’ life. Then the Pastor asked: “Now think hard again – in the movie – WHEN did Heston undergo this change? Do you remember?” The director of the movie made the appearance change when he met God at the burning bush. But that’s not what the Bible tells us. It didn’t happen at the bush… Moses took on “God’s glory” after the 2nd giving of the law – after he trekked up the mountain a 2nd time to receive a copy of God’s commandments to replace the ones he broke earlier. This change took place at the 2nd giving of the law, not the first. Why would Moses change now? I believe the difference took place because Moses had changed from an attitude of “getting by” to one of “getting real“.

Consider the fact that at the Burning bush, Moses was a reluctant emissary. When he stood before Pharaoh, he was following orders. As he led the people in the first days of their desert trip Moses was always asking “What am I to do with these people?” Up this point, this whole thing wasn’t his idea. It was God’s. It’s common knowledge that kids from Christian homes, who go off to college, often lose their faith. At college, they find themselves in an entirely new world that challenges many of the standards they had grown up with – and their faith falters. Why would that happen? Frankly, it’s often because the faith they seem to lose wasn’t ever really their own. It was their parent’s faith. These children had obediently gone along with the morals and beliefs that ruled their home while they were in that place. Once they moved away, since the faith wasn’t theirs to begin with they lose it. In order to survive, they need to change from the faith of their fathers (and mothers) to a faith of their own.

Real encounters with God change people…. and we need more transformed and yielded people. There are just too many FAKES that masquerade as believers. Look on the surface, and all is well. Look carefully at the label of the ingredients of their life – values, choices, friends… and you will see IMITATION all over the place.

Normally we buy IMITATION products because we want the cheaper price… but if you know the REAL THING, you realize the imitation is simply a poorly substituted replica of something greater. We are desperate for AUTHENTIC BELIEVERS that are ENCOUNTERING GOD and being transformed. Is that YOU?

Beloved, God wants to meet with us, to share Himself with us, and to reveal the dangerous places that lay about us. Real believers are serious about MEETING God, and allowing Him to change God them. Like diamonds that cut glass – real believers are known by the mark they make. That power comes from personal encounters with God.