This week’s Torah portion contains my most beloved passage of the entire Bible–the story of Moses being hid in the cleft of the rock! For some context of what had just happened in Moses’ life and journey with God, Moses had just led the children of Israel out of Egypt. Moses got to stand still and watch the salvation of the Lord through the parting of the Red Sea and then he got to go up on the mountain the first time and had this incredible experience with the Lord by receiving the first set of stone tablets!
My heart would be elated at this point! All these intimate encounters with the King of the Universe– The One whose very presence heals ALL wounds!
But there was obviously more to come!
Moses goes out to the tent of meeting and intercedes on behalf of these people who betrayed him, their deliverer, Moses, but Moses needs some reassuring of what he is supposed to do next.
At this point, I’m sure Moses’ efforts feel defeated because of the rebellion and lack of faith in these people’s hearts being played out in the form of idolatry.
So, as a weary lover returns to her bride, worn out and upset, YHVH tells Moses in Ex. 33:5,
For the LORD had said to Moses, “Say to the people of Israel, ‘You are a stiff-necked people; if for a single moment I should go up among you, I would consume you. So now take off your ornaments, that I may know what to do with you.’”
It’s clear YHVH is upset. He makes sure that his people are stripped of all things beautiful just so that He can figure out what to do with them!
But Moses is at a crossroads. He doesn’t quite know what YHVH wants him do with these people. It’s a solemn time for Israel. They just got caught “playing the whore” with the golden calf. So Moses goes into the tent of meeting on behalf of them all.
Exodus 33:12-16 records it as such:
Moses said to the Lord, “See, you say to me, ‘Bring up this people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” And he said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” And he said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?”
Moses seemed uncertain at this point. He specifically asked YHVH to manifest His favor towards him. After all God did through Moses, Moses still needed reassuring! (The power of humility keeps us going back to God instead of thinking we can do it on our own! Love it!)
And then the most tender moment, in my opinion, of the entire Bible is recorded!
God responds with these five sentences. Five sentences that would indeed change everything about me and the course of my life as I am sure it did with Moses.
And the Lord said to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.”
Moses said, “Please show me your glory.”
And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘יהוה.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.
But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.” (Exodus 33:17-22)
Talk about sweetness! By the way, it’s interesting that he speaks “five” sentences to Moses here as five is a symbol of divine grace in time of war. Think David and his five smooth pebbles that he gathered to kill Goliath!
When YHVH affectionately tells Moses, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”
My heart melts. The whole “I will cover you with my hand” is just swoon-worthy!
In Hebrew/Biblical thought, this word, סָכַך (sakak) “covering,” is meant to signify a protector from the harsh elements. In fact the word is used in Nahum 2:5 describing the coming destruction of Nineveh.
He remembers his officers;
they stumble as they go,
they hasten to the wall;
the siege tower is set up.
The word for “tower” there is the participle form of “sokek,” according to the Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (Pg. 624). Remember, He is our Strong Tower that never moves, never changes!
God shows such compassionate concern for Moses that He wants to make sure that Moses is covered from even God Himself, because no one can see YHVH’s face and live!
Eagerly, I read on, looking forward to the description of what it was like to experience God like this and the next chapter opens with “Now the Lord said to Moses, ‘Cut for yourself two tablets of stone.'” (Ex 34:1)
I’m intrigued, but somewhat let down at this point! There is no description of what it was like for Moses to have experienced the glory of the Lord like no one else had on this planet!
Absolutely no description!
I had no intention of mentioning this, but the correlation is too strong not to. But it reminds me of the time I got to meet Dr. Carson and exchange a few words with him. My best friend asked me, “So, what was it like? What was the experience like to meet him?”
She wanted to know what it felt like, naturally! So I told her. I explained what his presence was like and I will explain it here in case you want to know.
Dr. Carson is polite, but many confuse this attribute for merely being a “nice guy.” Sorry, but “nice” isn’t the word I would use to describe him.
Is he nice? Yes . . but there is so much more.
Dr. Carson is kind, yet there is something about him that carries a protective force unseen. There is a weight to him that is formidable. His sincere care for others is warmly inviting, but there is truly more there than just “nice.” He isn’t someone you want to cross wrongly, as a bear with her cubs. When Dr. Carson gave a me a side hug as we posed for a picture, it felt like being under the hedge of a protective wing. There was safety and trust, not just a PR photo op.
I’ve had the opportunity to meet a few famous people throughout my life, some in positions of power, some celebrities, but I have never met anyone like Dr. Carson. There was something very special about him, like meeting a brother. But not just any brother, more like meeting a renowned leader like a David or Moses!
So, for us to read that intimate exchange between Moses and YHVH and then to have zero mention of the description, leaves much to the imagination and open to personal experience. Much like a veil being closed on the first kiss of newly wed couple, too sacred to show what happens next.
And maybe that’s exactly what it is–a veil, a covering–only to be entered into with fullness of love and loyalty to the God of all power. I can only imagine, in my most intimate times with God, to have the fullness of His presence and not perish. To be humble and loose-necked enough for YHVH to pass me with His glory!
And if it does happen, I will be sure to describe it to the best of my ability, if the Lord should allow it!
©Olivia Reid, 2016
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Photo credit: “Moses in the Rock,” Oil on Canvas by Jack Baumgartner
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