And he said, I beseech you, show me your glory.
Come, and behold in this communication, asked for and obtained by Moses —
1. The crown of the Old Covenant.
2. The mirror of the New.
3. The promise and prediction that God's glory, in its fulness, would in future be revealed.
1. The festive shouts that Israel raised in honour of the idol they first made are silent now, and the avenging sword, at Moses' prayer, is now averted from the nation's head. Only three thousand sinners have endured the righteous punishment deserved by many more — by nearly all. Moses feels himself, at last, no longer able to restrain his wish for further light: he prays the Lord to show whom He will send, and what He means to do with a nation that is still His own. Moses further states, most positively, that he would prefer to go no farther, than remain without the guidance of the Lord Himself; then, filled with joy and with astonishment, the man of God essays to take one further step, and gives expression to his heart's wish in the prayer, "Show me now Thy glory." Who shall determine what it was that Moses understood, and felt, and wished, when he employed these words? We know, of course, that ere this time he had seen much more of God's glory than all other men. The bush that burned, and yet was not consumed; the Red Sea moved out from its bed; the manna rained down from above; the arid rock changed to a source of living streams! Alone, upon the top of Sinai, and amidst most dreadful signs, he had received the law of God; moreover, with the elders of the Israelites, he had beheld the pavement which the King of Israel laid for the palace where He sits enthroned — what seemed transparent sapphire-stone (Exodus 24:9, 10). What more is it that this insatiable, this high-minded servant of the Lord desires? The Lord Himself gives answer to the question, when He (ver. 20) in so many words declares, "My face cannot be seen." That is to say, Moses has hitherto but heard the voice of Him that spake out of the cloud; now he beseeches that the veil of mystery shall be removed, and that he may be shown the face of God, beaming with heavenly light. Say not that this request comes from a narrow mind; above all, do not say that it is unbecoming and irreverent. It was the very multitude of promises which he had just received that gave him all the greater boldness to ask more, and to express a bold desire that long had slumbered in his pious soul. Up till this time the angels had been called to mediate between him and the Lord; but now he would approach the Lord directly and immediately. One aspect of that nature Moses has already looked upon, when he received the law; but he thinks there are still other aspects, hitherto concealed from him, and his spirit cannot rest till he has also looked on these. It certainly may be impossible to gratify the wish of Moses to the full. What mortal would be able to behold the face of God, and yet not be immediately consumed by the intensity of glory there revealed? Nevertheless, as far as possible, at least the spirit of this pious prayer shall be observed, though Moses shall not find it literally fulfilled. Not God's face in itself, but only the last fold seen in His royal mantle — such is the most, the only thing that He can show to any creature upon whom He will confer the highest privilege! Thus there is pointed out once more, not merely the unlawfulness, but also the absurdity of the idolatry of which the Israelites had just been guilty. The Lord Himself, by His free grace, seeks to restore the broken covenant, and to reveal Himself towards the mediator of the Old Covenant not merely as the Great Invisible, but as a God in whom compassion flows. Imagine the emotion of the man of God, and how he must have watched throughout the sleepless night for the expected hour! On Sinai, at the bush, Moses was taught to view Jehovah as the Infinite; at the giving of the Law, as the God of spotless holiness; but here, moreover, as the God of everlasting mercy. This revelation forms the bond by which God joins Himself once more to Israel; and unto Moses, as a compensation for the fact that his most earnest prayer has not been answered to the letter, there is promised the fulfilment of his earlier request — that the Lord Himself will go with the nation. Moses desires to see; but God desires, above all things, to make him hear and follow Him. But what he now hears is the grandest revelation ever made by God under the Old Economy. Truly, there is no wonder, then, that Moses tarries other forty days upon the mountain-top in heavenly ecstasy; and that his countenance beams forth with heavenly glory, when, bearing in his hands two tables made of stone, the pledge of the renewal of God's promises, he leaves the consecrated ground. Happy Moses, unto whom, at least on one occasion, it was granted, even on this side of the grave, to contemplate to such a large extent the glory of the Lord!
2. Happy Moses: are these words found on your lips too? Then surely you will joy when you remember that the privilege, accorded in those days to him, is equally attainable by every Christian now. Come, give us your attention still, while, in the revelation, viewed already as the crown and glory of the Old Economy, we also let you see the mirror of the blessings of the New. The glory of the Lord is shown us in another way, but with no less of clearness than before. Is this too strong a statement? Only look to the person of the Redeemer, the work of redemption, the guidance of the redeemed; and then see whether you have any ground for feeling envy towards Moses in his privilege. "Show me Thy glory!" It was more than a mere personal want to which Moses gave expression in this prayer. It was the wish that lived, consciously or unconsciously, within the heart of multitudes, in whose eyes this whole earth, with all its glory, was too poor and small to satisfy the deepest wish felt by the longing heart. Men felt that God — yes, God Himself — must needs appear on earth, if earth were to become a gate of heaven. "Oh that Thou wouldst rend the heavens, that Thou wouldst come down, that the mountains might flow at Thy presence!" — such was the strong expression of the feeling in the prophet's heart (Isaiah 64:1). And lo! the heavens did open when the fulness of the time had come: "The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us; and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the Only-begotten of the Father" (John 1:14). He who is very God was manifested in our human flesh: but what is here shown to Moses, viz., that God is a Spirit, God is Light, God is Love — how plainly may we read this in the Gospel, as if written there in heavenly characters, when we look to the revelation of God's glory in the Son of His love! "No man hath seen God at any time: the only-begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, He hath declared Him" (John 1:18). How God's unspotted holiness beams towards you, in Him who well can ask a friend and foe, "Which of you convinceth me of sin?" (John 8:46) who always sees the Father, just because He ever does what is well-pleasing in His eyes; who prays without ceasing, but in no case for the forgiveness of His own sins; and who awaits His being glorified, not as a favour, but an undisputed right! And the love of God: — but where shall I find words with which I may describe the love of Christ, Divine in origin and splendour, but a splendour which is tempered by its covering — a lowly, human form? But that glory does not shine forth from His works alone, nor does it merely manifest itself in what He says; it beams upon us from the splendour seen in His whole mien. And that appearance, too, exhibits as calm majesty as God does when He shows Himself to Moses here: He does not cry, nor raise His voice, nor cause it to be heard in the streets; but when we look on Him, we feel like Moses when the cloud passed by before his eyes; surely we see in Him more than the hinder portion of the royal train — we see God's greatness in the face of Him who was God of God and Light of Light, whereunto no man can approach, but who has yet come near and lived in humble servant-guise. If here the revelation given by God is made to Moses only, it is now, in Christ, bestowed upon the poorest whom the Holy Ghost has taught to see the Father in the Son. If here, through Moses, God reveals His nature to one single people, now the light arises over all the nations that but sat in the darkness heretofore; for here, "there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, barbarian nor Scythian, bond nor free, but Christ is all and in all" (Colossians 3:11). And how much more impressively that voice sounds when we venture on a second step, and meditate on God's redeeming work! What is the sin which, in God's eyes, polluted Israel, compared with the abominable sins which stand against a whole lost world — against you and me — before the God of unspotted holiness? We all deserved that God should turn away His friendly countenance from us, as from that people; and that He should not guide us by an angel, but, instead, give us the portion of the fallen ones. And yet, what is even the assurance of God's pity and His grace that Moses learned, when we compare it with the matchless fact that the Beloved of the Father dies for His worst enemies, and that God in Him not merely shows us heaven opened, but unlocks to us the heaven we forfeited? It is just here especially that we, no less than Moses, fail in finding words with which we can express our thoughts; but this we feel, that, louder far than anywhere besides on earth, the voice out of the cloud is found re-echoed from the cross. Now let us take one other look at the guidance of the redeemed, who, like Moses, found favour in the sight of God. Does it need much to show that, in this too, the glory of the Lord is seen almost at every step? But ye who are the Lord's redeemed have an experience that speaks more strongly still; for not merely do ye live by His long-suffering, but ye continue in His favour and in fellowship with Him; and ye learn by experience, like Moses, that He never puts to shame or pours contempt upon the humble prayer of faith. And surely you, too, know full many a spot, as Moses did the crevice in the rock, where you sit gladly down, there to review the way by which the Lord, in His eternal faithfulness, has thus far been conducting you? I hear you say already that the sum of your inquiries is comprised in this: the voice out of the cloud has been the voice addressed to me through all my life on earth!
3. The festive time of Moses' life becomes, lastly, to us a prophecy of the future revelation of God's eternal glory. "When you, like Moses, must depart, you should not fail in making the acknowledgment that you have seen, at least in some degree, the glory of the Lord. But that something, though we had the power to multiply it even a thousand-fold, what is it when compared with the far greater, the entire amount of what believing hearts desire? Our deepest need, our highest blessedness is, not to hear the voice of God, but to behold the Lord Himself; but that is just the very wish denied us here on earth, even as in Moses' case. Nay, more; we do not even stand, like Moses, on the top; we dwell, like Israel, scattered in tents at the foot of the mount of God's glory. "We walk by faith, not by sight": such is the motto of the New as well as of the Old Economy; and it is well for us that this grand principle is never modified. How should we ever be prepared for heaven if, in this life, the school of faith were now already closed? And what surprise of pleasure could the future bring us, if this day or yesterday beheld each enigma sufficiently explained? "How very little after all is it that I have seen!" must Moses frequently have said when he looked back upon that morning. We hope for the salvation of the Lord, but how wide the difference between the living hope and the desired enjoyment! We have moments of presentiment, of spiritual intercourse, of (I might almost say) immediate contact between the Eternal Spirit and our own; and at such times a voice comes whispering, "Thus shalt thou see hereafter." Yet something always intervenes between this heart of ours and God; He lays a covering hand upon the eyes of His most faithful worshippers, that they may not yet fully see the truth; nevertheless, they make their own conjectures with regard to it, they constantly draw nearer it, and almost seem to grasp it with their hands while they engage in prayer. So is it here; so must it be on earth; but so it will not always be. With God's hand laid upon our eyes, we grope along for days or years in deepest gloom until we reach death's vale .... then the Lord passes by before us, while the chilly breath of him who is the King of Terrors blows upon our face. "Show me now Thy glory": thus faith entreats with almost faltering lips; and never, God be thanked, did Heaven continue silent at the last prayer breathed on earth. The Lord, as it were, makes all His goodness pass once more before His dying friends, since "He is truly gracious towards those to whom He is gracious." More closely than at any time before does He approach, while He proclaims His name before us,... then He lifts His covering hand from off our eyes, and lo, we see! Come, follow me a little longer, while, in closing, we address three questions to your heart and conscience.
1. Have you, too, ever yet desired what Moses sought so eagerly? Ah! if each one of you were plainly asked, What is your chief desire? how many, nay, how few, Lord, could lay their hand upon their heart and say, I desire nothing more earnestly than living, personal communion with God! Perhaps, indeed, an evanescent wish for something higher, better, may not be unknown to many here, especially when earthly things bring disappointment, and the future is concealed from sight. And when some-times — although, of course, we are unwilling to believe this true of every one of you — the soul's necessities assert themselves, and that soul has begun to cry for God, oh, what a constant tendency there is to seek peace where it cannot possibly be found; how every kind of artifice is tried to smother heart and conscience when they cry; how frequently, like Israel at the foot of Sinai, we sit down smitten, chastised, and stripped of all that formerly adorned us, but without true penitence, without true longing after God!
2. Have you, too, already seen what Moses saw? There is no doubt of that, if you have really, by faith, beheld the Christ of God; but, on the other hand, how many are there here at whom the Lord can ask, as once at Philip, "Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known Me?" Or are there not those who are carried off by a most fatal spirit of the times, and who will not believe what they do not first understand? If you indeed desire that such a witness shall apply at least to you, do not forget that you, like Moses, must especially concern yourself with these three things — a clear eye, a pure heart, and constant prayer. The eye of faith is the organ of the soul, by which we see the glory of the Lord in Christ; and He Himself must open that for us. One little speck of dust may cause such floods of tears as to conceal the sun from you; the dust of earth but hurts the eye that would behold the glory of the Lord! Oh, how much of the carnal still remains in us to be destroyed, in order that the spirit may be truly fit for even the least amount of living fellowship with God! Like Moses, keep that festive season of your inner life in constant memory; and if Heaven hears your thanksgiving, let earth enjoy its fruits!
3. Have you already done what Moses did? The sequel of the history informs you of the earlier, but also of the later influence of what was now revealed. Bowing in deepest reverence, and well assured that he has found grace in the sight of God, the mediator of the Old Covenant repeats the prayer, "Let the Lord, I beseech thee, go among us, for this is a stiff-necked people; and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for Thine inheritance" (Exodus 34:9). Oh, What a glorious, but also blessed, calling to be like the man of God in this point too! Does it not strike you how, in pleading here for Israel, he does not speak of their sins, but of ours, and puts himself upon a level with those rebels? Now, it is true, we must, like him, descend the mount and enter the dark vale; but what is it that we can need, if but we have the Lord with us, and our whole nature, like His shining face, gives evidence of our close, friendly intercourse with God? Even as He veiled that strange, mysterious lustre from the eyes of Israel, we too must often hide, from an unholy world, the blessed mystery of our own inner life; but when we go into the solitude, and there approach God's throne of grace, how priceless is this privilege, that we believers may, like Moses, cast off every covering, and then find our refreshing in His kindly light.
(J. J. Van Oosterzee, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And he said, I beseech thee, shew me thy glory.