Seeing the Glory of the Lord (Exodus 33:18-23)
A few years ago, my family and I traveled to Sweetwater, Tennessee, to witness a total solar eclipse. I have never seen anything comparable to that eclipse in my life. When the moon totally blocked the sun, the sun’s corona was visible against a dark sky. I must confess that I got quite emotional—honestly, I cried. There was one phrase that I kept repeating over and over—“Oh, my God!”—not in disrespect and not flippantly. But it was an amazing moment to see the beauty of God’s creation.
You, no doubt, have had your breath taken away by the majesty of God’s creation. A meteor shower. Looking at the planets through a telescope. Standing at Niagara Falls or the Grand Canyon. Seeing the Blue Ridge or Rocky Mountains. When you see the beauty of God’s creation, you are seeing a small part of God’s glory—“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Ps 19:1).
Imagine, however, that you didn’t simply see God’s glory in creation, but you saw God in all his glory. In this morning’s text, that’s what Moses asks. He says at verse 18: “Now show me your glory.” The Israelites as a whole had seen God’s glory. Moses and Aaron called the people together; while Aaron was speaking, “[the people] looked toward the desert, and there was the glory of the LORD appearing in the cloud” (Ex 16:10).
But Moses is asking for something more. He has been called by God to lead the Israelites from Egypt to Canaan, and he’s struggling with that enormous task. Notice the conversation he has with God in Exodus 33:12-17. Moses needs help; Moses needs assurance; Moses needs confidence. He, therefore, asks for God to manifest his glory.
But God can’t do everything Moses asks. I believe God would have been more than happy to fulfill Moses’ wish, but, you see, “God’s glory is too great for mortal man.”
Scripture (Exodus 33:18-23)
Moses has asked to see God’s glory, but God responds by telling Moses who he is.
God would cause his goodness to pass in front of Moses, and he would proclaim his name—Yahweh—in his presence. Yahweh (or LORD with all caps in most translations) is how God first revealed himself to Moses at the burning bush—“God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: “I AM has sent me to you”’” (Ex 3:14). As Moses is leading the people of God to Canaan, he needs to understand that God is the I AM, the Eternal One. In the previous chapter, the people had built a golden calf, but that isn’t who God is—he’s no idol; he’s the Eternal One, Yahweh.
God would have mercy on whom he will have mercy and compassion on whom he will have compassion. Calvinists love this passage to talk about predestination, but that completely ignores the context—The people constructed that golden calf, and, to prevent God’s completely destroying the people, Moses reminds God that the Israelites are his special people (Ex 32:9ff). God showed the Israelites mercy and compassion because he set his special love upon them—Deuteronomy 7:7-8.
Moses could not see the Lord’s face, for no one could see him and live. Several—e.g., Moses and Isaiah—saw representations of God, but they were not able to see God himself. “God’s glory is too great for mortal man.”
God would protect Moses in the cleft of the rock. God would protect his servant. We see here God’s care for his servant and his protection of Moses.
“God’s glory is too great for mortal man.” However, do we, like Moses, not wish to see God’s glory? One of the blessed wonders of heaven is that we shall see God in all his glory: “We know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 Jn 3:1). How can we “see him as he is” today?
You see Jesus.
Jesus came to this earth, in part, to reveal God’s great glory.
- “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. . . . No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known” (Jn 1:14, 18).
- At the Transfiguration, “Peter and his companions were very sleepy, but when they became fully awake, they saw his glory and the two men standing with him” (Lk 9:32).
- Jesus could reveal God’s glory, for Jesus has always had glory: “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began” (Jn 17:5).
Today, God will not hide us in the cleft of the rock and show us his glory, but we can look to Jesus and see God’s glory. Jesus told Philip, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9). “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven” (Heb 1:3).
If we wish to see God’s glory, we can hear Jesus’s answer to John the Baptizer when John was having doubts about Jesus’s Messiahship: “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor” (Lk 7:22). As you look at the miracles Jesus did, you will see the glory of God.
Go to the Gospels and spend time reading that you might fully see as much of God’s glory as we can see. Spend time this week reading through Luke and see the miracles Jesus performed, see the diseases he healed, see the dead he brought back to life. See his compassion, see his wisdom, see God in Jesus and you will see God’s great glory.
“God’s glory is too great for mortal man.” It’s not possible for us to see God’s “raw” glory, for “no one may see [God] and live.” Yet, in the Person of Jesus Christ, God chose to reveal his glory to us mortals.
As we look to Jesus and see God’s glory, we should have the same reaction as Moses when he saw God’s glory. Exodus 34:4-8. Moses bows low before the Lord in worship and in acknowledgement that God is far greater than he. Do we really bow before God and demonstrate our recognition of his glory by the way we live?