Moses: Be Still And Know That I Am God
During the wilderness journey, the rebellious nation of Israel built their golden calf, but then they had to face God’s discipline. Death came to three thousand men (Ex. 32:28b), but the judgment of God was stayed. Although Moses begged for the sin of the people to be placed upon himself, the Lord refused this request. Moses could not be God’s substitute for sin. That was reserved for Christ, who would come hundreds of years later. Even though Moses was a type of the Savior, he was not the promised One.
The command came to move out. They were on a pilgrim journey. ”Therefore now go, lead the people unto the place of which I have spoken unto thee; behold, mine angel shall go before thee: nevertheless in the day when I visit, I will visit their sin upon them” (Ex. 32:34). The judgment of sin was God’s problem. It was not to interfere with His program for the people. Although He had punished the guilty Israelites, the journey was to continue. God’s plans could not be foiled by sinful man.
Moses, however, was not ready to continue the journey, even though he had been commanded to move on. He knew he was leading people who were extremely rebellious, and, therefore, he wanted to stay where he was. The golden calf incident had shaken him, and he needed reassurance from the Lord. Although he trusted the Lord, he had lost confidence in the people.
The first reassurance was given to Moses in a short series of commands: “go, lead the people” (Ex. 32:34a); “Depart, and go up from here, thou and the people whom thou hast brought up out of the land of Egypt” (Ex. 33:1). Now that God promised He would send an angel before him and drive out their enemies, the Israelites stripped themselves of their ornaments, a sign of deep humility. According to the Jewish interpretation of Exodus 33:6, they stripped themselves of their jewelry from Mount Horeb onward. No longer did they wear gold and silver ornaments. God had judged them for their use of these materials to build the calf. Many feel this is how Moses so easily received the gold, silver and brass in the offering given to build the Tabernacle. It was much easier for them to surrender it after having been chastised by the Lord.
Moses still was not satisfied. He knew the rebellious hearts of the people and wanted more assurance from the Lord. The Scripture declares, “And Moses took the tabernacle, and pitched it outside the camp, afar off from the camp, and called it the tabernacle of the congregation. And it came to pass that every one who sought the LORD went out unto the tabernacle of the congregation, which was outside the camp” (Ex. 33:7).
First, this could not have been the Tabernacle as we know it. It was not yet in operation, and the offering of silver and gold for its construction had not been taken. That did not take place until later (Ex. 35:4-29).
In all probability, the tent of the congregation mentioned in this context was Moses’ own tent. It is better called “the tent of meeting.” Moses could no longer fellowship with God inside the camp, since it had been defiled by idolatry. With no Tabernacle in the midst of Israel, Moses must have taken his own tent or made another and pitched it outside the camp so that he and others could worship there.
As Moses entered this tent to worship, the cloudy pillar descended, and the Lord talked with him. He talked to Moses as friend with friend. The godly people of the camp stood by, watching from the entrances of their tents in amazement. They worshiped the Lord once again.
Even at this point, the Lord gave a prediction concerning the future. It is very clearly pointed out that a young man – Joshua, the son of Nun – did not depart out of the Tabernacle (Ex. 33:11). Even in his youth, his heart was in the right place. God was preparing the future leader of the Jews at an early stage in his life.
Still, Moses was not satisfied to lead this group of people. He literally begged the Lord for a VISION, “and he said, I beseech thee, show me thy glory” (Ex. 33:18). Finally, the Lord agreed to grant Moses a portion of his request. The Lord promised to allow His goodness to pass before Moses: “And he said, Thou canst not see my face; for there shall no man see me, and live” (Ex. 33:20). Moses was directed to stand upon a rock. The Lord then put him in a cleft of the rock and covered him with His hand as His glory passed by. As the Lord moved before Moses, His hand was removed and he saw His back (Ex. 33:21-23).
Moses had already seen the glory of God at Sinai (Ex. 24:16-18). Why should he want to see it again? Because sin had entered the camp, and he was not certain that the Lord really wanted to lead the children of Israel. God had wanted to blot them out. The intercession of this one born in Egypt had spared Israel. Should he really go on? “Truly Sinai at its worst with God was better than Canaan at its best without Him.” Perhaps, Moses thought, they should stay where they were and allow the situation to remain status quo.
Moses was again called up to Mount Sinai where he was alone before God. There he was commissioned to hew two more tablets of stone like the first ones. He had a job to do for the Lord (Ex. 34:1).
Moses was obedient. The Lord came to him again on the mount, and Moses worshiped Him. As the Lord revealed Himself to the leader of the Jews, He promised to do marvels such as had not been done in all the earth (Ex. 34:10). If Moses and the Israelites displayed faithful obedience, the Lord would drive the enemies out of the Promised Land in a remarkable way. The idols of the enemy would be destroyed, lest the children of Israel follow after them as they did the golden calf.
For the second time, Moses spent forty days and nights alone with the Lord. He was reminded there of the feasts and Sabbaths that were to be kept.
When he finally came down from this mountaintop experience, he was totally unaware that his face shone. Moses had been with God, and some of His glory was left behind on the face of Israel’s leader. To speak with the people, he had to wear a veil.
Before leading the Israelites on, Moses had to face two major hurdles. The Tabernacle had to be built. An offering had to be taken to finalize the work. Construction had to be done, and God had to bless with His shekinah glory.
The second thing needed was the establishment of all the sacrifices and offerings given in Leviticus. All of these were designed to portray the person and work of Christ (Lev. 23). Regulatory laws had to be given before the people could move on, and the order of the camp was established. God wanted everything perfect before the journey resumed.
The remainder of the Book of Exodus digresses from the wilderness journey per se to give detailed instructions concerning the exact manner of the construction of the Tabernacle. An offering was taken to provide many of the materials needed. The workmen set about their assigned tasks, and finally all was completed.
”Then a cloud covered the tent of the congregation, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle” (Ex. 40:34). God set His seal of approval on the Tabernacle, visibly showing His presence with the children of Israel through a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Ex. 40:38).
The Sacrifices And The Priesthood
Now, we might reason, the journey would resume. But God was not ready for this yet. Several more things had to be carefully spelled out to the Israelites. Since the Tabernacle was operational, the sacrificial system with all of its portrayals had to be conveyed to Moses and the people. The Lord carefully described each sacrifice with all of its details. The priesthood, with all of its duties and restrictions, was developed. Dietary laws were laid down. Various diseases and their cleansings were prescribed. Feasts were given, immorality was dealt with and many tiny details were spelled out.
When all this was completed, we would tend to think that then the journey would resume. After all, they were headed to the Promised Land. Haste was of the essence to these pilgrims and strangers. They were tired of the wilderness and the manna and wanted to get to their homeland.
The Numbering Of The People
A journey that should have been brief was going nowhere. They were still sitting in the Sinai. It was already the beginning of the second month of the second year. Surely they would move on now. But, no, the Lord had some more things to take care of first. God gave instructions that the people were to be numbered. A census had to be carefully taken, and every tribe and family had to be counted.
After all this was completed, it was time to move on. “And it came to pass on the twentieth day of the second month, in the second year, that the cloud was taken up from off the tabernacle of the testimony. And the children of Israel took their journeys out of the wilderness of Sinai” (Num. 10:11-12a). They were finally on the move again. But, even then it was only a brief journey. They moved from the Wilderness of Sinai to the Wilderness of Paran. This was hardly what they expected.
God had to further prepare this rebellious people. They thought they were ready to go into the Promised Land, but they still were not ready to trust the Lord. Moses had to get a clearer picture of the Lord, and God had to teach the people more of Himself. The Tabernacle, the laws, the sacrifices, the priesthood and even the numbering were all preparatory.
With all of these events, we can see how sinful man is. The children of Israel would fall flat on their faces whether they stayed in one place or God moved them on. With all their high expectations and desires, this generation, and even Moses himself, would never get into the Promised Land. No matter how much the Lord tried to teach them, they could not learn to ”Be still, and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10).
So often when people come to Christ, they are “off to the races.” Life becomes one big jumble of service for the Lord. Some churches even promote this lifestyle. Service is stressed so much that there is little time for anything else. There certainly is room for service, but there is so much more.
Many times we are somewhat like the children of Israel. There is such a rush to “do” that we lose the ability to ”Be still, and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10). When we fail to really know Him, we are ready for a fall. Life becomes a burden, the Lord’s work becomes impossible, and we become casualties. We desperately need to learn some basic lessons from the Lord before we, like Israel, fail.
- Statement by Merrill Unger as quoted in Old Testament Commentary, Exodus, Alleman and Flack, p. 24.