I remember not so long ago being at Disneyland with my family. We headed over to ‘Toon Town’, and when my girls saw the Goofy Gadget roller coaster, they both got really excited [another level higher than the excitement they already had just being at Disneyland for the first time] and wanted desperately to go on it. We got into the line, but i noticed that as we got closer to going on the actual ride, my youngest daughter began to become increasingly fearful and gripped my hand more firmly. ‘Daddy, i don’t want to go anymore!’, was her plea as we were just a few people away from getting on. I told her that b/c we were so close and had waited all this time, that she should at least give it a try, to which she said, ‘Daddy, will you please go with me? I don’t wanna go unless you come with me!’
In Exodus 33, God gives the command to Moses for he and the people to leave Sinai and begin travelling towards the promised land, but – b/c of their covenant-breaking idolatry with the golden calf – God states, “but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” Ex. 33:3 All the people, including Moses, get all freaked out and sad at this word from God, but God is like, “No way! If I spend another minute with you fools I’m gonna take you all out!” [my paraphrase] But what stands out most to me – among other things – here is Moses’ response to God as he pleads for Israel in the tent of meeting.
Here he has God’s promised land of ‘milk and honey’ before him, and God is promising to even send an angel ahead of them to drive out the other nations, so they will surely inherit the land. But Moses – having learned a few things thus far on the trip – sees the great problem with what God is saying through Him and he responds by saying these words,
“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 favour in Your sight, I and Your people? Is it not in Your going with us, so that we are distinct … from every other people on the face of the earth?”
Moses understands that even the possession of this amazing promised land that God had sworn to give to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, is not worth going into if God will not go with them. He understands that the Presence of God amoung them is infinitely more important than the simple possession of the land, to the point where he even refuses to go into it without the Presence of God going with them!
And in considering this text, it made me wonder if we couldn’t become so focused on projects and ideas and ministries in service of God, that we don’t share the understanding that Moses had in first seeking God’s presence amoung them? How many of us would be willing to sacrifice a new ministry we’ve just begun, or a job we’ve finally received, or a fiance we long to marry if – in assessing it – we saw that God was not present in it? How many of us truly begin any such endeavours with the heart of Moses here: that we will not even begin to proceed if God will not go with us? For, in many respects, the presence of God assumes both the blessing and protection of God. One example of this is seen in 1 Sam. 18:12 where the presence of God departs from Saul and rests on David; Saul realizes this and is rightly afraid, for the blessing and protection of God now clearly rests on David.
So, in Ex.33 God was saying to Moses and Israel [as well as to all of us today] – in effect – ‘Do you seek Me or My blessings? Will you refuse My blessings even if you can’t also have me, or are you ‘cool’ to just have My stuff with or without Me?’
Spurgeon speaks to this same idea in his sermon on Rev.14. Quoting Samuel Rutherford he says, “‘Heaven and Christ are the same thing“‘, and, ‘O my Lord Jesus Christ, if I could be in heaven without thee, it would be a hell; and if I could be in hell, and have thee still, it would be a heaven to me, for thou art all the heaven I want.‘” Even our own”promised land” in the life to come – let alone the blessings we pursue in this one – should not be worth having if Christ be not present there! May then this prayer of Moses be on all our lips in whatever endeavours we set out on; that we may always seek the Giver firstly and not the gift alone.