18And he said, “Please, show me Your glory.” 19Then He said, “I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” (Exodus 33:18–19 NKJV)
Moses makes one of the most bold and amazing requests in Exodus 33:18-19. Imagine asking the God of the Exodus who has crippled the most powerful nation on earth and terrified the nation of Israel with manifestations of His presence that you want to see even more of His glory. What gave Moses this kind of boldness? The answer is found in Exodus 33:17.
17So the Lord said to Moses, “I will also do this thing that you have spoken; for you have found grace in My sight, and I know you by name.” (Exodus 33:17 NKJV)
In Exodus 33 Moses was wrestling in intercession for the future of the nation of Israel. Israel had just engaged in idolatry through the worship of the golden calf. Because of idolatry they were under judgment and God’s presence could not go up with them. To resolve this predicament, Moses put his favor with God on the line to secure a measure of the presence of God with Israel going to far as to claim that it was only God’s presence that set Israel apart from the other nations (Exodus 33:15-16). In Moses intercession in Exodus 33:7-16 there is one clear theme and it is God’s presence. Moses meets outside the camp so that he can be near God’s presence (Exodus 33:7-11), and he refuses to lead the people without God’s presence (Exodus 33:12, 15).
This brings us back to Exodus 33:17-19. In verse 17 Moses receives the affirmation from God that he indeed does have favor with God, that God relates personally to him, and that this intimacy has secured Moses’ answer. It is important to see what Moses does with this affirmation of God’s favor. Moses leverages all his favor with God for one daring request – he wants to see more of God.
When Israel heard God’s voice on the mountain they were terrified and shrank back in fear that they would die if they heard more of God’s voice (Exodus 20:19). Even on that day, the people shrank back in fear, but Moses drew near in fascination. The voice that terrorized the people could not terrorize Moses. He pressed even closer. Could he see more? Could he hear more? He still wants to see what men cannot gaze at and live. He is fascinated by God’s person and the terror of God’s full person is no match for the longing to see more of God. Fascination and fear form a river of pleasure so strong that Moses asked daringly to see more of God.
Moses leveraged all his favor with God for one daring request – he wanted to see more of God. The terror of God’s full person was no match for the burning fascination in Moses’ heart to know God.
For a split second Moses waits for a reply. Like Esther, he has leveraged his favor and made a bold request. What will the King answer? God’s thunderous voice breaks the silence and give Moses the reply he was longing for:
19Then He said, “I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” 20But He said, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.” (Exodus 33:19–20 NKJV)
God will show Moses as much of His glory as Moses can stand. He will be gracious to Moses and answer the cry of his heart. He will keep Moses on the edge of experiencing God’s manifest presence and yet living. Moses will be fascinated with as much of God’s glory as he can endure, but kept alive.
Moses leveraged his position with God for one thing – the knowledge of God. So often we seek to leverage our favor with God to get Him to do things for us. Many of these things are noble and many are sadly carnal. Asking of God is not, in and of itself, wrong. God invites us to petition Him and Jesus invited us to use His name and His favor with God to make our petitions before God. However, at the end of every petition, every thing we want God to do, there is one purpose for our favor with God- it is to be used so that we can experience the knowledge of God. This was Jesus’ summary of eternal life.
3And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. (John 17:3 NKJV)
Perhaps Moses is a pattern for our own intercession. Perhaps our prayers are uncomfortably revealing of what our hearts really long for. Do we ultimately long for what God can do for us, or is our deepest longing simply God Himself? Moses used his favor to secure what was necessary for Israel’s survival, but when the petition was answered, he asked the longing of His heart: at the risk of death, he wanted to see more of God. He wanted intimacy with the most glorious, wonderful, terrifying person. There is an unending exhilarating pleasure in God’s person that can never be experienced in what God does, it can only be experienced and satisfied in who God is.