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19. Going Deeper with God (Exodus 33:18-34:9)

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Life of Moses (19)

July 1, 2018

Although newlyweds may not understand this, those of us who have been married for a few decades realize that romance is not totally effortless. To keep the romantic fires burning over the years requires deliberate forethought and attention.

It’s the same spiritually. To keep your relationship with the Lord fresh and vital over the long haul is not automatic. It requires forethought, effort, and constant attention. It’s easy to be lulled into complacency in your Christian life. Things, even good things, become routine: Did my quiet time (check). Went to church (check). Gave money to missionaries (check). But you’ve drifted into not actively pursuing to know God more deeply.

When the apostle Paul wrote Philippians, he had been a Christian for about 25 years. God had used him to perform many mighty miracles. He had several encounters with the risen Lord, including being caught up into the third heaven. But he didn’t rest in those experiences. He said that he wanted to know Christ and the power of His resurrection. Then he added (Phil. 3:12-14):

Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

He goes on to say that we all should have that same attitude. We all need to fight against spiritual complacency. We see the same thing in Moses’ experience in our text. The lesson is:

No matter where you’re at spiritually, you should desire to go deeper with God.

Since God is infinite, we can always know Him more deeply. So press on! I can’t deal with everything in this amazing text, so I’m limiting myself to five ways to go deeper with God.

1. To go deeper with God, you need a holy dissatisfaction with where you’re at: “Show me Your glory!”

There is a sense in which we should be content with the Lord (Ps. 23:1): “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” We have all that we need for life and godliness in Him (2 Pet. 1:3). But, there are unfathomable riches in Him that we need to explore (Eph. 3:8). So, with Moses we should pray (Exod. 33:13), “Now therefore, I pray You, if I have found favor in Your sight, let me know Your ways that I may know You, so that I may find favor in Your sight.” The Lord assured Moses that He would grant this request (v. 17). But Moses wasn’t content with that. So he continued (Exod. 33:18), “I pray You, show me Your glory!” This was not a prayer for material comforts or health. It wasn’t a prayer for success in ministry. It was a prayer to know God more deeply.

I want to ask, “Moses, what more could you want? You’re the man who talked with God at the burning bush! You saw God do mighty miracles in Egypt! You saw Him part the Red Sea! You’ve seen manna and water from the rock. You saw God’s glory when you and the 70 elders of Israel went up on the mountain and ate and drank in God’s presence (Exod. 24:15-18). You spent 40 days on the quaking, cloud-covered mountain, where you met personally with God and received the Ten Commandments! God often spoke with you face to face at the tent of meeting (Exod. 33:9-11). Isn’t that enough, Moses?” “No,” Moses replies, “I want to see the glory of God in a deeper way.”

A. W. Pink observed (Gleanings in Exodus [Moody Press], p. 340), “This is both the longing of the redeemed and the goal of their redemption—to behold the glory of God!” In Revelation 21:22-23, the apostle John wrote,

I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb.

In reply to Moses’ request, the Lord answered (Exod. 33:19), “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.” The Lord’s name refers to all that He is and all that He does. It is the sum of His attributes and His actions. But then the Lord qualified His reply (Exod. 33:20): “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!” Then He told Moses (Exod. 33:21-23):

“Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock; and it will come about, while My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by. Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen.”

The Lord promised both to cover Moses with His hand (so that he would survive the experience!) and to reveal part of His glory to Moses. (“Face” and “back” are human terms applied to God.) Augustus Toplady’s hymn, “Rock of Ages,” and Fanny Crosby’s, “He Hideth My Soul,” come from these verses. Christ is the rock that followed Israel through the wilderness (1 Cor. 10:4). While that refers to Christ as the rock from which the water flowed, it may still be valid to see God hiding Moses in Christ. From that vantage point, he got a glimpse of God’s glory.

John 1:14 declares, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth.” The word “dwelt” literally is, “tabernacled.” Jesus was God’s tabernacle pitched among us so that we could behold His glory. And, as Jesus explained to Philip when he asked to see the Father (John 14:9), “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”

So by coming to know Jesus more deeply, we see more of God’s glory. As you feed daily on God’s Word, ask Him to reveal more and more of Christ to your soul. No matter how long you’ve been a Christian, with Paul and Moses have a holy dissatisfaction with where you’re at so that you press on for more: “Lord, show me Your glory!”

2. To go deeper with God, you need to understand His abundant goodness.

When Moses asked to see God’s glory, the Lord did not give him a vision of His throne room with the impressive seraphim, as He later gave Isaiah (Isa. 6); or of the four scary living creatures, with fire and lightning and spinning wheels, as He did with Ezekiel (Ezek. 1). Rather, the Lord gave Moses propositional statements about His attributes. He says, in effect, “Okay, if you want to know Me and see My glory, let Me show you some of My attributes, especially as they relate to saving sinners.” (Paraphrasing Philip Ryken, Exodus [Crossway], p. 1040.)

So, first the Lord said (Exod. 33:19), “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you ….” God’s goodness is an attribute that underlies all that He is in His person and all that He does toward His creation. Out of His good essence flow good actions. In his two-volume, The Existence and Attributes of God [Baker], Stephen Charnock devotes 146 pages to the goodness of God. With regard to God’s relation to His creatures, Charnock says (2:219), the goodness of God “is that perfection of God whereby he delights in his works, and is beneficial to them.”

In the Garden of Eden, Satan’s first ploy was to tempt Eve to doubt God’s goodness. The serpent said (Gen. 3:1), “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” He continued (Gen. 3:5), “For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” In other words, “God is trying to restrict you. His commandments are denying something that would be for your good.” Eve took the bait and Satan has been using the same tactic ever since. If he can get you to doubt God’s goodness, you won’t trust God. You’ll keep your distance, because who wants to be close to a god who is not good?

Satan especially uses this tactic when you’re going through a difficult trial. He whispers, “If God were really good, He wouldn’t allow you to go through this! What kind of God would put His children through such a thing?” That’s why Peter, writing to suffering churches, warns (1 Pet. 5:8-9a), “Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith ….” He goes on to point us to the eternal glory that we will share with Christ. Or, as Paul says (2 Cor. 4:17), “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison.” So when you’re going through trials, by faith resist the devil’s temptation to doubt the goodness of God.

When the Lord passed by Moses as he was hidden in the cleft of the rock, He further proclaimed His goodness (Exod. 34:6-7): “Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.’” Those verses are cited frequently in the Old Testament as a basic revelation of who God is (Num. 14:18; Neh. 9:17; Ps. 86:15; 103:8; 145:7-8; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2; [alluded to in 2 Chron. 30:9; Ps. 111:4; 116:5; Isa. 63:7; Nah. 1:3]).

God’s goodness includes His compassion. In Psalm 103:8, David cites Exodus 33:6 and then adds (Ps. 103:13-14),

Just as a father has compassion on his children,
So the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.
For He Himself knows our frame;
He is mindful that we are but dust.

The picture is that of a father who recognizes that his three-year-old has reached his limit. His difficult behavior is because he is only three and he’s tired and hungry. So, rather than lashing out at his son, the father tenderly says, “I know that you’re tired and hungry. We’re going to meet your needs, but meanwhile, you need to be more cooperative.” God deals with us as a compassionate father (1 Thess. 2:11).

God’s goodness also includes His grace. More on this in a moment, but for now I’ll say that His grace means that He shows us undeserved favor. We deserved His judgment for our sins, but He gives us forgiveness because of Christ’s death on our behalf. Israel deserved that God disown them as His people, but now He graciously restores them in His covenant by re-issuing the Ten Commandments to Moses (Exod. 34:1-5, 10-28).

God’s goodness means that He is slow to anger. He is patient. He doesn’t yell at us every time we mess up. It doesn’t say that God is never angry, but rather that He is slow to anger. Many times in the Bible God’s anger burned against His people, but it was only when they repeatedly sinned after many warnings.

God’s goodness also means that He is abounding in lovingkindness and truth. “Lovingkindness” refers to God’s loyal, steadfast love, which is everlasting (Ps. 136). “Truth” may also mean “faithfulness.” God is the standard of what is true and He never varies from that standard. He is always faithful to keep His word. (I’ll comment on His forgiveness in a moment.)

3. To go deeper with God, you need to understand His sovereign grace.

It is significant that when God revealed this glimpse of His glory to Moses, the first thing he said was (Exod. 33:19), “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.” He didn’t say, as some think He said, “I will be gracious to everyone and compassionate to everyone.” Rather, as the Sovereign Lord, He gives grace to whom He wills and compassion to whom He wills. And this is of first importance in knowing who God is.

The apostle Paul cites Exodus 33:19 in Romans 9:15 and then explains (Rom. 9:16-18),

So then it does not depend on the man who wills or the man who runs, but on God who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth.” So then He has mercy on whom He desires, and He hardens whom He desires.

He is sovereign in dispensing His grace and compassion. Martyn Lloyd-Jones comments (Revival [Crossway], pp. 233-234),

This is as much a part of God as everything else and you must not leave it out. It means that our salvation is entirely, and altogether, by the grace of God. It is not in any sense dependent on anything in us. It is, indeed, in spite of us. It is entirely of God’s own will. He is not under an obligation to anybody.

He goes on to acknowledge that we all do not like this or understand it; we tend to fight against it. But he adds (p. 234),

Be careful what you are doing, my friend. You are entirely in God’s hands. You know nothing about him apart from that which he has graciously been pleased to reveal. And this is what he has revealed.

Don’t dodge the truth of God’s sovereign grace or you’ll miss a fundamental aspect of who He is. And you won’t adequately understand the salvation that He has freely granted us in Jesus Christ. His sovereign grace is all about His glory (Eph. 1:3-14). And it’s at the heart of your assurance of salvation (Rom. 8:29-39).

4. To go deeper with God, you need to understand His holiness, forgiveness, and justice.

The Lord said (Exod. 34:7) that He “forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.” The Hebrew words translated, “iniquity, transgression and sin,” have slightly different nuances. “Iniquity” means to turn aside from what is right. “Transgression” is a more defiant violating of God’s covenant. “Sin” is a general term for any moral failure (the above from Ryken, ibid. p. 1043). But the Lord piled up the three terms to show that no matter how great our sin may be, His grace is greater. He is willing to forgive the chief of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15) if he will repent and trust in Jesus Christ.

Probably, most of us would like for the verse to stop there. But that’s only the first part of what God said. He adds, “yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.” This reflects God’s holiness and justice. But, remember, this is also a part of God’s goodness (Exod. 33:19)! He would not be good if He were not absolutely holy. And He would be neither good nor holy if He were not just. He must impose the just payment on every sin.

We recognize this even with fallible human judges. Suppose that a criminal killed your mother and stole her purse to support his drug habit and the judge said, “This poor man! He’s had a rough childhood. We need to be nice to him. The penalty is a week of community service. Try hard not to do this again.” You would be outraged! You’d rightly say, “This judge is not good and he is not just!”

As the absolutely holy, just Judge of every person, God says (Rom. 6:23), “The wages of sin is death.” He means, eternal separation from Him in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:11-15). While it is a difficult doctrine to embrace, Jesus spoke more about eternal punishment in hell than anyone else in the Bible. To follow Him means submitting to His teaching about holiness, forgiveness, and justice.

But what about the last part of that verse? Is it unfair of God to visit the sins of the parents on children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generations? To ask the question is to answer it: God is never unfair to anyone! He is perfectly just. Every person will be punished for his or her own sins (Ezek. 18:20).

But it’s a simple fact of living in this fallen world that our sins do affect others, especially those who are closest to us. The sins of corrupt, evil rulers affect their people and often other nations (when the evil ruler aggressively tries to conquer others). The sins of abusive parents inflict deep wounds on their children, who often pass those wounds on to their children. This shows us how serious sin is! It has ongoing consequences!

Sometimes critics will say, “If God is loving, how can He allow little children to suffer abuse?” But the answer is not to remove God from the equation. That only removes all hope! The answer is to offer both sinful parents and sinful children the hope of the gospel. God freely forgives sinners who repent and trust in Christ! “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come” (2 Cor. 5:17). God “keeps lovingkindness for thousands” (Exod. 34:7). Come to Christ to receive mercy, healing, and hope!

Thus to go deeper with God, you need a holy dissatisfaction with where you’re at. You need to understand His abundant goodness, sovereign grace, holiness, forgiveness, and justice. Finally,

5. To go deeper with God, you need to be concerned not just for yourself, but for all of God’s people.

When Moses prayed to see God’s glory, it was not a self-centered prayer. He wasn’t praying, “I don’t care if all these complaining idol-worshipers die in the wilderness; just show me Your glory.” Rather, he was praying as the mediator of God’s covenant with Israel. We’ve already seen how Moses was willing to be blotted out of God’s book of life if God wouldn’t forgive the people’s sin with the golden calf (Exod. 32:32). So here, he prays (Exod. 34:9), “If now I have found favor in Your sight, O Lord, I pray, let the Lord go along in our midst, even though the people are so obstinate, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us as Your own possession.” He was thinking about others, not himself only.

Going deeper with God is not just so that you will have a deeper experience with Him. Your desire to go deeper with God should be so that He can use you more effectively in helping others experience His abundant grace and know Him more deeply.


Moses’ response to God’s revelation of His glory was (Exod. 34:8) to make “haste to bow low toward the earth and worship.” And that should be our response, too. The point of going deeper with God is not so that we can know more theology or win theological debates or brag about our knowledge. The point is that we will worship our sovereign, gracious God more deeply! Moses’ response reminds me of Paul’s response after describing God’s sovereign grace in Romans 9-11. He exclaimed (Rom. 11:33-36):

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.

No matter where you’re at with the Lord, I encourage you to make the necessary changes in your schedule so that this week you begin the process of going deeper with God.

Application Questions

  1. How can I keep my desire burning strong to know God more deeply? What should I do when my heart is cold toward Him?
  2. Some claim to know God through a miraculous vision which they had. Is this valid or suspect? What is our only reliable source for knowing God?
  3. How can a person who grew up in a very abusive family believe in God’s goodness? How would you counsel him/her?
  4. Why is knowing God’s sovereign grace in salvation (Exod. 33:19; Rom. 9:15) at the heart of knowing Him more deeply?

Copyright, Steven J. Cole, 2018, All Rights Reserved.

Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture Quotations are from the New American Standard Bible, Updated Edition © The Lockman Foundation

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