In Exodus 33:18, Moses makes one of the most audacious requests in all the Bible. After Israel is nearly destroyed and replaced by a people coming from Moses’ offsprings, Moses asks the God of the Passover and the Red Sea to show him his glory. Amazingly, God responds in the affirmative.
In Exodus 33:19-34:7, God reveals his glory through the revelation of his goodness and his glory. Today, we will look at the goodness of what God does; tomorrow, we will consider the greatness of God’s name.
Notice three ways that God’s goodness is revealed in Exodus 33.
God Who Listens and Speaks (33:19). The first thing to notice in the character of God is that he hears Moses prayer. He listens and he speaks. He doesn’t ignore Moses prayers, but he answers with specificity. God’s goodness is seen in this reply.
However, notice what God listens to. He is not simply responding to a request for personal help, or a plea for personal safety, comfort, or assistance. He hears and answers prayers most powerfully, when the suppliant is coming with a heart that longs first and foremost to make Christ famous. This is not to say that supplications for “my needs” are not legitimate, but they should be secondary to the greater design of prayer for God’s kingdom and glory.
God loves to answer prayers that glorify his name and that satisfy his saints in him. Just consider the “Lord’s Prayer.” In Matthew 6, Jesus is asked how they should pray, and in “The Lord’s Prayer,” he doesn’t begin with small, physical, prayers that orbit around people; he begins with audacious prayers that ask God to do what only he can do. Thus, Jesus’ prayer, like Moses prayer, calls us to ask God to show off his glory on earth as it is in heaven. The very first command is one that essentially pleas that God who sanctify or glorify his name! When Jesus tells us to pray for the coming of the kingdom, this is a request for God’s glory to come in tangible form to the earth–now and forever.
All in all, Moses’ prayer, Jesus’ prayer, and our prayer can be lifted with confidence because God’s goodness hears and answers. Yet, the heart of prayer is one that focuses on God and his glory, as seen in his goodness, more than simply asking God to do good things for us.
Returning to the model of our Lord’s prayer, the requests for daily bread, forgiveness, and deliverance from evil all come after we have oriented ourselves towards God. Prayer that is Christian puts the goals, desires, and demands of God above our own. The safety, security, health, and help we request should desired as they fulfill his plans and purposes. Goodness is putting God at the center, and God-centered prayers are the ones God delights to answer.
The God who Protects and Provides (33:20-23). Next, in verse 20, YHWH tells Moses that he cannot see his face, because he would die, but in the same breath, he makes way for Moses to experience God’s glory. Verse 21-23, God puts Moses in the cleft of the rock, covers him to protect him, and then shows him the train of his glory. Amazingly, verse 23 uses three body parts to describe God: Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.
The body-language is metaphorical–because God does not have a body—but it emphasizes the personal closeness that Moses felt as God spoke to him. Still, the point of this passage is not for us to replicate the experience of seeing God on a mountain, but to receive the Word given to Moses at that time. The God of Sinai is the same yesterday, today, and forever; but the way he has revealed himself is not always the same. In Exodus 33-34, we see God’s goodness in the way he reveals himself and protects Moses from an over exposure. Today, we have a greater revelation and a greater protection in our mediator, Jesus Christ. What God does in type with Moses, he does in actuality with Jesus. In Jesus, we see the glory of the Lord, we hear God’s ultimate word, and we have safe passage into the very presence of God. We are not sequestered into a rocky cleft; we are able to stand upon the temple mount and abide with God.
In this way, the goodness experience by Moses, though more cinematically-captivating, is less than the goodness we now have in the fullness of God’s plans in redemptive history. Such goodness beckons us to forsake sin and press on towards him!
The God who Gives His Law (34:1-4). Finally, since the tablets were broken, a new set of tablets was needed. Thus, in Exodus 34, Moses is appointed to cut two new stone tablets just like before. This is the first element of God’s revealed law in Exodus 34, but this is not it. Quickly following this charge to rewrite the law, YHWH tells Moses to come into his presence once again (v. 2), and to set a perimeter around the mountain to preserve its holiness and to protect the people (v. 3). Still, God’s law-giving is seen most clearly in the reissue of the covenant laws laid out in the rest of the chapter (vv. 10-35).
These commands which resonate with the earlier instructions in Exodus 19-24, show the consistency of God’s character, and the fact that he never lowers the standard of his law. Instead, he will provide means of grace to allow sinners to dwell in the midst of God’s holiness. Such legal constancy is a revelation of his goodness, for God’s goodness is not just seen in meekness, mirth, and mild treatment of terrorists. His goodness also executes law-breakers.
Can you imagine the alternative? What would a world be like in which moral order was erased? Or a world where God’s expectations were unknown? God’s laws are demanding and absolute, and this is good. In them, God’s wisdom, justice, and love are displayed, and thus the world observes who God is. Which leads to a final consideration: When we come to passage like Exodus 33-34, do we listen to what God is saying? Or do we interpret it in light of our pre-conceived ideas about goodness, justice, and love?
God Is The Standard of His Own Goodness
Too often Christians and non-Christians test God according to their own standards of goodness. This is problematic. God is his own standard. He defines and delimits goodness. Thus what he reveals of his goodness at Sinai and in later installments of inspired revelation must shape and reshape our notions of goodness. In fact, before delighting in his goodness, we probably need to be offended by it!
Offended because, we as fallen creatures are naturally opposed to the God of Scripture and the God of Sinai. What we see at Sinai is that YHWH’s goodness is not mutually exclusive with retributive judgment, is not contradictory with legal demands, and is not simply a universal benevolence towards all people. God’s goodness is distinct, covenantal, particular, and gracious. God’s goodness is given to some and not to others (Exod 33:19). This is how God presents himself! It is offensive to human pride, but glorious to those who have died in Christ.
Failure to understand God’s goodness as he himself presents it will inevitably result in skewed views of God and ultimately Arminian and/or Universalist impressions of how God should act in the world. Right now I am reading a book by such theologian–Roger Olson–whose views relabel and redefine God’s goodness in countless doctrinal categories. As an upcoming book review will show, he and others like him, wrestle little with texts and rest their views upon philosophical inventions of the mind, rather than God’s revealed Word.
Considering Exodus 33-34 makes us take a different path. One that rebukes us mightily for having lethargic views of God’s goodness, but one that opens new vistas of God’s glory. In meditating on Exodus 33:18-34:7 you will find that the God of glory is the God of goodness, and that his goodness is not submitting to any philosophical law of the greater good. God is goodness in justice and mercy, and by his grace, he is revealing that goodness to all who have eyes to see.
Soli Deo Gloria, dss