His Presence Sets Us Apart
Moses, the chosen leader of the Israelite people, was on Mount Sinai receiving the law when God told him it was time to go back down the mountain. Because the Israelites grew tired of waiting on him to return, they quickly turned away from God and what He had commanded them. Upon descending the mountain, Moses discovered that they had made themselves an idol (a golden calf) to worship; consequently, God was sorely displeased with His people.
Do We Long for Him or His Promises?
The Lord told Moses, “Leave this place, you and the people you brought up out of Egypt, and go up to the land I promised an oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’” (Exodus 33:1). He would send an angel before them and drive out the enemies.
He was not going to renege on the promise of giving them the land He swore to their forefathers. But because they were a stiff-necked people, He couldn’t go with them; otherwise, He might destroy them on the way. His holiness wouldn’t allow it.
In effect, God denied His people the closeness of His presence. He, personally, would not be going with them because of their rebellious idolatry. His holy presence would utterly consume them if He had. He was still giving them the Promised Land, but He would not be going with them. This made the Israelites sad. They took off the ornaments they made from the golden calf and mourned what God had just told Moses.
Are we content to receive God’s promises alone, or are we wanting the presence of the One Who gave us the promise? God’s presence is the very thing that brings value to the promise. Without Him, the promise means nothing. It’s empty!
Moses met with God at the Tent of Meeting, a tent set up for anyone wishing to inquire of the Lord, and begged Him to go with them. God replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Upon hearing this, Moses emphatically stated, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here” (Exodus 33:15). In other words, “Okay, God! You said Your presence will go with us. I just want You to know that I don’t want to go any further unless it does.”
Moses desperately wanted God to go with them as they entered the Promised Land. God had already promised He would, but Moses was saying, “More than the Promised Land, we want You, God!” The Promised Land meant nothing if God wasn’t going to go with them.
Moses boldly pleaded with God, “How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” (Exodus 33:16, NIV).
How Will Anyone Know You Are Pleased With Us?
Years ago, I used to wonder how I would be able to testify to our unsaved family members about Who God is and what He’s done in our lives. We had struggles. Some days we were a big mess. We weren’t the picture-perfect family.
“God, how will they be able to see and know You through all of this mess? How will anyone know You are pleased with us in all of this?” In our financial struggles, I’d ask, “How will anyone know that you are pleased with us unless you give us that job promotion, money, or a publishing contract to get my books published?”
God WITH US in the mess is what testifies to Who God is. It’s God’s presence that sets us apart–not success in the temporary things of life. That’s why God encourages us to “seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need” (Matthew 6:33 NIV).
God’s presence provided direction and comfort. He was valiant in their midst to fight off their enemies. He provided safety, strength and joy. It was His presence that set them apart from all the other peoples of the earth. His presence solidified their identity as His chosen people.
Without the Lord’s presence, life is futile and empty. It’s the Lord’s presence that makes life worth living. “Your unfailing love is better than life itself; how I praise you!” (Psalm 63:3 NLT).
A Little Perspective
That job promotion means very little if God isn’t in it. That large sum of money in the bank means nothing if God isn’t blessing it. It’s not how much money we have. It’s how much of His presence we have.
The more we empty ourselves of our own wants and desires, the more He can fill us. Everything is meaningless without Him.
As a writer, my words mean very little if God is not involved in and anointing my writing. I want my words to minister life to people. I desire what I say to have eternal impact. I don’t want them to just be pretty and poetic and make people feel good for a moment. Even the Scriptures, without the Holy Spirit’s illumination, are just words on paper. In John 5:39, Jesus told the Pharisees, “You search the Scriptures because you think they give you eternal life. But the Scriptures point to me!”
Unless the Lord is in it, it means nothing! He brings meaning and clarity. Healing and hope.
As we live this one life, desiring God’s presence, we should also implore Him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.” The promise is more valuable only because of Who the Promise Giver is.