Summary: What does it mean to be in God’s presence?
Over the last few months, there has been a phrase that we have used over and over again at Breakaway. Debi mentioned it a few times last week as she preached on the glory of God. I used it a few weeks before to define what worship is. Then as we have talked about different bible characters like Gideon, Mary, Moses, and Abraham, this phrase has also been used in describing their stories. This phrase that we have so often used is “the presence of God.”
As we have used this phrase over and over, I have left wondering if we really understand what it means, because I don’t think I really know what it means. We use it all the time in the church but what does it look and feel like? I have wondered, “Where can we find God’s presence? I mean, do we even have to look for it? Isn’t it everywhere?” And even more so, “Is it even important for us to seek God’s presence?”
Over the last month or so, I have done a lot of praying and thinking about these questions and God’s presence. Tonight, I would like to humbly attempt to answer these questions according to what I found in scriptures. The passage that I would like to focus on is Exodus 33:1-15.
Our text today, picks up in the middle of a very important and exciting moment in the lives of all the Israelite people. The Israelites, not much more than five months ago, had been freed as slaves in Egypt. Their leader, Moses had confronted Pharaoh with the help of God and some miraculous plagues, which lead the Pharaoh to finally let the people go. During their long journey out of Egypt, their path had stopped at the foot of Mount Sinai in the desert. They had camped there for a little over forty days and now God was ready for them to continue their travels.
Starting at verse 1, ***33:1-3a***
Put yourself in the shoes of the Israelites upon hearing this command. How would you feel, after being in the dessert for months to have God come and say it’s time to go? Wooooo hooooo! Yea! I would start packing so fast and be dancing and singing in excitement just because we were leaving the dessert for a land that was flowing with milk and honey. That definitely beats sand and…umm more sand!
Not only were the people leaving the dessert, but they were going to the land that God had promised to their descendants. God had promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that they would be given the whole land of Canaan where their children and grandchildren for generations to come could grow up in safety. God was finally fulfilling his promise! The people would have been giddy in expectation of being able to be the first to step into the Promised Land.
On top of all that, God tells them that he will send an angel ahead of them to drive out all of the people inhabiting the Promised Land. That’s pretty cool! They get their own personal body guard that is going to go off and kick everyone’s butt for them. How many people would like to have their own personal angel who went out before you in your day to confront the bully at school or that co-worker or boss at work that you have been having a hard time with?
All of the Israelite people had joy and excitement in their hearts as God shared with them, but all of that changed as God added one more thing. At the end of verse three God adds the following sentence. ***33:3b***
WOAH! That stinks! Now imagine being in their shoes? You might not want to! Why was God so angry? Well, as the people were camped at Mount Sinai, Moses was up on the mountain talking with God. On this mountain is where Moses was given the Ten Commandments. As Moses received these new laws for the people, the Israelites got tired of waiting and decided they were going to make a golden calf to worship. As God was speaking them, the people were already breaking the first two commandments to not have any other gods before thee God and to not have any idols. God had a right to be angry and, in a sense, jealous because the people had rejected him after all he did for them in Egypt.
In verses 4-6 we read that the people went into a state of mourning. ***33:4-6*** (explain ornaments – their jewelry, which were used to make the calf but also was a sign of repentance). The Israelites response to God and God’s frustration and anger shows us two things. First, it shows us that nothing can replace the presence of God! The fact that God was sending an angel with them was not enough. Even though it was a heavenly being, assigned from God, it still did not even come close to comparing with God’s presence. They knew, without a doubt, that the only reason they came out of Egypt and the only reason they had survived out in the dessert was because God had been with them and protected them. It is important that in our own relationships with God, we don’t settle for anything less than God’s presence because there are no substitutes.