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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Today’s Scripture Reading | Exodus 33:12–23

Moses said to the Lord, “See, you have said to me, ‘Bring up this people’; but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ Now if I have found favor in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” He said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” And he said to him, “If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us? In this way, we shall be distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth.” The Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” Moses said, “Show me your glory, I pray.” And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The Lord’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.” And the Lord continued, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.” (NRSV)

So, taken out of context this is just weird. “Let me see you, Lord.” “Nope, that would kill you. But I’ll show you my back side.”

In context, though, this strange episode is part of a very ugly and disturbing arc of rage. Moses has come down from the mountain with the tablets, and there was the golden calf. Moses grinds the calf into powder, pours it in the water, and makes the people drink it. Then he asks, “Who is on the Lord’s side?” And his volunteers proceed, on Moses’s order, to kill three thousand people. Hideous. People can do all sorts of hideous things when they think they’re on the Lord’s side.

Having “policed” the people, Moses goes to God to ask for one more chance. And the Lord’s response is to send a plague, and to tell the people, “I’ll keep my promise to you, I’ll give you this land, but I’m not going with you. You’re jerks, and I’d wind up destroying you.”

God is threatening to leave his people. Chew on that for a minute. And that’s where our text picks up. Moses, pleading for God not to abandon his people. Putting himself and his service to God on the line. And God listens. And for Moses’s sake, God changes his mind.

And then Moses asks for something for himself. “Show me your glory.” Like, a personal reward. And God says, basically, “My glory? My (back side).” In fact, the reward God gives Moses is work. Rebooting the tablets of the law. Setting down in stone what God’s expectations are for the people. Because the Old Testament is a constant reminder that in this world actions have consequences, and that reconciliation in this world is constant, ongoing work.

People aren’t nice, a lot of the time. Loving people can be really hard work. It can feel unrewarding. But it is God’s work, and we can’t let that lapse.

Lord, yes, we can be jerks. Thank you for loving us anyway, and for giving us the work of reconciliation in this world. Help us to be diligent in that work. Amen.

Written by Rob Koon, Coordinator of Fine Arts

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