Have you ever felt desperate to hear from God? I remember one summer—I was young, naive, and far away from home for the first time. On my days off from work, I would walk along a coastal trail that overlooks the Atlantic Ocean, longing for a glimpse of God's greatness in the endless waves and crashing surf.
In Exodus 33, we find Moses similarly disheartened. He’d only recently returned from Mount Sinai to find Israel worshiping a golden calf. Now, as he prepared to lead them on in their journey to the Promised Land, he felt deeply discouraged. He was lonely in leadership and overwhelmed by Israel’s obstinacy. And after all so many years of being a faithful follower, Moses wasn’t sure he fully knew God.
“Please let me know Your ways so that I may know You, in order that I may find favor in Your sight,” Moses said. “Please, show me Your glory!” (Ex. 33:13; Exodus 33:18).
For God to give what was asked—to show the fullness of His glory by revealing His face—would have destroyed Moses. But God also knew Moses was discouraged. So He devised a plan to give what was needed: a reminder of His kindness and care. The Lord tenderly tucked Moses into the cleft of the rock and covered him with His hand (Ex. 33:19-23).
In a sense, God’s restrained revelation to Moses reminds me of Jesus’ kenosis—His self-emptying sacrifice—explained in Philippians 2. Though Jesus “already existed in the form of God, [He] did not consider equality with God something to be grasped.” Instead He emptied Himself, setting aside the awesomeness of His glory so He could show the world His astonishing goodness—by sacrificing Himself to save them (Phil. 2:5-7). Of course some people asked Jesus only for a sign. When He rebuked them, it wasn’t because He couldn’t produce the miracles they requested. In fact, He often did. Rather, the signs were beside the point, which was to believe in Jesus Himself (Mark 8:12; Mark 13:22).
For God to give what was asked—to show the fullness of His glory by revealing His face—would have destroyed Moses. So God devised a plan to give His kindness and care.
That summer long ago, it wasn’t grand signs of God’s power that helped me persevere, but the simple reminders of His goodness—things I encountered each day. Instead of dropping the perfect job in my lap, He provided through extra tips and double shifts. Rather than end my homesickness, He led me to two widows who mothered me through a difficult season. And when I sat overlooking the ocean, praying for a sign, He met me in prayer, His Spirit testifying to mine that He was with me. What seemed like darkness was actually God’s hand, covering me with His protection.
I long for the time when God’s glory will shine fully all around us, its light taking the place of the sun and the moon (Rev. 21:23). But in the meantime, I’m trusting God for the glimpses of His goodness that He provides along the way.