The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there and proclaimed the name of the LORD. Exodus 34:5
I knew this day was coming yet I wasn’t prepared for my grief in response to our daughter leaving for university. As I write, I imagine my situation is multiplied across many families experiencing the separation that a new university term brings. If Covid has taught us anything, perhaps it is that video calls are good but no match for physically being present in someone’s company.
I was aware that my lament could come across as disproportionate or even whining compared to others’ hardships. Perhaps I did need a loving, pragmatic friend to tell me ‘It could be worse. She’ll be back in a few short months!’ I do know this, but it doesn’t seem to lessen the feeling of loss that distance brings.
It was against this backdrop that God caught my attention through the words of Exodus 34:5 and challenged me to go deeper and ask what was really going on. Why was I feeling restlessness, emptiness and sensing a creeping dread at the thought of the months ahead? What was it that I was really longing for?
As I read through the whole drama that is recorded for us in chapters 32 to 34, it became clear what it was that Moses wanted. Moses interceded for God Himself, to be personally present as the Covenant God, journeying in the midst of His people through the wilderness hardships. No lure of personal promotion (32:10), no promise of supernatural protection (33:2), not even an assurance that they would make it to the promised land intact (33:3) satisfied Moses. He wanted personal communion with God.
This longing for my daughter’s personal presence is right and good. Humans are uniquely created in the image of God, designed to function best in deep relationships with one another. That we are relational beings reflects the truth that our God is personal and relational and exists in perfect harmony within the Trinity. When for some reason, whether self-inflicted because of the damage our sin does to relationships, or as part of inevitable changes in our circumstances, we lose a close relationship, it affects us and we don’t flourish as God intended we should.
But Moses was teaching me there is something much more precious and necessary than human relationships: to live in personal communion with the Life-giver Himself through His Son. The Gospel proclaims that God has taken the initiative and in the words of our verse, has descended in Christ, coming close to stand with us there. Where is ‘there?’ Wherever we are right now! We have God with us! I had been putting too much hope in a human relationship to meet my needs. Moses reminded me it is when our hearts are satisfied in the blessedness of worshipping in His Holy presence, we are liberated to hold all other relationships as His good gifts, rather than entitlements.
But to my surprise, as I thought about these chapters further, I realised it actually wasn’t God’s overshadowing presence that Moses most wanted, however right and good that goal is. Moses reached for a higher goal; God’s Glory! He reminded God that it was God Himself Who promised to take a people for Himself out of the nations and make His dwelling with them. This was His idea and His people and the nations were watching! (Ex 32:11; 33:13). How very different to how I often pray? Where I might hold God to His promise so my relational needs are met, Moses held God to His promise so that God’s name and reputation would be made great and glorious in the nations (Ex 33:16). This is the prayer God answered by giving Moses an encounter with His glory. This is the prayer God still loves to answer in Ireland today.
Lord God, we want to truly pray with the same desire that Moses had for Your Glory; “Our Father which art in heaven Hallowed be Thy Name!” May Your Spirit help us to live for Your interests and not our own. In Christ’s name, amen.