Moses always wanted more.
I think we can safely say that few human beings have experienced God on this earth to the extent that Moses did. From meeting God in the burning bush, to parting the Red Sea, to watching manna fall from heaven, Moses saw much of God. In fact, after Israel’s escape from slavery in Egypt, God made it clear that Moses was the bearer of a special privilege when it came to God’s presence.
After leading the Israelite people to Mount Sinai through the Red Sea and away from Pharaoh’s army, God met with Moses on top of the mountain in a thick cloud.1 Strict rules were given before God descended upon the peak. These rules prohibited anyone from setting an inch of their person on even the foot of the mountain.2 The penalty for such an action was death. No one was to enter into this unique presence of God except Moses. Like one of those nightclubs with a line of people outside waiting to get in, God unfastened the rope from the stanchion and invited Moses into his presence. This was VIP territory.
The thick darkness of God scorched the top of the mountain like a consuming cloud. The people were terrified. But Moses entered in, and he spent time on the mountain with God. Moses experienced what it was like to behold a level and an intensity of the presence of God that you and I cannot even fathom. But the more of God he got, the more of God he wanted.
Even on the mountaintop, more wants more.
God finished giving Moses some instructions when Moses made a unique and audacious request. “Please show me your glory,” Moses said (Exodus 33:18). What? Hadn’t he seen enough? Had the glory of God not been made manifest to him in manifold ways? Was the staff-to-serpent trick not enough for Moses? What about when God defied nature to push the flat and flooded sea up like walls and dried up the perpetually soaked sea floor so that it was like concrete? Was that not enough glory for Moses to behold?
He entered into the cloud of thick darkness on top of Mount Sinai. He went into the places of God where no human being had ever been. He spoke with God like one human speaks with another. He moved from general presence to relational presence to visible presence. After all this, had he not seen enough of God’s glory? Apparently Moses had not.
This is the Moses Principle: more wants more. The presence of God had tossed the soul of Moses high into the air, and he wanted to sail higher still. The nearness of God tickled the heart of Moses, and he wanted to laugh more deeply still. The more Moses got of God, the more Moses wanted of God. The more we experience of God in this life, the more of God we will desire. That is the Moses Principle.
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Absence: Curse or Clue?
You’ve probably had a time in your life when you got more of God and wanted even more. That elation of discovery and depth can deeply impact us. But you’ve probably also experienced times when you felt a great distance between you and God. Since we often interpret intimacy with God as a reward, like being permitted into VIP territory, we conversely interpret distance as a punishment.
Absence is always a curse, we think. However, your ability to sense absence may actually be a clue of your love for God. Absence isn’t always a curse; sometimes it’s a clue.
I travel for a living. As a consequence, I am constantly forced to be absent from my wife. After returning from a trip she always has the same question for me: “Did you miss me?” She wants to know if I noticed her absence, if I longed for her presence, if the distance between us was in any way insufferable for me. Of course, I always answer, “I missed you like crazy!”
I answer this way because it’s completely true. I miss my wife when I’m away from her because I love her very much. In fact, the more I have come to love her, the more I have come to miss her when we are absent from each other. If I didn’t love her so much, I wouldn’t miss her so much. If I didn’t love her at all, I wouldn’t miss her at all. That is why the question, Did you miss me? is an important one. It is synonymous with, Do you still love me?
The same is true of our relationship with God. The more we come to love God, the more we long to be present with Him. The only problem is, like Moses, we find that we want more of God’s presence than we have been given. Even if that presence is as extreme as meeting God in a mighty cloud and hearing His voice thunder from it. We want more of God’s presence because we are in love with Him. We long for our God like I long for my wife.
If God feels far, it might be his voice calling out to you through the absence, saying, “See, you do love me.”
Absence doesn’t guarantee that you are a bad Christian. Distance doesn’t have to mean that you are far from God in a sinful, relational, or punishing way. Sometimes distance is a result of sin, but you may just be realizing, while you travel far from Him on this earth, that you miss Him because you love Him. Let your feelings of absence translate into affirmations of passion. Let your inclinations of distance turn into assurances of love.
Cleft of the Rock
Moses was in love with God. This love drove him to request more of God. God answered,
I will make all My goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you My name… But… you cannot see My face, for man shall not see Me and live. — Exodus 33:19-20
This is the fundamental cap on God’s presence. Humans cannot see God’s face and live. We cannot be in God’s actual presence in these sinful, fleshly bodies. That means no one who is alive has seen God as He truly is.3 God’s face is covered, like a plastic cap on an electrical outlet. There is an absence between us and God that exists so that we may continue existing. This is critically important. There is a form of God we long to see that would kill us if we saw it.
This is not because God is like Medusa, who turns all people to stone as soon as they look upon her. The reason for separation is our sin and God’s holiness. The two cannot dwell together. Like a nail in a power outlet, the flesh of sinful man cannot connect with the unveiled face of God and live.
However, like any good parent playing with the child they love, God doesn’t grow tired of Moses’ request for “More!” He told Moses that He would allow him to see all of His goodness. God was going to give Moses more of God. This is great news!
God wants to give us more of Himself.
He wants to be more present with us. God wants to fulfill our most audacious requests for presence. Even though Moses had seen much, God was going to give him more. God honors the Moses Principle. More wants more. More gives more.
In order to accomplish this giving of more, God instructed Moses to stand in the cleft of a rock so that his field of vision would be limited and controlled. You can picture the cleft of the rock as a small split in a great rock. The thin line in the stone offered a sliver of light through which Moses could catch a glance, like looking through a narrow crack in a door. This wasn’t because God didn’t want to be present with Moses, nor because God didn’t want Moses to be present with Him. It was for Moses’ sake that this distance was maintained.
We cannot see all of God, and yet that is the longing of our hearts.
We scream out for “More,” but more could kill us. Understand this: while you are on this earth, God will always feel absent to some degree. The Christian life is one of absence. This is not because God is distant, aloof, or does not desire a relationship with us. On the contrary, in God’s kindness He wants to give us the desires of our hearts. So He places each of us in the cleft of the rock.
When we ask for God’s presence, to see more of His glory, God will give us a sliver of light through which to behold Him. We have this promise in Scripture:
Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you. — James 4:8
This drawing near may be a worship song, a moment in nature, a passage of Scripture, or a time of prayer. These slivers are not the full glory of God we long to see, but God is still present, even in the cleft of the rock.
- As Samuel Terrien has said, the thick cloud “is the symbol both of divine presence and of divine hiddenness” (The Elusive Presence, 128). Therefore, even in this remarkable moment of presence, God is still wrapped in absence.
- Exodus 19:12-13, Exodus 19:21-25.
- There are moments in the Old Testament, even in Exodus, where a human is said to speak with God face-to-face. But these ideas are not in contradiction. As Samuel Terrien has written, “Biblical Hebrew did not apparently possess an abstract word meaning ‘presence.’ The expression ‘the face of Yahweh’ or ‘the face of Elohim’ was sometimes specifically used to designate the innermost being of God, inaccessible even to a man like Moses, but panîm, ‘face,’ was ordinarily used metaphorically in composite prepositions to designate a sense of immediate proximity” (The Elusive Presence, 65). In fact, the idea of speaking to God face-to-face was less of a a physical reality and more of an idiom indicating intimacy (The Elusive Presence).
Excerpted with permission from When God Isn’t There by David Bowden, copyright David Bowden. Published by Thomas Nelson.
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Does God feel absent to you? Are you longing for more of Him? He longs to show you more of Himself. Draw near! Come share your thoughts with us on our blog. We want to hear from you about those times that God feels absent and you want more! ~ Devotionals Daily