I’m ending my Bible Study on the Life of Moses this week. I arrived at Deuteronomy 34 and told my sister, “Well, this ending sucks. Moses dies. How do I always forget that?”
I’m only partly kidding. Although I’m familiar with the ending, I get so wrapped up in the people, the story, and how it applies to my life that suddenly the end arrives and I’m not ready for it.
Of all the events of Moses’ life, I keep landing in Exodus 33. After the golden calf incident, Moses comes down from the mountain and the only one more furious is God Himself. Consequences are rolling. Moses is grieving over the blatant disobedience of the Israelites; after they had been rescued from Egypt and so quickly reverted to their old ways.
God tells Moses that He’ll keep His promise to bring the Israelites to the Promised Land. He tells Moses to lead the people “to a land flowing with milk and honey” but then the kicker, “for I will not go up in your midst lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” Exodus 33:3
“Yikes. God is prepared to consume us. Looks like that relationship is over. At least He’s making good on the Promised Land deal. Pack your tents–let’s get out of here!”
Moses’ real response causes me to catch my breath: “If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here.” Exodus 33:15
The Promised Land was the goal. When the Israelites shook Egyptian sand from their sandals, it was with Canaan in mind. God was their ticket out of slavery and into the lush abundance of a place they could call home.
Moses says, “Forget it. It’s worthless, vain, futile, if you take yourself from us. I don’t want it if I don’t have You.” Essentially Moses told God He would rather be in the wilderness with God than in the Promised Land without Him.
Instinctively I examine myself. What are my lands of milk and honey? My deep, passionate desires? My aspirations? What I want in the space I call home? What do I desperately want God to promise me? Where do I hope He’ll lead me? Where are my pent up longings waiting to be fulfilled?
We all have them running through our heads, the things our sandals are pointing toward. They’re the things we believe “When ____ happens, then I’ll have arrived”, “When _____ happens, then I’ll be content”, “When ____ happens, then I’ll be satisfied”, “When ____ happens, then I’ll be happy with God.”
I’m often looking at the milk and honey to determine how I see God. If I don’t get what I crave, I find God lacking. I assume He’s holding out on me. Or I see Him as my ticket to get me where I want to go. “Okay, Lord. I’ll follow you as long as ... (I’m healthy and cancer free … I can have children … I own my dream home … my job offers security and advancement … you save my reputation … the guy gets the girl….)
Moses wasn’t hung up on the gifts. He was hanging on to the Giver. He looked directly at God and saw the milk and honey as secondary. He knew without God’s presence there wouldn’t be evidence of God’s grace to Moses and the Israelites. He knew without God’s presence they wouldn’t be set apart and known as the Lord’s. The blessing, the miracle, the strength, the destination, wasn’t a land. It was the presence of God.
So the Lord said to Moses, “I will also do this thing that you have spoken; for you have found grace in My sight, and I know you by name.” Exodus 33:17
These words are directly followed by Moses seeing God’s glory, an experience that caused Moses’ face to shine to the point that the others were afraid of him and what he experienced.
When I ask myself, “Can I honestly say I would rather be in the wilderness with God than in the Promised Land without Him?” it is not a question I ask sweetly over tea and sugar. It’s a hit-the-wrestling-mats, scream-into-dry-wilderness-air, pound-on-the-walls-of-the-shower-in-tears kind of question. When I answer it, it’s not with a flighty smile or an optimistic cliché. It’s answered when my knees are worn, my shoulders are set, and my voice is even with absolute resolution only God Himself can give.
Last week I was taking four-year old Haley into a scary doctor appointment. First, she wrapped arms around my neck and linked her fingers through my hair. Then, she wrapped her legs around my waist, crossing ankles behind my back and squeezing with little leg muscles. She buried her face in my neck. There was no prying her off. I could have let go completely and it wouldn’t have mattered. She saw to it that I wouldn’t let go. Whatever was ahead, she needed her mom to get her through it.
Moses might as well have been in the same entwined position. “Lord, don’t you dare leave me hanging. Regardless of what is ahead, I refuse to take another step unless I know you have me.”
So … turns out Moses dies at the end. But, he’s part of the living Word of God and his words are stuck on repeat in my head as I determine the same. “If Your Presence does not go with me, do not bring me up from here.” May my grip be wrapped around the Lord and His presence, willing to stay in the wilderness if it means a glimpse of His glory.
Just throwing myself out there a bit...