For Moses it was the ultimate litmus test that he and his people had found favor in the sight of God. Beyond their deliverance from bondage; greater than escaping their enemies by walking through a parted sea; more indicative than having their thirst satisfied from a rock or being fed bread from heaven; there was one thing that, if it were not true, would cast doubt upon their claim to be the people of God.
What, in Moses’ mind, really showed them to be a set apart people? What was the grand distinctive? It was God’s “going with us.”
And [the LORD] said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” And [Moses] said to Him, If Your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in Your sight, I and Your people? Is it not in Your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and Your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?”
(Exodus 33:14-16 ESV)
The golden calf incident had rocked Moses’ world. God’s just wrath almost superseding His abundant patience if not for the intercession of His servant, Moses (Ex. 32:11-14). Even then, some 3,000 died as result of the rebellion of a “stiff-necked people” (32:25-28).
But now it was time to regroup. Time to resume their pilgrimage to the land of promise.
But Moses wasn’t going anywhere if the sin at Sinai had in any way altered God’s predisposition toward him and his people. No sense taking another step if God’s favor was going to be left shattered at the foot of the mount along with the dust from Israel’s broken idol. So Moses, in one of this “face to face” tent conversations with the Almighty (33:9-11), wants assurance, “Now therefore, if I have found favor in Your sight, please show me now Your ways, that I may know You in order to find favor in Your sight. Consider too that this nation is Your people” (33:13).
Show me Your ways. Continue to let me know You. Confirm that we are people of Your favor. And God says, “My presence will go with you.”
And Moses responds, Yes! That’s what makes us unique. That’s what declares we are Your special people called out for Your special purpose. That’s what declares the height of Your love, the breadth of Your mercy, and the depth of Your grace. That is our grand distinctive–that You are God “going with us.”
Just as God had made Eden paradise by desiring to walk in the garden with Adam and Eve in the cool of the day (Gen. 3:8a), so too it was God’s willingness to accompany the people He had brought out of slavery that truly set them apart. That He would accompany them, even in the wake of great failure, marked them, as nothing else could, that they were God’s people of promise. His grace greater than their sin. His patience outlasting their propensity to wander. His faithfulness continuing despite their flakiness. His presence, their banner indicating they were the people of God.
Our God is a God “going with us.” And that, so often, despite ourselves.
Isn’t that what truly sets us apart? Isn’t that our grand distinctive? Isn’t that our enduring hope?
Praise Him for His presence! Lift up of the Name of Him who deigns to come down. Worship the One who walks with us.
Because of His ever-abiding, abundantly flowing grace. For His everlasting, ever to be declared glory.