The Wild Places Bible Guide – 9 - Reservoir Church
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The Wild Places Bible Guide – 9

March 21, 2019

The Wild Places – Day 8

Thursday, March 21

Exodus 33:12-34:9

12 Moses said to the Lord, “Look, you’ve been telling me, ‘Lead these people forward.’ But you haven’t told me whom you will send with me. Yet you’ve assured me, ‘I know you by name and think highly of you.’13 Now if you do think highly of me, show me your ways so that I may know you and so that you may really approve of me. Remember too that this nation is your people.”
14 The Lord replied, “I’ll go myself, and I’ll help you.”
15 Moses replied, “If you won’t go yourself, don’t make us leave here.16 Because how will anyone know that we have your special approval, both I and your people, unless you go with us? Only that distinguishes us, me and your people, from every other people on the earth.”
17 The Lord said to Moses, “I’ll do exactly what you’ve asked because you have my special approval, and I know you by name.”
18 Moses said, “Please show me your glorious presence.”
19 The Lord said, “I’ll make all my goodness pass in front of you, and I’ll proclaim before you the name, ‘The Lord.’ I will be kind to whomever I wish to be kind, and I will have compassion to whomever I wish to be compassionate. 20 But,” the Lord said, “you can’t see my face because no one can see me and live.” 21 The Lord said, “Here is a place near me where you will stand beside the rock. 22 As my glorious presence passes by, I’ll set you in a gap in the rock, and I’ll cover you with my hand until I’ve passed by. 23 Then I’ll take away my hand, and you will see my back, but my face won’t be visible.”
34 The Lord said to Moses, “Cut two stone tablets like the first ones. I’ll write on these tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke into pieces. Get ready in the morning and come up to Mount Sinai. Stand there on top of the mountain in front of me. No one else can come up with you. Don’t allow anyone even to be seen anywhere on the mountain. Don’t even let sheep and cattle graze in front of the mountain.” So Moses cut two stone tablets like the first ones. He got up early in the morning and climbed up Mount Sinai, just as the Lord had commanded him. He carried the two stone tablets in his hands. The Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him, and proclaimed the name, “The Lord.” The Lord passed in front of him and proclaimed:
    “The Lord! The Lord!
    a God who is compassionate and merciful,
        very patient,
        full of great loyalty and faithfulness,
        showing great loyalty to a thousand generations,
        forgiving every kind of sin and rebellion,
        yet by no means clearing the guilty,
        punishing for their parents’ sins
        their children and their grandchildren,
        as well as the third and the fourth generation.”
At once Moses bowed to the ground and worshipped. He said, “If you approve of me, my Lord, please go along with us. Although these are stubborn people, forgive our guilt and our sin and take us as your own possession.”

Points of Interest

  • I find these opening verses adorable. Moses expresses the fear and vulnerability that all leaders experience, and God offers presence and partnership. God knows and likes Moses and won’t ever abandon him or his work. Jesus taught the radical idea that God feels this way about all of us, that we’re all God’s favorites. 
  • A moment when people in some way see or experience Divine presence is called – from God’s perspective – theophany, appearance of God. From the human perspective, it’s spiritual experience. Jesus and his first followers democratized these experiences, promising not constant but increasing felt, experienced sense of God with us.
  • Moses’ most intimate encounter with God occurs while he is alone, out on a mountainside in the wilderness. It also occurs while he is in the wild place of aging, fear, loneliness, and anxiety, just after a crisis in his community that tested his leadership. The wilderness – out in nature, apart from the busyness and idolatry of human civilization – has always been a rich place to encounter God. Our troubles and crises – unpleasant as they are – have also always been a rich crucible in which we can call out to God in our need and experience more personal, supernatural encounter than we are used to. 
  • Whatever Moses saw or experienced on the mountainside as God passed by, there’s an attempt to put the personality and feel of God into words – compassionate, merciful, patient, loyal, and faithful. God is the personal source of all these characteristics, these qualities given pulse and personality. 
  • In our very individualistic culture, many of us are troubled by the generational comments – punishing children and grandchildren and even great grandchildren for their parents’ sin. Is this fair? For one, there is counterpoint to this in the Bible, statements that God would not hold people accountable for others’ actions. Secondly, I like to understand this in less mystical terms. If God is the creator of all, then God is also the god of culture and genetics. We know that through both nature and nurture, we all do carry some of the faults of our recent ancestors. This is life, and it perhaps does reflect something of God’s sense of community and family and justice. Additionally, though, God is loyal enough to carry kindness and loyalty far longer – across a thousand generations. I think of one of the great spiritual icons and leaders of our time in history, someone like Martin Luther King, Jr., who has one young grandchild. I wonder what it may mean that God will be faithful to the hope and legacy of this man – not just through his one living descendant of the third generation, but through all African-Americans, and through all who strive for healing and justice – for many hundreds of years into the future. That is a future I hope for, and that is the kind of love and loyalty I hope God carries.  

A Direction for Prayer

Pray for friends and family who struggle with difficult family legacies, that they will find the God of compassion and mercy patient with them, and kind and gentle with them in their struggles. 

Spiritual Exercise of the Week

Encounter and Discovery in Nature – This week, each day if you are able, spend a few minutes of quiet in a natural environment. This could be a patch of woods, a park, or even leaning against a single tree. Be creative with what’s available, or try a single, longer trip at one point during the week. (The ocean of Revere Beach, Boston Harbor, or the beaches of Dorchester Bay, and the woods of the Arnold Arboretum, Franklin Park, and more are all available via public transportation.) Quiet your body and mind for a few minutes, and see what you notice or discover. Is there any way you differently encounter yourself, your life, your world, or God in this setting? Is there any perspective you take in?