THE TRIUMPHS OF MERCY
In Exodus xxxiii we have a remarkable prayer of Moses, and in chapter xxxiv a still more remarkable answer. What was the prayer of Moses? “And he said, I beseech thee, shew me Thy glory.” (Exod. xxxiii 18.) The man of God could not be satisfied without a sight of God’s glory. Though elevated to one of the greatest heights which human foot ever trod; though the chosen
leader of God’s people out of Egypt; though invested with almost absolute power, so as to be called “a king in Jeshurun” (Deut. xxxiii 5); though God spake unto him face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend; though occupying a position such as no other man ever occupied as the typical mediator between God and His people, yet these high and holy privileges fell short of giving him all that his soul longed to enjoy. If he looked to himself, as a fallen sinner of Adam’s ruined race, he saw misery, wretchedness, and beggary there. If he looked down from Sinai’s top upon the camp of Israel, he saw stubbornness, rebellion, and idolatry there. Wherever he turned his eyes in this lower world, nothing met his view but what bore upon it the visible tokens of the Fall, except the immediate presence of God as manifested in the pillar of the cloud resting upon the tabernacle. And though this was a glorious sight, and opened large views for faith and hope, yet after all it was but a typical representation of the presence of God. He fixed his eyes and heart therefore upon this one thing: a sight of the glory of God in some special, divine manifestation of it, as that which alone could fill his soul with sweet and sacred delight. This desire was kindled by the operation of God’s grace; this prayer was put into his heart by the power and influence of the sacred Spirit. And as if God creates any desire in the souls of His people, and that desire vents itself in prayer and supplication for a sight of His glory. He will blessedly answer it by the manifestation of Himself, so was it with the man of God. But though God granted Moses the petition thus put up, yet it seems as if it was not exactly as Moses expected or hoped. Instead of showing him His glory in such a way as Moses probably had framed in his own mind. God said He would show him His goodness: “I will make all My goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee.” And yet as if He knew what was in Moses’ secret heart. He also added, “Thou canst not see My face; for there shall no man see Me and live.” But though thus refusing that part of his prayer which could not be granted, the Lord devised a way to give Moses the utmost desire of his heart: “And the Lord said, Behold, there is a place by Me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock; and it shall come to pass, while My glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with My hand while I pass by: and I will take away My hand, and thou shalt see My back parts; but My face shall not be seen.” (Exod. xxxiii 21, 22, 23.) He bade him also hew two tables of stone like unto the first; and to be ready in the morning and come up unto Mount Sinai, and present himself there before Him on the top of the mount. All this we find Moses did, for we read, “Moses rose up early in the morning, and went up unto Mount Sinai, as the Lord had commanded him, and took in his hand the two tables of stone.” Now then it was that the Lord answered the prayer of Moses that he might see His glory: “And the Lord descended in the cloud” (for Moses could not bear the full effulgence of God’sglory), “and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord;” that is, not only His essential character but the special relationship which He bears to man, and by which He will be known to the sons of men, for the sacred historian adds, “And the Lord passed by before him, and proclaimed. The Lord, The Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty.” This was the manifestation of God’s glory to Moses. It was not perhaps exactly such a manifestation of His glory, at least not so special and personal as Moses might have longed to see; but it was that which God saw fit to grant. And how wise and gracious was the Lord in not confining a view of His glory to Moses as a matter of personal enjoyment and experience, but by proclaiming His own name. His own gracious attributes. His own goodness, mercy, and truth, and declaring that in the manifestation of them His glory shone forth, thus to reveal Himself to the children of men to all generations. The personal manifestation of His glory to Moses would have been confined to him. He alone would have enjoyed it; but the proclamation of God’s character as full of goodness and truth, pardoning iniquity, transgression, and sin, would be an eternal possession to the church. It also showed in what the real glory of God consists, and that what we need as poor fallen sinners is not a view of the effulgence of God’s glory, under which we could not live, but a proclamation of His pardoning mercy to our hearts.
J. C. Philpot (from Sermon on Micah 7. 18-19)