Heidi Howerton: Today we’re doing our last episode on prayer. We’re going through the CPR: Commit, Plan, and Rely.
A Lesson from Exodus 33 (Moses’ Prayer) 00:34
Jani Ortlund: That’s right, that “R” stands for relying on God’s Word. To learn how to pray, we want to go to the Word of God. And so for our final episode here on prayer, which we’re entitling “God’s Best Answer to Our Prayers”, Heidi and I want to look at a conversation between Moses and the Lord God Almighty. This is from Exodus 33:12-16, and we would encourage you, if you have a Bible near you, to open up to Exodus 33. We’re going to be referring a lot to these verses in our talk today as we think about and wonder with you, what is God’s best answer to our prayers?
But first, a little context 1:25
Jani: Now, in order to fully understand this passage in Exodus 33, we need to understand what’s been going on beforehand. So let me just set the stage, Heidi, with our listeners here.
Jani: Moses has been on Mount Sinai for 40 days. We know that from chapter 24:18, and God has already given him the two tablets of stone written with his very finger, the very finger of God – we read that in Exodus 31:18. Then we come to Exodus 32, and at the very beginning of the chapter it says that Moses “delayed” coming down. Well, that bugged the people. They gathered and they asked Aaron for a calf. Now we kind of hit ourselves upside the head and say, “A calf, what?” You know, what were they thinking? I think we need to remember that all the children of Israel had been living in a land of idols, and they were even now traveling through and camping in a land of idols. There were idols all around them. That was the religion of the day. So what they did in chapter 32 of Exodus, verse five, was that they asked for a calf and then they combined it with their worship. I mean, it says that Aaron built an altar and then he encouraged the people to come, saying, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.” Isn’t that crazy? In front of the Golden Calf? Oh my goodness. How is God going to respond?
Jani: Well, Heidi, why don’t you read for us Exodus 32:7 and 10 and we’ll find out the Lord’s response to this.
Heidi: Sounds great, Jani.
“And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves.'”Exodus 32:7
And verse 10:
“Now therefore, let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.”Exodus 32:10
Jani: Wow. They’ve just come out of Egypt—God has done all these wonderful signs and wonders and miracles to get his people out of Egypt—and now what? He’s saying, “Moses, forget these people. I’ll make a great nation out of you, but forget these people. They have corrupted themselves.” That word means they had contaminated themselves. They had poisoned themselves. So what does Moses do? He steps between God and those people. He mediates between them. In chapter 32:11 we read this, “But Moses implored the Lord his God.” He begs, he pleads with God and and he uses God’s reputation with the Egyptians as one of his prayer points. He says, “Why should the Egyptians say, ‘With an evil intent, God brought them out just to kill them in the mountains.'” Oh Lord, don’t let the Egyptians say that. And then Moses reminds God of his promises to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.
Jani: Well, because of this mediation, the Bible says God relented from the disaster he had spoken of. In chapter 32:14, will you read that verse for us, Heidi? Exodus 32:14.
“And the Lord relented from the disaster that he had spoken of bringing on his people.”Exodus 32:14
Heidi: Wow. I know so many places. I just love how it says, “…for your namesake, God, do this.”
Jani: Yes, yes. And Moses camped on that. We can use that phrase in our prayers. “For your namesake, do this Lord, please.”
Jani: Well, then we go on into chapter 33 and this tells of more mediation between Moses and God and the Israelites. The people were divided in their heart between their own idols and the God who had rescued them from their slavery and set them on this journey to the promised land. In a sense they wanted Jehovah God plus a god they could see—idols of their own making.
Would you miss his presence?
Jani: Let’s read some more. I hope our listeners, oh listener, let your ear be eager to hear God’s word. I hope this is helpful for you. Heidi, you read, please. Exodus 33:1-3.
“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Depart; go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob saying, ‘To your offspring, I will give it.’ I will send an angel before you and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.'”Exodus 33:1-3
Jani: Oh, my goodness. He says, “Okay guys, you get going, but I’m not going to go with you because if I were to come near to you, I would consume you because you’re so stiff-necked.” I wonder if the Israelites would even have known the difference of God not, in a sense, “going up among them” as he said. Would they have missed his presence? After all, they did have this angel going before them. I wonder if I miss his presence ever in my own day-to-day journey to my promised land ahead in heaven. There’s a temptation in our busy lives to live it on our own. I know I face that temptation.
Heidi: I do all the time, too. Yeah. We’re a people that think this is all up to me. I need to do this all by myself. Just keep going.
Jani: Yes, I’m on my own. And, you know, there are some things I can succeed on without God.
Jani: How do I see this lack of desire for his presence in my own life and in the lives of others? Well, I think sometimes just our busyness. We’re too busy to spend time in his presence each day, to take that time to be quiet before him and open his word and pray. Or we’re too distracted. In our moment by moment living, we’re always multitasking and we’ve got so much to do; we don’t have time to think about his presence, to invite him in, to dwell in it. Sometimes we’re just too tired to come worship on a Sunday morning or to meet with our small group in Gospel community.
Jani: I have to ask myself, Heidi, I don’t know if you ever ask yourself this question, Is God becoming irrelevant to me? What do I expect of him? Do I live in the wonder of all that God is doing for me? Am I “practicing his presence” (as Brother, Laurence says in his book “The Practice of the Presence of God”)?
How did the people respond?
Jani: Well, what do the people do after they hear this disastrous word of his not, he’s not going to go with us. Heidi, would you read again? Exodus 33:4-6.
“When the people heard this disastrous word, they mourned, and no one put on his ornaments. For the Lord had said to Moses, ‘Say to the people of Israel, ‘You are a stiff-necked people; if for a single moment I should go up among you, I would consume you. So now take off your ornaments, that I may know what to do with you.’ Therefore, the people of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments from Mount Horeb onward.”Exodus 33:4-6
Jani: Hmm. Thank you, Heidi. When the people of Israel heard this disastrous word, “God is not going to go with us” they mourned, they grieved. That was a proper response. And then they stripped themselves of their ornaments, according to God’s command. This was a sign of almost hopeless, joyless, living, a deep grief, removing all the signs of joy from their freedom, their loss of captivity. From Mount Horeb onward, now, the people had lost sight of God himself in the midst of all his blessings. Their ornaments, this festive garb that God said they were to strip themselves of, symbolized what he had done for them. It was the plunder of the Egyptians who had enslaved them—the silver, the gold, and the precious jewels. We see that from Exodus 12.
Jani: In their mourning, symbolized by this stripping of their ornaments, the people were saying, “Okay, Lord, we get it. We want you. We want you more than all this stuff.” You see people in repentance stop caring about the wrong things. Real repentance shows. Real repentance marks a change in our lives—a simplification, a stripping away of other things that might compete with God.
Jani: Let’s all ask ourselves, “Today, what is competing in my heart with God? What is keeping me from being a living apologetic to the world around me that God is supreme, that his presence in my life is worth anything and everything?” Oh, I love how David put it in Psalm 16:2, “I say to the Lord, you are my Lord. I have no good apart from you.”
Jani: Or it reminds me, Heidi, of our verse that we talked about early on.
Heidi: Yeah. Reminds me of our verse, too, Jani.
Jani: Yeah. Psalm 62:1, “My soul finds rest in…
Heidi: …God alone.”
Jani: Yes. So we see from Exodus 33 that faithful prayer begins with an undivided heart. Let’s be women who come to Jesus, who confess to him the ornaments that have divided our hearts toward him. Let’s come to the cross and see Jesus there, the one who took off all his heavenly ornaments for us. He left all the joys of heaven. Jesus who had the only perfectly undivided heart in all of history. Let’s turn to him. Let’s give him our hearts anew and ask him to restore our souls.
Jesus is a better Moses
Jani: Now as we go on here in chapter 33 there’s almost a little parenthetical paragraph there in verses 7-11. I just want to comment on briefly before we go to this final prayer of intercession in verse 12.
Jani: In verses 7-11, Moses is telling us about the tent of meeting. There’s a tension in the passage here because we wonder, “Is God going to take his presence from them?” He says in 33:5, “If for a single moment I should go up among you, I would consume you.” So God has threatened to break off communication with his people. That means that the tabernacle that is supposed to be built, no longer seems a certainty. So what does Moses do? He pitches a tent and calls it the “tent of meeting”. It is understood to be an alternative Tabernacle where at least Moses can have access to God. If God won’t come down and dwell among the people he will meet with Moses there, out in the tent.
Jani: Now, how can we apply that today, dear listener? Well, the New Testament helps us. In Hebrews 3 the writer compares Moses and Jesus. He tells us in Hebrews 3 that Moses was a faithful servant in God’s house and that Jesus was a faithful Son over God’s house. Wow. Jesus is a better Moses, isn’t he?
Seek God outside your camp
Jani: And then he tells us in Hebrews 3:18, “Today, if you hear his voice…” That means today as you’re listening, as I’m speaking, “Today if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” You see, that same rebellion in Moses’ day is just as possible in our own day. I don’t know about you, but sometimes when I read these stories in the Old Testament, I think I’m above it. But I’m not and neither are you. The writer of Hebrews knows that we have that same tendency in our own hearts to harden them. What does that mean? Well, how do we keep our heart soft toward God? Well, I think our passage in Exodus 33 shows us one way. One way is to be willing to leave our comfortable camp and go outside our camp to go seek him. Moses went out of his way to seek God and others in the camp did, too. Heidi, will you read Exodus 33:7?
“And everyone who sought the Lord would go out to the tent of meeting, which was outside the camp.”Exodus 33:7
Jani: Alright, there was a seeking, wasn’t there. Ask yourself, “When was the last time I left my camp, so to speak, to go and purposefully seek the Lord?” I want to encourage you today, seek God in a new way outside your camp. Get away where you can think and pray in quiet. This will take planning, of course, but it’s worth it. Anything of value will cost you something. It will cost you energy, time, but it will cost you so much more if you don’t. So let me encourage you, get away where you can think and pray in quiet. It will be worth it. Look beyond your normal life routine to seek intimacy with God himself. Go hard after God. Do you long for personal communion with him? Remember Psalm 145:18,
“The Lord is near to all who call upon him, to all who call upon him in truth.”Psalm 145:18
To call on someone is a visit, it’s not just playing phone tag. Seek God. Spend time with him. Seek his will, his ways, his glory and an intimate relationship will develop as you talk together.
Heidi: Jani, I once heard a pastor that I really look up to, Josh Howerton—you know Josh and Jana—and he shared it this way. He said that our hearts are like a bucket of water sitting out in an ice storm and their tendency is to just harden. And when we spend time at the Lord’s feet and in his Word, it’s like the Lord takes warmth and begins to soften our hearts. And I love that image. Every time I sit down to read my Bible, I think, “Lord soften my heart.” My heart is so prone to harden that I need his warmth and I need his ice pick in my life and I need his warmth to just to begin to melt that water.
Jani: That’s a beautiful picture. Thank you Josh and Jana. We love the Howertons.
Mimic Moses: Pray God’s Word back to Him 18:05
Jani: So let’s come back now to Moses’s intercession in Exodus 33:12-16. This is a beautiful prayer where Moses intercedes, he mediates between the children of Israel and the Lord God Almighty.
Jani: In verse 12 of Exodus 33, Moses says to the Lord,
“See, you say to me, bring up this people, but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name and you have also found favor in my sight.'”Exodus 33:12
I like those two phrases, “See God, you say to me,” and “Yet, you have said to me, God.” We know that a good rule of communication in any relationship, but especially in prayer, is this: make sure you have heard the other person correctly. Repeat back to your friend, your spouse, your child, your employer or employee, “This is what I hear you say. Is that correct?” We can say that in our prayers. We can say it to God, “God, you have said to me…” That means the more you know God’s Word—the more time we spend in the tent of meeting—the better our communication with him will be. We’ll be able to pray his words back to him and say, “See, Lord, you say to me…”
Jani: Here are a couple of verses. I pray back to the Lord: Psalm 45:16, I say, “See Lord, you say this to me…
In place of your fathers shall be your sons;Psalm 45:16
you will make them princes in all the earth.
…and so I pray, “Lord, make my sons those princes in all the earth. Help me not to cling to them. Let the whole world hear about Jesus through these boys. Let them take our place with even greater faith and more eternal victories, because you have said to me, ‘In the place of your father shall be your sons.’ O Lord, accomplish it.”
Jani: Or another verse I pray back to the Lord, Psalm 25:14:
“The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him,Psalm 25:14
and he makes known to them his covenant.”
And so I pray, “Lord, you say this is true, so help me to fear you. I want to know, really know your covenant with me. I want to experience it day to day. I want to have the friendship of the Lord upon me. You say I can. Do it, Lord. See, you say to me.” Be willing to pray God’s word back to him. Cling to his promises. Pray them back to him.
Mimic Moses: Pray for God’s presence in your difficulty 21:08
Jani: Now let’s go back to Moses and his prayer. He says, “You’ve been telling me to bring up this people, but…” Now Moses is not asking God to take him out of this hard, this stretching, this demanding situation. It’s God’s will. Moses gets that. But he’s leaning on God. He’s saying, “I have a question. This just doesn’t make sense to me. Who will come with me? Will this plague that you’ve sent on all the children of Israel kill everyone?” You see, sometimes following the commands of God opens up new problems. So in verse 13 of Chapter 33 Moses says, “Please Lord, show me your ways.” Moses wants, he needs more of God. You do, too. Heidi and I do, too. There is always more for us to learn, to enjoy, to love, to obey, to glory in. We will never reach the limit of God’s beauty or wonder or love.
Jani: My Ray puts it this way, “Yesterday’s knowledge of God is not a boundary, but a threshold.” That means our problems, our needs, our questions are God’s way for us to get to know him better. So when I come up against a problem, I can say, “God, where are you in this? What can I learn about you from this?”
Heidi: I love that Jani—pressing into God and our struggles versus just going to other people and venting about it, that we can take our struggles to him and we don’t just have to accept them with a happy face, but we can press into him: “God, where are you? I want you to be here. Answer me, help me.”
God’s best answer to my prayers is always God himself.
Jani: Yes, yes, that’s good, Heidi, because ultimately the greatest good in the midst of a problem is not necessarily relief from it, but God’s presence in it. More of God. You know, Heidi, I’m nearly 70 and all through my life I’ve had various difficulties. That’s because I’m human. Every human will have difficulties. And so, of course I pray through them and I ask God for relief. Sometimes he sends relief. Other times he doesn’t, but always ahead, I know there will be no matter what his answer is, there will be more difficulties. So what I really need, God’s best answer is more of himself in the difficulty. I love verse 14 this is what it says. God says, “My presence will go with you and I will give you rest.” Hmm. We need his presence more than anything else. God’s best answer to my problems, my needs, my questions, my cries for help is always God himself. When God is distant, our troubles seem bigger, but when God is near his presence lightens every burden. Psalm 16:11 puts it this way. Do you want to read that, Heidi?
Heidi: Sure. Oh, this is one of my favorite verses. “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” I love how he makes known to us the path of life. He lets us know the path we need to go. And in his presence there is fullness of joy.
Jani: Yes, His presence is what lightens our burdens.
Mimic Moses: Pray for more of God Himself 25:00
Jani: The thing that marks us as set apart from the world we live in is not our good behavior, especially on my part. Whoa. The thing that sets us apart from the world is the manifold presence of God in our lives. Without it, our faith is fragile and ineffective and self centered and really kind of exhausting.
Jani: Heidi, will you read our final verses here? Exodus 33:15-16.
“And he 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 33:15-16
Jani: Thank you, Heidi. Did you catch that, dear listener? “Is it not your going with us, so that we are distinct?” Distinct means recognizable as different, unique, unlike the surroundings. What will God’s presence do for us to make us distinct? Well, his presence will awaken a hunger for his word, a devotion to his ways, an undivided heart that seeks more of God, a willingness to suffer for his sake, an undying hope that knowing God is worth everything and he is the rewarder of those who seek him. That is what his presence will do for us. Moses is always asking for more of God and God honors that. This is what the Lord says to Moses here at the end of this prayer. “The very thing, Moses, that you have spoken, I will do, for you have found favor in my sight and I know you by name.” This is what God’s presence will do for us.
Jani: Moses has found favor. Do you want to find favor with God? Ask him to give you so much of his presence that you, your children, your church will be distinct with the favor of God. What is God’s best answer to our prayers? Himself! He will restore our souls not primarily through solving our earthly problems, but by giving us more of himself. Let’s look for soul restoration in the right places. This week let’s pray, “Lord, you know me by name. Show me your favor by making me distinct from the world around me through your very presence going with me. More than anything, I want more of you. In the name of your Son, Jesus, who makes this all possible, Amen.”