The Vision of God
April 12th, 1959 @ 8:15 AM
THE VISION OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-12-59 8:15 a.m.
This is the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the early morning message entitled The Vision of God. You can easily follow the message this morning if you turn to the thirty-third chapter of the Book of Exodus, Exodus the thirty-third chapter. Last Sunday morning we concluded in our following the life of Moses with the thirty-second chapter of the Book of Exodus. The title of last Sunday morning’s sermon was The Broken Sentence. It was a message built around the intercession of Moses in behalf of his people after they had sinned so grievously.
When God was talking with Moses [Exodus 20:1-31:18], giving him the pattern for the tabernacle, giving him the Ten Commandments and the moral and civil law by which his people were to be governed, while Moses was on top of the mount, gone almost six weeks the people in the valley below concluded that their great leader had disappeared. He was not to return [Exodus 32:1].
So they said to Aaron, "Up, make us a golden god!" And Aaron did so [Exodus 32:1-4]. And the people in drunken, Oriental, licentious orgy were dancing and reveling around their god of gold [Exodus 32:6, 8, 19]. The Lord Jehovah sent Moses down to the people [Exodus 32:7], and when Moses saw what had happened, there was great grief in his own heart, and of course, the ultimate judgment of God to face. For the Lord God had said to Moses, "You stand aside and let My wrath burn against this people. And I will utterly consume them and out of thy loins will I raise Me up a new nation" [Exodus 32:9-10]. But Moses stood in the breech and interceded for his people [Exodus 32:11]. And that’s where the title of the sermon was gained, The Broken Sentence.
As Moses interceded, he said, "If Thou wilt forgive their sin – "; and he never finished; "If not, blot me, I pray thee, out of the book which Thou hast written" [Exodus 32:32]. And God was entreated because of the faithfulness and importunity of Moses. And the Lord said that for Moses’ sake he would forgive the sins of the people [Exodus 33:17].
Now we come to the thirty-third chapter, the immediately and following chapter, and it begins like this:
And the Lord said unto Moses, Depart, and go up hence, thou and the people which thou hast brought up out of the land of Egypt, unto the land which I sware unto Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, Unto thy seed will I give it:
And I will send an Angel before thee . . .
now the middle of the third verse:
For I will not go up in the midst of thee; thou art a stiffnecked people: I will go not with thee, lest I consume thee in the way.
And when the people heard these evil tidings, they mourned: and no man did put on him his ornaments.
And the Lord said unto Moses . . .
[Exodus 33:3, 4]
Now when I read these, once in a while I’ll change a conjunctive or an article, but I’m reading this thing like you’ll find it in the Hebrew:
And the Lord said unto Moses, Say unto the children of Israel, Ye are a stiffnecked people: if I come up into the midst of thee for even a moment, I would consume thee; therefore now put off thy ornaments from thee, that I may know what to do unto thee.
And the children of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments by the mount Horeb.
When you read that in this King James Version, you – and in this passage that follows – you won’t quite get exactly the thing that happened. It’s remarkable how little "if" and a little "and" will change a whole meaning. The Lord God changed after that grievous sin of the golden calf. "And the Lord said, I will send an angel with you . . . but I will not go Myself" [Exodus 32:34, 33:2-3].
Their sin was such a breach it was difficult. And God said, "If I go with thee, if I am in the midst of the people . . . I would consume them" [Exodus 33:3]. You know He is a God of love [1 John 4:8]. And we emphasize it. But the God of the Bible is a God of consuming fire [Hebrews 12:29]. That’s the reason we so need an advocate, and a Savior, and an intercessor, and a mediator who could stand in the presence of the Lord God whose name is Jealous [Exodus 34:14]. If thou doth break one of these commandments, all of the judgments of God and the wrath of heaven are immediately lodged against the presence of sin; whether it’s in Satan or in you. "If I am with this people for but a moment, I will consume them. Therefore I will not go with you, I will send an angel, and he will go before you" [Exodus 32:34, 33:2].
"And when the people heard these things" [Exodus 33:4], I doubt whether they could enter into all that that meant, the withdrawal of the presence of God, and the sending of an angel in God’s stead. But they sensed enough, and they knew enough to feel that the change was disastrous. "When the people heard these evil tidings, they mourned: and no man did put on him his ornaments" [Exodus 33:6]. The grief they felt in their hearts was expressed outwardly by their unadorning; they didn’t put on their ornaments, and their hearts were full of sorrow. God was not with them.
That can happen to you. It can happen to me. You can lose the presence of God. Many people do, wonderful people, fine people, but the Spirit of the Lord has left them. I’ve seen preachers lose Him. Not their ultimate and final salvation; they are saved as if by fire but they are like Saul [1 Samuel 16:14]. The Spirit of the Lord leaves them, and an evil spirit troubles them.
Like one of the great preachers, "Tell my friends the spirit of prophecy hath left me." God can withdraw His favor upon you. God can withdraw His blessings from you. Instead of a happy home, you can have a miserable home. Instead of having a glad, full life, you can have a miserable and wretched life. Instead of being a man or a woman of great power, you can be weak and anemic. "I will not go with thee, lest I consume thee. I will send an angel in My stead. And when the people heard these evil things they mourned; and no man did put his ornaments on him" [Exodus 33:3-6].
Now let’s see what Moses did in the seventh verse. Now again we’re going to change some of these little articles. "And Moses took his tent" [Exodus 33:7], the article there, as it is in the Greek language, has the force of a possessive, "And Moses took his tent, and pitched it for himself." That’s the exact Hebrew:
And pitched it for himself without the camp, afar off from the camp, and called it the tent of meeting. And it came to pass, that every one which sought the Lord went out unto the tent of meeting, which was without the camp.
And it came to pass, when Moses went out unto the tent, that all the people rose up, and stood every man at his tent door, and looked after Moses, until he was gone into his tent.
And it came to pass, as Moses entered into the tent, the cloudy pillar descended, and stood at the door of the tent, and the Lord talked with Moses.
And all the people saw the cloudy pillar stand at the tent door: and all the people rose up and worshiped, every man in his tent door.
And the Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend.
Now what happened there was this: Moses dared not leave the people. He had gone on that long journey up to Mount Sinai, speaking with the Lord face to face [Exodus 33:11]. And while he was gone, they fell into that terrible and grievous idolatry [Exodus 32:1-10]. And Moses was afraid to leave. The people were so vacillating; they were so weak; they were so frail. They were so given to sin that Moses dared not leave. And yet Moses felt that he could not live without communion with God. Moses felt that in his soul he had to have quiet, and prayer, and meditation. Yet he was afraid to leave the people. What should he do?
This is what he did. Moses took his tent, and he put it way out there beyond the camp somewhere in a lonely place. And there Moses proposed to meditate, to pray, to be quiet, to talk to God face to face. And God approved it. When Moses took his tent and he called it the tent of meeting, which was afterward the same name given to the tabernacle; when Moses took his tent and pitched it way out there in a lonely desert spot somewhere, God approved of what he did, for the Lord came down in visible presence, in a pillar of cloud, "and the Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend" [Exodus 33:7-11].
You need that. You will never be close to God, if all of your life you’re backslapping and sitting in some kind of an entertainment house and all of your life you’re on the go. You can’t know God and not be quiet. "Be quiet," the psalmist said, "and know that I am God" [Psalm 46:10]. You have to have a quiet place and a quiet time. You have to have them if you know the Lord.
Now we ought to be busy about God’s business, but to be busy in our emptiness is to be of all things most ineffective. We must have times of quiet, of meditation, of prayer, of pouring over the Holy Scriptures. Moses felt that, and put his tent way out there alone, far beyond the camp [Exodus 33:7]. And the people – and here Moses was most gracious – and the people who wanted to take burdens to the Lord, and who sought the Lord, they went out there also to that tent [Exodus 33:7], and there Moses prayed with them. And there they knelt. And there they bared their souls naked and open before God. That’s a wonderful thing. It’s a holy thing. It’s only tragic here in the sense of how it came about, for Moses did that because he was afraid to leave the people.
Now, out there in that tent, something happened. "Moses," now we begin at the twelfth verse:
Moses said unto the Lord, See, Thou sayest unto me, Bring up this people: and Thou hast not let me know whom Thou wilt send with me. Yet Thou hast said, I know thee by name, and thou hast found grace in My sight.
Now therefore, I pray Thee, if I have found grace in Thy sight, show me Thy intention, that I may know Thee, that I may find grace in Thy sight: and consider that this nation is Thy people.
[Exodus 33:12, 13]
Now what Moses is saying there is this: God had said, "I will not go with thee. If I were to go with thee, in a moment I would consume thee [Exodus 33:3]. And I will send an angel" [Exodus 33:2]. Moses didn’t know what that meant. I don’t suppose we could know what that meant.
"And Moses said unto the Lord, Thou sayest to me, Bring up this people: and yet Thou hast not let me know whom Thou wilt send" [Exodus 33:12]. In other words, "What do You mean by an angel? I do not know what Thou dost mean. Yet You say to me, Bring up this people: and yet I do not know what You mean when You say, I will not go with thee [Exodus 33:3], I will send an angel" [Exodus 33:2].
And Moses was fearful. "I do not know. I do not understand. Now therefore I pray Thee, if I have found grace in Thy sight, show me Thy intention [Exodus 33:13]. What do You mean by an angel? I do not want an angel, I want Thee. We’re not asking for a created being, we want God."
And that’s what Moses is saying there. And now, the Lord relents. He says, "My presence shall go" [Exodus 33:14]. It doesn’t say, "with thee." That’s put in there. In your Bible it’s italicized "with thee." And He said, "My Presence shall go, but it is all right with thee, I will give thee rest" [Exodus 33:14]. God turns aside from that final interdiction; "I will not go [Exodus 33:3]. I will send an angel" [Exodus 33:2].
In keeping with the intercession of Moses, God says, "I will go with thee, Moses [Exodus 33:14], not with the people, lest I consume them [Exodus 33:5]. I will go with thee, I will be with thee" [Exodus 33:14]. And Moses said, "If Thy Presence go not, carry us not up hence. For wherein shall it be known here that I and Thy people" [Exodus 33:15-16]. You see, Moses is beginning to say, "Lord, that is still not enough. Just for You to say You will go with me is not enough, it must also be with the people. "For wherein shall it be known here that I and Thy people have found grace in Thy sight? Is it not in that Thou goest with us? I and the people, so shall we be separated, I and Thy people [Exodus 33:16]. And the Lord said unto Moses, I will do this thing that thou hast spoken: for thou hast found grace in My sight, and I know thee by name" [from Exodus 33:17].
Finally due to Moses’ prayerful intercession and importunity, God says, "I will go all the way with the people, with you, and with the people. I will not consume them. I will set aside their sin, and Moses I will do this thing that thou hath spoken, for thou hast found grace in My sight, and I know thee by name" [Exodus 33:17].
Oh! Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could talk to God like that? And ask God like that? And pray to God like that? And the Lord would hear us like that? "I put it all aside," God says, "I put their sin aside. I have blotted it out. I have buried it in the depths of the sea. I have covered it over, for thy sake. Thou hast found grace in My sight, and I know thee. And I will go with thee, Moses, and I will go with the people"; all of it in the past" [Exodus 33:17].
And now the vision of God; Moses’ first request was for the people, always for the people. Now he makes a request for himself. "And Moses said," now look at this, "And the Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend" [Exodus 33:11]; think of the advantageous position in which Moses found himself; talking to God as a man would talk to his friend.
And now Moses is going to ask something for himself. What would you ask? Well, if I have any way of knowing people, why, I would suppose some of them are asking, "O Lord, make me rich. O Lord, give me money. O Lord, bring in those two more oil wells. O Lord, help me pay my debts. O Lord, give me fifteen more years. O Lord," and that’s what everybody prays for, "Bless me, and bless my wife, and my son John, and his wife, and us four, and no more." That’s what, I just listening to people praying. Here is Moses in the most advantageous position, and having made request for his people, he’s going to make request for himself. It’s like Solomon. "What shall I do for thee? Ask." And Solomon was so wise, he didn’t ask for riches. He didn’t ask for fame. He didn’t ask for glory. He didn’t ask for long life. He asked for God to be with him, that God would show him, give him wisdom to know how to walk in and out before God’s people [2 Chronicles 1:10]. And the Lord said:
Solomon, because thou has asked not for riches, and fame, and wealth, and length of life, but has asked for wisdom to know how to walk in and out before this people, I will not only give you your request, but I will also give thee fame, and riches, and length of days, and glory, and power.
[2 Chronicles 1:11, 12]
Oh, if we could just be like that!
"And Moses said," and here’s his request, "Lord, that I might see Thy glory" [Exodus 33:18]. Now isn’t that something? If you had a request of God and knew God like Moses did and could talk to Him as a friend, face to face, would you ask for that? "That I might see the glory of the Lord," the vision beatific. If you’ve ever read Dante’s Inferno that’s the climax of the three great sections: the purgatorial, the inferno, the purgatorio, the paradiso, the vision beatific, the ultimate, final, glorious vision of God, "That I might see Thy glory" [Exodus 33:18]. That’s what he wanted.
And God said, I will make all My goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.
And He said, Thou canst not see My face: for there shall no man see Me, and live.
[Exodus 33:19, 20]
Like John 1:18, "No man hath seen God at any time."
And the Lord said, Behold, there is a place by Me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock:
And it shall come to pass, when My glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a cleft of the rock, and will cover thee with My hand while I pass by:
And I will take away Mine hand, and thou shalt see My back parts: but My face shall not be seen.
So God put Moses in the cleft of the rock while His glory passed by. And then when His glory passed by, God took away His hand. And Moses saw the afterglow of the glory of God. Be the same thing as a man could not look into the sun. It would blind him, but he can see the sunset, the afterglow.
Now this is a spiritual vision. And you can’t put it in words of language. And there’s no man in this earth that can say what that was. It was a vision of the goodness, of the graciousness, of the power, and the beauty, and the holiness of God as the Lord passed by. We do not know. Mind cannot think of it. Eye could not behold it. Ear could not understand it were it described. Language cannot bear up under such a spiritual vision.
But in some way, God covered Moses while the glory of His Presence, the beauty, the holiness of God passed by, then took away the covering of His hand, and God let Moses see the sunset, the afterglow. I do not know. It was just something beyond what word could ever describe.
Now this is not an invitation song. This is a part of the sermon. I want you to turn to 272, and we’re going to sing it. Number 272, this is a part of the sermon. I do not know of a hymn that is more beautifully scriptural than this; number 272. There is a longing in the heart of every true Christian to see God to be near the Lord. You find it in Job 23, "Oh that I knew where I might find Him!" [John 23:3].
You find it in the forty-second Psalm, "As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, O God" [Psalm 42:1]. And again, "My soul longeth, my soul thirsteth, my soul fainteth for the living God" [Psalm 42:2]. And Philip said unto Jesus, "Show us the Father, show us the Father" [John 14:8]. That request is granted in that incomparable, precious verse in 2 Corinthians 3:18, "But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, and as by the Spirit of the Lord."
You can be given this vision of God. I’ll say this to you. When it’s given to you, you can’t describe what has happened. It will be a something in your soul beyond what any word could ever contain or any sentence could ever bear. But the vision of God is open to all of us. Jesus can be so bright, and so near, and so glorious, until the heart can hardly contain it.
John Tenant, one time in a rapturous vision like that, said, "Stay Lord for I cannot bear it." And Dwight L. Moody one time exclaimed, "O Lord, hold Thy hand, hold Thy hand." The weight of the glory of the presence of Jesus is more than the soul can bear. You can have that experience. You can. When Christ is so real, and so near, and so dear, and His glory so overwhelming that the heart cannot bear it, "Stay Lord, stay Thy hand, hold Lord. It is more than I can bear."
"We all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord." Now this is a song,
He hideth my soul in the cleft of the rock, that shadows a dry, thirsty land
He hideth my life in the depths of His love, and covers me there with His hand.
["He Hideth My Soul," Fannie Crosby]
Now let’s sing the first two stanzas.
I have just this little moment to add:
And it came to pass, when Moses came down from the presence of the Lord, that he wist not that the skin of his face shone.
When the children of Israel saw him, behold, the skin of his face shone.
[Exodus 34: 29, 30]
Isn’t that the sweetest, truest portrayal of one who has been with God? "And he wist not that the skin of his face shone" [Exodus 34:29]. It’s like linen that has been with lavender. It is like iron that has been near a magnet. It is like a child that has been reared in a beautiful and cultural home. Moses, utterly unconscious, having seen the Lord, and having been with God, his face shone. It was in the way he looked in his eyes, it was in the tone of his voice, it was in the gesture of his hand; and you could tell it.
When one has been with God, and the vision of the Lord he has seen, his life is different, his language is different, he just looks different. Unconsciously, he reflects the glory of the Savior. What is the verse? "We are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord" [2 Corinthians 3:18]. You reflect something of the beautiful, holy, pristine presence of Jesus. Oh these things, how they move our souls; the vision of God.
Now blessed, precious people, I don’t know whether we know this song or not, but here is another one, and this is going to be our invitation. Here is another song built on that same story; 271. And while we sing it, the best we can, while we sing it, "Hiding in Thee Thou bless Rock of Ages, I am hiding in Thee O say to the rock that is higher than I, my soul," while we sing the song, somebody you to give your heart to the Lord, or somebody you to put your life in the presence of our congregation; to join your soul and life with us, would you come? A family you or one somebody you in this great balcony round, coming down these stairwells, or on this lower floor into the aisle and here to the front, while we sing this song; another hymn built upon that beautiful story, when God hid Moses in the rock and His glory passed by, while we sing this song, would you come and stand by me? Number 271 while we stand and sing.
THE VISION OF GOD
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-12-59 8:15 a.m.
I. Results of golden calf
1. God’s threat of withdrawal
2. God will send an angel to lead Israel
3. Israel took off adornments
II. Moses’ reaction
1. Withdrew from camp
2. Tent of meeting to become tabernacle
3. God approved
4. God threatens if He goes He will consume Israel in His fire
5. Moses asks God to be present with Israel, does not want an angel
6. God agrees to go
III. Moses asks to see God’s glory – his face glowed afterwards