15 And he said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. 16 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)
At the beginning of Exodus 33, God makes a horrifying statement to Moses: “You’ll lead these people into a land flowing with milk and honey, but I’m not going to go with you. Otherwise, I might destroy you on the way.” (Exodus 33:3).
The people rightly mourned when they heard “this disastrous word.” And later Moses dug in, boldly telling God, “If you don’t go with me, I don’t want to go at all” (verse 15).
I admire his boldness. I admire the humility of the Israelites, who for once seem to appreciate the absolute necessity of God’s presence. Because it hasn’t always been that way. Only one chapter before, they had forgotten God completely, turning to a golden calf and proclaiming it as “the gods who brought you out of Egypt (Exodus 32:4).
At the same time, I can appreciate the temptation of the choice Moses was given:
“I can go without God, and make a name for myself. I will be the leader who brought the people of Israel into this land flowing with milk and honey. My name will be great among the people.”
Or, I can beg God to stay with us. I can refuse to go if He is not with us. But that will mean that He gets the glory, not me.
It will mean that people will look to Him for leadership, guidance, provision, and deliverance. I will be in the background.
And for Moses and the Israelites, it would also mean that an entire generation would die in the desert because they refused to trust God.
Is it possible that Moses could have gotten the people to the Promised Land within a couple of weeks if he had just been okay with God not being a part of it? That’s what God seems to imply in 33:2-3:
2 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. 3 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.”
You have a choice Moses. Go without me, and I’ll make the way easy for you. I’ll send the angel ahead of you. You’ll still get to your Promised Land. I just won’t be part of the story.
Or, you can beg for Me to remain with you. And I will. But you will need to do things My way. I will make demands of you. I will require your obedience. And you’re going to fail. You are going to lose heart. You will face My judgment. You will tack on another forty years to your journey when you fail to trust Me. And in the end, not even you, My beloved servant, with whom I speak face to face (see Exodus 33:11), will make it to the Promised Land.
And dear Lord, in my heart of hearts I wonder how many churches, how many pastors, if given the same choice, would say, “So, let me get this straight:
“I could have a megachurch. A successful TV ministry. Book deals. Thousands of adoring followers. I would be the go-to whenever Fox News wanted commentary from a man of faith. Presidents would even seek me out for advice. The only catch is, You wouldn’t be with me.”
“I could struggle to lead a stubborn, self-centered little church for the rest of my life, and have them fight me every step of the way, and at the end of my career, I would die without seeing any of my dreams for the church fulfilled. But You would never leave me. You would never forsake me.”
How many would make the right choice? Would I?
Moses made the right choice. Oh Lord, would I? Please Lord, let me be the type of pastor who would rather struggle with You than succeed without You.