While there are many themes that arise throughout Israelite history, one of the themes that plays a major role in redemptive history is that of seeking God’s face and seeking to see His glory. Certainly God glorifies himself in many ways throughout the scriptures—creation itself reveals the glory of God (Psalm 19). But ultimately and fully, before the eyes of man, God did reveal his glory in his Son, Jesus Christ; and though that glory was veiled in the flesh for a time, it will be revealed in its fullness when Christ comes to claim his own and to bring judgment upon his enemies. And, oh, what a glorious day that will be!
Yet, God does not lead his people through the redemptive history of the Old Testament without giving them a taste of what will come. Many times, God reveals his glories through visions and dreams, but once in a while, God reveals himself and his glory in person. And this is the request that Moses is making in our passage. Moses has faithfully let the people out of Egypt and to Mount Sinai where they have received the Law from the very hand of God.
Yet during the time that Moses is on the mountain receiving the Law, the people fall into sin by making and worshiping a golden calf. Both God and Moses are furious, but Moses intercedes for his people and God relents of his anger. Yet, at this same time, God sends the people away from Sinai. This is the setting of our passage—God has commanded the Israelites to pick up and start moving, but Moses pleads for a sign that God will not forsake the people—and that sign is to see the glory of God.
This is a turning point in the history of God’s people. As the people leave Sinai there can be no doubt that they would fall into sin once again—and oh how they fall into sin and how many die as a result of their sinful ways. The question that remained to be answered with that in mind was whether God would continue with His people even when they were doing everything but continuing with Him? Would God build them into a nation in spite of their rebelliousness? The answer, of course is a resounding, “yes!” But let us never forget that the blessings that God shows to his people in spite of their wickedness is due in no part to their merit, but is due entirely to the grace and mercy of our Lord.
How this is true as well with His church in the New Testament age and beyond. The church, through history, has done anything but live an exemplary model of faithfulness to their God. We are sinful and we fall on our faces over and over again as a result of that sin. Yet, God is a faithful God and has preserved a remnant of true believers from within the corrupt church. And even though we as the church stumble and fall into sin, he not only offers us forgiveness, but one day, when this flesh and blood has passed, we will see the glory of God face to face—not just for a moment and protected by a cleft in the rock, but fully in His presence for all eternity.
Now, with triumphal palms, they stand before the throne on high,
And serve the God they love, amidst the glories of the sky,
His presence fills each heart with joy, tunes every mouth to sing;
By day, by night, the sacred courts with glad hosannas ring.