“And He said, ‘My face will go with you and I will secure rest for you.’”
There is an exegetical question that must be answered within this clause: should we translate this as “my presence” or “my face.” Certainly, the idea that is being conveyed is that God’s presence will go with his people. At the same time, the language of the face of God shining upon his people is the language of blessing (Numbers 6:22-27). God’s name and God’s blessing are seen as that which marks his people apart from the nations, and indeed, are significant themes in this passage. Thus, while speaking of God’s presence is a legitimate translation of this clause, speaking of his face provides a fuller and more theological understanding of what is being conveyed. It is not merely the presence of God that he is granting (though that is a great blessing in itself!) but he is turning his face to shine upon his people, bringing blessing upon them as long as they do not stray from his presence.
The willingness of God to set his presence with his people is one of the most encouraging doctrines of the Christian faith. Jesus echoed these words when he said “Behold, I am with you every day, even to the consummation of eternity.” (Matthew 28:20). This is an important concept that runs through the Old Testament with his people (see Deuteronomy 31:8, Joshua 1:5, 1 Chronicles 28:20) and that is what is symbolized by the tabernacle and the temple. Believers can draw great confidence from this for we are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19) and God dwells within us (1 John 2:24).
God’s presence with us means that we can have confidence in stepping out in faith to share the Gospel with others. This means we can go to the deepest, darkest regions of Africa or the coldest wastes of Siberia, and God is still with us. As King David wrote:
O Yahweh, you have searched me and known me;
You know when I sit and when I rise,
You understand my thoughts from far away.
In my journeying and in my lying down, you observe me;
You are acquainted with all my ways.
Even when there is yet no word on my tongue,
Behold, Yahweh, you know all it will be.
My back and east are besieged,
And you set your hand over me.
This knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is exalted and I am not able to attain it.
Where can I go from your spirit?
And where can I flee from before your presence?
If I ascend to the heavens, you are there.
And if I lay in the grave, you are there.
If I take the wings of the dawn,
Or I dwell in at the ends of the sea,
Even there your hand will lead me,
And your right hand shall hold me.
(Psalm 139: 1-10)
There is no place in this world that we can hide from him and there is no place in this world that we are not sheltered by his grace. We can walk with confidence, knowing that God has ordained even our footsteps for his glory. Even if we go to the fires of martyrdom, God is yet there with us. And if God is there with us in the furthest regions of the earth, he will be with us at the water-cooler at work or at the fencepost, when we have the chance to talk to an unbelieving neighbor. He will be with us in school, when we are surrounded by people who are not believers, and he will be with at the grocery store when we have the chance to share the gospel with the lady behind us in the check-out line. And he will be with you even as you are grieving great loss. Believer, take courage, though this world may not be your home and at times may be a hateful place, our God has promised to never leave nor forsake us. That is more comfort than we deserve and all the comfort that we need—no matter what life holds.