“Show me Your glory,” Moses asks of Yahweh (Exodus 33:18). He’s not looking for a fireworks display (Rodeheaver). After all, he’s had a part in, and been witness to some of the most spectacular miracles in history. No, he’s wants something more. His desire is to see God as He is—no pillar of cloud or fire, no burning bush, no more cryptic names.
He’s not making this request as a thrill seeker—someone who only wants to check a “Wow!” off his list before moving on to the next wonder. No, his situation borders on desperation. While Moses has been on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments from God, Israel has been down on the plain violating the very law they had promised to obey (Exodus 24:1-8). Rather than imaging the Almighty One who has delivered them from Egypt and the nations around them, they have instead adopted the ways of those nations by seeking to worship (and manipulate) Yahweh through a golden calf (32:5).
This is where it really gets interesting. God tells Moses what has happened and that He wants to destroy the nation and start over with just him, but Moses “talks” Him out of it (32:9-14). God then counters by promising to send an angel with them on their journey to Canaan but He will not accompany them because “you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you along the way” (33:2-3). Moses’ reply is truly insightful and inspiring. He tells God that he has no desire to go to the land if He does not go with them (v. 15-16). He is telling Yahweh that he doesn’t want His gift (Canaan) unless it includes Him.
That’s significant because some fall in love with the gifts of God more than God. This seems to be what happened to the rich young ruler. The Christ asked him to sell his gifts, give the proceeds to the poor, and follow Him but “he went away sad, because he had great wealth” (Matthew 19:22). One of the things that makes Moses a great leader is that he knows better. To be in the Promised Land without the One who promised it is something he wants no part of.
What he does want is for Yahweh to reveal Himself. God has twice spoken of destroying Israel, said He wasn’t going to accompany the nation, and then said that He would. Moses wants to know what’s on God’s heart so he can know how to gauge all of this. Seeing His “glory” means to see Him as He is. So Yahweh accommodates him. The next morning He passes by Moses on the top of the mountain and reveals Himself by saying, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love to the thousandth generation” (34:6-7).
Moses bows his head in worship (v. 8). He has “seen” God. Not only does this help him lead Israel to Canaan, this description of God is repeated a dozen more times in the Old Testament to help God’s people in whatever situation they might be in.
It’s still helpful today.