“I need Thee every hour, in joy or pain; come quickly and abide, or life is vain.”
— Annie Sherwood Hawkes, I Need Thee Every Hour
At a time when God was most merciful, at a time when God had been so gracious, and at a time when God had drawn closer to the people of Israel as never before, they committed a dreadful sin against the Holy One. The One who had led them out of the chains of Egypt and unto the path of the Promised Land, was being questioned. God had spoken to them through Moses, His chosen prophet, and had given them a law that testified to God’s holiness. The children of Israel needed God, but they did not want Him.
The people had seen His glory, and had even seen His marvelous deeds as to how He brought them out of Egypt. Israel had praised Yahweh, the God of unsearchable greatness, when the seas were opened for the Hebrew nation, and closed for the idolatrous Egyptians. Little did Moses, or any of the people, know that soon they too would become idolaters. Not too long after receiving God’s law, from the holy mountain of Sinai, the Israelites asked Aaron to build a golden calf, and, as recorded in Exodus 32:4 (ESV), it says, “And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!'”
What ensues next? Moses descends from the mountain, and he sees the dancing and the sacrifices offered to the pagan God that Israel had made. Moses then commanded all that stood up for the Lord to vanquish the Lord’s enemies (3,000 people died because of sin). Moses then proceeds to melt the golden calf, grind it into powder once hardened, and force the people of Israel to drink water mixed with the golden calf powder. Though a travesty occurred, God still led the people back to the holy mountain. God was to speak to Moses, and He was to give Moses a plan regarding the path which Israel should take. However, this plan was not one that was unpleasant, but rather distressing.
God declares His plan in Exodus 33:1-3 (ESV): “The Lord said to Moses, ‘Depart; go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your offspring I will give it.’ 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. 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.'”
Notice that God reminds them that it was He who brought them out of Egypt, thereby convicting them of their idolatrous spirit. They had come to believe the golden calf was their guider, lord, and savior of Israel; but declares that He is the One true Guider, Lord, and Savior of Israel. So, God is essentially saying this:
“You think you can do better without me? Fine. I will let you go ahead. I will give you an angel, I will drive out all your enemies, make your life comfortable, and make sure you get all the prosperity and gluttony you want…but My presence will not go with you. I have had it with your complaining, stubbornness, and pride. You think you can live without Me? Go for it.”
Then hope begins to arise in the text in Exodus 33:4 (ESV) saying, “When the people heard this disastrous word, they mourned, and no one put on his ornaments.” The people heard the voice of God, and mourned. The very thought of God leaving them made the people grieve, and become disgusted with their selfishness and belongings. They looked at their golden ornaments, their jewelry, and their fine linen robes and had no desire for them. Why? Because their love for these things was what caused their separation from God. The people began to not only ignore their ornaments, but strip themselves of it. They departed from their evil ways and pleaded with Moses to speak to God, for they could not stand the thought of being apart from God.
So, the people go forth to Sinai, and pitch their tents. They dwell there, and God among their midst, though in a tent separated from the tent called “Tent of Meeting”. As Moses walked towards the tent, a pillar of cloud was over it, and the men stood outside their tents beholding God’s humble prophet. Then, in Exodus 33:13 (ESV), Moses intervenes with God saying, “‘If I have found favor in Your sight, please show me now Your ways, that I may know You in order to find favor in Your sight. Consider too that this nation is Your people.'”
Moses pleads that God would remember that the Israelites are grieved, and they want to know His ways. They yearn for His presence, and they need Him. Moses reminds God that the children of Israel were God’s chosen people and that He should show mercy. The Lord replies in Exodus 33:14 (ESV) saying, “‘My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.'” Then Moses replies in Exodus 33:15-16 (ESV): “‘If Your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. 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?'”
What a powerful testimony to the necessity of God. Too often, we become like the Israelites. We become focused on our own golden calf: possessions, money, status, titles, family, etc. to the point where we fail to recognize the praise that Israel had given God in 1 Samuel 7:12 (HCSB), “‘The Lord has helped us to this point.'” We can dream of so many things, have so much wealth, and garner more titles than a library could ever have, but is it our focus? We all struggle with idolatry within our own hearts, and sometimes we forget that our hope is not of this world. We forget that God’s presence is the dearest thing we can possibly have. It is God who gets us anywhere, and He alone is to be honored above all things.
We see His glory, we receive His gifts, and we are honored to be His children; but do we desire for His presence to go before us? Do we desire for God to be our guide in every walk of life? Do we pray before we sleep that God would keep us from dreaming sinful thoughts and temptations (as I must admittedly do or else Satan will get the better of me)? Do we put aside our own ornaments in order to please God and to be faithful in our walk with Him? Do we consider His presence to be our craving, our constant appetite, and our passionate zeal? It is such a wonderful thing to experience God’s presence, and how often Christians (especially those in the Reformed camp like myself) forget that God is not only concerned with our intellect, but also our zealous love for Him.
One of the hymns I consider to be one of my all-time favorites is Abide With Me. I weep just thinking of the song, and its lyrics have a spiritual power that I can’t express enough. In the first verse of the hymn it says the following:
Abide with me: fast falls the eventide
The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide
When other helpers fail and comforts flee
Help of the helpless, O abide with me
May we seek God, may His presence be our greatest joy and delight, and may He never forsake His people. Thank Christ for being our intercessor with the Father, that His Holy Spirit would never leave the chosen elect of God, and that He is faithful to those who love Him. I pray that my every morning will always begin with me saying, “May I not live out this day alone, not without Thee Lord, and not without Thy presence to guide me.”
Soli Deo Gloria.