Sometimes I think people see God as some mysterious being who speaks in riddles saying wise things no one can really understand. Jesus taught in parables that might be difficult to comprehend sometimes, but God wants us to understand Him. This is why God never speaks to us in a language we don’t recognize. He’s not going to start talking to you in Chinese if you only speak English and French. 

Since God isn’t going to talk to us in a language we don’t know, and He wants us to understand Him, it stands to reason then, if you’re reading the Bible and you find something you don’t understand, that something might be off, somewhere. This is what I encountered today while studying Exodus 33.

Moses said to the Lord, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’ If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”

The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

Exodus 33:12-14 (NIV)

(If you’d like to read the full context of Exodus 33 you can do so here.)

Previously in Exodus, the Lord had told Moses to take the people and leave Mount Sinai (also known as Mount Horeb). He promises to send an angel before them to drive out the people in the land ahead of them (the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites). However, God tells Moses He’s not going with them. 

Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way.”

Exodus 33:3 (NIV)

You might recall that the Lord had been visible with the people as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire at night since they departed from Egypt. Now, He’s not going with them.

Think about it for a moment. How would you respond if God wasn’t with you? I’m not talking about a pillar. I’m talking about God not being there for you. I’m also not talking about losing salvation. When I think about this, it really shakes me up, but I’m thankful. I’m thankful because it wasn’t until I started thinking about the Lord not being in my life that I realized how much I depend on Him every day. I don’t just think about God when I pray, read the Bible, or when I want something from Him. I talk to Him all throughout my day, and I rely upon Him being there. Always. I’d sooner be able to comprehend not breathing and still being alive than fathom what life would be like without God in it. 

After the people heard that God wasn’t going to go with them, they mourn and don’t put on any fancy ornaments. Exodus 33:7-11 tells us about the tent of meeting. This is where we return to this conversation between Moses and God. The issue I have with the start of this conversation is with what Moses says in Exodus 33:13 and God’s response in Exodus 33:14.

 “If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”

Exodus 33:13 (NIV)

Okay, this makes sense. Moses wants God to teach him His way. Moses wants to know more about God. However, the bit about remembering the people doesn’t quite make sense. Here’s God’s response.

The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”

Exodus 33:14 (NIV)

What? God might have well said, “You know Moses, I really like vanilla ice-cream.” Perhaps the next verses will shed some insight into this?

Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”

Exodus 33:15-16 (NIV)

Perhaps I’m a little slow, but I couldn’t track Moses asking the Lord to teach him His ways with God’s response that His Presence will go with him. Even Moses’ reply seems to refer to what God said and not his own request that God “teach me your ways.”

Checking other translations didn’t shed much insight into this apparent disconnect in the conversation between Moses and God, but they helped a little bit. 

Now therefore, I pray, if I have found grace in Your sight, show me now Your way, that I may know You and that I may find grace in Your sight. And consider that this nation is Your people.”

Exodus 33:14 (NKJV)

Most of the translations I reviewed used the word “show” instead of “teach.” However, I still wasn’t getting it. I read some commentaries and also checked out the Hebrew. After reading the Hebrew words, I concluded that “teach” isn’t a good translation of the original Hebrew word, “yada” which means “to know.” Yada is used 942 times in the Old Testament, and it’s only used twice to mean “teach.” Teach isn’t a good translation here because of the word “way.” The Hebrew word being used here for “way” is “derek.” Derek is “a road, a course of life, mode of action.” Teach me your road, path? I don’t think so.

Another way of thinking about Moses’ request in Exodus 33:14 is remembering what some people called those who followed Christ in Acts. Followers of the Way. The Way is a specific path, course, or road. I’m also reminded of a popular verse amongst parents. 

Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.

Proverbs 22:6 (NIV)

Start children off on the course, road, a path they should go.

So, Moses is asking God a specific question about Exodus 33:3 in Exodus 33:13. 

“Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way.”

Exodus 33:3 (NIV)

Moses is basically saying to God in Exodus 33:13, “You tell me I have your favor and these people (Israelites) are your people. Are you going to stay with us or not?” God’s reply in Exodus 33:14 makes more sense to me now. “My Presence will go with you.” In fact, understanding this conversation brings more clarity to what’s going on here between God and Moses.

Moses is intervening for the people after their idolatrous sin of worshiping the golden calf Aaron made. This is what we see in Exodus 33:15-16.

Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”

Exodus 33:15-16 (NIV)

It might not seem like it because Moses and God are speaking together as friends, but this is intercessory prayer. Hence God’s response.

And the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.”

Exodus 33:17 (NIV)

After Moses has interceded for the people, he has one request for himself.

Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”

Exodus 33:18 (NIV)

I think it’s easy to miss what happens in this conversation between Moses and God, but it’s important to understand what is really happening because it shows us the type of relationship we can have with God. Remember, this conversation is prayer. It might not look like it, but it is.

When we go to God, we should go as ourselves. Everyone else we encounter in our lives gets to see the person we put on. No matter how transparent we aim to be with people, no one knows us like God. It’s impossible. So often, when we go to God in prayer, we stop being ourselves and try to become this version of ourselves that we see as Christian, holy, faithful, revering? We might want to see Jesus as our friend, but who talks to their revered friend in the way we so often talk to the Lord in prayer? 

I’m not saying we don’t acknowledge who God is when we pray or approach Him in a casual and offhand manner. What our words might not say, our spirit and the posture of our heart can say. Let’s look at two examples of prayer under different circumstances. 

You’re going to bed, and you go before the Lord. Let’s say you start off with something like the Lord’s prayer (Matthew 6:9-13). This is a model prayer if you’re ever wondering how to approach God in prayer. After you pray this prayer, you add whatever else you’re going to add. I’d say this prayer and type of prayer is more formalized and not necessarily a good representation of how we might otherwise approach a revered friend. Again, there is nothing wrong with this prayer or praying this way. 

After a good night’s rest, you wake up and pray again. Probably in a way like the night before with different requests since it’s the start of the day. While driving to work someone suddenly cuts you off and you swerve into the next lane while the car in front of you is suddenly braking hard. As you brake and see the impending collision, you cry out to the Lord, “Jesus help me!” or perhaps just, “Jesus!” 

What’s the difference between the prayers you prayed when you went to sleep, woke up, and this cry to the Lord? Will the Lord not come to your aid because you only cried out His name? Of course not. Your cry for help speaks louder about the posture of your heart than all of the words you said when all was well and you were going to bed.

Now, imagine being able to just talk to the Lord whenever. Like a revered friend.

There are many examples of prayer in the Bible. We touched upon two today. This conversation between Moses and God in Exodus 33 and the Lord’s prayer in Matthew. We saw how powerful and effective Moses’ prayer was. God had decided to not go along with the Israelites to the Promised Land, and Moses’ prayer changed His mind. We also learned to dig deeper when we find something we don’t understand in the Bible.

The biggest lesson for me today is knowing that God doesn’t talk to me in a language I don’t understand. So why do I go to Him in prayer using words I might not understand when the posture of my heart speaks for me?

Do you know God? God knows you, and He loves you. He sees you as significant because you are. No one is insignificant to Him. He’s with you today, right now, and He wants you to know Him. Jesus died for your sins and mine so we could be free of guilt, be freed from death, and live eternally with Him. Eternal salvation is just a prayer away. 

Pray this prayer with me to accept the gift of salvation today:

Lord Jesus, forgive me for all my sins. I repent from my ways. Wash me in your blood and cleanse me from all unrighteousness. I believe that you died on the cross, were buried, and on the third day, God the Father raised you from the dead. Right now, Lord Jesus, I open the door to my heart, and I receive you into my heart as my Lord and personal Savior. Amen.

If you prayed that prayer, then congratulations! You are on the first step of a brand new life. Allow me to be the first to welcome you to my family, the family of God. There are abundant resources available online for new Christians. You can visit here for more information on what to do next. You can also leave me a comment, and I’ll do my best to help you on the next step of this incredible journey.