Sometimes I think I should write on every page of the Old Testament of my Bible the following words:
Unto us they did minister.
I am thinking of Peter’s words that the prophets of old greatly longed to know what the Spirit of Christ in them had in mind by the things they were prophesying when they “testified beforehand of the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow.” They wondered when these things would take place, and realized it was not they themselves God had in mind when He inspired them to write these things.
To whom it was revealed that not unto themselves but unto us they did minister the things which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into (1 Pt. 1.12).
Unto us they did minister. And so when I read my Old Testament I must continually bear this in mind. These things were written for me, and I need to discover what God had in mind. How does this apply to me in this present day?
We talked last time about God’s desire to dwell in the midst of His people when He brought them out of Canaan. He was not content to stay up in Heaven and supervise their journey from there. He wanted to dwell in their midst on the way. And so when Moses went up into Mount Sinai to commune with God and receive the tablets of the Law, God instructed him to have the people bring an offering, “And let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them” (Ex. 25.8).
You mean the God of heaven actually wanted to come down and dwell in their midst? What wondrous words! Never before in the long history of this people had their God said anything like this!
Going to my New Testament I discover this same eternal desire of God’s, but it is not a tent of skins He desires for His dwelling place now. It is you and I, who are “builded together an habitation of God by (or, in) the Spirit” (Eph. 2.22).
But I want to go back to my Old Testament and read further. There is a solemn lesson there we dearly need to learn. When Moses came back down the mountain with the tablets of the law and the instructions for building the tabernacle he was greeted with the sound of wild partying. In his long absence the people had grown weary of waiting for his return. They wanted to get on with their journey to Canaan. And so they pressured Aaron, who took an offering from them—their golden earrings—and fashioned a golden calf that would go before them. Now they were feasting and dancing around the calf in unbridled abandon, their enemies apparently watching them gleefully all the while (Ex. 32.25).
I don’t have to spell out how painfully this parallels our own day, and we all know the story of how Moses, when he saw what was happening, smashed the tablets of the law at the foot of the mount.
I encourage you to read the whole story; I can’t go through it all here. I just want to compress one thing that has impacted my own heart deeply.
God told Moses that, as a result of this apostasy, He was done. His anger was so hot that He was going to wipe this people out and make of Moses a great nation instead. Unthinkable, Moses replied. If you do that Your enemies will blame you, not them. They’ll say Your intention in bringing them out of Egypt was to do them evil.
And so with this intercession Moses persuaded God to repent of the evil He said He would do (Ex. 32.14). Was God was just testing Moses through this to see if He had a man who was beyond seeking gain for himself in the things of God? I think that’s what is behind this. I think God was secretly rejoicing to see Moses making intercession like that.
And as we read further we find Moses continuing to make intercession, because, although God changed His mind about wiping them out, He told Moses that He Himself would not go with them to Canaan now. In other words, the sanctuary He had in mind, the tabernacle, the dwelling place for Himself in the midst of His people… yes, He had given Moses the plans for this in the mount. But this was off now. He would be faithful to keep His promise to Abraham, He would bring the people into the promised land. But only by the hand of an angel. He Himself would not go with them.
For I will not go up in the midst of thee; for thou art a stiffnecked people… (Ex. 33.3).
This was very bad news. You mean God would not go with them any further?
And when the people heard these evil tidings, they mourned… (Ex. 33.4).
How encouraging to see the repentance, this time their own, and so once again Moses makes intercession on their behalf, speaking with God face to face “as a man speaketh unto his friend” (Ex. 33.11).
All this takes place within a few verses that we read too quickly, and so when we come to God’s response to this intercession it’s easy to miss its impact. We know the outcome; Moses and the people did not. The situation was very intense. The people were back in the camp stricken with grief, wringing their hands and trembling, hardly able to cast even a glance toward the tent where Moses is speaking with God on their behalf. What will He say? Will He change His mind? They are waiting with bated breath.
And God responds, “My Presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest.” What a relief. This is a complete reversal of what He said just a few verses earlier. He had said He would send an angel to guide them to Canaan. Now He says that His Presence shall go with them after all. In other words, the plan for His tabernacle in their midst is on again. And very shortly we find Moses in the mount again receiving further instructions for this.
Notice now Moses’ response to God’s words.
And he said unto Him, If Thy Presence go not with me, carry us not up hence. For wherein shall it be known here that I and Thy people have found grace in Thy sight? Is it not in that Thou goest with us? So (or, by this) shall we be separated, I and Thy people, from all the people that are on the face of the earth (Ex. 33.16).
I wonder how many churches would get very excited and consider themselves privileged if someone suddenly prophesied that God was about to commission an angel (or some renowned preacher) to take them to their destination… and would entirely miss the desire of the heart of God. He Himself wants to dwell in our midst, each and every person in the church being part of this, and filled with His abiding Presence!
And when there is true repentance, oh how ready He is to visit us with His Presence. Oh how He longs to hear those voices of repentance and intercession asking Him… and saying to Him, Lord, if you don’t go with us, we aren’t interested in going anywhere. We’re not interested in church anymore if You Yourself are not present. We are calling a halt to it all till Your Presence is dwelling in our midst. It is this, not our creeds and doctrines and programs and activities and great preachers, but this—Your Presence—that is to be the defining characteristic of the holy people of God in the earth.