“Then Moses said to him, ’If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.” Exodus 33:15.
What was so important about this Presence that Moses refused to move forward without it? Exodus chapter 33 from verses 1 to 11 begins with God’s command to depart Senai, and proceed to the land of Canaan. This was the land God had initially promised Abraham He would give to his descendants. God reassures Moses that He will send His angel to fight for them and drive out the people who were currently occupying the land. Moses understood that any attempt the Israelites made apart from the presence of God would only result in chaos, defeat, and loss. He knew this because he saw it first hand when God encountered Him through a burning bush. A presence so gentle and personal to an individual, yet powerful enough to lead, and defend an entire nation. It was this very presence in Israel that set the people apart from all other nations.
The same applies for the Church (the body of Jesus Christ) today. The ONLY thing that should ever set us apart is being CARRIERS, and FOLLOWERS of the presence of God and relying on Him to lead us, guide us, and work his will in and through us. Let’s look at what it means to be carriers, but also followers of His presence. In 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 Paul reminds us this truth by saying, “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? [..] God’s temple is sacred, and YOU are that temple.” By knowing God personally, and inviting Him to be in our lives while building an intimate relationship with Him allows us to be carriers of His presence. That invitation we give Him to be part of our lives allows His presence to rest within us. Knowing Him, and being carriers of His presence is great privilege to have, but we should also be aware that it is a privilege which comes with great responsibility. To explain what I mean by this, I want to point out 2 Samuel 6:1-11.
“David again brought together out of Israel chosen men—thirty thousand. He and all his men went to Baalah in Judah to bring up from there the ark of God [where the presence of God rested] which is called by the Name, the name of the Lord Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim on the ark. They set the ark of God on a new cart and brought it from the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, sons of Abinadab, were guiding the new cart with the ark of God on it, and Ahio was walking in front of it. David and all Israel were celebrating with all their might before the Lord , with castanets, harps, lyres, timbrels, sistrums and cymbals. When they came to the threshing floor of Nakon, Uzzah reached out and took hold of the ark of God, because the oxen stumbled. The Lord ’s anger burned against Uzzah because of his irreverent act; therefore God struck him down, and he died there beside the ark of God. Then David was angry because the Lord ’s wrath had broken out against Uzzah, and to this day that place is called Perez Uzzah. David was afraid of the Lord that day and said, “How can the ark of the Lord ever come to me?” He was not willing to take the ark of the Lord to be with him in the City of David. Instead, he took it to the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite. The ark of the Lord remained in the house of Obed-Edom the Gittite for three months, and the Lord blessed him and his entire household.”
I want to use these verses to quickly point out the responsibility and expectation that God has of us, as we become carriers of His presence. The first thing we notice in verse 1 is that these men had dedicated themselves, and were chosen specifically for the purpose of ushering the ark of God. Looking at the story overall we see that they did all the “right” things. They used a new cart, and a young priest to walk alongside the cart to protect the ark. They did what they knew was the best thing to do, but even then they failed to accomplish their goal because they lacked the proper knowledge in carrying the presence of God. The priests fulfilled their religious duties but it was nothing more than just a repetitive act. In other words, they didn’t think about their religious service being accurate, Godly, obedient, or any of its spiritual implications for that matter. This should cause us to stop and re-evaluate what type of carriers we are today. Do we simply go to church on Sundays, sing the songs, do our time and leave? Or, is our worship genuine and obedient? Is it birthed out of ignorance or in the light of God’s revelation? Is our character and behavior reflecting the One whose presence we carry? Or, are we just mockers and deceivers? The second thing to learn from this story is that being dedicated to carrying the presence is not enough. As we read, Uzzah was one of those “chosen” and sincerely dedicated men to carry the ark. However, he was also ignorant and seemingly irresponsible with respect to the requirements of carrying God’s presence. As a result, God acted against Him. As carriers of His presence, it is absolutely important to understand the heart of God and that which is sensitive to Him. Once we understand the value and weight of what we are carrying, then we (and our household) are blessed. Take a look at the house of Obed-Edom who became blessed for the duration of the time that the ark rested in his home. God blesses those who are true carriers of His presence.
What does it mean to be followers of His presence? There are two references that perfectly explain what it means to be led by, or follow His presence. One of the most exciting verses that capture my heart every time I read them are found in Exodus 13:21-22 as it says, ”By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night.” And in Numbers 9:17-22 it says, ”Whenever the cloud lifted from above the tent, the Israelites set out; wherever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped. [..] As long as the cloud stayed over the tabernacle, they remained in camp. When the cloud remained over the tabernacle a long time, the Israelites obeyed the Lord ’s order and did not set out. Sometimes the cloud was over the tabernacle only a few days; at the Lord ’s command they would encamp, and then at his command they would set out. Sometimes the cloud stayed only from evening till morning, and when it lifted in the morning, they set out. Whether by day or by night, whenever the cloud lifted, they set out. Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year, the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out; but when it lifted, they would set out.”
Imagine how wonderful and liberating it was to have such a strong and evident presence of God that they could follow and be led by literally on every move. They moved only when He moved, and they remained still when He did. In the verse in Exodus it clearly states that whether it was by day or night, His presence was evident at all times so that they would not loose their way. In the verse in Numbers, that same truth is repeated as we see them relying on the cloud (presence of God) to dictate their next move. They knew for as long as they followed His presence then not only would they reach their final destination but would also be protected and nurtured throughout their journey there. It was for this very reason that Moses recognized, apart from His presence there was nothing they could do, or anywhere they could go. The power in His presence proved that it was truly God who brought them out the land of Egypt, and only He who could lead them into the Promised Land.
Today, we may not see a pillar of fire, or a pillar of cloud, and that’s not because God no longer works in such manner (He can and He would if desired). However, today through Jesus Christ we have even a greater privilege than the Israelites did. We have the freedom and right to build our own relationship with God in which we are familiar with His presence. In fact, the word presence itself in Hebrew means “panim” which translates to “face”– implying a personal encounter with God; coming face to face with Him.
His presence — His face, is a place of blessing; a place of comfort, a place of restoration, a place of healing, a place of peace and clarity, a place of guidance and strength. It’s a place in which all of our needs are met, our questions are answered, our hope is renewed in, and our purpose is found. If as followers of God this is not what is setting us apart from the rest of the world, then we are failing just like those “chosen” men in 2 Samuel did. When as a church and as individuals we understand this important truth, then just like Moses, we too will find ourselves refusing to move forward without Him. And when we begin to move forward as carriers and followers of His presence, then just like the Israelites, that will be the only distinguishing factor between us and the rest of the world.
See you next Monday!