Desiring The Presence Of God

Bible Book: Exodus  33 : 12-17
Subject: God, Presence of

One of the most wonderful things about the book of Exodus, and the story of the Israelite’s journey from Egyptian captivity to the Promised Land, is that it gives us a rare glimpse into the person and nature of God. As He works in the lives of His people, as He intervenes in the course of human affairs on their behalf, He reveals things to us about Himself that are both insightful and inspiring.

The picture our text paints for us today is vivid and compelling. Moses is once again fulfilling the role of intercessor; that is, he is on the mountain top, pleading with God on behalf of the people.

In the wake of their rebellion against God, by making and worshiping the idol of a golden calf, God exacts punishment on them in three distinct ways.

1) The main offenders are killed, thus removing their rebellious influence from the people.

2) God plagues the people because of their sin. The exact nature and extent of this plague is not known, suffice it to say that God does punish them as a whole.

3) He tells them that instead of being with them personally, something He had promised back in 20:20-23, because of their sin He will simply send an angel before them.

This final punishment, withdrawing the promise of His presence, is extremely disturbing to Moses. So in verses 12-17, Moses pleads with the Lord for His presence, not only to be with him, but to be with Israel as a whole. This is a fascinating dialogue, where, in the context of pleading for His presence, Moses also calls upon God to be gracious towards Him and towards Israel.

Walking through the discourse in these 6 verses we see that Moses is interceding on behalf of the people, not merely for himself. He is using his personal standing with God as a platform to go to God on behalf of the Israelites, who have sinned against God. As the dialogue goes something like this. This is the Calvin Wittman Paraphrase:

“Moses says to the Lord, Listen, you’ve told me to lead these people into the Promised Land, but You’ve not told me who You will send with me. Yet you told me personally that You know me and have extended Your grace to me. Now, please Lord, if in fact, your grace really has been extended to me, please make your ways clear to me so that I can understand You better and continue to walk in your grace. And remember, these ARE your people Lord. And God said, “My presence will go with you and I will give you rest from your weariness.” But Moses answered and said, Lord, If You Yourself are not going with us, then what’s the use? If we don’t have your presence we might as well not go. Who’s going to know that I have found favor in Your sight unless your presence is known in our midst? Isn’t Your presence the one singular thing which will distinguish us as Your people from among all the other nations of the earth? So the Lord said, “Moses, I will grant you your request because My grace is extended to you and I know you intimately.”

Moses is not satisfied merely to have God’s presence for Himself, as the leader of these people, rebellious and cantankerous as they were. They are still God’s people and as we’ve seen, God has given Moses a heart for them. Among all the people of Israel, Moses, who knows God better than anyone else, recognizes the need for God’s presence. He realizes that without God’s presence their mission is hopeless, their future is futile and their fate is sealed. Only with the presence of God can they hope to come into the land God has promised them.

Ultimately, in response to his prayer, God grants Moses his request and agrees to be present with Israel. But this passage speaks to us about the necessity of God’s presence in our lives.

Because it is impossible to be exhaustive in our study of this passage, for the sake of our study this morning we will limit ourselves to three specific observations, all which have to do with the presence of God.

The first of our three observations is this:

I. Sin Robbed Them of God’s Presence but not His Promise

For the Israelites, sin robbed them of God’s presence not God’s promise. And of course, reading through the scripture we know that this would not be the last time the Israelites’ sin would deprive them of God’s presence

Jeremiah 2:5 says, “Thus saith the Lord, What iniquity have your fathers found in me, that they are gone far from me and have walked after vanity, and are become vain?”

Ezekiel 14:5, “That I may take the house of Israel in their own heart, because they are estranged from be because of their idols.”

In fact, throughout much of the Old Testament Israel’s sin robbed them of the blessings which come from God’s presence.

As Christians, the lesson here is that sin will not dissolve our relationship with God but it can negate our fellowship with God.

Look back at the first three verses of this chapter. God’s promise to give them the land stood. His covenant with Abraham assured the Israelites that they would inherit the land. But because of their sin, God was no longer willing to accompany them, but instead to send an angel before them. In fact, verse 3 tells us that God was so upset with them, that if He were to accompany them He may just destroy them somewhere along the journey. Their sin did not dissolve their relationship, but it did affect their fellowship.

As New Testament people of God, Christians who are in relationship with God through the covenant of the Blood of Jesus, we have an assurance, a guarantee that He will never leave us nor forsake us. In other words, once we have truly come into relationship with Him and are His people, sin cannot separate us from our position as His children. What sin can and will do is affect the condition of our relationship with Him; it will disrupt our fellowship with Him.

That’s why we need an intercessor, just like the Israelites did. As Christians we have an intercessor, Jesus Christ. Hebrews 7:25 tells us that Jesus “is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.”

When we sin, even as Israel sinned, Jesus will plead our case to God the Father and because Jesus has found favor with the Father, we will be forgiven, based not on our own merit but upon the merit of Jesus.

1 John 1:7-8 says,

“If we walk in the light, as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

As Christians, sin cannot deprive us of God’s presence for He is with us always, regardless of what we’ve done. What sin does is rob us the joy which comes from fellowship with Him. That’s why this passage in 1 John is so important. It promises us that simply by confessing our sin to Him, we can have the fellowship restored and walk in the joy of His presence once again.

There is a second thing this text shows us, and that is that….

II. God’s Presence was Necessary

God’s presence was necessary in order to accomplish their God given mission.

Moses is so adamant about this that he actually tells God that unless He goes with them, there is really no use in going on at all. In other words, it would be better just to die out here in the wilderness than to try and attempt something for God that only God can accomplish.

Moses knew that God’s presence was necessary if Israel was to come into the Promised Land. He had stood on this mountain months before and pleaded for proof that God would be with him when he went back to Egypt. Moses had faced the awesome power of Pharaoh and knew that unless God had been present, he would surely have failed. Along with the rest of Israel he had been trapped between the armies of Pharaoh and the depths of the Red Sea, and had God not been there, they would most certainly have been killed. He had stood before the people when they were grumbling because of thirst, even threatening to kill him, and he knew that if God had not been present, he would have been done for. Moses realized something each of us will sooner or later have to come to terms with and that is that the presence of God is not optional if we are going to do what He has called us to do.

There is a great lesson here for you and me as Christians: without God’s presence in our lives, without His active and vibrant company, without His attendance in the course of our daily affairs, we will not be able to accomplish anything. In fact living the Christian life itself is impossible without the presence of God.

This is what Jesus tells us in John 15:1-5 where he talks about the vine and the branches.

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away, and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear much more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine and you are the branches, he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me, you can do nothing.”

Without God’s active presence in our lives we will never amount to anything in the kingdom of God. Without His presence we cannot continue to be conformed into the image of Jesus Christ. Without His presence we will not know power over temptation and sin. Without His abiding presence, active and dynamically involved in every facet of our lives, we will wander aimlessly through life, never accomplishing the purpose for which we were created, never able to sense the fulfillment which comes by allowing Him to work through us.

But there is a third thing I want you to notice from these first 6 verses and that is that….

III. God’s Presence Sets Us Apart

God’s presence sets His people apart from the rest of the world.

Look at verse 16.

One theologian sums up this point succinctly when he says, the, “Theological insight is universal (and) equally applicable to (the) divine-human relationship and ministry in any age. No people, no matter how religious they are and for whatever reasons, can be a people of God without the presence of God.”1

Moses understood that the one thing which separated them from the rest of the world; the one thing which made them unique and exclusive was not their ethic origins. It was not the color of their hair, the songs they sung, their social customs or their religious rituals. And as exceptional as their monotheistic worldview was, it was not even that which ultimately made them distinct as a people. The thing which set them apart from all the other people of the world was the reality of the presence of God in their midst.

It was His presence which would protect them, provide for them, propel them forward and enable them to display something to the world that no one else had ever seen: the glory of God. God’s glory cannot be seen apart from His presence in the lives of His people.

And that truth is just as applicable for us today as it was for the Israelites camped at the foot of Sinai thousands of years ago. It is only God’s presence with us that sets us apart from the rest of the world, that makes us unique and that enables the world around us to see the glory of God.

There are many religious people who claim to be Christians. There are numerous denominations and churches that have religion; they have the external trappings of Christianity but do not have the substantial and transformational power that comes only from the presence of God.

As Christians our great desire in life should be to know His presence with us, 24/7. Not just on Sunday mornings when the choir is singing or the guitars are playing. Not just at rallies where a special speaker is motivating and a crowd of people is excited. Our desire should be to know and experience His presence every moment of every day. For without His presence, our religion is empty and we are no different from a myriad of religions which vie for the affections of men.

Thankfully, as Christians Jesus has promised us His Spirit. For us the question is not whether we will have His presence, the question is one of degree. All born again Christians are assured of His presence, yet not all of them walk in the fullness and joy of His presence.

This is why Paul tells the Ephesians to keep on being filled with the Spirit. You see, for us it is not a matter of how much of Him we get, it is a matter of how much of us He gets. The more of ourselves we surrender to Him, the more of His presence we will experience in our everyday life.


Allow me then to suggest several ways in which we as Christians can practice the presence of God in our everyday lives.

A. Grow sensitive to His Spirit

The Holy Spirit is God’s personal presence with us. Our closeness to God will always be dependent upon our sensitivity to the Spirit of God. Often this means waiting on God to speak, to move and to reveal Himself to us.

You see, God is everywhere. As Psalm 139 tells us, there is no place He is not. But just because He is there, does not mean we will be able to sense His presence. That’s why two people can come to church and one can be moved to tears and forever changed, and the other can sit there as cold as a clam. The difference is sensitivity to the Spirit of God, to His movement and to His direction.

There are many things which keep us from being sensitive to the Spirit of God but the number one things is sin. Sin dulls our sensitivity, and it keeps us from hearing His voice and noticing the subtle breeze of His movement.

It is A.W. Tozer, in his book Born After Midnight, that has a chapter entitled, Nearness is Likeness, in which he maintains that if we want to sense the nearness, or presence of God, we must be conformed to His image….we must be like Him.

Tozer says, “Even the regenerated soul may sometimes suffer from the feeling that God is far from him. What then should he do? First, the trouble may be no more than a temporary break in God-conscious communion due to any one of a half a hundred causes. The cure is faith. Trust God in the dark till the light returns. Second, should the sense of remoteness persist in spite of prayer and what you believe is faith, look to your inner life for evidences of wrong attitudes, evil thoughts or dispositional flaws. These are unlike God and created a psychological gulf between you and Him. Put away the evil from you, believe, and the sense of nearness will be restored. God was never away in the first place.”

Sensitivity to the Spirit of God is something which must be cultivated. That’s why the scripture encourages us to be still and know that He is God. Ten thousand messages a day will try and steal your focus away from God’s Spirit. We must be intentional and deliberate if we are going to maintain an ongoing sensitivity to the Spirit of God.

If you want to be more sensitive to the Holy Spirit pray and ask God to show you any unconfessed sins which could be dulling your spiritual senses. You’ll be surprised at what He’ll show you.

A second thing which will help you cultivate and experience the presence of God is worship.

B. Actively praise God

Psalm 22:3 tells us that God inhabits the praises of His people. One of the reasons so many Christians fail to experience the presence of God in a profound way is that they never really let loose and praise Him.

Folks, if you want to experience His presence you’ve got to praise Him. You’ve got to somehow allow yourself to be expressive and worship Him with all you are.

I am amazed how excited people can get about sports and how the very same people will come to church and sit there like they’re at a funeral. If you want to experience His presence, you’ve got to practice praising Him.

The old hymn says it well when it says, “Come thou fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing thy grace; streams of mercy never ceasing, call for songs of loudest praise. Teach me some melodious sonnet, sung by flaming tongues above, praise the mount, I’m fixed upon it, mount of thy redeeming love.”

How can we truly know the God of all creation and not praise Him with passion? How can we have experienced His grace, His goodness, His forgiveness and the indwelling of His Spirit and not want to burst with joy and praise His name?

There is something wrong with a generation of Christians who can get excited about a bunch of overpaid sweaty guys throwing around a pigskin sack of air, and yet cannot, for the life of them, get excited about the wonders of the Savior who loved them and gave Himself for them.

If you want to practice the presence of God, start praising Him. Praise Him in the shower, praise Him in the car, praise Him wherever you are and you’ll begin to sense His presence in a greater way than you can imagine.

C. Faithfully serve God

God is always present and active. Our problem, as we have noted, is that we are either distracted or disconnected. One of the best ways to experience the presence of God is to join God in what He is doing.

Serving means getting involved in kingdom activity. It means getting out of your comfort zone and being available to do whatever He asks you to do, whenever and wherever He asks you to do it. It is the practical and active part of surrender.

Many Christians cannot remember the last time they got out of their rut and actually did something at God’s direction which was out of their normal routine. God is everywhere, He is working all around us and He is inviting us to join Him in His work. By waiting and being sensitive, by praising Him and living with an attitude of gratefulness, we become aware of His movement and His voice, which bids us come and join Him as He moves the kingdom of His Son forward.

What about you this morning? Are you sensing the nearness of God? What is it that is keeping you from enjoying His presence?

1 Durham, John I. Word Biblical Commentary, Thomas Nelson, Nashville, 1987, pg. 448.