The presence of God among his people sets them apart

We are set apart and holy, not because of who we are, but because of who he is.

How will anyone know that you look favorably on me–on me and on your people–if you don’t go with us? For your presence among us sets your people and me apart from all other people on the earth.”

Exodus 33:16

This is a passage in Exodus where God reveals his glory to Moses. Almost all of the commentary on this passage focuses on God’s revelation of himself to Moses, and how Moses was permitted to see at least a portion of God’s presence.

However, what is sometimes overlooked is why this was necessary for God to do at all. He didn’t have to reveal himself to Moses. But if we look more closely at what had preceded this event, we see Moses questioning God about exactly how this takeover of the land of Canaan was supposed to work.

It appears that Moses was of the opinion that the people could not accomplish this on their own, that God would somehow need to provide some sort of miraculous help. Moses asked God whom he would send to accompany this collection of former slaves into the land that he had promised them. He wanted to better understand how God would accomplish his purpose with them, reminding God that this rag-tag group consisted of the people God had originally called to himself.

If it is true that you look favorably on me, let me know your ways so I may understand you more fully and continue to enjoy your favor. And remember that this nation is your very own people.”

Exodus 33:13

God responded that he himself would accompany them.

The LORD replied, “I will personally go with you, Moses, and I will give you rest–everything will be fine for you.”
Then Moses said, “If you don’t personally go with us, don’t make us leave this place.

Exodus 33:14-15

Moses reveals that if the miraculous help they had received when they left Egypt does not continue, then they are better off remaining in the desert. If God was not to accompany them, then what would distinguish them from any other nation?

Moses correctly states that it was God’s presence among them that set them apart. They were to be a unique people due to their unique relationship with the Creator.

In the same way, it is God’s presence among his people today that sets us apart from all other nations. While his kingdom is universal in scope, the unique relationship of believers with our Creator should cause us to act and think in ways that are distinct from our respective cultures. It is his presence that causes us to be the salt preservative in the decaying world, the light amidst the darkness of ignorance.

Ultimately we are set apart and holy, not because of what we do or who we are in ourselves, but because of who he is and what he chooses to do through us.

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Desiring to be in God’s presence is a demonstration of trust

Longing for God’s house is a longing to be in his eternal presence which can provide true happiness.

LORD Almighty, how happy are those who trust in you!

Psalm 84:12

This entire psalm is a hymn of longing to be in God’s presence represented by the Temple courts and prophetic Mount Zion.

The psalm ends with the statement above, “how happy are those who trust in you.” This Hebrew word for trust also includes meanings like confidence and reliance. To trust is to be confident in and to rely on God. How do we demonstrate a confident reliance on God?

  • When we operate our lives from an understanding that there is one God who is establishing an eternal kingdom on earth, we are relying on him.
  • When we base our worldview upon the principles he has revealed in his Torah, or his Word, we are relying on him.
  • When we keep the eternal perspective over the temporary things of this world, we are relying on him.
  • When we give sacrificially of ourselves and what we have in obedience to his Torah, we are relying on him.

We are relying on God when we trust him for the things we cannot see, but are no less real than the physical Temple and Mount Zion. Paul encouraged the early believers to maintain their trust and reliance on God through tumultuous suffering and persecution, because the reality of eternal things superseded any earthly travail.

That is why we are not discouraged. Though outwardly we are wearing out, inwardly we are renewed day by day. Our suffering is light and temporary and is producing for us an eternal glory that is greater than anything we can imagine. We don’t look for things that can be seen but for things that can’t be seen. Things that can be seen are only temporary. But things that can’t be seen last forever.

2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Longing for God’s house is a longing to be in his presence. The Temple and Mount Zion, while they were established as real places in the land of Israel, are metaphors for the larger work of God on the earth in his kingdom. However, these images both stem from his eternal presence in heavenly places.

The psalmist writes, “One day spent in your Temple is better than a thousand anywhere else.” Yeshua taught his disciples, “Don’t be troubled. Believe in God, and believe [i.e., trust, have confidence or reliance] in me. There are many rooms in my Father’s house, and I am going to prepare a place for you. I would not tell you this if it were not so,” (John 14:1-2).

To be in God’s presence is the fulfillment of the life of the believer, the one who trusts in, or relies on, him. How happy and confident we should be!