Jehovah’s Abiding Presence

THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL had come out of Egypt; they had crossed the Red Sea, and had come to Mount Sinai. Moses had gone up into the mountain, had received the tables of the Law, and had come down and found the nation in idolatry, worshiping the golden calf which they had made. While Moses was still in the Mount, the Lord had told him that Israel had already turned aside from the true God to idols, and was offering sacrifice to a molten calf as the god who had brought them forth out of Egypt. He instructed Moses to go down to the people. The wrath of God was hot against them, and he proposed to Moses that He would consume them and make of him [Moses] a great nation. But Moses besought the Lord for Israel, and the Lord was entreated of him, and spared the nation from annihilation, promising him that he would still be their leader.

Then Moses went down from the Mount. He realized that Israel had grievously sinned, and his anger was kindled against them. He cast down the tables of the Law which were in his hands, and broke them when he saw and heard the dancing and feasting and shouting around the idol which they had set up for themselves. Here was a nation which had been delivered by God from Egyptian bondage. The Red Sea had opened, by the power of Jehovah, for them to pass over. They had received numerous blessings along their way—notable proofs of divine guidance. Yet in spite of all this, here was rebellion and idolatry! What could be expected of a people who had so little appreciation of God that they were quickly turned aside? Even Moses’ brother, Aaron, led astray by the insistence of the people, felt it necessary to cooperate with them in the making of the golden calf.

Moses then took the calf which they had made, and burned it in fire, ground it to powder, scattered it upon the water, and compelled the children of Israel to drink it. He reproved Aaron, and then stood in the gate of the camp and said to all the people, “Who is on Jehovah’s side. Let him come unto me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him. And he said to them, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Put every man his sword by his side, and go in and out from gate to gate throughout the camp, and slay every man his brother, and every man his companion, and every man his neighbor. And the children of Levi did according to the word of Moses; and there fell of the people that day about three thousand men.”—Exod. 32:26-28

The day following this, Moses explained to the people how great was the sin of which they had been guilty, and he told them that he would go to the Lord in prayer if peradventure he might make atonement for their sin. He went to the Lord in earnest supplication, pleading that if God would not forgive Israel that the Lord would also blot out Moses’ name from His book. But God answered, “Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book.” (vs. 33) He promised to send his angel before Moses, but assured him that he was not yet through dealing with Israel for their iniquity. He instructed Moses to tell them of their stiffneckedness and to command them in his name to put off their ornaments, that he might know what course he would pursue with them.

The people obeyed. They laid aside their jewelry, and humbled themselves and worshiped the Lord. Moses, heavy of heart, felt that unless the Lord would in some special way give him the necessary wisdom and grace for the great task of leading so perverse a people into the inheritance which the Lord had promised them if they would serve him, he would be utterly insufficient for the undertaking. Again Moses appealed to God in prayer. He told him of his trepidation and his earnest desire for God’s sustaining help and presence with him all the way. He pleaded, “This is too great a work for me!” Then the Lord assured Moses that he would go with him, that he would have his presence throughout the entire journey to the Promised Land, for he had found grace in God’s sight. The Lord said, “My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest.”—Exod. 33:14

Moses then besought the Lord, “Show me thy glory.” It was here that God put Moses into the cleft of a rock, and covered him with his hand while he passed by, letting Moses see his glory from behind, saying, “No man can see my face and live.” When God speaks of his presence with his servants, we are not to think of his being with them in bodily presence, but rather by his Spirit and through his angelic messengers, sustaining, blessing, and guiding them. He protects them from whatever will harm, them. He watches over their every interest and tenderly cares for them. We understand the Bible presentation of the presence of God to be that God has a personal, bodily presence, aside from the power and influence which he exerts; and that he has a central seat of government, where he resides.

“Heaven is my throne, the earth is my footstool,” says Jehovah. (Isa. 66:1) The one who has his seat in heaven and whose footstool is the earth is a great God! But this is, of course, a forceful figure of speech, showing his all-embracing power and control, and that his sphere of influence and interest at the present time revolves around both heaven and earth. God does not actually sit in a certain part of the material universe and have his literal feet in another part. The language of Scripture accommodates itself to the mind of man, and speaks of God as if he possessed the same bodily members as human beings. But actually we know not what a spirit body is like: “It doth not yet appear,” even to the saints of the Lord who are still in the flesh.

We do understand that the bodily presence of Jehovah is in heaven. Everything in the Bible teaches us that he is very great—infinite in power. We read that “the Lord looketh from Heaven; he beholdeth all the sons of men. From the place of his habitation he looketh upon all the inhabitants of the earth.” (Ps. 33:13,14) He beholds men in their distress, and has provided for their deliverance in due time. But we should clearly distinguish between this thought of God looking down from heaven and the thought that he is personally present on earth. We can see a mile off—or five miles off—by the power of our sight. We can be a hundred or more feet away and be present by the power of our voice; or aided by the telephone we can be present by our voice thousands of miles away.

In that sense of the word, the Lord is present everywhere throughout his mighty universe, and his power can be exerted everywhere. He has means by which he can be cognizant of all earthly affairs, and of matters pertaining to all his great domain. We have these powers only to a very limited extent. The telephone, radio, television, telescope, etc.—enhanced by satellite—are all means by which man’s presence, power and influence is extended to a certain degree. But our powers are limited to this small planet, except as we further extend them by means of prayer, and thus set in motion influences whose extent we are not now able to fathom. But those who exercise the privilege of going to the mighty king of heaven in prayer, must go only in his appointed way, subject to the conditions which he has made.

We can place no limitations upon the power of Jehovah. Inventions which have come to the fore in this time of the end, increasing our powers of communication and uniting all parts of the globe, give us but a very faint concept of the infinite powers of the Almighty God. These inventions will continue to improve and increase and multiply throughout the next age, thus adding more and more to the powers and blessings of mankind. They will give mankind a greater appreciation of the majesty, glory, and might of their Creator as they come to know him as he is, and to worship him in spirit and in truth. Yet no human mind, even in perfection, will be able to comprehend the fullness of the mighty Maker of the universe.

God promised Moses that his presence, his power, and his sustaining grace would go with him all the way. He wished him to understand that he was not to perform his great work alone without all-sufficient backing. “I will be with you,” was the promise. The Lord’s presence was indeed with the children of Israel in a very marked manner—continually with them from the time they crossed the Red Sea. They were guided by blessings or by chastisements, as they were needed. God was with them in the pillar of cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night, and by his presence in the Shekinah glory which covered the Mercy Seat in the Most Holy of the Tabernacle.

After the Tabernacle was set up in accordance with God’s instructions, these manifestations of his presence, his power, and his watchful care never failed. The pillar of cloud and of fire guided their journeyings; and when these rested, it was an indication from God that they were to abide where they were until the pillar of cloud or fire again moved from its place.

Moses had said to the Lord, “If thy presence go not with us, send us not up hence.” (Exod. 33:15) In other words he knew that this was too great a task for any man to accomplish alone. But Moses knew that if God’s presence continued with them, and if they were shown his will and received his continual direction, he would be able to lead Israel through the wilderness to the land of Canaan. Frequently the Lord spoke to Moses through the Tabernacle arrangement.

In this we see that the promise of God’s presence with him was fulfilled. The Lord gave him rest. He lived to be 120 years old, yet was not his strength impaired nor his eye dim. We remember that there was a time when Moses realized that the work of judging the people was too great for him. He took the matter to the Lord, and seventy judges were then chosen to share his burden. The matters that were too difficult for them were brought to Moses. He went, then, to God with all his difficulties and burdens, and he had continual blessing.

The experiences of natural Israel have served as very important lessons for Israel according to the Spirit. A people, originally part of the world, we have been invited to come out from the world and to journey to a new country, to share in a heavenly inheritance. We are marching toward our victory, where we will have part, if we are faithful, in bringing about the glorious kingdom promised. There are trials and difficulties along the way, but our God has promised us, as he promised Moses, that his presence shall go with us. If sometimes he seems to withdraw from us and leave us to ourselves, this is not really so. At times he may test our loyalty and our faith in him by withholding the sense of his presence. Shall we then, like Israel of old, conclude that God is no more with us? Shall we turn again to venerate the gods we formerly worshiped—wealth, pleasure, fame, etc. Shall we give ourselves up to revelry, worldly merry-making, and sin? Shall we forget all the way by which our God has led us, all the great deliverances of the past? Shall anything, “tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword, or life, or death, or things to come or any other thing in creation be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord?” Surely not! The closer we live to the Lord, and the greater our faith, the more we shall realize the divine direction, and the more we shall make use of the means he has provided for our strengthening and upholding. We may call upon him in time of trouble. We may go to him in prayer. He never fails those who put their trust in him and earnestly seek to walk in his appointed way. This being true, we may go forth upon our journey in perfect trust and confidence. Having consecrated our all to the Lord we are to seek for his guidance, for his presence is with us in all the affairs of our lives.

Few have had such mighty burdens to carry as had Moses. But all of God’s children have burdens to bear. Important responsibilities are resting upon each of us who have taken upon us the vows of our God. But the continued guidance and assistance of the Lord is daily ours. Heavenly manna is furnished for our daily sustenance. The water of life flows out to us for our daily refreshment from the smitten Rock of Ages. Our Father’s chastening rod restrains us when we are in danger, or when we wander into wrong paths. Surely we may have implicit confidence in our God. We may rest in him and be kept in perfect peace. Our hearts exclaim with the poet:

He has guided my steps where I could not see,
      By ways that I had not known;
The crooked was straight and the rough made plain
      As I followed the Lord alone.
I praise his name for the pleasant palms
      And the water-springs by the way;
For the glowing pillar of fire by night,
      And the sheltering cloud by day.
There is light for me on the trackless wild
      As the wonders of old I trace,
When the God of the whole earth went before
      To search me a resting place!
Hath he changed for me? Nay, he changeth not;
      He will bring me by some new way,
Through fire and flood and each crafty foe,
      As safely as yesterday.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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