Quite a lot happens in this couple of chapters, and a lot of the emergent themes seem to be similar to those already observed. Even so, it's worth a bit of a ponder.
At the start of the chapter, God tells Moses that the people are to go to the land they have been promised "but I will not go up among you, or I would consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people."
This is intriguing. God seems to caught in something of a bind... there is a promise that will not (cannot?) be rescinded and a reality that the nature of the people is such that God would be driven to destroy them.
I'm not sure what to make of this - and neither, it seems is Moses. The people on hearing the news are devastated and respond by removing all the ornaments they had been wearing up until that point.
Some people when they seek to make sense of the 'Cross Event' speak of God's hands being bound in love... that God's nature somehow precludes God from intervening. In this story, God's instinct seems to be to destroy, but love means that God exercises restraint, even though some consequences are inevitable. I'm sure someone, somewhere has written about this, and I probably ought to go and research it a bit more.
As to a Friend
We are told that God would speak to Moses 'as to a friend', a truly intimate relationship. How do we speak with our friends? What sorts of things do we discuss, what emotions do we express, how do we handle disagreements and fall outs?
This seems very different from the 'chummy' language sometimes used in songs and prayers that we may fear trivialises worship or our view of God, it's not about the forms of words, but the depth of relationship.
If God, or Jesus, or the Holy Spirit, really are as friends to me, then presumably they will know my secrets, my fears, my hopes, my regrets, my yearnings... They will speak truth to me, even if it is not what I want to hear, but they will do so motivated by love, for my best interests, to enable me to fulfil my potential.
Friendships are not all the same, some last a lifetime, others years or months. Some are very deep, others are more superficial. Pretty much all have their roots in a shared experience or common interest. So I find myself wondering about the nature of my own "friendship" with God/Jesus/Holy Spirit, and how well or badly I tend it.
Do I open myself to God as to a trusted friend? Do I hear from God as from a trusted friend? Would anyone ever say of me that I am "a friend of God"?
Glimpsing God's Back
Moses wants to see God face to face, but God says no. Instead he is granted a glimspe of God's back. Theologian Paul Fiddes in one of his many excellent books (probably Tracks and Traces, I'm not sure) speaks of catching a glimspe of the back of a God who has just passed by. As I recall it, he is noting that it is often only afterwards, when God has 'just passed by', that we glimspe any hint of God's presence.
It is an image that I have found comforting and encouraging over many years, and not in any way contradictory to other ideas or images of a God who is either omnipresent, immanent or transcendent. Sometimes there can be a sense that there is God's back, glimsped ahead of me, heading onwards, inviting me to follow, if I will... and assuring me that every step of the path I walk has already been trodden.
When churches face challenges, especially stepping into the unknown, such an image, such a promise is, I hope, comforting too.
Moses comes back down the mountain after another very long time (40 days and nights) with newly engraved copies of the commandments (a, somewhat bizarre, selection of which are reiterated in the narrative) and his face shines, so much so that the people are afraid.
Every now and then I see people whose faces seem to glow, to have a quality not physical but transcendent. The new bride or bridegroom; the baptismal candidate, still dripping wet; the person who shows off their engagement ring; the new father holding his child... Fleeting, ephemeral, incapable of being captured in a photo there is something 'extra' going on here. Was it something like this that the people saw?
It's hard to read this story and not think of the Tranfiguration and the way that the disicples reacted to the 'whiter than white' Jesus chatting to Moses and Elijah. I am reminded of the lure of the mountain top experience, the yearning to extend, even perpetuate the moment, and the absolute impossibility of so doing (elsewhere we will read of Moses' face fading). The preacher at my ordination reminded us of the necessity of moving between the 'mountain' and the 'plain' and he was surely right. Easy to crave the mountain in the routine of the plain, but maybe I need ro remind myself that to attain the mountain top first comes the steep climb, and then the equally step descent back to routine.
A bit of a bitty passage, but lots in it for me to ponder especially about divine self-limitation.
I wonder what, if anything has resonated for anyone else?