When Heaven is Not Good Enough- A Look at the Desires of Israel in Exodus 33

April 4, 2009

As we have discussed several times over the last year or so, it is clear that the focus of many evangelicals in meditating on and sharing their Christian faith is towards the eschatalogical reward of heaven, which they have a “deep theology” on how it will look and what they will be able to do in it.  Of course I say “deep theology” since as we have acknowledge most of it is simply Christian mythology or misunderstandings of actual Scriptural teachings on heaven.  Well, for those of us who want to view heaven in this way, as a place with streets of gold that you can run down all day without getting tired and with a crystal lake that contains all the best fish, I find the interaction between God and Moses in Exodus 33 to be of particular interest.

Picking up in context, we had in Exodus 32 the Israelites sans Moses forming a golden calf image of God to worship.  When Moses finds this out it infuriates him to the point that he destroys the freshly minted law and sends out the sons of Levi to slay 3000 men from among the people of God.  Then in Exodus 33.1-3 this is what God has to say:

The LORD said to Moses, “Depart; go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your offspring I will give it.’ I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.”

A lot of people struggle with Old Testament interpretation, but I think what this says is pretty clear.  God tells the people that they will still get to go to heaven (the “promised land”) and enjoy the blessings of being there, but he will not be there with them.  How’s that sound?  How many of us would truly be okay with this?  Heaven with all the amenities but without God, does that work for you?  Here is the response of Moses:

And [Moses] said to [God], “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” (Exodus 33.15-16)

So apparently this is not an okay setup for Moses.  As it is, the people are in an exodus from Egypt trying to make it to the Promised Land, the land God covenantally promised to their fathers. That’s their goal.  Yet, when faced with the reality that they could have that but that it would be absent of the presence of God, the Israelites mourned.  Heaven was not enough for them without God.  

My hope is that our feelings are the same.  If God promised us heaven but said he was going to hang out somehwhere else I pray our response would not just be, “Okay,” but that our hearts would cry out for his presence above all else.  This is one reason why it really bothers me seeing Christians focus so heavily on “Where will you go when you die?”  Moses didn’t care about when he died.  Moses didn’t even show anger at the thought of God not being with them in the Promised Land.  No, Moses’ mind was set on the immediate situation: God be with us now!  

O that our hearts would care more about the presence of God being with us now and forever than they do about some stupid seeker-sensitive idea of heaven we’ve made for ourselves.