Now Moses used to take a tent and pitch it outside the camp some distance away, calling it the “tent of meeting.” Anyone inquiring of the Lord would go to the tent of meeting outside the camp. And whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people rose and stood at the entrances to their tents, watching Moses until he entered the tent. As Moses went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and stay at the entrance, while the Lord spoke with Moses. Whenever the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance to the tent, they all stood and worshiped, each at the entrance to their tent. The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his young aide Joshua son of Nun did not leave the tent.
Moses said to the Lord, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’ If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”
The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?”
And the Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.”
Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”
And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”
Then the Lord said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.” (New International Version)
Moses was perhaps the most humble person who ever lived on the earth (Numbers 12:3), which is why he and God had such an intimate friendship together. But Moses was also a workaholic who tended to carry the world on his shoulders. (Exodus 18:1-27)
Good old Moses, bless his heavy heart, kept finding himself in over his head with all sorts of people problems and conflicts. And so, Moses almost seems perpetually stressed. It reminds me of an old episode of the original “Bob Newhart Show” in which Bob, a psychologist, becomes exasperated and blurts out, “Why do these people always have to come to me with their stupid problems!”
The Lord, infinitely patient with people, simply let Moses know that all he really needed was the divine presence, to rest fully in God being with him.
This is precisely what we all need to be reminded of almost every day. God is with us. The Lord’s presence is continually alongside us. And sometimes, we must get away from it all for a while, so that we can rest and gain some fresh perspective on life and who’s really in charge of everything.
Consider just a few of the many verses in Holy Scripture which reinforce God’s call to rest:
Observe the day of rest as a holy day. This is what the Lord your God has commanded you. (Deuteronomy 5:12, GW)
Only in God do I find rest;
my salvation comes from him.
Only God is my rock and my salvation—
my stronghold!—I won’t be shaken anymore. (Psalm 62:1-2, CEB)
The promise to enter the place of rest is still good, and we must take care that none of you miss out. (Hebrews 4:1, CEV)
Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28, GNT)
And it is not simply a vacation in which we fill up our time with sightseeing and/or doing a lot of activities so that we end up needing a vacation from our vacation. Instead, the invitation to rest is initiated, given, and ordained by God.
One morning I set aside a four-hour block to get away, rest, and pray. I’ll be honest that I came into it with a personal agenda of what I wanted God to do. I had my list of prayer items and my thoughts of how I believed God should work. Silly me.
It did not take long into my forceful striving toward God, that I was on a misguided adventure in missing the point. Somehow, in my desire to see all kinds of prayer requests answered, I lost sight of God’s presence and resting in it, enjoying it.
In our daily work-a-day world we poke and prod, we push, cajole, and finagle to move forward and get our way on all kinds of things. To separate ourselves from our typical routine takes something of a withdrawal, and it isn’t easy. This is likely why so many folks are tired, cranky, and negative – because they find all kinds of reasons to not rest.
Compulsions for performance and perfection are bandits, stealing our rest. We want to do everything right – to pray right, talk right, be right and live right – instead of coming to God like a little child. To rest means to relinquish all our plans and agendas to God for a time and connect to the reality of God’s presence.
Spiritual and biblical rest only “works” when we realize we don’t have it all together – that we are helpless and need to pull away and experience God’s glory.
Maybe this old fallen world continues in its many dysfunctions because God’s people have not yet learned the necessity of faithful rest and trusting in the very presence of God, who is full of glory, now and forevermore. Amen.