The greatest thing is knowing God. 1 John was written to give assurance of what it means to know God: keeping His commandments (1 Jn. 2:3-4), being children of God (forgiven & freed from sin) (1 Jn. 3:1-6), listening to the Apostles (1 Jn. 4:6), loving others (1 Jn. 4:7-8), having the Holy Spirit (1 Jn. 4:13), knowing that Jesus is the Son of God and in Him is eternal life (1 Jn. 5:20).
Summary of the Text: Stephen gives us inspired commentary on our text in his sermon in Acts 7. He says that the history of Israel from Abraham to Moses to Solomon was always all about knowing God, walking with God, relying on God. The land, the mountain meetings, the tabernacle and temple, were always all about knowing God, meeting with God. Stephen calls the Jews “stiff-necked” because God has shown up right in front of them and they killed Him. Following Israel’s sin, God offers to lead Israel into the land and drive out their enemies but will not go up “in their midst,” – a definite change from the original plan, which included God dwelling with His people, meeting with them, speaking with them (25:8, 29:42-46). God says He could come into their midst, but He would consume them (33:5). This cannot be because of the presence of sin per se, otherwise the original plan for the tabernacle and sacrificial system would make no sense. Rather, God is questioning whether Israel really wants to be in covenant with Him, and this is signified by the command to remove the “ornaments” which Ezekiel 16 says were tokens of Israel’s maturity and marriage to God (Ez. 16:7-11). God says He’s not sure they really want to be married to Him. But Moses continues His faithful leadership by pitching his tent outside the camp of Israel, and it becomes a proto-tabernacle (Ex. 33:7). This is not because God can’t stand sin or sinners because those who “sought the Lord” went out to the tabernacle outside the camp to worship (Ex. 33:7). And those with loyal hearts worshiped from their doors when Moses was in the presence of God (Ex. 33:8-10). Moses prays that God would show him His way, that he may know Him and find grace in His sight (Ex. 33:14), and all of this is related to His central prayer that God would go up with Israel and not merely up ahead of Israel (Ex. 33:12-17). Moses boldly asks to see God’s glory as confirmation of God’s promise, and Yahweh passes by him proclaiming His glory (Ex. 33:18-34:9). The text describes the somewhat common occurrence of a human talking to God face to face and yet recognizing a sense in which man cannot see the face of God and live (Ex. 33:11, 20-23, cf. Gen. 32:30, Jdg. 6:22-23, 13:17-23). As a result of this prayer meeting, God reaffirms His covenant and promises to do wonders on their behalf, if only they will keep covenant and not turn to other gods (34:10-28). Moses comes down the mountain with the new set of Ten Words and his face glowing from talking with the Lord, but even this is too much for the people (Ex. 34:29-35, cf. 2 Cor. 3).
Resisting the Holy Spirit
Jesus says that all sins will be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. And Stephen seems to be alluding to the same thing when he accuses the Jews of resisting the Spirit with their “stiff-necks” (Acts 7:51-53). All sin deserves death, but there is an enormous difference between sinners who cling to the mercy of God and hard-hearted rebels who continually resist the Spirit (Acts 7:51). But the difference isn’t mysterious and subtle really; it’s obvious (Gal. 5:19). Do you love God? Do you love His people? Do love to obey? Then you know God, and you abide in Him.
Missing God Right in Front of You
In our Gospel Lesson, Luke tells the episode of Mary and Martha right after the parable of the Good Samaritan, and if we look closely, we see that in both episodes people miss Jesus right in front of them. Sometimes people busy themselves with what seem like “spiritual” things (e.g. going to the temple, teaching Bible studies, etc.) and miss God in the half-dead man on side of the road right in front of them. And other times, people set up soup kitchens and orphanages and get cranky in their serving because no one else is helping them, and they are neglecting to sit at Jesus feet and hear His word. If Jesus is in it, there should be overflowing joy and peace and love.
Bearing the Reproach
When Moses moved his tent outside the camp, he wasn’t excommunicating Israel, he was making provision for Israel. Outside the camp of Israel was where the priests were to dispose of the leftovers of the sacrifices (Ex. 29:14, Lev. 4:12). It’s where the dung and the skin were burned, where the unclean, diseased members of Israel were exiled (Lev. 13:46, 14:8, Num. 5:3-4, 12:14-15). It’s where lawbreakers were executed by stoning (Num. 15:36, Acts 7:58). It’s where Israelites went to the bathroom (Num. 23:12-13). In other words, outside the camp was not a “better” location; in fact, it was a place of uncleanness, filth, garbage, reproach. Far from cutting the people off, when God’s presence met with Moses outside the camp, God was bearing the reproach of His people. This is why Jesus suffered outside the gate to sanctify us with His blood, and this is why we gladly go out to Him, bearing His reproach (Heb. 13:10-13).