GETTING TO KNOW THE FATHER

 

Week of July 5, 2009

 

Bible Verses:Exodus 33:18-23; 34:5-8; Micah 6:6-8; John 4:21-24.

 

Lesson Focus: This lesson focuses on three important questions about the Heavenly Father: how we are able to know Him, what He is like, and what He desires for us.

 

How Can We Know the Father?: Exodus 33:18-23.

 

[18]Moses said, "Please show me your glory." [19]And he said, "I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name 'The LORD.' And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. [20]But," he said, "you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live." [21]And the LORD said, "Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, [22]and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. [23]Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen."

 

Moses asks to see God's glory which is to see the splendor and radiance of God. Moses wanted a full revelation of God's glory, a visible display of the essential quality of His being. God answers Moses in verses 19-20. It was a yes and no answer. God was willing to reveal His transcendent goodness to Moses. He was willing to announce His sacred divine name, just as He had done back at the burning bush. And He was willing to reveal the sovereign grace of His mercy and compassion. This was amazing enough. Moses would have the high privilege of seeing the goodness of God, which is one of the beauties of His divine being. What God was not willing to do was to allow Moses to gaze upon His glory. In other words, He would not give the prophet a direct perception of His divine being; the fullness of His glory could not be seen. The reason for this restriction was very simple. If Moses were to see a complete revelation of God in His eternal being, it would be so overwhelming that it would destroy him. God is absolute in His perfection. Moses was a finite, fallen creature, and as such he could not see God and live. No one can. As Augustine said, "no one living in this life can see him as fully as he is." Thus Moses was not allowed to look God in the face but only to see, as it were, a fleeting glimpse of the hindquarters of His glory. Here we are dealing with great mysteries. When God talked about His face, His back, and His hand, He was speaking figuratively, of course. He was expressing the invisible majesty of His eternal being in terms of human body parts - physical things that symbolize spiritual realities. God's face refers in some way to the direct revelation of the essence of His divine majesty. To see God's back is to have some lesser experience of His glory. We might think of what Moses saw as the luminous clouds that trailed from His divine being. God said that, as His glory passed by, He would cover Moses with His hand. There was a place in the rock where Moses could hide. There he would be under the shadow of God's care. God would shield him from the radiance of His glory. To put it in a more provocative way, Moses was protected by God from God. It is important to see this because people often think of being "under the shadow of God's hand" as an image of comfort for the trials of life. Certainly the Bible uses the image this way [see Isaiah 51:16]. However, here in Exodus 33 the protection God affords is protection from the greatness of His own glory. In the Bible we see God working out a way of salvation that allows us to know Him without being destroyed. We need this protection not because of any deficiency in God, but because of His absolute perfection. The glory of God is more than any mortal can bear. This is why it is so wonderful that God sent Jesus to be our Savior. Jesus came so we could see God. He is God manifested in the flesh. So to know Jesus is to know the God of all glory. The more we see of Jesus, the more we see of God. This is true figuratively. To "see God" is to perceive His divine attributes and understand His way of salvation. And the way we come to know these things is by studying what the Bible teaches about Jesus Christ. But one day we will literally be able to see Jesus. When we have risen, we will be able to see Him with our very own eyes: For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face [1 Cor. 13:12]. Only when we ourselves have been raised to glory will we be able to bear the sight of Christ in His glory without being destroyed. In the heart of every believer there is a yearning - yet unsatisfied - to see this promise fulfilled. Even though it is far beyond our comprehension, we know there is still more for us to see, and we long to gaze upon the beautiful face of Jesus Christ. In the meantime we should ask God to show us as much of His glory as presently we can bear.

 

What's the Heavenly Father Like?: Exodus 34:5-8.

 

[5]The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD. [6]The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, "The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, [7]keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children's children, to the third and the fourth generation." [8]And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped. [ESV]

 

When the Bible speaks of God's name, it is always something more than simply a title. God's name stands for His entire being. It is His nature. It is who He is. So when God passed by Moses and said, The LORD, the LORD, He was revealing Himself as the God of creation and redemption - the God who made and saves His people. And in order to give Moses a fuller revelation of His goodness, He went on to explain the meaning of His sacred name: The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin. This is one of the most important verses in the entire Bible. We know it is important because it is quoted or referred to dozens of times, especially in the Old Testament. This divine definition lists seven attributes of God. Each term is rich in its meaning and application. The key term is steadfast love (hesed) which is repeated twice in the middle of the list. It refers specifically to the commitment God has made to His people in the covenant. Here God's covenant love is connected with the Hebrew word for faithfulness, which also means truth or truthfulness. The point is that God always follows through on His love. His love is loyal and steadfast. Since He never goes back on a promise, once God promises to love, He keeps on loving. And His love is boundless. It is love without measure and love beyond degree. Here God expresses His covenant love by forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin. The point is that God is willing to forgive any and all kinds of sin that His covenant people are guilty of. To the third and the fourth generation is a common Semitic idiom to express ongoing action. Following such a powerful recital, the revelation not of what Moses asked for but of what he needed, Moses hastily prostrated himself in worship. No other response is appropriate.

 

What Does God the Father Desire for Us?: Micah 6:6-8, John 4:21-24.

 

[Micah 6:6]"With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? [7]Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?" [8]He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

[John 4:21]Jesus said to her, "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. [22]You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. [23]But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. [24]God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." [ESV]

 

[Micah 6:6-8]This section is linked by questions [6-7] and answer [8]; by the dialogue between the people and Micah, in contrast to the Lord's dialogue with the people in verses 3-5; by the repetition of Lord in each verse; and by but in verse 8, which contrasts the questioner's assumptions with the Lord's answers. By his questions the worshiper condemns himself. He realizes his alienation from God [6] and his need for a sin offering [7], but instead of thinking within the framework of the covenant of grace, he thinks resolutely in terms of appeasing gifts. The worshiper's questions proceed from an understanding of religion as fulfillment of the covenant by external ceremonies. The blindness is incredible and inexcusable, as Micah answers. Out of sovereign grace and without cost to Israel, the Lord had saved the nation from Egypt and Moab and brought them to their promised destiny. How could the nation now suppose extravagant gifts were required to save them from the enemy? Profound unbelief in God's gracious character and actions induces such spiritual blindness, and as a result it debases the covenant of grace into a nonloving, bargaining contract. Moreover, in those initial acts of salvation the Lord had graciously shown Himself immanent with His people. Why does the obtuse petitioner now think it would take extraordinary sacrifice on his part to bridge the gap between the Lord and himself? Israel ritualistically recited its creeds, but because it refused to live by a faith that risks itself in doing justice, it never comprehended their meaning. Outwardly the worshiper appears religious, but in truth his insulting questions betray that he is desperately wicked within. Blinded to God's gracious character and acts, he reasons within his own depraved frame of reference: he need not change, God must change. In effect, by refusing to repent of his unbelief and injustice, he suggests that God, like humans, can be bought! Verses 6-7 are tightly linked by the four questions about what constitutes acceptable sacrifice. The petitioner's first question raises the issue: With what shall I come before the Lord? That is, as the parallel question in verse 7 clarifies, Will the Lord be pleased with Ö, so I can find security in His presence? His next question, shall I bow myself before God on high, betrays the remoteness he feels from God in contrast to the reconciling God who spoke with tender compassion to His people. The next question, Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, begins the bargaining and is coupled with the introductory question by repeating shall I come before. He escalates the bargaining with each question showing both his desperateness and his ignorance of what God requires in the covenant relationship.

 

[8]With what seems a studied disdain, Micah lays out the Lordís covenant requirements for those who would enter into covenant with Him: covenantal fidelity to God and His community. According to verses 4-5 the Lord fulfilled His part of the covenantal relationship in liberating Israel into salvation. In verse 8 He rebukes Israel for ignoring its covenantal responsibility, namely, a spiritual commitment to God and one another as evidenced by doing justice. The prophets did not repudiate sacrifice but subordinated it to ethics. Sacrifices without a spiritual commitment that displays itself in ethics profit nothing. The law itself taught that. God and Israel first ratified the Ten Commandments [Ex. 20:1-17] and the Book of the Covenant [Ex. 20:18-23:13] in Exodus 24, before God instructed Moses on the mountain regarding worship in Exodus 25-40. Micah first rebuffs the pretentious worshiper for inexcusable ignorance: He has told you, O man. The worshiperís insulting questions cannot be chalked up to ignorance. The covenant regulations had been faithfully transmitted, to that the mountains were witnesses. Having disallowed ignorance as an excuse, the prophet now sets forth that the Lord requires covenantal solidarity. He expresses it first generally by calling it what is good. Micah begins to specify what the good is by do justice, that is, to practice the dispositions of the law. Beyond obeying commands, this encompassing, ethical term pertains to establishing a relationship that one gives back what is due and beyond that, as one is able, to deliver the oppressed and to punish the oppressor. The spiritual connotation of doing good becomes explicit in the clarification of what the Lord requires: love kindness or the practice of faithful covenantal love. This is the language of spiritual commitment and reinforces the nuance of the internal spiritual aspect that lies behind the practice of justice. This kind of love is true not false, constant not fickle, reliable not conditional, and discerning. This kind of love springs from a regenerate heart, the same heart that can actualize Godís saving acts by memory and faith. The covenant is a matter of spiritual commitment, not contractual ritual. That the Lord requires a spiritual commitment, from which right behavior will naturally ensue, is further heightened by the use of the Hebrew word hesed (kindness), which is the most important term of all for describing the nature of the covenant and its spiritual obligations. The word means at one and the same time faithfulness, love, mercy, and grace; it describes the unfailing love, the keeping of faith between related parties. The word is usually found in a context where one of the parties is in a weaker situation and utterly dependent upon another, who is in a stronger position and who accepts freely the responsibility of providing deliverance and protection to the one in need. Micah now moves from covenantal solidarity on the human, horizontal axis to the divine, vertical axis - to covenantal solidarity with God; namely to walk humbly with your God. We must, in the whole course of our conversation, conform ourselves to the will of God, keep up our communion with God, and study to approve ourselves to Him in our integrity; and this we must do humbly (submitting our understanding to the truths of God and our will to His precepts and providences). Every thought within us must be brought into obedience to God, if we would walk comfortably with Him. The three moral duties here are summed up by our Lord in Matthew 23:23: justice and mercy and faithfulness.

 

John 4:21-24. [21-22] Jesus refuses to be drawn into an argument. Rather He solemnly predicts that a time is coming when worship will be possible in neither place. The woman had appealed to the example of our fathers [20]. Jesus points her to the one Father. Jesus' concern is with the essential nature of worship. He accordingly points out to the woman the inadequacy of Samaritan worship. Though they worshipped the true God the Samaritans did so very imperfectly. When we consider that they rejected the writings of the prophets, the psalms, the historical books of the Old Testament and much more we see that their knowledge of God was, of necessity, very limited. Jesus says that they do not know what they worship. He sets Jews and Samaritans in sharp contrast. And He associates Himself quite definitely with the Jews. They do know what they worship. The reason for the superior knowledge of the Jews is that salvation comes from among them. Here Jesus is probably talking about the Messiah being a Jew and therefore the messianic salvation comes from this nation.

 

[23-24]The hour is coming is a reference to a crisis, to something new. Jesus is talking about the event of His death, resurrection and ascension which will bring about this significant change in worship. Disputes between Jews and Samaritans will fade away. Men will worship on neither pattern because the distinction of which the woman speaks is outmoded. True worshippers worship in spirit and truth. It is not likely that spirit refers to the Holy Spirit although the Spirit does help our worship. It is the human spirit that Jesus means. A man must worship, not simply outwardly by being in the right place and taking up the right attitude, but in his spirit. The combination spirit and truth points to the need for complete sincerity and complete reality in our approach to God. There is an important point in the concluding statement that the Father is seeking such people to worship him. It is not simply that He accepts such worship when it is brought to Him. He is a God of love, a God who seeks the best for men, and therefore a God who actively seeks men out. God is spirit means that God's essential nature is spirit. We must not think of God as material, or bound in any way to places or things. The word order puts an emphasis on spirit. Since God is essentially spirit it follows that the worship brought to Him must be essentially of a spiritual kind. Notice the must. Worship is necessarily limited by the idea of the being worshipped. A true idea of God is essential to a right service of Him. God is a living God. Since He is ceaselessly active as the life-giving Spirit He must be worshipped in a manner befitting such a Spirit. Man cannot dictate the "how" or the "where" of worship. He must come only in the way that the Spirit of God opens to him.

 

Questions for Discussion:

 

1.†††††††† What does it mean to see God's glory? Why did God not show His glory to Moses? What does God show Moses instead? What do we learn about God in these Exodus verses?

 

2.†††††††† This week, memorize Exodus 34:7-8. Meditate on what God reveals about Himself in these verses.

 

3.†††††††† What does Micah 6:6-8 tell us about true worship of God? Do you find yourself falling into the trap of bargaining with God as the questioner was doing in 6-7? Instead what does God require for true worship to take place? Note that these three requirements are not meant to be "bargaining tools" before God but rather are true expressions of love to God that flow from a regenerate heart.

 

4.†††††††† What do each of the statements in John 4:21-24 teach about worship? What does the hour refer to in verses 21 and 23? [See John 12:23,27; 13:1]. Why does Jesus say that salvation is of the Jews? What is the reason why Jesus says that we must worship in spirit and truth?

 

References:

Exodus, John Durham, Nelson Reference.

Exodus, Philip Ryken, Crossway.

Micah, Bruce Waltke, The Minor Prophets, Baker.

The Gospel According to John, Leon Morris, Eerdmans.