Exodus

Exodus 33 (The Cleft Rock)

 

The Cleft Rock where Moses experienced the glory of God is one of the many great PICTURES of Jesus Christ and His Salvation in the Bible. Jesus, the central character of the Bible, fulfilled all its pictures and prophecies- that’s how we know He is the true Messiah.

He said: 'You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life' (John 5:39,40).

'All things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me.' And He opened their understanding that they might comprehend the Scriptures. Then He said to them, 'Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day” (Luke 24:44-46).

The theme of this section of scripture is how man can live in the Presence of God. Created in God’s image, man was made for direct face-to-face fellowship with God, to share His glory as His son. But sin has made this impossible. Exodus 32 records a great tragedy which highlights this problem. It should have been a highpoint for God was drawing close to man coming down in glory upon Mt Sinai. Moses had gone up into God’s glory to receive the 10 Commandments. It seemed that God’s presence with man was coming to be more of a reality. But while the people were waiting they made an idol - a golden calf (an Egyptian symbol for deity) and worshipped it (images and idols will always lead you to worship a false god), thus breaking the first 2 Commanments. In anger, Moses smashed the tablets of God signifying that man has broken God’s law. This exposes the fundamental problem- how can sinful man dwell in the presence of a holy God without incurring God’s wrath?

Exodus 33:1-3: 'Then the LORD said to Moses, 'Depart and go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, `To your descendants I will give it.' And I will send My Angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite. Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; for I will not go up in your midst, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.' God was saying: ‘how can I go with you if you sin like this?’ His glorious holy Presence would mean destruction would fall on the people for He is just and must punish sin. But separation is no real solution, for man was made for God’s Presence.

Would you accept these terms that God offered - the perks (land) without the Presence? Do you love God and want to be in His Presence or do you just want the benefits? This was a test and Israel responded well: 'When the people heard this bad news, they mourned, and no one put on his ornaments. For the LORD had said to Moses, 'Say to the children of Israel, `You are a stiff-necked people. I could come up into your midst in one moment and consume you. Now therefore, take off your ornaments (signifying repentance), that I may know what to do to you.' So the children of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments by Mount Horeb' (v4-6).

The Tabernacle of Meeting (of God with man) was then put outside the camp and those who sought the LORD could go out to it. When Moses went, the pillar of cloud stood at the door of the tabernacle, and the LORD talked with Moses face to face (v7-11). Moses prayed for God’s Presence to go with them (v12,13). God then promised: 'My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest' (v14). Then Moses said (in v15-16), 'If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here. For how then will it be known that Your people and I have found grace in Your sight, except You go with us? So we shall be separate, Your people and I, from all the people who are upon the face of the earth' (God’s presence is what should mark God’s people out). 'So the LORD said to Moses, 'I will also do this thing that you have spoken; for you have found grace in My sight, and I know you by name' (v17).

Then Moses made a bold request: 'Please, show me Your glory' (v18). Moses had already made effective intercession but He still felt the seperation between God and His people and so He wanted to enter into a closer fellowship, so that through him God and man might come closer. Israel had held back at the mountain afraid of judgement but Moses was willing to risk getting closer to the glory of God. Are you drawing back like Israel or entering in like Moses? He is not just thinking of himself but he knows that if he can enter in, he can lead others into that same place with God. Likewise, if you enter in, you then encourage and show others the way into God’s Presence also.

God’s answer was: 'I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion' (v19). This means God’s love and grace is a sovereign and free expression of who He is. It is not brought forth by our merits. Thank God He has chosen to be merciful to all especially to those who trust in Him and receive His mercy.

'But He said, 'You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live' (20). His request was granted as far as God was able without killing Mosesfor even Moses (being human and having sinful flesh) cannot live in the direct glory (radiation) of God’s Presence. For the glory strikes sin down. However our resurrection bodies will abide in the glory. Meanwhile there is a WAY in which man can spiritually dwell in and enjoy the goodness of God’s Presence without being judged. God promises Moses that he will enter into this experience and through it God will reveal how He will make it possible for all men to stand in His Presence, for God is no respecter of persons.

The event itself is full of symbolic meaning which we will draw out later:
'The LORD said, 'Here is a place by Me, and you shall stand on the ROCK. So it shall be, while My glory passes by, that I will put you in the CLEFT OF THE ROCK, and will cover you with My hand while I pass by. Then I will take away My hand, and you shall see My back (afterglow, reflection, wake) but My face shall not be seen (no direct exposure to the glory is possible).' (v21-23).
The cleft Rock represents Jesus Christ.

The true Mount Sinai (now called Jebel El Lawz) is in Saudi Arabia (as Galatians 4:25 says). This is the region of Midian where Moses tended sheep for 40 years.

 


The traditional Mt.Sinai does not fit the Biblical requirements in many ways. However Jebel-El-Lawz (the Mountain of the Law) has all the required features as well as archeological remains from when Israel camped there.

 

 

Notice the main summit is blackened (God came down in fire!).

Alongside it, is another smaller peak of ROCK, with a plateau in-between, that is cleft so that it is one piece of rock divided into 2 peaks. The picture below is of Mt Sinai in Saudi Arabia, showing the cleft peak alongside the main blackened peak (in the background). This is the setting for the event described in Exodus 33 & 34 where Moses experiences the glory of God in the Cleft of the Rock. He could not stand the direct glory and holiness of God (upon the Summit), but once he was put in a place of refuge (the Cleft-Rock, which represents Christ) he could dwell in the Presence of God, enjoying His goodness, protected from His judgement.

 

 

Underneath is Elijah’s cave. Moses was to stand on this peak with the tablets and wait for God to appear to him in His glory. God then came and transported Moses into the safety of the cleft, while His glory passed by.

 

 

Knowing the physical arrangement on Mt.Sinai will help us visualise what happened and fully grasp what God is teaching us through the symbolism.

The Cleft Rock where Moses experienced the glory of God is one of the many great PICTURES of Jesus Christ and His Salvation in the Bible. The theme of this section of scripture is how can sinful man dwell in the presence of a holy God without incurring God’s wrath?

When Moses prayed: 'Please, show me Your glory' (v18), God answered: 'I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But He said, 'You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live' (v19,20). Through this experience God is showing all men the Way He has provided for man to spiritually enter and dwell in the goodness of God’s Presence and Glory without facing judgement. Therefore the event is full of symbolic meaning which we will now draw out.

'The LORD said, 'Here is a place by Me, and you shall stand on the ROCK. So it shall be, while My glory passes by, that I will put you in the CLEFT OF THE ROCK, and will cover you with My hand while I pass by. Then I will take away My hand, and you shall see My back (afterglow, reflection, wake) but My face shall not be seen' (no direct exposure to the glory is possible while we are still in our mortal bodies) (v21-23).

What is God teaching and revealing here?
- The cleft Rock represents Jesus Christ.

In the Bible, GOD IS OUR ROCK- the strong unchanging One in whom we can trust and find refuge:

Ps 18:2: 'The LORD is my ROCK, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my ROCK, in Whom I take REFUGE. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.'

Ps 31:2,3: 'My ROCK of REFUGE, a strong fortress to save me...my ROCK and my fortress.'

Ps 62:2: 'He alone is my ROCK and my salvation; He is my fortress, I will never be shaken.'

Ps 62:7: 'My salvation and my honour depend on God; He is my mighty ROCK, my REFUGE.'

Ps 71:3: 'My ROCK of REFUGE, to which I can always go...you are my ROCK and my fortress.'

Deuteronomy 32:4: 'He is the ROCK, His work is perfect: for all His ways are judgment.'

2 Samuel 22:32: 'For who is God, save the LORD? and Who is a ROCK, save our God?'

The imagery of a ROCK clearly belongs to God, so if we see the Bible apply it to Jesus Christ then this is a proof of His Deity. Paul says that the Israelites in the wilderness: 'all drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ' (1 Corinthians 10:4).

Paul is referring to the event recorded in Exodus 17:6: 'The Lord said to Moses: 'Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock in Horeb; and you shall strike the ROCK, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink.'

Moses, at God’s command, struck this ROCK, miraculously bringing forth a much needed supply of water for God’s people. The physical rock is a picture of Christ being struck to provide the water of life (the Holy-Spirit) to satisfy man’s spiritual need. The striking of the rock points prophetically to the crucifixion of the Messiah. His body was broken open for our sins. The result of the striking of the Rock was that a fountain of living water was opened to quench the spiritual thirst of the entire world. Jesus said: 'If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water. But this He spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in Him would receive' (John 7:37-39). This is a picture of the Trinity in action providing our salvation. The Father plans and commands. The Son was struck by the Rod of God for us, releasing the living waters of the Holy-Spirit (contained and hidden in Christ) for us to drink. The Lord is truly our Rock of Salvation.

Thus in Exodus 17, JESUS CHRIST is the ROCK that was CLEFT for us to receive the waters of salvation. Now in Exodus 33, we again see a Cleft Rock which must represent Christ crucified.

We are now ready to see God’s description of how man can stand in God’s goodness.
1. THE PHYSICAL LOCATION: 'Here is a place by Me.' God’s provision for salvation has a specific Location which reprents a specific Person (Acts 4:12). We know the true Mt.Sinai is Jebel-El-Lawz in Saudi Arabia. The main summit is still blackened perhaps from when God came down in fire! God in His glory was on the main peak but there was a smaller peak of Rock alongside the main peak with a plateau in-between. This secondary peak symbolises Jesus Christ, the Son, Who is eternally with the Father (John 1:1). Moreover, this peak is CLEFT OPEN, so that it is one piece of ROCK divided into two.

2. FAITH IN CHRIST: 'and you shall stand on the ROCK.' Moses was told to stand on this Cleft-Rock peak with the tablets, calling upon God to appear to him in His glory. This represents us putting all our faith on the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts16:31).

3. BAPTISM INTO CHRIST: 'So it shall be, while My glory passes by, that I will put you IN the CLEFT of the ROCK.' God then came in His glory and transported Moses into the Cleft of the Rock, a place of refuge and safety while God’s glory passed by. When we put our trust in Christ, calling upon His Name (Rom 10:17), then God comes in His glory and puts (baptises) us into Christ, where we are safe from judgement (Gal 3:27, Rom 6:3). In Christ every blessing of salvation is ours. So God has provided a place of safety in Himself through the Cross of Christ (the Cleft Rock), where we can abide in God’s grace. Otherwise we, like Moses, would be destroyed by the presence of God’s glory.

4. ATONEMENT: 'and I will cover you with My hand while I pass by.'
In Christ a covering (atonement) is provided for us. God’s glory includes His holiness and judgement on sin, but God Himself intervened to cover and protect us from what would destroy us. No angel or mere man could do this, only the hand of God Himself. Jesus died in our place, and bore the wrath of God upon our sin. This protection only avails for those in the Cleft.

5. RESURRECTION BLESSING: 'Then I will take away My hand, and you shall see My back but My face shall not be seen.' Once judgement had passed Moses could receive the tidal wave of goodness that followed in His path. When we were put into Christ we were identified with His death and resurrection. In His death He bore the wrath of God upon our sin once and for all so we no longer need protecting from God’s wrath (the hand is removed) and we enjoy the goodness of God’s glory that shines out from His resurrection.

6. The Event Itself- a picture of our New Birth in Christ (Exodus 34):
Moses prepared two blank tablets of stone, to typify God’s Laws written in the heart (the New Covenant), replacing the first tablets broken by man (the Old Covenant). This time God would write them in Christ and so would be eternal. 'Moses... went up Mount Sinai, as the LORD commanded him; and he took the two tablets of stone. Now the LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name (character) of the LORD. And the LORD passed before him and proclaimed: ‘The LORD, the LORD, the GOD (the Trinity) is merciful and gracious, longsuffering and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin, but by no means clearing the guilty' (v4-7).

When we trust in Christ, we are put into Christ and the glory of God comes through us. God’s character is revealed and proclaimed, which is both mercy and judgement but in Christ we are hidden from all judgement. Thus in Christ, God comes and speaks into our hearts His eternal goodness, love, compassion and mercy towards us (also Exodus 33:19). He speaks all His blessings to us in Christ and He writes His laws on the tablets of our hearts (Jer 31:31-34; 2Cor 3:2,3) for after God’s glory had passed through, the 10 commandments were written on the tablets, so that we are a new creation in Christ recreated in His image of righteousness and holiness (2Cor 5:17,21; Eph 4:24). The glory of God (the Holy-Spirit) came and did this at Pentecost for those who trusted in Christ, manifesting the New Covenant (of God’s law and glory) within them, soon after Christ had been cleft for us on the Cross. The Old Covenant (of God’s external law and glory) at Mt.Sinai was also initiated at the feast of Pentecost. So even when God entered into the Old Covenant with Israel, He knew its limitatations and inability to bring man into the law and glory of God, so by this event He prophesied the new and better Covenant to come.

ROCK OF AGES CLEFT FOR ME
As a YOUNG MINISTER traveled through the rugged country near England's Cheddar Gorge, the clouds burst and torrential sheets of rain pummeled the earth. Caught unawares by a sudden downpour, the lone weary traveler was able to take shelter in a mighty cleft of rock, standing under a rocky overhang. The figure is the Reverend Augustus Toplady, a zestful Calvinist preacher. The cleft is in the face of a large cliff of limestone, connected to Cheddar Gorge. Rain storms in this area can last for hours. Settling in for a long wait he has nothing to do but study the rock around him.

 

 

It is a mighty cleft after all. Inspiration comes in a flash, as if from on high. Fumbling in his pockets for something on which to record the imagery that fires his imagination, he finds some playing cards. There, protected from the buffeting wind and rain, he conceived one of the best loved hymns ever written, 'Rock of Ages, Cleft for me, Let me hide myself in Thee.' The cleft now has its own car park.

In 1776 he wrote an article for 'The Gospel Magazine' with his new hymn 'Rock of Ages' as the crown for his article. His theme was to proclaim his belief that the Cross of Christ is the source of our salvation and not our own good efforts. He wrote that just as England could never pay her national debt, so man could never by his own merits satisfy the justice of God. In the middle of the article he burst into song, printing for the first time the hymn 'Rock of Ages', which so ably describes Christ, the Rock of Ages, as the remedy for all our sin. Could a mere man help God to achieve our own salvation? No never! We must look to the cross and come to Christ depending totally on Him. Its strong declaration of Christ and His work on the cross as man’s only hope of salvation from the judgement his sin deserves, earns it a place of honor among hymns of grace.

The hymn is based on an encounter of Moses with God, where the cleft Rock is a picture of Jesus Christ and His salvation. The picture of Christ as a rock split open to provide a place of spiritual refuge for sinful people is drawn from Moses’ experience recorded in Exodus 33:20-23, where Moses desired to stand in God’s Presence and see His glory (which is God’s plan and purpose for man). However man’s sin would mean his certain destruction (judgement) by the holy presence of God, unless God somehow provides a way of salvation. God’s special provision (of the Cleft-Rock) for Moses (which protected Him from judgement, even while standing in God’s Presence) symbolically revealed how God would provide access to God’s Presence and a shelter from judgement for all men through the Cross of Jesus Christ.

Exodus 33:20-23: 'God said, 'You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.' And the LORD said, 'Here is a place by Me, and you shall stand on the rock. So it shall be, while My glory passes by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock, and will cover you with My hand while I pass by.Then I will take away My hand, and you shall see My back; but My face shall not be seen.'

Because Moses, a fallen man, could not see God’s face and live, God Himself protected Moses by placing him in the Cleft of a Rock, as He passed by in His glory. In like manner, by being hidden in Christ, our Rock, cleft (split) open on our behalf on the Cross, we are sheltered from the eternal death we would surely face when we stand before a holy, righteous God to be judged. Instead we are given eternal life in His glory.

Rock of ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in thee;
let the water and the blood
from thy wounded side which flowed,
be of sin the double cure,
cleanse me from its guilt and power.

Not the labour of my hands
can fulfill thy law's demands;
could my zeal no respite know,
could my tears forever flow,
all for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and thou alone.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
simply to the cross I cling;
naked, come to thee for dress;
helpless look to thee for grace;
foul, I to the fountain fly;
wash me, Saviour, or I die.

While I draw this fleeting breath,
when mine eyelids close in death,
when I soar through tracts unknown
see thee on thy judgment throne,
Rock of ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in Thee.

As he neared the end Toplady proclaimed,
'My heart beats every day stronger and stronger for glory.
Sickness is no affliction, pain no cause, death itself no dissolution.
My prayers are now all converted into praise.'

While I draw this fleeting breath,
when mine eyelids close in death,
when I soar through tracts unknown
see thee on thy judgment throne,
Rock of ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in Thee.

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