We can learn a lot from Moses and his concern for God’s glory:
If you are like me, you may often worry about what others think of you. What should really concern us however is what God thinks of us. After all, the fear of man brings a snare (Prov. 29:25), but the fear of God brings life (Prov. 10:27).
Too often we are concerned about our own reputation when we should be concerned about God’s. As I am reading through the Pentateuch once again, I find at least three major incidents in which Moses showed his complete concern for the reputation, honour and glory of Yahweh.
Each one involves three elements: the Israelites rebelling and complaining; God threatening to wipe them out; and Moses interceding, worried about God’s reputation among the pagans. Let me look at each one, and offer a few words from three expository commentaries – all from the Preaching the Word series.
The first is found in Exodus 32 where we have the famous story of the golden calf. The Israelites had been miraculously delivered out of Egyptian bondage. The people had seen the ten plagues and they had been through the Red Sea and seen Pharaoh and his troops overcome there. Yet in spite of all this, they quickly turned against the Lord. While Moses was up on Mt. Sinai getting the law of God, the people turned to idolatry. Exodus 32:7-10 tells us how God responded:
And the Lord said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” And the Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, it is a stiff-necked people. Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them, in order that I may make a great nation of you.”
And verses 11-14 tell us how Moses responded:
But Moses sought the favor of the LORD his God. “O LORD,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’ “Then the LORD relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.
Philip Graham Ryken says Moses offered five reasons why God should show mercy. The third one is this:
Moses appealed to God on the basis of his public reputation. He asked God to save his people not simply for their sake, but for the sake of his own good name. Remember, this was the reason God saved them in the first place. It was so the Egyptians would see his glory (Exod. 7:5). So now how would it look if God decided to destroy his people? . . . God’s credibility was on the line….
Thus it was out of zeal for God’s glory that Moses begged God not to destroy his people. He cared about God’s reputation. He wanted to see God exalted among the nations. This gave the strongest possible support to his prayer. Moses was appealing to God’s own highest goal, which is to glorify himself. We have the same motivation when we pray for the salvation of family and friends and when we pray for the global work of the gospel through missions. We are asking God to enhance his international reputation, to bring glory to himself by saving sinners.
The next example of this is found in Numbers. In chapter 13 we read about how the 12 spies went into Canaan, checked out the land, and then returned to report. Only two gave a positive report. Moses wanted to proceed, but the people again complained and wanted to go back to Egypt. In verses 5-12 we read this:
Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the people of Israel. And Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes and said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, “The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land. If the Lord delights in us, he will bring us into this land and give it to us, a land that flows with milk and honey. Only do not rebel against the Lord. And do not fear the people of the land, for they are bread for us. Their protection is removed from them, and the Lord is with us; do not fear them.” Then all the congregation said to stone them with stones. But the glory of the Lord appeared at the tent of meeting to all the people of Israel. And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them? I will strike them with the pestilence and disinherit them, and I will make of you a nation greater and mightier than they.”
Once again Moses responded by showing great concern for God and his reputation (verses 13-19):
But Moses said to the Lord, “Then the Egyptians will hear of it, for you brought up this people in your might from among them, and they will tell the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that you, O Lord, are in the midst of this people. For you, O Lord, are seen face to face, and your cloud stands over them and you go before them, in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. Now if you kill this people as one man, then the nations who have heard your fame will say, ‘It is because the Lord was not able to bring this people into the land that he swore to give to them that he has killed them in the wilderness.’ And now, please let the power of the Lord be great as you have promised, saying, ‘The Lord is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, to the third and the fourth generation.’ Please pardon the iniquity of this people, according to the greatness of your steadfast love, just as you have forgiven this people, from Egypt until now.”
Iain Duguid says that concern for God’s glory was paramount for Moses – and it should be for us as well:
Why do we ask God to respond to our prayers? It is “for your name’s sake,” so that he might receive the glory he deserves. Why do we ask him to change our neighbor’s heart toward him? It is so that the Lord might be glorified by another soul captivated by his beauty. Why do we ask him to strengthen our churches and add new people to them? It is so that we might more adequately and fully declare his praises in those places. Why do we ask for victory over our sins? It is so that our hearts might be more free to glorify him and delight in his presence. Praying for the sake of God’s glory will dramatically reshape what we pray for and the way we pray for ourselves and those around us.
In this chapter Moses recounts the story of the golden calf, and he goes on to say this in verses 22-29:
“At Taberah also, and at Massah and at Kibroth-hattaavah you provoked the Lord to wrath. And when the Lord sent you from Kadesh-barnea, saying, ‘Go up and take possession of the land that I have given you,’ then you rebelled against the commandment of the Lord your God and did not believe him or obey his voice. You have been rebellious against the Lord from the day that I knew you. “So I lay prostrate before the Lord for these forty days and forty nights, because the Lord had said he would destroy you. And I prayed to the Lord, ‘O Lord God, do not destroy your people and your heritage, whom you have redeemed through your greatness, whom you have brought out of Egypt with a mighty hand. Remember your servants, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Do not regard the stubbornness of this people, or their wickedness or their sin, lest the land from which you brought us say, “Because the Lord was not able to bring them into the land that he promised them, and because he hated them, he has brought them out to put them to death in the wilderness.” For they are your people and your heritage, whom you brought out by your great power and by your outstretched arm.’
Ajith Fernando offers these comments:
Moses goes back to his theme of God’s honor. In the first and last verses of the prayer he reminds God that the Israelites are God’s people (9:26, 29). In verse 28 he says that the destruction of these people will bring shame to God….
The most awesome thing in the world—its greatest wealth and its reason to exist—is the glory of God. The biggest tragedy in the world is that so much of it does not recognize this glory. The great climax to which history is moving is the day when “the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9). Therefore, the greatest ambition that drives us is enhancing the honor of God on earth. When that honor is diminished, it is a tragedy beyond comparison. Moses says that the destruction of the Israelites will be such an event. So he asks God to spare the people so that the Egyptians would not interpret that action in a way that is dishonoring to God. How important it is for us to maintain this perspective of jealousy for the honor of God’s name.
So whose reputation are you concerned about? Whose glory are you interested in? We need to be like Moses in all this. The final words of Fernando in that section are worth closing this piece with:
“May our lives be similarly burdened by the vision of the glory of God so that all we do and all we ask of God may be motivated by this passion.”