Lately I’ve been spending a lot of time with God and Moses. On Sunday mornings I teach a class on freedom through the lens of Exodus, and so I’m reading Exodus a lot. A year or so ago I wrote a Bible study in Exodus. That time I couldn’t help noticing how helpful Exodus was, how instructive for a person like me who wanted so much to find freedom. This time, reading through the book, I’m seeing new sights and feeling new feels--particularly as I watch the relationship between God and Moses bloom.
This past Sunday we looked at Exodus chapter 33, at the moment when Moses enters the tent of meeting right after the golden calf disaster and the subsequent punishments rained down upon the people of Israel--plague, a brutal purge, and the promise that God would not move on to the next encampment with the people. We see Moses, inevitably tired and heavy, walk across and beyond the camp while the whole wandering nation watched.
I wonder how hard it was for Moses to take that walk. To come to God in the wake of everything…
But as he’s walking the Exodus writer steps in with an aside, a sort of footnote to the action. He explains Moses’ practice of coming to the tent of meeting, the place where men met God, how all of Israel would worship when the Lord, made manifest in a thick cloud, descended on it. The Exodus writer says of Moses’ conversations with God in the tent: “The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.”
And I think, “I would want to talk to my friend when I was tired and heavy.”
That sentence--The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend--it’s breath-taking, really. Lovely. Can you imagine it?
I said in class on Sunday, “When I die one day I hope people say at my funeral, ‘The Lord would speak to Jennifer… as one speaks to a friend.’”
This is my life’s goal: to be a friend of God.
There are certainly perks to a friendship like that. In this exact context, God gives Moses the gift of reversing His decision not to go with the people. He says, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.”
There is favor in friendship with God.
There’s glory, too. When Moses spends time with God his face glows. I imagine one of those glow worm dolls I had as a kid, but I suspect it was more beautiful and powerful and less creepy than that. When Moses is with God, God wears off on him. And I want that.
But mostly I just want to be friends with God because I want more God. Because I want to be in His confidence. Because I want Him to show me things and tell me things and take me places. Because I would rather be with Him than be anywhere else doing anything else. And that’s what friendship is.
Now, I know it won’t be easy. For Moses, being a friend of God meant not having too many friends among the people. It meant saying hard things on God’s behalf. It meant being different, remarkably so, so different people didn’t want to look at his God-painted face.
It meant not feeling at home. Ever. Moses didn’t fit among the people and he didn’t fit with God--not fully. Not yet.
It meant doing hard things all the time. Moses is always tired. He talks to God like a mother of five month old twins who still won’t sleep. God never stops asking Moses to do things. He equips him, sure. But He also uses Moses every day, all day until the day he dies.
For Moses friendship with God meant hard conversations with God. It meant never fully understanding God and yet striving every moment to understand Him better. It meant navigating the stuff he couldn’t know in light of the stuff he did know, and that isn’t easy.
Friendship with God made Moses an enemy to the family he grew up with as a boy.
Friendship with God made Moses a homeless, unpaid leader of hundreds of thousands of people who didn’t want to follow.
Friendship with God isn’t to be taken lightly. It costs something.
But the reward…
Friendship with God grows in shared experience, vulnerable conversation, partnership in mission, in vulnerability and in trust. I’ve learned that from Moses.
Too, I’ve learned that if you want to be a friend of God, the trick is to do what Moses did after the calf; you need to go to the tent of meeting. That’s not so hard these days as God has made each of us a tabernacle, His Spirit dwelling within the very bodies of His children. God is close. And every day we reach for Him, He comes closer.
James writes, Come near to God and he will come near to you. Never was there a better promise.
We may be tempted when we feel distant or sad or dry, to stay away. We may not feel particularly warmly about God or really want to talk to Him that much. We may be frustrated or angry, disappointed or confused.
Friendship says, “Even though I don’t understand, even though I’m angry, even though the last thing I want to do is get out of this bed or cross this camp, I’m going to come to the tent. I’m going to sit down and talk to You, face to face, as one speaks to a friend.”
You do that for God, and He’ll do it for you. Because, like He said to Moses, He’s pleased with you and He knows you by name.