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Exodus 33:17-23 – And the Lord said, “I know you by name.”

Updated: Jan 28, 2021

The Lord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” Moses said, “Show me your glory, I pray.” And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The Lord’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.” And the Lord continued, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; 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; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.”


This is an excerpt from the Old Testament reading (Track 1) of Proper 24, Year A Ordinary after Pentecost season.  It will next be read aloud on Sunday, October 18, 2020.  That will mark the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, Year A.  These words were last read aloud in an Episcopal church (by a priest) on Sunday, October 22, 2017.

I wrote a deeper explanation of this reading and published it in 2017.  It deals with the Hebrew text and the concept that these words tell of Moses communicating with God in a dream state.  I stand by that interpretation and welcome all to do a search of that posting and read it.  However, I have narrowed the focus in this writing to just the Lord’s instructions to Moses, relative to being placed in a metaphorical condition that is in “the cleft of a rock.”

In this conversation it is worthwhile to remember the story found in 1 Kings 19, where Elijah hid in the rock (“a cave”) and then was told to stand in the cleft (“the mouth of the cave”) as the Lord was going to pass by.  Elijah did not see God, but then “came a still, small voice.”  That voice was Elijah’s, as he spoke in submission to God, letting God speak through his soul-mind-body being. 

That story is a repeating of this story of Moses, as both were on “Mount Horeb.” [Exodus 33:6 and 1 Kings 19:8]  That was not the same physical mountain, but a statement about  one’s being in a place of “Waste” (the meaning of “choreb” or “ḥō·rêḇ” – חֹרֵֽב).  Both Moses and Elijah went into a safe haven created by God’s presence, amid a world of waste or of no purpose without God. 

Likewise, Jesus went into the wilderness to be tested, where Satan took his soul “to a very high mountain,” showing Jesus the kingdoms of the world that could be his, if he bowed down and worshiped Satan.  The “very high mountain” means a “mountain” that was “lofty,” which is the same as Mount Horeb; as from there all the waste of human kingdoms that worship Satan could be seen.

In the above translation, we read God telling Moses, ” you have found favor in my sight.”  This is an important statement that ALL Christians must realize.  God told Moses that God saw the actions of Moses as worthy of the Lord’s “grace.”  We are not told of Moses spending days of mournful prayer to God, asking for God to give him this or make that possible for him.  Moses was not attempting to make God his servant by talking to God.  Thus, it was what God saw Moses do that brought God to tell him “divine favor” was the reward of a faithful servant who did as the Lord told him to do (not the other way around).

When God then said to Moses (again, using the NRSV translation), “I know you by name,” this is most important for Christians to realize the truth of meaning contained in those words.  When Americans look at their birth certificates and driver’s license, they will see their “Christian name.”  That term is defined as: “A name given to an individual that distinguishes him or her from other members of the same family and is used as an address of familiarity; a forename, especially one given at baptism.” [Google search result from Definitions from Oxford Languages]  The name “Moses” met the same definition standards; but the etymology of that name given says “Child Rescued From Drowning In Water.”  However, that is not the meaning of God saying “I know you by name.”

Each and every animated piece of human flesh does so because it is possessed by a soul, which comes from God.  This means the “family” root for all souls is Yahweh as the Father.  When human beings are born and they are raised to worship daddy and his name, then everyone kneels at the altar of flesh worship, denying their souls have a greater Father.  Moses had sacrificed his sinful flesh [he had murdered, thus he knew his flesh was condemned to die] in service to God the Father of his soul.  Moses was not simply begging God to forgive him.  Moses was paying penitence by sacrificing his self-ego in the flesh and doing whatever God told him to do.  It was, again, those actions of subservience to the Lord that Yahweh saw.  God knew the heart (and mind and soul) of Moses, and there was no longer a “Child Rescued From Drowning In Water” there.  God knew Moses was in the name of the Father, or in the name of God; and, every Christian is called to be known by God in the same way.

That is why God then said to Moses, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The Lord.”  This does not mean God gave Moses the right to go around using the Lord’s name in vain, saying “In the name of God I command this or that!”  It says that the “goodness” will become God’s expression through Moses, meaning the fleshy body named Moses will then become God incarnate in that body of flesh. 

To grasp this, the word translated as “before” is “al,” which means “upon, above, over” (Strong’s Concordance) and “above, according to, after, as against, among, and, as, at.” (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance) Further, the preposition is derived from the conjunction that means “high, upward,” with it added to the Hebrew word translated as “you” – “pā·ne·ḵā” (a word that actually means “face”). 

It says Moses would walk as God, with the face of God covering the human fleshy face of Moses.  That would become the glow that Moses had on his face, after leaving the tent of meeting, which so frightened the Israelites that they made Moses wear a veil over his face.  The “goodness of the Lord passed before Moses” as the face of God upon him.  Thus, Moses (like Jesus would do) spoke only the Word of God to the Israelites, proclaiming God’s messages because he had taken on the name of God.

When God said, “You cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live,” that was a statement that a soul cannot see God with eyes of flesh.  To see God, one must leave the worldly realm and enter the spiritual realm.  Thus, when Moses looked into a reflecting pool or mirror [instruments of vanity], he saw his face staring back at him, not God’s.  That becomes a statement that demands a soul must sacrifice the false life of the worldly flesh [it is only temporal pseudo-life] and kill one’s self-ego, in order to find the true life of a Saint.  Moses, Elijah, Jesus, and his Apostles (et al) were in the Holy Bible because they surrendered their faces [death of self-ego] so they could wear the face of God.  A true Christian does the same.

When the translation states God as saying “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock,” the importance should be placed on “seeing” through the face of God.  The use of “rock” is then a statement of the solidity of one’s soul state of being, when one has become in the name of God [His Son, with Him the Father].  The “cleft of the rock” is then the bubble of protection God gives His Saints.

When God then told Moses, “I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen,” this is the complete lack of self-awareness that a Saint has.  A magician has learned how to trick people with sleight of hand and use of smoke and mirrors as distractions.  The hand of God is the power of God to work miracles through an Apostle.  The one who has surrendered his flesh unto the Lord does not know what is taking place.  It is not the brain of a human or the acts of a human body that are in play.  Thus, the Son of God is never looking up procedures from the Handbook of God or trying to remember just how some incantation for turning water into wine goes.

In the Gospels, there are few times that Jesus did anything to heal someone.  Typically, all he did was tell someone their faith had healed them.  That is the hand of God covering a Son until the work of God has been done.  When that hand is removed, the only thing seen is the result of God’s work – another miracle done (without magic involved).

This then plays into the Gospel reading from Matthew 22:15-22, when Jesus said to give unto Caesar what is his, but give unto God that which is God’s.  Caesar represents living in the flesh.  The soul is the property of God, but it so loves to absorb the filth a body of flesh can wallow in that the lures of Satan’s world often makes a soul refuse to wear the face of the Lord.  That was the test Jesus passed; that is the test all Saints must likewise pass.  Therefore, when Jesus said to give back to God what God gave to your flesh at birth, the only way that can happen is to be like Moses and put on the face of God.

R. T. Tippett

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