Hidden, in a Cleft of The Rock

Meditation on Exodus 33:12-23

Pastor Karen Crawford

The Presbyterian Church, 142 N. 4th Street, Coshocton, OH 43812

Oct. 18, 2020

Jim and I had a good time in Cambridge, Mass., visiting family. Jim’s son, Danny, and his wife, Hiu-Fai, live there with their two little girls, 3-year-old Maddie and 6-year-old Jessie. Our time with them was limited because I was taking a class Monday through Friday, all day, on Zoom, and they were working or going to school.

     Time with them is precious. We only see them about once a year for a week or less. We do Facetime and Zoom, but there’s no substitute for face to face, is there? Not when you want to have a close relationship.

      Maddie was just a toddler when we saw her in spring 2019. Now she is speaking in complete sentences, telling us just what she wants and what she doesn’t want. She knows the word, “No,” and she says it so sweetly. She wants to do everything her big sister does, including riding a scooter. She’s fast! And fearless!

      Jessie is creative, talkative, sensitive, headstrong, at times, and a “girly girl.” She has an Elsa costume from the Frozen movies and always wants me to paint her fingernails. She makes me laugh, without trying. I complimented her on her gymnastic moves in the living room, and she said, “Well, at least somebody appreciates me!”

       In another moment, she confided, “Grandpa Jim isn’t a smiley person, is he?”

       Another time, she said, “Grandma Karen! Do you have any children?”

      “Yes. I have 3 boys,” I said. “All grown up.”

       “You do???” she asked, amazed that her grandma had kids.

        The most memorable afternoon with the family, for me, was when we took a walk in a historic cemetery. What a beautiful place! I don’t think the girls had ever been to a cemetery before, and, well, I have some experience in that area.

      We saw some tombstones more than 100 years old. I showed Jessie how when there’s a date and a dash and no other date, the person is still alive! That just blew her mind! We peeked inside ornate mausoleums with wrought iron bars from the 1800s. Jessie wanted to know where the bodies were and when they died.

     One died in 1879, I told her, pointing.

    “1879! No wonder they died!” she exclaimed. “They were really old!!!”

    She was concerned about any children who had died. She wanted to know why. I thought for a moment of what I could say that wouldn’t make her incredibly sad, so I said, “In the old days, they didn’t have all the medicines and medical care we have today.” She paused, and then smiled and said, “My mommy’s a doctor! She helps children!” And I said, “Yes! That’s right,” with a sigh of relief.

    On the morning we were preparing to leave and didn’t have time for one last impromptu gymnastic performance in her bedroom, she said, “Grandma Karen! I love you. I don’t want you to go.”

      “I love you, too!” I said and leaned in close to look right into her eyes. “We’ll be back as soon as we can. And I’ll call you so we can talk.”

      I was so proud of myself that I didn’t cry, this time! Because now I know she’s old enough that she won’t forget me.


      In our Exodus reading today, we have an intimate look at the close relationship between God and Moses. This relationship grew over time and was formed through trials, where God showed himself to be faithful, providing for all the Israelites’ needs and even some demands—such as when they wanted meat and God gave them quail. Moses brings the people to meet God at Mount Sinai and be consecrated in Ex. 19, shortly before the Lord summons him to the top of the mountain to meet with him alone.  God gives Moses the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai and many other laws governing their worship and life together as God’s people in this new community. Just as Moses is about to bring down the two stone tablets of the covenant, written “with the finger of God,” the Lord says, “Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them.” Aaron has melted down their jewelry and made a golden calf, for they have demanded “gods to worship.” When Moses is delayed descending the mountain, the people, who have been complaining about his leadership all along, are impatient and decide he isn’t coming back.

    Before our passage in Exodus 33, Moses has interceded with God on behalf of the people two times since the golden calf incident. And it’s not because Moses isn’t angry with them. In a rage, he confronts his brother, Aaron, who let the people “run wild” and he confronts the people, throwing and breaking the stone tablets. A battle is fought. Many people die. And there’s a plague believed to be sent by the Lord because of their idolatry.

     The Lord keeps his covenant, however, with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all their descendants, telling Moses that an angel will lead them to the land “flowing with milk and honey.” But God isn’t going with them, for they are “a stiff-necked people,” the Lord says.  Stiff-necked, meaning prideful and disobedient, refusing to bow their heads and humbly submit to the Lord.

    This doesn’t satisfy Moses—going to the Land of the Promise without the Lord. For God and Moses have spoken through a pillar of cloud in the tent of meeting, “face to face,” says Exodus 33:11, “as one speaks to a friend.” Moses reminds the Lord of their relationship, and how God has told him that he knows him by name and has found favor in his sight.  He says, “Consider, too, that this nation is your people.” In other words, you created them and chose them! You know how bad they are!!! And you still love them and want a relationship with them. He reminds the Lord of His promise of presence. For God said, “I will always be with you.” And how will the earth know they are God’s people if God’s presence is no longer with them?

     The Lord is persuaded, saying, “for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” Then, when Moses wants to know God even more and look on God’s glory, the Lord allows him a glimpse of his back. But first, the Lord hides Moses in a cleft of a rock, and covers him with his hand.


   I keep thinking about our visit with our family in Massachusetts, words that were said, what we did. The wonderful feeling of holding my granddaughters. Of giving myself fully to them whenever I am with them. I long to see them again and hear their little voices. I don’t know the future, of course, but I am in wonder and awe of who they will become, trusting in God’s plan.

     Those thoughts and feelings that I have about my granddaughters, God has ever so much more about us! God’s love is unconditional and promise of presence is for all eternity. God wants us to give ourselves fully to Him! He has created and chosen us and knows all our weaknesses—and still, God loves us! He is our God. We are His people. We belong to Him. Why do we just offer the piece of us that is left over after the world consumes us—when we are exhausted from all our daily struggles and stress? God desires and deserves our first and our best, Amen?

      Moses never hesitated to talk with the Lord. That really stood out to me with today’s reading! He wasn’t afraid to challenge God’s decision to take his presence away from the Israelites and away from him. He knew enough about the character of the Lord– God’s mercy, love, and grace—to seek forgiveness for the stiff-necked, unfaithful people of God, who had really messed up and gone astray, after all that God had done for them!

     So why do we hesitate to pray? Why do we hold back or put off communing with the Lord until later? Do we think that we are a bother for God—that maybe God has more important things to worry about, especially right now, with all the problems in our world? If you can remember one thing from my message today, I hope it is that God wants you to pray! The Lord wants to be in close relationship with you. A close relationship with God is what’s going to change you and me. Just think, if everyone had a close relationship with the Lord, it would change the world! If everyone gave all of themselves to Him—the first and the best part.

    Listen to God’s promises about things to come:

     2 Cor. 3:18: “We all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image.”  

Colossians 3:1-4: “So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.”

And Revelation 21:3-4: “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.’

       Friends, may you come to know the Lord as your friend. May you come to call on the one who knows your name and will remain the same, yesterday, today and forever! The one who wants you to give yourself –all of yourself—freely to Him.

May you sense the loving presence of the one who holds you now, hidden, in the cleft of the Rock of your Salvation, covered with his hand.

Let us pray.

Holy One, thank you for drawing us near to you and holding us close in the safety of the cleft of the Rock of your Salvation. Help us to feel secure and comforted by your love and the promises in your Word, in spite of all that is happening in our world. Teach us how to trust you, like Moses did, to come to you with every concern, without hesitation, and to speak up for what is right. Teach us, as your disciples once said, how to pray. And Lord, we ask for protection and your tender care for the children and grandchildren in our troubled world today. Help us to be a godly example for our young people. Give us wisdom and courage to walk your righteous path and never go astray and worship idols of our own making. May we be pleasing to you. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

Published by karenpts

I am the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, New York on Long Island. Come and visit! We want to share God’s love and grace with you and encourage you on your journey of faith. I have served Presbyterian congregations in Minnesota, Florida and Ohio since my ordination in 2011. I am a 2010 graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and am working on a doctor of ministry degree with Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. I am married to Jim and we have 5 grown children and two grandchildren in our blended family. We are parents to fur babies, Liam, an orange tabby cat, and Minnie, a toy poodle.

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