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.” (Exodus 33:21-23)
As God passed by, He covered Moses with His hand (literally, “palm”) to protect him from being consumed. However, Moses was permitted to see “his back” but — what does that mean? Is it to be understood literally? Perhaps Moses was able to behold the wake of God’s glory as He passed by unshielded from the thick, dark cloud that usually accompanied the Presence of the Almighty. The Hebrew root word translated as “my back” means “that which comes at the end.” In other words, maybe Moses did see some type of glorious manifestation but not a complete manifestation of God’s glory — think of it as the afterglow that lingers after He has passed by.
As magnificent as that is, there is something more hinted in this statement as well. There were things Moses wasn’t allowed to see and there were those things that he was permitted to behold — those things that come at the end after God has “passed by.” So it is with us. Many times we can’t perceive or understand exactly what is going to be even when God has declared it. Biblical prophecy is an example of what I’m talking about — we read it, study it and then make conclusions about it. Later we find out that what we thought was going to happen isn’t exactly the way it turns out. More often than not, we recognize and understand the fulfillment of His Word as it happens or after it has happened, not necessarily before.
For example, when Yeshua was transfigured on the mountain, He appeared with Moses and Elijah. Their presence, along with the Voice from above, testified that He was the Messiah. Afterwards, His disciples were puzzled as to why Elijah had not appeared to declare His coming as was prophesied by Malachi. Yeshua’s response to them was that Elijah had come but they didn’t recognize him — “Then the disciples understood that He spoke to them of John the Baptist” (Matthew 17:13).
The point is that we can’t always rely on our conclusions about what the Word of God says but we can count on the Word of God. In short, things may not happen as it has been interpreted by theologians, however, it will happen exactly as it is written. It is incumbent upon us, then, to know what it is written so that when it comes to pass we will recognize it even if it doesn’t match our expectations. In turn, that means we must be sensitive to the Spirit of God and recognize when He is passing by.
By that I mean, we need to be keenly aware of those times when He is moving in our life and in the world so that we might perceive and appreciate the “afterglow” of His Presence. On the Day of Pentecost, Peter understood what had happened and was able to explain to the people that what they were witnessing had been prophesied by Joel. Likewise, as we observe “His back” we will be able to share with the world what God is doing in that moment and so provoke others to seek His face.
Blessings and Shalom,