If I could use this devotional as a safe place, I must confess a moment of fatherly lapse. We were at my daughter’s kindergarten orientation, talking with other parents, and checking out the school, when my wife asked about our younger son, “Do you have Finn?” “Yes,” I replied, “he’s right behind us.” But he wasn’t. I turned around to look, but he was nowhere to be seen. Instant fear came over us—where’d he go? My wife and I split up: she stayed; I ran off to look. There were hundreds of people in this building! But after just a couple of minutes, I heard crying and the sound of a woman shouting, “Is this anyone’s child?” We found him! Wiggling himself down to run into my arms, we were reunited. With his limited vocabulary, he told us he went off to “play with the fish.” “That’s scary,” we told him. “Let us go with you next time.”
He’s fiercely independent, confident, and strong-willed. Even with those great qualities, he freaked out when he realized he was lost. His wandering caused him to feel anxiety and strife, and as his parents, we felt it, too. This is what happens when people lose sight of what’s precious to them, which is what happened to the people in our reading today from Exodus 33. The context is that the Israelites, God’s chosen people, chose to be independent, confident, and strong-willed apart from Him; He went so far as to call them “stiff-necked” in a conversation with Moses (Exodus 33:5). It was in this moment of clarity that Moses found himself grasping for a safe place in the middle of the anxiety of strife. He met with God and begged for His continued presence because He provided their confidence, direction, safety, and life.
It’s like this: when my son realized he was lost, he fought to find the presence of his family. He didn’t want to be where his father wasn’t. The other way is true, too. As his dad, I wanted him right under my arms, safe within reach. In today’s reading, Moses begged God to not send them on without His presence. God responded to Moses’s plea: “My presence will go with you,” and more so, “I will give you rest” (v.14).
It’s the best thing that Moses could’ve heard: the Israelites would not be far from God because He would go with them! They were tired, wandering around the wilderness, had escaped captivity from the Egyptians but still had no home, burdened with all kinds of things. God’s promise to them is echoed in Jesus’s words in Matthew 11, “Come to me all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). This is where every longing heart finds its joy.