Imagine there was this man who was completely underappreciated within his family. His wife barely acknowledged his presence. His children refused to listen and lived in a constant state of rebellion. Both trampled over his presence as if they were in a grape stomping party. So, one day he calls his family together and informs them that he quit; that he was out of there; that he was done being a part of this family. He doesn’t explain his pain hoping that at least a part of them mighty pick up on it. His wife is the first to understand the ramifications and she argues passionately for him to stay; to be present with them as a family. She makes no excuses for their past behavior – she knows they were at fault. The children give him reasons why they need him to stay. They finally understand that they would lose something vital to their identity if he left. The father gravely responds, “I guess you’re right. I suppose, if you really need me, I’ll stay.” The family wins the argument just as the father planned all along. Does this sound manipulative to you? It should. But is manipulation always wrong? I think not.
Exodus 33:12-17 contains Moses’ impassioned plea for God’s presence to remain with the people as they travel on their way. My guess is that even though Yahweh had told them to leave, that they remained camped at the foot of Mt. Sinai for some time with the tent of meeting pitched far outside of their camp as a reminder of the distance between them and God. But time is approaching for them to break camp and travel on toward the Promised Land. Can they continue on with this distance between them? So, Moses, probably in the Tent of Meeting, said, “Consider, you told me to bring this people but you yourself have not let me know whom you will send with me.” Some have suggested he is asking about a guide, but God has already let him know that an angel will guide them. From God’s response we can be confident that Moses is bemoaning the absence of God. When God first called Moses to lead the people out of Egypt and Moses cried out a desperate “Who am I?” God responded with “I will be with you.” Now Moses is crying out “Who will be with me now?” He is the same “who am I” person who needs the “I Am” presence.
God had told Moses “I have known you by name.” The word “name” can refer to the character or the essence of the person. God had communicated to Moses that he knows him; who he is. And that he has “grace” or favor in God’s sight. If this is true Moses wants to know Yahweh’s ways or “manner.” This is, again, a plea for God’s presence; a plea for relationship. Moses continues with “Consider, that this nation is not just some people, this nation is your people.” God’s response is sparse: “My Presence shall go and I will give you rest.” This meager response is full of meaning. It shows clearly Moses’ heart. He is seeking Yahweh’s presence and he is anxious. His soul is in a state of unrest at the thought of proceeding without Yahweh’s presence.
You would think that the conversation would be over. After all, Yahweh acquiesced. It is almost as if Moses feels the need to explain himself and intensify his plea. If Yahweh does not go with them, then don’t even bother sending your angel to guide us. What gives us identity? That is Moses’ question. Without God’s presence they cannot be the precious jewel of God; the holy priesthood. What would they be? They would be like every other nation. Essentially Godless. God is not just a nice companion to have along on the journey. Nope! He is essential. He defines them. He is the essence of who they are. Without him they would lose identity. And this, boys and girls, is Moses’ main concern. Who am I and who are we? They would be a nation in a lovely land, but they would be just like every other nation in any other land. Maybe the surrounding nations would talk for awhile about how their God brought them out of Egypt through the desert, but that would soon be forgotten and meaningless lore. God again lets Moses know that he will do all that Moses requests. So, basically Moses won this discussion. And yet, he arrives exactly where God wants him to be. And isn’t that amazing?
There is a manipulation that is all about getting your own way; selfish and conniving. But there is also a manipulation that is all about getting people to a better place for themselves; loving and beguiling. This is a good manipulation and God is an expert. But underneath all of this is the question: Who are you without God? Do you grasp the weight of that question? You see I am still an “who am I” person who needs the “I Am” presence. Without him who am I indeed? He is my essence. May he be yours as well. Peace.