I recall the various ways in which people tried to observe the solar eclipse several years ago. Some used welding shields, over the top of sunglasses. The sun, everyone knew, was too bright to be seen directly.
This is similar to the story of Exodus 33, as God shielded Moses from view, in the cleft of a rock, until God had passed by.
Elsewhere in these old stories of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, we are invited to find Christ in them. He was the spiritual Rock that gave the people water (1 Corinthians 10:1-4). It is no wonder ancient Christians were quick to see Jesus here, too, the place where God shelters his people as he draws very near to them. We are safe only in the cleft of the Rock. Only the blood of Jesus Christ enables us to draw near to God.
This is a story that tells us about God’s grace. Moses’ close encounter with the divine was entirely a product of God’s grace. God chose to reveal himself to Moses. And God provided the protection Moses needed to be so close to Someone so holy. The hand of God shielded Moses from God’s face – something that cannot be seen directly by sinful humanity.
A lot of Christians, myself included, know there are times in our lives when we have felt very close to God. We’ve had an experience of Him that went beyond and was deeper than the regular encounters we have with him in our Bible study and prayer time and weekly worship gatherings. These close encounters are very special to us. We know God had something for us in those moments. These are our spiritual mountaintops.
And Exodus 33 reminds us that those moments occurred at the choosing of God. He does not have to reveal himself to us. We are incapable of seeing him on our own, and it is dangerous even to try.
We can only see God by grace.