Purity of Heart
At the foot of Mt. Sinai, the tablets of the testimony, “written with the finger of God” (Ex. 31.18), lay shattered in the dust. Israel is in disarray and despair. Families have laid to rest thousands of their relatives, slain on account of idolatry. The taste of water tinged with burnt, powdered gold lingers on the lips of all. God’s meeting place with Israel lies outside the camp (33.7), and God no longer goes before them. The outlook for the chosen nation is grim. What started with shouts of agreement and promises of faithfulness (19.8, 20.19) has become mourning and silence.
However, there is still at least one in Israel whose heart was pure.
In Exodus 33-34 Moses intercedes on behalf of Israel. These two chapters record the fascinating interaction between the LORD and Moses, and the purity of Moses’ heart is put on display for us to examine and emulate. These five aspects of a pure heart find their ultimate fulfillment in Christ, the one who interceded not only for Israel but for the world. Moses was permitted to see a sliver of the glory of God, and it was Jesus who centuries later would speak to the crowds on a Galilean mountainside and say, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matt. 5.8). If we would seek purity of heart as Moses and Jesus displayed, here are some areas in which we must focus.
1. The pure of heart desire to be taught of God, and by God.
“Now, if I have indeed found favor with you, please teach me your ways, and I will know you, so that I may find favor with you.” (Ex. 33.13 CSB).
The pure of heart yearns to know God and recognize that the only source for that knowledge is the LORD Himself. Isaiah would go on to speak of a time when the people of God would come to Him “that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths” (2.3). How fitting it was that Moses, who asked to be taught God’s ways, is given the privilege of recording the Law on behalf of all Israel! Those who would develop purity of heart must allow their desire to know God to motivate them to diligently study His word. Under the new covenant in Christ, the pure-hearted fulfill the promise given in Jeremiah 31, and quoted in Hebrews 8.10: “I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” A statue feels no hunger, and the hard-hearted have no real desire to be taught of God or to know more of Him.
2. The pure of heart refuse to continue without God’s presence.
“Then he said to Him, ‘If Your presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here. For how then can it be known that I have found favor in Your sight, I and Your people? Is it not by Your going with us, so that we, I and Your people, may be distinguished from all the other people who are upon the face of the earth?’"
Moses understood that the LORD’s presence among the Israelites is what made them unique. God had chosen Israel to be His “own possession among all the peoples” (Ex. 19.5), and even the promise of angelic guidance/protection was no replacement for the LORD’s favor. Without God they were nothing, and only the pure heart can make this observation. Having a pure heart means refusing to go a single step further down the pathway of life until our relationship with God is what it should be. By contrast, the hard heart seeks the reward of the good life in Canaan apart from the God that gives all good things. A hard-hearted Moses would have gladly accepted the LORD’s offer of Canaan without God in Ex. 33.1-3, but without God’s favor what is the point?
3. The pure of heart earnestly desire to see God’s glory.
“Then Moses said, ‘Please, show me your glory.” (Ex. 33.18)
Consider all the ways Moses has seen representations of God up to this point. The burning bush (Ex. 3), the pillars of fire/cloud (Ex. 13), the smoke and fire atop Mt. Sinai (Ex. 19), speaking with God “face to face” (33.11) and maybe others. Moses has “seen God” in multiple ways, and yet in 33.18, he asks for still more! Moses recognizes that he has not seen the full glory of the LORD, and the pure-hearted want nothing more than to experience their heavenly Father in all His glory. God agrees to allow Moses to see a small sliver of His glory, as the full force of His majesty is simply unbearable: “’But’, he said, ‘you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.’” (33.20). John spoke of a day coming when the pure of heart, would receive what Moses longed to have: “Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” (1 John 3.2-3, emp. mine).
4. The pure of heart are eager and exacting in their obedience to God.
“The LORD said to Moses, ‘Cut for yourself two tablets of stone like the first, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke. Be ready by the morning, and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai, and present yourself there to me on the top of the mountain.” … So Moses cut two tablets of stone like the first. And he rose early in the morning and went up on Mount Sinai, as the LORD had commanded him, and took in his hand two tablets of stone.” (Exodus 34.1-2, 4, emp. mine)
The first four verses of Ex. 34 are not merely part of the story. The pure of heart do as Moses did: listen to God’s instructions and carry them out in exact fashion. This point is made repeatedly (even exhaustively) in the remainder of the book of Exodus, as no less than 14 times a version of the phrase “as the LORD had commanded Moses” is repeated. Note that Moses is not shown the glory of God until after he has carried out these instructions! It is the hard heart that seeks a path around God’s commands for us or seeks to relax portions/sections of God’s law. Jesus described those who kept the commandments and taught others to do the same as “great in the kingdom of heaven”, while those who relaxed even “the least of these” were called “least in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5.19)
5. The pure of heart begs God’s forgiveness, adoption, and mercy.
“Moses immediately knelt low on the ground and worshipped. Then he said, ‘My Lord, if I have indeed found favor with you, my Lord, please go with us (even though this is a stiff-necked people), forgive our iniquity and our sin, and accept us as your own possession.’” (Ex. 34.8-9 CSB)
Finally, the pure of heart recognize their dire situation before the LORD. Upon witnessing some small portion of God’s full glory and majesty, the very next thing Moses does is fall on his face and beg God’s forgiveness and acceptance. It is the hard heart that refuses to recognize the need for mercy, while the pure of heart readily and willingly admit their sin before Him and yearn to be His once more. God’s description of Himself in Ex. 34.6-7 differs in one big way from 20.4 in one key area: “forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin”, and the pure of heart recognize this as the only way to be in a right relationship with Him.
“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” (James 4.8 emp. mine)
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Psalm 51.10, emp. mine)
May we all seek to shape our hearts after those of Moses and the Lamb. -Kyle Sanders