A Bible Commentary on Exodus 33:12-23
FINDING THE CLEFT OF THE ROCK
Augustus had been traveling near Somerset in England’s west country, along a road with cliffs on either side when a storm struck. He quickly darted in a hollowed-out place in the rock for shelter. He was fortunate to find this hiding place so quickly while waiting for the storm to pass by and began to think about the idea of the “rock of faith” is a shelter from the “storms of life.” The words for a hymn began to form in his mind but, according to a story that still prevails, there wasn’t paper in his pocket to write down the words. Looking down he saw a playing card, considered a sinful thing to have in his day for this young minister. Nevertheless, he picked it up and began to write:
The analogy of Christ to a rock has its roots in Scripture.
Numerous Old Testament references to the Lord as a “Rock” or “Rock of my salvation”, can be found. Psalm 18:46 mentions that “The LORD lives! Praise be to my Rock!”
Alluding to the Israelites during their wanderings in the wilderness, Paul writes, “For they drank from a spiritual Rock which followed them [produced by the sole power of God Himself without natural instrumentality] and the Rock was Christ!” – (1 Corinthians 10:4 ~ Amplified Bible.)
Paul is referring to the event recorded in Exodus 17:6, where Moses at God’s command, struck the rock in Horeb, bringing forth a needed supply of water for God’s people. That physical rock is a picture of Christ Jesus providing a never-ending flow of “water” to satisfy sinful man’s spiritual need.
So the song, Rock of Ages, was conceived in the mind of this 23-year-old man and it wasn’t published until years later when he himself published it in Gospel Magazine the year before he died at the age of 38.
The Picture of Christ…
Is a rock broken open, or cleft, to provide a place for spiritual refuge from sinful people that surround us in our daily lives and is surely drawn from Moses’ experience recorded in Exodus 33:20-23.
There are things about God that we must not see.
Others are shown to have seen spectacular visible representations of the GLORY of God, though perhaps none so directly dazzling as Moses; and Moses was granted this favor only with certain limitations, restrictions, and precautions. That which we, the Church, crave to see and to know of God (I pray that we do) and the way He acts is beyond us.
- Why God acts as He does.
- Why God acts when He does.
- Why God doesn’t seem to act at all.
Though we’d like to see ALL of God, Man cannot be brought to a full view and understanding of God. The brilliant display of God’s grace and goodness and the full viewing of it are too much for mankind in the present state of things. What Moses and others were permitted to see was only a small part and portion of God, and of His ways and works. Because Moses, a mortal, couldn’t see God’s face and live, God Himself protected Moses by placing him in the cleft of a rock as He passed by and covering Moses in the cleft with God’s own hand from any harm that would surely befall a mortal who looked directly upon the full GLORY of God.
WHAT IS THE “GLORY” THAT WE’VE SO OFTEN HEARD ABOUT?
The Old Testament Hebrew word for GLORY is kabod – weightiness (He’s a God of strength and substance); glory, honor, splendor, power, authority, magnificence, fame, dignity, riches, excellency. He’s a great and all-powerful God. There was a day when the people of God would go to church, not just to sing songs about God or to hear stories about what God did in the past from their pastor’s sermon. God isn’t some cosmic vending machine in Heaven, some great genie in the lamp that we rub, and out he comes to grant us our every wish. The Bible says that God sits in Heaven and does whatever He wants – He’s God! We need to have holy respect and awe for this God recognizing His Glory.
Resting in His Glory –
Similarly, by being hidden in Christ Jesus, the Rock cleft on his behalf at the Cross, the believer is sheltered from eternal death he would face should he stand unsheltered before a holy God who executes righteous judgment.
Paul wrote to the church at Colossae, “If we have risen with Christ, our affection is on things above, and hidden in Christ.” (Colossians 3:1-3)
So our life is hidden within a wonderful Savior, as one hides from a storm sheltered by the cleft in the Rock – not hidden as a secret, but hidden as protection from harm. SONG –
HIS WAYS ARE HIGHER…
The things we’re talking about here are much larger than we are; too great for our full understanding; too intertwined with divine attributes and beyond the scope of human comprehension.
Isaiah 55:8-9 (NIV)
 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD.  “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
But because He is above us, and His ways are higher than ours, we have a reason for confidence and security in our trials. When our days and nights are filled with uncertainty for a scheduled medical procedure at the hospital, the results from a biopsy, the outcome from yesterday’s job interview, we have a reason for confidence and security in the results.
Our refuge is the One Who is higher than we are!
It’s like a little child we must disappoint from time to time and denying their desires. They want to do one thing, but another be done. They want to play in a dangerous place, but a loving parent knows better. They want to go one way, but it’s necessary to go another. The child can’t understand why it’s so because his capacity for understanding hasn’t yet developed in grasping the larger things in life.
Prayer of thanks that we have a Savior – One who is greater than ourselves. Song –
To Tullius O’Kane, who wrote the words of the song, the cleft in the Rock was a place of rest. While we Christians may resist the notion of rest in our busy world as being motivated by laziness or apathy, there is a REST into which we MUST ENTER.
Hebrews 3:18-4:1 shows that NOT entering the promised rest is a thing to be feared:
[3:18] And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed?  So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief. [4:1] Therefore, since the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it.
So what is this PROMISED REST?
It’s the land of Canaan, called God’s rest because He promised it, and gave it to the Israelites as their rest; and where He Himself had a place of rest; and where He gave the Messiah, the Author of peace and rest; and which was a type of heaven, the rest from toils and labor, which remains for all the people of God!
In the imagery of the song, the promised rest is found in the cleft of the Rock – that is the fact that Jesus was pierced, bled and died to purchase our entrance to the promised land, or as the Hebrew writer says it, the promised rest.
There Stands A Rock and I Go to the Rock!
In the tabernacle, the mercy seat was located directly above the ark of the covenant, between two gold cherubim. The specs for it may be found in Exodus 25. And speaking of the MERCY SEAT, the Lord said to Moses, “I will meet with you there.”
Numbers 7:89, among other Bible verses, shows Him doing just that!
The Mercy Seat typifies the divine throne and the One who sits on it.
The above-referenced Scripture describes the awesome scene, still in symbolic language, of which the MERCY SEAT is a type.
The mercy seat was the most sacred location of the tabernacle and in fact, on earth. And the way to the mercy seat was once only available to Moses, that he should inquire into the mind and will of God, and then to the high priest, that he should enter once a year to make atonement for the peoples’ sin.
At the moment Jesus died, the VEIL that concealed the Most Holy Place was destroyed – torn from top to bottom. The writer of Hebrews in the New Testament wrote:
Hebrews 6:19-20 (AMP)
 [Now] we have this [hope] as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul [it cannot slip and it cannot break down under whoever steps out upon it – a hope] that reaches farther and enters into [the very certainty of the Presence] within the veil.
 Where Jesus has entered in for us [in advance], a Forerunner having become a High Priest forever after the order (with the rank) of Melchizedek.
Hebrews 10:19-22 (NIV)
 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus,  by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body,  and since we have a great high priest over the house of God,  let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.
The MERCY SEAT signifies the way of access to God that lies through Jesus Christ and propitiation (appeasement or satisfaction) by His blood and righteousness; through the veil that signifies His flesh. We make use of that access when we pray in His name.
Song – From Every Stormy Wind
We see that Jesus is pictured in many of our songs, new and sometimes old, and the Scriptures as a Rock that is cleft, broken, or fractured. It was on a lonely hill just outside of Jerusalem that the body of Jesus was “broken” on a Roman cross, piercing His hands and side, allowing His lifeblood to flow out, the price of all the benefits that have been mentioned in this blog-study – not the least – His everlasting life in the realms of GLORY!
AND that’s why we hide in the Cleft of that Rock! A safe place to be!!
Commentary: Shelter from the Storm – Our Daily Bread Devotional – 10/8/2019; The Glory Of God; Show Me Your Glory by Chris Jordan, Sermon on April 25, 2006.
Dictionary: GotQuestions.org – What is glory?
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Bible Translations: Amplified Bible (AMP); New International Version NIV).