Christ Our Refuge

"There is a Place by Me" (Exodus 33: 21)

Hugo Bouter

A place near God

We live in a day when people seem to have less and less time for one another. Very often children or unborn children are not wanted, young people have trouble finding their place in society, and an increasing number of elderly people live in difficult circumstances. We are reminded of the words, "There was no room for them in the inn" (Luke 2: 7). Although it should not be like that, even we as believers may show the same wrong attitude and act in a worldly way towards children, young people or elderly people. Therefore we need to ask ourselves whether we really have room in our lives for our fellow believers and to receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God (Rom. 15: 7).

Anyway, it is a great blessing to know that God always has a place for us, a place of perfect security and complete safety. This place is found by Him, or near Him. There is peace and quiet, protection from dangers, and eternal safety, for nothing can harm us in the presence of God. The natural man does not know this place by God, for he has turned his back on Him and has gone out from His presence.

Our eyes must be opened so that we see this place, which is only possible by faith. Therefore God said to Moses: "Behold, there is a place by Me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock..." (Ex. 33: 21). The eyes of our spiritual understanding must be enlightened. Then we will realize the great things which God has done for sinners in order to save them and bring them into His holy presence, and we will take refuge with God Himself (cf. Eph. 1: 18; Eph. 4: 18).

The Rock of ages

It is a wonderful thought that God Himself has prepared this place of security for us. We had no right to it, for we were children of wrath and could not come into God's holy presence. How did God prepare this place near Himself? He did it by laying a sure foundation in the finished work of the Lord Jesus on Calvary's cross. This enables us to stand before Him.

Our place near God has been prepared by Christ. This is exactly what we see in type in the second part of this verse in Exodus 33: "And thou shalt stand upon a rock" (Ex. 33: 21b). Just as Moses was shown a place on the rock, we have found a sure foundation in Christ, the Rock of ages. He is the Rock that offers solid ground to mortal man, to the children of dust. He is the One upon whom our faith can build, both personally and collectively. For the church of the living God is built on this chosen Stone. When we come to Him in faith we receive a new and incorruptible life, "the life of the Rock of ages." And as living stones we are together being built up a spiritual house (Matt. 16: 16-18; Matt. 21: 42; John 1: 42; John 5: 21; Eph. 2: 20-22; 1 Peter 2: 4-6).

The rock was the only safe place for Moses, for otherwise he would have been consumed by the glory of God. There is some important teaching in Scripture about God as the Rock. In Deuteronomy 32 Moses repeatedly spoke about God as the Rock of His people: He was the Rock of their salvation, the Rock who begot them and who fathered them (vv. 4, 15, 18, 30, 31). This picture is also often used in the Psalms. God was the Rock in whom David trusted, and whom he blessed as the God of his salvation (Ps. 18: 2, 31, 46). In Him he found a safe place in times of trouble: "In the secret of His tabernacle shall He hide me: He shall set me up upon a rock" (Ps. 27: 5). Psalms 31 (vv. 2-3), 40 (v. 2), and 61 (vv. 2-4) also speak about this place of shelter on the rock.

It is evident that all these passages refer to God Himself as the Rock where David found security and safety. The New Testament believer occupies the same place. For as Christians we rest in God, through our Lord Jesus Christ. Our eternal safety is founded on His finished work. And Christ is also the Rock on which the church is now being built.

In the cleft of the rock

It does not stop at this, however, for Moses was not only given a place on the rock but even in the rock. God said to Moses: "And it shall come to pass, while My glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with My hand while I pass by..." (Ex. 33: 22). God put Moses in a cleft of the rock, and covered him with His own hand. This is a beautiful picture of our position in Christ. And it is God Himself who grants us this place in Christ (1 Cor. 1: 30-31; 2 Cor. 1: 21-22). As believers we are no longer seen in the first man, Adam. Just as Moses was put in the cleft of the rock, we have been united with Christ. In this way we have found a place of perfect safety before God, a place where we are covered by God's own hand. All of this is God's work ("I will put thee in a cleft of the rock..."). As Paul tells us: "For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works..." (Eph. 2: 10). It is His free and sovereign grace, as revealed in Christ.

I would also like to point to the fact that the cleft rock not only gave shelter and safety, but also provided God's people with water during their journey through the wilderness (Ex. 17: 6; Num. 20: 7-11). The Israelites drank of a "spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ" (1 Cor. 10: 4). A river of water flowed out of the rock to quench their thirst. This is typical of the streams of living water, the Spirit poured out from on high (Isa. 44: 3). Christ is the Rock that was struck with the rod of God's judgment, and His sufferings and His atoning death opened up an inexhaustible fountain of blessing to us (John 4: 10-14; John 7: 37-39; Acts 2: 17-18; 1 Cor. 12: 13).

A divine dwelling place

So the important lesson of Exodus 33: 21 is that there is a place of shelter in God's presence, a place near God. It is a place given by God Himself to this end. The Hebrew word for "place" in this verse is very common in the Old Testament. In the book of Deuteronomy it is used to designate the place of worship that Israel was to seek in the Promised Land. In this place, which the Lord would choose, the people would come to meet Him and rejoice in His presence. We also have a God-given place of meeting, for it is His desire that we should meet around His beloved Son. Christ is the Centre of our worship and we come to God through Him. So we worship the Father in spirit and truth, and we rejoice in His presence.

As Christians we also have the blessed hope that God will grant us a place in His own glory (Rom. 5: 2; 1 Thess. 2: 12). God has prepared a place for us near Him. He thought of us before the foundation of the world, and predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself (Eph. 1: 4-6). Christ obtained this place for us by His redemptive work. He is our heavenly Head and our Representative in the glory, for God has made us accepted in the Beloved. This is our present position in Christ, realized by faith.

When we think of the glory that is still to come, we also think of the place which the Lord Jesus has prepared for us in the Father's house. There are many mansions in that heavenly home, as He told His disciples in John 14: 2. When He had finished His work on earth He went back to the Father. Thus He opened up the way for us to heaven, and He promised us: "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto Myself; that where I am, there ye may be also" (John 14: 3).

"There is a place by Me"-how wide is the scope of these words! They speak of our position in Christ before God, a place of perfect security and safety. They also speak of our place in God's presence here on earth, the dwelling place where He chose to make His Name abide. Finally, they refer to our heavenly hope: a place has been prepared for us in the Father's house, where we shall enjoy eternal rest.