God’s Promise of His Presence

“In every place where I record my name I will come unto thee and I will bless thee” Exodus 20:24b

The historical event, to which this text is related, years later was recalled in David’s psalm of praise to Jehovah the God of Sinai and of the Sanctuary. We read in Psalm 68:7,8, – “O God, when thou wentest forth before thy people, when thou didst march through the wilderness; the earth trembled. the heavens also dropped rain at the presence of God: yon Sinai trembled at the presence of God, the God of Israel.”

It does not surprise us to read that the Israelites trembled with great fear on the occasion of this text.

Never had they witnessed anything like this: Sinai ablaze with lightnings, and quaking with thunder! The voice of a trumpet exceeding loud! A thick cloud upon the mount, and smoke ascending as the smoke of a furnace!

This was not the work of man, nor was it in honor of man. Something most unusual was occurring here. Indeed, something supernatural! Jehovah had descended upon the mount in fire. He had come down to speak to his servant Moses, and through Moses to his people. No wonder that the mount had to be sanctified, and the priests, too, and the people. ‘“Lo, I come to thee in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with thee, and may also believe thee forever” (Exodus 19:9).

No, we are not surprised that the people marveled and trembled, and that they said to Moses, “Speak thou with us, and we will hear: but let not God speak with us, lest we die” (Exodus 20:19). Let man speak, but let God be silent! Such was the entreaty of the terrified people. Little did they understand that when God speaks in “the thick darkness”, he often has designs of mercy. It was so here. Jehovah told his people about a sacrifice for sin, and then added the gracious promise, “In every place where I record my name I will come unto thee and I will bless thee.”

Clearly and comfortingly the text speaks of the promised presence of our Covenant God.

The Limitation of the Promise

When God speaks covenantly, it is his glory to prescribe a limitation. The Covenant is limited. God and his people! Not all people, but his people! Not all churches, but his Church!

This is the church which “he purchased with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). It is the church which Christ loved and for which he gave himself “that he might sanctify it, haVing cleansed it by the washing of water with the word” (Ephesians 5:26). Covenantal limitation I A corollary of the doctrine of divine sovereignty. God sovereignly fixes limits. Within the bounds of his own good pleasure he calls the people on whom he has set his favor. “The secret of Jehovah is with them that fear him, and he will show them his covenant” (Psalm 25:14). So in the text before us now there is a covenantal limitation in connection with the promised presence of God. That limitation is indicated by the words, “In every place where I record my name.” Not in every place without exception, but “in every place where I record my name.”

What does God mean when he speaks of recording his name? We know that sometimes the Bible speaks of the divine “name” in the sense of God’s self-revelation. Thus the psalmist exclaims, “Lord our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth” (Psalm 8:1). God has universally revealed himself in the works of his hands. His excellent “name” is in all the earth. Similarly, the divine name sometimes expresses God’s being, God’s nature. The psalmist sings in Psalm 75:1, “Unto thee, O God, do we give thanks, for that thy name is near thy wondrous works declare.” The meaning is that God himself is near. In that sense his “name is near.”

Looking again to our text, our understanding is that God’s name here represents his character, his excellencies, his perfections, and that when God speaks of recording his name, he has in mind the making known of himself, the declaration of his perfections, the revealing of his character. But that is not all. A closer look at the text in its setting leads us to observe that the reference is to one particular mode of exhibiting the divine character. For the text is connected with a passage that speaks of an altar and of sacrificial blood. “An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt-offerings, and thy peace offerings, thy sheep and thy oxen” (Exodus 20:24). And then are added the words of the text: “In every place where I record my name 1 will come unto thee and I will bless thee.” From this we gather that where the altar stood, where the Lamb bled, where God was worshipped according to his own appointment, there Jehovah recorded his name.

What does this mean for us today? Where does God record his name now? Surely the answer is not difficult. Our children, as well as we who are older, can understand the important truth in the text. The divine name is recorded wherever he is preached of whom the smoking altar and the bleeding sacrifice were the type and the sign. Wherever Jesus Christ and him crucified is preached, there God records his name. Once it was where the altar was seen. Now it is where the cross, the gospel cross, is seen.

Note that we speak of it as the “gospel cross.” There are crosses painted by artists; there are crosses in stained-glass windows; there are crosses carved in wood and in stone. But the cross to which the ancient altar pointed is the gospel cross, the “sermon cross.” Let us be even more specific and say that the promise of the text is limited to the place where Christ is preached as God’s only Son and man’s only Saviour. This, indeed, is the gospel cross. And where this preaching occurs you have the gospel church. Jehovah records his name wherever the great sacrifice for sin, which the ancient offerings prefigured, is proclaimed. Here God manifests himself in a special way to his people. Here God confounds the wisdom of the world as he unveils the treasures of his holiness and grace. Here he lays bare the greatness of his redemptive love that causes even the holy angels to be filled with amazement. Where, better than at Calvary, can we sing with the psalmist;

“Thou art great and doest wondrous things; Thou art God alone” (Psalm 86:10)?


The Contents of the Promise

We give our attention now to the contents of the promise, and here we observe two things; First, the divine presence is promised in the words: “I will come unto thee”; second, the divine blessing is assured by the words: “I will bless thee.”

Respecting the divine presence, it is instructive to observe the difference between God’s universal or essential presence and his gracious presence. As God over all he is universally present. This is what we mean when we say that God is omnipresent. This is one of his incommunicable attributes. It belongs to God alone to be everywhere present. There is no confining or limiting of him. He inhabits eternity; he fills time. “Can any hide himself in secret places so that I shall not see him? saith Jehovah. Do not I fill heaven and earth? saith Jehovah” (Jeremiah 23:24).

It is not of this universal and essential presence that our covenant God speaks when he says in the text, “I will come unto thee.” It is rather his gracious presence to which he refers. Where two or three are gathered together in his name, there is he in the midst of them (cf. Matthew 18:20). When God comes to call his people, to constrain them, to feed them with his Word, and to lead them in the way of truth and obedience, his coming is a gracious one. In grace the Good Shepherd of John chapter 10 makes himself known to his sheep. Nothing less than grace can explain his delight in calling them by name. And surely it is only by grace that they hear his voice and follow him.

It is this gracious presence that God’s people desire above everything else when they assemble for worship. The most illustrious among the sons of men, entering the sacred precincts of praise and prayer, cannot do for the saints what God docs for them. Names of renown among the famous and the celebrated on earth cannot even illustrate in the smallest degree the preciousness or the power of the divine name. Let them be present and Christ absent, and there is no blessing. If the Lord is not with liS, it matters not who is present. No sinner will be saved. No prodigal reclaimed. No soul sanctified. But when the Lord is present, graciously present, blind eyes are made to see, chains of bondage fall away, hearts are opened to give heed to the Word of God. How wonderful are the ways of God! How marvelous is his gracious presence!

O, the blessing of his presence! “I will bless thee,” he says. How often we have been thoughtless in this matter, and careless in our speech. All too often we give to the minister in the pulpit the recognition that belongs only to God. It is not uncommon among us to inquire, Who is to preach today?” Or we discount in advance the service, when the minister is not one we prefer. We forget —and it is a sinful forgetting that finally all the blessings and benefits of worship depend not upon the man in the pulpit, but upon the gracious presence of God in the church. The Lord says, “them that honor me I will honor, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed” (I Samuel 2:30). And again we read, “Except Jehovah build the house, they labor in vain that build it; except Jehovah keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain” (Psalm 127:1).

It is damaging to the effectiveness of a pastor’s ministry when he is placed ahead of Cod. Let our pastors pray and indeed, let us pray with them—that God may give them grace to be willing to serve humbly as instruments in his hands. It is his glory to ordain praise out of the mouths of babes and sucklings! And on the other hand, let it be comforting to our pastors to be told that however unworthy they feel, however keenly they experience the shortcomings of their labors, God still can do wonders with their few barley loaves and fishes. With the poorest of fare Christ can feed the multitudes and fill them! Let this be reassuring also to our young people who are considering giving themselves to full-time church work, but who are at the same time burdened With a sense of inadequacy.

The Challenge of the Promise

In conclusion let us be reminded that this house of worship is “the house of promise,” but never without prayer. It is prayer that must take the promise and present it at the throne of God. What God has said to us in promise must be carried back to him in prayer. How earnest ought our supplications to be that the Lord continue here to record his name! His blessing comes only where the gospel that reveals him comes. And this gospel, remember, is the gospel of salvation, —a free, complete salvation, not waiting to be wrought by our feeble arm, but accomplished already by the Lord Jesus Christ. And when we consider how much depends upon that gospel preaching, we realize how constant our prayers must be for those who preach it. God employs not angels, but men, in recording his name. And these are men involved in the same sin as their fellow-sinners! Through channels like these comes God’s glorious gospel!

God grant that this house of worship, this house of praise, prayer and preaching, may week after week be seen also as the house of promise, the place where our covenant God favors his people with his promised presence. May it be the birthplace of many a soul, the field of many a spiritual victory, the scene of many a conversion from sin to Christ, the threshold of glory, the gate of heaven! Here may God record his name! Here may he come to bless his people! Amen!

PRAYER – Gracious God, accept our thanks for the preaching of the Word. Cover thyself with glory, we pray, as thy Spirit blesses the ministry of thy Word. Grant that waters of salvation may cascade from thy throne this day through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Dr. Leonard Greenway, pastor of Third Christian Reformed Church, Kalamazoo, MI, provides our meditation for the month. This message is also to be published in “The Living Word,” a series of sermons widely used in “reading services” throughout the Christian Reformed Church in Canada and the United States.