The Presence of God


Please turn with me to Exodus 33:12-19.


[I. Introduction] Moses had recently received the Ten Commandments upon Mt. Sinai. But when he came down from the mountain he observed that the people had cried out for an idol to be made and Aaron fashioned one for them. Before Moses had even delivered the tablets with the commandments they had broken the first one! Remember, the LORD God had already told them what the Ten Commandments were in Exodus 20. The Israelites knew that they were not to fashion any gods of silver or gold (vs. 23). This was a very serious sin. So much so that both Moses and the Lord Himself were angry, and three grave consequences followed.  First the Levites, remaining faithful, rose up at the command of Moses and slew 3000 men – the ones who were likely most responsible for the sin. Then the Lord spoke and said that those who sinned would be blotted out of God’s book – the book of Life (Rev. 3:5).  Then, even though 3000 were slain by the sword, the Lord sent a plague upon the rest. There are consequences to sin!


But the Lord was merciful. He did not slay them all. Moses interceded for them and the Lord would still allow them, after this first transgression, to enter the land flowing with milk and honey. (Through further disobedience, that generation would later be forbidden to enter the good land. But we are considering the Lord’s disposition upon this first transgression.) He promised to send an angel before them to drive out the Canaanites and other peoples who inhabited the land. This is both the mercy and grace of God! Despite the somber sin and severe discipline that initially followed, God was going to bless them. The Lord is still this way! You may have fallen into a sin. You may have already experienced the Lord’s discipline because of it. You may have even experienced severe discipline from the Lord. But He is merciful and gracious! He will forgive you and even bless you when you confess your sin and turn back to Him. Amen! Oh, brothers and sisters! This is His way! Do not chafe under the hand of the Lord. Accept what has come to you because of your own sin and recognize that we all need discipline. The right response is not to be stiff-necked but to humble ourselves. If we repent then we experience the Lord’s mercy and grace with blessing to follow.


So, the Lord was merciful and gracious to the Israelites. After Moses’ intercession for them, Moses then speaks to the Lord about going into the Promised Land. The Lord had promised that he would send an angel to go with them (33:2), but this is not good enough for Moses. He says in verse 15:


            “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here.”


Moses wanted the presence of God Himself! If he could not have it then he did not want to go into the Promised Land.


Oh! The presence of God is something so precious, so good, so wonderful, that each of God’s children need it. You need it! If you have it, everything is different!


The term ”presence of God” seems straightforward enough. However, there is more than one sense in which it can be used. Therefore, let us first understand what these senses are and let us then seek the highest sense.


In one sense God’s presence is everywhere. This reflects one of his blessed qualities that theologians call his omnipresence.  When we lived in a far-away place and Kai was just a baby, Josie and I memorized Psalm 139 in its entirety. We used to recite it when we drove in the car. Two of those verses read:


Where shall I go from your Spirit?

Or where shall I flee from your presence?

8             If I ascend to heaven, you are there!

If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! [1]


David is expressing the truth that God is present everywhere. The Lord Himself reveals this through the prophet Jeremiah:


“Am I a God at hand, declares the Lord, and not a God far away? 24          Can a man hide himself in secret places so that I cannot see him? Declares the Lord. Do I not fill heaven and earth? Declares the Lord. [2]


The first meaning of God’s presence is that He is, indeed, everywhere. This could not have been what Moses meant. For, since God is everywhere, his presence would have been with Moses no matter what.


A second meaning is the indwelling presence of God with his covenant people. If we are in a covenant relationship with the Lord, meaning that we belong to him and that we have committed ourselves to him, then we have his presence in a deeper way. God comes to dwell within the believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. The Old Testament saints had this also, although not to the same degree nor effectiveness as we do. But David could say:

  Cast me not away from your presence,

and take not your Holy Spirit from me.

12            Restore to me the joy of your salvation,

and uphold me with a willing spirit.

13            Then I will teach transgressors your ways,

and sinners will return to you. [3]


Note that in verse 11 David says two things that are parallel to one another. First he says, “Cast me not away from your presence,” then he says, “Take not your Holy Spirit from me.” This means that the two expressions either mean the same thing or are very closely tied to one another so that the differences in meaning are negligible.


David had the Holy Spirit in him. This is another way we have the presence of God and you have it if you belong to the Lord Jesus!


There is still another sense of the presence of God. We know this for the New Testament authors use the expression. Since they already possessed the indwelling presence of God it would be superfluous for them to use the expression unless it meant something more. For example, Paul writes, just before he gives a command to Timothy:


I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: [4]


(See also James 4:10, NASB)


This other meaning of the presence of God is a greater awareness of his presence, a greater sense of his presence, a more intimate experience of his presence. It is marvelous and it is wonderful. It is what Moses sought. It is what David sought. It is what Peter and Jude encouraged their readers to seek. Once you experience it, there is nothing on earth that compares to it!


[II.] We need the presence of the Lord to experience joy. Hear the words of David:


You make known to me the path of life;

in your presence there is fullness of joy;

at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. [5]


Every believer has a measure of joy. But it is in the experience of the presence of God that there is a fullness of joy! It is not only the wayward and the lost who experience a lack of joy. God’s own people may find themselves discouraged. They may find themselves in doubt. They may find themselves in despair. They may find themselves depressed. Sometimes it may be from their own sin. But it can be from the sins of others that that affect us. And so, Elijah was depressed. Jeremiah was depressed. The apostle Peter was sad to a great degree.


You need to know that the Lord does not want you to remain in such a condition! His desire for you is to be in joy. Not only to be in joy but to have a fullness of joy!


It is not just the sad or the sorrowful that the blessing of joy is for. It is for all of God’s children! It is for the average, everyday disciple who is not depressed and is walking in faith. They are not depressed, but they are not really joyful either.


 It is for those who are content and have a measure of joy already. More joy awaits! There is a fullness of joy that the Lord has for you!


David could also say, talking about himself in the third person:


For you make him most blessed forever;

you make him glad with the joy of your presence. [6]


He is saying, “You make me blessed forever. You make me glad with the joy of your presence!” But, of course, his words apply to all who belong to the Lord. This is a promise for you! If you will find the Lord’s presence you will find gladness! Gladness comes with his presence! Praise Him!


[III.] We need the presence of the Lord to experience love. Every believer has a measure of love for people, especially the household of faith, for the Lord Jesus, and for the Father. But it is in the experience of the presence of God when love for the Lord begins to overflow.


The presence of God is the Spirit of God. Remember, King David equated the presence of God with his Spirit. Thus, when Paul writes:


But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23          gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. [7]


We can understand that the Spirit’s presence brings with it love, joy, peace, and the other qualities that Paul lists.  Again, this is something more than just the indwelling of the Spirit. All believers have that. It is an intimate connectedness wherein the power and presence of the Spirit generates within us those desires and emotions that are nothing but good and wonderful. It makes us who we want to be!


You have heard me say many times that love is more than a feeling. Yes, it is. Far more. Still, there is an emotional aspect to love and it is that emotional aspect that makes it so pleasant to experience.


The presence of God brings with it a greater love for God.

There was an author and preacher of the 17th century by the name of John Flavel. On one occasion he preached from these words: “If any man love not the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema, maranatha.” The discourse was unusually solemn, particularly the explanation of the words anathema —”cursed with a curse, cursed of God, with a bitter and grievous curse.” When he rose to pronounce the benediction he paused, and said, “How shall I bless this whole assembly, when every person in it, who loveth not the Lord Jesus Christ, is anathema?”


The solemnity of this address deeply affected the audience, and one gentleman, a man of 47 years of age and prominent in the community, was so much overcome by his feelings, that he fell senseless to the floor. His name was Luke Short. He did not come to the Lord at that time. However, those words of John Flavel continued to bother him. He remembered them time and again during his life. Fifty-three years afterwards, at the age of 100, Luke Short gave his heart to the Lord Jesus.


Do you love the Lord Jesus? Could you love him more? Then seek the presence of God!


[IV.] We need the presence of the Lord to experience refreshing.


We all know what the five senses are: sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. They are how we interact with the world around us. We do not use them to experience God directly, though. God is a Spirit. The apostles, and the prophets before them, had unique experiences where God did reveal Himself to them through their senses, but that does not happen today.


Most people know that there is a sixth sense. It is unexplainable but we are aware of it. It cannot be precisely defined but many have an experience of it. Think of a time when you were in a room and there is no one there. There is no sound and nothing to give away the presence of another person, but you have a sense there is someone there and then your friend, relative, whoever, makes their presence known.  There have been very many examples of people having premonitions about something. When these premonitions were heeded they discovered that they avoided a great danger or even death.  A father tells the story of his three–year old son who threw a huge tantrum when they were trying to leave the house because he ‘didn’t want to crash and die.’ After about 10 minutes, he just stopped and was ready to go.

As they were walking out of the house there was a very bad accident on the street in front of their house—right where they would have been driving if he hadn’t thrown his fit.


If a person only believes in the material world then such things become very difficult to explain. But if we understand that there is a spiritual reality out there not directly accessible by our five senses then such things seem plausible.


Can the presence of God be sensed? The Bible says almost nothing about this. It does say a great deal about the presence of God, but not about how his presence is known.


The apostle Peter says:


            Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, 20     that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord,[8]


What is a time of refreshing? What else can it be except a sense of refreshment because the Lord is present…once we repent and our sins are blotted out.


There is a sense of refreshment when we walk with the Lord with a clear conscience; when there is nothing between us and the Lord, save the blood of Christ. And, there can be a sense of the Lord’s presence when he comes near to you. Those who have experienced it know how sweet it is.


When the presence of the Lord is with you there is a unique gladness, a special joy. There is an intimate love you have for the Lord because you know his favor is upon you. There is a sense of refreshment by his presence.


We need the presence of the Lord to experience special joy.

We need the presence of the Lord to experience intimacy with the Lord.

We need the presence of the Lord to experience a sense of refreshment.


There is nothing better on earth than the presence of God!


How can we have it?


[V. Application and Conclusion] First, as we read what Peter said, when we turn away from all known sin the Lord blots out all of them and the way is opened for the presence of the Lord.  Is there a sin in your life that you have not fully repented of? Confess it and resolve once and for all to leave it behind. If you mean it then the Lord will fulfill his promise to conquer it.


There is one passage that is revelatory with respect to this subject. Jude writes:


            Keep yourselves in the love of God (vs. 21)


What does he mean by “the love of God?” It cannot mean solely God’s love for us because God loves us even when we are wayward. It is his love for us that brings his discipline (Hebrews 12:6). More, the Scriptures emphatically teach that there is nothing that we can do to merit or bring about God’s love for us. He loved us before we loved him. It has to do with experiencing God’s love for us, of truly knowing that God loves us. When Jude says “keep yourselves in the love of God” this is akin to him directing us to keep ourselves in the presence of God! When we have the presence of God we have the experience of his love for us. Jude is saying that there are some things that we can do in order to have that. See what he says in verse 20:


But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, [9]


The way we keep ourselves in the love of God, the way we experience God’s love, the way we have his presence is by building ourselves up in the faith and by praying in the Holy Spirit.


To build ourselves up in the faith means to understand the doctrines of the faith. It is to know God as he reveals himself and his ways.


To pray in the Holy Spirit means to allow the Spirit to pray through our human spirit, to keep an open line of communication with the Lord.


May I make this as simple and plain as I can? Do you want to have the sweet presence of God?


  • Turn away from all known sin.
  • Know God by his own revelation. Read his word!
  • Talk to him as a son does to his loving father. Talk to him exercising your spirit.


When you talk to him you may wish to ask, “Lord, let me know your sweet presence.” Keep asking! That is a prayer in the Holy Spirit! Moses asked, didn’t he? And God answered! He went with Moses!


When you have the presence of God you will get joy unspeakable. You will experience his love for you. You will be refreshed. And you will even see yourself differently.


“Lord, we love you! Let us know your sweet presence.”




[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ps 139:7–8). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Je 23:23–24). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ps 51:11–13). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (2 Ti 4:1). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ps 16:11). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ps 21:6). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ga 5:22–23). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[8] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016) (Ac 3:19–20). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[9] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jud 20). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.