Assurance of God's presence (33:1-23)
Because of his mercy God allowed the people to continue their journey to the land he had promised their ancestors, but because of their sin he could not go with them lest he destroy them. However, he promised to send a heavenly representative to go before them into Canaan. He also required the people to give a clear outward sign of mourning for their past sin and the loss of fellowship with God that resulted from it (33:1-6).
God's refusal to go with Israel troubled Moses. He therefore came to God with yet another request on behalf of the rebellious people. In introducing this prayer, the writer gives us a picture of how the people of Israel worshipped during the time before they built the tabernacle. Moses met and talked with God in a tent outside the main camp, while the people stood at their tent doors facing Moses' tent and worshipping in spirit with him. Moses' chief assistant, Joshua, acted as guardian of this sacred meeting place (7-11; cf. 24:13).
Moses then put his question to God. If God would not dwell among the people lest he destroy them, and if his special representative was not to dwell among them but go ahead of them, who then would dwell among them? The people may have been rebellious, but Moses did not want God to remove himself from them completely. He asked God for some clear indication of his plans. God replied by promising Moses his presence. This reassured Moses, for he saw no purpose in Israel's entering Canaan as God's people if his presence was not among them (12-16).
God's reply encouraged Moses to ask even more. He wanted a greater spiritual understanding of the nature of God. In answer God revealed to Moses something more of his glory. The vision was not to satisfy curiosity about God's appearance, but to reveal the goodness, mercy and glory of him who was Israel's God, Yahweh (17-23). (This vision took place a little later, when Moses returned to the mountain; see 34:4-7.)
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Flemming, Donald C. "Commentary on Exodus 33". "Brideway Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany