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Bible Commentaries

Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

Exodus 33

Verses 2-3

See Exodus 3:8.

For I will not go up in the midst of thee - The covenant on which the original promise Exodus 23:20-23 was based had been broken by the people. Yahweh now therefore declared that though His Angel should go before Moses, He would withhold His own favoring presence. The nation should be put on a level with other nations, to lose its character as the people in special covenant with Yahweh (see the note at Exodus 33:16). Thus were the people forcibly warned that His presence could prove a blessing to them only on condition of their keeping their part of the covenant Exodus 33:3. If they failed in this, His presence would be to them “a consuming fire” (Deuteronomy 4:24; compare Exodus 32:10).

Verse 5

I will come up ... - Better; If I were to go up for one moment in the midst of thee, I should consume thee.

That I may know ... - By that sign of their repentance Yahweh would decide in what way they were to be punished.

Verse 6

By the mount Horeb - From Mount Horeb onward. They ceased to wear their ornaments from the time they were at Mount Horeb.

Verse 7

The tabernacle - The tent. The only word in the Old Testament which ought to be rendered “tabernacle” משׁכן mı̂shkān does not occur once in this narrative Exodus 26:1. What is here meant is a tent appointed for this temporary purpose by Moses, possibly that in which he was accustomed to dwell.

Pitched it without the camp, afar off from the camp - That the people might feel that they had forfeited the divine presence (see Exodus 25:8). This tent was to be a place for meeting with Yahweh, like the tabernacle which was about to be constructed.

The tent of meeting (as it should be called, see Exodus 27:21 note, and note at end of Exodus 40:0) was placed “afar off from the camp,” and the mediator and his faithful servant Joshua were alone admitted to it Exodus 33:11.

Verse 10

The tabernacle door - The entrance of the tent.

The people by their act of worship gave another proof of their penitence.

Verse 11

Face to face - See Exodus 33:20 note.

Verse 13

Thy way - He desires not to be left in uncertainty, but to be assured, by Yahweh’s mode of proceeding, of the reality of the promises that had been made to him.

Verse 14

Rest - This was the common expression for the possession of the promised land. Deuteronomy 3:20; Joshua 1:13, Joshua 1:15; compare Hebrews 4:8.

Verse 16

Thou goest with us - It was this which alone distinguished (rather than “separated”) them from other nations, and which alone would render the land of promise a home to be desired. Compare 2 Samuel 7:23.

Verse 17

Compare Exodus 33:13. His petition for the nation, and his own claims as a mediator, are now granted to the full.

Verse 18

Shew me thy glory - The faithful servant of Yahweh, now assured by the success of his mediation, yearns, with the proper tendency of a devout spirit, for a more intimate communion with his divine Master than he had yet enjoyed. He seeks for something surpassing all former revelations.

Verses 19-20

But his request could not be granted in accordance with the conditions of human existence. The glory of the Almighty in its fulness is not to be revealed to the eye of man. Compare Judges 6:22; Isaiah 6:5. A further revelation of the divine goodness was however possible (see Exodus 33:6-7).

It was vouchsafed to Paul, as it had been to Moses, to have special “visions and revelations of the Lord” 2 Corinthians 12:1-4. But he had, also like Moses, to find the narrow reach of the intellect of man in the region of Godhead 1 Timothy 6:16. However intimate may be our communion with the Holy One, we are still, as long as we are in the flesh, “to see through a glass darkly,” waiting for the time when we shall see, with no figure of speech, “face to face” 1 Corinthians 13:12. Then we know “that we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” 1 John 3:2.

Exodus 33:19

Will be gracious ... - Yahweh declares His own will to be the ground of the grace which He is going to show the nation. Paul applies these words to the election of Jacob in order to overthrow the self-righteous boasting of the Jews Romans 9:15.

Exodus 33:20

Such passages as this, being clearly in accordance with what we know of the relation of spiritual existence to the human senses, show how we are to interpret the expressions “face to face” Exodus 33:11; Deuteronomy 34:10, “mouth to mouth” Numbers 12:8, and others of the like kind. See Exodus 24:10; Isaiah 6:1; and compare John 14:9.

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Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Exodus 33". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". 1870.