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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Exodus 33

Introduction

2. The re-establishment of fellowship ch. 33

Breaking God’s covenant resulted in the Israelites’ separation from fellowship with Him. It did not terminate their relationship with Him, but it did hinder their fellowship with Him. Similarly when Christians sin we do not cease to be God’s people, but our fellowship with the Lord suffers.

"Moses had now returned to Mount Sinai and there God spoke with him again. The text has several indications that the author now wants to show that Israel’s relationship with God had been fundamentally affected by their ’great sin’ of worshiping the golden calf. All was not the same. The narrative shows that there was now a growing distance between God and Israel that had not been there before. Each of the following sections of narrative demonstrates specifically the changes that have occurred in God’s relationship to Israel. We should also note that the Levites are chosen in this narrative; in Numbers 3 they replace the firstborn Israelites as priests. This represents a further change in Israel’s relationship with God in the Sinai covenant." [Note: Sailhamer, The Pentateuch . . ., p. 313.]

Notice some comparisons and contrasts between the narrative of the original giving of the covenant and this narrative that describes the renewal of the covenant. [Note: Adapted from ibid., pp. 313-17.]

The Giving of the Covenant
(Exodus 20-31)
The Restoring of the Covenant
(Exodus 33-34)
All the people were to be priests (Exodus 19:5-6).Only the Levites would be priests (Exodus 32:29).
Moses ascended Mt. Sinai and God spoke with him there while the people waited below (Exodus 19:20).Moses ascended Mt. Sinai and God spoke with him there while the people waited below (Exodus 32:31).
God sent His angel to destroy Israel’s enemies (exo Exodus 23:23).God sent His angel lest He destroy Israel (Exodus 33:2-5).
The tabernacle in the center of the camp was to be the "tent of meeting" where God would meet with the people (exo Exodus 25:8; Exodus 27:21; Exodus 28:43; Exodus 29:42-43).Another "tent of meeting" outside the camp was where God met with Moses and Joshua only (Exodus 33:7).
God displayed His glory for all the people to see on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 24:16-17).Only Moses could see God’s glory partially (Exodus 33:18-23), and the people only saw God’s glory reflected on Moses’ face (Exodus 34:29).
God covered Moses’ face lest he see too much of God’s glory (Exodus 33:18-23).Moses covered his face lest the people see too much of God’s glory (Exodus 34:34-35).
God revealed His glory to test the people and to keep them from sinning (Exodus 20:20).God revealed His glory to show His grace and compassion (Exodus 33:19; Exodus 34:6-7).
God wrote the Ten Commandments on stone tablets (exo Deuteronomy 10:1-4).Moses wrote the Ten Commandments on stone tablets (Exodus 34:28).
God gave the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:2-17).God gave the "ten words" (Exodus 34:27-28).
The structure of the narrative begins and ends with warnings against idolatry (Exodus 20:22-23; Exodus 23:13) and instructions for proper worship (Exodus 20:24-26; Exodus 23:14-19).The structure of the narrative begins and ends with warnings against idolatry (Exodus 34:11-17) and instructions for proper worship (Exodus 34:11-26).
Moses expressed amazement when he saw the people (Exodus 32:19).The people expressed amazement when they saw Moses (Exodus 34:30).

Verses 1-6

God would not now dwell in the midst of the Israelites as He intended to do in the tabernacle because they had repudiated His covenant with them (Exodus 33:3).

The announcement of the change in God’s relation to Israel and the consequent loss of blessing led the people to mourn and sacrifice out of sorrow (Exodus 33:4-6). They willingly gave up the use of the ornaments that they had used in the rebellion and that were, therefore, an offense to God.

Verses 7-11

The tent referred to here cannot be the tabernacle since the Israelites had not yet built it. It must have been a smaller tent used as a meeting place for Moses, the people, and God over which the pillar of cloud stood. This tent served some of the functions of the tabernacle that later replaced it. Moses now moved this tent outside the camp to symbolize the removal of God’s presence from the people’s midst. [Note: See Henry Mowvley, "John 1:14-18 in the light of Exodus 33:7-34:35," The Expository Times 95:5 (February 1984):135-37.]

Moses’ personal communion with God was uncommonly intimate (Exodus 33:11; cf. Numbers 12:6-8). One writer believed that the cloud was Jesus. [Note: Ronald B. Allen, "The Pillar of the Cloud," Bibliotheca Sacra 153:612 (October-December 1996):393.] "Face to face" is an idiom that communicates intimacy, not a theophany. [Note: Durham, p. 443.]

Verses 12-16

God’s withdrawal from Israel created problems for Moses as Israel’s mediator. If God was not going to enter into covenant relationship to Israel as He had first described (Exodus 13:21-22), how could Moses lead the nation (cf. Exodus 3:11; Exodus 3:13)? This is the focus of Moses’ first request (Exodus 33:13). He wanted reassurance that God Himself would lead Israel in the wilderness. [Note: Ibid., p. 446.] God assured him that He would continue to go with His people and thus provide the rest that His presence among them inspired (Exodus 33:14). God gave another dramatic revelation of Himself similar to the one that He had formerly given at Sinai (Exodus 19:9-25).

Moses’ second request was that God might confirm him as God’s chosen mediator among the Israelites. He also asked that God might confirm the nation as His chosen people in view of the change in the relationship (Exodus 33:16).

Verses 17-23

God promised this too (Exodus 33:17).

Third, Moses requested a greater perception of God’s essential being than he had experienced thus far. This would also enable him to serve God more effectively in view of the altered relationship (Exodus 33:18). God explained that no one can view Him directly and live.

"As our bodily eye is dazzled, and its power of vision destroyed, by looking directly at the brightness of the sun, so would our whole nature be destroyed by an unveiled sight of the brilliancy of the glory of God." [Note: Keil and Delitzsch, 2:237.]

God did grant Moses a greater revelation of Himself, even though it was a limited revelation. This revelation helped Moses fulfill his duty as a mediator by giving him a greater appreciation for the person of Yahweh (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:4). This is what all the leaders of God’s people need (cf. Philippians 3:8-10).

". . . though Yahweh does indeed come to Moses in theophany, what he gives to Moses is quite specifically not the sight of this beauty, his glory, his Presence-that, indeed, he pointedly denies. What he gives rather is a description, and at that, a description not of how he looks but of how he is." [Note: Durham, p. 452.]

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Exodus 33". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/exodus-33.html. 2012.