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.
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 Times95:5 (February1984):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 Sacra153:612 (October-December1996):393.] "Face to face" is an idiom that communicates intimacy, not a theophany. [Note: Durham, p443.]
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, p446.] 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).
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, p452.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Exodus 33". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany