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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 33

Hole's Old and New Testament CommentaryHole's Commentary

Verses 12-43

Exo_33:12 Exo_39:43 .

We are now permitted to hear the terms of this "face to face" speaking between Moses and the Lord, and we can at once perceive that the Lord did deal with him as with a friend. As we read verses Exo_33:12-23 we may well have our hearts stirred: especially so as we remember how much closer is the relationship of children and sons into which we are brought. In result, the friendship into which we may enter, as given by our Lord in John 15.13-15.16 is of an even more intimate character.

Moses is emboldened not only to intercede for the people but also to request for himself a more definite knowledge of what he might expect in the way of the Divine leadership, and in the understanding of the way that was decreed. In verse Exo_33:14 we have the answer to the first part of his request.

Jehovah promised that His presence should go with him, and in that fact fear was to be allayed and rest was to be found. The next verses show how fully Moses realized that to have the presence of God with them was the all-essential thing without which they could not go forward, nor could their special place as the people called out from amongst the nations be maintained. Their subsequent history fully bore this out. As they departed from the Lord, so they lost their separated place, and the departure of the glory from the midst of the city, recorded in Ezekiel, was the commencement of the long epoch during which they have been dispersed among the nations. Yet even so they have never lost their identity, and ultimately, restored by mercy, Jehovah will be in their midst, so that the name of the Jerusalem in the coming age will be, Jehovah-shammah "the Lord is there" ( Eze_48:35 ).

The first request, then, of Moses was, "Show me now Thy way," and this was granted, as we read in Psa_103:7 , "He made known His ways unto Moses, His acts unto the children of Israel." The people saw the wonderful things He did but Moses was permitted to know the end God was pursuing in the doing of them. But when Moses made his second request, "I beseech Thee show me Thy glory," he met with a refusal. He was permitted to see the "back parts" of the Lord but not His "face," for no man could see that and live. Moses was only to see God when He had passed by as it were, and thus discern Him in the way He had taken.

How great is the contrast when we come to the New Testament. We open John's Gospel and we read, "We beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father." We pass on to the Epistles to read of, "the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" ( 2Co_4:6 ). The Christian today is given to know something of the "glory," as well as of the "acts" and the "way." It is delightful to know that though Moses could not then see the glory, he did see it in the face of Jesus when he was with Him on the Mount of Transfiguration. And then he knew right well what it would cost the Saviour to make that glory available for him and for us all, for he spoke of His decease.

For the time being Moses had to be content to know the goodness and the name of the Lord, and in connection with that His grace and His mercy were displayed. Here we have the statement which Paul quotes in Rom_9:15 , "I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy;" and by this is declared the sovereignty of God. The point is that Israel had lost everything on the basis of strict law, and yet God elected to show mercy and continue with them. Israel had therefore no ground for objecting to God choosing to show mercy to Gentiles in these Gospel days. From the days of the golden calf they owed their own existence to the mercy of God.

Though this was so, they were still left under the law which had been given, and hence,. as we open Exodus 34.0 , we find that Moses was to hew two tables of stone like the first and again come up with them to the top of the mount, that God might write the words on them as He had done before. As on the first occasion so again, no man was permitted to come near, and even flocks and herds were to be kept from the mount. The holiness of God was emphasized once more, but this time in harmonious connection with His mercy.

If we meditate quietly for a little upon verses Exo_33:6 and 7, we shall be repaid. Here are brought together features of the Divine character which we now know quite well, but to Moses they might have seemed to be in many respects at variance one with the other. He might have desired to ask, If He is abundant in truth as well as goodness, how can He be gracious to a people such as we have proved ourselves to be? Or again, How can He rightly forgive iniquity and transgressions, if He will by no means clear he guilty, and even visit the sins of the fathers on the children? Centuries later the Psalmist, writing as a prophet, anticipated the happy millennial day, when it shall be said that, "Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other" ( Psa_85:10 ). But even so, there was no full display of "grace and truth" until they "came by Jesus Christ" ( Joh_1:17 ) and were harmonized by His death and resurrection.

As some find difficulty in the latter part of verse Exo_33:7 it may be well to remark that God is here indicating how He deals with men on earth in His holy government. When it is a question of His judgment for eternity, the dead will be dealt with "according to their works" ( Rev_20:12 , Rev_20:13 ) and there is no thought of a child bearing the sin of his father. In speaking to Moses, God was not dealing with the issues of eternity, but with His government of Israel under the law in the light of His mercy that had just been declared. In the working out of God's government in this world, the way in which the iniquity of a father adversely affects his children is a fact too obvious for any of us to overlook. The laws of heredity, which God has ordained, are very real.

As these things were made known to Moses he was deeply affected, as we see in verses Exo_33:8 and 9. He worshipped in the recognition of God's grace, first toward himself and then toward the people, and once more he sought pardon in the confession of their sin and stiff-necked spirit. It is good for us to see that a sense of grace does not lead to the minimizing of sin. The reverse is indeed the fact. It is in the presence of grace that sin in its gravity is fully declared, as is shown by the Lord's words, recorded in Joh_15:24 .

In response to this confession and plea of Moses, God declared a fresh covenant, in which He pledged Himself to work wonders, which would manifest His power in the sight of His people, though He did not reveal what the nature of these wonders would be. What we do see in the rest of this chapter is that this fresh covenant was of a subsidiary nature, and did not in any wise cancel or modify the covenant of law which had just been established, since certain enactments of the law are freshly enforced.

We can well understand what is ordered in verses Exo_33:11-17 . The people had just fallen into the great sin of making the molten calf. The idea of this they had evidently brought up with them out of Egypt. God was going to drive out before them the nations of Canaan, that were sodden with forms of idolatry even worse than those of Egypt, hence the most complete separation from those peoples, from their gods, their altars and images, was enjoined. They themselves and all that pertained to their idolatrous worship were to be destroyed. God had entered into covenant with Israel, hence they were not to make any covenant with those nations.

In verses 18-26, we have certain details of the law recapitulated. It is not easy to discern the connection between the various items specified but we can see that if they observed them the rights of Jehovah their God would be safeguarded, on the one hand, and on the other, they would be a nation quite distinct in their observances, and thus marked off from other peoples. In verse 24 there is one statement which they had not previously heard. If they obeyed the command that their males should leave their homes to appear before the Lord thrice every year, God guaranteed the safety of their land and homes during their absence. What the wise man states in Pro_16:7 , would thus be verified, and if they took God at His word all fear would be removed.

Again Moses was on the mount in the presence of God for forty days and forty nights, miraculously sustained without food or drink. Again the ten commandments were written on tables of stone and committed to the hands of Moses, so that he might bring them down to the people. Verse 29 records how he came down. In his hand he had the tables of stone: in his face there was a reflection of the glory, and, though not mentioned here, we know he also possessed "the patterns of things in the heavens" ( Heb_9:23 ), which had been entrusted to him. The commandments made their full demand upon all the people and were plain for all to see. The full significance of the "patterns" was doubtless veiled to them, but we know they set forth God's way of meeting all the guilt which the law revealed.

Still the glory that shone in the face of Moses was connected with the law's demands, and therefore it bought fear to Aaron and the children of Israel. The significance of this episode is expounded to us in 2Co 3.6-3.18 . The glory in the face of Moses was connected with a ministration of death and of condemnation, and hence he had to place a veil on his face, when in the presence of the people, though before the Lord he did not need it. In contrast to this, we know the glory of God and not merely a reflection of it in the face of Jesus Christ, and no veil is needed, for that glory speaks to us of life and liberty and not of condemnation and death.

The glory in the face of Moses was not something inherent in himself; indeed he was unconscious of it at first. Moreover presently it faded - it was "done away" ( 2Co_3:11 ). Here again we see the contrast, for the glory in the face of Jesus abides for ever. And further, it has a transforming effect on those who by faith behold it, whereas the glory in the face of Moses only produced fear.

Moses faithfully conveyed the Divine commands to the people, as we are told in the opening verses of Exodus 35.0 , and particularly he impressed upon them the rest that was to be observed on the sabbath day. Not even a fire was to be kindled in all their homes. Being the sign of the covenant, there was to be a strict observance of it.

The rest of this chapter is taken up with the recital of all the materials that were commanded of God for the construction of the tabernacle and all its furniture; then form verse Exo_33:20 to 29 we are told how very willingly the people responded to the orders they received. It is emphasized that every man and every woman had a part in the offering, and that what they gave or did was a willing service.

Then from verse 30 to the end of the chapter, we get the two men whom God had chosen pointed out to the people, with the plain intimation that the skill they now possessed to carry out the intricate work involved, was not their own but given to them of God.

In both these things we may find encouragement for ourselves. For the work of God today the same two things are needed first the willing heart, and then the skill. Both are the gift of God, and in our day the skill expresses itself in the prophets and evangelists and pastors and teachers, of whom we read in Eph_4:11 . These gifts are given, not for the construction of a tabernacle, but "for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ." God's work still has the character of building up; for to "edify" is to build.

We now have four chapters (Exodus 36-39), which are occupied with the record of how the Divine instructions were carried out under the hand of Bezaleel and Aholiab, who were the workmen specially commissioned. As the substance of these chapters has already been before us we shall content ourselves with just picking out details here and there.

First, let us notice verse Exo_33:5 of chapter 36. When God moves in the hearts of men He can produce a response worthy of Himself. The people brought as their offering not merely what was wanted, but "much more than enough." We see something similar, and indeed even surpassing it, in 2Co 8.1-8.5 . The Macedonian saints were "in a great trial of affliction;" that is to say, passing through wilderness experiences, and yet they gave "to their power," and even "beyond their power," exceeding the hopes of the Apostle, for they, "first gave their own selves to the Lord." It is not surprising that a response produced by the grace of God goes beyond that produced under the law fine though it might be.

Exodus 37.0 . If these chapters be compared with the earlier chapters, small added details may be discovered; such as the fact that both the cherubim were of one piece with the mercy seat, illustrating the fact that where the blood of sacrifice is, there the demands of righteousness and of mercy are satisfied together.

Further, the order in which the various articles are mentioned is not as before. Then it was according to spiritual significance, now just in the order in which we should consider them, working from within to without.

Then in the latter part of Exodus 38.0 , the sum of the tabernacle is given by the hand of Ithamar the priest, and the weights of gold and silver used is specified. As to this our reactions may well be two-fold. First to wonder that so much was available seeing the wilderness surroundings of the people; but second, that what was used was as nothing compared with the immense stores that were laid up by David for the temple which Solomon was able to build. Yet all the time it was true that, "The Most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands" ( Act_7:48 ).

In Exodus 39.0 we have details of the making of the priestly garments for Aaron and his sons; and then at the end of that chapter we learn how everything that had been made was presented before Moses for his inspection. All had to pass his eye, for he had received most stringent instructions on the mount that all must be made exactly according to the pattern entrusted to him. Moses saw that it was so, and blessed the people.

Should we today be any less careful to observe all the instructions afforded in the New Testament as to our behaviour, whether individually or as in the assembly of God? To ask this question is surely sufficient. The answer is obvious.

Bibliographical Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Exodus 33". "Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/fbh/exodus-33.html. 1947.
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