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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 33

Garner-Howes Baptist CommentaryGarner-Howes

Verses 1-3


Verses 1-3:

This text is a continuation of chapter 32. Jehovah instructs Moses to tell Israel to continue the trek to the Land He had promised them. This promise was originally to Abraham, then it was renewed to Isaac, and to Jacob. God would not abandon His covenant.

Conditions for the continued journey were to change. Until this time, the presence of Jehovah was in the midst of Israel, Ex 13:21, 22; 15:25; 18:8-13. But for the rest of the journey, "an Angel" would lead them, Ex 23:20. The reason: they were stiff-necked, rebellious, and this would so provoke Jehovah that He would slay them.

Jehovah renews His promise to drive out the inhabitants of the Land of Canaan, and to grant Israel this territory as their possession.

Verses 4-6

Verses 4-6:

When Israel heard what Jehovah had told them through Moses, they considered it to be "evil tidings." They awoke to the great value of what they had taken so lightly: that Jehovah was indeed with them. They dreaded the loss of this Presence.

The people "mourned," abal, "show self a mourner," indicating an outward expression of genuine sorrow. This denotes true repentance.

"Ornaments," adi, "desirable thing," includes bracelets, armlets, anklets, and other such jewelry. These were often worn by the men of Egypt of that time. As an outward expression of their mourning, the people left off wearing their ornaments.

"For the Lord had said. . ." lit., "Jehovah said. . . " in response to the repentance of the people. This was not a threat of destruction, but a repetition and expansion of verse 2.

"Put off thy ornaments," is, "lay aside altogether." A test of their penitence was that they would continue to lay aside their ornaments.

This does not teach that it is a sin for a child of God to wear jewelry. One may voluntarily lay aside rings, bracelets, etc. as an outward sign of repentance or dedication. But nothing in Scripture forbids the wearing of such ornaments. Modesty is the standard of dress for God’s child, 1Ti 2:9. It would be in keeping with Christian principles to use the money spent on expensive jewelry to help those in need and to further the Gospel of Christ.

The text implies that from Mount Horeb on, the people of Israel wore no ornaments as a token of their continued penitence.

Verses 7-11

Verses 7-11:

"Tabernacle," ohel, "tent." This is not the tent proper, described in chapter 26, which was the portable "dwelling-place" for Jehovah. It was likely Moses’ own personal dwelling, which he appointed as a temporary place of meeting until the Tabernacle (Ex 26) was completed.

Moses moved his tent outside Israel’s camp. The "pillar of cloud" came down from Mt. Sinai and stood at the doorway of the tent. This signified Jehovah’s sanction of the move. When the people saw this, they worshipped the Lord, each in his own tent.

The pillar of cloud indicated Jehovah’s presence. Moses communed with the Lord, "face to face," as a familiar friend. This does not mean that Moses actually saw Jehovah’s face, see verses 20-23; De 4:12-15. It means that He was near at hand, not at a distance.

Joshua remained to guard Moses’ tent when it became necessary that Moses go out at the bidding of Jehovah.

Verses 12-17

Verses 12-17:

The text implies that Moses spent some few days in the "tent of meeting," to determine the will of Jehovah for himself and for Israel. Moses recalled Jehovah’s promise that Israel would indeed reach the Land of Promise. He now asks to know who would lead: would it be an angel, or would it be Jehovah Himself?

Verse 14 is God’s reply. It would be His presence which would go with the people, and would give them rest in the Land, see De 3:20; Heb 4:8.

Moses seeks additional assurance that Jehovah refers not only to himself, but to Israel. The presence of Jehovah would be the distinguishing factor which would set Israel apart from the other nations. The presence of the angel would not do this, for heathen nations had their "angels" to protect and lead, Da 10:13, 20.

Verse 17: Jehovah withdraws His threat of withdrawal from Israel. Moses had "found grace" in the Lord’s eyes. His intercession, coupled with the repentance of Israel, caused God to renew His promise of Divine guidance and protection, in person.

This illustrates the power of intercessory prayer, and the Divine blessing of a repentant spirit.

Verses 18-23

Verses 18-23:

It is implied (Ex 34:29) that this episode took place on Mount Sinai, when Moses returned to receive the Law once again from Jehovah.

Moses pleaded with Jehovah to be allowed to see His glory. This was not a prayer to see His likeness, but a plea to understand His Being and character. Jehovah’s reply shows that the deepest revelation of His grace is not in his national, but His individual dealings, in His sovereign mercy (verse 19), Ro 9:15, 16.

No human being dwelling in the flesh, is able to see the "face," the full outshining of the glory of Jehovah. But in reply to Moses’ prayer, God provided a way that he could have "a foretaste of glory Divine."

There was a rock nearby, with a cleft therein. Tradition says this was the same rock in which Elijah later hid his face in his mantle and worshipped, 1 Kings 19:9. Moses stood upon this rock (or in the cleft of it). Jehovah covered the cleft with His hand as His glory passed by. This protected Moses from the danger of death. The text implies that Jehovah declared the fullness of His glory, His Name (reputation), as He passed by the cloven rock where Moses was safely hidden.

When the danger was over, Moses looked out from his hiding place to see Jehovah’s "back parts." This was the luminous reflection of what Jehovah really is, and it was all Moses could bear to see.

The text supplies a beautiful picture of God’s provision of safety for every believer, who is hidden in the "Rock of Ages, cleft for me."

Bibliographical Information
Garner, Albert & Howes, J.C. "Commentary on Exodus 33". Garner-Howes Baptist Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ghb/exodus-33.html. 1985.
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