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Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

Exodus 33

Verses 1-6

The People Must Depart

Through the intercession of Moses and the judgment exercised, God can still give Moses the order to bring the people to the promised land. That does not mean that God is pretending that nothing has happened. He will not go up in their midst Himself. He will send an angel as a guide. If He Himself came into their midst, it would mean the end of their existence. He would consume them in His holiness.

The people are impressed by God’s intention not to go up in their midst. They leave out their ornaments. Then God speaks again of the stubbornness of the people and that He would consume them if He were simply in their midst.

Had Moses not pleaded for the people? Was the evil not judged? Yes, but God also wants to see repentance in the people themselves. He recommends that they take off their ornaments. It means the recognition that there is no place for outward appearance. Then He withdraws as it were to reflect. The outcome of these deliberations depends on what He sees in the people. This gives the people the time and opportunity to show that they truly want to humble themselves.

Verses 7-11

The Tent Outside the Camp

During this deliberation of God, Moses acts in the power of faith. God does not give Moses a command, but in the right judgment of the situation he takes a tent and pitches it outside the camp. In faith he gives it the name “tent of meeting”.

Moses knows the condition of the people and he knows the heart of God. God can no longer dwell in the camp. But He desires to dwell with His people. Faith gives Moses insight to meet this desire according to the demand of holiness that goes with it. If God can no longer dwell in the camp, a tent can be set up outside the camp. And for all who have the same desire as God and Moses, the way to the tent of meeting is open.

God recognizes that place by attaching to it the visible sign of His presence. When Moses goes to the tent, many look at him, but do not go with him. It is the same today. Everyone who seeks the Lord goes out of the camp. By going out, Moses condemns the camp. Where the golden calf is served, the faithful cannot abide.

The same applies later on to the faithful Hebrews because of Israel’s rejection of the Lord Jesus. In the religious Jewish system that has cast out their Savior, they can no longer remain. They must leave the camp (Hebrews 13:13). It is the place of separation from evil. The camp is where there is great emphasis on outward things and a mediating priesthood is maintained, but where there is no place for the Christ of the Scriptures. Where the characteristics of the camp are seen, the task today is to go out to Him.

This is the place where a special fellowship with God is experienced. Yet it is only a few who look for this place, while turning their backs on the camp. Joshua, a young man, is such a person. Later, He can be used by God in a special way.

Verses 12-17

The LORD Must Go with Them

Moses again pleads for the people. There is never a better basis to plea for others than to take the place of separation from evil. This position places him in the presence of God and therefore gives him an even closer connection with the people. This is the result of separation sought to be faithful and where only the glory of God is the motive that leads to that separation.

Moses is not content that an angel will go with them. He wants the LORD to go with him. He appeals to what God has said to him: that He knows him by name and that he has found grace. These are two things with a special meaning:
1. the LORD has a personal relationship with Moses and
2. Moses recognizes that that relationship is based on grace.

He approaches God on that basis. Moses does not only want to know the way that will lead him and the people to the promised land. He wants to know the way of God. He reminds God that it is about His people. Taking the place of separation is done personally, but you are only there in the right way if you have the whole people of God in your heart and bring it in intercession for God. Moses brings up the people. He asks God “do not lead us up from here”. At the same time He appeals to God’s grace. He asks Him to prove it by “Your going with us”.

God answers that He will do what Moses has asked. He Himself will go with and give rest to Moses. Where God is present, there is rest.

Verses 18-23

A Place by the LORD

Moses has not finished asking questions yet. He has assured himself of God’s presence for the way he must go. There is rest. From that rest he now asks to see the glory of the LORD. This goes beyond asking for His way. Going the way of and with God is the way that gives sight of the glory of God. Seeing God’s glory is also more than what he saw of God on Mount Sinai. There he saw the holiness of God.

God tells him that he will see His glory. Moses asks, “Show me Your glory!” The LORD answers that He will show all His goodness. God’s goodness is His glory. He wants us to know Him by the glory of His grace, more than by the glory of His majesty. The prophet Hosea speaks of a time when the Israelites will “come trembling to the LORD and to His goodness” (Hosea 3:5).

The special thing about the glory of God’s goodness is its sovereignty. We see this sovereignty in that He will be gracious to whom He will be gracious. He is the sovereign Owner of every human being and completely free to make distinctions in granting His grace. Nowhere do we read that He says “I will be angry with whom I will be angry,” for His anger is always righteous and holy. He never destines to judgment, because judgment is something man makes himself worthy of.

Paul quotes what God says of Himself to Moses here in response to those who accuse God of injustice. They find it unjust that He gives His grace to some, while righteously withholding that grace from others (Romans 9:15; Romans 9:18).

Yet Moses does not get to see the glory of the LORD in full, but only a part of it, and standing on the rock in the cleft of the rock. In the Old Testament, God’s glory can only be seen in a limited way. At that time God cannot yet show what He showed in Christ later on. In Him God’s righteousness and God’s love have become perfectly visible. Christ can say: “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).

The rock is a picture of Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4). Moses must stand on that basis to see God’s glory. He has to disappear completely into it. Christ is “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15).

Moses can only see the glory of God if He has passed him by. We can only see the glory of God when He has gone His way. We also see that in Christ. We look back at a completed work on the cross where the perfect revelation of God as light and love has become visible.

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Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Exodus 33". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/exodus-33.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniƫl', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.