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TOLD TO GO WITHOUT THE LORD'S PRESENCE
Again the Lord gives instructions to Moses to depart with the people to go to the land of Canaan, affirming also that He would send His angel before them, who would drive out the nations inhabiting the land (vs.1-2). However, the Lord added a statement that was absolutely devastating to Moses, "I will not go up in your midst, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people" (v.3). Could Moses think of leading the people on these terms? If the Lord told us as believers that we must make our way to heaven as best we can without the presence of the Lord, how should we react? If this would be so in our personal circumstances, how much more helpless would Moses feel in having to lead over two million people through the wilderness?
Moses communicated this shocking news to the people, together with the demand that they put off their ornaments, for God was considering what further judgment would be necessary. If there had been serious repentance as regards the horror of the evil of idol worship, surely people would not be adorning themselves with ornaments. The flesh has been guilty of great evil: it should certainly not then be decorated with ornaments! There ought to be some clear sign of self judgment. Let them therefore be shocked into showing some true evidence of this.
THE ACTION AND INTERCESSION OF MOSES
Though the tabernacle had not yet been built, there was evidently a tent that served as the center of Israel's worship. Moses took this and pitched it outside the camp, far from the camp, and everyone who actually sought the Lord went out to that tent called the tent of meeting (v.7). Why did Moses do this? Surely this was to indicate that, since the Lord could not go with the camp of Israel, therefore they should leave the camp and go with the Lord. The camp had been defiled. Just so, if in personal life we find the Lord cannot go along with our actions, we should give up those actions and go with the Lord. The same is true in assembly life. If a group (even of Christians) will not judge and forsake the evil it has embraced, then individuals must leave that group and go out to the Lord.
The people watched Moses as he went out to the tent of meeting, and when he entered it the pillar of cloud descended and stood at the door, and there the Lord spoke with Moses (vs.8-9). The sight of this so affected the people that they worshiped, whether out of fear or whether in humble sincerity. We are not told what the Lord said to Moses, but He spoke to him as to a friend, face to face (v.11). This does not mean that Moses saw God's face (Exodus 33:20), but that there was a close intimacy.
Then Moses returned to the camp, but Joshua, a young man, did not return. Why did Moses return? Certainly not to express any fellowship with the camp, but very likely to seek to bring others outside. A man of experience. and wisdom may be able thus to do what a younger, less experienced man could not do.
For the third time in connection with this entire occasion, Moses prays in lovely intercession for Israel (v.12). The Lord had told him, he says, that he was to bring the people up to their land, but that he feels helpless to do this without the Lord's presence. Yet, he insists, the Lord had told him He knew Moses by name and Moses had found grace in His sight (v.12). Therefore, this being true, God surely had a way that He could show to Moses. For Moses realized that this great God of heaven and earth was not defeated by the worst of evils that Israel committed. So Moses wanted God's way that he might really know God Himself. For it is only in a person's own circumstances that we can rightly know the person. He adds also, "that I might find grace in Your sight. And consider that this nation is Your people" (v.13).
How full of grace is the Lord's answer to Moses' prayer, "My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest (v.24). This shows the value of the intercession of one righteous man (James 5:16). Yet Moses recognized that God had only spoken of Moses, not the people. Did Moses desire the presence of the Lord only for himself? No, he loved the people and was persistent in his intercession for them. "If your presence does not go with us do not bring us up from here. For how then will it be known that Your people and I have found grace in Your sight except You go with us?" He adds another consideration also. Israel's identification with the Lord involved their separation from all the nations. Could the Lord think of ignoring this most significant fact?
Certainly the Lord knew perfectly well how Moses would act in this whole situation, and He gave him this opportunity to prove his faithfulness and love for the people in this intercessory prayer. Above all, the reason for this is that we might be given a picture of the grace of the intercession of the Lord Jesus on behalf of those redeemed by His blood, though overcome by the folly of disobedience, as we too often are.
Moses therefore is given the answer to his insistent prayer, "I will also do this thing that you have spoken" (v.17). Yet the Lord makes it clear that His reason for a favorable answer is that Moses had found grace in God's sight, just as is predominantly true of the Lord Jesus. He has above all found grace in God's sight, and God knows Him by name.
Two of Moses' prayers have been fully answered, while one was denied (vs.31-33). Now for a fourth time Moses addresses God in prayer, "Please show me Your glory" (v.18). When one has learned something of God's faithfulness, His truth, His holiness and His grace, then the heart of such an individual cannot but deeply desire to actually see the beauty of God's glory. In fact, it is God who puts this desire into the heart of a believer.
Yet at this time Moses was denied the full answer to his prayer. Moses could not see God's face, for no one could see Him and live (v.20). Yet the Lord would encourage him by what we may consider a partial revelation of His nature or character. He tells Moses to stand on a rock, and that God would put Moses in a cleft place in the rock while God passed by. He would cover Moses with His hand, however, so that Moses would only see God's back parts, not His face.
On God's part this was a condescending act of grace. For God's glory is so great that it is impossible for a creature to even imagine what He looks like. How can we ever comprehend a Being like this? But Moses seeing God's back parts is only symbolical of people in the Old Testament seeing the evidence of God's having been there. We too can read the Old Testament and conclude that God has manifestly passed that way, but without His face being seen.
However, though even today and for eternity God dwells in light unapproachable, never to be seen by the creature (1 Timothy 6:15-16), yet in the person of the Lord Jesus in Manhood form we are privileged to see the face of God. "For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Corinthians 4:6). To the believer this is a fully satisfactory revelation of God's glory. Only in Christ will anyone ever see the face of God. Indeed, Moses had the complete answer to his prayer when, after his death, he appeared with Elijah when the Lord Jesus was transfigured on the mount (Matthew 17:1-3), and by faith "We see Jesus" -- crowned with glory and honor (Hebrews 2:9), though visibly this honor awaits our being with Him in a day soon to come. The sun presents us with a beautiful illustration of this. It is too bright for us to actually see it with our eyes, yet in seeing the light from the sun we do in this way see the sun. Christ is the light that manifests the glory of God, in whom there is such brilliance that we could only be blinded by it. But Christ is God, and we shall see His face.
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Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Exodus 33". L.M. Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 12 / Ordinary 17