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Thursday, July 18th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 33

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-6


THE THREAT OF GOD'S WITHDRAWAL, AND THE HUMILIATION OF THE PEOPLE. The intercession of Moses, and his offer to sacrifice himself for his people had obtained from God some great concessions, viz.—

1. That the people's lives should be spared (Exodus 32:14);

2. And that they should be led into Palestine (Exodus 32:34) But a change had been introduced into the conditions under which the future journeys were to be made, somewhat obscurely indicated in the words—"Behold, mine angel shall go before thee" (ibid.)—which was now to be more distinctly set forth. "God's angel" may mean his Presence in the Person of his Son—as it appears to mean in Exodus 23:20-23—or it may mean simply one of the created angelic host, which seems to be its sense in Exodus 32:34, and in Exodus 32:2 of this chapter. By Exodus 32:2 and Exodus 32:3 taken in combination it was rendered manifest, both to Moses and to the people (Exodus 32:4), that they were threatened with the loss of God's actual presence and personal protection during the remainder of their wanderings, and would have, instead of it, the mere guidance and help of an angel in the inferior sense of the word. This was felt to be "evil tidings" and the people consequently "mourned" and "stripped themselves of their ornaments" (Exodus 32:6). Real penitence at last entered their hearts, and led to self-abasement.

Exodus 33:1

The Lord said unto Moses. In continuation of what he had said in Exodus 32:33, Exodus 32:34, but possibly at another time; and with the object of fully explaining what had been meant in Exodus 32:34. The land which I sware unto Abraham. See Genesis 12:7; Genesis 13:15; Genesis 15:18, etc.

Exodus 33:2

I will send an angel before thee. Note the change from "my angel" (Exodus 32:34) to "an angel;" which, however, would still have been ambiguous, but for what follows in Exodus 33:3. The angel of God's presence is "an angel" in Exodus 23:20. I will drive out. The whole covenant had fallen with Israel's infraction of it, and it was for God to retract or renew his part of it as it pleased him. He here of his free grace renews the promise to drive out the Canaanitish nations. Compare Exodus 23:23-31.

Exodus 33:3

Unto a land. Exodus 33:2 is parenthetic, and Exodus 33:3 coheres with Exodus 33:1—"Go up hence, thou and the people, unto the land which I sware unto Abraham—unto a land flowing," etc. On the milk and honey of Canaan, see the comment upon Exodus 3:8. For I will not go up in the midst of thee. At length there was an end of ambiguity—God's purpose was made plain—the people had shown themselves unfit for his near presence, and he would withdraw himself. So it would be best even for them; since, if they were about to show- themselves as perverse in the future as they had in the past, his near presence could only lead to their entire destruction. Some day they would so provoke him, that he would consume them in the way.

Exodus 33:4

When the people heard. Moses had communicated to the people what God had said to him. They felt it to be evil tidings—they woke up at last to a feeling of the ineffable value of the privileges which they bad hitherto enjoyed—his guidance by the pillar of the cloud (Exodus 13:21)—his counsel, if there were need to ask anything (Exodus 15:25)—his aid in the day of battle (Exodus 17:8-13)—his near presence, by day and by night, constantly (Exodus 13:22)—and they dreaded a change, which they felt must involve a loss, and one the extent of which they could not measure. "An angel" is a poor consolation when we are craving for Jehovah! So the people mourned—felt true sorrow—were really troubled in their hearts—and, to show their penitence, ceased to wear their customary ornaments. These may have consisted of armlets, bracelets, and even, perhaps, anklets, all of which were worn by men in Egypt at this period.

Exodus 33:5

For the Lord had said unto Moses, etc. Rather, "And the Lord said unto M." (so most recent commentators, as Keil, Kalisch, etc.) The message was sent to the people after their repentance, and in reply to it. It was not, however, as our version makes it, a threat of destruction, but only a repetition of the statement made in Exodus 33:2, that, if God went up with them, the probable result would be their destruction. Translate—"Ye are a stiff-necked people; were I for one moment to go up in the midst of thee, I should destroy thee," Put off thy ornaments. The command seems strange, when we had just been told that "no man did put on him his ornaments" (Exodus 33:4) but the word translated put off probably means "lay aside altogether." The intention was to make their continued disuse of the ornaments a test of their penitence.

Exodus 33:6

The people accepted the test and stripped themselves of their ornamentsi.e; ceased to wear them henceforward. By the Mount Horeb. Rather, "from Mount Horeb." From and after this occurrence at Horeb (= Sinai), the Israelites wore no ornaments, in token of their continued contrition for their apostasy


Exodus 33:1-6

The hiding of God's face from man.

When God hides away his face from his people, it may be—

I. AS A JUDGMENT. It was as a judgment that God separated between himself and man after the Fall, and "drove man forth" from the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:24). It was as a judgment that he withdrew from Saul, and "answered him not, neither by dreams, by Urim, nor by prophets" (1 Samuel 28:6). When he "hid his face" from David, and forgot all his misery and trouble, it was because David had offended him by the grievous sin into which he had fallen. This, again, was a judgment. Of a similar character was his "removal of Israel out of his sight" (2 Kings 17:23) in the reign of Hoshea, and his "casting of Jerusalem and Judah out of his sight" (2 Kings 24:20), in the reign of Zedekiah. And so, when, at the present day, he ceases to make his light shine upon us, withdrawing, as it were, behind a cloud, and no longer shedding the brightness of his radiance upon our souls—it may be, it sometimes is, in judgment. Our sins separate between us and him. They raise the barrier which conceals him from us. They constitute the cloud which shuts him out from our sight. And he judges us for them. Or, the withdrawal may be made—

II. AS AN ACT OF MERCY. When Jesus "did not many miracles" at Capernaum "because of their unbelief," it was in mercy. When he retired to Galilee, and "walked no more in Jewry," it was in mercy. When he spake in parables, "that hearing they might not understand," it was in mercy. Our responsibilities are co-ordinate with the light vouchsafed us; and the more God reveals himself to us, the more he makes his presence manifest, the greater the peril which we incur. Unless his near presence purifies us and spiritualises us, it deadens us. Two disciples were the nearest to Jesus—one "lay upon his breast," the other habitually "dipped with him in the dish" one was "the beloved disciple," the other was "the traitor." In either case, the withdrawal is properly regarded—

III. AS A GROUND FOR SADNESS. "The people mourned when they heard the evil tidings." Justly, for, if it was-in mercy, how sad that they should need such a mercy! How sad that to be removed further from God should be a mercy to them! And, if it was in judgment, how much more sad that their conduct should have brought upon them such a judgment—have caused God to withdraw himself—have led him to punish them by banishment from his near presence! What real satisfaction is there in existence except his presence? Whom have we in heaven but him, or who is there upon earth that we can desire in comparison with him? In him is life; "in his presence is fulness of joy, and at his right hand are pleasures for evermore." If we lose him, we lose all; if we are shut out, even for a time, from him, we lose more than we can express. lie is to our spirits more than the sun to all material things. "In him we live, and move, and have our being." Happily for us, while we live, we may recover his favour; we may prevail on him once more to "lift up the light of his countenance upon us." Mourning, self-abasement, real heart-felt sorrow for sin will in every case find acceptance with him for his Son's sake, and obtain for us a restoration of the light of his presence.

Verses 7-11


THE FIRST ERECTION OF A TABERNACLE. The decision of the matter still hung in suspense. God had not revoked his threat to withdraw himself and leave the host to the conduct of an angel. He had merely reserved his final decision (Exodus 33:5). Moses was anxious to wrestle with him in prayer until he obtained the reversal of this sentence; but he could not be always ascending Sinai, when the camp needed his superintending care, and the camp as yet contained no place of worship, where a man could pray and be secure against disturbance. Moses, under these circumstances, with the tabernacle in his mind, but without leisure to construct it, contrived "for the present distress" a temporary tabernacle or tent. He took, apparently, the tent that had hitherto been his own, and removed it to a position outside the camp, erecting it there, and at the same time giving it the name of "the tent of meeting" (Exodus 33:7). Hither he decreed that all persons should come who desired communion with God (Exodus 33:7), and hither he resorted himself for the same purpose (Exodus 33:8). It pleased God to approve these arrangements; and to show his approval by a visible token. Whenever Moses entered the "tent of meeting," the pillar of the cloud descended from the top of Sinai, and took up its station at the door of the tent (Exodus 33:9), thus securing Moses from interruption. At the sight the people "worshipped," each at his tent's door, while Moses was privileged to speak with God "face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend" (Exodus 33:11). Joshua accompanied him on the first occasion, and remained behind, to guard the tent, when Moses left it (ibid.).

Exodus 33:7

Moses took the tabernacle. The "tabernacle" proper was not yet constructed. (See chs. 35-40.) And the word used is not that properly rendered "tabernacle"—viz; mishkan (Exodus 26:1); but the far more common word 'ohel, which means "tent." The proper translation would be, "Moses took the tent." But the question at once arises—What tent? It is suggested that the article may have the force of the possessive pronoun, and indicate that he took "his tent." (Compare Matthew 9:10, where "the house" undoubtedly means "his house.") Moses took his own tent, probably as the best in the encampment, and converted it to a sacred use, transferring his own abode to another. Afar off from the camp. The sacred and the profane must not approach each other too closely—an interval must be set between them. But the distance, evidently, was not great (Exodus 33:10). The tabernacle of the congregation. Rather, "the tent of meeting" or "of conference"—i.e; the tent in which he expected to meet and converse with God. See the comment on Exodus 27:21. Every one which sought the Lord went out. Moses must have commanded this. The "tent" was not to be a mere oratory for himself, but open to all Israelites.

Exodus 33:8

When Moses went out …. all the people rose up. Probably Moses "went out" at a set time, or at set times, each day; and the people watched for his going, and "rose up," as a mark of respect and reverence. They felt that he went to the tent mainly to pray for them.

Exodus 33:9

As Moses entered into the tabernacle. Rather, "When Moses was gone into the tent." The cloudy pillar descended. It is not quite clear whether this was done once only, or whether the pillar, during the continuance of this "tent of meeting," alternated between the top of Sinai and the door of the tent, descending when Moses entered the tent and reascending when he quitted it. The latter supposition is most consonant with the previous statement (Exodus 33:7) that "every one which sought the Lord went out unto the tabernacle" (tent), for the people were at no time allowed to approach the cloud. And the Lord talked with Moses. Literally, "And talked with Moses." The cloudy pillar, in and through which God made his presence felt, is here identified with God, and said to have conversed with Moses.

Exodus 33:10

And all the people saw … and all the people rose up. This is a literal translation; but it would make the sense clearer to the ordinary reader if the passage were rendered—"And when all the people saw the cloudy pillar stand at the door of the tent, then all the people rose up," etc. Worshipped. Literally, "bowed themselves down"—"made an obeisance," in token that they recognised the presence of God.

Exodus 33:11

The Lord spake unto Moses face to face. As one present—not as one at a distance—"month to mouth," as we read in Numbers 12:8—but not under any visible form (see verses 20, 23, and compare Deuteronomy 4:12, Deuteronomy 4:15). He turned again. After each conference, Moses returned to the camp, where, no doubt, he had put up for himself another tent, and where his presence was needed He left, however, his personal attendant ("minister"), Joshua, to watch and guard the sacred structure during his absence. It is remarkable that the trust was committed to Joshua, rather than to Aaron, or any of the Levites. Probably the reason of this was, that Joshua alone had had no paw in the idolatry of the calf. (See Exodus 32:17.)


Exodus 33:9-11

The mode of recovering God's presence.

Moses felt that he could not rest till he bad obtained for the people the complete return of God's favour, and the assurance of his perpetual presence. But this was no easy task. The offence given was so grievous that it could not be condoned at once. Even the penitence of the people had produced no more than a promise that God would take the matter into his consideration, and determine later what he would do to the people (Exodus 33:5). Moses sought to hasten a favourable decision. It is well worth noting the means whereto he had recourse. These were—

I. THE ERECTION OF A HOUSE OF PRAYER. Moses called it "the tent of meeting"; because he hoped that there God would be met with or would suffer himself to be addressed would let his people draw nigh to him. He erected it "without the camp," afar off—partly on account of the recent pollution of the camp—partly to separate and sunder it from secular sights and sounds. Intolerant of delay, he thought it better to take the best of existing structures, rather than wait till he could erect a new one. As his own tent was the best in the camp, he gave it, not without some self-sacrifice.

II. THE RESORT OF THE PEOPLE TO THE HOUSE. "Every one which sought the Lord went out unto the tent" (Exodus 33:7). Doubtless Moses urged the need of all the people's seeking the Lord, turning to him, besieging him with their prayers, importuning him. There had been, so far as appears, no set times of prayer hitherto, and no set place of prayer. All had been left to individual feeling or conviction. And the people, we may be sure, had for the most part neglected prayer. In their difficulties they had been content that Moses should pray for them (Exodus 14:15; Exodus 15:25; Exodus 17:4, Exodus 17:11, Exodus 17:12, etc.). Now at length they had awoke to the need of personal religion; they had "mourned" and "put off their ornaments"; they—some of them, at any rate—"sought the Lord," and resorted to the "tent of meeting," in the hope of finding him there.

III. HIS OWN FREQUENT RESORT TO IT, AND CONSTANT, EARNEST INTERCESSION. The narrative of Exodus 33:8-11 describes a continual practice. Moses made it his habit to go forth from the camp to the "tent of meeting" at a fixed hour each day—possibly more than once a day; and, when there, no doubt prayed to the Lord with all the fervour that we observe in the recorded prayer of the next section (Exodus 33:12-16). "The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much" (James 5:16). The daily intercession, recorded in Exodus 33:8-11, culminated in the "wrestle with God," which obtained the gracious promise—"I will do this thing that thou hast spoken" (Exodus 33:17). The general lesson taught is the might of prayer

(1) for oneself;

(2) for others.

There is a further particular lesson upon the value of a "house of prayer"—most appreciated, through the perversity of human nature, where least readily obtainable, least regarded where closest to men's doors and most accessible.


Exodus 33:1-12

A nation in garb of penitence.

On this section consider—

I. THE CONDITIONED PROMISE (Exodus 33:1-4). God has consented to spare the nation. They are to set out forthwith on the journey to Canaan. But his presence is no longer to go with them. He would send an angel. Notice—

1. Everything, in one sense, remains the same. The people are to be conducted to Canaan. They are to inherit the promises. God will drive out their enemies before them. The land will still flow with milk and honey. It will still be able to be said of them, that there is no nation on earth so favoured as they are. Yet,

2. Everything, in another sense, is different. Blessings without God in them are not the same blessings. They want that which gives them their chief value. See below, on Exodus 33:15.

II. THE SUMMONS TO REPENTANCE (Exodus 33:4-7). A command is next given to the people to strip off their ornaments. They are to humble themselves before Jehovah that Jehovah may know what to do with them. This command they obeyed. From this time forward they ceased to wear ornaments. On this observe,

1. Repentance for sin is an indispensable condition of restoration to God's favour. It was required of Israel. It is required of us. There can be no salvation without it (Luke 17:5). "Cease to do evil; learn to do well" (Isaiah 1:16, Isaiah 1:17). Had Israel not repented, Moses would have interceded in vain.

2. Repentance, if sincere, must approve itself by appropriate deeds.—"Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance" (Matthew 3:8). The people put off their ornaments. Ornaments do not become those with whom God is displeased. This act of the people was a first step in obedience.

3. A very imperfect repentance is sometimes accepted by God as a reason for forbearance with the sinner. The people mourned; but their repentance, as events showed, did not amount to a real change of heart. They mourned for "the evil tidings." It was the consequences of their sin which distressed them, more than the sin itself. Yet do them justice. The "evil tidings" was not the loss of any material blessings, hut, solely, the loss of God's presence. There is still good in a heart which feels the withdrawal of God's presence to be a loss to it.

4. It is well that the remembrance of great sins should go with us all our days. Those who have committed them should go softly ever after.

III. THE WITHDRAWAL OF JEHOVAH'S PRESENCE FROM THE CAMP (Exodus 33:7-9). Moses, we are next informed, took a tent, possibly his own, possibly one which had hitherto served as a sanctuary, pitched it "without the camp, afar off from the camp," and called it "the tent of meeting." Thither came out every one that sought the Lord. The act was,

1. A symbol of Jehovah's formal withdrawal from the midst of the people.

2. A token that a final decision had not yet been come to as to how God meant to deal with them. Communications were not wholly broken off. Space was left for repentance. God might still be entreated of them. Learn

(1) iniquities separate between man and God (cf. Isaiah 59:2);

(2) the withdrawal of God's presence is not necessarily the end of the day of grace. There is an "accepted time" during which, if the sinner repents, he will be forgiven, and God's presence will be restored to him (2 Corinthians 6:2). Meanwhile, even God's keeping back from him has its side of mercy. God's near presence would consume (cf. Exodus 33:5).

(3) The day of grace which sinners enjoy is won for them by the intercession of another. Israel's "accepted time" was based on the intercession of Moses. Ours, as the passage above referred to implies, rests on the intercession of Christ. "I have heard thee (Christ) in a time accepted" (cf. Isaiah 49:8)—"Behold, now is the accepted time"—for men (2 Corinthians 6:2).

(4) it is our duty to seek the Lord while he may be found, and to call on him while he is near (Isaiah 55:6).

IV. THE TOKEN OF FAVOUR TO MOSES (Exodus 33:9-12). The cloudy pillar descended, and stood at the door of the tabernacle. There the Lord talked with Moses, as a man talketh with his friend. This was

(1) a mark of favour to Moses himself;

(2) an honour put upon him before the people;

(3) an encouragement to further intercession.—J.O.

Verses 12-17


THE REVOCATION OF THE THREAT OF WITHDRAWAL. After some days' "wrestling with God" in the "tent of meeting," Moses prayed to know definitely what God had determined on. "Show me thy way," he said (Exodus 33:13)—"Whom wilt thou send with me?" To this demand, God made the gracious reply—"My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest" (Exodus 33:14). This was satisfactory, except that it did not distinctly include the conduct of the people—it might be merely a promise to himself. So Moses (Exodus 33:15, Exodus 33:16) requires a more explicit assurance, and, closely associating the people with himself, declares that he will not move a step further, unless God allows the people to find grace in his sight, and consents to "distinguish" them by "going up" with them. Then at length God yields and gives the assurance" I will do this thing also that thou hast spoken" (Exodus 33:17)—i.e. "I will go up visibly with the people and distinguish them." (See the comment on Exodus 33:16.)

Exodus 33:12, Exodus 33:13

See, thou sayest. Moses takes advantage of his privilege of speaking as friend with friend, and uses familiar terms—"See," he says, "thou hast told me to conduct the people to Canaan, yet thou hast not made it clear whom thou wilt send with me. If it is to be an angel, what angel? Why not the angel of the original promise (Exodus 23:20-23)? Thou hast distinguished me with thy favour—Consider that this nation is thy people, and extend thy favour to them. At any rate shew me thy way—tell me plainly what thou wilt do."

Exodus 33:14

My presence shall go with thee. Literally," My presence shall go up"—my own presence, not that of an angel. That for which Moses had been so earnestly pleading is, seemingly, granted. God will go up. I will give thee rest.—i.e. "bring thee to Canaan." (Compare Deuteronomy 3:20; Hebrews 4:8.)

Exodus 33:15, Exodus 33:16

And he said. Still Moses is not quite satisfied. God had said—"I will give thee rest"—not "I will give you rest." Moses must see distinctly that the people are associated with him before he desists. So he replies—"If thy presence go not up, carry us not up hence. For wherein shall it be known that I and thy people have found grace in thy sight? Is it not in that thou goest with us?" The reply in Exodus 33:17 sets his doubt finally at rest.

Exodus 33:16

So shall we be separated. Rather, "So shall we be distinguished." God's presence with them would distinguish them from all the other nations of the earth—place them in a category alone and apart from all others. Angelic guidance would not have done this; for even heathen nations had their protecting angels (Daniel 10:13, Daniel 10:20; Daniel 11:1).

Exodus 33:17

I will do this thing also. "I will extend my favour to thy people also, and distinguish them, as well as thee, by going up with them. I will do this for thy sake, because thou hast found grace in my sight." Moses' petition is at last fully granted—the threat of withdrawal cancelled—the promise of Divine guidance and protection renewed I know thee by name. It is a supreme favour for God to know us by name. It marks "a specifically personal relation to God" (Keil). The expression is perhaps taken from the phraseology of Oriental Courts, where not one in a hundred of the courtiers is known to the monarch by name.


Exodus 33:12-17

Effectual importunity.

Our Lord Jesus Christ spake a parable to show "that men ought always to pray and not to faint" (Luke 18:1). The present record is, we may be sure, inserted in the Old Testament for the same purpose. God wills to be importuned. Not, however, for his own sake, but for ours. He would have us fervent and persistent in prayer, for the improvement of our characters, the increase of our faith by exercise, the intensifying of our sense of dependence upon him. Especially he would have us persistent in intercessory prayer, because we are then exercising, not only faith, but love; and by increasing in love, we advance in resemblance to himself. For "God is Love." Note, that, to be importuned effectively, God must be importuned—

I. WITH FERVOUR. Mere repetition will not do. Cold prayers, repeated day after day for blessings on ourselves or others, are a mere battologia, no more effectual than the involuntary repetitions of a stammering tongue. God grants nothing to coldness, nothing to mere words, nothing unless it be earnestly desired by a fervid heart. The Buddhists, in many parts of Asia, erect praying-machines, which are turned by a small windmill, believing that in every revolution of the machine a prayer is offered, and that, after so many turns, Buddha is bound to grant it. As well expect God to respect the requests of a praying-machine, as the utterances of many who languidly repeat the prayers of the Church after the clergyman, or say a set form, with small thought and no heart, morning and evening. It is "the fervent prayer of a righteous man"—nay, even of a sinner—that is "effectual."

II. UNSELFISHLY. Moses postponed his now earnest desire to behold for his own satisfaction God's glory, until he had obtained the restitution of the people to favour. His importunity was for them. Let us importune God for the conversion of ore' relatives and friends, the forgiveness of their sins, the awakening of their consciences, their perseverance in well-doing, and their final entrance into his glory, and we may feel confident of prevailing with him. But, if we importune him for our own worldly advancement, or even if we ask increase of grace for our own sakes solely or mainly, we must not be surprised if our prayers remain unanswered. "Ye ask and obtain not, because ye ask amiss." The spirit of sacrifice is required to sanctify prayer. Those who in a spirit of self-seeking asked to sit on the right hand and left hand of Christ in his kingdom obtained no promise. Our prayers even for our spiritual advancement will scarcely be answered, unless we desire it to promote God's glory, or to help forward the salvation of our fellow-men.


Exodus 33:12-18

The third intercession. Moses on this occasion pleads with God to restore his presence to the people. Very noteworthy are the steps in his entreaty.

1. He veils his request under the form of a desire to know the divine intentions (Exodus 33:12). Will God go up with them or not? God has not yet told him—will he tell him now? What, underneath this form of expression, the heart of Moses really presses for, is, of course, the assurance that God will go with them.

2. He urges the friendship God has shown him as a reason for granting his request—"Thou hast said, I know thee by name," etc. (Exodus 33:12).

3. He entreats God to consider that Israel is his own people (Exodus 33:13). He has chosen them; he has redeemed them; he has declared his love for them; can he bring himself now to cast them off?

4. When God at length—reading in his servant's heart the thought which he has not as yet dared openly to express—says, "My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest" (Exodus 33:14); Moses eagerly seizes on the promise thus given him, and pleads with God to make it good. "If thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence" (Exodus 33:15). This, in Moses' view, is the greatest distinction of Israel, that it has God in its midst, and if this distinction is withdrawn, he cares not what else remains (Exodus 33:16). The earnestness of his entreaty secures for him a confirmation of the promise, this time given without reserve. For in the utterance of Exodus 33:14, perhaps, a certain tone of distance is still to be detected. This disappears in Exodus 33:17. View the passage as illustrating—

I. THE PRIVILEGES OF FRIENDSHIP WITH GOD (Exodus 33:12, Exodus 33:13).

1. Friendship with God gives boldness of approach to him. It casts out fear (1 John 4:18).

2. Friendship with God admits to intimacy with his secrets (Exodus 33:13). "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him" (Psalms 25:14). Cf. God's words concerning Abraham—"Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do, seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation," etc. (Genesis 18:17); and Christ's words to his disciples" I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his Lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you" (John 15:15).

3. The best use we can make of friendship with God is to intercede for others. So Abraham for Sodom (Genesis 18:23-33). So Moses here. So Daniel (Daniel 9:1-27.). So Christ for his disciples (John 17:1-26.).


1. God's presence is the highest blessing. Nought else can be compared with it (Psalms 73:25, Psalms 73:26).

2. It is the blessing which enriches all other blessings. It is that which makes earthly blessings truly worth having. They are not the same to us without it as with it.

3. God's presence, going with us, invariably conducts to rest.


Verses 18-23


THE REQUEST TO SEE GOD'S GLORY, AND THE REPLY TO IT. Having obtained the full restoration of the people to God's favour, Moses felt emboldened to ask a boon for himself. He had already been admitted to closer communion with God than any one of the race of man since Adam in Paradise. But what had been granted him, instead of satisfying, only made him desirous of something further, something closer, something than which nothing more close could be imagined. So he asks to see the unveiled glory of God (Exodus 33:18). He asks, that is, to see exactly that which man in the flesh cannot see, or at any rate cannot see and live. But, of course, he does not know this. God, in reply, tells him he shall see all that can be seen of him—more than anything which he has seen before. He shall see "all his goodness"—he shall have another revelation of the name of God (Exodus 33:18); and, further, he shall be so placed as to see as much as mortal man can behold of "his glory"—God will pass by him, and when he has passed, Moses shall be allowed to look after him, and see what is here called "his back." This was probably some afterglow or reflection from the Divine glory, which language must have been as inadequate to describe as it was to embody the "unspeakable words" heard by St. Paul in the "third heaven," and declared by him "impossible for a man to utter" (2 Corinthians 12:4).

Exodus 33:18

Show me thy glory. The glory of God had been seen by Moses to a certain extent, when God "descended in fire" upon Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:18). It had been seen with more distinctness when he was called up and "went into the midst of the cloud" (Exodus 24:18). But he felt, nevertheless, that he had not as vet really beheld it. He longed for that ineffable blessing of the full "beatific vision," which is promised to us after death, if we die in the faith and fear of Christ (1 Corinthians 13:12). "Increase of appetite doth grow by what it feeds on"—and the veiled splendours that he had been allowed to see only made him hunger the more for the unveiled radiance that he had not seen as vet.

Exodus 33:19

I will make all my goodness pass before thee. It is not quite clear what this means, or how it was fulfilled—whether the reference is to the revelation of God's goodness in Exodus 34:7, or to the entire experience that Moses would have of God in his later life. It is against the former view, that, if we take it, we can assign to the ensuing clause no distinct and separate sense. I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee. See Exodus 34:5, Exodus 34:6. And I will be gracious to whom I will be graciousi.e; I am not bound to do all this for thee. It is of my free grace that I do it. I intend, however, to be gracious, and show mercy to thee, because thou hast found favour in my eyes.

Exodus 33:20

No man can see me and live. The inability proclaimed in these words is not an absolute inability to see God, but an inability to see and survive the sight. Jacob, when he wrestled with the angel, marvelled that he could see God, even in that intermediate way, and live (Genesis 32:30). It may well be that actually to see God, while we are in the flesh, would kill us.

Exodus 33:21

Behold, there is a place by me. No sufficient indication is given by these words, or by any other words in Scripture, of the exact locality of the manifestation to Moses. The so-called" traditions "are worthless; and we can only say that the scene was probably some portion of the upper part of the Ras Sufsafeh.

Exodus 33:22

I will put thee in a clift of the rock, The "clift" has been identified with the "cave of Elijah" (1 Kings 19:9); but the words used are different; and even were they the same, no identity could be established. It is rather in the broader lines of their missions and characters that resemblance is to be sought between Moses and Elijah than in the minuter details of their careers. Cover thee with my handi.e; "at once conceal thee and protect thee." Without these precautions, it is implied, the nearness of the Divine Presence might have had injurious effects.

Exodus 33:23

Thou shalt see my back parts. Literally, "my back." The anthropomorphisms of the passage are numerous and strong—they must, of course, be regarded as accommodations to human ideas. After the Divine Presence had passed by, Moses was to be permitted to look out, and would see so much of the Divine glory as he would be able to bear; but still something far short of that which he had desired to see. The explanation that "the back of God" means "his works—the consequences of his activity" (Kalisch) is fanciful, and not borne out by the context. My face cannot be seen. See above, Exodus 33:20; and. compare John 1:18; Joh 6:46; 1 Timothy 1:17; 1 John 4:12.


Exodus 33:18

The craving for close communion with God,

may be considered—

I. AS BASED ON A NATURAL INSTINCT. Man without God—without the consciousness of being sustained and upheld by an eternal omnipotent being—can have no strength or confidence in the present, no hope in the future. He is a feeble part of the vast mechanism of a great incomprehensible universe—a form which matter has assumed for a time—powerless to shape his future—the sport of circumstance. From this his better nature revolts, and, like some marine organism, throws out tentacles to seek a hold on some firm solid object without him. God is the only such object truly firm and stable; and hence man may be said to have a natural desire for God. As soon as the idea of God is in any way brought before him, he feels that it exactly answers an instinctive craving of his nature. His soul goes out to it—seizes it—appropriates it—rests on it as a sure prop and stay. Intellectually, the idea clears up the riddle of the universe; morally, gives a firm foundation to right and wrong, explains the authority of conscience, and supplies a motive for virtue; even physically it has a value, reducing the infinitude of nature within limits, and furnishing a reasonable origin to nature's laws.

II. As A TEST OF SPIRITUALITY. Man needs the idea of God, and cannot be satisfied without it; but whether, having got it, he shall thrust it into the background, or ever more and more cling to it, and seek to realise it, depends on his spiritual condition. Adam and Eve, after they had sinned, "hid themselves from the presence of God amongst the trees of the garden" (Genesis 3:8). The Gergesenes "besought Christ that he would depart out of their coasts" (Matthew 8:34). The guilty conscience cannot bear the near presence of the Most High, shrinks from the keen inspection of the all-seeing Eye, would fain skulk and hide among the bushes. The worldly heart is indifferent to the thought of God—turns away from it in the present—reserves it for a more convenient season. Only the spiritually minded delight in dwelling on the thought of God—seek him constantly—crave for communion with him. Only they can say with sincerity-" As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God" (Psalms 42:1, Psalms 42:2). They, however, can, and do say this continually. And the more communion they obtain, the more they desire. It is after Moses had entered into the cloud, and "spoken with God face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend" (Exodus 33:11), that he beseeches him to "show him his glory." We cannot while on earth obtain the full communion for which our spiritual nature craves. We cannot therefore while on earth be satisfied, but must ever be craving for something more, ever crying—"Nearer, my God, to thee, nearer to thee!" Only in heaven, if we be found worthy, shall we "see face to face, and know as we are known" (1 Corinthians 13:12).

Exodus 33:22

Clifts in the rock. God has many places of safety—"clifts in the rock"—where he puts us when trials approach. "As our day is, so is our strength." Bereavemeat comes upon us, and he elevates us on a pinnacle of faith to which we had never before mounted. Poverty and disgrace fall on us, and he gives us insensibility to them. Pain comes, and he enables us to see that pain is exactly the chastening we want, and to thank him for it. We do not cry out, with the Stoic, "How sweet!" for "no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous" (Hebrews 12:11); yet we have the spiritual strength to cry out to him—"How kind! How gracious!" The best "clift in the rock," is that cleft in the "Rock of Ages," which the soldier's spear made, wherein, if we please, we may lie hidden from every danger that can assail us.

"Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
Let me hide myself in thee!"


Exodus 33:18-23

Shew me thy glory.

On this incident, remark—

I. THE GOOD MAN THIRSTS FOR EVER FULLER MANIFESTATIONS OF THE DIVINE GLORY. The more he knows of God, the more he would know. The nearer he gets, he presses nearer still. He "longs" to see God's power and glory" (Psalms 63:2). He prays to see as much of it as may be possible to him on earth. He will only be satisfied when admitted to the full vision of it in heaven (Psalms 16:11; Psalms 17:15; 1 John 3:2).


1. God's essential glory. This is the glory which pertains to his existence. It is compared in Scripture to the white dazzling light—"light which no man can approach unto" (1 Timothy 6:16).

2. God's ethical glory. This is the glory of his character. It was revealed when God proclaimed his "name" to Moses (Exodus 33:19; Exodus 34:5-8).

III. MAN, IN HIS PRESENT STATE OF EXISTENCE, CAN RECEIVE THE VISION OF GOD'S ESSENTIAL GLORY ONLY UNDER GREAT LIMITATIONS. The full discovery of it would slay him (Exodus 33:20). Moses beheld it but partially, hid in a clift of the rock—saw but its reflection (Exodus 33:21-23). Even thus to perceive it implied an exaltation of the consciousness—an opening of the spiritual eyes—not vouchsafed to ordinary men. A mediate revelation is at present all that is possible to us. We have this in the reflection of the Creator's glory in creation (Psalms 19:1, Psalms 19:2).


1. No barrier, either to the revelation or the perception of it, exists in physical conditions. It is glory of character. It is discerned by the same faculties by which we discern spiritual beauty and goodness in the characters of our fellow-men.

2. God has revealed it. We are not straitened in him. He has kept nothing back. He has made his goodness pass before us. He has revealed his name. The Divine Son is a perfect embodiment of the moral glory of the Father (John 1:14).

3. The sole barrier to the perception of it is the limitation of moral capacity in ourselves. It is in ourselves we are straitened. We lack the purity of heart necessary to give right spiritual discernment. Our perception of the glory of truth, righteousness, holiness, love, and mercy in God, will be in precise proportion to the degree in which these qualities are formed in our own natures.—J.O.

Exodus 33:19

Divine sovereignty.

On this note—

I. GOD IS SOVEREIGN IN THE EXERCISE OF HIS MERCY. He dispenses it to whom he will. He is free and unconstrained in its bestowal. The sinner cannot claim it as a right. He is not entitled to reckon upon it, save as the free promise of God gives him a warrant to do so. He dare not dictate to God what he shall do. God is sovereign as respects

(1) The objects,

(2) The time,

(3) The manner,

(4) The measure of his mercy.

He gives no account of his matters to any one. He allows none to challenge him.

II. GOD'S SOVEREIGNTY IS BEST STUDIED ON ITS SIDE OF MERCY. This is the easier and more approachable side. It is the least disputable. It does not raise the same dark and knotty problems as the other side—"Whom he will he hardeneth" (Romans 9:18). The contemplation of it is purely delightful and consolatory. It is, besides, the side to which the other—the side of judgment—is subordinate. See this sovereignty of God illustrated in the history of Israel—

(1) In the initial choice of the nation in Abraham.

(2) In the deliverance from Egypt, with its attendant circumstances.

(3) In the forming of the covenant at Sinai.

(4) In the restoration of the people to favour after the covenant had been broken.

III. GOD'S SOVEREIGNTY IN THE EXERCISE OF MERCY IS NOT ARBITRARINESS. (See on Exodus 6:14-28.) It has, as there shown, its self-imposed limitations and inherent laws of operation. It is holy, wise, and good. It aims, we may believe, at the ultimate salvation of the largest number possible, consistently with all the interests involved.—J.O.


Exo 33:1 -32

The restoration to Divine favour completed.

This is a chapter which, beginning very gloomily, ends very gloriously. In the beginning Jehovah seems as if bidding farewell to the people for whom he had done so much; but at the close he is seen giving a revelation to Moses their leader, which must have sent him forth to resume his arduous work with greater encouragements than he ever had before. It is therefore very interesting to trace how this change was brought about.

I. WE SEE THE PEOPLE ARE BROUGHT TO A MEASURE OF PENITENCE. We cannot assume that this penitence went very deep, so far as the general apprehension of unworthiness of conduct was concerned. But there was this depth in it, that the people perceived they had done something wrong, something insulting to Jehovah, something very dangerous to their own prospects. And how had this been brought about? Simply by the statement of Jehovah that he would not go up with those who had hitherto been his people. He would not go—the real truth was that he could not go. The sin of the people, their reckless, thoughtless trifling with holy things made his presence among them a peril. Something, indeed, had to be done to get these people from Horeb to Canaan, and settle them in possession; but that could be done by a sort of exercise of physical force. So much Jehovah could do for these Israelites, howsoever idolatrous they became. But his great blessing for them was not in the mere possession of Canaan, with its temporal riches and comforts. The temporal riches of Canaan were no more than those of any other land, save as God himself was in the midst of those who possessed the riches. What a humiliating thing to consider that God had to threaten withdrawal from his people in a sort of exercise of mercy. Suppose for a moment that the people had continued obdurate, what would the end have been? They would, indeed, have gone forward and got Canaan, and then sunk back, so that Israelite would have had no more importance in the history of the world and the development of God's purposes than Amorite, Hittite, or any of the other tribes mentioned in Exodus 33:2.

II. CONSIDER THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE SEPARATED TABERNACLE. In all probability this was the tent of Moses, and if so, we see at once a beautiful mingling of grace with necessary severity. Moses was prompted to separate from the people, but not to depart from them. Jehovah could not come down in the pillar of cloud into the midst of the camp; and for this no reason needs be sought other than the peril to the people flowing from his holiness. Thus there was everything to fill the minds of the people with a suitable mingling of humility and hope. Moses, true type of the greater Mediator yet to come, gave a point where God and the people could meet together. Jehovah will not depart, unless, so to speak, he is driven away. These people could not bear his presence; and yet—apparent contradiction—they could not do without him. Individual Israelites made it plain by their seeking Jehovah that they could not do without him; and he in his never-failing loving-kindness and pity, provided for such. The fate of the nation was trembling in the balance; but ample access and counsel were secured to the individual believerse There was a definite and favoured place for every individual who in his need sought the Lord. National trouble did not eclipse, it rather intensified and aggravated, individual trouble and need.


1. There is what we may call the holy boldness of Moses. There is an illustration here of the importunity and great confidence with which God's people should persist in their approaches to the throne of the heavenly grace. Only just before God had spoken in great anger; and Moses, when he became aware from his own observation of the extent of the people's transgression, approached Jehovah with the utmost deference. Pat as time went on, and he was able to take all the elements of the position more and more into consideration, he felt himself shut up to persistent waiting upon God. A return to God's favour and guidance is the only way out of the difficulty; and therefore Moses cannot but be bold and pertinacious in doing his best to secure that way.

2. He makes the most out of God's favour to him as an individual. Not only have the people been apostate and reckless, but their very apostasy and recklessness bring out into stronger relief the clinging obedience of Moses. He has done well, and, more than that, Jehovah has approved him; and now, therefore, he pleads that the approval may not be in word only, but in deed; not in the promise of some future and distant recompense, but in deliverance from a present difficulty near at hand. Moses is not slow to avail himself of every legitimate consideration which he may plead with God. There were times when he would have been the first to allow and indeed affirm his unworthiness before God; but God had counted him worthy, and in his present need he avails himself of God's gracious regard to gain as much as he can for his needy brethren. Thus some slight hint is given to us of the way in which, for Christ's sake, God regards men. God had made it plain to Moses that he regarded him; and in effect Moses says, "If this regard be real, I will try it by large requests for my people." So let us feel that from the undisputed regard of God for the person, obedience, and everything belonging to his well-beloved Son, there will also come a regard to all the intercessions of that Son on behalf of a world so much alienated from God; and yet the more it is alienated, only the more in need of his mercy and deliverance.

3. The determined manner in which Moses associates himself with his people. He and Israel were as one. He may not in so many words speak of them as his people; on the contrary, he very emphatically alludes to them, in addressing Jehovah, as "thy people;" but we feel that underneath mere expressions there lies this natural and beautiful resolution, not to be separated from those who were one with him in blood. He felt that if Israel was to be frowned upon, he could not, so far as his consciousness was concerned, be favoured; and so we are led to think of the intimate association of Jesus with the children of men. Human nature is his nature; and however unworthy and polluted human nature often shows itself, however low it may sink in forgetfulness of its original constitution and purpose, the fact remains that the Word of God became flesh, and the consequent kinship and claim must ever be recognised.

4. The cry to God for a revelation of his glory. Much intercourse Moses had enjoyed with Jehovah, and often had he heard the voice that gave commandment and guidance. Indeed, as our minds go back over the past experience of Moses, and we consider how much he had been through, this strikes us at first as a somewhat puzzling request:—"I beseech thee show me thy glory." But the puzzle rises rather from unspirituality in our minds than from anything in the circumstances of Moses himself. Consider well the point to which he had attained, the distance which there was between him and his brethren, heart-infected as they still were with image-worship, and there will seem little wonder that in the heart of this lonely servant of God there should rise desires for what strength and satisfaction might come to him from the vision of God. He had asked much for his people, and it was fitting that he should ask something for himself. And he asked something worthy, something pleasing to God, something of highest profit to himself, even as Solomon did later on. He asked that he might no longer have to deal with a voice as behind a vail, but might see the face from which that voice came. The request was right and acceptable; but it could not be fully granted. What a fact to ponder over! What a humbling and yet hope-inspiring fact that sinful man cannot look upon the glory of the Lord and live! What of Divine glory is manifested to us has to be manifested in a way that is safe; and surely this is part of the salvation wherewith we are saved, that by-and-bye, when all pollution is cleansed away, we may be able to bear visions and revelations which, if they were to be attempted now, would only destroy us.—Y.


Exodus 33:1-11

Mercy vailed in judgment.


1. The separation.

(1) In wrath he remembers mercy. They will receive the land, but for the fathers' sake and his oath's sake, not because he has delight in them. God's goodness is not always a proof of his being pleased with us, any more than his chastisements prove his auger. The former may be a loud call to repentance.

(2) The reason for God's absence; his presence would be judgment, not mercy:—"Lest I consume thee in the way." If God's face be hidden, and the sense of his presence and guiding gone from us, his next revelation may be judgment.

2. Its effects.

(1) The people mourned. It was no satisfaction that God and they were no longer to walk together.

(2) Other delights lost their attractiveness:—No man did put on his ornaments."

(3) They were troubled by fear of judgment, for the Lord had said, "I will come up into the midst of thee in a moment and consume thee." These are the effects of the Spirit's work to-day. The same cry is lifted:—"Flee from the wrath to come."


1. Its necessity as a testimony to God's separation from sin. This is the duty of the Church to-day:—"Come ye out from among them and be ye separate." The tabernacle of the congregation, meant though it be for all, must be pitched "without the camp."

2. The results.

(1) Moses' example led others to declare themselves on God's side (Exodus 33:7).

(2) The people "looked after Moses." Yearning for the light of God's face is stirred up in the hearts of men by those who go forth to meet with him,

(3) God manifests himself to the separated (Exodus 33:9). A living Church is ever the means of revealing God's reality.

(4) The people worshipped "every man in his tent-door." A true Church will send forth a cry for mercy from the homes of the sinful.—U.

Exodus 33:12-23

Intercession and its reward.


1. God, who had disowned Israel, and refused to go with them, consents to go with him:—"My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest." The first step in successful intercession for others is the receiving of power to serve God among them. This is the dropping which foretells the shower.

2. God is brought back by persistent asking into the midst of Israel:—"I will do this thing also that thou hast spoken" (Exodus 33:17). We must not be content till our whole desire is given us. He can make not only our words a power to others, but also his own presence felt by them.


1. God's love to himself:—"Thou hast said I know thee by name," etc. The realisation of our personal interest in God's love is the basis of intercession for others. It gives confidence that God will hear us. It gives hope. He who has blessed us can also bless them.

2. God's relation to them for whom he entreats:—"Consider that this nation is thy people." We can urge on behalf of the vilest that God created them, and gave Christ to die for them.

3. That God's presence and favour are needful to make himself and the people what God desires them to become:—"So shall we be separated." They can be consecrated only by the might of God's revealed love.


1. "And he said, Show me thy glory." The lifting up of availing prayer for others quickens our desire to know more of him with whom we speak.

2. The full vision of God is for the sinless life. The splendour of the Divine purity would slay us. John fell at Christ's feet as one dead.

3. How the fuller vision granted in the present may be had.

(1) By listening to the proclamation of the Lord's name in his word.

(2) We can see the glory which has passed us. God's deeds reveal him.

4. The place of vision:—"A rock," "by me." Taking our stand upon Christ, the glory of God's words and deeds breaks upon us.

5. The place of safety, "in a clift of the rock." Only in the riven side of Jesus the vision of God is not to condemnation and death, but to justification and life.—U.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Exodus 33". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/exodus-33.html. 1897.
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