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MEDIATION AND INTERCESSION, Exodus 33:1-2.33.23.
1. Depart, and go up hence This is in substance a repetition of Exodus 32:34. The people have broken the covenant which they promised to keep, (Exodus 24:3-2.24.7;) why linger longer at this mountain? Let them now proceed to the land which was promised unto Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, and do the best they can under the curse of violated vows .
2. I will send… drive Repeated in substance from Exodus 23:23; Exodus 23:28.
3. I will not go up in the midst of thee This distinction between Jehovah and his Angel is not inconsistent with our doctrine of the Angel of Jehovah, as set forth in note on Genesis 16:7. But Jehovah’s Angel might not at all times so bear his name (Exodus 23:21) or exhibit his power as to be a consuming fire in the midst of Israel . He was rather of the nature of a mediator between Moses and Jehovah, and the statement of this verse is designed to enhance the infinite holiness of God. The hardness of the people’s heart is such that some consideration may be shown, (comp. Matthew 19:8,) but the demands of infinite holiness are such that Jehovah here represents himself as withdrawing from the stiffnecked people, lest the immediate gaze of his holy eye consume them in the way. The whole manner of thought is anthropomorphic, for how else could such conceptions be then conveyed to such a sinful people? The mediating Angel may show mercy when holy wrath would destroy; and Israel may have an angel like other nations, (comp. Daniel 10:13,) but lose the special presence of Jehovah himself.
4. The people heard… mourned The withdrawal of the divine presence seemed to them to be ominous of evil . Though God’s voice out of Sinai filled them with terror, (see Exodus 20:19,) and they could not endure the nearness of such excessive majesty, the thought that the Holy One is about to forsake them in wrath excites even deeper fear .
Ornaments See also in Exodus 33:5-2.33.6. The putting off of these was a sign of humiliation and penitence. In a time of sorrow and guilt the adornments of the person were strikingly out of place.
5. I will come up This passage is better translated conditionally: One moment let me come in thy midst, and I would consume thee . So terrible is the power of the presence of the Holy One . Hence the reason of what is said in Exodus 33:3 above, where see note .
Put off thy ornaments As a proof of true penitence.
7. Moses took the tabernacle What tabernacle? Surely not the tabernacle the pattern of which had been given him in the mount, (chap . 26,) for this had not yet been constructed. Nor is it satisfactory to assume, as some expositors have done, that this was an old tabernacle or tent, previously employed for purposes of worship, but not before mentioned. More reasonable than either of these suppositions is it to believe that the tent of Moses had hitherto been the central point of the Israelitish camp, and so, par excellence, the tent of Israel. In order now to institute a new and peculiar form of service and of approach unto God, and to carry on his intercession for Israel more conspicuously in the sight of the people, he removes this tent and places it without the camp, afar off from the camp, and because of its changed purpose calls it the Tabernacle (rather, the Tent) of the congregation. Thus would Moses make more conspicuous the lesson that the sin of the people had alienated them from Jehovah, and his presence must be sought unto as something afar off. This tent, furthermore, was now to serve as the place where the symbol of Jehovah’s presence might be seen until the proper tabernacle should be erected.
8-11. These verses show that this tent served a special purpose in the Sinaitic revelation of Jehovah . Into it Moses entered to plead and to receive divine communications, and there Jehovah spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend . The cloudy pillar was a medium of communication, for according to the most correct translation of Exodus 33:9 it was the pillar that descended and stood at the door of the tabernacle, and… talked with Moses. Jehovah spoke through, or out of, the cloud. The speaking with Moses face to face did not involve a sight of God’s face, for he explains in Exodus 33:20 that no man could see his face and live. So he communed with him from the cloud which veiled his glory. All the people were permitted to behold the cloudy pillar in the distance, but only Moses and Joshua entered the tent, and it is said that when Moses returned to camp Joshua tarried behind and departed not out of the tabernacle. The tent was not to be left altogether alone, and so it would seem that Moses’s servant stayed as on guard.
12. Thou sayest unto me Allusion to what Jehovah had said in Exodus 33:1 above .
Whom thou wilt send Jehovah had assured him of the presence of an Angel, (Exodus 32:34; Exodus 33:2,) but to Moses his nature and way are so wrapped in mystery that he cannot be satisfied without further revelation.
I know thee by name When Jehovah said this to Moses is not recorded, but in chapter iii he called him by his name Moses, and showed him great grace and honour.
12-23. In these verses we have the prevailing prayer, in view of which Jehovah’s wrath is turned away, and he again renews the covenant with Israel . The persistent intercession appears to have been carried on in the tent without the camp, and for this special purpose it had been pitched, as if in some measure to realize what was promised in Exodus 29:43.
13. Show me now thy way The way thou wilt lead us; the manner in which the guiding Angel will direct our ways, and drive out our enemies before us .
That I may know thee Notwithstanding all the communion face to face between Jehovah and Moses, (Exodus 33:11,) this leader of the chosen nation feels that he does not sufficiently know Jehovah . He prays for a fuller, clearer revelation of his nature and his glory .
This nation is thy people Jehovah had spoken to Moses of Israel as “the people which thou hast brought up out of the land of Egypt, (Exodus 33:1, comp . Exodus 32:7;) Moses now insists that Jehovah had called this nation as his own. Thus had he called them when he first appeared to Moses at the bush, and sent him unto Pharaoh. See Exodus 3:7.
14. My presence shall go Behold how Moses’s intercession prevails! In Exodus 33:3 the Lord had said, “I will not go up in the midst of thee;” but after the penitence of the people, and repeated seeking unto Jehovah in the tent of the congregation, and especially this earnest plea of Moses, the God of Israel is moved to compassion, and promises his presence . The shallow sceptic would fain see in such a representation a changeableness and weakness in the God of Israel unworthy the nature of deity . But the believer sees here an illustration of that wonderful condescension and mercy with which God compassionates the penitent sinner . The mode of illustration, in accord with all these earlier revelations, is anthropomorphic, but the lesson taught is the same as when, in Isaiah 54:7-23.54.8, Jehovah says: “For a small moment have I forsaken thee; but with great mercies will I gather thee . In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer.” Some writers have proposed an interrogative rendering for this verse: Shall my presence go, and shall I give them rest? But there appears no sufficient reason for this method of translation.
16. So shall we be separated That is, notably distinguished from all the people that are upon the face of the earth, in having the manifest presence of Jehovah among them . If this glorious presence was not to go with them and thus distinguish them from all other peoples, Moses prefers not to go up from Sinai . Here we notice, further, the persistency of Moses’s intercession, and in the next verse we observe how powerfully it prevails with God .
18. Show me thy glory Moses grows bolder with every new word of grace from Jehovah, and now, like Jacob at Peniel, (Genesis 32:29, note,) cries out for a revelation of the divine glory. He yearns for a disclosure of the God of Israel more full and glorious than had ever yet been made; something more wonderful than the burning bush, more personal than the devouring fire in the mountain, and more visible to sense than could be had through thick darkness or cloudy pillar .
19-23. Even this great request is in part granted, for these verses contain the promise that, so far as mortal man may be permitted to see the divine glory, Moses shall witness a most sublime theophany . As Jehovah willed to blot the sinful Israelite out of his book, (Exodus 32:33,) and for manifest reason, so he will show mercy on whom he will show mercy, namely, on Moses as an example, who by persistent prayer obtains the gracious favour of his Lord . See Whedon’s note on Romans 9:15. But here appears the statement that no man can behold Jehovah’s face and live . This profound truth underlies the entire divine revelation, and shows the necessity of the incarnation of the Word of God . “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him . ” In harmony with this great truth, Moses is promised a vision of the glory of Israel’s God . He will place him in a cleft of the rock when he again goes up into the mountain, and will pass by so as to exhibit, as it were, his back, but not his face . So shall he behold and hear what will infix forever in his soul the holiest conception of the name and nature of Jehovah. For the fulfilment of this promise, see Exodus 34:5-2.34.8.
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Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Exodus 33". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent