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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged
Exodus 33

 

 

Verse 1

And the LORD said unto Moses, Depart, and go up hence, thou and the people which thou hast brought up out of the land of Egypt, unto the land which I sware unto Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, Unto thy seed will I give it:

The Lord said - rather 'had' said unto Moses. The conference detailed in this chapter must be considered as having occurred prior to the pathetic intercession of Moses recorded at the close of the preceding chapter; and the historian, having mentioned the fact of his earnest and painful anxiety, under the overwhelming pressure of which he poured forth that intercessory prayer for his apostate countrymen, now enters on a detailed account of the circumstances.


Verse 2

And I will send an angel before thee; and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite:

I will send an Angel before thee. Yahweh here announces that He would employ some providential agency in accomplishing the promise made to their fathers; though, beyond a faithful fulfillment of His engagemets, He would henceforth take no special interest in the nation.


Verse 3

Unto a land flowing with milk and honey: for I will not go up in the midst of thee; for thou art a stiffnecked people: lest I consume thee in the way.

I will not go up in the midst of thee ... lest I consume thee in the way. Since their deep-rooted prepossessions for idolatry would certainly manifest themselves by some new breach of the covenant, the continued presence and favour of their Heavenly King would only aggravate their guilt, and lead to their speedy destruction. In consequence of their perverseness, therefore, He deemed it expedient and necessary to abandon the immediate superintendence; and thus even in His judgment He remembered mercy. Here the Lord is represented as determined to do what He afterward did not (see the note at Exodus 32:10).


Verse 4

And when the people heard these evil tidings, they mourned: and no man did put on him his ornaments.

When the people heard these evil tidings - from Moses on his descent from the mount. God, indeed, had promised (Exodus 33:14) that He would not inflict upon them the punishment either of national destruction or the threatened withdrawal of His symbolical presence. But that promise was made to Moses privately. It was necessary that the menace of so terrible a calamity should be publicly announced to the people, the more especially as their exemption from it was suspended on their exhibiting a humble and contrite spirit.


Verse 5

For the LORD had said unto Moses, Say unto the children of Israel, Ye are a stiffnecked people: I will come up into the midst of thee in a moment, and consume thee: therefore now put off thy ornaments from thee, that I may know what to do unto thee.

Put off thy ornaments. In seasons of mourning it is customary with Eastern people to lay aside all gewgaws, and divest themselves of their jewels, their gold, and everything rich and splendid in their dress. This token of their sorrow the Lord required of His offending people. [The Septuagint has, afelesthe tas stolas toon doxoon humoon kai ton kosmon, kai deixoo soi ha poieesoo soi, kai perieilanto ho huioi Israeel, ton kosmon autoon kai teen peristoleen apo tou orous tou Chooreeb-`Now therefore, put off your splendid robes and your ornaments, and I shall show you the things which I shall do to you. And the children of Israel put their ornaments and their upper dress by the mount Horeb.' The Septuagint translators inserted this reference to beautiful garments,' because it was a customary practice in seasons of sorrow, when they flourished.]

Though it seems to have been unknown to the early Israelites, it was an established usage in the times of the monarchy for the people, divesting themselves of any gay or elegant clothing, in deep humiliation, to assume sackcloth (cf. 1 Samuel 19:24; Isaiah 32:11; Micah 1:8, etc.); and it is common among Oriental mourners still to appear in dark-coloured clothes, or at least to lay aside whatever seems ornamental (Morier's 'Travels,' vol. 1:,

p. 178; Pitt's 'Pilgrimage to Mecca,' pp. 115, 116).

That I may know what to do unto thee. The language is accommodated to the feeble apprehensions of men. God judges the state of the heart by the tenor of the conduct. In the case of the Israelites He cherished a design of mercy; and the moment He discerned the first symptoms of contrition, by their stripping off their ornaments, as penitents conscious of their error, and sincerely sorrowful, this fact added its weight to the fervency of Moses' prayers, and gave them prevalence with God in behalf of the people.


Verse 6

And the children of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments by the mount Horeb.

No JFB commentary on this verse.


Verse 7

And Moses took the tabernacle, and pitched it without the camp, afar off from the camp, and called it the Tabernacle of the congregation. And it came to pass, that every one which sought the LORD went out unto the tabernacle of the congregation, which was without the camp.

Moses took the tabernacle - not the tabernacle of which a pattern had been given him, for it was not yet erected, but a simpler one-perhaps his own tent, conspicuous as that of the leader-in a part of which he heard causes and communed with God about the people's interests. Its appropriation for sacred purposes was highly expedient, or rather indispensably necessary, for it cannot be supposed that the people would be left without the means or opportunity of access to God for the space of a year.

In this provisional or interim tabernacle-where it will be observed no sacrifices were offered-Moses discharged his mediatory functions, consulting Yahweh on behalf of those who applied for divine counsel or tokens of divine favour, and receiving revelations of the divine will. Hence, it received the significant name of 'tabernacle of the congregation' (see the note at Exodus 27:21), which was retained even after the change of its position relative to Israel. Its existence among them was a great privilege, though probably little regarded by multitudes, as is the case with privileges generally whose value is not known, or at least duly appreciated, until they are in danger of being irrecoverably lost; and accordingly the withdrawal of this tabernacle in abhorrence from a polluted camp produced intense alarm, as it was regarded as the first step in the total abandonment with which God had threatened them.


Verse 8

And it came to pass, when Moses went out unto the tabernacle, that all the people rose up, and stood every man at his tent door, and looked after Moses, until he was gone into the tabernacle.

All the people rose up, and stood. Its removal produced deep and universal consternation; and it is easy to conceive how anxiously all eyes would be directed toward it; how rapidly the happy intelligence would spread, when a phenomenon was witnessed from which an encouraging hope could be founded.


Verses 9-11

And it came to pass, as Moses entered into the tabernacle, the cloudy pillar descended, and stood at the door of the tabernacle, and the LORD talked with Moses.

The cloudy pillar descended. How would the downcast hearts of the people revive-how would the tide of joy swell in every bosom, when the symbolic cloud was seen slowly and majestically to descend and stand at the entrance of the tabernacle!

As Moses entered into the tabernacle, this well-known symbol appeared-a visible token of the divine approval of what Moses did. It was when he appeared as their mediator-when he repaired from day to day to intercede for them-that welcome token of assurance was given that his advocacy prevailed, that Israel's sin was forgiven, and that God would again be gracious.

Verse 11. The Lord spake unto Moses face to face. Yahweh who thus spoke was the Revealing Angel-the Second Person in the Trinity; and therefore the fact stated in this passage is perfectly consistent with the declaration, "God is a Spirit, whom no man hath seen or can see" (1 Timothy 6:16; cf. John 1:18; 1 John 4:12). "Face to face " - i:e., freely, directly, not through the medium of an angel, or in visions and dreams as to the prophets (see the note at Numbers 12:8), or perhaps with a faint adumbration of human nature (see the note at Exodus 33:23; also at Exodus 24:10). Joshua, the son of Nun (see the note at Exodus 17:13-14; Exodus 24:13) [ uwmshaar


Verse 12

And Moses said unto the LORD, See, thou sayest unto me, Bring up this people: and thou hast not let me know whom thou wilt send with me. Yet thou hast said, I know thee by name, and thou hast also found grace in my sight.

Thou hast not let me know whom thou wilt send with me. Moses at this crisis found himself in difficult circumstances, being still invested with office as a divine legate; but, from the withdrawal of the cloudy pillar, at a loss how to proceed, he earnestly desired to be relieved from this state of painful uncertainty, by having a distinct assurance as to the rank or character of the guide under whose auspices he with his onerous charge was now placed-whether he was a created angel-which would have occasioned disappointment and sorrow; or whether He was the Angel Yahweh, who had hitherto conducted their journey-which would have inspired confidence and joy.

Thou hast said, I know thee by name - i:e., thy origin, history, character, and office, as one with whom I hold frequent communion, and in whom I take a great interest (cf. Exodus 32:32-33; Isaiah 43:1; Isaiah 49:1; Philippians 4:3). "Know" here is equivalent to approve and love (cf. Psalms 1:6; Matthew 7:23; 2 Timothy 2:19 with Jeremiah 1:5).

Thou hast also found grace in my sight - as evinced by the favourable attention given to his intercession already made.


Verse 13

Now therefore, I pray thee, if I have found grace in thy sight, shew me now thy way, that I may know thee, that I may find grace in thy sight: and consider that this nation is thy people.

Show me now thy way - i:e., the mode of thy intended procedure toward thy people; the way in which thou wilt fulfill thy promise, and the course by which, in subserviency to thy purposes, I am to conduct thy people to the promised land.

That I may know thee - i:e., be fully instructed as to thy mind and will, and have a comfortable assurance of my reconciliation and thy gracious presence with thy chosen people.


Verse 14

And he said, My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest.

My presence shall go with thee , [ paanay (Hebrew #6440), my face], i:e., personal presence, as the word signifies (Deuteronomy 4:37; 2 Samuel 17:11). Yahweh being now reconciled with the people, through the intercessions of Moses and their own sincere repentance, things are now restored to the state in which they were at the establishment of the covenant, and consequently the presence of the Lord, which is promised here to go with them, is the same as the angel whom He pledged Himself to Moses to "send before him" (Exodus 23:20-21 : cf. Isaiah 63:8-9).

And I will give thee rest - i:e., the permanent and happy possession of the promised land (cf. Deuteronomy 3:20). Thus Moses was assured of the complete restoration of the covenant; but in order to make assurance doubly sure, he continued:


Verses 15-17

And he said unto him, If thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence.

If thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence - i:e., I should infinitely rather spend a wandering life in the wilderness, in the enjoyment of thy presence and favour, than be settled in Canaan without it, God's own words are eagerly caught hold of, and His promise made the subject of a prayer, in the full and just persuasion that the Israelites could appear "a chosen generations, a peculiar people," in the eyes of contemporary nations and of future ages, only by unmistakeable evidences of the divine presence and favour accompanying them and prospering their way. Moses throughout this intercessory scene displayed the disinterested zeal of a patriotic leader, no less than the humble but earnest piety of an eminent saint, and the prayer of faith prevailed.


Verse 18

And he said, I beseech thee, shew me thy glory.

I beseech thee, show me thy glory. It is not easy to perceive the precise object of Moses in making this request, He had enjoyed repeated opportunities of beholding extraordinary displays of the divine glory-on the summit of Sinai (Exodus 19:1-25; Exodus 20:1-26), along with the whole people of Israel-on an elevated platform of that mountain, when admitted with Aaron and the 70 elders to the privilege of a special interview (Exodus 24:11) - at a subsequent period, when alone in communion with Yahweh during forty days and forty nights (Exodus 24:18). But he was not satisfied with what he had witnessed; each successive exhibition stimulated his desires for fuller discoveries of the divine nature [so the Septuagint understood it, for they render this clause: Emfanison moi seauton, show me Thyself]; and his condescending Lord, appearing to be won by his importunity, was pleased to grant a gracious answer to his prayer.

It was not, as some say, a vain curiosity and ambition to penetrate into things unknown, but the impulse of a pure, ardent devotion that prompted the desire of Moses. It appears, however, that Yahweh, while he granted one part of the request (Exodus 33:19), thought fit to deny another (Exodus 33:20). But that this manifestation of the divine glory must have been different from, as well as superior to, the former displays of it, is evident, both because Moses asked and the Lord granted it as a higher favour.

This is one of the most solemn and mysterious scenes described in the Bible. In the cloudy pillar above, and in the answers of the oracle within the tabernacle, Moses possessed unmistakeable tokens of the reality of the divine presence. Not satisfied with that faith which is "the evidence of things not seen," he longed for those full impressions which only a vision of the divine glory could impart, and which, though withheld from the people at large, he, as mediator of the covenant, might receive as a special privilege. Accordingly he had for his comfort and encouragement a splendid and full display of the Divine Majesty-not indeed in its unveiled effulgence, as he most probably desired, but as far as the weakness of fallen humanity would admit. The face, hand, back parts are figurative expressions in the Anthropomorphic style-as it is impossible to conceive of a spirit but through the medium of the senses.


Verse 19

And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy. I will make all my goodness pass before thee , [ Tuwb (Hebrew #2898) signifies often, when applied to God, His benignity (Psalms 25:7; Psalms 145:7; Isaiah 63:7); but here, where it is spoken of in answer to Moses' request (Exodus 33:18), it is used as synonymous with "glory;" and thus there was a distinct promise that the request would be granted-with this limitation, however, that the revelation would not be a permanent display of the essential glory of God, on which his eyes might gaze, but only a sudden and transitory vision.]

And I will proclaim the name of the Lord , [ w


Verse 20

And he said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live.

Thou canst not see my face - i:e., the real unveiled effulgence of the divine glory.

For there shall no man see me, and live - a traditional belief obtained through all pagan antiquity, that the appearance of God, or a divine being, to any one, would be followed by the speedy death of that person. But this belief, which among the pagan was the mere effect of superstitious fear, became a settled opinion, common sentiment founded on a deep feeling of unworthiness to appear before God, among the pious in the ancient Church.

Numerous instances of this persuasion occur in the Old Testament history (Genesis 16:13; Genesis 32:30; Jdg. 6:22; 13:26; Isaiah 6:5 ); and in this passage the Divine Being Himself confirms the fact that a full disclosure of the divine glory is incompatible with the present condition of humanity, and can be exhibited only to the organs of the spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15:44 : cf. 2 Corinthians 12:2-5).


Verse 21

And the LORD said, Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock:

No JFB commentary on this verse.


Verse 22

And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by:

I will put thee in a clift of the rock - namely, on Sinai, whither Moses was again called up (Exodus 34:2). In the chapel on Jebel M-sa dedicated to Elijah, the monks show a niche or hole, just large enough for a man's body, where they say Moses stood on this occasion, and in which Elijah dwelt long after. But there is, no certainty in their traditions (see Robinson's 'Biblical Researches,' vol. 1:, p. 152; Lepsius' 'Letters,' p. 559; Hengstenberg's 'Pentateuch,' vol. 2:, p. 129).

And will cover thee with my hand while I pass by. This would be necessary to protect Moses from the consequences of his own gratified desire, lest, had his eyes seen Yahweh passing by, he should have been overwhelmed with astonishment, and perished in the blaze of God's glory.


Verse 23

And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen.

Thou shalt see my back parts. Since a man whose back only is seen, and not his face, can be but imperfectly known, so God can be but indistinctly and partially discerned in the present state from His works in nature and providence, and from His Word, by material similitudes and analogies (1 Corinthians 13:12). That, however, is no more than shadowy reflection of His glory; and to whatever height of purity a believer may rise after he has become 'a partaker of the divine nature' (2 Peter 1:4), the holiest and most advanced saint in this mortal state must be content with a sight of the "back parts," 'but the face of Yahweh' shall not be seen.'

 


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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Exodus 33:4". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfu/exodus-33.html. 1871-8.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, June 3rd, 2020
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
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