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Bible Commentaries

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical
Exodus 33

 

 

Verses 1-23

SECOND SECTION

Stricter Separation between Jehovah and the People. Removal of Moses’ Tent—the Provisional Tabernacle—out of the Camp. The Gracious Token

Exodus 33:1-23

A.—appointment of an angel to be israel’s leader, instead of jehovah’s immediate guidance

Exodus 33:1-6

1And Jehovah said unto Moses, Depart and go up [Away, go up] hence, thou and the people which thou hast brought up out of the land of Egypt, unto the land which [of which] I sware unto Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, Unto thy seed will I give it: 2And 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: 3Unto a land flowing with milk and honey: for I will not go up in the midst of thee; for thou art a stiff-necked people: lest I consume thee in the way 4 And when the people heard these evil tidings, they mourned, and no man did put 5 on him his ornaments. For Jehovah had said [And Jehovah said] unto Moses, Say unto the children of Israel, Ye are a stiff-necked people: I will come up into the midst of thee in a moment, and consume thee [were I to go up in the midst of thee one moment, I should consume thee]: therefore now pu off thy ornaments from thee, that I may know what to do unto thee 6 And the children of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments, by the mount Horeb [from Mount Horeb onward].

b.—removal of moses’ tent, as a sort of traditional tabernacle, before the camp. The theocratic disciplinary chastisement

Exodus 33:7-11

7And Moses took the tabernacle [tent], and pitched it without the camp, afar off from the camp, and called it the Tabernacle of the congregation [tent of meeting]. And it came to pass, that every one which [who] sought Jehovah went out unto the tabernacle of the congregation [tent of meeting], which was without the camp 8 And it came to pass, when Moses went out unto the tabernacle [tent], that all the people rose up, and stood every man at his tent door, and looked after Moses, untilhe was gone into the tabernacle [tent]. 9And it came to pass, as Moses entered into the tabernacle [tent], the cloudy pillar [pillar of cloud] descended, and stood at the door of the tabernacle [tent], and Jehovah talked with Moses 10 And all the people saw the cloudy pillar [pillar of cloud] stand [standing] at the tabernacle door [door of the tent]: and all the people rose up and worshipped, every man in [at] his tent 11 door. And Jehovah spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend. And he turned again into the camp: but his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young Prayer of Manasseh, departed not out of the tabernacle [tent].[FN1]

C—jehovah’s determination modified in consequence of moses’ intercession. the people have a share in the grace shown to moses

Exodus 33:12-23

12And Moses said unto Jehovah, See, thou sayest unto me, Bring up this people: and thou hast not let me know whom [him whom] thou wilt send with me. Yet thou hast said, I know thee by name, and thou hast also found grace in my sight. Now, therefore, I pray thee, if 13Now therefore, if indeed] I have found grace in thy sight, show me now [I pray thee] thy way, that I may know thee, that I may find grace in thy sight: and consider that this nation is thy people 14 And he said, My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest 15 And he said unto him, If thy presence go not with me, carry [take] us not up hence 16 For wherein shall it be known here [whereby now shall it be known] that I and thy people have found grace in thy sight? is it not in that thou goest with us? so shall we be [with us, and that we shall be] separated, I and thy people, from all the people that are upon 17 the face of the earth? And Jehovah said unto Moses, I will do this thing also that thou hast spoken: for thou hast found grace in my sight, and I know thee by name 18 And he said, I beseech thee, shew me [said, Shew me, I pray thee] thy glory 19 And he said, I will make all my goodness [excellence] pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of Jehovah before thee: and will [I will] be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy 20 And he said, Thou canst not see my face, for there shallnoman [forman shall not] see me, and live 21 And Jehovah said, Behold there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a [the] rock: 22And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a cleft of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by: 23And I will take away mine [my] hand, and thou shalt see my back parts [back]: but my face shall not be seen.

TEXTUAL AND GRAMMATICAL

[ Exodus 33:7-11. We have left the A. V. substantially unchanged out of deference to the uniform translation of the versions and commentators. But the fact ought to be noticed that the verbs in this section are Future verbs throughout. This fact has an important bearing on the exegesis of the passage.

There are three opinions about this tent: (1) That it is Moses’ own tent. (2) That it is some old sacred tent used provisionally as a sanctuary. (3) That it is the real tabernacle, but that the passage is out of place. The latter hypothesis, of course, should be adopted only as a last resort. Against both the others it is to be said: (a) The phrase “the tent” is not easily to be accounted for. If it was Moses’ tent, why not אָהֳלוֹ, “his tent?” If another, nowhere else hinted at, why so indefinite a designation of it? As Rosenmüller pertinently observes, it cannot well be Moses’ own tent, since he is represented as going into it only for the special purpose of communing with God. (b) Even on either of these two hypotheses there is an interruption in the narrative as real, if not as strange, as on the theory that we have here an account of what was done with the real tabernacle before it was built. Exodus 33:12 is clearly a resumption of Exodus 33:3—Moses’ intercession with Jehovah. That Exodus 33:7-11 should here intervene, not by way of an announcement on Jehovah’s part of His purpose, but as a historical account of the ordinary subsequent fact, is extremely unnatural, especially as at the close of it, the same tone of entreaty and personal intercourse is resumed. (c) It seems improbable that anything but the real Tent of meeting should have been called such before the real one was built. (d) The fact that the verbs in this section are future furnishes a natural solution of the whole difficulty. So far as I have observed, no one has noticed this fact at all except Knobel and Böttcher (Lehrbuch der Heb. Sprache, II, p162). Knobel simply refers to the case in Exodus 15:5 as a parallel. But there, he says correctly, the future is used as a graphic form for the Present. This is an explanation not satisfactory here, where there is no poetry, and where the very uniformity and frequency of the Future verbs are sufficient to overthrow any such theory. Böttcher more plausibly classes this among the instances in which customary past actions are described by the use of the Future. But even on this assumption we get no relief from the various perplexities above described.

Now by simply translating the Futures as Futures we at once see light. We thus make it a continuation of Exodus 33:5 ( Exodus 33:6 being parenthetical). The reasons for so translating are simple and cogent: (1) It is the most natural and obvious way to render the verbs. The burden of proof rests with those who render them otherwise. (2) It relieves us of the necessity of supposing that the section is out of place. (3) It relieves us of the necessity of drawing on our imagination for “the tent” so mysteriously introduced. It is neither “his (Moses’) tent,” nor some unheard-of old tent with sacred associations, but simply “the tent” which has been so minutely described and which is soon to be built. (4) The section thus translated is in excellent ha mony with the context. In Exodus 33:5 God says to the people, “Put off thy ornaments from thee, that I may know what to do unto thee.” What follows in Exodus 33:7-11 is a description of what God will do unto them. It contains a general direction concerning the way in which God is to lead the people. This is the question considered in Exodus 32:34 to Exodus 33:3. In what now follows ( Exodus 33:12 sqq.) the same theme is still discussed. Moses’ language, “See, thou sayest unto me, Bring up this people,” obviously points back to Exodus 33:1-3. What intervenes is only an expansion of the statement of Exodus 33:3, “I will not go up in the midst of thee.” The antithesis is between going in the midst of, and going far off from. According to Exodus 33:7 the tent was to be pitched “afar off from the camp;” there Jehovah might be sought and found: and there ( Exodus 33:9) Jehovah talked with Moses. We thus see that the angel spoken of in Exodus 32:34 and Exodus 33:2 is not set over against Jehovah as a substitute for Him: the angel himself is not to go “in the midst of,” but “before” the people.

It remains to notice some objections: (1) Joshua was to remain in the tent, whereas, according to Numbers 3:10; Numbers 3:38; Numbers 18:7, only the priests besides Moses could enter it.—But to this it may be replied that, if Joshua, as Moses, confidential servant, could go with him to the mountain top when the law was to be given, he might accompany him into the sanctuary; and this fact would need no special mention in the passages just referred to.—(2) The object of this tent seems to be different from that of the sanctuary; no mention is made of Aaron and the sacrifices, but only of Moses and the people going to it to meet with God.—But this is all that it is necessary or proper to mention in this connection. And the same thing is also said of the real Tent of meeting; e. g., Exodus 25:22, “There [by the mercy-seat] I will meet, with thee [Moses”]; Exodus 29:43, “And there [at the tabernacle] I will meet with the children of Israel.”—(3) These verses do not seem to be the language of Jehovah, being immediately preceded by the historical statement ( Exodus 33:6), “the children of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments.”—This difficulty is easily removed by regarding Exodus 33:6 as parenthetical, thus making Exodus 33:7 sqq. a continuation of the directions begun in Exodus 33:5. Examples of such a construction, in which a historical statement immediately connected with the topic treated of is interpolated in the midst of language quoted from another, are abundant. An exact parallel is found in Exodus 4:4-5, “And the Lord said unto Moses, Put forth thine hand, and take it by the tail. (And he put forth his hand, and caught it, and it became a rod in his hand:) That they may believe that the Lord hath..… appeared unto thee.” Precisely Song of Solomon, Exodus 4:7-8; Matthew 9:6; Mark 2:10; Luke 5:24. In the passage before us the statement of Exodus 33:6 is naturally introduced in immediate connection with the corresponding command of Exodus 33:5.—(4) The preceding objection seems to be strengthened by the consideration, that if Exodus 33:7-11 are the words of Jehovah it is unnatural that both Jehovah and Moses should be spoken of here in the third person.—But such changes of person are too numerous in Hebrew to occasion any serious perplexity. In Exodus 33:5 itself we have an instance of a looseness of this sort. We read: “Jehovah said unto Moses, Say unto the children of Israel, Ye are a stiff-necked people: were I [i. e., Moses is to say to the people, ‘were I’] to go up in the midst of thee,” etc. The prophetical writings are full of similar instances of interchange of persons. In Exodus 34, as frequently elsewhere, we have also instances of Jehovah speaking of Himself in the third person, vid. Exodus 33:10; Exodus 33:14, Exodus 33:23.—(5). The real tabernacle was not in fact set up at a distance from the camp, but in the centre of it, according to Numbers 2:2 sqq. But if we assume, as we must, that the sternness of Jehovah’s regulations was relaxed in consequence of Moses’ importunate petition in Exodus 33:12 sqq, there is no difficulty in the case.—Tr.]

EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL

This is one of the most mysterious chapters in all the three books of the covenant. It characterizes the Mosaic Middle Ages in the Old Testament as essentially a theocratic conflict of the pure law with the guilt incurred by the people through their idolatry. The people are pardoned; but their pardon is hierarchically conditioned. The first limitation consists in the fact that Jehovah will not go in the midst of the people to Canaan, because in that case they would expose themselves to condemnation through their transgressions; but that He will go before them by sending, or in the form of, an angel. The second limitation consists in the fact that Moses removes the provisional tabernacle out of the camp, by which act even the camp of the people of God, as being a place needing purification, is distinguished from the sanctuary. The third limitation consists in the fact that Moses himself, needing on account of his vocation a more distinct Revelation, is to behold, in the angel, the face of Jehovah—the gracious form in which Jehovah reveals Himself; yet only in such a way that he is to see the glory of Jehovah in this apocalyptic form not in a front view, as the face of the face, but from behind, i.e., in the after-splendor of the sudden phenomenal effects produced by Jehovah, and rapidly passing by the prophet’s covered eyes. The first of these limitations marks the veiled revelation; the second, the increased difficulty of holding communion with God; the third, the fact that the knowledge of sacred things is removed from the sphere of intuition,—is to be not so much an original perception as a matter of practical experience.—In his hunt for contradictions Knobel imagines that he has discovered several contradictions in this chapter.—“According to the Elohist,” he says, “Jehovah was going to dwell in the midst of Israel in the tabernacle; otherwise this account.” According to the Elohist, he says again, the tabernacle was made from contributions; whereas here the ornaments delivered up were used in building the tabernacle (!). Here, then, the real tabernacle is implied to be in existence before the time when it was afterwards built. According to the Elohist only the priests, besides Moses, could enter the tabernacle; here Joshua is represented as dwelling in it, etc.

a. Appointment of the Angel. Exodus 33:1-6

Exodus 33:1. Away, go up.—Since the tables of the law were broken, and the tabernacle was not yet built (for the erection of it presupposed the existence of the new tables), the pardon of the people appears again in this command as a very limited one. God still says, “Thou and the people which thou hast brought up out of the land of Egypt,” etc. (as in Exodus 32:7). And because Jehovah is still determined to keep His word and to give the land of Canaan to Abraham’s seed, He will also help them to conquer it. He will send an angel of terror before the marching host to drive out the Canaanites, so that they shall come into the land that flows with milk and honey (vid. iii8). But it is not said that this angel is to be the angel of Jehovah in the most special sense of that term, the angel of His presence, or of the covenant (the one in whom Jehovah’s name Isaiah, according to Exodus 23:21); for the revelation of God has veiled itself again. The people obtain primarily only life, the advantage over the Canaanites, and the promise of the land of Canaan “flowing with milk and honey,” to shame them for their ingratitude. On the other hand Jehovah declares, “I will not go up in the midst of thee,” etc. This, too, like the promise of the angel, is an obscure utterance. At all events, it implies the temporary suspension of legislation and of the building of the tabernacle. But after the people repent, the form of the angel becomes richer in significance, and access to the tabernacle is refused to the people only as a common matter. The reason assigned Isaiah, that the people in their stiff-neckedness cannot endure the immediate presence of Jehovah without incurring a sentence of destruction through their continual transgressions. This announcement of the obscuration of revelation—of the curtailment of the promise—falls on the people as a heavy infliction. Therein is recognized Israel’s religious temperament, as also in the first symbolic expression of the common repentance of the people, Exodus 33:4. How many heathen nations would have rejoiced, if God had declared that He would not dwell in the midst of them! This recognition of the fact that the people are in mourning and do not put on their ornaments as at other times, is not followed (in Exodus 33:5), as Keil conceives, by another threat from Jehovah. It is nearly the same language as that in Exodus 33:3, but yet is now used to give comfort. It would be the destruction of them, if He should go with them in the fullness of His revealed glory, in full fellowship, because this is simply beyond their capacity, because they are born and grown up as a stiff-necked people. Here is found a key to the understanding of the Catholic Middle Ages, and of the parables of our Lord in Matthew 13. How many a pietistic Christian, in consequence of an excess of religious fellowship and edification, in connection with a coarse nature, has fallen !—Nevertheless Jehovah gives them hope by turning into a precept their repentant act of laying off their ornaments. So then the children of Israel strip themselves of their ornaments. We translate the words מֵהַר חוֹרֵב, “on account of mount Horeb,” i. e., on account of the guilt here contracted, and of the divine punishment denounced from Horeb.[FN2] Horeb rests on them now as a burden. As to the explanation, “from mount Horeb onwards,” one cannot but ask, what is the terminus ad quem? The terminus a quo also would be open to misunderstanding. “They put on none of their rings, bracelets, jewels, or other ornaments, as was done on festive occasions, but went about as mourners. During the time of mourning it was customary to avoid all pomp, and not to deck one’s self again till it was over ( Ezekiel 24:17; Ezekiel 26:16; Judith 10:3 sq.)” (Knobel).

b. Removal of the Tent of Revelation, or Central Text, as a sort of Traditional Tabernacle, before the Camp. The Theocratic Chastisement. Exodus 33:7-11

The people are not restored to full communion with God; but in the person of Moses this is reserved even for the people. Hence the new, provisional order of things. Moses removes his tent outside of the camp. Emphasis is laid on the fact that it was set up far from the camp, and also, that it was called by Moses the tent of meeting, showing that it was not the tabernacle itself which had been before prescribed. The same is also shown by the fact that Joshua remains permanently in this tent to keep guard, and that Moses keeps up the connection between the camp and the tent by remaining a part of the time in the camp, doubtless to maintain order, and a part of the time in the tent of meeting with Jehovah, to receive His revelations and commands.[FN3] Thus Moses has secured a new stand point designed to bring the penitent people to a renewed life. The people must go out to him outside of the camp ( Hebrews 13:13), and there seek Jehovah. The effect of this is shown, first, in the fact that individuals among the people go out in order to seek and consult Jehovah at the tent of meeting ( Exodus 33:7); next, in the expression of reverence with which all the people accompanied Moses’ going to the tent ( Exodus 33:8); but especially in the fact that all the people cast themselves on their faces, when the mysterious pillar of cloud appeared before the tent, i. e., where at a later time the altar of burnt-offering stood, and beyond the cloud Jehovah talked with Moses face to face, i. e., in the perfect intercourse of God with the friend of God, not in the full revelation of His glory (vid. Exodus 33:19). Thus the people are consecrated in preparation for the restoration of the covenant, vid. Numbers 12:8; Deuteronomy 5:4. Knobel finds here again a contradiction. He says, “Reference is made not to Moses’ tent (LXX, Syr, Jarchi, Aben Ezra, Piscator, Baumgarten), or to another sanctuary used before the completion of the tabernacle (Clericus, J. D. Michaelis, Vatablus, Rosenmüller), but the tabernacle,” etc. That the camp must from the first have had a central tent, religious head-quarters, is in this chase after contradictions never dreamed of.[FN4] A strange assumption it Isaiah, too, that the people delivered up their ornaments to Moses to build the tabernacle with.

c. Modification of Jehovah’s Determination in consequence of Moses’ Intercession. Exodus 33:12-23

Moses’ humble request that Jehovah would express Himself more definitely respecting the promise of angelic guidance is founded partly on the progress of repentance manifested by his people, but partly and especially on the assurance of tavor which he had personally received. As before he would not hear to a destruction of the people in which he should not be involved, so now he cannot conceive that he has found grace in Jehovah’s eyes for himself alone; rather, in this personal favor he finds a reference to his people—a hopeful prospect which he must become acquainted with. But he at once draws the inference that Jehovah must again recognize as His people those whom He has before called thy (Moses’) people [ Exodus 32:7]. If I am Thine, let the people be Thine also—this is again the sacerdotal, mediatorial thought. Here [ Exodus 33:13] is to be noticed the difference between גּוֹי [“nation”] and עָם [“people”]. The former term, derived from גָּוָה, denotes a feature of nature, in which is involved the contrast of mountain and valley; the latter, derived from עָמַם, denotes a commonwealth ethically gathered and bound together. In reply to this petition Moses receives the declaration, “My presence [lit. face] shall go.” The indefinite angel ( Exodus 33:2), therefore, now becomes the face of Jehovah, i. e., at least, the angel by whom He reveals Himself, the one often manifested in Genesis and afterwards (angel of God, angel of Jehovah, an angel, Jehovah’s face, vid. Comm. on Genesis, p386 sqq.); for which reason Isaiah combines both notions and speaks of the angel of His face [ “presence” A. V.] in Isaiah 63:9. In Malachi 3:1 occurs the expression, “angel [A.V. “messenger”] of the covenant.” Moreover God here no longer says, “He shall go before thee,” but “he shall go,” go out and give thee rest. Here, then, the discourse is about something more than milk and honey. But the form of revelation is still obscure, and the promise is connected with the person of Moses, though now the people are at the same time included. But Moses is consistent with himself, and firmly seizing hold of Jehovah’s promise, he again at once gives it a turn in favor of the people. He takes it for granted that, with him, the people also have found grace with Jehovah; thereon he founds the entreaty that this may not remain concealed, that Jehovah may make it manifest by distinguishing him and his people, in His guidance of them, from all other nations on earth. To this also Jehovah assents, but explains that He does it for Moses’ sake. But Moses in his prayer grows bolder and bolder, and now prays, “Let me see thy glory!” Heretofore all of Moses’ requests have had almost more reference to the good of the people than to his own. We must therefore conjecture that there is such a reference here. But it is entirely excluded by Keil, when he says, “What Moses desires, then, is to behold the glory, i.e., the glorious essence of God.” But the two notions, glory and glorious essence, must not be confounded. The glory (כָּבוֹד δόξα is the apocalyptic splendor of the divine essence, and is to be distinguished from this essence itself; it is the revelation of God in the totality of His attributes, such as that of which a dim vision terrified Isaiah ( Isaiah 6), and such as was manifested in its main features in Christ ( John 1:14). According to Keil, Moses desires a view such as cannot be realized except in the other world; but there is nothing about that here. Yet it is true that the revelation of Jehovah in His glory is fulfilled in the N. T. in Christ. And Moses unconsciously aims at this very thing, and as much in behalf of his people as of himself. For only in the fulfilment of the promises can Jehovah’s glory be revealed. This seems indeed to be contradicted by Jehovah’s declaration, “Thou canst not see my face, for man shall not see me, and live” But we are to infer from this that the notion of the perfect revelation of God’s glory in the future life, of the great Epiphany, is to be sharply distinguished from the revelation of the glory in its original form. This distinction, nevertheless, belonged to a later time than that of Moses. But this original form of the glory, the grace revealed in the N. T, which is what Moses must have had chiefly in mind, he was to behold at least in a figure. So then his petition is granted according to the measure of his capacity, while at the same time he is made to understand that God’s glory in its perfect revelation transcends his petition and comprehension.—And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee (should we render “beauty” instead of “goodness?” The Greek includes the good in his notion of the beautiful; the Hebrew, the beautiful in the good—but not first or chiefly the beautiful[FN5]). Accordingly He will expound to him Jehovah’s name, whose most essential significance is eternal fidelity in His eternal grace—a second promise, whose fulfilment is related in Exodus 34:5 sqq. When now Jehovah further says, “Thou canst not see my face,” reference is made to His face in the highest sense, as also to His glory, which means the same thing, or even to the visibility of God Himself.—“For man shall not see me, and live” That here there is an occult intimation of existence in another world, should not be overlooked. A glory which no one in this life sees, or a view which can be attained only by losing this life, certainly could not be spoken of, if it were not man’s goal in the future life to attain it. Preparation is now made for the vision which Jehovah is going to vouchsafe to Moses. Moses is to stand in a cavity of a rock. Jehovah’s glory is to pass by. But while it is coming and passing by, Jehovah is to hold His hand over his eyes until His glory has passed by, lest he be overcome by the sight, and perish. But then he may look after the glory that has passed, and see it on the back side in the lingering splendor of its effects, i. e., see all the goodness of Jehovah, the eternity of His grace. Who, moreover, could see Him in His frightfully glorious appearance and dominion without being crushed and snatched away from earth ! When Christ, uttering the words, “It is finished,” saw the full glory of God on His cross, He bowed His head and died. Over His eyes, too, was gently placed the hand of Omnipotence, as He cried out, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” So the hand of Omnipotence covers the eye of the pious man with fear and terror, with sleep and faintness, with night and darkness, whilst the heavenly day of God’s glory passes over the world’s stage in His light and in His judgments; afterwards faith discerns that everything was goodness and grace.

On the realization of the vision, which took place after Moses ascended the mountain, vid., chap34. Probably Moses saw beforehand in images the glorious meaning of Jehovah’s proclamation. Of Jehovah’s grace in its manifestation nothing more can be said than that Moses himself saw only the after-gleam of the mysterious revelation; yet it was the after-gleam of the glory. But it is a wonderfully grand and beautiful fact, that Moses the law-giver, and Elijah the zealot for the law, both received in a cave in frightful Sinai the vision of the fulness of goodness and grace, the vision of the gentle rustling [FN6]—the vision of the Gospel. Is this the same Sinai which has been so often pictured by mediæval doctors and ascetics? “How He loved the people, with His fiery law in His hand,” we read in Deuteronomy 33:3.[FN7]

Exodus 33:12. Thou hast said, I know thee by name.—Not every word of Jehovah to Moses needs to have been reported beforehand. According to Knobel, interpreting as usual with a literalness amounting to caricature, this means, “Thou art my near and intimate acquaintance.” The name is in God’s mind the idea of the being, and accordingly this declaration of Jehovah’s expresses a very special, personal election of Moses. But Moses knows also, according to Exodus 33:13, that his election and the grace shown to him involve a determination to promote the good of his people.

Exodus 33:15. He will be led to Canaan only under the direction of the gracious countenance, or not at all. Better to die in the wilderness than to reach his goal without that guidance.

Exodus 33:18. On the climax in reference to the seeing of Jehovah comp. Keil, II. p236; but observe the distinction between God’s glory and His essence, as also between the primary vision of His glory in the New Testament and the vision of His glory in the other world.

Exodus 33:19. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious [Lange: I have been gracious, or I am gracious to whom I shall be gracious]. The LXX. invert the order of time; “I will be gracious to whom I am gracious” The Vulg. led to Luther’s translation [Wem ich gnädig bin, dem bin ich gnädig—“I am gracious to him to whom I am gracious”] by rendering, “miserebor cui voluero.” Paul, in Romans 9:15, follows the LXX. At all events the text, taken literally, does not involve an expression of absolute freedom of choice, still less of caprice. It distinguishes two periods of time, and thus becomes an interpretation of the name Jehovah, which comprehends the three periods of time. Accordingly the Hebrew expression affirms: “My grace is in such a sense consistent and persistent that, wherever I show it, it is based on profound reasons belonging to the past.” The expression in the LXX. implies essentially the same: “As I am gracious to one to-day, so will I show myself gracious to him continually.” Luther’s translation restores the distinction between grace and compassion, which the Vulgate has obliterated.[FN8] Concerning the cave on Sinai, as well as the smaller one situated lower down, in which Moses, according to tradition, and Elijah, according to conjecture, stood, vid. Keil, II. p239. [FN9]

Footnotes:

FN#1 - Exodus 33:7-11. We have left the A. V. substantially unchanged out of deference to the uniform translation of the versions and commentators. But the fact ought to be noticed that the verbs in this section are Future verbs throughout. This fact has an important bearing on the exegesis of the passage.

There are three opinions about this tent: (1) That it is Moses’ own tent. (2) That it is some old sacred tent used provisionally as a sanctuary. (3) That it is the real tabernacle, but that the passage is out of place. The latter hypothesis, of course, should be adopted only as a last resort. Against both the others it is to be said: (a) The phrase “the tent” is not easily to be accounted for. If it was Moses’ tent, why not אָהֳלוֹ, “his tent?” If another, nowhere else hinted at, why so indefinite a designation of it? As Rosenmüller pertinently observes, it cannot well be Moses’ own tent, since he is represented as going into it only for the special purpose of communing with God. (b) Even on either of these two hypotheses there is an interruption in the narrative as real, if not as strange, as on the theory that we have here an account of what was done with the real tabernacle before it was built. Exodus 33:12 is clearly a resumption of Exodus 33:3—Moses’ intercession with Jehovah. That Exodus 33:7-11 should here intervene, not by way of an announcement on Jehovah’s part of His purpose, but as a historical account of the ordinary subsequent fact, is extremely unnatural, especially as at the close of it, the same tone of entreaty and personal intercourse is resumed. (c) It seems improbable that anything but the real Tent of meeting should have been called such before the real one was built. (d) The fact that the verbs in this section are future furnishes a natural solution of the whole difficulty. So far as I have observed, no one has noticed this fact at all except Knobel and Böttcher (Lehrbuch der Heb. Sprache, II, p162). Knobel simply refers to the case in Exodus 15:5 as a parallel. But there, he says correctly, the future is used as a graphic form for the Present. This is an explanation not satisfactory here, where there is no poetry, and where the very uniformity and frequency of the Future verbs are sufficient to overthrow any such theory. Böttcher more plausibly classes this among the instances in which customary past actions are described by the use of the Future. But even on this assumption we get no relief from the various perplexities above described.

Now by simply translating the Futures as Futures we at once see light. We thus make it a continuation of Exodus 33:5 ( Exodus 33:6 being parenthetical). The reasons for so translating are simple and cogent: (1) It is the most natural and obvious way to render the verbs. The burden of proof rests with those who render them otherwise. (2) It relieves us of the necessity of supposing that the section is out of place. (3) It relieves us of the necessity of drawing on our imagination for “the tent” so mysteriously introduced. It is neither “his (Moses’) tent,” nor some unheard-of old tent with sacred associations, but simply “the tent” which has been so minutely described and which is soon to be built. (4) The section thus translated is in excellent ha mony with the context. In Exodus 33:5 God says to the people, “Put off thy ornaments from thee, that I may know what to do unto thee.” What follows in Exodus 33:7-11 is a description of what God will do unto them. It contains a general direction concerning the way in which God is to lead the people. This is the question considered in Exodus 32:34 to Exodus 33:3. In what now follows ( Exodus 33:12 sqq.) the same theme is still discussed. Moses’ language, “See, thou sayest unto me, Bring up this people,” obviously points back to Exodus 33:1-3. What intervenes is only an expansion of the statement of Exodus 33:3, “I will not go up in the midst of thee.” The antithesis is between going in the midst of, and going far off from. According to Exodus 33:7 the tent was to be pitched “afar off from the camp;” there Jehovah might be sought and found: and there ( Exodus 33:9) Jehovah talked with Moses. We thus see that the angel spoken of in Exodus 32:34 and Exodus 33:2 is not set over against Jehovah as a substitute for Him: the angel himself is not to go “in the midst of,” but “before” the people.

It remains to notice some objections: (1) Joshua was to remain in the tent, whereas, according to Numbers 3:10; Numbers 3:38; Numbers 18:7, only the priests besides Moses could enter it.—But to this it may be replied that, if Joshua, as Moses, confidential servant, could go with him to the mountain top when the law was to be given, he might accompany him into the sanctuary; and this fact would need no special mention in the passages just referred to.—(2) The object of this tent seems to be different from that of the sanctuary; no mention is made of Aaron and the sacrifices, but only of Moses and the people going to it to meet with God.—But this is all that it is necessary or proper to mention in this connection. And the same thing is also said of the real Tent of meeting; e. g., Exodus 25:22, “There [by the mercy-seat] I will meet, with thee [Moses”]; Exodus 29:43, “And there [at the tabernacle] I will meet with the children of Israel.”—(3) These verses do not seem to be the language of Jehovah, being immediately preceded by the historical statement ( Exodus 33:6), “the children of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments.”—This difficulty is easily removed by regarding Exodus 33:6 as parenthetical, thus making Exodus 33:7 sqq. a continuation of the directions begun in Exodus 33:5. Examples of such a construction, in which a historical statement immediately connected with the topic treated of is interpolated in the midst of language quoted from another, are abundant. An exact parallel is found in Exodus 4:4-5, “And the Lord said unto Moses, Put forth thine hand, and take it by the tail. (And he put forth his hand, and caught it, and it became a rod in his hand:) That they may believe that the Lord hath..… appeared unto thee.” Precisely Song of Solomon, Exodus 4:7-8; Matthew 9:6; Mark 2:10; Luke 5:24. In the passage before us the statement of Exodus 33:6 is naturally introduced in immediate connection with the corresponding command of Exodus 33:5.—(4) The preceding objection seems to be strengthened by the consideration, that if Exodus 33:7-11 are the words of Jehovah it is unnatural that both Jehovah and Moses should be spoken of here in the third person.—But such changes of person are too numerous in Hebrew to occasion any serious perplexity. In Exodus 33:5 itself we have an instance of a looseness of this sort. We read: “Jehovah said unto Moses, Say unto the children of Israel, Ye are a stiff-necked people: were I [i. e., Moses is to say to the people, ‘were I’] to go up in the midst of thee,” etc. The prophetical writings are full of similar instances of interchange of persons. In Exodus 34, as frequently elsewhere, we have also instances of Jehovah speaking of Himself in the third person, vid. Exodus 33:10; Exodus 33:14; Exodus 33:23.—(5). The real tabernacle was not in fact set up at a distance from the camp, but in the centre of it, according to Numbers 2:2 sqq. But if we assume, as we must, that the sternness of Jehovah’s regulations was relaxed in consequence of Moses’ importunate petition in Exodus 33:12 sqq, there is no difficulty in the case.—Tr.]

FN#2 - This seems to be an original interpretation of the phrase. Some understand it to moan: “returning from Horeb to their camp;” others (with A. V.): “by Mount Horeb;” but the most: “from Mount Horeb onwards,” i. e., the people from this time on refrained from using them. To say, “from Mount Horeb,” is certainly a very enigmatical way of saying “on account of the sin committed at Mt. Horeb.”—Tr.]

FN#3 - But where did he sleep and eat? Where was his proper abiding-place, if his own tent could be used only when he needed special revelations?—Tr.]

FN#4 - On this point vid. under “Textual and Grammatical.”—Tr.]

FN#5 - טוּב is used unquestionably in both senses; but as our word “goodness” has a limited sense, we have substituted “excellence” in the translation, as comprehending both the notion of moral goodness and that of majesty.—Tr.]

FN#6 - This phrase, des sanften Sausens, is from Luther’s translation of קוֹל דְּמָמָה דַקָה in l Kings Exodus 19:12, ein stilles sanftes Sausen; in the A. V, “a still small voice;” literally, “a voice of gentle stillness.”—Tr.]

FN#7 - A somewhat free translation and inversion of the last part of Exodus 33:2 and the first part of Exodus 33:3, the former, moreover, of very doubtful meaning.—Tr.]

FN#8 - This discussion is singularly infelicitous. The two verbs are in the Hebrew both Future (the first made such by the Vav Consecutive), so that Lange’s statement, that the text “distinguishes two periods of time,” and his own translation, “I have been (or am) gracious to whom I shall be gracious,” convey a misrepresentation which it is yet impossible to impute either to his ignorance of Hebrew or to conscious unfairness. His comment on the analogous expression in Exodus 3:14 is open to the same criticism. Vid. the note on p11. Apparently Lange’s theory of the meaning of the name יהוה and of the nature of the divine attributes has led him unconsciously to put into the Hebrew what cannot be got out of it.—Tr.]

FN#9 - This makes the impression, for which Keil is not responsible, that both Moses and Elijah have been supposed to have stood in the lower cave. There is no evidence of this. Comp. Robinson, I, p 152 Palmer, Desert of the Exodus, pp166, 130.—Tr.]

 


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Bibliography Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Exodus 33:4". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lcc/exodus-33.html. 1857-84.

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