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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Exodus 33

 

 


Introduction

The Command To Go Forward - God’s Revelation of Himself to Moses (Exodus 33:1-23).

In this chapter we learn of Yahweh’s command that it was now time to go forward. But there is a difference in that His people would no longer know His personal presence as they had previously. However, an angel would go before them. We do not know how long after the previous incident this was, but it links with Numbers 1-4.

Note the sequence in the chapter.

a They are to go forward with an angel, but Yahweh Himself will not be with them (Exodus 33:1-6).

b Moses meets Yahweh regularly in the old Tent of Meeting face to face as a man speaks with his friend (Exodus 33:7-11).

b It is this closeness to Yahweh that now makes possible his bold request, and at his pleading Yahweh then promises that He will Himself go forward with them (Exodus 33:12-17).

a Moses asks to see Yahweh’s glory and is finally be allowed to see the back part of His glory (Exodus 33:18-23).

The contrast between ‘a’ that they will only from now on have an angel with them, and that Yahweh will not be with them, is gloriously countered in the parallel by the His glory, even if partly hidden, will be seen by His friend Moses. And in ‘b’ we are told of his closeness to Yahweh, and in the parallel the result of that closeness is that Yahweh promises that He will after all go up with them.


Verses 1-6

The Command to Go Forward - The People Repent (Exodus 33:1-6).

It is quite clear that in this passage the putting off by the children of Israel of their ornaments is a deeply significant fact. Their earrings had caused them to stumble. We may possibly also see that their ornaments too were highly charged with religious significance. Thus we might see this as a putting off of their false gods (compare Genesis 35:1-4).

a Yahweh commands Moses to go forward, with the people whom he has delivered from Egypt, to the land which He swore to give to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying ‘To your seed I will give it’ (Exodus 33:1).

b He promises that He will send His Angel before them to drive out the Canaanite nations, to a land flowing with milk and honey (Exodus 33:2-3 a).

c But He Himself will not go with them because they are a stiffnecked people, lest He consume them in the way (Exodus 33:3 b).

d When the people heard these evil tiding they mourned and no man put on his ornaments (Exodus 33:4).

c Yahweh tells Moses that he must inform the people that they are a stiff-necked people and that if He goes in the midst of them for one moment He will consume them (Exodus 33:5 a).

b He tells them to put off their ornaments so that He may know what to do with them (Exodus 33:5 b).

a The children of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments from Mount Horeb onwards (Exodus 33:6).

This passage would seem to indicate a new beginning after the travesty that is behind them. In ‘a’ they are to go forward as Yahweh’s people to the land which Yahweh has sworn to give them as the seed of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The parallel clearly therefore suggest that the permanent stripping themselves of their ornaments is an act of contrition and response, and turning to Yahweh. They will choose Him over their ornaments. They no longer have anything to do with them from Mount Horeb onwards. Thus in ‘b’ when He promises to send His Angel with them to drive out their enemies and lead them into a land flowing with milk and honey, in the parallel He commands that they strip off their ornaments so that He may know what to do with them. If they do not He will be in doubt of what to do with them. While His promises are certain, the current fulfilment of them is dependent on obedience and rejection of idolatry. In ‘c’ He tells them that He Himself will not go with them because they are a stiffnecked people, lest He consume them in the way, and in the parallel confirms this verdict. In a sense ‘d’ is central to the whole. It was the moment when they faced up to their sinfulness so that Yahweh could respond to them.

Exodus 33:1

‘And Yahweh spoke to Moses, “Depart, go up hence, you and the people whom you have brought up from the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, and to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, “To your seed I will give it.” ’

Yahweh repeats His command to be up and moving. Their time at Sinai is finished and they must move on. The verse maps out their history in brief. They have brought up from the land of Egypt by Moses, and are bound for the land promised to their fathers and their seed (Genesis 12:7; Genesis 13:15; Genesis 15:18; etc.). This is the midway point in their journey, or should have been. Note that Yahweh now renews the promises to the fathers of seed and land which these people had forfeited by their behaviour, and He renews His promise to drive out the Canaanites from before them.

Exodus 33:2-3

“And I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite. To a land flowing with milk and honey. For I will not go up among you, for you are a stiffnecked people, lest I consume you in the way.”

He promises that He will send an angel before them. In view of the fact that he here says that He will not be going with them it must be questionable whether we see in this angel the Angel of Yahweh. However the point in question may not be as to whether the angel of Yahweh will go before them but rather as to whether Yahweh will Himself dwell among them in His Dwellingplace. The question is rather academic as later He yields to Moses’ intercession and Himself does go with them and promises His is presence with them (Exodus 33:14).

The sixfold nations are twice three, indicating intensified completeness. Compare Exodus 3:8. They represent the whole population of Canaan, and consistently indicate their diverse nature. The Canaanites and Amorites were terms for the general population of the country and the terms were often interchangeable. Each could be used for the inhabitants of the whole country. However there was sometimes some distinction in that often the Canaanites was the term for those occupying the coastlands and the Jordan valley, while the Amorites could be seen as dwelling in the hill country east and west of Jordan. The Hittites were settlers who had come from the Hittite Empire further north and had settled in Canaan. The Perizzites were hill dwellers (Joshua 11:3; Judges 1:4 on) and possibly country peasantry, their name being taken from ‘peraza’ = hamlet. This is supported by the fact that they are not named as Canaan’s sons in Genesis 10:15 on. The Hivites may have been the equivalent of the Horites (see on Genesis 36). Their principal location was in the Lebanese hills (Judges 3:3) and the Hermon range (Joshua 11:3; 2 Samuel 24:7), but there were some in Edom in the time of Esau (Genesis 36) and in Shechem (Genesis 34). The Jebusites were the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the hills round about (Numbers 13:29; Joshua 11:3; Joshua 15:8; Joshua 18:16). But Moses would know all the names. He had been brought up as an Egyptian administrator.

To a land flowing with milk and honey.” It was to be a good land for it would flow with milk and honey (Numbers 13:27; Deuteronomy 6:3). Milk flowed because there was good pasturage and, apart from in times of famine, plentiful rain. The honey would be from wild bees, (and later, domesticated bees, for it was tithed), and along with grape and date syrup, was plentiful and would later be exported to other countries (Ezekiel 27:17). Thus it provided both nourishment and sweetness.

For I will not go up among you, for you are a stiffnecked people, lest I consume you in the way.” An angel will go before them. But this time it is because Yahweh will not, lest because of their obstinacy and perverseness He be tempted to smite them. In other words they had lost out. His presence would not be so close and intimate. Their sin with the molten calf had burned deep. (However later the situation will be reversed at the intercession of Moses).

Exodus 33:4-6

‘And when the people heard these evil tidings they mourned. And no man put on his ornaments. And Yahweh said to Moses, “Say to the children of Israel, You are a stiffnecked people. If I go up among you for one moment I will consume you. Therefore now put off your ornaments permanently from you, that I may know what to do to you.” And the children of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments from Mount Horeb onwards.” ”

The people were upset by this bad news. They were deeply saddened, and revealed their repentance by leaving off their ornaments (armlets, bracelets, earrings) as a display of mourning. It was a hopeful sign that they were recognising their need for full dedication to Yahweh, for their ornaments would undoubtedly have had a religious significance. Possibly they hoped that by removing all their talismans and mascots they would win back Yahweh’s favour. Or possibly they had even learned the lesson about religious symbols and recognised that they must have no more to do with them. Such religious symbols will regularly be seen as an indication of backsliding in the future. See Judges 8:22-27 where their use results in going astray; Hosea 2:13 where they are connected with idolatrous worship; see also Ezekiel 7:19-20; exe 16:17; 23:40. Christians today equally do themselves spiritual; harm when they wear or use lucky mascots and talismans.

This action brought Yahweh to speak to them again through Moses. He reminded them of their perversity as revealed in all the incidents surrounding the incident of the molten calf. Indeed He knows that they are such that He would inevitably at some point consume them. So it would not be fair on them for Him to remain near.

However, He approved of their putting off their ornaments. It was their talisman earrings that had been part of the cause of their downfall (Exodus 32:2-3). Thus they should put off permanently for the future all that might be a cause of offence in order to remind Him of their continual penitence, so that He would know how to behave towards them. And they obeyed and from that day on wore no ornaments. This was possibly why Yahweh did not fully carry out His threat.

We are probably justified in seeing here a situation parallel with that in Genesis 35:1-4. There is here also a putting off of the old ways and the old idols, and a turning in full dedication to Yahweh.

Mount Horeb.” Another mountain in the Sinai group. The whole area immediately surrounding Sinai was called Horeb.


Verses 7-11

The Old Tent of Meeting Where Two Friends Meet (Exodus 33:7-11).

The reason that we find this passage inserted here is almost certainly because it indicates Moses’ close relationship with Yahweh. It will help to explain why Moses can dare to be so persuasive that Yahweh rescinds His determination not to go forward with the people. Like Abraham before him he dares to reason with Yahweh, seeking to make Him willing to show compassion on those who do not deserve compassion (see Genesis 18:23-33). This required an intimacy with Yahweh which the writer now explains.

We here learn of the old Tent of Meeting which preceded the Dwellingplace, and which unlike the Dwellingplace was pitched outside the camp. The idea was probably that the camp was not pure enough for such a place, and that there had to be a set space between the camp and the Tent. Or it may simply have been there so that people could seek Yahweh in solitude. Its name presumably indicated that it was a place where Yahweh could be met up with. It was not to be so inaccessible as the later Dwellingplace when it arrived.

When this Tent was first set up we do not know. But it would be unusual not to have a holy Tent of some kind connected with a large camp which was occupied by a whole nation, when that camp was their home, and they had no idols. They would require some point on which their worship could be focused. Thus this would probably have been established immediately they left Egypt. Indeed Moses would have been sadly lacking in leadership if he had not provided such a focus.

It would seem that those who wanted to seek Yahweh would go out to ‘the Tent of Meeting’ to pray (compare 1 Samuel 1:12, although that was in front of the Dwellingplace). It was Moses who called it ’ohel mo‘eth (Exodus 33:7), the ‘Tent of Meeting’. Such a focus point for the worship of Yahweh would have been necessary right from the commencement of the flight from Egypt, and by the time of their arrival at Sinai this ‘Tent of Meeting’ would have speedily gained in awe and reverence, especially in view of the fact that the cloud descended on it when Moses entered it, an indication that it was a place where God really could be met up with.

But that even this was not to be seen as Yahweh’s home is made clear by the fact that Moses had to receive the covenant in the Mount. Yahweh would not allow them to see Him as simply a local deity.

This Tent probably also contained the ancient covenant records from which Genesis was composed, and, until the Dwellingplace was made, it would also contain the tables of the covenant. We have no knowledge of what else it contained except that Joshua was its guardian, and presumably a kind of priest. But even if such a tent had not been mentioned we would have had to assume it. How else were the nation to have a focus for worship when no symbols were allowed?

The mention of it here is presumably to stress how Yahweh’s real presence has been with Israel. That was why there was a Tent of Meeting. Now it seemed that they would lose out on this, and that Moses also would lose out, for Yahweh would no longer be with them. This further explains Moses’ concern in Exodus 33:13-16. He would miss these conversations with Yahweh.

It is also in order to highlight Exodus 33:12-23, for it brings out Moses’ cosy relationship with God in preparation for what follows. Here we learn of the kind of conversation he would have with Yahweh, and under what circumstances. It is possible that this Tent was at this stage pitched near Sinai, for it was apparently in a rocky place (Exodus 33:21-22).

We may analyse this passage as follows:

a Moses used to pitch the Tent outside the camp. It was called the Tent of Meeting (Exodus 33:7 a).

b Everyone who sought Yahweh went out to the Tent of Meeting which was outside the camp (Exodus 33:7 b).

c When Moses went out to the Tent, all the people would rise up and stand every man at his tent entrance and look after Moses until he had gone into the Tent (Exodus 33:8).

d When Moses entered into the Tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the door of the Tent, and Yahweh would speak with Moses (Exodus 33:9).

c And all the people would see the pillar of cloud stand at the entrance flap of the Tent, and all the people would rise up and worship, every man at his tent entrance (Exodus 33:10).

b And there Yahweh spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend (Exodus 33:11 a).

a And when he turned again into the camp his servant Joshua would remain at the Tent of Meeting and not leave it (Exodus 33:11 b).

We note that in ‘a’ Moses would pitch the Tent outside the camp, and in the parallel Joshua his servant would stay there and never leave it. In ‘b’ those who sought Yahweh would go out to the Tent of Meeting, and in the parallel when Moses went out Yahweh would speak with him face to face as a man speaks to his friend. In ‘c’ when Moses went out to the Tent all the people would stand at their tent doors and watch until he had gone into the Tent, for they knew what would happen, and in the parallel when the people saw the pillar of cloud stand at the entranceway to the Tent they would all rise up and worship in the doors of their tents. And central to all this was that when Moses entered the Tent the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the door of the Tent and Yahweh would speak with Moses.

Exodus 33:7

‘Now Moses used to take the tent and to pitch it outside the camp. And he called it, ‘The Tent of Meeting’. And it came about that everyone who sought Yahweh went out to the Tent of Meeting which was outside the camp.’

This Tent of Meeting had probably accompanied them from Egypt and was in Moses’ overall charge. Every time they stopped and erected their tents Moses would erect this Tent outside the camp, with Joshua as his deputy, acting as priest-guardian. It was clearly easily portable, unlike the later Dwellingplace which required an army of Levites. We do not know whether, when people went out to the Tent to meet with God, they entered the Tent or whether they prayed at the entrance to the Tent. The next verse probably suggests the former.

It is significant that the Tent was pitched outside the camp. It was clearly recognised that God’s holiness was such that the camp was no fit place for it. We need not doubt that it was pitched in what would be seen as a ‘clean’ place. Once, however, the people gained the status of God’s covenant people, His ‘holy nation’ (19:6), the Dwellingplace could be within the camp, although set off from the people and guarded by the Levites. Nevertheless this position explained why continual atonement was necessary with regard to it (such as the daily offerings and the annual Day of Atonement).

Exodus 33:8

‘And it came about that, when Moses went out to the Tent, all the people rose up and stood every man at his tent entrance and looked after Moses until he had gone into the Tent.’

The point here is that when Moses went out to the Tent all knew that unusual things happened. When therefore news reached them that Moses was going out to the Tent, which he may have done at regular times, they would go to the entrances of their own tents and watch. Moses would then enter the Tent. This suggests that this in fact was the way in which it was used.

Exodus 33:9-11 a

‘And it came about that when Moses entered into the Tent, the pillar of cloud descended and stood at the door of the Tent, and Yahweh spoke with Moses. And all the people saw the pillar of cloud stand at the entrance flap of the Tent, and all the people rose up and worshipped, every man at his tent entrance. And Yahweh spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.’

The result of Moses’ entry into the Tent was that the pillar of cloud which accompanied Israel would descend on the entrance to the Tent, and this would produce awe and worship in the people, and they would bow themselves down and watch and wait. Then Yahweh would speak with Moses as friend to friend.

This seemingly never happened to anyone else. Others He heard from afar off, but Moses He met as a friend. This made it clear to people that Moses truly had a special relationship with God.

Exodus 33:11 b

‘And he turned again into the camp, but his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, did not leave the Tent.’

Once Moses had finished speaking with God he would return to the camp, and presumably the cloud then returned to its watch over the camp. But now we learn another piece of valuable information. It would seem that Moses’ high-servant Joshua lived in the Tent and never left it. He would thus presumably hear all that went on between Moses and Yahweh, and possibly was also there to help the people when they sought God. We must probably see that he acted as a kind of priest, or at the least a steward.


Verses 12-17

Moses Wrestles With Yahweh About His Decision Not To Go With Them (Exodus 33:12-17).

The general fact about Moses’ relationship with God having been made clear, Moses now comes to Yahweh to plead for a reversal of His decision not to go with them in person any more. All hope rests in this friend of God. We may assume that this conversation takes place at one of Moses’ visits to the Tent of Meeting. It is because we know that Yahweh speaks with Moses as a man speaks with his friend that we can fully appreciate this conversation between two friends. Had we not known that, what follows would lose a lot of its power.

We may analyse the passage as follows:

a Moses complains that although Yahweh has told him to take His people up from this place He has not told him who will go with him (all he has been told is that it will be an anonymous angel). Yet Yahweh claims to know his name and that he has found grace in Yahweh’s sight (Exodus 33:12).

b He asks therefore that if this be true Yahweh will now show him His ways so that he may know Yahweh in return, and still find grace in His sight, and that Yahweh will consider the fact that this nation are His people (Exodus 33:13).

c Yahweh says, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” (Exodus 33:14).

c Moses declares, “If your presence does not go with me, do not carry us up to that place” (Exodus 33:15).

b For how will it be known that he and Yahweh’s people have found grace in His sight except by His going with them so that they are separated, he and Yahweh’s people, from all the nations that are on the face of the earth (Exodus 33:16).

a Yahweh says to Moses, “I will do this thing that you have said, for you have found grace in My sight and I know you by name” (Exodus 33:17).

Note that in ‘a’ Moses’ complaint is that Yahweh claims to know his name and that he has found grace in Yahweh’s sight, but does not show him His ways, in the parallel Yahweh confirms that he has found grace in His sight and He does know him by name, and confirms that He will therefore do as he asks. In ‘b’ he asks that Yahweh will now show him His ways because he knows His name and has found grace in His sight, and asks Him to remember that these are His people, while in the parallel he claims that it will only be known that they have found grace in His sight by His going with them and thus proving that they are a specially separated people. In ‘c’ Yahweh promises that His presence will go with Moses, and in the parallel Moses counters that if it is not so he does not want to forward to the place ahead.

Exodus 33:12-13

‘And Moses said to Yahweh, “See, you say to me, ‘Bring up this people’. And you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name and you have also found favour in my sight.’ Now therefore I pray you, if I have found favour in your sight, show me now your ways that I may know you, to the end that I may find favour in your sight. And consider that this nation is your people.” ’

Moses comes again in intercession for his people. He points out to God that He has told him to bring this people to Canaan. And yet all He has promised is the accompaniment of an anonymous angel. Why will He not send the original angel in whom was Yahweh’s name? (Exodus 23:21). He is indicating that this failure does not seem to fall in line with His statement that He knows Moses by name (that is, intimately knows him, knows him as a friend) and that Moses has found favour in His sight. He feels he is being given a raw deal.

So he argues that if he really has found favour in His sight then let Yahweh show it by showing him the full facts about what His ways are going to be so that he may really know Him as He is, and what His plans are. Then he will truly know that he has found favour in His sight.

Without the knowledge gained in verse 11 especially, these words would not have sounded right. It is only because we know that God speaks with Moses as a man speaks with his friend that we can appreciate how he could speak to God like this so obstinately. What he is asking God to do is lay all the facts on the table. Then he adds a postscript.

And consider that this nation is your people.” Suddenly all is light. What Moses really wants is for Yahweh to rescind His statement that He would no longer go with them. He has put it in a roundabout way, but that is at the bottom of it. Yahweh’s response to His friend is immediate.

Exodus 33:14

“My presence shall go (with you), and I will give you (singular) rest.”

Yahweh relents for what He has previously said and promises His friend that He will still go with him, and that He will certainly bring him into the promised rest. Whatever the people have done, and whatever happens to them, He will not fail to keep His promise to, and show favour to, His friend. So Moses’ future is secure. But Moses is not satisfied with that. If the people are not to go up with him he really does not want to go.

Exodus 33:15-16

‘And he said to him, “If you presence does not go with us, do not carry us up hence. For in what way will it now be known that I have found favour in your sight, I and your people. Is it not in that you go with us, so that we are separated, I and your people, from all the people that are on the face of the earth?” ’

Notice how Moses insists on linking himself with his people, those even who had recently planned to do away with him. If God will show favour to him He must also do so to his people. For he is bound to them as one. Indeed Moses makes it clear that if God will not go with them in person, and do so faithfully to the end, then he does not want to go up. For it is only by God going with them all the way that the world will know that they are a people separated to Yahweh and that He has really shown favour to Moses. (compare Exodus 15:16; Exodus 19:5). It is only by this that Moses will be vindicated. For then the world will know that they are His holy nation (Exodus 19:6). And if they are not to be known as that then his going up and their going up is a waste of time. Moses realised, if the people did not, the huge privilege that was theirs in being God’s ‘separated ones’, with Yahweh Himself as their companion. And he refused to consider any other possibility.

The cheek and nerve of Moses in making these statements gains its significance from the fact that Moses is God’s special friend. That is why he can be obstinate to the end. God had originally called him to deliver this people and lead them into the promised land (Exodus 3:7-8; Exodus 3:16-17), and this he intended to do. If he could not there was no deal. And yet he is also submissive. He remembers Whom he is speaking to. He uses persuasion, not arrogance.

Exodus 33:17

‘And Yahweh said to Moses, “I will also do this thing that you have spoken. For you have found favour in my sight and I do know you by name.” ’

Yahweh agrees to all Moses’ requests, and points out that He does so precisely because Moses has found favour in His sight and because Yahweh does know him as a friend, by name. He is God’s servant in whom He delights (a type of one yet to come - Isaiah 42:1).


Verses 18-23

Moses Requests To See Yahweh’s Glory -And Does So In The Only Way That Is Possible Even To Him (Exodus 33:18-23).

Now Moses is emboldened. He has been privileged to see Yahweh more fully than any human being since Adam. He has seen Him along with the elders of Israel (Exodus 24:10). He has been with Him on the Mount in personal session. He has seen Him in the pillar of cloud at the Tent of Meeting. But always He has been partly hidden. Now he begs, as His friend, that he may see His full glory.

To speak of ‘contradiction’ when speaking of seeing God is not to appreciate the great problem of what it means to see God. There are many levels of seeing God, from seeing him in the heart, through seeing Him in the cloud, through seeing Him as fire, through seeing His splendour like the splendour of the sun, up to the ultimate of a vision so brilliant that a man expires at the sight (1 Timothy 6:16).

But as Yahweh explains, Moses does not know what he asks. To fully see Yahweh’s ‘face’ could only be disaster for him, for he would immediately expire. No human flesh could bear the sight. But He promises him that he will see the hinder part of His glory. That is something he may survive. By this Moses probably saw more of Yahweh’s glory than any before or since, until the greater Moses came (Deuteronomy 18:18).

We may analyse this passage as follows:

a Moses asks to have Yahweh’s glory shown to him by Yahweh (Exodus 33:18).

b Yahweh replies, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of Yahweh before you, and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” (Exodus 33:19).

c Yahweh tells Moses that he cannot see Yahweh’s face and live. For man shall not see Him and live (Exodus 33:20).

b Yahweh tells him that there is a place by Him, and Moses will stand on the rock, and it shall come about that while His glory passes by He will put Moses in the cleft of a rock, and will cover him with my hand until He has passed by.

a Then He will take away His hand, and Moses will see His hinder part (literally ‘back’), but His face will not be seen (Exodus 33:21).

We note that in ‘a’ Moses asks to see Yahweh’s glory, and in the parallel he will see the back part of His glory. In ‘b’ Yahweh promises to make His ‘goodness’ and the proclamation of His name pass before him, and in the parallel He explains that His glory will pass by him. And ‘c’ is central in stressing the central truth that no one can see Him in His full glory and live.

Exodus 33:18

‘And he said, “Show me, I pray you, your glory.”

Moses had seen much of the glory of Yahweh, although only as partial revelation, but it has filled him with a yearning to see more. If Yahweh is his friend let Him show him His glory. Let him be privileged as no man has ever been.

Exodus 33:19-20

‘And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of Yahweh before you, and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” And he said, “You cannot see my face and live. For man shall not see me and live.”’

God’s reply is that He will show Moses all that it is possible for him to see without expiring. He will show him His goodness and beauty. He will show Him all that His name means of grace and power, of love and friendship, proclaiming His name and very nature to His friend. He will show him His graciousness as revealed through His sovereign activity. He will show him the fullness of His compassion and mercy. But He cannot show him His face. That would be no kindness. That would reveal no friendship. For none can see Him full face and live. Notice how the description of His glory is so widely embracing. It is not just sheer light. it is aesthetic beauty, it is moral purity, it is glory of being, it is compassion and favour, it is mercy and love, it is all these and more.

I will make all my goodness pass before you.” He will be permitted a sight of the sheer goodness and beauty of God, an awareness of His holiness and of His moral glory, the full beatific vision.

And I will proclaim the name of Yahweh before you.” To know someone’s name was to know him fully. And Moses will know His name as proclaimed by Yahweh Himself. And when Yahweh speaks all is clear. He will have a full revelation of what Yahweh’s name means, of what He is. He will appreciate the very nature of God (see Exodus 34:5).

I will proclaim the name of Yahweh before you and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” These further promises link with the proclamation of His Name. His being gracious and showing mercy will be part of the proclamation of His name. Moses will be made aware of His sovereign power as it is revealed in the exercise of His graciousness and mercy, His all encompassing grace and mercy, that which He bestows on His chosen. He will through it recognise and be aware of the supremacy of Yahweh as the ultimate in sovereign graciousness and mercy. He will see His action in coming days showing abundant, sovereign graciousness and mercy to many, yes, to the thousands whom He will choose (Exodus 34:7). All that a man can see of this he will see (see Exodus 34:6). He will know His name.

All this is Moses to know and experience, not necessarily all at once, but gradually as he is able to take it in. (See for example Exodus 34:5-7). For knowledge of God takes a long time to absorb. But there is a physical limit to what even he can know.

“You cannot see my face and live. For man shall not see me and live.” But see His full face, His full glory he cannot. For no one can see it and live.

So do we learn about the full favour to be shown to Moses, and the extent beyond which it cannot go for his own safety. And we also learn that the glory that one day we shall see in His presence is beyond telling and beyond physical endurance.

Exodus 33:21-23

‘And Yahweh said, “Look there is a place by me, and you shall stand on the rock, and it shall come about that while my glory passes by I will put you in the cleft of a rock, and will cover you with my hand until I have passed by, and I will take away my hand, and you will see my hinder part (literally ‘back’), but my face shall not be seen.”’

If Yahweh is speaking from the cloud outside the Tent of Meeting it is clearly pitched near a rocky place. And Yahweh directs him to come there and stand on a rock, necessarily out of sight of the camp. Then when His glory begins to pass by He will put Moses in a cleft of the rock and cover him with His hand. For no earthly protection will be sufficient. Such is His glory that only the divine hand can prevent it from blasting him where he stands. Then will the full glory of Yahweh be revealed, and once it is safe He will remove His hand and Moses will see the aftermath, as much as a man can bear. But he will not be able to see His full glory. He will only be able to imagine what it must have been from what he does see.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Exodus 33:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/exodus-33.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, December 2nd, 2020
the First Week of Advent
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