Exodus 33. This is one of the most intriguing chapters in the word of God. It follows the chapter that recounts the sin of Israel making and worshiping the golden calf, which was the characteristic sin of the nation of Israel. “But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound” (Romans 5:20). And that is what we have in this chapter, grace and intercession overcoming the separation that sin had brought in. The whole chapter, in a sense, is about communion and fellowship, how that fellowship is broken by sin, and yet how intercession is the means of unlocking the storehouse of God’s grace which overcomes that separation brought in by sin. The moral and judicial foundation for that grace, was laid at the cross, but this was not yet known. We see grace working in one man, Moses the mediator, and through him a breech closed that would have altered the people’s history forever. Nowhere in scripture do we see such communion between a man and God except it be between the Father and the Son as man on earth (John 17).
1 And Jehovah said to Moses, Depart, go up hence, thou and the people that thou hast brought up out of the land of Egypt, into the land that I swore unto Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, Unto thy seed will I give it, 2 (and I will send an angel before thee, and dispossess the Canaanite, the Amorite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite,) 3 into 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 on the way. vv.1-3 A Separation. The Lord tells Moses to go up to Canaan, but The Lord would not go up in the midst of them. This was a consequence of the sin of the previous chapter. Previously the people had said that Moses was the one who had brought them out of the land of Egypt, but really it was the Lord who had done it. Now the Lord takes people’s language and uses it, “thou and the people that thou hast brought up out of the land of Egypt”. The Lord is really disassociating Himself with the people, separating from them. Jehovah would still bring the people up and into the land of Canaan, and would dispossess the tribes of that land, because He had promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He would keep His promise, but He wouldn’t have fellowship with the people. He gives the reason why; “for thou art a stiff-necked people, — lest I consume thee on the way”.
4 And when the people heard this evil word, they mourned; and no man put on his ornaments. 5 Now Jehovah had said to Moses, Say unto the children of Israel, Ye are a stiff-necked people: in one moment I will come up into the midst of thee and will consume thee. And now put off thine ornaments from thee, and I will know what I will do unto thee. 6 And the children of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments at mount Horeb. 7 And Moses took the tent, and pitched it outside the camp, far from the camp, and called it the Tent of meeting. And it came to pass that every one who sought Jehovah went out to the tent of meeting which was outside the camp. vv.4-7 Response to Separation. First of all, we find that the people mourned. This was a good thing as it showed a sorrow at the loss of fellowship with Jehovah. There were two things that Moses did as a result of the Lord essentially withdrawing Himself from the people. The first thing was that the people put off their ornaments, which would have been jewelry that they were accustomed to wearing. Similar to someone rending their garment or covering themselves in dust and ashes, putting off ornaments is a sign of sorrow and repentance. The second thing Moses did was to move the “tent of meeting” out outside the camp, “far from the camp”. That Moses called it the tentative meeting. This was not the full Tabernacle that had been described to Moses on the mountain, for that had not been built yet. This was a smaller tent that was previously a place in the midst of the camp where the Lord would meet with Moses. It does not appear that Moses, in pitching the tabernacle (a different one than the one built in Ex.40) outside the camp, was acting under any direct commandment from the Lord. It was rather spiritual discernment, entering into both the character of God and the state of the people. Notice that in Hebrews 13:10-14 we are told to “go forth to him without the camp”. The reference in Hebrews 13 to “outside the camp” refers to the sin offering (Lev. 16:27), not to the removal of the tent in Exodus 33. In the case of the tent, it was removed only temporarily because the Lord’s presence could not be associated with the defilement that had come in, but was seen later (Num. 1) back in the camp. Compare the tabernacle of the congregation in Num. 1:1 with the tabernacle of the testimony in Num. 1:50. In Heb. 13:13 we may have an allusion to Exodus 33 as the language is similar to v.7; “And it came to pass that every one who sought Jehovah went out to the tent of meeting which was outside the camp”. The point is that the place of meeting was now outside the defiled camp. You could seek Jehovah, but it meant leaving the camp. It was an action that Moses took that honored the Lord in recognizing His holiness, but also demonstrated his appreciation for communion with the Lord. This act resulted in tremendous blessing: (1) a personal communion between Moses and Jehovah, and (2) a blessing for the people.
8 And it came to pass, when Moses went out to the tent, all the people rose up, and stood every man at the entrance of his tent, and they looked after Moses until he entered into the tent. 9 And it came to pass when Moses entered into the tent, the pillar of cloud descended, and stood at the entrance of the tent, and Jehovah talked with Moses. 10 And all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent; and all the people rose and worshipped, every man at the entrance of his tent. 11 And Jehovah spoke with Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend. And he returned to the camp; but his attendant, Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, departed not from within the tent. 12 And Moses said to Jehovah, Behold, thou sayest unto me, Bring up this people; but thou dost not let me know whom thou wilt send with me; and thou hast said, I know thee by name, and thou hast also found grace in mine eyes. 13 And now, if indeed I have found grace in thine eyes, make me now to know thy way, that I may know thee, that I may find grace in thine eyes; and consider that this nation is thy people! 14 And he said, My presence shall go, and I will give thee rest. 15 And he said to him, If thy presence do not go, bring us not up hence. 16 And how shall it be known then that I have found grace in thine eyes — I and thy people? Is it not by thy going with us? so shall we be distinguished, I and thy people, from every people that is on the face of the earth. 17 And Jehovah said to Moses, I will do this thing also that thou hast said; for thou hast found grace in mine eyes, and I know thee by name. vv.8-17 Moses’ Intercession. Moses went out to the tent, and all Israel was on tiptoe to see whether the Lord would graciously come down to commune with Moses after all they had done. As the people watched, Moses entered the tent, and the pillar of cloud did indeed come down to the entrance of the tent. When the people saw this, they rose up and worshiped, every man at the entrance of his tent. Then the Lord spoke with Moses face to face, in the deepest communion that God ever had with man except through the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. It was as a man speaks with his friend; deep, personal communion. After they had talked, Moses returned to the camp, but Joshua the son of Nun remained in the tent. Evidently the young man was deeply moved by what he had seen between Moses and the Lord. In vv.12-17 we have the substance of Moses’ intercession and the Lord’s replies to him. There seems to be two great things that Moses desired (v.13). First of all, Moses wanted to know Jehovah. It seems as through Moses felt he could know Jehovah by knowing His way (Psalm 103:7). Second, Moses wanted Jehovah to once again consider that the nation of Israel was His people. The Lord replied, “My presence shall go, and I will give thee rest”. The Lord would go up with them, surely that was enough! But Moses could see that God was still not acknowledging Israel as His people. Moses pressed the issue further, not content with personal gain. He would not accept blessing apart from the people. He insisted that the Lord own Israel as His own, special people; “If thy presence do not go, bring us not up hence.” Moses knew that without the presence of the Lord among them, there was really no point going up to Canaan. Israel was going to need the Lord precisely for the very reason the Lord said He would not go; because they were a stiff-necked and rebellious people. The Lord graciously answered Moses request; “I will do this thing also that thou hast said; for thou hast found grace in mine eyes, and I know thee by name”. The way it is written it sounds like the Lord would do this as a personal favor to Moses, and almost as giving in to the mediator. God’s is sovereign and purposed all these things before hand, but He delights to surrender (if we can so speak) to the prayers of those who know His own gracious heart, and walk in fellowship with Him.
18 And he said, Let me, I pray thee, see thy glory. 19 And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thy face, and I will proclaim the name of Jehovah before thee; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy. 20 And he said, Thou canst not see my face; for Man shall not see me, and live. 21 And Jehovah said, Behold, there is a place by me: there shalt thou stand on the rock. 22 And it shall come to pass, when my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a cleft of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand, until I have passed by. 23 And I will take away my hand, and thou shalt see me from behind; but my face shall not be seen. vv.18-20 A Personal Request. Moses then makes a personal request; “Let me, I pray thee, see thy glory”. This was not possible. There was only One who could reflect the glory of God in a way that man could see it; the Word made flesh. Instead, Jehovah said, “I will make all my goodness pass before thy face, and I will proclaim the name of Jehovah before thee”. No man can see God’s face and live, but Jehovah would pass before Moses (covered with His hand) and then Moses would be permitted to see Him from behind. How different was the Lord Jesus; “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). A place “by me”, a wonderful place. Not in Christ, but close. We cannot but think of Moses in the cleft in the rock as a picture of the believer, hid safely and secure in the shelter provided in the cross. He would see the goodness of the Lord. Moses was in a far better state of soul than Elijah, who was made to see the consuming judgment of the Lord in a cave on the same mountain. Elijah wanted to show the Lord his own way – I have been very jealous, etc. – but Moses wanted the Lord to show him His way. The expression “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy” is God’s sovereignty. This is where Paul turns in Romans 9:15 to bring out the principle. Israel could only be blessed on the ground of sovereign mercy. Nowhere does Moses appeal for help based on Israel’s goodness, even in a few like Joshua. He casts Israel totally on the grace of God, and God reserves the right to retreat into His own sovereignty and bless according to grace.