Exodus 33

Exodus 33

Exodus 33:1-3 Verse 3 captures God’s heart in response to the idolatry with His people. His response was so strong that he warned Israel that He might not be able to withhold his judgment against them. This chapter is transitional, in the next chapter we’ll learn of Israel’s renewal or revivalIn v 2 he promised to send “an angel.” Earlier God had called his messenger “my angel” (Exod. 23:23; 32:34), implying that the angel represented his presence. Some believe that this angel was the same one who appeared to Abraham in Gen. 18 which was in fact God himself. But now God would send an ordinary angel to do the job. In v 3 God said He was not going with them. This meant that the tabernacle was put on hold. The purpose of the tabernacle was to create a sacred place where God could dwell with his people. But God had decided not to go with them. In chapter 25 he told Moses to build the tabernacle: “to make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them”.  

Israel was desperate to have God go with them. This is why they made the golden calf. They wanted God to be with them. But because of their idolatry, he would not be with them at all. God had given instructions to build a sanctuary so that he would reside among them but instead they made a calf as a physical representation of gods being with them. Now the Lord threatens to remove from Israel the true “symbol of his presence.” This is what happens when we worship other gods, especially gods that we can see and touch. Rather than bringing us closer to God, our idols take us farther away. What the focus of our thoughts and what we treasure in our hearts is generally the object of our worship. God wants to fill our lives with his presence, but He is a jealous God. Without the tabernacle there would be no divine presence in their camp. No altar for sacrifice, Israel would have to go to the Promised Land alone.   

Exodus 33:4-6 Hearing this word causes Israel to repent which will initiate the start of their returning to God. They mourned and forsook putting on their ornaments. It is likely that their jewelry was related to idolatry. This seems parallel to Genesis when Jacob renewed the covenant at Bethel, he told everyone to take off their jewelry and buried it in the ground with their idols (35:2-4).  Taking off jewelry in mourning is generally temporary but now God calls for them to remove them and they kept them off throughout the wilderness wanderings. The ornaments that made the golden idol would now be dedicated to God for the use of his sanctuary (Ex 35:22). 

Exodus 33:7-11 While the Tabernacle also came to be called “the Tent of Meeting,” it is not the Tabernacle that is being referred to here. That tent was in the midst of the camp and not outside the camp.  It was a place where Moses met with the Lord and the people met with Moses. This tent never held the ark or any other sacred furniture, and it never was employed as a site for sacrifices. Once the Tabernacle with its “Tent of Meeting” was set up, the temporary one pitched by Moses outside the camp was never used again and is never mentioned.

Moses is once again held in esteem as God’s anointed leader this is directly linked to their returning in repentance to the Lord and submitting to God’s appointed leadership. The indication of the Lord’s presence is seen in the cloud that would descend on the tent of meeting. In response the people would bow in worship at the entrance of their own tents. The tent is managed by Joshua rather than priests, and anybody who wants to draw near to God may come to it and make their inquires know to Joshua who presumably would relay them to Moses.

Exodus 33:12-17 “I will send an angel before you.” There is significant difference between “before” and “with” and this concerned Moses.  Moses needed the reassurance God would now give him. To bring the people from Sinai to the promised land, was even more import because of the rebellion of God’s people. In response to Moses’ request God will appear and reassure him.  Moses again reminds the Lord in v 13 “that this nation is your people,” you have assigned me to them. God responds by telling him “My Presence will go with you” a greater reassurance than that of 33:3. In response to their repentance Israel would have the “presence” of God, what the Hebrew literally calls his “face.” This is a guarantee of God in their midst on their journey to the promised land. “I will give you rest,” is spoken to Israel as a whole, and the “rest” that had been promised in 15:13,17, that is, the promised land of rest for God’s people. This is the kind of rest that the Messiah promised to bring. Yeshua said that He brings rest to those who come to Him in Matt 11:28.

Exodus 33:18-23 The Lord revealed Himself in some way to Israel’s leaders when He entered into covenant with them (24:9-11), now Moses seeks a further revelation of God in His glory. He understood that Israel and his own hope was for God’s continuing mercy. Having tasted God’s mercy, Moses longs for an even greater revelation of God.  The Lord explains to him what would happen. He would be allowed to see His goodness; he would have a demonstration of the Lord’s graciousness and compassion (33:19). But he was told that he could not see God’s face and live (33:20). God described how he would receive this revelation: Moses would be given protection in the cleft of the rock and covered by the Lord’s hand (33:22). This is an example of anthropomorphic language. The Lord would pass by in His glory. Moses would be allowed to see the Lord “from behind” (My back) but would not view Him from the front (My face shall not be seen, 33:23). This statement in v 20, “no man can see Me and live,” seems to be in conflict with other OT instances where individuals are said to have seen God’s face or at least seen God (Hagar in Gen 16:13; Jacob, in Gen 32:30; Manoah, Judg. 13; Isaiah, Is 6:1ff). In many of those instances the appearance is likely a theophany or visible manifestation of God in a veiled form that would not overload human senses. Moses’ encounter exceeded those other types of seeing or meeting the Lord, but precisely how is not explained here. It might be that Moses saw only the Shekinah glory of God, but we can only speculate. What really occurred on Mount Sinai between Moses and God on this occasion will never be fully known. Whatever it was it was totally unique. 

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