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The Blue Letter Bible

David Guzik :: Study Guide for Exodus 33

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Exodus 33 – Israel’s Path of Restored Fellowship

A. Israel’s repentance and restoration.

1. (Exo 33:1-3) The people learn of God’s heart towards their sin.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Depart and go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your descendants I will give it.’ And I will send My Angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanite and the Amorite and the Hittite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite. Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; for I will not go up in your midst, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.”

a. Depart and go up from here….to the land…to your descendants I will give it: After the sin of the golden calf, God did not deny the children of Israel the Promised Land. He said they could continue on to possess what He had promised to them and to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

b. And I will send My Angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanite: After the sin of the golden calf, God did not deny Israel His protection. He promised to be with them in some way (I will send My Angel), and to fight for them in the Promised Land.

i. Isaiah 63:9 looks back at the Exodus, and says: In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the Angel of His Presence saved them. The Angel of His Presence describes the presence of God with His Israel in Exodus 23:20-23, the angel that had the name of God in Him. The angel described here in Exodus 33:2 was simply an angelic being, not the Lord Himself.

c. I will not go up in your midst: God did say He would deny Israel His presence, or at least the near sense of His presence. We might say that God said, “I won’t stay so close to you, because I might judge you along the way – but go on and take the Promised Land.”

i. This was a challenge to Moses and the nation as a whole. God told them they could have the Promised Land, but He would not remain with them in a close, personal way. If they were satisfied with that arrangement, it would prove they only loved God’s blessings and not God Himself. If they challenged God – pleading with Him for His presence, not only His blessings – it would show a genuine heart for God Himself. This was the first step towards spiritual restoration and revival in Israel.

ii. “To be given every other blessing is of no value if God is not with you. What is the value of Canaan? What is the value of milk and honey? What is the value of having possessions, if God was not with them? They saw that the realization of the presence of God, having this fellowship and company, was infinitely more important than everything else.” (Lloyd-Jones)

2. (Exo 33:4-6) The people repent and mourn.

And when the people heard this bad news, they mourned, and no one put on his ornaments. For the Lord had said to Moses, “Say to the children of Israel, ‘You are a stiff-necked people. I could come up into your midst in one moment and consume you. Now therefore, take off your ornaments, that I may know what to do to you.'” So the children of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments by Mount Horeb.

a. They mourned, and no one put on his ornaments: This was a good response on behalf of Israel. To them it was bad news. They mourned the potential loss of God’s close presence. They cared about their relationship with the Lord, not only what He could give them.

i. “It is clear that the people felt that the promise of an angel to be sent before them was the lowering of a privilege.” (Morgan)

ii. This was a significant issue for Israel, because they could see the presence of the Lord in the pillar of cloud by day and fire by night. If God withdrew His presence it could be clearly seen.

iii. They mourned here because with the golden idol they couldn’t have their fun obediently and responsibly. It was good for them to be sad for a while.

b. You are a stiff-necked people: This phrase is repeated again. The idea isn’t only that they were stubborn, but that they stubbornly resisted God. The picture is of an ox or donkey resisting the farmer and making its neck stiff.

c. So the children of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments by Mount Horeb: The people displayed their repentance and mourning by not wearing their ornaments. They knew this was not the time for decorating the external, but it was time to bring the heart right with God. This was the second step towards spiritual restoration and revival in Israel.

i. “The people who are concerned about revival, in a true sense, are not just out for a little bit of excitement, or interest, or some happiness, or phenomena, or coming with an attitude of ‘something marvelous is going to happen and we are going to have a great good time.’ That is not how they think about it at all. And if you, my dear friends, are simply thinking about meetings, and excitement, and something wonderful, you have not begun to understand this matter.” (Lloyd-Jones)

ii. Exodus 35:22 describes how these ornaments went to the building of the tabernacle. “The very ornaments that could make a golden idol in the past could now be dedicated to God for the use of His sanctuary.” (Cole)

3. (Exo 33:7) Moses makes his tent the tabernacle of meeting.

Moses took his tent and pitched it outside the camp, far from the camp, and called it the tabernacle of meeting. And it came to pass that everyone who sought the Lord went out to the tabernacle of meeting which was outside the camp.

a. Moses took his tent and pitched it outside the camp, far from the camp, and called it the tabernacle of meeting: After Israel’s heart was turned towards God and after they humbled themselves by removing their ornaments, Moses took the next step towards revival and restored relationship. He initiated a determined effort to seek God, making his own tent a tabernacle of meeting.

i. God told Moses to make a tabernacle of meeting when Moses was on Mount Sinai (Exodus 25-28). But the tabernacle wasn’t built yet. This wouldn’t stop Moses from taking extraordinary measures to seek God. He determined to make his own tent a tabernacle of meeting.

ii. This was not something that Moses organized or planned or strategized. He sought God, radically and spontaneously. When Moses did that, God touched the hearts of the people.

iii. Far from the camp: “Sanctuaries were usually built a little distance from towns in the ancient world: Israel had therefore lost their uniqueness, as the nation among whom God dwells in the very midst.” (Cole)

b. Everyone who sought the Lord went out to the tabernacle of meeting which was outside the camp: By making the place of worship outside the camp, Moses clearly drew a line to see who really wanted to draw close to the Lord.

i. When Moses put the temporary tabernacle of meeting… outside the camp, it meant that everyone who wanted to seek the Lord had to separate in some sense. We can assume that not everyone wanted to do this.

ii. “When the Holy Spirit of God begins to deal with any one of us, there will be this separation. It will not be paraded, it will not be the Pharisees’ ‘I am holier than thou’ attitude. No, once a man begins to be burdened for the glory of God and the state of the Church, he immediately feels the call to consecration, he ‘goes out’ as it were.” (Lloyd-Jones)

4. (Exo 33:8-10) The presence of God shows itself at the tent of Moses.

So it was, whenever Moses went out to the tabernacle, that all the people rose, and each man stood at his tent door and watched Moses until he had gone into the tabernacle. And it came to pass, when Moses entered the tabernacle, that the pillar of cloud descended and stood at the door of the tabernacle, and the Lord talked with Moses. All the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the tabernacle door, and all the people rose and worshiped, each man in his tent door.

a. Whenever Moses went out to the tabernacle, that all the people rose: The people watched and noticed when Moses worshipped. When Moses worshipped, they also worshipped. Moses prompted the people to draw close to God by his own example.

b. The pillar of cloud descended and stood at the door of the tabernacle: Moses’ tent did not become the tabernacle of meeting simply because he named it so. It became that because God actually came there to meet Moses, displayed by the pillar of cloud.

i. The pillar of cloud became like the flag of royalty or of an admiral which indicates that they are present, so the pillar of cloud (which Cole describes as literally, a “standing thing”) indicated the presence of God.

ii. Everyone saw this pillar of cloud come to the tent of Moses, and they knew Moses worshipped and met with God there. This was a great comfort to the people, to know that their leader really did meet with God and hear from Him.

c. And the Lord talked with Moses: We read a lot about God talking with Moses, but we don’t know all that much about what God said. There was probably much more than what is recorded in Exodus 33 said, and probably much of it was of a personal, strengthening nature to Moses.

d. And all the people rose and worshipped: This was their natural response. Something about Moses and his relationship with God made others want to also worship God.

5. (Exo 33:11) God speaks to Moses at his tent, the tabernacle.

So the Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. And he would return to the camp, but his servant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, did not depart from the tabernacle.

a. The Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend: Numbers 12:8 clarifies what this meant. There God contrasted how He spoke to Moses with how He spoke to other prophets; Moses heard clearly and plainly, and other prophets heard in dreams and visions.

i. It is also possible this meant that God appeared to Moses in human form, as He did to Abraham in Genesis 18. More likely, the phrase face to face is simply a figurative expression, meaning free and open fellowship.

ii. Moses had not – and could not – see the actual face of God the Father in His glory. No one has seen the face of God the Father in glory, and this is why John wrote, No one has seen God at any time (1 John 4:12).

b. Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, did not depart from the tabernacle: The personal revival in the life of Moses was an example to the entire nation, but it was a special example to his servant Joshua. When Moses drew close to God it also drew Joshua close to God, so much so that Joshua did not depart from the tabernacle.

B. Moses prays and draws near to God.

1. (Exo 33:12-13) Moses prays for the people.

Then Moses said to the Lord, “See, You say to me, ‘Bring up this people.’ But 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 grace in My sight.’ Now therefore, I pray, if I have found grace in Your sight, show me now Your way, that I may know You and that I may find grace in Your sight. And consider that this nation is Your people.”

a. But You have not let me know whom You will send with me: For Moses, it wasn’t enough to know that he and Israel would make it to the Promised Land. In his estimation, the Promised Land was nothing special without the special presence of the Lord. God previously promised to send an angel with Israel (Exodus 33:2). Moses pressed God on this point, wanting to know exactly whom God would send.

i. “Moses is now concerned to obtain both a guarantee of that presence for his people, and also the enjoyment of a closer experience of it for himself.” (Cole)

ii. This was bold – almost rude – drawing near to God. Moses was determined to have God’s presence with Israel as close as possible. This was the next step towards revival and restoration of Israel’s relationship with God.

b. If I have found grace in Your sight: Moses was bold in drawing near to God, but he based the boldness on the grace God had already shown to him. This was a good ground for drawing near.

c. Your sight…Your way, that I may know You…grace in Your sight…Your people: Moses was almost obsessed with God. He was still on earth, but he connected everything to God in heaven.

i. Another strong theme in this section is to know. In some form, the word is used repeatedly in these verses. In the sense of relationship, God knew Israel and Moses, and Moses wanted to know God.

2. (Exo 33:14-17) God answers Moses’ prayer, giving the promise of His Presence.

And He said, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Then he said to Him, “If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us up from here. For how then will it be known that Your people and I have found grace in Your sight, except You go with us? So we shall be separate, Your people and I, from all the people who are upon the face of the earth.” So the Lord said to Moses, “I will also do this thing that you have spoken; for you have found grace in My sight, and I know you by name.”

a. My Presence will go with you: God seemed to answer Moses’ prayer, but Moses did not rest. He continued to press God for affirmation of the promise. This shows how boldly Moses sought after God for the sake of his own relationship with God and for the benefit of the nation.

i. My Presence will go with you is literally “My Face will go with you.” This helps us to understand what it means when it says Moses met with God face to face (Exodus 32:11). It has the sense of “in the immediate presence of God.”

ii. “This means that the heavenly ‘messenger’ sent with them will now be ‘the angel of his presence’ (Isaiah 63:9), i.e. a full manifestation of God as in Exodus 23:20.” (Cole)

iii. And I will give you rest: The Presence of God means rest and peace in life. This was an important and necessary gift from God to Moses and Israel.

b. If Your Presence does not go with us, do not bring us: Moses continued his bold way of speaking with God. God had just promised His presence; Moses responded by warning or cautioning God of the consequences of not keeping His promise.

c. For how then will it be known that Your people and I have found grace in Your sight, except You go with us? Moses knew that nothing the Lord could give them would make them truly different from the nations. Only the strong presence of the Lord Himself could do that.

i. Moses wanted something for Israel that would show that they were not just like all the other nations, and that could only be the unique, powerful presence of their God. Israel’s relationship with Yahweh – a unique example of ethical monotheism in the ancient world – did make them different from all other ancient peoples. God among them made them different. It was important for Israel to know this for themselves; it was also important for the other nations to know this.

ii. ” ‘Now,’ said Moses to God, ‘I am asking for this something extra, because I am concerned. Here we are thy people. How are all the other nations to know that we really are your people? They are looking on at us, they are laughing at us, mocking us and jeering at us, they are ready to overwhelm us. Now, I am asking for something,’ said Moses, ‘that will make it absolutely clear that we are not just one of the nations of the world, but that we are thy people, that we are separate, unique, altogether apart.’ ” (Lloyd-Jones)

d. I will also do this thing that you have spoken; for you have found grace in My sight, and I know you by name: God honored the bold intercession of Moses, and He promised to restore His relationship with Israel.

3. (Exo 33:18) Moses’ desire to draw closer.

And he said, “Please, show me Your glory.”

a. Please, show me Your glory: Moses won a “yes” answer from God when he asked for the special presence of God to remain with Israel on the way to the Promised Land (Exodus 33:12-17). He also won a confirmation of the promise from God and an affirmation of close relationship. Yet he was still not satisfied. He wanted more in his personal relationship with God.

i. Spurgeon thought that perhaps Moses, when he asked for this, was somewhat like Peter on the Mount of Transfiguration when he asked for something, not really understanding what he said. This was such a bold and brave request that it might have been beyond Moses to really experience; yet God was still pleased with Moses and his longing to know the Lord in greater and deeper ways.

ii. This hunger for more of God – for more of an experience with God – is a mark of true revival and restoration of relationship. Whatever Moses had experienced with God, he now wanted more. “The more a man knows of God, the more desirous he is to know him.” (Trapp)

iii. “We may have been Christians for many years, but have we ever really longed for some person, direct knowledge and experience of God? Oh, I know, we pray for causes, we pray for the Church, we pray for missionaries, we pray for our own efforts that we organize, yes, but that is not what I am concerned about. We all ask for personal blessings, but how much do we know of this desire for God himself? That is what Moses asked for: ‘Show me thy glory. Take me yet a step nearer.’ ” (Lloyd-Jones)

b. Show me Your glory: This was an interesting request. Moses already saw something of the glory of God (Exodus 16:10 and 24:16-17), yet he wanted more. He sensed that he had not seen anything yet.

i. “Now Moses’ prayer is to see the kabod, the manifested glory (literally ‘weight’) of YHWH.” (Cole)

ii. “In other words, by revival we do not mean the Church being blessed by God, and conscious of his presence, and enabled to do his work. Moses, in a sense, was already conscious of all that... But Moses was not satisfied. And revival, I repeat, is not the Church being blessed and being conscious of God’s presence, and being enabled to do her work. Revival goes beyond all that.” (Lloyd-Jones)

4. (Exo 33:19-20) God tells Moses what He will show him.

Then He said, “I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” But He said, “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.”

a. I will make all My goodness pass before you: Moses asked to see the glory of God (Exodus 33:18), and God promised to show Moses His goodness. God’s glory lies in His goodness. When Moses saw the glory of God, His first understanding was that God was good. If we don’t know that God is good, we don’t know much about Him at all.

i. God didn’t reveal His justice to Moses, not His power, and not His wrath against sin. All those are truly aspects of God’s nature, but when He showed Himself to Moses He displayed His goodness.

ii. Sometimes people think they must “balance” God, supposing there is something like a Yin and Yang to the universe, in the sense of light and dark, good and evil, law and grace. But God Himself is “unbalanced” in this sense. He is entirely good. Even His justice and power and wrath must be understood as aspects of His goodness.

b. I will proclaim the name of the Lord before you: In the thinking of the ancient Hebrews (and also in other ancient cultures), the name represented a person’s character and nature. God promised to reveal His character to Moses, not merely a title.

i. Lloyd-Jones gives the idea of what God said to Moses: “I will stoop to your weakness. I will let you see something. But, much more important than that, I will cause all my goodness to pass before you. I will give you a deeper insight and understanding into myself, into my character, into what I am. That is what you really need to know.”

c. You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live: God would not – and could not – literally show Moses His face. This helps us to understand what was meant in Exodus 33:11 when it said, the Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.

i. “But at the same time he assures him that he could not see his face-the fulness of his perfections and the grandeur of his designs, and live, as no human being could bear, in the present state, this full discovery. But he adds, Thou shalt see my back parts.” (Clarke)

5. (Exo 33:21-23) How God will protect Moses when God passes before Moses.

And the Lord said, “Here is a place by Me, and you shall stand on the rock. So it shall be, while My glory passes by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock, and will cover you with My hand while I pass by. Then I will take away My hand, and you shall see My back; but My face shall not be seen.”

a. Here is a place by Me, and you shall stand on the rock: God was about to reveal Himself to Moses in a unique way. God prepared the event carefully, giving Moses a specific place to stand.

i. Later, Elijah met God in what may have been the same place (1 Kings 19:8-18).

b. While My glory passes by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock: God’s glory could not remain in front of Moses, it had to pass by him. Even with that, Moses had to be protected by the hand of God and the cleft of the rock when the glory of God passed before him.

i. This is a vivid and endearing image: protected both by the hand of God and hidden away in the rock of refuge He provides. The shelter in the cleft of the rock gave the image for Augustus Toplady in his famous hymn Rock of Ages:

Rock of Ages, cleft for me;
Let me hide myself in Thee.

ii. Protected by God, Moses could endure the glory of God passing before him. Isaiah had a glimpse of the glory of God, and it moved him to mourn his own sin and unworthiness (Isaiah 6). John experienced some of the glory of God and fell at the feet of Jesus like a dead man (Revelation 1:17). Paul experienced the glory of God on the Damascus Road, but also in the experience described in 2 Corinthians 12. It was such an amazing experience that he could only barely describe it.

iii. Others, beyond the times of the Bible, have also experienced glimpses of this glory. Lloyd-Jones mentioned a few:

· Jonathan Edwards described a time of praying in the forest, kneeling for an hour that seemed to pass in just a few moments because of the powerful sense of God’s glory and presence.
· David Brainerd, a great colonial era missionary to the Native Americans, knelt in the snow and prayed for hours – literally sweating in his body though it was freezing cold in the air. The sweat was a physical reaction to the intensity of the spiritual experience.
· D.L. Moody asked God for such an experience, and when God gave it to him he had to ask God to pull back His hand, because he felt like it was killing him.

iv. What many people speak of today as the presence and the glory of God seems very trivial compared to what Moses and these others experienced. There is no kabod – no weight to their experience of glory.

v. We also should have an earnest desire to experience God deeply. Paul made it clear that we cannot fully see the glory of God – we see it as in a piece of polished metal, dimly (1 Corinthians 13:12) – but we can see something of it. Paul didn’t say we see nothing of the glory of God, only that we can’t fully see it or comprehend it.

c. I will take away My hand, and you shall see My back; but My face shall not be seen: Moses could only see God’s back (a unique term often not used for anatomy). The idea is that Moses could only see behind God, not God Himself.

i. “The word…could just as well and more accurately be rendered ‘the after-effects’ of his radiant glory, which had just passed by.” (Kaiser)

ii. Poole puts it like this: “Thou shalt see a shadow or obscure delineation of my glory, as much as thou canst bear, though not as much as thou dost desire.”

iii. “These four things are happening at the same time, whenever God draws near to his people – revealing and concealing, blessing and protecting, all happening together at one and the same time. You cannot separate these things.” (Lloyd-Jones)

iv. With these special protections, God rewarded the desire of Moses to see His glory as much as humanly possible. This demonstrates that God rewards the seeking heart. And as marvelous as this experience was for Moses, it still cannot compare to the revelation of God given to us in Jesus Christ.

· And the Word became 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)
· But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. (2 Corinthians 3:18)

©2013 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
[A previous revision of this page can be found here]

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