Exodus Chapter 33

The Tent Outside the Camp

    • The Lord told Moses to get up and lead the Israelites to the land that He had promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He said that He would send an angel ahead of them to drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites, but that He would not go with them Himself because they are such a stubborn people that He might destroy them on the way.

      • Guzik writes, “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.’… 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.”

    • When the Israelites heard what God said they went into mourning and stopped wearing their jewelry because God had told Moses to tell them, “You are such a stubborn and rebellious people that if I continue to travel with you I might kill you. Take off all of your jewelry while I decide what to do with you.” After they left Mount Sinai, the Israelites no longer wore jewelry.

      • “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.” (Guzik)

    • Moses set up a tent of meeting a long way outside of camp, and anyone who wanted to consult with the Lord went there to do so. Every time Moses went out to the tent, all of the Israelites would stand at the door of their tents and watch Moses go inside. When Moses entered the tent the pillar of cloud would descend, stay at the entrance of the tent, and the Lord would talk to Moses.

      • Guzik writes, “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…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… 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…The people watched and noticed when Moses worshiped. When Moses worshiped, they also worshiped. Moses prompted the people to draw close to God by his own example…Everyone saw this pillar of cloud come to the tent of Moses, and they knew Moses worshiped 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. ”

    • When the Israelites saw the pillar of cloud at the entrance to the tent, they would stand up then bow down and worship from the door of their tents.

    • The Lord spoke to Moses face to face just like we would speak to a friend. Even when Moses returned to camp, his assistant, Joshua, remained inside the tent.

      • This passage (verse 11) is the subject of some controversy because it seems to be in direct contradiction with verse 20 in which God tells Moses that he can’t see His face because “no one can see Me and live.” How do we make sense of this?

              1. One option would be that Moses is not speaking to God the father, but rather to God the son (or pre-incarnate Christ) so he is indeed looking physically upon Him. This is called a Christophany and this does occur at other points in Scripture. For example, Genesis 18:1-33, in which Abraham and Sarah entertain the Lord and two angels. In this instance He appears to them physically. Also, Genesis 32:22-30, when Jacob wrestles with what appeared to be a man, but was actually God.

              1. The second option, and the position most commentators take, is that this passage makes use of the figure of speech called anthropomorphism, in which human characteristics are applied to God. Since God doesn’t have a literal face, hand, back, etc, the idiom “face to face” used in verse 11 is meant to convey that Moses spoke to God “intimately” or “familiarly” as opposed to how God spoke to other prophets via dreams or visions.

The Lord’s Glory

    • One day Moses said to the Lord, “You’ve been telling me to lead these people to the Promised Land, but You haven’t said who You will send with me. You’ve told me that You look favorably on me. If that’s true, teach me your ways so that I can come to understand You more fully and continue to please You. Remember that this nation is Your people.”

      • “Moses did not merely want God’s blessings; he wanted to know God’s nature and character, as well as the manner of and reasons for His actions. God’s goal of revealing Himself was beginning to be realized in at least one person.” (NLT Illustrated Study Bible)

    • The Lord replied, “I will personally go with you and I will give you rest, Moses.”

    • Moses continued, “If You don’t go with us, please don’t make us leave here. How will anyone know that we have found favor with You if You don’t remain with us? Your presence among us is the only thing that sets us apart from all the other people on the earth.”

    • The Lord answered, “I will do as you have asked because I look favorably on you.”

    • Moses then asked the Lord, “Please, let me see Your glory.”

    • The Lord said, “I will make My goodness pass in front of you and say My name, Yahweh, because I show mercy and compassion to whoever I choose. However, you cannot look at My face because no one can see Me and live. Stand over here by the crevice of this rock. I will cover you with My hand as My glory passes by, then I will remove My hand so that you can see behind Me.”

      • Again, this is another example of anthropomorphism. The following quote from the qotquestions.org article that I referenced above does a good job of explaining, “When God told Moses, “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live” (Exodus 33:20), He was saying that truly seeing God as He is, in the fullness of His glory, is more than mortal man can tolerate (cf. Isaiah 6:5). Therefore, to protect Moses, God was only going to reveal that portion of His majesty and power that was humanly possible to absorb. God communicated this plan to Moses in a way we can all understand: “You cannot look Me full in the face [it is impossible for you to know everything about Me], but I will allow you to see my back [I will reveal to you a small portion of My nature so as not to overwhelm you].”

      • Guzik writes, “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…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. ”