Exodus 33
Pulpit Commentary
And the LORD said unto Moses, Depart, and go up hence, thou and the people which thou hast brought up out of the land of Egypt, unto the land which I sware unto Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, Unto thy seed will I give it:
Verses 1-6. - THE THREAT OF GOD'S WITHDRAWAL, AND THE HUMILIATION OF THE PEOPLE. The intercession of Moses, and his offer to sacrifice himself for his people had obtained from God some great concessions, viz. -

1. That the people's lives should be spared (Exodus 32:14);

2. And that they should be led into Palestine (ibid. ver. 34) But a change had been introduced into the conditions under which the future journeys were to be made, somewhat obscurely indicated in the words - "Behold, mine angel shall go before thee" (ibid.) - which was now to be more distinctly set forth. "God's angel" may mean his Presence in the Person of his Son - as it appears to mean in Exodus 23:20-23 - or it may mean simply one of the created angelic host, which seems to be its sense in Exodus 32:34, and in ver. 2 of this chapter. By vers. 2 and 3 taken in combination it was rendered manifest, both to Moses and to the people (ver. 4), that they were threatened with the loss of God's actual presence and personal protection during the remainder of their wanderings, and would have, instead of it, the mere guidance and help of an angel in the inferior sense of the word. This was felt to be "evil tidings" and the people consequently "mourned" and "stripped themselves of their ornaments" (ver. 6). Real penitence at last entered their hearts, and led to self-abasement. Verse 1. The Lord said unto Moses. In continuation of what he had said in Exodus 32:33, 34, but possibly at another time; and with the object of fully explaining what had been meant in ver. 34. The land which I sware unto Abraham. See Genesis 12:7; Genesis 13:15; Genesis 15:18, etc.
And I will send an angel before thee; and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite:
Verse 2. - I will send an angel before thee. Note the change from "my angel" (Exodus 32:34) to "an angel;" which, however, would still have been ambiguous, but for what follows in ver. 3. The angel of God's presence is "an angel" in Exodus 23:20. I will drive out. The whole covenant had fallen with Israel's infraction of it, and it was for God to retract or renew his part of it as it pleased him. He here of his free grace renews the promise to drive out the Canaanitish nations. Compare Exodus 23:23-31.
Unto a land flowing with milk and honey: for I will not go up in the midst of thee; for thou art a stiffnecked people: lest I consume thee in the way.
Verse 3. - Unto a land. Ver. 2 is parenthetic, and ver. 3 coheres with ver. 1 - "Go up hence, thou and the people, unto the land which I sware unto Abraham - unto a land flowing," etc. On the milk and honey of Canaan, see the comment upon Exodus 3:8. For I will not go up in the midst of thee. At length there was an end of ambiguity - God's purpose was made plain - the people had shown themselves unfit for his near presence, and he would withdraw himself. So it would be best even for them; since, if they were about to show- themselves as perverse in the future as they had in the past, his near presence could only lead to their entire destruction. Some day they would so provoke him, that he would consume them in the way.
And when the people heard these evil tidings, they mourned: and no man did put on him his ornaments.
Verse 4. - When the people heard. Moses had communicated to the people what God had said to him. They felt it to be evil tidings - they woke up at last to a feeling of the ineffable value of the privileges which they bad hitherto enjoyed - his guidance by the pillar of the cloud (Exodus 13:21) - his counsel, if there were need to ask anything (Exodus 15:25) - his aid in the day of battle (Exodus 17:8-13) - his near presence, by day and by night, constantly (Exodus 13:22) - and they dreaded a change, which they felt must involve a loss, and one the extent of which they could not measure. "An angel" is a poor consolation when we are craving for Jehovah! So the people mourned - felt true sorrow - were really troubled in their hearts - and, to show their penitence, ceased to wear their customary ornaments. These may have consisted of armlets, bracelets, and even, perhaps, anklets, all of which were worn by men in Egypt at this period.
For the LORD had said unto Moses, Say unto the children of Israel, Ye are a stiffnecked people: I will come up into the midst of thee in a moment, and consume thee: therefore now put off thy ornaments from thee, that I may know what to do unto thee.
Verse 5. ? For the Lord had said unto Moses, etc. Rather, "And the Lord said unto M." (so most recent commentators, as Keil, Kalisch, etc.) The message was sent to the people after their repentance, and in reply to it. It was not, however, as our version makes it, a threat of destruction, but only a repetition of the statement made in ver. 2, that, if God went up with them, the probable result would be their destruction. Translate - "Ye are a stiff-necked people; were I for one moment to go up in the midst of thee, I should destroy thee," Put off thy ornaments. The command seems strange, when we had just been told that "no man did put on him his ornaments" (ver 4) but the word translated put off probably means "lay aside altogether." The intention was to make their continued disuse of the ornaments a test of their penitence.
And the children of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments by the mount Horeb.
Verse 6. - The people accepted the test and stripped themselves of their ornaments - i.e., ceased to wear them henceforward. By the Mount Horeb. Rather, "from Mount Horeb." From and after this occurrence at Horeb ( = Sinai), the Israelites wore no ornaments, in token of their continued contrition for their apostasy

CHAPTER 33:7-11
And Moses took the tabernacle, and pitched it without the camp, afar off from the camp, and called it the Tabernacle of the congregation. And it came to pass, that every one which sought the LORD went out unto the tabernacle of the congregation, which was without the camp.
Verses 7-11. - THE FIRST ERECTION OF A TABERNACLE. The decision of the matter still hung in suspense. God had not revoked his threat to withdraw himself and leave the host to the conduct of an angel. He had merely reserved his final decision (ver. 5). Moses was anxious to wrestle with him in prayer until he obtained the reversal of this sentence; but he could not be always ascending Sinai, when the camp needed his superintending care, and the camp as yet contained no place of worship, where a man could pray and be secure against disturbance. Moses, under these circumstances, with the tabernacle in his mind, but without leisure to construct it, contrived "for the present distress" a temporary tabernacle or tent. He took, apparently, the tent that had hitherto been his own, and removed it to a position outside the camp, erecting it there, and at the same time giving it the name of "the tent of meeting" (ver. 7). Hither he decreed that all persons should come who desired communion with God (ver. 7), and hither he resorted himself for the same purpose (ver. 8). It pleased God to approve these arrangements; and to show his approval by a visible token. Whenever Moses entered the "tent of meeting," the pillar of the cloud descended from the top of Sinai, and took up its station at the door of the tent (ver. 9), thus securing Moses from interruption. At the sight the people "worshipped," each at his tent's door, while Moses was privileged to speak with God "face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend" (ver. 11). Joshua accompanied him on the first occasion, and remained behind, to guard the tent, when Moses left it (ibid.). Verse 7 - Moses took the tabernacle. The "tabernacle" proper was not yet constructed. (See chs. 35-40.) And the word used is not that properly rendered "tabernacle" - viz., mishkan (Exodus 26:1); but the far more common word ohel, which means "tent." The proper translation would be, "Moses took the tent." But the question at once arises - What tent? It is suggested that the article may have the force of the possessive pronoun, and indicate that he took "his tent." (Compare Matthew 9:10, where "the house" undoubtedly means "his house.") Moses took his own tent, probably as the best in the encampment, and converted it to a sacred use, transferring his own abode to another. Afar off from the camp. The sacred and the profane must not approach each other too closely - an interval must be set between them. But the distance, evidently, was not great (ver. 10). The tabernacle of the congregation. Rather, "the tent of meeting" or "of conference" - i.e., the tent in which he expected to meet and converse with God. See the comment on Exodus 27:21. Every one which sought the Lord went out. Moses must have commanded this. The "tent" was not to be a mere oratory for himself, but open to all Israelites.
And it came to pass, when Moses went out unto the tabernacle, that all the people rose up, and stood every man at his tent door, and looked after Moses, until he was gone into the tabernacle.
Verse 8. - When Moses went out .... all the people rose up. Probably Moses "went out" at a set time, or at set times, each day; and the people watched for his going, and "rose up," as a mark of respect and reverence. They felt that he went to the tent mainly to pray for them.
And it came to pass, as Moses entered into the tabernacle, the cloudy pillar descended, and stood at the door of the tabernacle, and the LORD talked with Moses.
Verse 9. - As Moses entered into the tabernacle. Rather, "When Moses was gone into the tent." The cloudy pillar descended. It is not quite clear whether this was done once only, or whether the pillar, during the continuance of this "tent of meeting," alternated between the top of Sinai and the door of the tent, descending when Moses entered the tent and reascending when he quitted it. The latter supposition is most consonant with the previous statement (ver. 7) that "every one which sought the Lord went out unto the tabernacle" (tent), for the people were at no time allowed to approach the cloud. And the Lord talked with Moses. Literally, "And talked with Moses." The cloudy pillar, in and through which God made his presence felt, is here identified with God, and said to have conversed with Moses.
And all the people saw the cloudy pillar stand at the tabernacle door: and all the people rose up and worshipped, every man in his tent door.
Verse 10. - And all the people saw... and all the people rose up. This is a literal translation; but it would make the sense clearer to the ordinary reader if the passage were rendered - "And when all the people saw the cloudy pillar stand at the door of the tent, then all the people rose up," etc. Worshipped. Literally, "bowed themselves down" - "made an obeisance," in token that they recognised the presence of God.
And the LORD spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend. And he turned again into the camp: but his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, departed not out of the tabernacle.
Verse 11. - The Lord spake unto Moses face to face. As one present - not as one at a distance - "month to mouth," as we read in Numbers 12:8 - but not under any visible form (see vers. 20, 23, and compare Deuteronomy 4:12, 15). He turned again. After each conference, Moses returned to the camp, where, no doubt, he had put up for himself another tent, and where his presence was needed He left, however, his personal attendant ("minister"), Joshua, to watch and guard the sacred structure during his absence. It is remarkable that the trust was committed to Joshua, rather than to Aaron, or any of the Levites. Probably the reason of this was, that Joshua alone had had no paw in the idolatry of the calf. (See Exodus 32:17.)

CHAPTER 33:12-17
And Moses said unto the LORD, See, thou sayest unto me, Bring up this people: and thou hast not let me know whom thou wilt send with me. Yet thou hast said, I know thee by name, and thou hast also found grace in my sight.
Verses 12-17. - THE REVOCATION OF THE THREAT OF WITHDRAWAL. After some days' "wrestling with God" in the "tent of meeting," Moses prayed to know definitely what God had determined on. "Show me thy way," he said (ver. 13) - "Whom wilt thou send with me?" To this demand, God made the gracious reply - "My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest" (ver. 14). This was satisfactory, except that it did not distinctly include the conduct of the people - it might be merely a promise to himself. So Moses (vers. 15, 16) requires a more explicit assurance, and, closely associating the people with himself, declares that he will not move a step further, unless God allows the people to find grace in his sight, and consents to "distinguish" them by "going up" with them. Then at length God yields and gives the assurance" I will do this thing also that thou hast spoken" (ver. 17) - i.e. "I will go up visibly with the people and distinguish them." (See the comment on ver. 16.) Verses 12, 13. - See, thou sayest. Moses takes advantage of his privilege of speaking as friend with friend, and uses familiar terms - "See," he says, "thou hast told me to conduct the people to Canaan, yet thou hast not made it clear whom thou wilt send with me. If it is to be an angel, what angel? Why not the angel of the original promise (Exodus 23:20-23)? Thou hast distinguished me with thy favour - Consider that this nation is thy people, and extend thy favour to them. At any rate shew me thy way - tell me plainly what thou wilt do."
Now therefore, I pray thee, if I have found grace in thy sight, shew me now thy way, that I may know thee, that I may find grace in thy sight: and consider that this nation is thy people.
And he said, My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest.
Verse 14. - My presence shall go with thee. Literally," My presence shall go up" - my own presence, not that of an angel. That for which Moses had been so earnestly pleading is, seemingly, granted. God will go up. I will give thee rest. - i.e. "bring thee to Canaan." (Compare Deuteronomy 3:20; Hebrews 4:8.)
And he said unto him, If thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence.
Verses 15, 16. - And he said. Still Moses is not quite satisfied. God had said - "I will give thee rest" - not "I will give you rest." Moses must see distinctly that the people are associated with him before he desists. So he replies - "If thy presence go not up, carry us not up hence. For wherein shall it be known that I and thy people have found grace in thy sight? Is it not in that thou goest with us?" The reply in ver. 17 sets his doubt finally at rest.
For wherein shall it be known here that I and thy people have found grace in thy sight? is it not in that thou goest with us? so shall we be separated, I and thy people, from all the people that are upon the face of the earth.
Verse 16. - So shall we be separated. Rather, "So shall we be distinguished." God's presence with them would distinguish them from all the other nations of the earth - place them in a category alone and apart from all others. Angelic guidance would not have done this; for even heathen nations had their protecting angels (Daniel 10:13, 20; Daniel 11:1).
And the LORD said unto Moses, I will do this thing also that thou hast spoken: for thou hast found grace in my sight, and I know thee by name.
Verse 17. - I will do this thing also. "I will extend my favour to thy people also, and distinguish them, as well as thee, by going up with them. I will do this for thy sake, because thou hast found grace in my sight." Moses' petition is at last fully granted - the threat of withdrawal cancelled - the promise of Divine guidance and protection renewed I know thee by name. It is a supreme favour for God to know us by name. It marks "a specifically personal relation to God" (Keil). The expression is perhaps taken from the phraseology of Oriental Courts, where not one in a hundred of the courtiers is known to the monarch by name.

CHAPTER 33:18-23
And he said, I beseech thee, shew me thy glory.
Verses 18-23. - THE REQUEST TO SEE GOD'S GLORY, AND THE REPLY TO IT. Having obtained the full restoration of the people to God's favour, Moses felt emboldened to ask a boon for himself. He had already been admitted to closer communion with God than any one of the race of man since Adam in Paradise. But what had been granted him, instead of satisfying, only made him desirous of something further, something closer, something than which nothing more close could be imagined. So he asks to see the unveiled glory of God (ver. 18). He asks, that is, to see exactly that which man in the flesh cannot see, or at any rate cannot see and live. But, of course, he does not know this. God, in reply, tells him he shall see all that can be seen of him - more than anything which he has seen before. He shall see "all his goodness" - he shall have another revelation of the name of God (ver. 18); and, further, he shall be so placed as to see as much as mortal man can behold of "his glory" - God will pass by him, and when he has passed, Moses shall be allowed to look after him, and see what is here called "his back." This was probably some afterglow or reflection from the Divine glory, which language must have been as inadequate to describe as it was to embody the "unspeakable words" heard by St. Paul in the "third heaven," and declared by him "impossible for a man to utter" (2 Corinthians 12:4). Verse 18. - Show me thy glory. The glory of God had been seen by Moses to a certain extent, when God "descended in fire" upon Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:18). It had been seen with more distinctness when he was called up and "went into the midst of the cloud" (Exodus 24:18). But he felt, nevertheless, that he had not as vet really beheld it. He longed for that ineffable blessing of the full "beatific vision," which is promised to us after death, if we die in the faith and fear of Christ (1 Corinthians 13:12). "Increase of appetite doth grow by what it feeds on" - and the veiled splendours that he had been allowed to see only made him hunger the more for the unveiled radiance that he had not seen as vet.
And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy.
Verse 19. - I will make all my goodness pass before thee. It is not quite clear what this means, or how it was fulfilled - whether the reference is to the revelation of God's goodness in Exodus 34:7, or to the entire experience that Moses would have of God in his later life. It is against the former view, that, if we take it, we can assign to the ensuing clause no distinct and separate sense. I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee. See Exodus 34:5, 6. And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious - i.e., I am not bound to do all this for thee. It is of my free grace that I do it. I intend, however, to be gracious, and show mercy to thee, because thou hast found favour in my eyes.
And he said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live.
Verse 20. - No man can see me and live. The inability proclaimed in these words is not an absolute inability to see God, but an inability to see and survive the sight. Jacob, when he wrestled with the angel, marvelled that he could see God, even in that intermediate way, and live (Genesis 32:30). It may well be that actually to see God, while we are in the flesh, would kill us.
And the LORD said, Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock:
Verse 21. - Behold, there is a place by me. No sufficient indication is given by these words, or by any other words in Scripture, of the exact locality of the manifestation to Moses. The so-called" traditions "are worthless; and we can only say that the scene was probably some portion of the upper part of the Ras Sufsafeh.
And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by:
Verse 22. - I will put thee in a clift of the rock, The "clift" has been identified with the "cave of Elijah" (1 Kings 19:9); but the words used are different; and even were they the same, no identity could be established. It is rather in the broader lines of their missions and characters that resemblance is to be sought between Moses and Elijah than in the minuter details of their careers. Cover thee with my hand - i.e., "at once conceal thee and protect thee." Without these precautions, it is implied, the nearness of the Divine Presence might have had injurious effects.
And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen.
Verse 23. - Thou shalt see my back parts. Literally, "my back." The anthropomorphisms of the passage are numerous and strong - they must, of course, be regarded as accommodations to human ideas. After the Divine Presence had passed by, Moses was to be permitted to look out, and would see so much of the Divine glory as he would be able to bear; but still something far short of that which he had desired to see. The explanation that "the back of God" means "his works - the consequences of his activity" (Kalisch) is fanciful, and not borne out by the context. My face cannot be seen. See above, ver. 20; and. compare John 1:18; John 6:46; 1 Timothy 1:17; 1 John 4:12.

Pulpit Commentary


Exodus 32
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