Exodus 33: The Command to Leave Sinai

1 The Lord said to Moses, “Depart; go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your offspring I will give it.’ 2 I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 3 Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.” 4 When the people heard this disastrous word, they mourned, and no one put on his ornaments. 5 For the Lord had said to Moses, “Say to the people of Israel, ‘You are a stiff-necked people; if for a single moment I should go up among you, I would consume you. So now take off your ornaments, that I may know what to do with you.’” 6 Therefore the people of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments, from Mount Horeb onward.

-Not only did the Lord send a plague but He has also declared that He will give the promised land to their “offspring”. He commands them to go but of course they will not because God says He will not help them and they know they have no chance without Him. This is the same as commanding us not to sin but of course we still do no matter how righteous we become. It is a way of exposing our guilt. The people can’t obey and are seeing they are guilty which should hopefully cause them to teach their offspring well so they will not make the same mistake.
The Tent of Meeting
7 Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, far off from the camp, and he called it the tent of meeting. And everyone who sought the Lord would go out to the tent of meeting, which was outside the camp. 8 Whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people would rise up, and each would stand at his tent door, and watch Moses until he had gone into the tent. 9 When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and the Lord would speak with Moses. 10 And when all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise up and worship, each at his tent door. 11 Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses turned again into the camp, his assistant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent.

-We are told Moses met with God “face to face” yet in just a few verses Moses asks to see God in all His glory. God then tells Moses he will pass by and he will see His back but not His face. So if Moses was meeting God face to face, he was either meeting with a cloud representing God or saw God the Son in human form, Jesus. It seems to include this set of verses here right before the next set of verses would serve the purpose to point out the difference between the two. Moses used to see God face to face but now wants to see God’s face? It would make sense if these events were in the opposite order but they are not, it is clearly talking about the past. Interestingly, Moses’ successor Joshua was present with Moses and even stayed in after Moses left and turned to the people.

Moses’ Intercession
12 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 favor in my sight.’ 13 Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.”

-Moses is not asking for proof or trying to challenge God, he is asking to know God more. All of us should ask the same thing. Even though he seems to know things like the book of life, he doesn’t seem to have the same understanding of God that we do today. He does not realize God truly cannot be seen and never will, even on the new earth or in heaven. What he is asking is that if he understands even more about God, he can better follow Him because he will understand His will and His ways better. Keep in mind, Moses does not have scripture and only has what he himself has experienced and any stories or knowledge that has been passed down since the beginning.

14 And he said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” 15 And he said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. 16 For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?”

-Moses recognizes that it is God that makes their people distinct, not he or the Israelites themselves. God must go with them or else they are not special. He truly seems to “get it” and knows if God will not go with him, perhaps if he knew more about God and His ways Moses could lead the people.

17 And the Lord said to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” 18 Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” 19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” 21 And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, 22 and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”

-It is a beautiful thing being described. God places His hand on Moses to protect him and ensure his safety as He passes by. Moses gets to witness something no other man ever gets to witness while still on this earth. We know Enoch was taken away by God and Elijah eventually gets taken up in a chariot and many receive visions but no one gets to see God like this. Moses must have truly been living by faith and being the perfect kind of leader that reflects God. He is incredibly humble but will light a fire under his people and won’t hesitate to command murder if it is the right thing to do. He is so in tune with God, he threw the tablets down and destroyed them when he saw the horrid idolatry just like God wanted to destroy the people and end the covenant with them for what they had done. This is the kind of reward for faith and obedience we could receive if we choose Him to such an extent as Moses did. Remember, this was the man who was almost killed for not circumcising his son and had to have Aaron speak for him at first because he was too afraid. He went from being one of the worst examples of a leader to possibly the best who ever lived aside from Jesus.

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