Exodus 33



                                                THE PEOPLE (vs. 1-6)


The intercession of Moses, and his offer to sacrifice himself for his people had obtained from

God some great concessions, viz:


  • That the people’s lives should be spared (ch. 32:14);


  • And that they should be led into Palestine (ibid. v. 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 ch. 23:20-23 — or it may mean

            simply one of the created angelic host, which seems to be its sense in

                        ch. 32:34, and in v. 2 of this chapter. By vs. 2 and 3 taken in combination it

            was rendered manifest, both to Moses and to the people (v. 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”

            (v. 6). Real penitence at last entered their hearts, and led to self-abasement.


vs. 1-6 – “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

swear unto Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, Unto thy seed will I give it:

And I will send an angel before thee” - Note the change from my angel” (ch. 32:34)

toan angel;” which, however, would still have been ambiguous, but for what follows

in v. 3. The angel of God’s presence is “an angel” in ch.23:20 – “and I will drive out

the Canaanite, the Amorite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the

Jebusite” - 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.” 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.”  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 had hitherto

enjoyed — His guidance by the pillar of the cloud (ch. 13:21) — His counsel,

if there were need to ask anything (ch. 15:25) — His aid in the day of battle

(ch.17:8-13) — His near presence, by day and by night, constantly (ch. 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” – 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 v. 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,” – “therefore now put

off thy ornaments from thee, that I may know what to do unto thee.” The

command seems strange, when we had just been told that “no man did put on him

his ornaments” (v 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.  (Compare Isaiah 3:16-26 – CY – 2010)

And the children of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments 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



                        The Hiding of God’s Face from Man


When God hides away His face from His people, it may be:


  • AS A JUDGMENT. It was as a judgment that God separated between

            Himself and man after the Fall, and “drove man forth” from the Garden of

            Eden (Genesis 3:24). It was as a judgment that He withdrew from Saul,

            and “answered him not, neither by dreams, by Urim, nor by prophets”

            (I Samuel 28:6). When He “hid His face” from David, and forgot all his

            misery and trouble, it was because David had offended Him by the grievous

            sin into which he had fallen. This, again, was a judgment. Of a similar

            character was His “removal of Israel out of his sight” (II Kings 17:23) in

            the reign of Hoshea, and His “casting of Jerusalem and Judah out of His

            presence (II Kings 24:20), in the reign of Zedekiah. And so, when, at the

            present day, He ceases to make His light shine upon us, withdrawing, as it

            were, behind a cloud, and no longer shedding the brightness of His radiance

            upon our souls — (AS THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA IS

            EXPERIENCING AT THE PRESENT TIMECY  - 2010) - it may be,

            it sometimes is, in judgment. Our sins separate between us and Him.

            (Isaiah 59:2) They raise the barrier which conceals Him from us. They

            constitute the cloud which shuts Him out from our sight.  And He judges us

            for them. Or, the withdrawal may be made:


  • AS AN ACT OF MERCY. When Jesus “did not many miracles” at

            Capernaumbecause of their unbelief,” it was in mercy. When He retired to

            Galilee, and “walked no more in Jewry,” it was in mercy. When He spake in

            parables, “that hearing they might not understand,” it was in mercy. Our

            responsibilities are coordinate with the light vouchsafed us; and the more

            God reveals Himself to us, the more He makes His presence manifest, the

            greater the peril which we incur. Unless His near presence purifies us and

            spiritualizes us, it deadens us. Two disciples were the nearest to Jesus —

            one “lay upon his breast,” the other habitually “dipped with him in the

            dish one was “the beloved disciple,” the other was “the traitor.” In either

            case, the withdrawal is properly regarded:


  • AS A GROUND FOR SADNESS. “The people mourned when they

            heard the evil tidings.” Justly, for, if it was in mercy, how sad that they

            should need such a mercy! How sad that to be removed further from God

            should be a mercy to them! And, if it was in judgment, how much more sad

            that their conduct should have brought upon them such a judgment — have

            caused God to withdraw Himselfhave led Him to punish them by

            banishment from His near presence! What real satisfaction is there in

            existence except His presence? Whom have we in heaven but Him, or who

            is there upon earth that we can desire in comparison with Him? (Psalm 73:25)

            In Him is life; “in His presence is fulness of joy, and at His right hand are          

            pleasures for evermore.” (Psalm 16:11) - If we lose Him, we lose all; if we

            are shut out, even for a time, from Him, we lose more than we can express.

            He is to our spirits more than the sun to all material things. “In him we live,

            and move, and have our being.” (Acts 17:28) - Happily for us, while we live,           

            we may recover His favor; we may prevail on Him once more to “lift up the

            light of His countenance upon us.” (Numbers 6:26, Psalm 4:6) - Mourning,

            self-abasement, real heart-felt sorrow for sin will in EVERY CASE  find          

            acceptance with Him for His Son’s sake, and obtain for us a restoration of the  

            light of His presence.



                        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 (v. 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” (v. 7). Hither he decreed that all

persons should come who desired communion with God, and hither he resorted himself

for the same purpose (v.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 (v. 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” (v.11). Joshua accompanied him on the first occasion, and

remained behind, to guard the tent, when Moses left it (ibid.).


vs. 7-11 – “And Moses took the tabernacle, and pitched it without the camp,

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 (v.10) – “and called it 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.  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.” 

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.”  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.  And all the people saw the cloudy pillar stand at the tabernacle door: and

all the people rose up and worshipped” - Literally, “bowed themselves down”

made an obeisance,” in token that they recognized the presence of God – “every man

in his tent door.  And the LORD spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh

unto his friend.” - 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 vs. 20, 23, and compare

Deuteronomy 4:12,15) – “And he turned again into the camp” - 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 part in the idolatry of the calf.  (See ch. 32:17.)

but his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, departed not out of the




                        The Mode of Recovering God’s Presence


Moses felt that he could not rest till he had obtained for the people the complete return

of God’s favor, and the assurance of His perpetual presence. But this was no easy task.

The offence given was so grievous that it could not be condoned at once. Even the penitence

of the people had produced no more than a promise that God would take the matter into

His consideration, and determine later what He would do to the people (v. 5). Moses sought

to hasten a favorable decision. It is well worth noting the means whereto he had recourse.

These were:


  • THE ERECTION OF A HOUSE OF PRAYER. Moses called it “the

            tent of meeting”; because he hoped that there God would be met with or

            would suffer Himself to be addressed or would let His people draw nigh to

            Him. He erected it “without the camp,” afar off — partly on account of the

            recent pollution of the camp — partly to separate and sunder it from

            secular sights and sounds. Intolerant of delay, he thought it better to take

            the best of existing structures, rather than wait till he could erect a new

            one. As his own tent was the best in the camp, he gave it, not without

            some self-sacrifice.


  • THE RESORT OF THE PEOPLE TO THE HOUSE. “Every one which sought

      the Lord went out unto the tent” (v. 7). Doubtless Moses urged the need of all

      the people’s seeking the Lord, turning to Him, besieging Him with their

      prayers, importuning Him. (Each man with “the plague of his own heart”

      [I Kings 8:38] - CY – 2010)  There had been, so far as appears, no set times of           

      prayer hitherto, and no set place of prayer. All had been left to individual

      feeling or conviction. And the people, we may be sure, had for the most part     

      neglected prayer. In their difficulties they had been content that Moses should   

      pray for them (chps.14:15; 15:25; 17:4, 11,12). Now at length they had awoke

      to the need of personal religion; they had “mourned” and “put off their         

      ornaments”; they — some of them, at any rate — “sought the Lord,” and   

      resorted to the “tent of meeting,” in the hope of finding him there.



            EARNEST INTERCESSION. The narrative of vs. 8-11 describes a

            continual practice. Moses made it his habit to go forth from the camp to

            the “tent of meeting” at a fixed hour each day — possibly more than once a

            day; and, when there, no doubt prayed to the Lord with all the fervor that

            we observe in the recorded prayer of the next section (vs. 12-16). “The

            effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16).

            The daily intercession, recorded in vs. 8-11, culminated in the

            wrestle with God,” which obtained the gracious promise — “I will do this

            thing that thou hast spoken” (v. 17). The general lesson taught is the

            might of prayer:


ü      for oneself;

ü      for others.


            There is a further particular lesson upon the value of a “house of prayer

            most appreciated, through the perversity of human nature, where least

            readily obtainable, least regarded where closest to men’s doors and most






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 (v.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” (v.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 (vs. 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”

(v.17) — i.e. “I will go up visibly with the people and distinguish them.” (See

the comment on v.16.)


vs. 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.”

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?  (ch. 23:20-23) – “Yet thou

hast said, I know thee by name, and thou hast also found grace in my sight.

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” - 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 - “and I will

give thee rest.” – bring thee to Canaan(Compare Deuteronomy 3:20 and

Hebrews 4:8)  And he said unto Him, If thy presence go not with me, carry us not

up hence.” - 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 here that I and thy people have found

grace in thy sight? is it not in that thou goest with us? The reply in v.17 sets his

doubt finally at rest – “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)“I and thy people, from all the people that

are upon the face of the earth.  And the LORD said unto Moses, I will do this

thing also that thou hast spoken” - “I will extend my favor to thy people also,

and distinguish them, as well as thee, by going up with them. I will do this for thy

sake” – “for 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 – “and I know thee by name.”  It is a supreme favor for God to know us

by name. It marks “a specifically personal relation to God”.   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.



                                                Effectual Importunity


Our Lord Jesus Christ spake a parable to show “that men ought always to pray and

not to faint” (Luke 18:1). The present record is, we may be sure, inserted in the Old

Testament for the same purpose. GOD WILLS TO BE IMPORTUNED!   Not,

however, for His own sake, but for ours. He would have us fervent and persistent in prayer,

for the improvement of our characters, the increase of our faith by exercise, the intensifying

of our sense of dependence upon Him. Especially He would have us persistent in

intercessory prayer, because we are then exercising, not only faith, but love; and by

increasing in love, we advance in resemblance to Himself.  For “God is Love.”

(I John 4:8)  Note, that, to be importuned effectively, God must be importuned:


  • WITH FERVOR. Mere repetition will not do. Cold prayers, repeated

            day after day for blessings on ourselves or others, are a mere battologia,

            no more effectual than the involuntary repetitions of a stammering tongue.

            God grants nothing to coldness, nothing to mere words, nothing unless it

            be earnestly desired by a fervid heart. The Buddhists, in many parts of

            Asia, erect praying-machines, which are turned by a small windmill,

            believing that in every revolution of the machine a prayer is offered, and

            that, after so many turns, Buddha is bound to grant it. As well expect God

            to respect the requests of a praying-machine, as the utterances of many

            who languidly repeat the prayers of the Church after the clergyman, or say

            a set form, with small thought and no heart, morning and evening. It is “the

            fervent prayer of a righteous man” — nay, even of a sinnerthat is

            effectual.”  (James 5:16)


  • UNSELFISHLY. Moses postponed his now earnest desire to behold

            for his own satisfaction God’s glory, until he had obtained the restitution of

            the people to favor. His importunity was for them. Let us importune God

            for the conversion of our relatives and friends, the forgiveness of their

            sins, the awakening of their consciences, their perseverance in well-doing,

            and their final entrance into His glory, and we may feel confident of

            prevailing with Him. But, if we importune Him for our own worldly

            advancement, or even if we ask increase of grace for our own sakes solely

            or mainly, we must not be surprised if our prayers remain unanswered. “Ye

            ask and obtain not, because ye ask amiss.” (James 4:3) - The spirit of

            sacrifice is required to sanctify prayer. Those who in a spirit of self-seeking

            asked to sit on the right hand and left hand of Christ in His kingdom obtained

            no promise. (Mark 10:37-40)  Our prayers even for our spiritual advancement

            will scarcely be answered, unless we desire it to promote God’s glory, or to

            help forward the salvation of our fellow-men.





Having obtained the full restoration of the people to God’s favor, 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 (v.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 (v.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 Paul in the “third

heaven,” and declared by him “impossible for a man to utter” - (II Corinthians 12:4).


vs. 18-23 – “And he said, I beseech thee, shew me thy glory.” – Moses 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 (I Corinthians 13:12). And He said, I will

make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD

before thee; (Compare ch. 34:5-6) and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and

will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy.” - 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 favor in my eyes.  And He said, Thou canst

not see my face: for there shall no man 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, marveled that he could see God, (a

pre-manifestation of the incarnation of Christ – a la – sermon by Marion Duncan of

Second Baptist Church in the late 1960’s – CY – 20100 -  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.  “Our God is a consuming fire” – (Hebrews 12:29)  And the LORD

said,  Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock:

 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” - 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 – “while I pass by.  And I will take away mine hand,

and thou shalt see my back parts” - 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 – “but my

face shall not be seen.” – (Compare John 1:18; 6:46; I Timothy 1:17; I John 4:12.



                        A Craving for Close Communion with God



            without the consciousness of being sustained and upheld by an eternal

            omnipotent being — can have no strength or confidence in the present, no

            hope in the future. He is a feeble part of the vast mechanism of a great

            incomprehensible universe — a form which matter has assumed for a time

            powerless to shape his future — the sport of circumstance. From this

            his better nature revolts, and, like some marine organism, throws out

            tentacles to seek a hold on some firm solid object without him. God is the

            only such object truly firm and stable; and hence man may be said to have a

            natural desire for God. As soon as the idea of God is in any way brought

            before him, he feels that it exactly answers an instinctive craving of his

            nature. His soul goes out to it — seizes it — appropriates it — rests on it

            as a sure prop and stay. Intellectually, the idea clears up the riddle of the

            universe; morally, gives a firm foundation to right and wrong, explains the

            authority of conscience, and supplies a motive for virtue; even physically it

            has a value, reducing the infinitude of nature within limits, and furnishing a

            reasonable origin to nature’s laws.


  • A TEST OF SPIRITUALITY. Man needs the idea of God, and

            cannot be satisfied without it; but whether, having got it, he shall thrust it

            into the background, or ever more and more cling to it, and seek to realize

            it, depends on his spiritual condition. Adam and Eve, after they had sinned,

            hid themselves from the presence of God amongst the trees of the

            garden(Genesis 3:8). The Gergesenes “besought Christ that He would

            depart out of their coasts” (Matthew 8:34). The guilty conscience cannot bear

            the near presence of the Most High, shrinks from the keen inspection of the

            all-seeing Eye, would fain skulk and hide among the bushes. The worldly

            heart is indifferent to the thought of God — turns away from it in the

            present — reserves it for a more convenient season. Only the spiritually

            minded delight in dwelling on the thought of God — seek Him constantly

            — crave for communion with Him. Only they can say with sincerity- “As

            the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after thee, O

            God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God” (Psalm 42:1-2).

            They, however, can, and do say this continually. And the more communion

            they obtain, the more they desire. It is after Moses had entered into the

            cloud, and “spoken with God face to face, as a man speaketh unto his

            friend (v. 11), that he beseeches him to “show him His glory.” We

            cannot while on earth obtain the full communion for which our spiritual

            nature craves. We cannot therefore while on earth be satisfied, but must

            ever be craving for something more, ever crying — “Nearer, my God, to

            thee, nearer to thee!” Only in heaven, if we be found worthy, shall we

            see face to face, and know as we are known” (I Corinthians 13:12).



                                     “Rock of Ages, cleft for me,

                                    Let me hide myself in thee!”




"Excerpted text Copyright AGES Library, LLC. All rights reserved.

Materials are reproduced by permission."


This material can be found at: