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Deeper Commentary


Exo 33:1 Yahweh spoke to Moses, Depart, go up from here, you and the people that you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your seed’-
The manifestation of God in a person leads to a mutuality between them. There’s a nice example of the mutuality between God and Moses in Ex. 33:1, where God says that Moses brought up Israel out of Egypt; but in Ex. 32:11, Moses says [as frequently] that God brought Israel out of Egypt. And we too can experience this mutuality in relationship with the Father.

Exo 33:2 I will send an angel before you; and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite-

There are different levels of fellowship between men and God. Thus God’s original intention was that His presence in the Angel should go up to Canaan in the midst of Israel; but because of their weakness, He went in front of them, somewhat separate from them (Ex. 33:2,3). Likewise the glory of God progressively distanced itself from the temple and people of God in Ezekiel’s time.


Exo 33:3 to a land flowing with milk and honey; for I will not go up in the midst of you, for you are a stiff-necked people, lest I consume you in the way-
 I will not
…- see on Ex. 34:9.

The promised land was to flow with milk and honey to those who kept covenant. And yet Saul later precluded the people from experiencing the blessings of the covenant by petty legalism and a desire for personal control. The people were obedient to his word, but then totally disobeyed Yahweh's command about not eating blood as a result of it (1 Sam. 14:25,33).

It was because of the physical presence of the Angel in the tabernacle that when the Angel located Himself outside the camp, the tabernacle was set up again in that same location outside the camp- "I will not go up in the midst of thee (said the angel). . . and Moses took the tabernacle, and pitched it without the camp. . as Moses entered into the tabernacle, the cloudy pillar descended (the Angel). . . and the Lord spake unto Moses face to face" (Ex. 33:3,7,9,11). In passing, note that it was because Joshua lived in this tent (he "departed not out of the tabernacle") that he is said in Ps. 91 to have made his habitation with the Angel, who therefore protected him in the subsequent wanderings. The Septuagint tells us that Moses "pitched his own tent" and called it the tabernacle (Ex. 33:7 LXX); similarly, "the tent" may be a synonym for Moses' own tent (see Ex. 18:7). Does this mean that the mighty Angel of Israel was Moses' personal guardian, seeing that "the Angel of the Lord encampeth (tent language again) around about them that fear Him" (Ps. 34:7)? See on Ps. 78:60


Exo 33:4 When the people heard this evil news, they mourned; and no one put on his jewellery.
Exo 33:5 Yahweh said to Moses, Tell the children of Israel, ‘You are a stiff-necked people. If I were to go up into your midst for one moment, I would consume you. Therefore now take off your jewellery from you, that I may know what to do to you’-
God told Moses that because Israel were stiffnecked, therefore He could not go up with them (Ex. 33:5). Moses agrees the people are stiffnecked, but he knows God well enough to ask Him to still go up in the midst of them (Ex. 34:9). And God did! He acted according to how broad was Moses’ conception of God’s grace. If Abraham’s conception of grace had been even broader, perhaps Sodom would’ve been saved… Moses’ achievement is all the more remarkable because he himself struggled with grace.

Exo 33:6 The children of Israel stripped themselves of their jewellery from Mount Horeb onward-
- see on 1 Sam. 18:4.

Pharaoh was condemned and Egypt overthrown because of his hard heart- but the very word is used to describe the hardness of Israel's heart at the time (Ex. 32:9; 33:3-5; 34:9). Israel were really no better than Egypt- just as Egypt was plagued "so that they could not drink the water" (Ex. 7:24), so we find Israel in the same situation right after leaving Egypt (Ex. 15:23). As the Egyptians were stripped of their jewellery, so Israel stripped themselves of it before the golden calf (Ex. 12:36; 33:6).

Exo 33:7 Now Moses used to take the tent and to pitch it outside the camp, far away from the camp, and he called it The Tent of Meeting. It happened that everyone who sought Yahweh went out to the Tent of Meeting, which was outside the camp.
Exo 33:8 It happened that when Moses went out to the Tent, that all the people rose up, and stood, each one at their tent door, and watched Moses, until he had gone into the Tent.
Exo 33:9 It happened, when Moses entered into the Tent, that the pillar of cloud descended, stood at the door of the Tent, and spoke with Moses.
Exo 33:10 All the people saw the pillar of cloud stand at the door of the Tent, and all the people rose up and worshiped, everyone at their tent door.
Exo 33:11 Yahweh spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. He turned again into the camp, but his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, didn’t depart out of the Tent-
We are told in Ex. 33:20 that no man can see the face of God and live; but in Ex. 33:11 we read that “The LORD (Yahweh) spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaketh to his friend” - i.e. directly. It could not have been the LORD, Yahweh, Himself in person, who spoke to Moses face to face, because no man can see God Himself. It was the angel who carried God’s name who did so; and so we read of the LORD speaking face to face with Moses when it was actually an angel who did so (Acts 7:30‑33).

God spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. God knew Moses by name (Ex. 33:12,17) and so He shews Moses His Name (Ex. 33:17,19)- there developed a mutuality between the two. See on Ps. 90:8; Ps. 90:1. God spoke to Moses "mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of Yahweh shall he behold" (Num. 12:8) is the basis of 1 Cor. 13:12: "Now (in the period of the Spirit gifts) we see through a glass darkly; but then (in the dispensation of the completed word) face to face: now I know in part (from the ministry of the gifts); but then shall I know, even as also I am known". The point of this connection is simply this: The close relationship between God and Moses is now available to us through the word. But do we feel God speaking to us face to face, as a man speaks to his friend (Ex. 33:11)? For this is how close God and Moses came through the word. Yet it is possible.

Joshua is consciously set up as our example. When Paul says that we each with unveiled face have beheld the glory that shines from the face of the Lord Jesus, just as the glory to a lesser extent shone from the face of Moses (2 Cor. 3:18 RV). Yet the only person to behold Moses’ unveiled glory was Joshua, who alone lived in the tabernacle where Moses received the glory (Ex. 33:11). And it was he who alone accompanied Moses up the mount to meet with God (Ex. 24:13). When Moses left Joshua and went out to the people, he veiled his face. But Joshua would have seen the glory shining off Moses’ unveiled face.

Joshua needed to be constantly told “fear not”. His fear is all the more reprehensible when we consider the testimony of Ps. 91. Here Moses speaks about Joshua, the one who dwelt in the secret place or tabernacle of God (Ps. 91:1 = Ex. 33:11), and who therefore was miraculously preserved throughout the wilderness wanderings. Thousands of Joshua’s generation died at his side from the various plagues which wasted out his generation during those wanderings; but they never came near him (Ps. 91:5-8). As a result of this, he was commanded by Moses to “not be afraid” (Ps. 91:5), perhaps Moses was thinking specifically about peer pressure, with the assurance that truly God would hear Joshua’s prayers (Ps. 91:14,15). His amazing preservation during the wilderness years ought to have instilled a faith and lack of fearfulness within him; and yet the implication is that he did very often fall prey to fearfulness in later life. Just as with us, the circumstances of earlier life are controlled by the Father to give us faith with which to cope with later crises; but we don’t always learn the lessons we are intended to.

The Soncino Commentary on Ex. 33:11  suggests that Joshua being described as a "young man" devoted to the service of the tabernacle implies in Hebrew that he was an unmarried man, devoted to the things of the Kingdom.


Exo 33:12 Moses said to Yahweh, Behold, You tell me, ‘Bring up this people’ and yet You haven’t 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’-
God assures Moses that he has found grace in His eyes [i.e. before the Angel with whom Moses met?]. And yet Moses says: “If I have found grace in thy sight, shew me now thy way that I may know thee, to the end that I may find grace in thy sight” (Ex. 33:12,13 RV). Despite having been told that he had found grace, Moses still wanted confirmation… as if the voice of God wasn’t enough! And maybe there is even the implication that he mistakenly thought that he needed more knowledge of God before he could find that grace… as if it depended upon his own mental faculties. And yet God patiently assures Moses yet again: Thou hast found grace in my sight”, and goes on to proclaim His Name to Moses. “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious” (Ex. 33:19) was surely said specifically to Moses, given the context of Moses’ doubts about his receipt of God’s grace. The coming down of Yahweh to pronounce His Name was, in the context, to show how far God would go to assure Moses that yes, His grace towards Moses was real. We too struggle with grace, and are given, also by grace, this undeserved assurance upon assurance.

Exo 33:13 Now therefore, if I have found grace in Your sight, please show me now Your ways, that I may know You, so that I may find grace in Your sight; and consider that this nation is Your people-
Moses states that "I have not found grace in Your eyes" (Num. 11:11) when God had specifically said that Moses had (Ex. 33:12). At that time too, Moses had questioned this Divine assurace (Ex. 33:13); he had the same struggle to believe God's grace as we have. God had repeatedly assured Moses that "you have found grace in My eyes" (Ex. 33:17; 34:9); but still Moses doubts it. "Kill me, I pray, if I have [indeed] found grace in Your eyes" (Num. 11:15) would therefore appear to be a very inappropriate sarcasm by Moses- against the God of all grace.

God assures Moses that he has found grace in His eyes, and yet Moses doubts this… as if the voice of God telling him wasn’t enough! And maybe there is even the implication that he mistakenly thought that he needed more knowledge of God before he could find that grace… as if it depended upon his own mental faculties. And yet God patiently assures Moses yet again: “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious” (:19) was said specifically to Moses, given the context of Moses’ doubts about his receipt of God’s grace. The coming down of Yahweh to pronounce His Name was, in the context, to show how far God would go to assure Moses that yes, His grace towards Moses was real. We too struggle with really believing God’s grace, it seems too good news; and we too are given, also by grace, this undeserved assurance upon assurance.


Exo 33:14 He said, My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest-
see on Is. 63:9.

 But they did not enter that rest- Heb. 4:8,10. "Rest" was defined as the land being subdued before God with all the tribes driven out (Josh. 1:13,15; Num. 32:21,22; 1 Chron. 22:18). This being conditional on Israel's faithfulness, we conclude that when the Angel said "I will give thee rest" He was speaking of what was possible in prospect; or perhaps He over-estimated Israel's obedience, or was unaware of the degree to which their entering the rest was conditional on their obedience.

33:14-16 When Yahweh met Moses, it was as if He met with Israel (Ex. 3:18). God promised to go with Moses, but Moses re-quotes this as God going with “us” (Ex. 33:14-16). This is how inextricably linked were Moses and his people, even in their condemnation. And so it is, thankfully, with us and the Lord. 


Exo 33:15 He said to Him, If Your presence doesn’t go with me, don’t carry us up from here-

Moses is depressed by Israel complaining at how boring the manna was. He doubts God's earlier promises to him: " Moses said unto the Lord, Wherefore hast thou afflicted thy servant? and wherefore have I not found favour in thy sight (God said he had, in Ex.33:17)...have I conceived all this people? have I begotten them, that thou shouldest say unto them, Carry them in thy bosom, as a nursing father beareth the sucking child unto the land which thou swearest unto their fathers (not " our" - notice the uncharacteristic separation between Moses and Israel). Whence should I give flesh unto all this people...if thou deal thus with me, kill me, I pray thee, out of hand, if I have found favour in the sight (as God had earlier promised him that he had)" (Num. 11:12). God was the father and conceiver of Israel, the one who would carry them to the land (Ex. 19:4; 33:15; Dt. 32:11,12; Hos. 11:1); it is as if Moses is saying: They're your children, you look after them, don't dump them on me. Although compare this with his earlier love for them, willing to sacrifice himself for them. God then says that He will provide more food for Israel. But Moses almost mocks God: " Shall the flocks and herds be slain for them, to suffice them?" . And the Angel angrily replied: " Is the Lord's hand waxed short? thou shalt see whether my word shall come to pass unto thee or not" . If he had faith, Moses surely would have realised that if God could provide manna, he could provide any food. Moses seems to have suffered from fits of depression and also high spirituality.

Exo 33:16 For how would people know that I have found favour in Your sight, I and Your people? Isn’t it in that You go with us, so that we are separated, I and Your people, from all the people who are on the surface of the earth?-
The 'setting apart' of Israel from Egypt is a major theme (Ex. 8:22; 9:4; 11:7 "put a difference"). It was part of a 'sanctifying' of Israel for priestly service to Yahweh as a nation, as well as a lesson for Egypt that the only way to salvation was through separation from their own people and culture, and joining the people of God. We marvel at the multi functional way in which God works. The same word is used to describe how God "has set apart him that is Godly for Himself" (Ps. 4:3); even though Israel were far from being Godly. And it is used of God's special grace, 'set apart', a grace known by no other people (Ps. 17:7). The word is used in this sense in Ex. 33:16, where Moses reasons that it is God's grace and the visible presence of that grace which is what sets apart Israel from all other peoples. And that is true to this day. God's grace is what is the lead and distinguishing characteristic of His way from all other religions. It is the experience of that grace which makes us distinct from all others who have not claimed it for themselves. And it all began with God 'setting apart' a sinful, idolatrous Israel from the Egyptians around them, all by grace, seeing they were largely no better than Egypt.

Exo 33:17 Yahweh said to Moses, I will do this thing also that you have spoken; for you have found favour in My sight, and I know you by name-
We are told that God "hearkened" to Moses' prayers for them (Dt. 9:19; 10:10). He prayed for them with an intensity they didn't appreciate, he prayed for and gained their forgiveness before they had even repented, he pleaded successfully for God to relent from His plans to punish them, even before they knew that God had conceived such plans  (Ex. 32:10,14; 33:17  etc.). The fact we will, at the end, be forgiven of some sins without specifically repenting of them (as David was in Ps. 19:12) ought to instil a true humility in us. This kind of thing is in some ways a contradiction of God's principles that personal repentance is required for forgiveness, and that our own effort is required if we are to find acceptability with Him. Of course ultimately these things are still true, and were true with respect to Israel.

Exo 33:18 He said, Please show me Your glory-
- see on Jn. 14:1.

 Moses asked to see the face of the Angel (33:18 cp. v. 20); presumably it was a different Angel to whom he spoke face to face (33:11), or perhaps the same Angel but manifesting God to a different degree or alternatively a different, more powerful Angel. The fact Moses saw the back parts of this 'LORD' shows that the 'LORD' was not God Himself in person- no man has ever seen Him, or even started to approach the light in which He dwells (1 Tim. 6:16 etc. ); this must include Moses. This conclusion chimes in with the type of statements about 'the LORD' which we read in these chapters, which suggest reference to the Angel rather than to God Himself:
33:1 "The LORD said. . the land which I sware unto Abraham. . ". We have seen that it was the Angel which made these promises.
33:2 "I will drive out the Canaanite. . "; this was done by the Angel of the LORD sent before to do this.
33:3 "I will not go up in the midst of thee (i. e. the Angel was saying He would no longer dwell in the Holiest): lest I consume thee"- the consuming of Israel for their sins on the journey was done by the 'destroyer' Angel. We can therefore suggest that the Angel was manifest in some way, perhaps through two separate Angels, both in the pillar of fire going before them, and also in the Holy of Holies. See on Ez. 20:17.

Moses knew his closeness to God through manifestation, and yet he yearned to see God physically, he struggled with his distance from God (Ex. 33:18,20).

There are many references in the Upper Room discourse to Moses- without doubt, Moses was very much in the Lord’s mind as He faced His end. Consider at your leisure how Jn. 14:1 = Ex. 14:31; Jn. 14:11 = Ex. 14:8. When the Lord speaks in the Upper Room of manifesting the Father and Himself unto the disciples (Jn. 14:21,22), he is alluding to the way that Moses asked God to “manifest thyself unto me” (Ex. 33:18 LXX). The Lord’s allusion makes Himself out to be God’s representatives, and all those who believe in Him to be as Moses, receiving the vision of God’s glory. Note that it was that very experience above all others which marks off Moses in Rabbinic writings as supreme and beyond all human equal. And yet the Lord is teaching that that very experience of Moses is to be shared to an even higher degree by all His followers. It would’ve taken real faith and spiritual ambition for those immature men who listened to the Lord that evening to really believe it… And the same difficult call comes to us too.

Exo 33:19 He said, I will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of Yahweh before you. I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy-
It has been argued that the very name of God, YHWH, is related to the Hebrew root hwy, passionate love. He is the one who was and is and will be the passionate one. See S.D. Goitein, Vetus Testamentum Vol. 6 pp. 1-9. Whether or not this is the case linguistically, the declaration of God’s Name in Ex. 33:19 defines the Name as primarily concerning God’s grace and mercy.

John's Gospel contains several references to the fact that Christ 'shows' the Father to those who believe in him, and that it is possible to "see the Father" and his glory through seeing or accurately believing in him as the Son of the Father (Jn. 11:40; 12:45; 14:9; 16:25). Moses earnestly wished to see the Father fully, but was unable to do so. The height which Moses reached as he cowered in that rock cleft and heard God's Name declared is hard to plumb. But we have been enabled to see the Father, through our appreciation of the Lord Jesus. But does an appropriate sense of wonder fill us? Do we really make time to know the Son of God? Or do we see words like "glory" as just cold theology?

Moses was not only a type of Christ, but representative of us all: "If thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see (like Moses) the glory of God" (Jn. 11:40). "The word was made flesh... we beheld his (Christ's) glory... full of grace and truth" (Jn. 1:14). Philip asks Jesus to “show us the Father” (Jn . 14:8), and Jesus replies that He is the manifestation of the Father. Israel had asked that "the word" be not spoken to them any more; only Moses saw God's glory. But we are being invited to be equal to Moses, seeing from the cleft in the rock the awesome majesty of the perfection of Christ's character; the full glory of God. Paul likewise invites us to behold with unveiled face, as Moses did (2 Cor. 3:18 RV), and thereby, just from appreciating the glory of Christ's character, be changed into the same glory. Note too how in Rom. 11 we are each bidden “behold the goodness and severity of God”- a reference to Moses beholding all the goodness of Yahweh. We are in essence in his position right now (Ex. 33:19). Moses likewise asks God “show yourself to me” (Ex. 33:18 LXX). The answer was in the theophany on Sinai, with the Name of Yahweh declared, as full of grace and truth. This, according to Philip’s allusion to it, is what we see in Jesus. And this is why Jn. 1 speaks of Jesus in terms of the theophany of Exodus, that in His personality the full glory of the Father dwelt.

Moses is an example of the mutuality between God and man. God said that because He knew Moses by name, He would show Moses His Name (Ex. 33:12,17,19). Daniel is another example. He heard the voice of God's words, and then the Angel comes and tells him that God has heard the voice of his (Daniel's) words (Dan. 10:9,12).

Exo 33:20 He said, You cannot see My face, for man may not see Me and live-
"No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him" (Jn. 1:18). John here makes clear allusion to Moses. This alludes to Moses being unable to see God, whereas Christ now is cuddled in the bosom of the Father- such closeness, such a soft image, even now in his heavenly glory! Christ declared God's character (alluding to the Angel declaring God's Name at the same time as Moses was unable to see God) in his perfect life and above all on the cross (Jn. 17:26).

Exo 33:21 Yahweh also said, Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand on the rock.
Exo 33:22 It will happen, while My glory passes by, that I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and will cover you with My hand until I have passed by;-

There is maybe a connection between Moses hiding in the " cleft of the rock" (Ex. 33:22) and Elijah hiding in a similar place to witness a theophany whose aim was to humble him. Is. 2:10-12 makes a similar connection.

At the day of judgment, we will all go through the Moses experience; hiding in the rock in the presence of God's glory (Is. 2:10 cp. Ex. 33:22). And our vision of that glory in the face of the Lord Jesus even now should have the same humbling effect.

Even a righteous man must realize his sinfulness if he is to truly comprehend the essential perfection of God. Moses was brought to cower in the rocks, just as the unworthy will do (Ex. 33:22 = Is. 2:21); and he only saw the back, not the face of God, which is the attitude God adopts to those He rejects (Jer. 18:17). And only in this position could Moses see the vision of God's moral glory.



Exo 33:23 then I will take away My hand, and you will see My back; but My face shall not be seen.
At the time when Moses doubts whether he really has found grace, the God who speaks to Moses face to face then turns and shows Moses only His back parts (Ex. 33:11,20,22). This is alluded to in Jer. 18:17 and there interpretted as being a sign of God's anger- to turn away His face and show His back parts. God was so angry with Moses' disbelief in His grace.

"The Father himself which hath sent me, hath borne witness of me. Ye have neither heard his voice at any time, nor seen his shape (Gk. form, view). And ye have not his word abiding in you... I am come in my Father's Name, and ye receive me not... there is one that accuseth you, even Moses... for had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me" (Jn. 5:37-46) Nearly all these statements were true of Moses, but untrue of the Jews. Yet there was one glaring contrast: Moses earnestly desired to see God's shape, to view Him, to completely understand Him. This was denied him- but not Jesus. The similarity and yet difference between Moses and Jesus is really brought out here. And again, Moses is shown to be representative of sinful Israel; as he lifted up the serpent, so they would lift up Christ; as he failed to see the Father's "shape", so they did too.

The same phrase for turning aside [s.w. "take away"] to see was used earlier when Moses did this to 'see' God at the burning bush (Ex. 3:3,4). Here again we see the mutuality between God and Moses.