New European Commentary


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Deeper Commentary

33:1 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.

33:3 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. And to raise the fascination factor, note that 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

33:5 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.

33:6- 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).


33:11 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.

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.

33:12 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.

33:14 see on Is. 63:9.

"I will give thee rest" (Ex. 33:14), the Angel said (33:11). 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. 

33:16 We too are called to behold the glory of God. Moses seems to have struggled to believe that he really had been invited to such an experience (Ex. 33:16; 34:9,34). 

33:18- 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).

33:19 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.

33:22-see on Is. 2:10.

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.