New European Commentary


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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’-
"Go up... but I will not go up in the midst of you" (:3) was what triggered Moses' desire for God to change and instead come with him personally. He hankers for some physical manifestation of God to himself, in order to assure him that God indeed was going to empower him for the work as promised. God promised to send an Angel before them to lead them (:2), but Moses feels this isn't enough- he wants Yahweh to go "with me". He starts to feel the need to even see Yahweh's face and to at least have some amazing revelation of Divine glory. He will be shown that this is unnecessary, as the abiding presence and glory of God isn't so much anything physical, but the experience of God's grace and salvation inherent in His very Name. That's a brief outline of what's going on here in Ex. 33,34. 

This is God showing sensitivity and recognition of Moses' prayer in Ex. 32:13 "Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants, to whom You swore by Your own self, and said to them...". God could have given legitimate answers to each of Moses' objections; for He intended to fulfil the promises to Abraham, but through Moses. But such is His sensitivity and pure pity that He accepted Moses' pleas. 

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 here, 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-
LXX "I will send at the same time my angel before thy face" implies that as Moses led the people onward from Sinai, so the Angel would move in to Canaan to drive out the tribes. But this potential didn't happen. The people were to wander 40 years, and the tribes weren't driven out before their arrival. God instead ammended His purpose to drive them out slowly, to allow the people battle experience. We see how God is constantly amending His purpose as He ever seeks to take into account human responses. 

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. Likewise the glory of God progressively distanced itself from the temple and people of God in Ezekiel’s time.

God's argument is that "I will send My Angel to go with you as (:3) I Myself will not go with you". His intention had been to personally go with them but they clearly didn't want that intimacy. Moses' later request to himself see God's face (:20) was not therefore out of mere curiosity. He figured that if he at least could see God Himself, then this would be a kind of compromise position between God Himself going with them [the initial intended position] and 'just' His Angel going with them. He felt that his intimacy with God would lead to the peoples' salvation; just as is the case with the Lord.

Exo 33:3 to a land flowing with milk and honey-
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).

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-
Moses seems to have pleaded with the Angel to change His stated purpose of not going up with the children of Israel through reminding the Angel of the mockery this would bring Him into among the nations around. Thus Ex. 34:9 shows Moses pleading for this "O LORD, let my Lord (the Angel) I pray thee, go amongst us" after the clear statement in Ex. 33:3 "I will not go up in the midst of thee". So let us not be afraid to ask God to change what seems like His purpose in our lives, no matter how hard it seems, if we truly feel that another way would give Him more glory. Moses would not have tried if he did not think success in that prayer was possible. But he not only tried, he succeeded.

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-
LXX "mourned in mourning apparel". They clearly had plenty of jewellery, taken from Egypt; they had given some of it to make the golden calf, and would respond generously to the appeal for precious metals and stones in order to build the tabernacle. They clearly liked wearing their expensive Egyptian jewellery, and much of it would have had pagan associations.

This removal of jewellery is because of the command to do so in :5. For a husband to ask his wife to remove her jewellery was at best a demotion of her marital status, if not a threat of divorce, as in Hos. 2:5. Ezekiel and Jeremiah record how God had placed jewellery upon the otherwise naked and forlorn Israel at Sinai. Now He asks them to remove it (:5). We think of the woman with the ten dowry coins in the Lord's parable- the sign of her marriage. It could be the people did this themselves even before God asked them to. They realised they had acted unworthy of His wife and it was an admission of unfaithfulness.  

Another option to bear in mind is that "Rather than reading "none put on his finery" we should read instead "none took off his finery". The introduction of the single letter mem before the final word in v. 4 reverses the entire meaning of the clause". This would then present Israel as impenitent and they are asked to be more penitent by removing their 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 "If now I have found favour in Your sight, Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us; although this is a stiff-necked people"). 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.

Although the people were "stiff-necked", refusing to bow their necks in obedience, and thereby liable to destruction if God was amongst them (Ex. 32:9; 33:3,15), God was willing to give this stiff-necked people a place in God's Kingdom (Dt. 9:6). And so although God had said that He would not go in the midst of a stiff-necked people, yet Moses asks Him to do so (Ex. 34:9)- for He senses God's desire to save them by grace despite their hardened disobedience. We contrast this with the God who demands respect, the God who slew Uzzah and insists upon loyalty to Him.  

It is possible that Israel only temporarily removed their jewellery in :4, but God is telling them to permanently remove it. Because temporal, external, ritualistic motions of repentance are not enough, including muttering a kind of automated prayer when we sin and then playing on like nothing happened. 

"That I may know what to do to you" is a phrase pregnant with possible meaning. Later in the chapter, Moses persuades Yahweh to at least on one level "go with them". We are invited to see God's internal struggle, His "repentings kindled together" as Hosea later records, not knowing what to do, considering them without their jewellery, considering Moses' intercession... We note the difference with the more decisive spirit of Ex. 2:24,25: "God heard their groaning, and God remembered His covenant... God saw the children of Israel, and God was concerned about them", "concerned" is s.w. "know" as here "That I may know what to do with you". God is presented as having varying feelings and struggling towards a conclusion as to how to act.

Exo 33:6 The children of Israel stripped themselves of their jewellery from Mount Horeb onward-
See on 1 Sam. 18:4. The idea may be that the jewellery taken from Egypt had pagan associations, and from then on they didn't wear it. At least, that was the idea. But they carried their idols with them through the wilderness, the star of Remphan and the tabernacle of Moloch, as well as other Egyptian idols they took with them through the Red Sea, cp. baptism (Ez. 20:7,8). The total weight of all the gold, silver and brass donated to the tabernacle comes to 10.4 tones or 10,400 kg. (Ex. 38:24). In addition to this there was the gold used and destroyed in the destruction of the golden calf. They did indeed spoil the Egyptians, but we can assume that they gave nearly all their wealth to the tabernacle project; perhaps that is the intention of the note here that they stopped wearing jewellery from then onwards.

But the idea may be that they had stripped themselves of their jewellery there (for Hebrew tenses aren't precise), in order to make the golden calf. As the Egyptians were stripped of their jewellery, so Israel stripped themselves of it before the golden calf (Ex. 12:36; 33:6). 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). Israel stripped or spoiled themselves of their jewellery just as they had spoiled [s.w.] the Egyptians of that jewellery. All material acquisition ultimately ends up being given to the Lord. It could be speculated that soon they were required to give that jewellery for the construction of the tabernacle. And the tabernacle itself was a kind of concession to their weakness. God was not going to go up in their midst personally and visibly, but He therefore allowed them the tabernacle to meet their need for religion. Thus the commands about altars being made of earth and without steps, or the ban on any graven image [cp. the cherubim], were somewhat ameliorated in the tabernacle construction. The temple was a further concession to their religious weakness and need for the visible rather than the spiritual.

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-
This was before the tabernacle was built. Presumably this was Moses' personal tent, or a tent personally associated with him, where the people went to meet with God. Yahweh promised He would meet His people over the ark, and then come forward from the most holy place to meet with His people in the courts of the tabernacle. But before then, He met with His people through meetings with Moses, and they met with God through meeting with Moses. See on :8.

God had initially refused to personally go with Israel "in their midst", and the material in :7-11 perhaps shows how God intended to appear to them- at a tent of meeting outside the camp. The grammar here could suggest that this was a one-off command to Moses at this time to remove the tent of meeting outside the camp, to represent God's withdrawal and distancing from Israel. Moses begs God to go in their midst, and then follows the subsequent encounter with the back parts of God Himself, and God's explanation and correction about the significance of His physical presence. The summary is that God explains that He does forgive Israel and will continue in covenant relationship with them. But that His physical glory and presence are somewhat misunderstood by Moses, and His real glory and presence are in forgiveness and grace, which is what His Name and personality are all about. His request for someone to go with him and show Israel the way (:12-14) is met by God's declaration of His forgiveness, grace and mercy. This is the essence of things, rather than the more literal, physical assurances Moses was seeking for. And this really is God's answer to our own concerns for material, visible guidance through life. His face / presence, the equivalent of the communion of the Holy Spirit, would go with Israel and give them "rest" in the promised land. But this would not involve literally seeing God. Is. 63:9,10 alludes to all this: "the angel of His presence [s.w. "face"] saved them: in His love and in His pity he redeemed them; and He bore them, and carried them all the days of old. But they rebelled and grieved His holy spirit ['spirit' and 'angel' are the same word]". This in turn is quoted of our experience with the Holy Spirit. 

As God manifested Himself through the Angel who lived in the tent of meeting, so God did supremely through His Son. This is not to say that the Angel was Jesus- for the Lord Jesus was and is not an Angel nor did He exist at that time: "And the Word was made flesh and tented among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (Jn. 1:14). The glory which John and all Christians behold is not so much a physical bright light, as Moses wished to see; but the Name and character of God, His saving grace, revealed to us in the face of the Lord Jesus with whom we are in relationship (2 Cor. 3). To see that glory is not a matter of seeing anything physical, rather do we see the glory of His saving nature and grace through our faith in it: "If you believe, you will see [as Moses did] the glory of God" (Jn. 11:40). And that glory was supremely manifest in the blood, spittle and gross darkness of the Lord's death: “Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him. If God is glorified in him, God will glorify the Son in himself, and will glorify him at once” (Jn. 13:31,32). "For this very purpose I came to this hour. Father, glorify Your name” (Jn. 12:27,28).

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-
This tent pitched outside the camp, where Yahweh met with His people, is to be associated with how the Lord Jesus suffered and died, shedding the blood of atonement, "outside the camp" (Heb. 13:13). We are bidden go forth to the Lord Jesus "outside the camp", just as those who "sought Yahweh" did when there was no tabernacle (Ex. 33:7). The people watching Moses as he walked out to it, without the camp, therefore looks ahead to a faithless Israel lining the via Dolorosa and watching the Lord walk out to His place of crucifixion. And we are to get behind Him and follow Him there, stepping out from the mass of Israel. As the Lord Jesus suffered "outside the camp", so various parts of the Mosaic sacrifices were to be burnt there (Lev. 4:12,21; 8:17; 9:11; 16:27); and yet it was the blood of those sacrifices which achieved atonement (Heb. 13:11; Num. 19:3,9). "Outside the camp" was the place of excluded, condemned sinners (Lev. 13:46; 24:14; Num. 5:3,4; 15:35,36; 31:13,19), and it was here that the Lord Jesus died, in identification with us. 

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-
The pillar of cloud is put by metonym for the Angel within it. The Angel was so closely identified with the pillar of cloud. It was as if a smaller version of the same awesome cloud of Sinai was now to be seen right outside the camp. God's fellowship was not therefore with Israel as a whole, but with those who sought Him and went outside the camp to meet Him there (:7).  

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-
We see a difference between these people, and those who went outside the camp to meet with Yahweh there (:7). It is one thing to acknowledge God, and stand up in acceptance of Him. It is another to go forth without the camp and seek Him. The scene is similar to how it was God's initial intention that Israel would ascend Sinai and meet with Him in the cloud. But they stood and worshipped afar off, and wanted Moses alone to go to Him (Ex. 20:18,21). Intimacy with God may sound a great idea, but sinful man shies away from it when it is offered as a reality.      

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 is in view; 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 shows 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.

The idea of "face to face" is explained in Prov. 27:19, where we learn that as face to face is reflected in water, so a man's heart is reflected in the heart of his friend by the telepathy and mutuality that exists between friends. This was how close God was with Moses, albeit through the Angel. This is the work of the Spirit, to produce such mutuality with God. As only a man knows his own spirit, so we know the mind of the Lord Jesus, 1 Cor. 2:11: "For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. After the Lord Jesus, Moses got to an intimacy with God unequalled by any man: "My servant Moses – he is the faithful one in all My house. With him I talk face to face, directly and in all reality, not in riddles, and he sees God’s face" (Num. 12:7,8). But he arrived at this intimacy through interceding for Israel, from a heart that bled for others. We too are led to intimacy with God through our struggles with Him on behalf of others, rather than our pestering Him for our personal salvation.

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. For Joshua was not literally a young man at this time. Joshua was 56 years old at this point.


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’-

"Yet You have said" begs the question, Where and when? We assume it was when Yahweh told Moses that He would destroy Israel and make of Moses a great nation (Ex. 32:10). And Moses is apparently sceptical of this.

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. "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. 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. He was to be shown that even the back of God was full of saving grace.

Moses had been promised that the Angel would go with him (:2; Ex. 32:34: 23:20) but despite conversing with the Angel, he now asks God to explain more about the Angel. But this request, along with the request to see God's face, was not mere curiosity. I suggest it is all part of the intercession for Israel's forgiveness which he had made in Ex. 32. Moses above all wanted Israel to be saved and to be right with God. So I suggest his motives in asking for this greater personal intimacy with God were not mere curiosity. He wanted to be assured that God's grace and acceptance of Israel was for real, and so He as it were tested God by asking for greater personal intimacy towards himself personally- because he clearly perceived that for his sake, for the sake of his intimacy with God, Israel would be saved. However, Moses takes Yahweh's statement that Moses has found grace in His eyes as meaning he can ask God to see His face. That request is refused; but rather he is shown that standing before God's eyes accepted by grace is actually far more meaningful, and more awesome, than any physical sighting of God's face. Perhaps the idea of seeing God's back parts was that even this amazing grace is only His back parts. His face itself is gracious to an extent none can fathom in this nature.

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 assurance (Ex. 33:13); he had the same struggle to believe God's grace as we have. He wanted more assurance that Yahweh really did consider Israel His people; for their apostacy with the golden calf had elicited His condemnation of them. Moses had interceded successfully for them, but now he wonders whether that prayer had really been answered. 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. And we too are given, also by grace, this undeserved assurance upon assurance.   

Moses understood that if he personally found grace in Yahweh's eyes, then Yahweh would consider Israel as His people. I suggest that he wanted to see Yahweh's face as a guarantee of his own relationship with Yahweh, which would thereby guarantee Israel being accepted as God's people despite the apostasy of the golden calf. Moses was seeking to again persuade God against His plan of Ex. 32:10, to not consider Israel His people but rather Moses' descendants. His request therefore was not from mere curiosity. We see how the Lord's intimacy with the Father is a guarantee of our collective salvation, as He reasons in John 17. In :15 Moses says that if Yahweh is not personally with him, then He will be with Israel. Heb. 11 understood this too in commenting that it was by Moses' personal faith that Israel were brought out of Egypt and to Canaan. See on :16.

Exo 33:14 He said, My presence will go with you-
God had 'gone before' Israel through the Angel which was to lead them through the desert (s.w. Ex. 23:23). But as with all religious but not spiritual people, they wanted a visible leader. And so when Moses apparently disappeared in the mountain, they demanded that gods be made to "go before us". It was only by grace that God responded that despite their apostacy, He would still "go before you" through the Angel (Ex. 32:34; 33:14). Even the Gentile world had more faith than Israel in this; they believed that Yahweh "went before" His people in an Angel (Num. 14:14). But Israel themselves at the time of the golden calf didn't believe that. Moses in his final speech therefore urges the people to believe that indeed the Angel was going before them (Dt. 1:30,33; 31:6,8).  

This is the same construction as in Hushai's advice to Absalom in 2 Sam. 17:11, "You yourself shall go to battle in your own person". It means that Yahweh Himself would go with Moses. But in :15 Moses still appears to doubt God's promise. God's very presence / face did go with them, but His face / presence was redefined here away from the literal to the experience of grace and forgiveness.

And I will give you rest-
See on Is. 63:9.  But they did not enter that rest (Heb. 4:8,10). The Kingdom was given them, but they didn't enter it. "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 you 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.

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-
The idea is that if God's presence didn't go with Moses, then Moses asked God not to lead Israel further. For Moses knew they would sin again and God would destroy them. He sees his personal intimacy with God as the only way they could be saved and have fellowship with God. In this he so pointed forward to the Lord. 

Moses later 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 realized 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?-

"And how will it be truly known that I have found grace with you, both I and your people, other than if you go along with us? And we shall be glorified, both I and your people, above all the nations that are on the earth”. God's grace was His glory, and this was revealed to Moses not so much as a bright light nor a physical sighting of God's face, but in the characteristics of God experienced by Israel. Contrary to what Moses initially wanted, there was to be no physical sign of God's unique involvement with Israel, but rather he was to perceive that it was the experience of amazing grace and forgiveness that was unique to Israel. Mic. 7:18 marvels that there is no God like Yahweh who forgives and passes over sin. His grace to His people is unheard of (Jonah reflects the same). These were the wonders no other nation had ever seen from their god (Ex. 34:10). And we see this glory in the face of Jesus Christ; therefore to see / experience Him is to see the Father (Jn. 14:9).

Twice Moses speaks of "I and Your people". He was seeking to still dissuade God of the distinction between Moses and His people which He had earlier posited, in saying He would destroy His people and make of Moses a new people. Hence His desire for ultimate personal intimacy with God was because he so wanted to save the people. See on :13. Our salvation by the Lord Jesus is likewise because of His connection with us who are "in Him", and His refusal in the wilderness temptations to merely seek His own eternity without ours.

Moses here continues to doubt whether really his intercession for Israel had 'worked' as God had said it would. Moses felt that God's unwillingness to go directly in Israel's midst implied that in fact God hadn't really heard his pleas. But God said that He had, and He was not going up in their midst for the sakes, lest He destroy them for their continued stiff-necked attitude to Him. We see Moses, like us, struggling to believe in the extent of grace shown and promised. This is why Moses is making such an issue about Yahweh not going up in their midst.

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-
God could have given legitimate answers to each of Moses' objections and fears about whether God really loved them as much as He said. He could have repeated that He was not going up in their midst lest He destroy them. But such is His sensitivity and pure pity that He accepted Moses' pleas.  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 instill 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 (Ex. 33:18 cp. :20); presumably it was a different Angel to whom he spoke face to face (Ex. 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' might show 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); 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.

Moses' request to see God's glory was met by God's promise to proclaim His Name, His characteristics. And God goes on to warn Moses that he cannot see His face. I suggest that Moses had an overly physical view of God; He wanted to see "glory", and God's literal face. But he was shown that God's basic characteristics, of loving grace and mercy towards His people, are actually more important than any physical sighting of God or His glory. The response to Moses' request to see God's face was to be told in Ex. 34:5-7 that it was part of God's most essential nature and character to forgive sin and love His people. Experiencing that is to see God's face, it is as good as and even better than any physical experience of bright light glory or literal encounter with God. It is His glory to forgive and overlook sin... that is His glory, rather than any bright light or blinding vision. It is this glory that we have seen and experienced in the face of the Lord Jesus. For Moses at this point is every man in Christ, according to 2 Cor. 3:18. And clearly Moses' experience is also in view when we read that “we have seen his glory, the glory as of the Father’s only son” (Jn. 1.14).  We too cannot see God, but in place of seeing Him, He has been made known to us through His Son: “no one has ever seen God, it is the only son who has made him known” (Jn. 1.18).

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-

"To whom I will be gracious" doesn't mean that God in a random sense decides to be gracious to some but not others. He will be gracious to whom He has said He will be gracious- and that, clearly, referred at this time to Israel. He had earlier proclaimed His Name to them as the guarantee that He desired to save them. This statement was therefore a hint that He was going to save Israel after all, despite having told them in :5,6 to remove their jewellery, the sign of covenant with Him, and to let Him make His mind up about what He would do to them. And He comes down on the side of continued grace.

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. "I will" is in answer to Moses' doubts as to whether his intercession for the people has really worked. He is a man struggling with accepting a level of grace which seemed too huge, although God's direct word to him had assured him that it was indeed so. We are in that same position.

John's Gospel contains several references to the fact that the Lord Jesus 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 you would believe, you would 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). "Proclaim the Name" (Ex. 33:19; 34:5) is the same phrase used about 'calling upon the Name' (e.g. Dt. 28:10). The calling out / proclamation of Yahweh's Name, in the Gospel and ultimately in the declaration of the Name on the cross (Jn. 17:26), elicits a desire to call that Name upon us, which we initially do through baptism into that Name. And like Moses, we in turn proclaim the Name to others (Dt. 32:3 s.w.).  

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).

Moses' request to see God's glory (:18) could be understood therefore as a request to see God's face. God saw that this was what Moses was secretly wanting and was the request underlying Moses' words. To have the same face to face relationship with Yahweh Himself, as Moses had with His representative, the Angel. We note Moses' maturity and growth, since earlier covering his face so that he might not look upon God in the Angel at the burning bush (Ex. 3:6). When God created man, He breathed into His nostrils the breath of life and Adam's dead body became a living soul or body at that moment, implying the first thing he saw on opening his eyes was the face of God over his face (Gen. 2:7). How much he lost through sin... And that is why Revelation concludes with so many allusions to Eden restored, not least that we shall see God's face as Adam did in Eden.

Later Scripture reflects this more mature understanding that Moses is now being taught. To see God's face is to experience His grace, acceptance and relationship with Him. Psalm 27 records David responding to God's invitation to "Seek My face". "Your face, Lord, I will seek" was his response. Israel fled from God's face / presence [the same word in Hebrew], just as at the last day, some will not want to seek His face, saying “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (Rev. 6:16,17 NIV).  The basic question, therefore, is whether or not we actually want intimacy with God, whether we want to see His face, or whether we shy away from this and want a Moses to do our religion for us and leave us free to worship our idols. "As a deer yearns for running streams, so I
yearn for you, my God. I thirst for God, the living God;
when shall I go to see the face of God? (Ps. 42:1,2
NJB). The point was, that seeing God's literal face was not of the essence; rather His abiding blessing, acceptance and grace, which is the lead characteristic of His declared attributes in response to Moses' request to see His glory, was all that man needs. God's comment that "You can't see My face" is perhaps because He understood that Moses had a desire for the physical vision of it, just as Moses had been seeing the face of the Angel. Although we can't see God's face now, that face is towards us: “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace” (Num. 6:24–26). “Let your face smile on us, LORD” (Ps. 4:6 NLT). And we think of the many Biblical statements about God hiding His face from sinners. To be acceptably in God's presence is therefore to see His face. In this same context, Ex. 34:20 speaks of how “No one is to appear before Me [Heb. 'see My face'] empty handed". Prayer is a coming before God's face: “Now there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year. And David sought the face of the LORD” (2 Sam. 21:1 ESV). To see God's face therefore doesn't have to mean to literally see His face; God's answer to Moses is therefore picking up on his over literalism at this point. In Dt. 5, he appears to have grasped this. For Moses reflects that when God appeared to Israel on Mount Sinai, they did not see God or even His form, but only heard His voice (Dt 3:12;
5:22–26). But he describes this as Israel seeing God “face to face” (Dt. 5:4). And even now, we can do likewise: "And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18 ESV). In allusion to Moses' experience, we read that The light of the knowledge of the glory of God is in Jesus’ face. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed
in the face of Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6 NIV).
Exo 33:21 Yahweh also said, Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand on the rock-
God through the Angel had earlier stood upon a rock in Sinai with Moses next to Him (Ex. 17:6). Later, Yahweh asks Moses to stand upon a rock in Sinai next to Him (Ex. 33:21 s.w.). We see how God gently and progressively leads His people closer to Him, using every experience He gives us to prepare for the next one, on an ever more intimate level with Him.  

Exo 33:22 It will happen, while My glory passes by-
Moses had earlier experienced the Angel passing by on Passover night (s.w. Ex. 12:12,23). He was to realize that he was only being spared from death by grace, as happened at Passover. He had been so confident that he could see God's glory, but now he is being shown that he needed to appreciate more his own sinfulness. 

Prov. 19:11 says that it is glory to pass over transgression. God passed over Moses in the cleft of the rock and revealed His glory. Even His back side, shown because the sin of the golden calf had not really been repented of, revealed His glory in passing over their sin. 

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 a connection between Moses hiding in the "cleft of the rock" 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-
The same phrase for turning aside [s.w. "take away"] to "see" was used earlier when Moses turned aside ["take away" s.w.]  to 'see' God at the burning bush (Ex. 3:3,4). Now God does this to Moses. Here again we see the mutuality between God and Moses.

My back; but My face shall not be seen.

Moses had asked to see God's glory, but God senses that he wants to see His face. Moses had spoken face to face with the Angel as a man speaks to his friend, and we showed above that this refers to intuitively knowing what the other is thinking. God is showing that He knows Moses in this way.

At the time when Moses doubts whether he and Israel really have 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). I suggest this is to be read negatively. This is alluded to in Jer. 18:17 and there interpreted as being a sign of God's anger- to turn away His face and show His back parts, in response to how Israel had shown God their back and not their face (Jer. 2:27; 32:33). God was so angry with Moses' disbelief in His grace. Or we can read this as God saying that He would not look upon Israel's sin, He turned His back upon it. His "passing by" would then refer to His characteristic of passing over human sin, overlooking it (Is. 31:5 "defending also He will deliver it; and passing over he will preserve it"; God “passed over former sins” (Rom. 3:25); Acts 17:30, “The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent”). And the huge grace they were experiencing was only His back parts. His face was far more glorious. The connection with the Jeremiah passages, it is inevitable really that the turning of God's back was a sign of His displeasure; for the sin with the golden calf had not really been dealt with, and the people had still not quit the idols of Egypt which they carried with them throughout the wilderness journey. But even at the place of God's back parts there was amazing grace and acceptance.

Moses never comments on seeing God's back parts, it had no abiding value to him. The idea was that intimacy with God and the experience of forgiveness is so much more than that. A man praying at a bus stop and knowing forgiveness and restored communion with God has more than seen God. Likewise, the transfiguration was clearly allusive to the theophany to Moses on Sinai, "we beheld His glory" (Jn. 1:14) is surely John's version of the synoptics' account of the transfiguration. But the disciples who witnessed it are presented as confused, dazed, and responding inappropriately. The experience had no lasting moral effect upon them- but salvation by grace did. 

"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.