33:1 The LORD said to Moses, “Go up from here, you and the people whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, to the land I promised on oath to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ 33:2 I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite. 33:3 Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go up among you, for you are a stiff-necked people, and I might destroy you on the way.”
“I will send an angel” – ‘The angel promised here is altogether different from “the angel of his presence” in Isa 63:9, since God declared that his “Name is in him” (Ex 23:21). Thus that angel was a christophany, an appearance of Christ in the OT. Although the Lord promised to send his personal representative, he himself would “not go with [them].” This withdrawal of the divine presence assured in Ex 23:20–23 was because of the presence of sin.’ (EBC)
“I will not go up among you” – What a terrible thought! That the God who had led them safe thus far would not lead them home! What is the value of a land flowing with milk and honey, if God is absent? Do we pant for God’s presence (Psa 42:1)? Think of Paul, who had come through so many dangers, and had seen so much blessing: he is not satisfied unless he knows the presence and the power of God.
‘The significance of this turn of events cannot be stressed too highly. The whole purpose of the Exodus was for God and his people to be together. God’s presence with them will be firmly established in the proposed tabernacle. By saying “go ahead, but you’re going without me,” the events of the previous thirty-one chapters are being undone. This is not merely a setback; it means the end of the road.’ (Enns)
The question whether God will, or will not, go with his people dominates this passage (vv 3, 5, 12, 14–16; also Ex 34:9). The Lord’s initial ‘no’ becomes a ‘yes’ in the light of the people’s repentance (Ex 33:4-6) and Moses’ intercession (Ex 33:12-17).
‘To be given every other blessing is of no value if God is not with you. What is the value of Canaan? What is the value of milk and honey? What is the value of having possessions, if God was not with them? They saw that the realization of the presence of God, having this fellowship and company, was infinitely more important than everything else.’ (Lloyd-Jones, Revival, p158)
“I might destroy you on the way” – What a terrible thing to have God as your enemy, rather than as your friend! The presence of God is a very dangerous thing to the sinner! If it takes extraordinary protection for a spacecraft to approach the sun, how much more for the unprotected sinner to draw close to God!
‘Again, we see a very “human” portrait of God. The Lord does not know how he might react at some point in the journey; he does not seem to trust himself to control his anger. Thus, it is better that he not go at all. We should resist the temptation to gloss over this description of God. This is God’s Word and this is how he is described. We should not dismiss it on the basis of what we “know” God to be like. As we have seen above, the writer is not concerned to reveal to us the absolute, abstract essence of God, but God in the context of his dealings with his people.’ (Enns)
33:4 When the people heard this troubling word they mourned; no one put on his ornaments. 33:5 For the LORD had said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites, ‘You are a stiff-necked people. If I went up among you for a moment, I might destroy you. Now take off your ornaments, that I may know what I should do to you.’ ” 33:6 So the Israelites stripped off their ornaments by Mount Horeb.
When the people heard this troubling word they mourned – How much of our confession of sin is routine, superficial, or even hypocritical? Are we too proud, or is it that our view of sin, and of the God against whom we have sinned, is deficient? These people evidently felt their sin deeply, and were willing to demonstrate their remorse in practical ways.
According to Lloyd-Jones, a second step in revival is a realisation of the sinfulness of sin: ‘Go and read the history of revivals again. Watch the individuals at the beginning. This is invariably the first thing that happens to them. They begin to see what a terrible, appalling thing sin is in the sight of God, and it’s the thought of sin in the sight of God, how terrible it must be. Never has there been a revival but that some of the people, especially at the beginning, have had such visions of the holiness of God and the sinfulness of sin that they have scarcely known what to do with themselves.’ (Lloyd-Jones, Revival, p157)
“I might destroy you…that I may know what I should do to you” – The first expression seems to suggest that God is afraid of his own actions, and the second that he is unsure what to do. But, as Kaiser says, ‘it is only by way of accommodation to our impoverished understanding that he speaks in this way.’
The Israelites stripped off their ornaments – Mourning, in the ANE, was frequently marked by such physical signs. Moreover, this would a suitable outward gesture of their repentance, since the golden calf had been made from the gold of their jewelry (Ex 32:2-4).
According to Ex 35:22 these ornaments were contributed towards the building of the tabernacle. ‘The very ornaments that could make a golden idol in the past could now be dedicated to God for the use of his sanctuary.’ (Cole)
By Mount Horeb – Stuart, together with NRSV and HCSB, says that this should read ‘from Mount Horeb’. In other words, from this time forward the Israelites did not wear their jewelry.
The Presence of the Lord, 7-23
What is recorded in this section (Ex 33:7-34:35) evidently took place over a period of time; a period, in fact, of about ten months (Ex 19:1; 40:1).
This section, which some scholars consider to be placed in an odd position within the structure of Exodus, actually serves to illustrate the close relationship between Moses and the Lord, and therefore helps us to understand the loss that the Israelites were now feeling, and also why Moses’ intercessions prevailed.
Lloyd-Jones traces in the previous section the key stages of repentance in a context of revival: (a) waking up to the moral and spiritual condition of the church and the nation; (b) heartfelt confession of sins; and (c) taking suitable action.
The present section, according to Lloyd-Jones (Revival, ch. 13) illustrates three stages of intercessory pray in relation to revival:
- a burden for prayer experienced by one or many, together with the setting up of a place of prayer, the burden of which was for the presence of the Lord to return, vv7-11
- a pouring out of prayer for God to act in ways over and above the usual, vv12-17: (a) a deeper personal assurance of God’s presence and purposes, v12f; (b) a greater experience of God’s power (how necessary in the face of the great need of our own day!), v15; and (c) a special authentication of God’s people and their mission (a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that the world will realise that God is at work), v16.
- a manifestation of God’s glory, and a disclosure of his character, in a manner that is both revealing and concealing, vv18-23.
33:7 Moses took the tent and pitched it outside the camp, at a good distance from the camp, and he called it the tent of meeting. Anyone seeking the LORD would go out to the tent of meeting that was outside the camp.
Moses took the tent and pitched it outside the camp – NIV: ‘Moses used to take a tent and pitch it outside the camp’. Either way, we must be clear that the tabernacle itself had not been built yet: only the instructions for it had been given so far.
Outside the camp, at a good distance from the camp – suggesting that God had become relatively distant from his people at this time (Stuart).
The tent of meeting – not to be confused with the tabernacle itself, which was also referred as ‘the tent of meeting’ (Ex 40:2,6). The present ‘tent of meeting’ did not, it appears, contain the ark of the covenant or the other accoutrements.
‘The fact that a temporary tent of meeting is set up and that God does meet with Moses as a representative of the people signals to the reader that God has not entirely abandoned Israel. This so-called “tent of meeting” will soon give way to the splendor of the tabernacle, the true Tent of Meeting. The cloud will soon descend to guide the entire camp.’ (Enns)
33:8 And when Moses went out to the tent, all the people would get up and stand at the entrance to their tents and watch Moses until he entered the tent. 33:9 And whenever Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and the LORD would speak with Moses. 33:10 When all the people would see the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people, each one at the entrance of his own tent, would rise and worship. 33:11 The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, the way a person speaks to a friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but his servant, Joshua son of Nun, a young man, did not leave the tent.
The Lord would speak to Moses face to face – See Num 12:8.
This appears to conflict with v20 – “You cannot see my face, for no one can see me and live”. The present expression may be idiomatic, being interpreted by what immediately follows: “The Lord would speak…the way a person speaks to a friend.”
Bruckner, however, thinks that the present experience of Moses was an ‘exception to the rule’: ‘The first time Moses saw the Lord, at the burning bush, he was afraid to look. This is the major tradition in Scripture. One cannot see God and live, but God can be seen. Abraham and Sarah saw God speaking through “three men” (Gen. 18:2) who became “two messengers” (Gen. 19:1) and spoke as the Lord (Gen. 18:10, 13)…Hagar has a similar experience and says, “Have I really seen God and remained alive after seeing him?” (Gen. 16:13; RSV). The seventy elders also saw the God of Israel (see comment on 24:10), yet “God did not raise his hand against these leaders” (24:11). We witness the same concern over seeing someone and speaking to the Lord in Judges 6:22–23 and 13:22. God remained free to make exceptions to the rule, and allowed these people to live (Ex 24:10–11; see Num. 12:8; Deut. 34:10; Ezek. 1:26–28).’
33:12 Moses said to the LORD, “See, you have been saying to me, ‘Bring this people up,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. But you said, ‘I know you by name, and also you have found favor in my sight.’ 33:13 Now if I have found favor in your sight, show me your way, that I may know you, that I may continue to find favor in your sight. And see that this nation is your people.”
“You have not let me know whom you will send with me” – although, in v2, the Lord had said that he would send an angel before him.
“You said, ‘I know you by name, and also you have found favor in my sight’” – Moses ‘seems to be saying, “I know how special I am to you, but what about everybody else?” Moses does not want to make the journey alone. He sees no honor in being the only one to reach Canaan. So, he reminds God in verse 13, “Remember that this nation is your people”’ (Enns)
‘Favour’ (vv 12, 13, 16, 17) ‘is a heartfelt response toward someone who has a need but no claim upon the giver.’ (Bruckner)
‘Moses had been in a relationship with the Lord long enough to discover God’s friendship and grace. God’s faithfulness made it possible to bring blessing to the people and to the world through them (v. 16b). God would hereafter extend this grace and friendship shared with Moses to the whole nation.’ (Bruckner)
“Show me your way, that I may know you” – ‘Moses’ request was to know God better. What is especially instructive to us is Moses’ understanding of how that would be accomplished: by being “taught” God’s “ways.” As Luther’s friend Melanchthon once eloquently stated, hoc est Christum cognoscere: beneficia euis cognoscere (“To know Christ is to know his benefits”). There is little room for mysticism in biblical religion; we do not know God by having some sort of inexplicable ethereal communion with him, in which our feelings are used as the evidence for our closeness to him. We know him by learning his ways (i.e., his revealed standards, revealed methods, and revealed benefits)—in other words by objective, rather than subjective, emotional, means.’ (Stuart)
“This nation is your people” – In saying this, ‘Moses showed himself once again the servant of God’s revealed, clearly established purposes rather than someone who just wanted to be in charge or someone who wanted his job for its inherent prestige…Moses’ actions here have long been regarded as instructive and exemplary for all those in leadership in God’s service. Other biblical examples include the attitude of Jesus (e.g., John 17:9, 15, 20, 24) and of Paul (e.g., Rom 10:1; 2 Cor 13:9).’ (Stuart)
Noting Moses’ argument here, MHC comments: ‘Whom God calls out to any service he will be sure to furnish with necessary assistances.’
Lloyd-Jones points out how Moses argues with God here. ‘Do not leave him alone. Pester him with his own promises. Tell him what he has said he is going to do. Quote the Scripture to him.’ It pleases God, just as it would please a father for his child to make out his case before him. (Revival, p197)
Implied here (says Lloyd-Jones) is a concern for God’s glory, for the church’s honour, and for the well-being of the unsaved. Concerning the second of these, he says:
‘It seems to me that there is no hope for revival until you and I, and all of us, have reached the stage in which we begin to forget ourselves a little, and to be concerned for the Church, for God’s body, his people here on earth. So many of our prayers are subjective and self-centred. We have our problems and difficulties, and by the time that we have finished with them, we are tired and exhausted and we do not pray for the Church. My blessing, my need, my this, my that. Now, I am not being hard and unkind, God has promised to deal with our problems. But where does the Church come into our prayers and intercessions? Do we go beyond ourselves and our families? We stand before the world and we say the only hope for the world is Christianity. We say the Church, and the Church alone, has the message that is needed. We see the problems of society, they are shouting at us and they are increasing week by week. And we know that this is the only answer. Very well, then, if we know that and if we believe that, let me ask you in the name of God, how often do you pray that the Church may have power to preach this, in such a manner that all these citadels that are raising themselves against God shall be razed to the ground and shall be flattened in his holy presence? How much time do you give to praying that the preachers of the gospel may be endued with the power of the Holy Ghost? Are you interceding about this? Are you concerned about it? Moses, I say was more concerned about this than about himself. He would not go up alone to the promised land. He did not want to be made the great man alone. ‘No, it is the Church,’ he said, ‘I am not going on unless they are all coming with me, and with you in the midst.’ (Revival, p192)
33:14 And the LORD said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
Kaiser thinks that this verse should be understood as a question: “Shall my presence go with you…?”
Stuart stresses that at this point Moses would have been in considerable need of reassurance from the Lord. The entire exodus project was in jeopardy because of the fickleness of the people, as evidenced in the golden calf incident. ‘The theophany promised here would reassure him. It would strengthen his resolve and build his confidence. His assignment was daunting and his resources few. If he knew, however, that God’s glory abode with him and that therefore God’s favor and care attended his actions, he could endure and prevail.’
“My presence will go with you” – Singular: God’s presence will go with Moses. God had already said that he was prepared to start again with Moses, Ex 32:10. But this is not enough for Moses; he needs to know that God’s presence will go with ‘us’, with ‘I and your people’, v15f.
A huge advance on the promise of ‘an angel’ to lead them (Ex 33:2). God’s promise to himself lead the people to the Promised Land (in Ex 3:8, 12, 17) is fully restored.
“I will give you rest” – ‘Rest should not be understood psychologically, as if God is promising that Moses’ mind will be put to ease. It is an expression used in the Pentateuch (Deut. 3:20; 12:10; 25:10) for entering the land and receiving rest from engaging enemies in war. Hence, what God seems to be saying to Moses, albeit subtly, is, “Don’t worry Moses. I’ll be with you.”’ (Enns) Stuart offers the same interpretation.
33:15 And Moses said to him, “If your presence does not go with us, do not take us up from here. 33:16 For how will it be known then that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not by your going with us, so that we will be distinguished, I and your people, from all the people who are on the face of the earth?”
“I and your people” – ‘Moses had been in a relationship with the Lord long enough to discover God’s friendship and grace. God’s faithfulness made it possible to bring blessing to the people and to the world through them (v. 16b). God would hereafter extend this grace and friendship shared with Moses to the whole nation.’ (Bruckner)
“So that we will be distinguished…from all the people who are on the face of the earth?” – ‘Unless Israel succeeded where other nations would expect them to fail, no one would infer that their God was great.’ (Stuart)
Moses understands that it is the presence of God with his people that makes all the difference. The Promised Land without the presence of God is not worth having. It is this, suggests Chester, which makes this one of the most remarkable moments, and Moses one of the greatest men, in the Bible story. And all of this bold negotiation comes just after God has warned, ‘I might destroy you’.
Kaiser urges that we should not see Moses as more gracious than God. After all, it was God himself who had called Moses and prepared him for his mediatorial role.
‘This dialogue highlights the mediatorial role of Moses (see also Ex 34:9). And so it sheds light on the role of Jesus. Moses turned down God’s presence if it would be for him alone—Jesus left God’s presence so that we could know God’s presence. Jesus would die rather than leave God’s people without God. Jesus experienced God’s absence—he was “forsaken” (Mark 15:34)—so that we might enjoy and experience his welcome.’ (Chester)
‘”Now,” said Moses to God, “I am asking for this something extra, because I am concerned. Here we are thy people. How are all the other nations to know that we really are your people? They are looking on at us, they are laughing at us, mocking us and jeering at us, they are ready to overwhelm us. Now, I am asking for something,” said Moses, “that will make it absolutely clear that we are not just one of the nations of the world, but that we are thy people, that we are separate, unique, altogether apart.”‘ (Lloyd-Jones)
Kaiser notes that, on the basis of Moses’ role as mediator, progressive steps of divine mercy are shown:
- The Lord relents in his threat of judgement, Ex 32:14;
- The Israelites are permitted to journey on with angelic guidance, although not with the presence of the Lord himself, Ex 32:34; 33:1f;
- The Lord pledges to accompany them himself, Ex 33:15-17.
Kaiser concludes: ‘Israel learned that there is no substitute for the personal presence of the living God. How foolish and how risky it is for us to let sin interrupt and finally usurp that relationship. Let us therefore immediately implore the Saviour for his forgiveness.’
Of the cry for God to authenticate his people and their message, Lloyd-Jones writes: ‘Authenticate thy word. Lord God, let it be known, let it be known beyond a doubt, that we are thy people. Shake us!’ I do not ask him to shake the building, but I ask him to shake us. I ask him to do something that is so amazing, so astounding, so divine, that the whole world shall be compelled to look on and say, “What is this?” as they said on the day of Pentecost.’ (Revival, p185)
33:17 The LORD said to Moses, “I will do this thing also that you have requested, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.”
“I will do this thing…” – ‘It was always God’s intention to do this very thing—but he chose to do it through the courageous intervention of Moses, in order to highlight the problem that we can’t live with God and we can’t live without him.’ (Chester)
However, we can also agree with Enns, that the text allows us to infer that ‘once again, Moses has succeeded in moving God to compassion.’ (Enns)
33:18 And Moses said, “Show me your glory.”
“Show me your glory” – ‘Moses’ prayer is to see the kabod, the manifested glory (literally ‘weight’) of YHWH.’ (Cole)
Kaiser agrees that God’s ‘glory’ speaks primarily of ‘the sheer weight of his presence’. Other meanings – such as ‘radiance’ – are secondary to this.
‘This is not simply to satisfy his curiosity or some deep spiritual longing. He is in effect asking God for some demonstration of the promise he has just made. He is asking God to “put it in writing.”’ (Enns)
God had indeed shown Moses his glory previously, but at his own initiative. Moses is looking for – and is given – a reassurance that after the debacle of the golden calf God is still with him and his people. Moses would not only been given knowledge of ‘God’s ways’, but an experiential knowledge of God himself.
‘We may have been Christians for many years, but have we ever really longed for some person, direct knowledge and experience of God? Oh, I know, we pray for causes, we pray for the Church, we pray for missionaries, we pray for our own efforts that we organize, yes, but that is not what I am concerned about. We all ask for personal blessings, but how much do we know of this desire for God himself? That is what Moses asked for: “Show me thy glory. Take me yet a step nearer.”‘ (Lloyd-Jones)
‘This is what we may very well describe as the daring quality that always comes into great faith…Moses is no longer asking God for particular blessings. He has done that, but he does not stop at that, he has gone beyond blessings, he has gone beyond gifts, he is now seeking God himself. He is now filled with a passion for a personal knowledge, confrontation, meeting, with God himself.’ (Lloyd-Jones, Revival, p213f)
‘Moses had lately been in the mount with God, had continued there a great while, and had enjoyed as intimate a communion with God as ever any man had on this side heaven; and yet he is still desiring a further acquaintance. All that are effectually called to the knowledge of God and fellowship with him, though they desire nothing more than God, are nevertheless still coveting more and more of him, till they come to see as they are seen.’ (MHC)
33:19 And the LORD said, “I will make all my goodness pass before your face, and I will proclaim the LORD by name before you; I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy.” 33:20 But he added, “You cannot see my face, for no one can see me and live.” 33:21 The LORD said, “Here is a place by me; you will station yourself on a rock. 33:22 When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and will cover you with my hand while I pass by. 33:23 Then I will take away my hand, and you will see my back, but my face must not be seen.”
“I will make all my goodness pass before your face” – Stuart suggests that this might be better rendered: ‘all my splendour’.
‘God didn’t reveal His justice to Moses, not His power, and not His wrath against sin. All those are truly aspects of God’s nature, but when He showed Himself to Moses He displayed His goodness.’ (Guzik)
‘Sometimes people think they must “balance” God, supposing there is something like a Yin and Yang to the universe, in the sense of light and dark, good and evil, law and grace. But God Himself is “unbalanced” in this sense. He is entirely good. Even His justice and power and wrath must be understood as aspects of His goodness.’ (Guzik)
“I will proclaim the LORD by name before you” – ‘This is an allusion to the initial encounter in Ex 3:14–15, where God first proclaimed his name to Moses.’ (Enns)
God’s ‘name’ stands for his revealed character, as instanced in the words which immediately follow. See also Ex 34:6.
‘God promised Moses that he would speak his own name so Moses would know for certain with whom he was dealing and would not be subject to doubt that his eyes had played tricks on him, or any such thing. This is an instance of God’s giving to a person the special reassurance he needed in a special situation, providing powerfully convincing evidence of his presence to that person in an aural way, parallel to the visual way his splendor could do the same thing.’ (Stuart)
‘Theophanies are exceptions, not the rule. They strengthen the confidence of those to whom they are given, in highly exceptional circumstances where such strengthening is needed and where less sensory encouragement would not suffice. Most people must rely on reports of theophanies rather than participation in one, and to seek a theophany as Moses did here would have no warrant unless one were on a par with Moses in job assignment and closeness to Yahweh and in an old covenant setting, neither of which is possible now. Fortunately, having the Holy Spirit dwelling in us is far better and far more permanent an asset.’ (Stuart, who citing Jesus’ words in Mt 11:11, adds that ‘the nature of the indwelling of the Spirit under the New Covenant eclipses any experience of God in the Old, including that of Moses.’)
‘Instead of a description of the way the God looks, we get a description of the way God is. God is not known through a visual image. He cannot be pictured. That’s why you cannot make an idol and say, “This is what God is like”.’ (Chester)
“I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, I will show mercy to whom I will show mercy” – Enns writes: ‘We must resist the temptation to read this statement in terms of personal salvation. The reference here is to the Israelites, those on whom the Lord has had mercy and compassion. It is a summary of what God has done for Israel in bringing them out of Egypt, an act of pure mercy.’
‘The Lord’s gifts of mercy and compassion, given to Israel in the exodus and at Sinai in the law, remained God’s own prerogative. They were, like friendship, the jurisdiction of a personal God. Through Israel the Lord had revealed mercy and compassion to the world. It was not to be taken for granted. The Lord declared here that God’s goodness was not abstract, but personal and relational.’ (Bruckner)
“You cannot see my face, for no one can see me and live” – See also Ex 3:6. Chester mentions the ‘strange apparent contradiction’ with v11, which says that Moses regularly conversed with God face to face. The tension is resolved (although never fully explained) by the provision of a mediator: foreshadowed in the OT and placarded in the NT.
‘How is it that God can “[forgive] wickedness, rebellion and sin” and, at the same time, “not leave the guilty unpunished” (Exodus 34:7)? The answer is Jesus. Forgiveness and punishment, mercy and justice, grace and truth meet in Jesus. When he died, your guilt was punished so that you could be forgiven. Your judgment was taken so you could enjoy mercy. The truth of your sin was recognised and accounted for, so that you could know the joy and peace and life of God’s grace.’ (Chester)
‘Moses does not quite realise what he is asking, so God corrects him, and teaches him. He does it gently, with tenderness, showing him exactly what is possible and what is not.’ (Lloyd-Jones, Revival, p217)
“You will station yourself on a rock” – Stuart says that this might be translated, ‘on the rock’, suggesting that Mt Sinai is meant.
“When my glory passes by” – ‘The purpose of this theophany…is to draw more clearly the parallel between Moses’ commission in chapter 3 and his “recommission” here in chapter 33.’ (Enns)
Moses view of the Lord must be partial (he would see only God’s back), passing (the Lord would pass by), and protected (the Lord would shield Moses with his hand).
“I will put you in a cleft in the rock” – This may have been the very place to which Elijah returned, 1 Kings 19:8-18.
The first line of Toplady’s hymn ‘Rock of Ages, cleft for me’ recalls this story. Goldingay writes that ‘the story and the hymn have in common the insight that there are aspects of God’s own being that would be a threat to us but that God in person saves us from these. The hymn, however, is preoccupied by God’s righteousness and our sin while the story is preoccupied by God’s supernatural splendor and our mortal ordinariness. It constitutes another example of Exodus thinking its way round a theological profundity by telling a story.’
“You will see my back” – ‘This is not to imply that God appears to Moses in bodily form, only that he sees something. If we dwell on what precisely Moses sees, we lose sight of the point of the story as a whole. No one knows what it means to speak of God’s hand, back, and face, but perhaps this is precisely what is intended. God’s appearance is a mystery, a mystery that even Moses himself is able to see only partially.’ (Enns)
‘This is the most elevated glimpse of God Moses has ever had and will have. This is not the burning bush, which prompted Moses’ curiosity to take a closer look. This is not a series of disasters, as we saw in the plagues and the parting of the sea. This is not the miraculous giving of manna and quail. Moses has gotten to know the God of Abraham much better since then. He has seen his mighty power and has come to understand better what God intends to do with his people. Their relationship has deepened, and so, too, the degree to which God reveals himself to Moses. So, unlike the relatively “tame” theophany of chapter 3, Moses now catches a glimpse of God that, if God were to remove his hand, would bring death even to him.’ (Enns)
‘As with the theophanies in Exodus 3 and 24, this one serves a similar function. It is a boost of God’s presence for the task that lies ahead.’ (Enns)
Poole: ‘Thou shalt see a shadow or obscure delineation of my glory, as much as thou canst bear, though not as much as thou dost desire.’
According to Kaiser, ‘the word… could…more accurately be rendered ‘the after-effects’ of his radiant glory, which had just passed by.’ Kaiser invites us to picture a vapour trail left by a plane and rocket as an illustration of this.
‘What happened in these theophanies was not that Moses actually saw God in the same way believers will see him in heaven but that God manifest himself by producing for Moses’ benefit some sort of shape that was visible and therefore gave a sense of closeness and locality to his contact with Moses.’ (Stuart)
‘Now Moses was allowed to see only the back-parts; but long afterwards, when he was a witness to Christ’s transfiguration, he saw his face shine as the sun. If we faithfully improve the discoveries God gives us of himself while we are here, a brighter and more glorious scene will shortly be opened to us; for to him that hath shall be given.’ (MHC)
Moses and Jesus. Moses could only experience the presence and glory of God in part. Jesus, on the other hand, sits at the very right hand of God, enjoying the unfettered presence and experiencing the unrestricted glory of his Father.
Moses could only reflect God’s glory. Jesus, as a member of the threefold Godhead, actually possesses the divine glory. See Heb 1:3.
The experience of Moses recorded here anticipates the greater experience of Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. There, Jesus’ face ‘shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light’ (Matt. 17:2). There, God’s glory was seen and God’s voice was heard: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (Matt. 17:5). Two witnesses from the Old Testament were present to see and hear: Elijah and Moses.
‘The amazing thing for us is that we, as believers, all have the privilege of seeing God’s glory as revealed through the person, work, and word of Jesus Christ. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).’ (Selvaggio)
God’s glory was similarly experienced by Isaiah (Isa 6), Paul (on the Damascus Road, and also at another time, 2 Cor 12), and John (Rev 1:17). See also Acts 18:9; Phil 1:21,23; 4:13; Jn 1:3; 1 Pet 1:8.
Lloyd-Jones mentions similar experiences of Jonathan Edwards, David Brainerd and D.L. Moody.
Guzik comments: ‘We also should have an earnest desire to experience God deeply. Paul made it clear that we cannot fully see the glory of God – we see it as in a piece of polished metal, dimly (1 Corinthians 13:12) – but we can see something of it. Paul didn’t say we see nothing of the glory of God, only that we can’t fully see it or comprehend it.’
“I…will cover you with my hand while I pass by” – In this life, we see ‘through a glass, darkly’; it could not be otherwise, given the blinding radiance of the divine glory.
Revival, says Lloyd-Jones, may be described as ‘a passing by of God’s glory.’ Moses was given ‘some sensible realisation of the presence of the glory of God. By sensible, I mean something that one feels, something that one is conscious of experimentally. Not only something that one deduces from the word, and receives from the word, which we should always do, but something over and above that, some sensible realisation of the glory and the power, the presence of God.’ (Revival, p225)
God is simultaneously revealed to, and concealed from, Moses. It is so with the incarnation. ‘The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us. We have beheld his glory.’ But also: ‘He was in the form of God, but did not think equality with God a thing to be clung on to, but he humbled himself, taking the form of a human being.’