DIG: Why was this tent needed? What did they think of Moses at that time? Why would Moses seek God’s face at a time like this? What were the people expecting?
REFLECT: How much do you hate sin? Do you hate it enough to separate yourself from it? Are you a closet believer? Do people at your place of work, or your neighborhood know you are a believer? How and when do you talk to God as one speaks with a friend? How do you feel when your sin has separated you from the LORD? What can you do about that (First John 1:8-10)?
Up to now the Shechinah glory, in the form of a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, was over the camp of Israel. And Moses’ own tent was within the camp. But then Moses took a tent and pitched it for himself outside the camp some distance away, calling it the tent of meeting. The rabbis teach the distance was about a thousand yards as defined in Joshua 3:4.The tent was temporary until the completion of the more permanent Tabernacle, which, because of our topical approach to organizing the book, had not been built yet. The purpose was to impress upon the people the separation from God as a result of their sin. ADONAI would only talk with Moses and only outside the camp (see Ep - The Camp of the Twelve Tribes of Israel) . The structure of the Hebrew language at the beginning of this verse indicates that Moses went out to the tent many times (33:7).687
In the opening scene of the golden calf incident, the Hebrews spoke disparagingly of Moses. Their disrespect was clear when they called him: this Moses (32:1). But after God had judged them and Moses had interceded on their behalf, they had a new respect for him. So whenever Moses went out to the tent of meeting, all the people rose and stood at the entrances to their tents, and watched him until he entered it (33:8). This probably reflected respect, reverence, and remorse on their parts. But it also demonstrated separation, because the tent of meeting was always outside the camp of Israel.688
The Shechinah glory, the visible manifestation of God’s presence, would come down and stay at the entrance of the tent of meeting, whenever Moses went inside. Whenever the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance to the tent, they all stood and worshiped, each at the entrance to his or her tent (33:9-10). How true are the words: those who honor Me I will honor (First Samuel 2:30). Thus, ADONAI was still with His people, although somewhat removed. The submission and faith on the part of Moses were greatly rewarded. The LORD never disappoints those who seek His glory and rely on His grace.689
ADONAI would speak to Moses face to face as a man speaks with his friend (33:11a). This expression should not be taken literally, since we are also told that Moses was not allowed to see the face of God (33:20-23). The meaning of speaking face to face here means as a man speaks with his friend, that is, openly, without holding anything back. In Numbers 12:8 we are told that ADONAI spoke to Moses face to face, literally mouth to mouth. The expression is immediately explained to mean clearly and not in riddles. That meant that the LORD spoke to Moses in Hebrew words, not in dreams or visions like He spoke to other prophets. It is interesting that although Moses did not literally see the face of God, he did see the form of God, because His presence was in the pillar of fire (13:21).690 The conversations between the LORD and Moses were intimate, and the sensitive heart of Moses made it easy for ADONAI to speak to him (Deuteronomy 34:10).691
The tent of meeting was guarded by his young aide Joshua, who had served as field commander of Israel’s army when they fought the Amalekites (17:9). He was the man that God was preparing to succeed Moses. Joshua would later lead Israel’s military conquest of Canaan. When Moses returned to the camp, Joshua would guard the tent to prevent the Hebrews from making it into something to be worshiped like they had the golden calf (33:11b). They were prone, and they would continue to be prone, to idol worship.
Rabbi Saul (Acts 9:1-19) uses the Hebrew phrase face to face when he commented on the differences between our understanding of the here and now, in contrast to our understanding of the coming Messianic Kingdom. Paul says: Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known (First Corinthians 13:12). Not that what we see now is untrue, but it is an imperfect reflection. One day we shall look straight into the face of God and have unhindered communication with Him. In the Eternal State (see my commentary on Revelation Fq - The Eternal State), believers will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads (Revelation 22:4a). Moses was closer to that day than any human who has ever lived, because God spoke to him face to face through the Shechinah glory.692
The Teaching Ministry of Jay Mack 2006-2015