DIG: What three concerns does Moses bring to God? What do those concerns have in common with the people (see 32:1)? What does the Presence of God (or lack of it) mean to him? What ensures Israel’s continuing existence? Did God change His mind here? What is Moses shown and told? Why did God set limits? When is Moses’ prayer more fully answered (see Luke 9:30-32)?
REFLECT: Do you refuse to go anywhere unless the LORD leads? Have you ever gone places you wouldn’t want ADONAI to know about, let alone go with you? How do you need God’s Presence today to deal with the every day problems in your life?
The tent of meeting was outside the camp of Israel. Moses entered the tent after telling Israel he would see about interceding on their behalf. By that point he had gotten the LORD to agree to lead Israel into the Promised Land, but the instructions for the Tabernacle had been canceled. So Moses made three bold requests to God inside the tent of meeting.
First, Moses asked God to reveal His ways. He said: You have been telling me, “Lead these people,” but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said: I know you by name and you have found favor with Me. More than anything else, Moses wanted to know and experience God. So he continued: If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is Your people. Even though they had sinned greatly, Moses asked the LORD to have compassion on them and that His Presence would be in their midst. ADONAI then replied to Moses’ first petition when He said: My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest (33:12-14). When God said you, He meant Moses because the word you is a second person masculine singular. Basically, the LORD was proclaiming that He would only go with Moses and not the people.693
Secondly, Moses was persistent in the cause of including the Hebrews. Emboldened even further, Moses pleaded: If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth? And God graciously replied to Moses that He would do the very thing he had asked, because He was pleased with Moses and He knew him by name (33:15-17). God would fully restore the Hebrews. The LORD would be present in the midst of His people. That was what the Israelites needed to hear to move forward and build the Tabernacle.
Thirdly, pressing harder, Moses wanted God to show him His glory. Moses asked God to reveal the essence of His being. God’s revelation would come in the form of His attributes. First was His goodness. And ADONAI said: I will cause all My goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim My name, ADONAI, in your presence (Psalm 86:5, 100:5, 118:1; Ezra 3:11; Jeremiah 33:11). Secondly, was His mercy. Especially significant was the announcement of the name of the LORD given here. His name was captured in the phrase: I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy. And thirdly, was His compassion. Continuing this thought, He declared: I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion (33:18-19). The New, or Renewed Covenant gives us some insight on this statement. After quoting this very verse, Paul affirms that ADONAI's saving relationship to His people does not depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy (Romans 9:16). Moses could do nothing whatsoever to gain even a minimal glimpse of the glory of the LORD. Such an experience would only occur through mercy, getting something he did not deserve.
Moses’ unique relationship to God, as detailed here, is beautifully summarized in Deuteronomy 34:10-12, where among other things we are told that no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom ADONAI knew face to face. No other figure is paid such a high complement in the Old Covenant, or the TANAKH. Moses was indeed a spiritual giant.694
He continued with one warning: But you cannot see My face, for no one in a sinful state may see Me and live (33:20). It would kill Moses instantly. The Scriptures are full of examples showing that mankind cannot see God (Exodus 3:6; Judges 13:22; Job 13:20). the LORD is sinless and holy, whereas, mankind is sinful and unholy. Not even the angels can look directly at ADONAI (Isaiah 6:1-3).
Then ADONAI said: There is a place near Me where you may stand on a rock (33:21). In order for sinful man to be able to get a glimpse of an infinitely righteous and holy God, it is necessary that he should be put on the security and piece of a rock. Jesus Christ is that Rock (Matthew 16:18). Then he said: When My glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by (33:21-22). The verb passed by is often found in the ratification of covenants (see Genesis 15:17 and Jeremiah 34:18-19). It may have the same purpose here, because immediately after this incident the two stone tablets were replaced and the Covenant was renewed.
Then I will remove My hand and you will see My afterglow; but My face must not be seen (33:23). The rabbis teach that Moses saw the knot of the phylactery (Matthew 23:5), or the leather box containing Bible verses, at the back of God’s head. Moses would see ADONAI’s glory in a way that he had never seen before, but again, it could not be the fullness of the LORD’s glory, because it would destroy him. It would be an imperfect view, yet it would fulfill Moses’ desire to see a confirmation that God would lead His people and His Presence would dwell among them.
The Apostle John comments in his Gospel: 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). This is reflected here in 33:18-23. Moses asked to see God’s glory, and he was allowed to receive a quick glimpse. But when the Son of Man returns, His coming will be a sign for the entire world to see. After the Great Tribulation, the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory (Matthew 24:30). We will see what Moses could not see, Yeshua the Messiah in His glorified body. And we will not only see Him, we will be like Him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Jesus appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is (First John 3:2). This is the anticipation of believers who are walking by faith. Titus said: We wait for the blessed hope - the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ (Titus 2:13). That is how Moses’ walked. He knew ADONAI’s Presence had to go with him or he would fail.695
The Teaching Ministry of Jay Mack 2006-2013