The sin of God’s people has been dealt with. It was a “great sin” Moses had declared in both verses thirty and thirty-one of chapter thirty-two. Is it right to say that God “threatened” to utterly destroy those people and start over with a new line stemming from Moses? Does God make threats? In one sense of the word, I suppose you would have to say that God does not make threats. On the other hand, what constitutes a threat?
Whatever you choose to call it, verse fourteen of chapter 32 says that God changed His mind about destroying the people. This change of mind appears to have been the result of Moses intercession on behalf of Israel.
Now we come to chapter thirty-three and God instructs Moses to depart from Mount Sinai and to go up to the land of promise or the land of Canaan as we say. It’s the land that God promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and their descendants.
God also promises in verse two to send an angel before Israel to drive out the inhabitants of the land of Canaan. These included not only the Canaanite, but also the Amorite, the Hitite, the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite.
In verse three God reminds Moses that the land is a good land flowing with milk and honey. However, God gives Moses a most disheartening piece of news and that is that God is not going to be among the people as they go up to the land because they are so obstinate. When you read verses four and five it almost sounds as though God is so angry with the people that He cannot bear to come near them. God almost seems to fear that the people will do something else stupid and He will destroy them instantly. It’s as though God wants to keep His distance so He won’t be tempted to do something rash. Is this the character of the God we know?
For some reason, verse five says that God told Moses to command the people to remove their ornaments from them. We understand that to mean their jewelry. Why did God want them to remove their jewelry? I assume that any jewelry they might have had came from the Egyptians; remember God commanded them to plunder the Egyptians by asking them for such items of gold and silver. Did God now regret having them do that or did He just not want them to wear the stuff? Could it be that the items of gold reminded both God and people of the golden calf with which they had committed spiritual adultery? Whatever the reason, verse six indicates that they did not wear it from then on.
Verses seven through eleven are somewhat peculiar. Verse seven tells us that Moses would set up a tent outside the Israelites camp a good distance away. It was far enough away to clearly see that it was not part of the camp. However, it was near enough to be seen by those in the camp. Moses called this tent “the tent of meeting.” This not the tabernacle which was also called the tent of meeting. The tabernacle had not yet been constructed.
Putting two and two together as we say it appears that Moses set up this tent as a result of God’s anger with the people of Israel. God had declared in verse three, “I will not go up in your midst, because you are an obstinate people...” Since God was not going to be in their midst Moses set up a tent outside the camp where he, and presumably others if they choose, could go out and meet with God. Verse seven concludes saying, “And it came about, that everyone who sought the Lord would go out to the tent of meeting which was outside the camp.”
Notice what would take place when Moses went out to meet with the Lord in verses eight through eleven. When Moses went out to the tent, the people would stand each at the entrance of his tent and gaze after Moses until he entered the tent. Moses would enter the tent and the pillar of cloud would descend and cover the entrance to the tent. Thus the Lord would meet with and speak to Moses “face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend” says verse eleven. During the time that God met with Moses at the tent, the people would worship at the entrance of their own tents.
An interesting note in verse eleven is how Joshua went with Moses when he went to the tent to meet with the Lord; and then Joshua stayed behind in the tent even after Moses returned to the camp. It doesn’t say why Joshua stayed in the tent. Perhaps he stayed there to guard it or to help in the event anyone else came to seek the Lord. One thing is for certain; Joshua is being prepared for his future role as Moses successor.
Verses seven through eleven seem to appear as commentary to explain how and why Moses came to meet with God in the manner he did. Then verses twelve and following relate a meeting of Moses with God in light of God’s command to Moses to depart and lead the people to the promised land even though God had stated that He was not going to go up in their midst.
Moses knows that he is not able to lead the people by himself. It has been difficult enough with God’s presence and power among them. How will he get anywhere if God is not with him? This seems to be what’s behind Moses words in verses twelve and thirteen. So God responds in verse fourteen saying, “My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.” Those words sound so much like some of the promises of Jesus when He was preparing to return to His heavenly Father. Words like, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” And, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
In response to God’s promise, Moses begs God to adhere to that promise or else just leave them right where they are. Moses realizes that it is senseless to continue without God. If only we all realized that. God assures Moses that His presence will go with him in verse seventeen.
What Moses does next is familiar to us all, but I wonder about the significance of it. Moses asks God to allow him to see His glory. Was Moses looking for more assurance that God was committed to Moses? Was Moses yearning for more of God; was he wanting to get closer? God seemed to be granting Moses whatever he requested in the preceding verses; was Moses trying to see just how far God would go in granting Moses favor with Himself? I’m not exactly sure what the answer is but we do see that God put limits on how far He is willing to go.
Notice what God was willing to do. In verse nineteen God said, “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you...” How come God was willing to do this for Moses? Was Moses that much better than any other man? God gives the reason in verse nineteen; it is because, “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.” God was bestowing His favor on Moses because it is God’s prerogative to do so. God will bless whomever He chooses because it’s His choice. Man has no goodness in and of himself to influence God to do anything. Whatever any person is — he is because of God’s grace whether that be Moses or Judas.
God informs Moses that he cannot see God’s face; “no man can see” God’s face “and live,” God says. God’s glory is just too intense for mortal man to look upon. If God were to allow one of us to stand in His presence, we would be consumed by His glory.
God does consent to show Moses what perhaps no other besides possibly Adam and Eve have ever been allowed to see. What exactly did God do? I don’t know. God put in words like those in verses 22 & 23. He told Moses that there is a place by Him. There is a place near God where Moses could stand. Moses would stand on “the rock,” says verse 21. In this rock is a cleft where God would place Moses and then cover the cleft with His hand so that Moses could not look directly on God’s glory as He passed by. God would pass by as Moses stood in the cleft of the rock and God would remove His hand so that Moses would see God’s back is the way God put it in verse 23.
What did Moses see? I don’t know. In verse 19 God told Moses that He would make all His goodness pass before him, and that He would proclaim the name of the Lord before him. God’s goodness is His glory. Moses could not have looked intently at God’s goodness. God’s name, remember, is who God is. Do you know the feeling of not wanting to call someone by their first name because of a desire to show that person respect? You feel that you just don’t know the person well enough to call them by their first name so you say Mr. or Mrs. and then the person’s last name. Respect has become almost a thing of the past. That’s why I must ask if you know the feeling.
To know God by name is to know Him intimately. Why did God give the commandment, “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain?” God is holy, righteous and perfect. To profane God’s name is to blaspheme God. God’s name should only be spoken out of the deepest respect, reverence and honor. If one does not know God and yet uses His name, it is meaningless to the one who uses it. For God to proclaim His name before Moses and for Moses to understand was to know God.
Chapter thirty-four begins with God instructing Moses to cut out two tablets like the two upon which God had written the commandments. Moses had smashed the originals by casting them down the side of the mountain onto the rocks below.
Moses was to hew out replacement tablets of stone and the next morning he was to ascend the mountain and meet with God again. God gave similar instructions as He did the first time concerning the mountain. No one but Moses was to come near it not even the flocks and herds.
Moses climbed back to the top of the mountain the next morning. God descended in the cloud again as He had before. And then God kept His promise to Moses. God passed by in front of Moses and this is what He said to Moses in verses 6 & 7, “The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in loving-kindness and truth; who keeps loving-kindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.”
Moses then bowed down and pleaded with God again to go up with His people and to be in their midst as they went up to the promised land. In the last few words of his prayer Moses said, “do Thou pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us as Thine own possession.”
God answers Moses prayer by renewing His covenant with the people of Israel. God begins by telling Moses that He is going to do mighty and fearful works before the people of Israel. Most likely God is referring to what He will do when He brings the people into the promised land. Verse eleven is the highlights of what God is going to do. He will drive out the inhabitants of the promised land from before the children of Israel. What does God expect of Israel? God puts it in words of warning when He says, “Be sure to observe what I am commanding you this day...” With that God repeats much of what He had commanded Moses when he was on the mountain with him the first time.
The list begins in verse twelve. Israel was not to make any covenant with the inhabitants of Canaan for it would result in ruin for them. They were to throughly destroy the idols and places of idol worship that existed in the land of Canaan. They dare not join with the inhabitants of Canaan in worshiping their idols or eating food that had been sacrificed to their idols. They were not to allow their daughters to marry their sons nor were they to take their daughters for wives.
In verses eighteen through twenty God repeats the requirements for the observance of the Passover and the redemption of all firstborn of human and animal.
Verses 21 through 24 repeat the requirement to observe the Sabbath and the three major feasts each year. Verses 25 and 26 address the subjects of leaven and first fruits.
Verses 27 and 28 sum up Moses second meeting with God on the mountain. God commanded Moses to write down the words He had spoken for they were the words of the covenant God was making with Israel. This second meeting took forty days and nights just like the first meeting. Moses ate nothing nor drank anything the entire time. And this time Moses did the writing when he inscribed the Ten Commandments on the stone tablets.
Moses descends the mountain with the two tablets of stone having the Decalogue or the Ten Commandments inscribed on them. Something was different about Moses this time as compared to the first time he had met with God on the mountain. The skin of his face was shining or glowing only Moses was unaware of it until he came into view of his people. Even Aaron along with the rest of the people were afraid to come near Moses.
Moses had to implore them to approach him so he could speak to them. Once he was able to get them to gather before him he then commanded them to observe everything that the Lord had spoken to him on the mountain. That sounds like Jesus’ words in the Great Commission. Matthew 28:19-20 reads, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” The key words in both instances are “observe all that I command.” That’s what expected of the covenant people of God.
When Moses had finished relaying everything that God had commanded, he then put a veil over his face which would naturally have obscured the glow of his face. Moses would take the veil off each time he went in the tent to meet with the Lord. Each time after the Lord had spoken to him he would come out to the people and tell them what the Lord had said; and then he would put the veil back over his face until the next time he met with the Lord.
What was the purpose of the veil? Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 2:13 that the veil was to conceal the fact that the glow faded with time.