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Exodus: Chapter 33

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1The LORD said to Moses, “Go, leave this place, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, and go to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your descendants I will give it.’ 2I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 3Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, or I would consume you on the way, for you are a stiff‐necked people.”

4When the people heard these harsh words, they mourned, and no one put on ornaments. 5For the LORD had said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘You are a stiff‐necked people; if for a single moment I should go up among you, I would consume you. So now take off your ornaments, and I will decide what to do to you.’;” 6Therefore the Israelites stripped themselves of their ornaments, from Mount Horeb on‐ward.

7Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, far off from the camp; he called it the tent of meeting. And everyone who sought the LORD would go out to the tent of meeting, which was outside the camp. 8Whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people would rise and stand, each of them, at the entrance of their tents and watch Moses until he had gone into the tent. 9When 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. 10When all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise and bow down, all of them, at the entrance of their tent. 11Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Then he would return to the camp; but his young assistant, Joshua son of Nun, would not leave the tent.

12Moses said to the LORD, “See, you have said to me, ‘Bring up this people’; but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ 13Now if I have found favor in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” 14He said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” 15And he said to him, “If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here. 16For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us? In this way, we shall be distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth.”

17The LORD said to Moses, “I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” 18Moses said, “Show me your glory, I pray.” 19And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The LORD’; a Heb Asherim and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20But,” he said, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.” 21And the LORD continued, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; 22and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; 23then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.”


a Heb Asherim

Text Commentary view alone

33.1–23 : Will God be with Israel or not?

Moses seeks assurance that God will accompany the people despite their attempt to force God to be present on their own terms.

1–3 :

The angel is God's representative ( 32.34 ), showing that the people will not be completely forsaken by the deity. God will not, however, accompany the stubborn people directly, as was true from Egypt to Sinai ( 13.21–22; 17.1,6 ), so that divine holiness does not consume them. Perhaps God is (temporarily) canceling the instructions to build the tabernacle.

1 :

You have brought up, 32.7n.

2 :


4–6 :

The people remove their ornaments, their victors' plunder, to show contrition and try to persuade God to decide favorably ( 3.21–22n. ).

7–11 :

The tent of meeting, the depiction of the tent here contrasts sharply with the elaborate structure of chs 25–31 , and it functions chiefly as a place where God speaks to Moses (Num 11.16–17,24–26; 12.1–8; Deut 31.14–15 ). Since God has now refused to be present among the people (v. 3 ), Moses pitches a tent far off from the camp. There is no priest or ritual. Instead, Moses and his assistant, Joshua (v. 11; 17.9–13n. ) are in charge, and anyone can come to seek an oracle from God.

8 :

The people's disrespect for Moses ( 32.1 ) is gone completely.

9–10 :

Pillar of cloud, 13.21–22n. Even though God's presence is now distant and intermittent, it commands utter respect from the people.

11 :

Moses' role as mediator ( 19.9; 20.19 ) is indicated by the fact that God speaks to him face to face, as one speaks to a friend (Num 12.7–8; Deut 34.10–12 ).

12–16 :

Because of the people's change of heart (vv. 4–6,8,10 ) Moses intercedes a third time, and because of his special relationship with God, he succeeds.

13 :

Your people (and twice in v. 16 ), in contrast to v. 1 (32.11–14n.).

16 :

Israel is a unique people because they undertake a special journey with God leading them into the future ( 15.13–18n. ).

17–23 :

This paragraph anticipates the theophany of 34.5–7 , the fifth divine appearance of the book.

18 :

Having asked for a display of God's “ways” (v. 13; Ps 103.7–14 ) or manner of action in the world, Moses now asks for more: a manifestation of God's glory, the visible radiance and majesty of God ( 16.6–7n. ).

19 :

As God knows Moses “by name” (vv. 12,17 ), God will proclaim to him the divine name, “YHWH” ( 3.14n. ), which is tantamount to disclosing the character or identity of God (Gen 32.27–29 ). I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, the structure of the sentence is similar to that of “I AM WHO I AM” ( 3.14 ), emphasizing divine freedom. God's actions, while free, are not capricious, however, but express divine “goodness” ( 34.6–7 ).

23 :

Although using bold anthropomorphisms (the LORD's hand and back), the narrator stresses that God remains hidden (v. 20 ), even when most palpably present.

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