The Restoration to Divine Favour Completed
Exodus 33:1-23
And the LORD said to Moses, Depart, and go up hence, you and the people which you have brought up out of the land of Egypt…

This is a chapter which, beginning very gloomily, ends very gloriously. In the beginning Jehovah seems as if bidding farewell to the people for whom he had done so much; but at the close he is seen giving a revelation to Moses their leader, which must have sent him forth to resume his arduous work with greater encouragements than he ever had before. It is therefore very interesting to trace how this change was brought about.

I. WE SEE THE PEOPLE ARE BROUGHT TO A MEASURE OF PENITENCE. We cannot assume that this penitence went very deep, so far as the general apprehension of unworthiness of conduct was concerned. But there was this depth in it, that the people perceived they had done something wrong, something insulting to Jehovah, something very dangerous to their own prospects. And how had this been brought about? Simply by the statement of Jehovah that he would not go up with those who had hitherto been his people. He would not go - the real truth was that he could not go. The sin of the people, their reckless, thoughtless trifling with holy things made his presence among them a peril. Something, indeed, had to be done to get these people from Horeb to Canaan, and settle them in possession; but that could be done by a sort of exercise of physical force. So much Jehovah could do for these Israelites, howsoever idolatrous they became. But his great blessing for them was not in the mere possession of Canaan, with its temporal riches and comforts. The temporal riches of Canaan were no more than those of any other land, save as God himself was in the midst of those who possessed the riches. What a humiliating thing to consider that God had to threaten withdrawal from his people in a sort of exercise of mercy. Suppose for a moment that the people had continued obdurate, what would the end have been? They would, indeed, have gone forward and got Canaan, and then sunk back, so that Israelite would have had no more importance in the history of the world and the development of God's purposes than Amorite, Hittite, or any of the other tribes mentioned in ver. 2.

II. CONSIDER THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE SEPARATED TABERNACLE. In all probability this was the tent of Moses, and if so, we see at once a beautiful mingling of grace with necessary severity. Moses was prompted to separate from the people, but not to depart from them. Jehovah could not come down in the pillar of cloud into the midst of the camp; and for this no reason needs be sought other than the peril to the people flowing from his holiness. Thus there was everything to fill the minds of the people with a suitable mingling of humility and hope. Moses, true type of the greater Mediator yet to come, gave a point where God and the people could meet together. Jehovah will not depart, unless, so to speak, he is driven away. These people could not bear his presence; and yet - apparent contradiction - they could not do without him. Individual Israelites made it plain by their seeking Jehovah that they could not do without him; and he in his never-failing loving-kindness and pity, provided for such. The fate of the nation was trembling in the balance; but ample access and counsel were secured to the individual believer. There was a definite and favoured place for every individual who in his need sought the Lord. National trouble did not eclipse, it rather intensified and aggravated, individual trouble and need.


1. There is what we may call the holy boldness of Moses. There is an illustration here of the importunity and great confidence with which God's people should persist in their approaches to the throne of the heavenly grace. Only just before God had spoken in great anger; and Moses, when he became aware from his own observation of the extent of the people's transgression, approached Jehovah with the utmost deference. Pat as time went on, and he was able to take all the elements of the position more and more into consideration, he felt himself shut up to persistent waiting upon God. A return to God's favour and guidance is the only way out of the difficulty; and therefore Moses cannot but be bold and pertinacious in doing his best to secure that way.

2. He makes the most out of God's favour to him as an individual. Not only have the people been apostate and reckless, but their very apostasy and recklessness bring out into stronger relief the clinging obedience of Moses. He has done well, and, more than that, Jehovah has approved him; and now, therefore, he pleads that the approval may not be in word only, but in deed; not in the promise of some future and distant recompense, but in deliverance from a present difficulty near at hand. Moses is not slow to avail himself of every legitimate consideration which he may plead with God. There were times when he would have been the first to allow and indeed affirm his unworthiness before God; but God had counted him worthy, and in his present need he avails himself of God's gracious regard to gain as much as he can for his needy brethren. Thus some slight hint is given to us of the way in which, for Christ's sake, God regards men. God had made it plain to Moses that he regarded him; and in effect Moses says, "If this regard be real, I will try it by large requests for my people." So let us feel that from the undisputed regard of God for the person, obedience, and everything belonging to his well-beloved Son, there will also come a regard to all the intercessions of that Son on behalf of a world so much alienated from God; and yet the more it is alienated, only the more in need of his mercy and deliverance.

3. The determined manner in which Moses associates himself with his people. He and Israel were as one. He may not in so many words speak of them as his people; on the contrary, he very emphatically alludes to them, in addressing Jehovah, as "thy people;" but we feel that underneath mere expressions there lies this natural and beautiful resolution, not to be separated from those who were one with him in blood. He felt that if Israel was to be frowned upon, he could not, so far as his consciousness was concerned, be favoured; and so we are led to think of the intimate association of Jesus with the children of men. Human nature is his nature; and however unworthy and polluted human nature often shows itself, however low it may sink in forgetfulness of its original constitution and purpose, the fact remains that the Word of God became flesh, and the consequent kinship and claim must ever be recognised.

4. The cry to God for a revelation of his glory. Much intercourse Moses had enjoyed with Jehovah, and often had he heard the voice that gave commandment and guidance. Indeed, as our minds go back over the past experience of Moses, and we consider how much he had been through, this strikes us at first as a somewhat puzzling request: - "I beseech thee show me thy glory." But the puzzle rises rather from unspirituality in our minds than from anything in the circumstances of Moses himself. Consider well the point to which he had attained, the distance which there was between him and his brethren, heart-infected as they still were with image-worship, and there will seem little wonder that in the heart of this lonely servant of God there should rise desires for what strength and satisfaction might come to him from the vision of God. He had asked much for his people, and it was fitting that he should ask something for himself. And he asked something worthy, something pleasing to God, something of highest profit to himself, even as Solomon did later on. He asked that he might no longer have to deal with a voice as behind a vail, but might see the face from which that voice came. The request was right and acceptable; but it could not be fully granted. What a fact to ponder over! What a humbling and yet hope-inspiring fact that sinful man cannot look upon the glory of the Lord and live! What of Divine glory is manifested to us has to be manifested in a way that is safe; and surely this is part of the salvation wherewith we are saved, that by-and-bye, when all pollution is cleansed away, we may be able to bear visions and revelations which, if they were to be attempted now, would only destroy us. - Y.

Parallel Verses
KJV: And the LORD said unto Moses, Depart, and go up hence, thou and the people which thou hast brought up out of the land of Egypt, unto the land which I sware unto Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, Unto thy seed will I give it:

WEB: Yahweh spoke to Moses, "Depart, go up from here, you and the people that you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, 'I will give it to your seed.'

Mercy Vailed in Judgment
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