Exodus 33
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Chapters 32–34

The Episode of the Golden Calf, and incidents arising out of it, or mentioned in connexion with it.

The narrative of these chapters, read from a purely religious point of view, is remarkably beautiful and impressive; a striking picture is given not only of Moses’ affection and noble self-devotion for his people, but also of the long intercession by which (cf. Genesis 18) he at last succeeds in winning from Jehovah Israel’s forgiveness, His promise again to be with His people, and the vision of His moral glory for himself. But ‘the connexion between its different parts, and the progress of the narrative, is often so imperfect and so far from clear’ (Di.) that to the historical student it presents problems and difficulties which are not readily solved. As Di. points out, ‘the want of connexion both backwards and forwards is most remarkable in Exodus 33:7-11 : why the Tent of Meeting is here suddenly introduced, is not explained, and can only be conjectured, and v. 12 goes on as if vv. 7–11 or vv. 4–11 were not there at all. The connexion between Exodus 34:9-10 is also imperfect: it is surprising in v. 9 to find Jehovah entreated to go with the people, when He has already in Exodus 33:14-16 promised to do so; and it is also surprising that Exodus 34:10 is no direct answer to the entreaty of v. 9. Even in ch. 32, where the narrative wears the appearance of being more consistent, it is remarkable that the questions put to Aaron in vv. 21–24 lead to nothing further, that in spite of the punishment inflicted in v. 27 f. further punishment is threatened in v. 34b, and that while in v. 35 a punishment is described vaguely, it does not read like the punishment threatened just before in v. 34b. Further, while in P the erection of the Tent of Meeting is not described till ch. 40, in Exodus 33:7-11 there appears, as already in regular use, a tent, called by precisely the same name. The angel of Jehovah, again, is in Exodus 33:3; Exodus 33:5 represented as distinct from, and exclusive of, Jehovah Himself, whereas in Exodus 23:20 he appears as His full and sufficient representative. The covenant of Exodus 34:10-27 is described as if it were one made for the first time; neither v. 10 nor v. 27 suggests that it is a second, or new, covenant. The laws in Exodus 34:10-26 are mostly identical verbally with a particular section of those contained in chs. 21–23’: what is the relation subsisting between the two recensions, and how is the repetition to be explained? It must be evident that all these difficulties and inconsistencies are due simply to the amalgamation—and sometimes the imperfect amalgamation—of different sources: they are lessened, though they can hardly be said to disappear, when these sources are recognized and disengaged from one another. Details will be better considered in the notes on the separate chapters, Exodus 34:29-35 belongs clearly to P: the rest of the three chapters is due principally to J, or the compiler of JE, but parts belong to E. The excerpts from J and E are also in several cases plainly incomplete at the beginning or the end, so that details or explanations are missing which can only be supplied by conjecture.

Jehovah bids Moses lead the people on to the promised land, but refuses to go with them personally Himself, vv. 1–3. The people strip themselves of their ornaments, vv. 4–6. How Moses used to pitch the Tent of Meeting at some distance outside the camp, and how Jehovah used to speak with him there, vv. 7–11. Moses again entreats Jehovah, partly (vv. 12, 14–16) to let him know whom He will send with him on the way to Canaan, partly (vv. 13, 17–23) to vouchsafe him a vision of His glory.

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:
1. go up] into the high ground of Canaan. Cf. on Exodus 1:10.

which I sware, &c.] See the passages quoted on Exodus 32:13.

1–3. Jehovah commands Moses to lead the people on to Canaan, but refuses to go with them personally Himself.

And I will send an angel before thee; and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite:
2. an angel] in the place of Jehovah, and exclusive of Him (see v. 3): not, therefore, as Exodus 23:20, where Jehovah is in some sense present in the angel (v. 21 ‘my name is in him’). As was remarked on Exodus 32:34, this is not the usual idea of the ‘angel’: it can, however, be avoided here only by some such supposition as that the words ‘behold, mine angel shall go before thee’ in Exodus 32:34, and v. 2 here, are later insertions in the text, made on the basis of Exodus 23:20, without regard to the contradiction which, if ‘angel’ is used here as in Exodus 23:20, they involve with v. 3b (‘I will not go up with thee’). There are independent reasons for thinking that v. 2 here may be a gloss: it interrupts the connexion between v. 1 and v. 3 (notice ‘unto the land’ &c. at the beginning of v. 3); the list of nations is found elsewhere in passages that are probably secondary; and the verse seems inconsistent with v. 12 (where Moses apparently asks to be told what he has already been told here).

I will drive out] LXX. (codd. A, F, Luc.) he will drive out, which suits the context better: Jehovah does not personally go with the people into Canaan (v. 3).

the Canaanite, &c.] On the list of nations, see on Exodus 3:8.

Unto a land flowing with milk and honey: for I will not go up in the midst of thee; for thou art a stiffnecked people: lest I consume thee in the way.
3. a land flowing, &c.] See on Exodus 3:8.

in the midst of] v. 5, Exodus 17:7, Exodus 34:9, Numbers 11:20; Numbers 14:14; Numbers 14:42.

a stiffnecked people] Exodus 32:9.

lest I consume thee, &c.] in consequence of some outburst of wilfulness or rebellion on thy part.

And when the people heard these evil tidings, they mourned: and no man did put on him his ornaments.
4. these evil tidings] that Jehovah would not accompany them to Canaan.

and no man, &c.] The removal of ornaments was a mark of mourning and grief: Ezekiel 24:17; Ezekiel 26:16, Jdt 10:3 f. (Kn.).

4–6. The people strip themselves of their ornaments.

For the LORD had said unto Moses, Say unto the children of Israel, Ye are a stiffnecked people: I will come up into the midst of thee in a moment, and consume thee: therefore now put off thy ornaments from thee, that I may know what to do unto thee.
5. The people are here told to do what they have already done (v. 4b), a clear proof that two narratives have been combined. In v. 4 the removal of the ornaments is a spontaneous token of grief; in v. 5 it is done at Jehovah’s command. It is true, LXX. omit v. 4b: but the omission is open to the suspicion of having been made to avoid the awkward anticipation of v. 5b.

Ye are, &c.] The compiler (so Di.) emphasizes afresh (see v. 3) Israel’s stiffneckedness. The entire context of the words assigned to E has naturally not been preserved.

go up in the midst of thee] viz. towards Canaan (as v. 3).

what to do unto thee] i.e. how o deal with thee.

And the children of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments by the mount Horeb.
6. Horeb] E’s term: see on Exodus 3:1.

There can be little doubt that, as Di. remarks, according to E the ornaments were to be used in the construction or decoration of the Tent of Meeting (cf., in P, Exodus 25:2-8, Exodus 35:22-29): some account of the construction of the Tent would naturally precede the notice of its use in vv. 7–11. But E’s account of the Tent of Meeting, ‘which originally followed here, and which certainly differed greatly from that of P, was omitted by the compiler, who preferred that of P (chs. 25–27); and only its conclusion is preserved in vv. 7–11.’ Whether (Di. al.) the ark in its tent was intended originally as a substitute for the immediate presence of Jehovah on Sinai, after the people had left Sinai (just as in P, after the Tent of Meeting is erected, Jehovah speaks to Moses not on Sinai, but from the Tent), is more perhaps than we can say.

And Moses took the tabernacle, and pitched it without the camp, afar off from the camp, and called it the Tabernacle of the congregation. And it came to pass, that every one which sought the LORD went out unto the tabernacle of the congregation, which was without the camp.
7. used to take, &c.] at every new encampment of the Israelites.

the tent] As the context shews, not Moses’ tent, or a provisional tent, but the same sacred tent which is mentioned by P, under the same name (Exodus 25:22), though described by him as a much more ornate and elaborate structure (see further Kennedy in DB. iv. 654). It is introduced as something already known (‘the tent’): in all probability it had been just mentioned in a part of E no longer preserved (cf. on v. 6); and as it was a well-known element of the tradition, the art could be retained by the compiler. The rend. ‘a tent,’ which Heb. idiom would also permit (G.-K. § 126 r, s), does not suit the sequel, which implies that not a casual, but a definite tent, is meant.

pitch it] Heb. pitch it for himself: it was intended particularly for his own use, in his converse with God. P’s ‘Tent of Meeting’ was used similarly (Exodus 25:22, Leviticus 1:1, Numbers 7:89): but that is represented principally as a centre for sacrifice and other ceremonial observances.

without the camp] like the local sanctuaries of a later age, outside the towns of Canaan.

The tent of meeting] I.e. the tent where Jehovah used to ‘meet’ Moses, and communicate to him His will. See more fully on Exodus 27:21.

every one which sought, &c.] Every one who desired to ‘seek’ Jehovah in order to obtain an oracle (2 Samuel 21:1 Heb.: cf. p. 314, McNeile, p. cxvi f., EB. iii. 3841; Jdg 18:5, 1 Samuel 22:10; 1 Samuel 23:2, 2 Samuel 16:23), perhaps also with sacrifice or prayer (2 Samuel 12:16)—would go out to the Tent of Meeting for the purpose.

7–11. The Tent of Meeting, and the use made of it by Moses. The sudden introduction of this notice of the Tent of Meeting is extremely surprising; and it is difficult to explain it, except by the conjecture mentioned on v. 6. The notice is a highly interesting and remarkable one, preserving, as it does, the oldest representation that we possess—that of E—of the Tent of Meeting, and differing in many particulars from the representation given by P (chs. 25–31, &c.). The ‘tent’ is obviously much simpler in structure than that of P; it is guarded by one attendant, the Ephraimite Joshua, instead of by the host of Levites pictured by P (Numbers 3-4); and it is outside the camp (so Numbers 11:26 f., Exodus 12:4), at some distance from it, not in its centre, as in P (Numbers 2:17). The tenses, throughout the section, are frequentative, and describe what was Moses’ habitual practice—no doubt, in E’s view, during the whole time of Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness. Used in v. 7 is intended to rule the whole section: but would go out, would rise up, &c., with whenever for when in vv. 8, 9, would be clearer.

And it came to pass, when Moses went out unto the tabernacle, that all the people rose up, and stood every man at his tent door, and looked after Moses, until he was gone into the tabernacle.
8. Whenever Moses went out to the Tent, all the people would rise up, and follow him reverently with their eyes. The camp seems to be pictured on a much smaller scale by E than by P.

door] lit. opening: so vv. 9, 10, and regularly with ‘tent.’

And it came to pass, as Moses entered into the tabernacle, the cloudy pillar descended, and stood at the door of the tabernacle, and the LORD talked with Moses.
9, 10. Whenever Moses entered the Tent, the pillar of cloud (Exodus 13:21-22), symbolizing Jehovah’s presence, would descend and stand by the entrance of the Tent (cf. Numbers 11:25; Numbers 12:5, Deuteronomy 31:15), God would speak to him there, and the people, every one at the entrance of his tent—in the East a common place for sitting in (Genesis 18:1)—would rise up and worship,—or rather, do obeisance (cf. on Exodus 34:14).

And all the people saw the cloudy pillar stand at the tabernacle door: and all the people rose up and worshipped, every man in his tent door.
And the LORD spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend. And he turned again into the camp: but his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, departed not out of the tabernacle.
11. would speak unto Moses face to face] not from the distant heaven, or with the comparative indistinctness of a vision or a dream (Numbers 12:8), but ‘face to face’ (so Deuteronomy 34:10; cf. Deuteronomy 5:4), or ‘mouth to mouth’ (Nu. l.c.), like one friend speaking to another. Moses would then return into the camp; but his minister (Exodus 24:13), Joshua, remained permanently in charge of the Tent (cf. Samuel, 1 Samuel 3:3; 1 Samuel 3:15).

And Moses said unto the LORD, See, thou sayest unto me, Bring up this people: and thou hast not let me know whom thou wilt send with me. Yet thou hast said, I know thee by name, and thou hast also found grace in my sight.
12. Moses complains to Jehovah that He has not treated him with the confidence that He had given him reason to expect.

Bring up] viz. into Canaan, like ‘go up,’ v. 1. So carry up, v. 15.

whom thou wilt send with me] An angel has been promised in Exodus 32:34, Exodus 33:2 : so that, unless these verses are later insertions in the original context of J, the meaning would seem to be, which of the many angels that He has, He intends to be our guide (Di.).

Yet thou hast said, &c.] Neither of the two statements which follow has been made before, though the first may be said to be implied in the privileged position towards God which Moses is everywhere represented as enjoying, and the second in the promise of Exodus 32:10 b, and in the acceptance of Moses’ intercession in Exodus 32:14; Exodus 32:34. In Exodus 33:17 the same words are used by Jehovah Himself.

I know thee by name] i.e. know thee individually, more intimately than the other Israelites, like a king who knows the names of only such of his servants as he is on intimate terms with (Kn.). Cf. Isaiah 43:1; Isaiah 45:3-4.

12–23. Moses resumes the intercession broken off at v. 3; and starting from the command given him in Exodus 32:34 a, Exodus 33:1 a obtains from Jehovah (vv. 14–16, as the text stands; see, however, on v. 14) the promise that He will not carry out the threat of v. 3, but will Himself accompany the people on their way to Canaan, and also (vv. 17–23) that He will vouchsafe Moses himself a glimpse of His glory.

Now therefore, I pray thee, if I have found grace in thy sight, shew me now thy way, that I may know thee, that I may find grace in thy sight: and consider that this nation is thy people.
13. if, &c.] A common Heb. phrase: Genesis 18:3; Genesis 30:27 al.

] lit. make me to know. ‘Shew’ in Old English meant not only to let see, but also to let know, or tell: see on Daniel 2:2; Daniel 4:2 in the Camb. Bible, or the writer’s Parallel Psalter, p. 481. Cf. Psalm 103:7.

ways] His ways of dealing with men, Deuteronomy 32:4 : see Exodus 34:6 f.

that I may know thee, &c.] understand what Thy nature and character is, and shape my petitions accordingly, that so I may find grace in thy sight, and my future prayers may be answered.

is thy people] and should not, therefore, be left by Thee without a leader.

And he said, My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest.
14. Jehovah promises that His presence shall go with Moses (as the representative of His people), and that He will give him—and with him the people—rest. The words do not however seem very suitable as an answer to v. 13; and Di.’s suggestion is a plausible one, that vv. 14–16 are misplaced, and should follow Exodus 34:9 (so also McNeile, p. xxxvi), where, it may be noticed, Moses is still praying for what, if Exodus 33:14 is in its right place, has been already granted (cf. p. 367).

presence] lit. face, i.e. the person himself (2 Samuel 17:11), in so far as he is present (LXX. αὐτὸς προπορεύσομαι): cf., of God, Deuteronomy 4:37 (‘brought thee out with his presence’ [LXX. αὐτός]), Isaiah 63:9 (‘the angel of his presence saved them,’ i.e. the angel in whom His presence was manifest, cf. Exodus 23:21; but LXX. ‘No messenger or angel, (but) his presence (αὐτὸς) saved them’). The expression can hardly, however, have been intended to denote Jehovah’s entire Being: it must rather (DB. v. 639b) have denoted His Being either as manifested in an angel more fully than in the ordinary ‘angel of Jehovah’ (Bä.), or as others think (Lagrange, Rev. Bibl. 1903, p. 215; Kennedy, Samuel, p. 323 f.), as attaching to the Ark (cf. p. 280).

give thee rest] viz. in the assured possession of Canaan: cf. Deuteronomy 3:20; Deuteronomy 12:10, Joshua 22:4.

And he said unto him, If thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence.
15. Moses replies that if Jehovah will not go with them, they prefer to remain where they are, in the neighbourhood of their God (Exodus 19:4), at Sinai.

For wherein shall it be known here that I and thy people have found grace in thy sight? is it not in that thou goest with us? so shall we be separated, I and thy people, from all the people that are upon the face of the earth.
16. For how can it be known that they stand in Jehovah’s favour except by His personally accompanying them, and thereby shewing that they are distinguished from all other nations of the earth?

separated, &c.] The word, as Exodus 8:22, Exodus 9:4, Exodus 11:7 (Heb.): for the thought, cf. Exodus 19:5, Deuteronomy 7:6, 1 Kings 8:53 (a different Heb. word).

And the LORD said unto Moses, I will do this thing also that thou hast spoken: for thou hast found grace in my sight, and I know thee by name.
17. this thing also] i.e., as the text stands, accompany you personally to Canaan (v. 16): but, if vv. 14–16 (see on v. 14) stood originally after Exodus 34:9, give Moses a knowledge of His ‘ways’ (v. 13). In either case, the new paragraph would begin better at v. 18.

and I know thee by name] See on v. 12.

And he said, I beseech thee, shew me thy glory.
18. Shew me] Here, as a modern English reader would expect, ‘make me to see,’ not as in v. 13, ‘make me to know.’

thy glory] Thy full majesty.

18–23. Moses repeats, in a more definite form, his request of v. 13. He asks to be allowed to see Jehovah’s glory; but is told in reply that he cannot see this in its fulness (v. 20); he may, however, have a glimpse of it, sufficient to disclose to him God’s moral nature.

And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy.
19. goodness] goodliness or comeliness, viz. of the Divine appearance; cf. Hosea 10:11 (lit. ‘the goodness, i.e. comeliness, of her neck’). ‘It is to be a spectacle of outward beauty as a visible sign of His moral perfection’ (McNeile).

proclaim the name of Jehovah] and so manifest the character implied in it—here, in particular, Jehovah’s moral character. The name was regarded by the Hebrews as the expression of the character of the person denoted by it: see e.g. Isaiah 1:26; Isaiah 4:3; Isaiah 61:3 b (the names here mentioned are to be given to Zion or Israel, because they will possess the qualities denoted by them).

and I will be gracious, &c.] In virtue of the graciousness implicit in His name (Exodus 34:6 f.), He will shew grace and mercy to such as deserve it. Who these are, is not expressly stated; but fallen and penitent Israel is what is intended. For the form of sentence called the idem per idem construction, which is idiomatic in both Heb. and Arabic, where the means, or the desire, to be more explicit does not exist, cf. Exodus 3:14, Exodus 4:13, Exodus 16:23, 1 Samuel 23:13 (lit. and they went where they went), 2 Samuel 15:20 (‘seeing I am going whither I am going’), 2 Kings 8:1 (‘and sojourn where thou wilt sojourn’); and see the writer’s Notes on Samuel, on 1 S. l.c. The second ‘will’ in each sentence is a simple future: it must not be emphasized as though it meant ‘wish to’ (θέλω). The quotation (from LXX.) in Romans 9:15 (‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy &c.’) expresses the sense exactly. All that is said here is that God is gracious to those to whom He is gracious: on the motives which may prompt Him to be gracious, the passage is silent. See further p. 54.

And he said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live.
20. The thought that no one could ‘see God,’ at least in His full glory, ‘and live,’ is often expressed in the OT.: cf. Genesis 32:30, Deuteronomy 4:33; Deuteronomy 5:24; Deuteronomy 5:26, Jdg 6:22 f., Exodus 13:22, Isaiah 6:5.

And the LORD said, Behold, there is a place by me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock:
21. stand] better, station thyself: cf. Exodus 34:2.

21–23. Jehovah accordingly bids Moses stand where he may see, as He passes by, not His full glory, but only His back, or hinder parts (Exodus 26:12 Heb.), i.e., so to say, only the afterglow, which He leaves behind Him, but which may still suggest faintly what the full brilliancy of His presence must be (cf. Job 26:14).

And it shall come to pass, while my glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with my hand while I pass by:
And I will take away mine hand, and thou shalt see my back parts: but my face shall not be seen.
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