Exodus 33:20
And he said, You can not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
Exodus 33:20. Thou canst not see my face — The full display of my glory, that light inaccessible, before which the angels stand, but which would be insufferable to mortal eyes; this no man can see and live.33:12-23 Moses is very earnest with God. Thus, by the intercession of Christ, we are not only saved from ruin, but become entitled to everlasting happiness. Observe here how he pleads. We find grace in God's sight, if we find grace in our hearts to guide and quicken us in the way of our duty. Moses speaks as one who dreaded the thought of going forward without the Lord's presence. God's gracious promises, and mercy towards us, should not only encourage our faith, but also excite our fervency in prayer. Observe how he speeds. See, in a type, Christ's intercession, which he ever lives to make for all that come to God by him; and that it is not by any thing in those for whom he intercedes. Moses then entreats a sight of God's glory, and is heard in that also. A full discovery of the glory of God, would overwhelm even Moses himself. Man is mean, and unworthy of it; weak, and could not bear it; guilty, and could not but dread it. The merciful display which is made in Christ Jesus, alone can be borne by us. The Lord granted that which would abundantly satisfy. God's goodness is his glory; and he will have us to know him by the glory of his mercy, more than by the glory of his majesty. Upon the rock there was a fit place for Moses to view the goodness and glory of God. The rock in Horeb was typical of Christ the Rock; the Rock of refuge, salvation, and strength. Happy are they who stand upon this Rock. The cleft may be an emblem of Christ, as smitten, crucified, wounded, and slain. What follows, denotes the imperfect knowledge of God in the present state, even as revealed in Christ; for this, when compared with the heavenly sight of him. is but like seeing a man that is gone by, whose back only is to be seen. God in Christ, as he is, even the fullest and brightest displays of his glory, grace, and goodness, are reserved to another state.Such passages as this, being clearly in accordance with what we know of the relation of spiritual existence to the human senses, show how we are to interpret the expressions "face to face" Exodus 33:11; Deuteronomy 34:10, "mouth to mouth" Numbers 12:8, and others of the like kind. See Exodus 24:10; Isaiah 6:1; and compare John 14:9. 18-23. I beseech thee, show me thy glory—This is one of the most mysterious scenes described in the Bible: he had, for his comfort and encouragement, a splendid and full display of the divine majesty, not in its unveiled effulgence, but as far as the weakness of humanity would admit. The face, hand, back parts, are to be understood figuratively. My face; either,

1. My essence. But that no man can see, neither in this life, nor in the next. Or rather,

2. My glorious presence. This may note either,

1. God’s purpose that that blissful vision of God in glory shall be given to no man here, but is reserved for the future life. Or rather,

2. The impossibility of the thing from man’s weakness, which is such, that if God should display all the beams of his glory to him, it would certainly astonish, overwhelm, and destroy him. And he said, thou canst not see my face,.... Meaning not his form, his essence, his very nature, and the glory of it, that Moses must know he could never see; but the brightest displays of his grace and goodness in Christ, the fullest discoveries of it, which are too much for man, in the present state of things, to have, who sees in part, and but through a glass darkly, not face to face, or in the most complete and perfect manner; it is but a small part and portion of God, and of his ways and works, as of creation and providence, so more especially of grace, salvation, and redemption by Jesus Christ, that is known of him; the things of the Gospel in their full perfection are what eye has not seen; and particularly were more hidden and unseen under the legal dispensation; this face was covered with types and shadows, and dark representations of things; though, in comparison of that state, we now, with open face, behold the glory of the Lord, yet still it is through a glass darkly, and we have not the clear and full view of things as will be hereafter:

for there shall no man see me and live: if there was to be such a revelation made of the grace and goodness, and glory of God in Christ, as it really is in itself, it would be too much for mortals in the present state to bear; it would break their earthen vessels in pieces; the full discovery therefore is reserved to a future state, when these things will be seen as they are, and men will be in a condition to receive them; otherwise we find that men have, in a sense, seen the face of God in this life, and have lived; though many, and even good men, have been possessed with such a notion, that if a man saw God he must die, see Genesis 32:30.

And he said, Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and {l} live.

(l) For Moses did not see his face in full majesty, but as man's weakness could bear.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
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.Verse 20. - No man can see me and live. The inability proclaimed in these words is not an absolute inability to see God, but an inability to see and survive the sight. Jacob, when he wrestled with the angel, marvelled that he could see God, even in that intermediate way, and live (Genesis 32:30). It may well be that actually to see God, while we are in the flesh, would kill us. Jehovah had commanded Moses to lead the people to Canaan, and promised him the guidance of an angel; but He had expressly distinguished this angel from His own personal presence (Exodus 33:1-3). Moreover, though it has not been mentioned before, Jehovah had said to Moses, "I have known thee by name," - i.e., I have recognised thee as Mine, and chosen and called thee to execute My will (cf. Isaiah 43:1; Isaiah 49:1), or put thee into "a specifically personal relation to God, which was peculiar to Moses, and therefore was associated with his name" (Oehler); - "and thou hast also found grace in My eyes," inasmuch as God had granted a hearing to his former intercession. Moses now reminded the Lord of this divine assurance with such courage as can only be produced by faith, which wrestles with God and will not let Him go without a blessing (Genesis 32:27); and upon the strength of this he presented the petition (Exodus 33:13), "Let me know Thy way (the way which Thou wilt take with me and with this people), that I may know Thee, in order that I may find grace in Thine eyes, and see that this people is Thy people." The meaning is this: If I have found grace in Thy sight, and Thou hast recognised me as Thy servant, and called me to be the leader of this people, do not leave me in uncertainty as to Thine intentions concerning the people, or as to the angel whom Thou wilt give as a guide to me and the nation, that I may know Thee, that is to say, that my finding grace in Thine eyes may become a reality;

(Note: Domine fac ut verbis tuis respondeat eventus. Calvin.)

and if Thou wilt lead the people up to Canaan, consider that it is Thine own people, to whom Thou must acknowledge Thyself as its God. Such boldness of undoubting faith presses to the heart of God, and brings away the blessing. Jehovah replied (Exodus 33:14), "My face will go, and I shall give thee rest," - that is to say, shall bring thee and all this people into the land, where ye will find rest (Deuteronomy 3:20). The "face" of Jehovah is Jehovah in His own personal presence, and is identical with the "angel" in whom the name of Jehovah was (Exodus 23:20-21), and who is therefore called in Isaiah 63:9 "the angel of His face."

With this assurance on the part of God, the covenant bond was completely restored. But to make more sure of it. Moses replied (Exodus 33:15, Exodus 33:16), "If Thy face is not going (with us), lead us not up hence. And whereby shall it be known that I have found grace in thine eyes, I and Thy people, if not (lit., is it not known) in Thy going with us, that we, I and Thy people, are distinguished (see at Exodus 8:18) before every nation upon the face of the earth?" These words do not express any doubt as to the truth of the divine assurance, "but a certain feeling of the insufficiency of the assurance," inasmuch as even with the restoration of the former condition of things there still remained "the fear lest the evil root of the people's rebellion, which had once manifested itself, should bread forth again at any moment" (Baumgarten). For this reason Jehovah assured him that this request also should be granted (Exodus 33:17). "There was nothing extraordinary in the fact that Moses desired for himself and his people that they might be distinguished before every nation upon the face of the earth; this was merely the firm hold of faith upon the calling and election of God (Exodus 19:5-6)."

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