Exodus 33
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
On this section consider -

I. THE CONDITIONED PROMISE (vers. 1-4). God has consented to spare the nation. They are to set out forthwith on the journey to Canaan. But his presence is no longer to go with them. He would send an angel. Notice -

1. Everything, in one sense, remains the same. The people are to be conducted to Canaan. They are to inherit the promises. God will drive out their enemies before them. The land will still flow with milk and honey. It will still be able to be said of them, that there is no nation on earth so favoured as they are. Yet,

2. Everything, in another sense, is different. Blessings without God in them are not the same blessings. They want that which gives them their chief value. See below, on ver. 15.

II. THE SUMMONS TO REPENTANCE (vers. 4-7). A command is next given to the people to strip off their ornaments. They are to humble themselves before Jehovah that Jehovah may know what to do with them. This command they obeyed. From this time forward they ceased to wear ornaments. On this observe,

1. Repentance for sin is an indispensable condition of restoration to God's favour. It was required of Israel. It is required of us. There can be no salvation without it (Luke 17:5). "Cease to do evil; learn to do well" (Isaiah 1:16, 17). Had Israel not repented, Moses would have interceded in vain.

2. Repentance, if sincere, must approve itself by appropriate deeds. - "Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance" (Matthew 3:8). The people put off their ornaments. Ornaments do not become those with whom God is displeased. This act of the people was a first step in obedience.

3. A very imperfect repentance is sometimes accepted by God as a reason for forbearance with the sinner. The people mourned; but their repentance, as events showed, did not amount to a real change of heart. They mourned for "the evil tidings." It was the consequences of their sin which distressed them, more than the sin itself. Yet do them justice. The "evil tidings" was not the loss of any material blessings, hut, solely, the loss of God's presence. There is still good in a heart which feels the withdrawal of God's presence to be a loss to it.

4. It is well that the remembrance of great sins should go with us all our days. Those who have committed them should go softly ever after.

III. THE WITHDRAWAL OF JEHOVAH'S PRESENCE FROM THE CAMP (vers. 7-9). Moses, we are next informed, took a tent, possibly his own, possibly one which had hitherto served as a sanctuary, pitched it "without the camp, afar off from the camp," and called it "the tent of meeting." Thither came out every one that sought the Lord. The act was,

1. A symbol of Jehovah's formal withdrawal from the midst of the people.

2. A token that a final decision had not yet been come to as to how God meant to deal with them. Communications were not wholly broken off. Space was left for repentance. God might still be entreated of them. Learn

(1) iniquities separate between man and God (cf. Isaiah 59:2);

(2) the withdrawal of God's presence is not necessarily the end of the day of grace. There is an "accepted time" during which, if the sinner repents, he will be forgiven, and God's presence will be restored to him (2 Corinthians 6:2). Meanwhile, even God's keeping back from him has its side of mercy. God's near presence would consume (cf. ver. 5).

(3) The day of grace which sinners enjoy is won for them by the intercession of another. Israel's "accepted time" was based on the intercession of Moses. Ours, as the passage above referred to implies, rests on the intercession of Christ. "I have heard thee (Christ) in a time accepted" (cf. Isaiah 49:8) - "Behold, now is the accepted time" - for men (2 Corinthians 6:2).

(4) it is our duty to seek the Lord while he may be found, and to call on him while he is near (Isaiah 55:6).

IV. THE TOKEN OF FAVOUR TO MOSES (vers. 9-12). The cloudy pillar descended, and stood at the door of the tabernacle. There the Lord talked with Moses, as a man talketh with his friend. This was

(1) a mark of favour to Moses himself;

(2) an honour put upon him before the people;

(3) an encouragement to further intercession. - J.O.

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.


1. The separation.

(1) In wrath he remembers mercy. They will receive the land, but for the fathers' sake and his oath's sake, not because he has delight in them. God's goodness is not always a proof of his being pleased with us, any more than his chastisements prove his auger. The former may be a loud call to repentance.

(2) The reason for God's absence; his presence would be judgment, not mercy: - "Lest I consume thee in the way." If God's face be hidden, and the sense of his presence and guiding gone from us, his next revelation may be judgment.

2. Its effects.

(1) The people mourned. It was no satisfaction that God and they were no longer to walk together.

(2) Other delights lost their attractiveness: - No man did put on his ornaments."

(3) They were troubled by fear of judgment, for the Lord had said, "I will come up into the midst of thee in a moment and consume thee." These are the effects of the Spirit's work to-day. The same cry is lifted: - "Flee from the wrath to come."


1. Its necessity as a testimony to God's separation from sin. This is the duty of the Church to-day: - "Come ye out from among them and be ye separate." The tabernacle of the congregation, meant though it be for all, must be pitched "without the camp."

2. The results.

(1) Moses' example led others to declare themselves on God's side (ver. 7).

(2) The people "looked after Moses." Yearning for the light of God's face is stirred up in the hearts of men by those who go forth to meet with him,

(3) God manifests himself to the separated (ver. 9). A living Church is ever the means of revealing God's reality.

(4) The people worshipped "every man in his tent-door." A true Church will send forth a cry for mercy from the homes of the sinful. - U.

Moses on this occasion pleads with God to restore his presence to the people. Very noteworthy are the steps in his entreaty.

1. He veils his request under the form of a desire to know the divine intentions (ver. 12). Will God go up with them or not? God has not yet told him - will he tell him now? What, underneath this form of expression, the heart of Moses really presses for, is, of course, the assurance that God will go with them.

2. He urges the friendship God has shown him as a reason for granting his request - "Thou hast said, I know thee by name," etc. (ver. 12).

3. He entreats God to consider that Israel is his own people (ver. 13). He has chosen them; he has redeemed them; he has declared his love for them; can he bring himself now to cast them off?

4. When God at length - reading in his servant's heart the thought which he has not as yet dared openly to express - says, "My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest" (ver. 14); Moses eagerly seizes on the promise thus given him, and pleads with God to make it good. "If thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence" (ver. 15). This, in Moses' view, is the greatest distinction of Israel, that it has God in its midst, and if this distinction is withdrawn, he cares not what else remains (ver. 16). The earnestness of his entreaty secures for him a confirmation of the promise, this time given without reserve. For in the utterance of ver. 14, perhaps, a certain tone of distance is still to be detected. This disappears in ver. 17. View the passage as illustrating -


1. Friendship with God gives boldness of approach to him. It casts out fear (1 John 4:18).

2. Friendship with God admits to intimacy with his secrets (ver. 13). "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear him" (Psalm 25:14). Cf. God's words concerning Abraham - "Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do, seeing that Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation," etc. (Genesis 18:17); and Christ's words to his disciples" I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his Lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you" (John 15:15).

3. The best use we can make of friendship with God is to intercede for others. So Abraham for Sodom (Genesis 18:23-33). So Moses here. So Daniel (Daniel 9.). So Christ for his disciples (John 17.).


1. God's presence is the highest blessing. Nought else can be compared with it (Psalm 73:25, 26).

2. It is the blessing which enriches all other blessings. It is that which makes earthly blessings truly worth having. They are not the same to us without it as with it.

3. God's presence, going with us, invariably conducts to rest.



1. God, who had disowned Israel, and refused to go with them, consents to go with him: - "My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest." The first step in successful intercession for others is the receiving of power to serve God among them. This is the dropping which foretells the shower.

2. God is brought back by persistent asking into the midst of Israel: - "I will do this thing also that thou hast spoken" (ver. 17). We must not be content till our whole desire is given us. He can make not only our words a power to others, but also his own presence felt by them.


1. God's love to himself: - "Thou hast said I know thee by name," etc. The realisation of our personal interest in God's love is the basis of intercession for others. It gives confidence that God will hear us. It gives hope. He who has blessed us can also bless them.

2. God's relation to them for whom he entreats: - "Consider that this nation is thy people." We can urge on behalf of the vilest that God created them, and gave Christ to die for them.

3. That God's presence and favour are needful to make himself and the people what God desires them to become: - "So shall we be separated." They can be consecrated only by the might of God's revealed love.


1. "And he said, Show me thy glory." The lifting up of availing prayer for others quickens our desire to know more of him with whom we speak.

2. The full vision of God is for the sinless life. The splendour of the Divine purity would slay us. John fell at Christ's feet as one dead.

3. How the fuller vision granted in the present may be had.

(1) By listening to the proclamation of the Lord's name in his word.

(2) We can see the glory which has passed us. God's deeds reveal him.

4. The place of vision: - "A rock," "by me." Taking our stand upon Christ, the glory of God's words and deeds breaks upon us.

5. The place of safety, "in a clift of the rock." Only in the riven side of Jesus the vision of God is not to condemnation and death, but to justification and life. - U.

On this incident, remark -

I. THE GOOD MAN THIRSTS FOR EVER FULLER MANIFESTATIONS OF THE DIVINE GLORY. The more he knows of God, the more he would know. The nearer he gets, he presses nearer still. He "longs" to see God's power and glory" (Psalm 63:2). He prays to see as much of it as may be possible to him on earth. He will only be satisfied when admitted to the full vision of it in heaven (Psalm 16:11; Psalm 17:15; 1 John 3:2).


1. God's essential glory. This is the glory which pertains to his existence. It is compared in Scripture to the white dazzling light - "light which no man can approach unto" (1 Timothy 6:16).

2. God's ethical glory. This is the glory of his character. It was revealed when God proclaimed his "name" to Moses (ver. 19; Exodus 34:5-8).

III. MAN, IN HIS PRESENT STATE OF EXISTENCE, CAN RECEIVE THE VISION OF GOD'S ESSENTIAL GLORY ONLY UNDER GREAT LIMITATIONS. The full discovery of it would slay him (ver. 20). Moses beheld it but partially, hid in a clift of the rock - saw but its reflection (vers. 21-23). Even thus to perceive it implied an exaltation of the consciousness - an opening of the spiritual eyes - not vouchsafed to ordinary men. A mediate revelation is at present all that is possible to us. We have this in the reflection of the Creator's glory in creation (Psalm 19:1, 2).


1. No barrier, either to the revelation or the perception of it, exists in physical conditions. It is glory of character. It is discerned by the same faculties by which we discern spiritual beauty and goodness in the characters of our fellow-men.

2. God has revealed it. We are not straitened in him. He has kept nothing back. He has made his goodness pass before us. He has revealed his name. The Divine Son is a perfect embodiment of the moral glory of the Father (John 1:14).

3. The sole barrier to the perception of it is the limitation of moral capacity in ourselves. It is in ourselves we are straitened. We lack the purity of heart necessary to give right spiritual discernment. Our perception of the glory of truth, righteousness, holiness, love, and mercy in God, will be in precise proportion to the degree in which these qualities are formed in our own natures. - J.O.

On this note -

I. GOD IS SOVEREIGN IN THE EXERCISE OF HIS MERCY. He dispenses it to whom he will. He is free and unconstrained in its bestowal. The sinner cannot claim it as a right. He is not entitled to reckon upon it, save as the free promise of God gives him a warrant to do so. He dare not dictate to God what he shall do. God is sovereign as respects

(1) The objects,

(2) The time,

(3) The manner,

(4) The measure of his mercy.

He gives no account of his matters to any one. He allows none to challenge him.

II. GOD'S SOVEREIGNTY IS BEST STUDIED ON ITS SIDE OF MERCY. This is the easier and more approachable side. It is the least disputable. It does not raise the same dark and knotty problems as the other side - "Whom he will he hardeneth" (Romans 9:18). The contemplation of it is purely delightful and consolatory. It is, besides, the side to which the other - the side of judgment - is subordinate. See this sovereignty of God illustrated in the history of Israel -

(1) In the initial choice of the nation in Abraham.

(2) In the deliverance from Egypt, with its attendant circumstances.

(3) In the forming of the covenant at Sinai.

(4) In the restoration of the people to favour after the covenant had been broken.

III. GOD'S SOVEREIGNTY IN THE EXERCISE OF MERCY IS NOT ARBITRARINESS. (See on Exodus 6:14-28.) It has, as there shown, its self-imposed limitations and inherent laws of operation. It is holy, wise, and good. It aims, we may believe, at the ultimate salvation of the largest number possible, consistently with all the interests involved. - J.O.

The Pulpit Commentary, Electronic Database.
Copyright © 2001, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2010 by Biblesoft, Inc.
All rights reserved. Used by permission. BibleSoft.com

Bible Hub
Exodus 32
Top of Page
Top of Page