A Bible Lesson on Exodus 33:18-34:10

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

As we look at Exodus 33, the people of Israel have sinned in the matter of the golden calf while Moses was on the mountain.  Moses has interceded on their behalf and complete destruction has been averted, though the guilty have been punished.  The question as to whether God will go on with them into the promised land has then had to be addressed.  Again, Moses interceding on their behalf (on the basis of God’s nature and His honor) has been promised that God will go with them, not leaving them alone and without aid.  Moses, friend of God, has been through the wringer here, and he flees to God and asks for special confirmation of God’s presence with him individually.

Exo 33:18  Moses said, “Please show me your glory.”

God’s glory is literally His “weight.”  This is a request to see Him as He is, not a request for some raw visual experience.  Moses isn’t dull.  He’s heard the command of “no images.”  He’s been with God on the mountain and in the tent of meeting.  He surely understands that this God must be far beyond something that could be completely understood in what is visible.  (That is true of humans!  How much more it must be of God who made us!)  This is a request to know God fully, to know Him in essence.  Barnes says “The faithful servant of Yahweh, now assured by the success of his mediation, yearns, with the proper tendency of a devout spirit, for a more intimate communion with his divine Master than he had yet enjoyed.  He seeks for something surpassing all former revelations.”  In its completeness, this is an obvious impossibility.  Moses is a finite creature who cannot possibly take in the glory of the infinite God.

19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.

Moses asks to know God’s full “glory.”  God says that Moses will be shown His “goodness.”  God’s goodness will be known as He passes.  We know the goodness of God as we observe His works and nature, as we see His providence.  They declare to us that He is indeed the I AM.  He is the self-defining and absolutely sovereign One.  There will be things Moses is shown, but he can’t have exhaustive knowledge.  We can know God truly, but cannot know Him exhaustively.

We know His goodness and sovereignty as He is gracious to undeserving disobedient rebels such as we.  On the lips of a human “I will be gracious …” would be arrogant caprice.  But heard from the Creator God by redeemed human beings, this is cause for gratitude and worship.  Motyer says, “Cassuto says, ‘It is impossible for you to know when, or if, I shall act thus.  I shall be gracious … if it pleases me, when it pleases me, for the reasons that please me.’ — and we might add, to whom it pleases me.  Not even Moses has a ‘right.’  It is all of grace, and sovereign grace at that.”  This God who has pledged Himself to Moses and the people is not subject to our interrogation or judgment.  If He doesn’t reveal Himself to humanity, we won’t know Him.

20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.”

To see the face of God, to be exposed to His full majesty and person could not but undo a human in our present frail condition.  The Father shows Himself to humanity in the Son.  Those who look to the Son and accept His work on their behalf will share eternity with this One we could otherwise not possibly see and live.  And, He shows Himself to us truly in Christ.

21 And the LORD said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock,

22 and 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.

23 Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”

This is mysterious, but probably prefigures the work of Christ.  Again, Moses asks for a full revelation of God.  God graciously gives him all he can bear as a human, but protects Him from the full force of His own presence.  Theologians carefully say that God graciously accommodates Himself to us (again, revealing Himself truly), but this without diminishing Himself (of course not revealing Himself exhaustively to finite creatures who by nature cannot wholly comprehend Him).

Exo 34:1  The LORD said to Moses, “Cut for yourself two tablets of stone like the first, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the first tablets, which you broke.

2 Be ready by the morning, and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai, and present yourself there to me on the top of the mountain.

3 No one shall come up with you, and let no one be seen throughout all the mountain. Let no flocks or herds graze opposite that mountain.”

4 So Moses cut two tablets of stone like the first. And he rose early in the morning and went up on Mount Sinai, as the LORD had commanded him, and took in his hand two tablets of stone.

5 The LORD descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD.

The I AM stands with Moses.  He is there in some kind of way that is especially tangible to Moses, and proclaims “the name” of the LORD.  He speaks to Moses of His nature, tells him things about who He is, describes for Moses His person.  In 33:19 He has declared His absolute transcendence and sovereignty.  He has shown Himself to the Israelites as righteous and just in dealing with the rebellion concerning the golden calf.  He has promised to go with Moses and the people, declaring His immanence.  Those are true things about Him.  But thanks be to God, they aren’t the whole truth about Him.  Indeed, if they were, humanity would be undone.  There is also this:

6 The LORD passed before him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,

The I AM is merciful, and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.  He is merciful/compassionate.  The root word is apparently the same as that of “womb” and reminds of the intense affection of the Creator for His creation.  He’s gracious/generous, giving good gifts without reciprocation.  He’s slow to anger, letting His just wrath against human sin cool before acting.  He abounds in reliable, unrelenting, tenacious, purposeful loving-kindness (His “hesed”) and in faithfulness.  He’s completely true to His devotion.  These qualities are not there in limited measure, but He abounds in them.

7 keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

His characteristic love is broad.  It extends widely, beyond Moses and the people of Israel, and it is in His “keeping” or maintenance.  He guards or protects it forever.  It is both broad and eternal and provides forgiveness of sin for those who throw themselves on His mercy.  This forgiveness is real and full of grace.

But it doesn’t prevent the natural consequences of sin.  It’s perfectly obvious that the misery that sin generates can reverberate down generations.  It’s not cruelty on His part that this is so, it’s instead simple granting of meaning to human actions.  It is giving of dignity to our choices, both good and bad.  We can only give thanks when the chain of sin misery is broken by God’s grace.

8 And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped.

Amen.  This is the God of the Bible.  This is the One who is revealing Himself to Moses and His people.  This is the Father who reveals Himself in the Son, the One who freely took the just punishment for our sin on the cross.  Moses is rightly humbled at this revelation.  This ought to similarly affect anyone else who rightly sees God.

9 And he said, “If now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, please let the Lord go in the midst of us, for it is a stiff-necked people, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for your inheritance.”

And again, Amen.  Go in our midst Lord, pardon our sin.  We are as dull as stupid sheep.  Please bear with us, and take us for your own.

10 And he said, “Behold, I am making a covenant. Before all your people I will do marvels, such as have not been created in all the earth or in any nation. And all the people among whom you are shall see the work of the LORD, for it is an awesome thing that I will do with you.

Thanks be to Him alone.  Wonders He’s done.  He’s shown us the Savior, the work of the I AM.

Here is a .pdf of this lesson.

Scripture taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright 2000; 2001, by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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