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< 023311 > EXODUS 33:11-17 Our present passage brings before us one of the most wondrous and blessed scenes described anywhere on the pages of the Old Testament Scriptures. Apart from the circumstances and occasion which gave rise to it, the character of this incident itself should move our hearts to profoundest wonderment and praise. Here we behold the typical mediator prevailing in his intercession for a sinful people, not only in averting, the wrath of God, but in securing His continued presence in their midst. Here we are given to see not only the external symbol of His presence drawing near unto men, but the Lord Himself speaking to Moses “as a man speaketh unto his friend.” Here we listen to the Lord not only promising to conduct Israel across the howling wilderness, but saying, “I will give thee rest.” Verily, “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.”
Let it be pointed out though, that this precious revelation of the abounding grace of God is recorded not only for our admiration, but also for our learning. Most valuable instruction is to be found here if we take to heart the order of events in this portion of the Divinely inspired account of the history of Israel.
First , we have in Exodus 32:1-6 the narrative of their awful sin.
Third , we have the sore chastening of the people for it ( 32:25-28, 35.)
Fourth , we have the repentance of Israel (33:4-6).
Now we have Jehovah’s response to this action of His servant: He speaks “face to face” with Moses. Such amazing condescension, such wondrous grace, was only manifested after sin had been owned and separation from it had been evidenced. The important practical lessons to be drawn from this will be pointed out in our exposition below.
Israel’s terrible sin had necessitated the retirement of a holy God from them. To have remained among them would have required their total destruction. The mediation of Moses had averted the threatened storm of God’s wrath, but until Israel repented the Lord could not come in among them again. The same principle holds good today in connection with any company who profess to be the people of God. While gross sin is allowed, the Lord will not manifest Himself among them, and to such a people His word is “Draw nigh to God, and He will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded” James 4:8.
The next thing we read in our chapter is, “When the people heard these evil tidings, they mourned” (v. 4). The greatness of their sin began to be realized, and so their “drinking and playing” ( 32:6) was turned into sorrow. Then we are told “and the children of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments” (v. 6). This evidenced the genuine-ness of their contrition: this was a bringing forth of “fruits meet for repentance” ( Matthew 3:8); it was the outward expression of their having taken a lowly place before God. Finally “It came to pass that every one which sought the Lord went out into the Tent of the congregation, which was without the camp” (v. 7).
This corresponds with, “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them, shall have mercy” ( Proverbs 28:13).
Following Moses’ going forth from the camp and his entrance into the Tent, which, by faith he had pitched, “the cloudy pillar descended, and stood at the door of the Tent, and the Lord talked with Moses.” The effect of this upon the penitent and ornament- stripped people is blessed to behold: “And all me people rose up and worshipped, every man in his tent ‘door” (v. 10). Jehovah was once more given His true place. The false god (the golden calf) was repudiated; the true God was now worshipped. Thus were they, in infinite grace, brought back from their wanderings and made to bow in wondering adoration before the manifested symbol of Jehovah’s presence. The blessed sequel we are now to contemplate. “And the Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend” (v. 11).
This was the most glorious moment in all the life of Moses, and the most blessed revelation he every received from God. This even surpassed his experience in the Mount, when he received such wondrous communications from Jehovah. There was an intimacy of approach and a closeness of communion such as he had not been permitted to enjoy before.
In the 12th of Numbers, where we read of Miriam and Aaron challenging the authority of Moses, Jehovah vindicated him by saying, “My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all Mine house” (v. 7); and then He added, “With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches.” “And the Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend.” These words must not be interpreted in such a way as to clash with the last verse of our chapter: “And thou shalt see My back parts, but My face shall not be seen.” That which is before us here is free and intimate fellowship between the Lord and His servant. And this, be it noted, was the immediate sequel to his separation from what was dishonoring to Jehovah.
At, dear reader, going forth unto Him without the camp may, yea, must, involve “bearing His reproach” ( Hebrews 13:13); but O the compensation — He rewards such faithfulness by manifestations of Himself, by the intimacies of His love, as are never enjoyed while we remain in associations which are derogatory to His honor. “And the Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend.” That Moses, the mediator, is here also a blessed type of Christ, hardly needs saying. What we have here is a precious adumbration of the relations existing between the Father and the Son. Before the incarnation He could say, “That I was by Him, as one brought up with Him: and I was daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him” ( Proverbs 8:30).
After the incarnation, we read of “the Only-begotten Son which is in the bosom of the Father” ( John 1:18).
And again, “For the Father loveth the Son, and showeth Him all things that Himself doeth” ( John 5:20).
And again, “I am not alone, because the Father is with Me” ( John 16:32).
So now, is seated the Father’s throne ( Revelation 3:21) — the place of affection and intimacy. “And he turned again into the camp: but his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, departed not out of the tent” (v. 11).
Let us seek to ponder first the practical lesson exemplified for us in this statement, before we point out its typical signification. That which here receives stration is most important to lay hold of, particularly for those who are called by God to occupy positions of leadership. Before a servant of God is qualified to minister unto His people he must himself seek unto the Lord; before he has any message for them, the Lord must speak “face to face” unto him. In other words, power for service is obtained only by maintaining intimate fellowship with God. But more: though he returns and ministers unto the people, yet in spirit he remains still inside the Tent. Here, as always in the book of Exodus, Moses and Joshua have to be considered together, as mutually complementing each other. “This section closes with a double type — Moses returning to the camp, and Joshua departing not from within the Tent. Moses represents the energy of love that would serve the people of God. It is man with whom Jehovah has spoken ‘face to face, as a man speaketh with his friend’ who can return to serve the people of God in all the holy separation of the spot where he has been, and of the communications which have been made to him. Such a man would not compromise the truth, nor would he allow himself to be entangled with what compromised the truth, but he would be in readiness to serve all in grace and faithfulness in relation to the will of God. But such service ever has as its attendant the spirit of Joshua. Whatever activities of service there may be, in spirit the servant does not leave his sweet retreat; he is always in spirit ‘outside the camp.’ His affections have their abiding place there; his satisfaction and rest is in me Lord” (G. A. Coates). “And he turned again into the camp: but his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, departed not out of the camp.” It is by no means an easy matter to work out the details of this type — due, no doubt, to the dimness of our spiritual vision. There are several passages in which Moses and Joshua are linked together in Exodus — the book which speaks of redemption. This is the more noticeable as Joshua is not mentioned at all in Leviticus. First, in Exodus 17, we find Moses and Joshua supplementing each other in connection with resisting the onslaught of Amalek. As we sought to show in article 25 of this series (Jan., 1926), Joshua there is a type of the Holy Spirit subjugating, but not exterminating, the “flesh” in the Christian. Then, in Exodus 24:13, we read, “And Moses rose up, and his minister Joshua: and Moses went up into the Mount of God.”
Here we have in figure the Holy Spirit as the Minister of an ascended Christ: during the present dispensation the Holy Spirit is maintaining the interests and glorifying Christ. Then, in 32:17, 18, we have, in type, the Holy Spirit taking note of the sins of God’s people. Here in 33:11 it seems to be the Spirit’s indwelling the true Church, compare Corinthians 3:16, Ephesians 2:22. “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” (v. 12).
Here, and in the verses which immediately follow, we have another blessed foreshadowment of Christ as our Mediator, interceding before God, maintaining us in His favor. What, is of first importance to take note of is, that it is as a man who has “found grace” in the sight of God, Moses here pleads. Mark how strikingly this particular feature is emphasized by its repeated mention: in vv. 12, 13, 16, 17 the words “found grace in Thy sight” or “found grace in My sight” are found. How plainly this points to the Lord Jesus as the One who, on behalf of His poor people, has obtained favor before God. It is on the ground of His own acceptableness that Christ now pleads for us. It is the apprehension of this which gives peace to the heart. God’s favor to His people upon nothing that He finds in them; it is solely the consequence of what He has obtained through Christ. “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.” At first sight this may seem to clash with what the Lord had said to Moses in 32:34, “Therefore now go, lead the people unto the place of which I have spoken unto thee: behold, Mine Angel shall go before thee.”
But a closer reading will observe a notable distinction. In 32:34 Jehovah had spoken of His Angel going “before thee” for, while Israel remained, impenitent the Lord Himself could not remain “in the midst of thee” ( 33:3). But now that the people had repudiated their sin, and had evidenced their separation from it, Moses says, “Thou hast not let me know whom Thou wilt send with me.” Blessed distinction: may our hearts lay hold of it. Moses knew full well who would with them, but, in view of Israel’s sin, he here takes the place of a supplicant. “Yet Thou hast said, I know thee by name, and thou hast also found grace m My sight.” This carries us back to Exodus 3. At the burning bush, where God first called Moses, He had addressed him by name: “God called unto him out of the midst of the bush, and said, Moses, Moses” ( 3:4).
And why is it that Moses now refers to that memorable experience at the backside of the desert? Because it was there that Jehovah had made Himself known as “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”; as the One who declared, “And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them out of that land unto a good land and a large unto a land flowing with milk and honey” ( 3:8).
God having pledged Himself to this, His word must be fulfilled, His purpose accomplished, no matter what the contrariety of the people might be. Thus we behold the boldness of Moses’ faith. Here, too, we should look from the type to the anti-type. It is on the ground of God’s everlasting covenant with Christ that He now exercises mercy to His unworthy people. “Now therefore, I pray Thee, if I have found grace in Thy sight, show me now Thy way, that I way know Thee that I may find grace in Thy sight” (v. 13).
Very blessed is this. The sad failure of Israel presented itself now to Moses only as an occasion for knowledge of Him. God had made promises, He had sworn by Himself, and His promises ensured the actual entrance of Israel into Canaan, not their extermination in the wilderness. Moses therefore seeks unto Him now to learn His way. God’s “way” is the course He takes in faithfulness in order to make good that which He has pledged.
First , we are unable to discover God’s “ways” for ourselves. This was recognized by the Psalmist when he prayed, “Show me Thy ways, O Lord; teach me Thy paths” ( 25:4). And again, “Teach me Thy way, O Lord, and lead me in a plain path” ( 27:11).
Second , only God Himself can “show” us His way. Even the incarnate Son (having taken the place of perfect subjection) said, “Thou wilt show Me the path of life” ( Psalm 16:11). Ah, it ever needs to be remembered that “the meek will He guide in judgment, and the meek will He teach His way” ( Psalm 25:9).
This was Moses’ answer to the word of Jehovah before the Tent had been pitched outside the camp. Then the Lord had said, “Depart, and go up hence, thou and the people which thou hast brought up out of the land of Egypt.” Here was the. response of faith: “Consider that this nation is Thy people.” It was Moses casting himself back’ upon the word, the oath, the covenant of Jehovah to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, renewed to himself at the burning bush. It is to be noted that Moses made the same plea at a later stage in Israel’s history, when, m consequence of their unbelief at Kadeshbarnea, they again provoked the Lord to anger: see Deuteronomy 9:26 and context. In a coming day, the godly Jewish remnant will repeat this argument: Joel 2:17. Finally, it is to be noted that our great High Priest makes, this the ground of His plea too: “I pray not for the world, but for them which Thou has given Me; for they are Thine” ( John 17:9). “And He said, My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest” (v. 14).
We believe that the translators of our English Version have quite missed the point here. As it reads, the response of Moses v. 15 would be the language of doubt and unbelief. If Jehovah had positively affirmed that His presence would go with Moses, to answer, “If Thy presence go not with us” would be excuseless. So too his question in v. 16 is meaningless if God had already given him assurance. Finally, in such a case, the Lord’s words in v. 17 would be a needless repetition. All difficulty is at once removed if, with the “Companion Bible” we punctuate v. 14 as a question: “Shall My presence go with thee? and shall I give thee rest?” It was as much as to say. How can My presence go with thee after this rejection of Me? The Lord was emphasizing the enormity of Israel’s sin, and pressing the claims of His holiness. “And he said unto Him, If Thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence” (v. 15).
The issue was still in the balance. The Lord had bidden Moses say to Israel, “put off thy ornaments from thee, that I may know what to do unto thee” (v. 5). Israel had obeyed this command, and Moses had gosse forth without the camp to seek unto the Lord (v. 7). His faith is now put to the test: not so much his faith in God personally, but in the superabounding of His grace. “Shall My presence go with thee? and shall I give thee rest?” was a challenge to his heart. The Lord frequently tests His people thus that He may the better discover to themselves the real ground of their confidence.
When many of His disciples were forsaking Him, Christ asked the twelve, “Will ye also go away?” ( John 6:66,67). He knew, and they knew, that they would not; but He was drawing out their hearts unto Himself. “And he said unto Him, If Thy presence go not with me, carry us not hence” Nobly did Moses rise to the occasion; or, shall we say, Blessedly did his heart respond to Jehovah’s challenge. ‘He felt that without the Lord’s own presence with them, all was in vain. No confidence did he have in himself; nor was he satisfied with the prospect of the Angel going “before” them. It was the Lord’s own presence, communion with Him his soul craved. And is not this still, the longing of every renewed heart? Very touching is it to behold Moses now identifying Himself with Israel: “Carry us not up hence.” How blessedly did he again foreshadow Him who has said, “Behold I and the children which God hath given Me” ( Hebrews 2:13) “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” (v. 16).
It is to God’s sovereign and illimitable grace (limited only by the bounds which our lack of faith puts upon it) that Moses now appeals. It was all he could appeal to, but, as the next verse shows, it was enough; his appeal was not in vain. Again we see him identifying himself with the sinful and penitent nation: twice over in this verse he says, “I and Thy people.” “This is no mean adumbration of of Christ — this intense love of Moses for Israel, linking them with himself in his place of favor before God. And not only so, but rising higher, he now links them with God. We have remarked that God took Israel on their own ground, and since they had rejected Him, He had said to Moses, ‘thy’ people. But now — now that Moses acts as mediator, has gained the ear of God, he says again, ‘Thy people’” (Ed. Dennett). “So shall we be separated. I and Thy people, from all the people that are upon the face of the earth.” This is very important. The Lord’s presence in the midst of His people is for the purpose of separating them from all others who are not His people.: How little this is apprehended today. But let us return again to the blessed typical picture here: “he thus claims, as it were, as proof of Divine favor — restoration of favor — God’s own presence with His people. it could not be otherwise known, and the fact of His presence would separate them off from all other people. It is the same in principle during this dispensation. The presence of the Holy Ghost on earth, building His people into an habitation for God, separates from all else, and so completely, that there are but two spheres — sphere of the presence and action of the Holy Ghost, and sphere of the action and power of Satan” (Ed. Dennett). “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” (v. 17).
The mediation of Moses completely prevailed. This word of Jehovah’s was His own answer to the questions He had asked in v. 14: “My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest.” This was the Lord’s own response to the pleas of His servant, and it was all that was needed for the assurance of his heart and as the guaranty of Israel’s safe conduct across the wilderness. It was grace pure and simple, sovereign and long-suffering grace. Grace vouchsafed to a people who had forfeited every claim upon God. Grace granted in response to the prevailing intercession of the mediator. Reference to this was made long after by Jehovah through one of the prophets, “Thus saith the Lord, The people which were left of the sword found grace in the wilderness; even Israel, when I went to cause him to rest” ( Jeremiah 31:2).
How blessed to know that Israel’s God is the Christian’s God. “My presence shall go with thee”: this same precious assurance as given to us while we journey through this world. No matter what the roughness of the path may be, no matter what me trials and disappointments of the way, the Lord Himself is with us. Has He not said, “Lo I am with you alway, even unto the end of the age” ( Matthew 28:20)!
With us to guard and protect, to lead and guide, to counsel and cheer. Ever with us, “a very present help in trouble” ( Psalm 46:1). O for faith to realize this. O for a faith to act upon it — an ever-present, all sufficient Christ, by our side.
How differently should we conduct ourselves did we but live in the enjoyment and power of this! “Fear thou not, for I am with thee: be not dismayed, for I am thy “When thou passest God” ( Isaiah 41:10) will be with thee; and through the waters, through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle thee” ( Isaiah 43:2). Was He not with the three Hebrews in Babylon’s furnace! Then let us exclaim, “Yea, though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for Thou art with me” ( Psalm 23:4).
Yes, His own promise is, “I will never leave thee nor forsake thee” ( Hebrews 13:5). Praise and glory be to His name. “My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest.” There are two things here: the Lord’s “presence” for the present, “rest” assured for the future. What more can we ask ? Blessed promise! Glorious prospect! “Rest,” the rest of God ( Hebrews 4:1). Rest from sin, lest from toil, rest from sorrow. O for faith to anticipate it. O for hope to enjoy it even now, for “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” ( Hebrews 11:1).
Gird up thy loins, fellow-pilgrims. This wilderness journey is not to last for ever. A few more years at most, Perhaps only moments, and thou shalt be where the wicked cease from troubling and where the weary are at rest. In the meantime, He will deal with us as He dealt with Israel of old: “He redeemed them, and He bare them, and carried them all the days of old” ( Isaiah 63:9).