Exodus 33


Moses is commanded to depart from the mount, and lead up the

people towards the promised land, 1.

An angel is promised to be their guide, 2.

The land is described, and the Lord refuses to go with them, 3.

The people mourn, and strip themselves of their ornaments, 4-6.

The tabernacle or tent is pitched without the camp, 7.

Moses goes to it to consult the Lord, and the cloudy pillar descends

on it, 8, 9.

The people, standing at their tent doors, witness this, 10.

The Lord speaks familiarly with Moses; he returns to the camp, and

leaves Joshua in the tabernacle, 11.

Moses pleads with God, and desires to know whom he will send to be

their guide, and to be informed of the way of the Lord, 12, 13.

The Lord promises that his presence shall go with them, 14.

Moses pleads that the people may be taken under the Divine

protection, 15, 16.

The Lord promises to do so, 17.

Moses requests to see the Divine glory, 18.

And God promises to make his goodness pass before him, and to

proclaim his name, 19.

Shows that no man can see his glory and live, 20;

but promises to put him in the cleft of a rock, and to cover him

with his hand while his glory passed by, and then to remove his

hand and let him see his back parts, 21-23.


Verse 1. Unto the land] That is, towards it, or to the borders

of it. See Ex 32:34.

See Clarke on Ex 32:34.

Verse 2. I will send an angel] In Ex 23:20, God promises to

send an angel to conduct them into the good land, in whom the name

of God should be; that is, in whom God should dwell.

See Clarke on Ex 23:20.

Here he promises that an angel shall be their conductor; but as

there is nothing particularly specified of him, it has been

thought that an ordinary angel is intended, and not that Angel of

the Covenant promised before. And this sentiment seems to be

confirmed by the following verse.

Verse 3. I will not go up in the midst of thee] Consequently,

the angel here promised to be their guide was not that angel in

whom Jehovah's name was: and so the people understood it; hence

the mourning which is afterwards mentioned.

Verse 5. Now put off thy ornaments from thee] "The Septuagint,

in their translation, suppose that the children of Israel not only

laid aside their ear-rings, and such like ornaments, in a time of

professed deep humiliation before God, but their upper or more

beautiful garments too. Moses says nothing of this last

circumstance; but as it is a modern practice, so it appears by

their version to have been as ancient as their time, and probably

took place long before that. The Septuagint gives us this as the

translation of the passage: 'The people, having heard this sad

declaration, mourned with lamentations. And the Lord said unto

the children of Israel, Now, therefore, put off your robes of

glory, and your ornaments, and I will show you the things I will

do unto you. And the children of Israel put off their ornaments

and robes by the mount, by Horeb.'

"If it had not been the custom to put off their upper garments

in times of deep mourning, in the days that the Septuagint

translation was made, they would not have inserted this

circumstance in the account Moses gives of their mourning, and

concerning which he was silent. They must have supposed too that

this practice might be in use in those elder times.

"That it is now practised in the east, appears from the account

Pitts gives of the ceremonies of the Mohammedan pilgrimage to

Mecca. 'A few days after this we came to a place called Rabbock,

about four days' sail on this side of Mecca, where all the hagges

or pilgrims, (excepting those of the female sex) do enter into

hirrawem or ihram, i.e., they take off all their clothes,

covering themselves with two hirrawems, or large white cotton

wrappers; one they put about their middle, which reaches down to

their ancles; with the other they cover the upper part of their

body, except the head; and they wear no other thing on their

bodies but these wrappers, only a pair of grimgameca, that is

thin-soled shoes like sandals, the over-leather of which covers

only the toes, the insteps being all naked. In this manner, like

humble penitents, they go from Rabbock until they come to Mecca,

to approach the temple, many times enduring the scorching heat of

the sun until the very skin is burnt off their backs and arms, and

their heads swollen to a very great degree.'-pp. 115, 116.

Presently after he informs us 'that the time of their wearing this

mortifying habit is about the space of seven days.' Again, (p.

138:) 'It was a sight, indeed, able to pierce one's heart, to

behold so many thousands in their garments of humility and

mortification, with their naked heads, and cheeks watered with

tears; and to hear their grievous sighs and sobs, begging

earnestly for the remission of their sins, promising newness of

life, using a form of penitential expressions, and thus continuing

for the space of four or five hours.'

"The Septuagint suppose the Israelites made much the same

appearance as these Mohammedan pilgrims, when Israel stood in

anguish of soul at the foot of Mount Horeb, though Moses says

nothing of putting off any of their vestments.

"Some passages of the Jewish prophets seem to confirm the notion

of their stripping themselves of some of their clothes in times of

deep humiliation, particularly Mic 1:8:

Therefore I will wail and howl; I will go stripped and naked; I

will make a wailing like the dragons, and mourning as the owls.

"Saul's stripping himself, mentioned 1Sa 19:24, is perhaps to

be understood of his assuming the appearance of those that were

deeply engaged in devotional exercises, into which he was

unintentionally brought by the prophetic influences that came upon

him, and in which he saw others engaged."-Harmer's Observat., vol.

iv., p. 172.

The ancient Jewish commentators were of opinion that the

Israelites had the name Jehovah inscribed on them in such a

way as to ensure them the Divine protection; and that this,

inscribed probably on a plate of gold, was considered their

choicest ornament; and that when they gave their ornaments to make

the golden calf, this was given by many, in consequence of which

they were considered as naked and defenceless. All the remaining

parts of their ornaments, which it is likely were all emblematical

of spiritual things, God commands them here to lay off; for they

could not with propriety bear the symbols of the Divine

protection, who had forfeited that protection for their


That I may know what to do unto thee.] For it seems that while

they had these emblematic ornaments on them, they were still

considered as under the Divine protection. These were a shield to

them, which God commands them to throw aside. Though many had

parted with their choicest ornaments, yet not all, only a few

comparatively, of the wives, daughters, and sons of 600,000 men,

could have been thus stripped to make one golden calf. The major

part still had these ornaments, and they are now commanded to lay

them aside.

Verse 7. Moses took the tabernacle] eth haohel, the

TENT; not eth hammishcan, the tabernacle, the

dwelling-place of Jehovah, see Ex 35:11, for this was not as yet

erected; but probably the tent of Moses, which was before in the

midst of the camp, and to which the congregation came for

judgment, and where, no doubt, God frequently met with his

servant. This is now removed to a considerable distance from the

camp, (two thousand cubits, according to the Talmudists,) as God

refuses to dwell any longer among this rebellious people. And as

this was the place to which all the people came for justice and

judgment, hence it was probably called the tabernacle, more

properly the tent, of the congregation.

Verse 9. The cloudy pillar descended] This very circumstance

precluded the possibility of deception. The cloud descending at

these times, and at none others, was a full proof that it was

miraculous, and a pledge of the Divine presence. It was beyond

the power of human art to counterfeit such an appearance; and let

it be observed that all the people saw this, Ex 33:10. How many

indubitable and irrefragable proofs of its own authenticity and

Divine origin does the Pentateuch contain!

Verse 11. The Lord spake unto Moses face to face] That there

was no personal appearance here we may readily conceive; and that

the communications made by God to Moses were not by visions,

ecstacies, dreams, inward inspirations, or the mediation of

angels, is sufficiently evident: we may therefore consider the

passage as implying that familiarity and confidence with which the

Divine Being treated his servant, and that he spake with him by

articulate sounds in his own language, though no shape or

similitude was then to be seen.

Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man] There is a difficulty

here. Joshua certainly was not a young man in the literal sense

of the word; "but he was called so," says Mr. Ainsworth, "In

respect of his service, not of his years; for he was now above

fifty years old, as may be gathered from Jos 24:29. But because

ministry and service are usually by the younger sort, all servants

are called young men, Ge 14:24." See also Ge 22:3, and

Ge 41:12. Perhaps the word

naar, here translated young man, means a single person, one


Verse 12. Moses said unto the Lord] We may suppose that after

Moses had quitted the tabernacle he went to the camp, and gave the

people some general information relative to the conversation he

lately had with the Lord; after which he returned to the

tabernacle or tent, and began to plead with God, as we find in

this and the following verses.

Thou hast not let me know, &c.] As God had said he would not go

up with this people, Moses wished to know whom he would send with

him, as he had only said, in general terms, that he would send an


Verse 13. Show me now thy way] Let me know the manner in which

thou wouldst have this people led up and governed, because this

nation is thy people, and should be governed and guided in thy

own way.

Verse 14. My presence shall go with thee] panai

yelechu, my faces shall go. I shall give thee manifestations of

my grace and goodness through the whole of thy journey. I shall

vary my appearances for thee, as thy necessities shall require.

Verse 15. If thy presence go not] im ein

pancycha holechim, if thy faces do not go-if we have not

manifestations of thy peculiar providence and grace, carry us

not up hence. Without supernatural assistance, and a most

particular providence, he knew that it would be impossible

either to govern such a people, or support them in the desert; and

therefore he wishes to be well assured on this head, that he may

lead them up with confidence, and be able to give them the most

explicit assurances of support and protection. But by what means

should these manifestations take place? This question seems to be

answered by the Prophet Isaiah, Isa 63:9:

In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the Angel of his

presence ( panaiv, of his faces) saved them. So we find

that the goodness and mercy of God were to be manifested by the

Angel of the Covenant, the Lord Jesus, the Messiah; and this is

the interpretation which the Jews themselves give of this place.

Can any person lead men to the typical Canaan, who is not himself

influenced and directed by the Lord? And of what use are all the

means of grace, if not crowned with the presence and blessing of

the God of Israel? It is on this ground that Jesus Christ hath

said, Where two or three are gathered together in my name, I am in

the midst of them, Mt 18:20; without which, what would

preachings, prayers, and even SACRAMENTS avail?

Verse 16. So shall we be separated] By having this Divine

protection we shall be saved from idolatry, and be preserved in

thy truth and in the true worshipping of thee; and thus shall we

be separated from all the people that are upon the face of the

earth: as all the nations of the world, the Jews only excepted,

were at this time idolaters.

Verse 17. I will do this thing also] My presence shall go with

thee, and I will keep thee separate from all the people of the

earth. Both these promises have been remarkably fulfilled. God

continued miraculously with them till he brought them into the

promised land; and from the day in which he brought them out of

Egypt to the present day, he has kept them a distinct, unmixed

people! Who can account for this on any principle but that of a

continual especial providence, and a constant Divine interference?

The Jews have ever been a people fond of money; had they been

mingled with the people of the earth among whom they have been

scattered, their secular interests would have been greatly

promoted by it; and they who have sacrificed every thing besides

to their love of money, on this point have been incorruptible!

They chose in every part of their dispersions rather to be a poor,

despised, persecuted people, and continue separate from all the

people of the earth, than to enjoy ease and affluence by becoming

mixed with the nations. For what great purposes must God be

preserving this people! for it does not appear that any moral

principle binds them together-they seem lost to this; and yet in

opposition to their interests, for which in other respects they

would sacrifice every thing, they are still kept distinct from all

the people of the earth: for this an especial providence alone can


Verse 18. Show me thy glory] Moses probably desired to see that

which constitutes the peculiar glory or excellence of the Divine

nature as it stands in reference to man. By many this is thought

to signify his eternal mercy in sending Christ Jesus into the

world. Moses perceived that what God was now doing had the most

important and gracious designs which at present he could not

distinctly discover; therefore he desires God to show him his

glory. God graciously promises to indulge him in this request as

far as possible, by proclaiming his name, and making all his

goodness pass before him, Ex 33:19. But at the same time he

assures him that he could not see his face-the fulness of his

perfections and the grandeur of his designs, and live, as no human

being could bear, in the present state, this full discovery. But

he adds, Thou shalt see my back parts, eth achorai,

probably meaning that appearance which he should assume in after

times, when it should be said, God is manifest in the flesh. This

appearance did take place, for we find God putting him into a

cleft of the rock, covering him with his hand, and passing by in

such a way as to exhibit a human similitude. John may have had

this in view when he said, The Word was made flesh and dwelt AMONG

us, full of grace and truth, and WE BEHELD HIS GLORY. What this

glory was, and what was implied by this grace and truth, we shall

see in the succeeding chapter.

Verse 19. I will make all my goodness pass before thee] Thou

shalt not have a sight of my justice, for thou couldst not bear

the infinite splendour of my purity: but I shall show myself to

thee as the fountain of inexhaustible compassion, the sovereign

Dispenser of my own mercy in my own way, being gracious to whom

I will be gracious, and showing mercy on whom I will show mercy.

I will proclaim the name of the Lord.]

See Clarke on Ex 34:6.

Verse 20. No man see me, and live.] The splendour would be

insufferable to man; he only, whose mortality is swallowed up of

life, can see God as he is. See 1Jo 3:2. From some disguised

relation of the circumstances mentioned here, the fable of Jupiter

and Semele was formed; she is reported to have entreated Jupiter

to show her his glory, who was at first very reluctant, knowing

that it would be fatal to her; but at last, yielding to her

importunity, he discovered his divine majesty, and she was

consumed by his presence. This story is told by Ovid in his

Metamorphoses, book iii., table iii., 5.

Verse 21. Behold, there is a place by me] There seems to be a

reference here to a well-known place on the mount where God was

accustomed to meet with Moses. This was a rock; and it appears

there was a cleft or cave in it, in which Moses was to stand while

the Divine Majesty was pleased to show him all that human nature

was capable of bearing: but this appears to have referred more to

the counsels of his mercy and goodness, relative to his purpose of

redeeming the human race, than to any visible appearance of the

Divine Majesty itself. See Clarke on Ex 33:18.

1. THE conclusion of this chapter is very obscure: we can

scarcely pretend to say, in any precise manner, what it means; and

it is very probable that the whole concerned Moses alone. He was

in great perplexity and doubt; he was afraid that God was about to

abandon this people; and he well knew that if he did so, their

destruction must be the consequence. He had received general

directions to decamp, and lead the people towards the promised

land; but this was accompanied with a threat that Jehovah would

not go with them. The prospect that was before him was

exceedingly gloomy and discouraging; and it was rendered the more

so because God predicted their persevering stiffneckedness, and

gave this as one reason why he would not go up among them, for

their provocations would be so great and so frequent that his

justice would be so provoked as to break through in a moment and

consume them. Moses, well knowing that God must have some great

and important designs in delivering them and bringing them thus

far, earnestly entreated him to give him some discovery of it,

that his own mind might be satisfied. God mercifully condescends

to meet his wishes in such a way as no doubt gave him full

satisfaction; but as this referred to himself alone the

circumstances are not related, as probably they could be of no

farther use to us than the mere gratifying of a principle of


2. On some occasions to be kept in the dark is as instructive as

to be brought into the light. In many cases those words of the

prophet are strictly applicable. Verily, thou art a God, who

HIDEST THYSELF, O God of Israel, the Saviour! One point we see

here very plainly, that while the people continued obstinate and

rebellious, that presence of God by which his approbation was

signified could not be manifested among them; and yet, without his

presence to guide, protect, and provide for them, they could

neither go up nor be saved. This presence is promised, and on the

fulfilment of the promise the safety of Israel depended. The

Church of God is often now in such a state that the approbation of

God cannot be manifested in it; and yet if his presence were

wholly withdrawn, truth would fall in the streets, equity go

backward, and the Church must become extinct. How have the seeds

of light and life been preserved during the long, dark, and cold

periods when error was triumphant, and the pure worship of God

adulterated by the impurities of idolatry and the thick darkness

of superstition, by the presence of his endless mercy, preserving

his own truth in circumstances in which he could not show his

approbation! He was with the Church in the wilderness, and

preserved the living oracles, kept alive the heavenly seeds, and

is now showing forth the glory of those designs which before he

concealed from mankind. He cannot err because he is infinitely

wise; he can do nothing that is unkind, because he delighteth in

mercy. We, as yet, see only through a glass darkly; by and by we

shall see face to face. The Lord's presence is with his people;

and those who trust in him have confident rest in his mercy.

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