Exodus 33

The Word Made Fresh

1“Moses,” the LORD said, “it’s time for you and the people you brought out of Egypt to move on toward the land I promised to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 2I will send an angel messenger ahead of you and force the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites out. 3You will enter a land of plentiful food and resources, but I will not go with you because you are a stubborn people, and I would do away with you before you get there.”

4The people were distressed when they heard this. They wept and removed all their jewelry because 5they heard the LORD say to Moses, “Tell the Israelites that they are a stubborn people. If I went with them for even a second, I would destroy them. Take off your jewelry and I will decide what to do with you.”

6That is why the Israelites removed their jewelry when they moved on from Mt. Horeb.

7Moses used to pitch a tent a distance from the camp. He called it the “meeting tent.” Anyone who wanted to consult the LORD would go out of the camp to the meeting tent. 8Whenever Moses went out to the meeting tent the people would stand at their tents and watch Moses enter the meeting tent. 9Moses would go inside and the cloud bank would descend and hover at the tent’s entrance and the LORD would speak with Moses. 10At that, all the people would bow down at their own tents. 11That is how the LORD spoke with Moses, as you would speak with a friend. Then Moses would return to the camp, but Joshua, son of Nun, his young assistant, would remain at the meeting tent.

12Moses said to the LORD, “You told me to bring these people, but you haven’t told me who you would send with me. You said you know me by name and that you are pleased with me. 13If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so that I might know you and continue to please you. Don’t forget that these people are your people.”

14The LORD replied, “I will be with you and I will take care of you.”

15Moses said, “If you decide not to go, then don’t send us up from here. 16How will anyone know that you find favor with me and your people if you don’t go with us? Only if you go with us will we be distinguished from every other group of people on the earth.”

17The LORD said to Moses, “I will do as you ask. You do indeed have my favor. I know your name.”

18Moses said, “Show yourself to me as you really are.”

19“I will pass in front of you in all my majesty, and I will proclaim my name to you, ‘the LORD.’ And I will reward whomever I wish to reward and be merciful to whomever I wish to be merciful. 20But I cannot allow you to see my face. No one can see me and live. Look, there is a rock outcropping near me. Stand there, 22and when I pass by, I will shield you in a crevice and place my hand over you until I have passed; 23then I will take my hand away and you will be able to see my back, but no one may see my face.”


1-3: God tells Moses to lead the people on to Canaan, that the promise to give the land will be kept, but God will not go with them because he is too angry with them.

4-6: God’s anger quickly abates, though, and the people are told to remove their jewelry until such time as God decides what to do with them. They are shaken by God’s threat to disown them and none of them wears any “ornaments” at all.

7-11: There is as yet no tabernacle, though Moses now has the plans for it. There is, however, a “meeting tent,” a particular location that Moses uses to meet with the people and make judgments on disputes and intercede with God on their behalf. The tent is located some distance away from the main camp. Joshua is stationed there permanently, and Moses comes as needed to give instructions or pass judgment. God meets with Moses there as well; the presence of a cloud around the tent signifies God’s presence there. It is said that Moses and God speak face to face, as two friends might; such is their relationship.

12-16: It is during one such conversation that Moses persuades God to reconsider and go with them on their journey to Canaan. Moses insists that it is necessary. There is no point in their going at all, he says, unless they go as God’s distinctly chosen people.

17-23: And now we find ourselves back on the mountain where Moses and God are having one of their talks. Moses asks to see God’s glory, and God agrees. However, Moses will not be allowed to see God’s face, only God’s back.


“… not allowed to see God’s face, only God’s back.” What a wonderful metaphor for our experiences of God. We never see God in the moment, but often can look back and see where and when God has been with us.