And the Lord spake unto Moses face to face
Not by an angel, but he himself in person; not by a dream or vision, but apparently, in real visible appearance; not in dark speeches, but clearly in plain words, easy to be understood; and not by a voice from heaven at a distance, but mouth to mouth, being very near, as when on the mount, and now at the door of the tabernacle:
as a man speaketh unto his friend;
freely, familiarly, plainly, cordially, openly, without any reserve or show of authority, or causing dread and fear; for he also spake to the children of Israel "face to face", but then it was out of the fire in a terrible manner which they could not bear, ( Deuteronomy 5:4 )
and he turned again into the camp;
to acquaint the people, the heads and elders of them, what discourse he had with God, what success he had met with on their behalf, and how the Lord stood affected to them, or what was his will concerning them:
but his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, departed not
out of the tabernacle;
who is here described by his name, Joshua; by his descent, the son of Nun; by his relation to Moses, a servant of his, who waited on him wherever he went, when upon the mount and now at the tabernacle; and by his age, a young man, as he was in comparison of Moses, and is so called chiefly because he was his servant, it being usual to call servants young men, of whatsoever age; for Joshua, strictly speaking, could not be a young man in years; he was the general of the army at the battle with Amalek; and, according to Aben Ezra, was now fifty six years of age, which he collects from his living to the age of one hundred and ten years; now to fifty six add the forty years in the wilderness, seven years, in which he subdued the land of Canaan, and seven more in dividing it, as say their wise men, the sum is one hundred an ten years: and it not being easy to account for it, that Moses should depart alone, unaccompanied by Joshua, who always attended him, and no sufficient reason is given why he should stay behind in the tabernacle; as for private devotion, which this was not a place for; or for judging the causes of the people in the absence of Moses, which we never find he did or to guard the tabernacle, to be a watchman in it, or even at the head of a watch over it, which, as it seemed unnecessary, so was an employment too mean for him; the words therefore may be rendered as they are by some, and the rather, as there is an accent which makes a considerable stop on the word (ren) , translated a "young man" F23, "and he turned again to the camp", and "his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man"; that is, along with him; they both returned to the camp, and then it follows, "he", i.e. the Lord, "departed not out of the tabernacle", but continued there; to whom Moses afterwards returned and had the following discourse: a learned man F24 thinks that the grand tabernacle is here meant, yet unfinished, though not the final erection of it; and that here is a dislocation in the history, and supposes that Moses having been forty days absent, found upon his return a good progress made in the work of the tabernacle, and the ornaments and utensils belonging thereunto: and as soon as the wood work of the tabernacle was finished, he ordered it to be put together; but because the tabernacle had neither a door to it, nor were the hangings of the outer court finished, therefore Joshua the servant of Moses, the son of Nun, a young man, departed not out of the tabernacle, but remained there to preserve it from being polluted: but it is a mistake of his that the tabernacle had not a door to it, and it is strange he should make it, when it is twice mentioned in the preceding verses; and since the pillar of cloud and the Lord in it were there, no man durst draw near to pollute it, so that there was no need of Joshua's being there to preserve it; and besides, it was after this Moses went up to the mount and stayed another forty days and forty nights, see ( Exodus 34:4 Exodus 34:28 ) .
F23 So Junius & Tremellius, Piscator, Rivet.
F24 Clayton's Chronology of the Hebrew Bible, p. 343.