God Sends Moses to Lead the People (33:1–6)
“. . . teach me your ways so I may know you.” Moses had encountered God in a burning bush; he had seen God humble Pharaoh and the Egyptians; he had seen God part the sea and provide water out of a rock; he had spent forty days and nights with God on top of Mount Sinai. Moses had experienced God’s signs and wonders; now he wanted to experience God Himself. He wanted to know God personally. God is more to be desired than all of His wonders and works and blessings. To know God personally is the highest blessing any human can experience (see John 17:3).
God graciously responded to Moses’ desire to know who would go with him, saying, “My Presence will go with you” (verse 14)—that is, with Moses. (The “you” is singular in Hebrew.) Thus, because of Moses’ intercession, God partly reversed His decision not to go with the Israelites (verse 3); He would agree to go “with Moses.” We can understand God’s “Presence” to be the special angel mentioned earlier, in whom God’s Name was placed (Exodus 23:21).
15–17 But Moses was still not satisfied. He wanted God to accompany not just him but the people as well; he wanted God to accept the Israelites as “His people” once again. Moses knew that without God’s presence there would be nothing to distinguish the Israelites from the ungodly nations around them. Other nations had laws, priests and sacrifices; only the Israelites had God’s presence with them.
God was pleased with what Moses had said, and so He agreed to go with the people. For a second time, God told Moses, “I know you by name” (verses 12,17); “I have chosen you for a special purpose.”
Surely Moses has given us a marvelous example of intercession and mediation with God. What a great man of God he was! God was pleased with him (verse 17). Yet there was a greater mediator than Moses yet to come—Jesus Christ (Hebrews 3:1–6)—in whom God was also well pleased (Matthew 17:5). And because of Christ, Christians also have the same privileges Moses had: we too can know God (John 14:6–7); we too are friends of God, and can speak with Him “face to face” (John 15:14–15).
18–23 Then Moses was emboldened to make a final special request: “Now show me your glory” (verse 18). Moses wanted to know more about God; he wanted to know Him intimately.
Again God heeded Moses’ request, and agreed to show him His glory—that is, His goodness (verse 19). God would also proclaim His name120 as He passed by, so that Moses would know even more of His nature and character. God would demonstrate His goodness by showing mercy and compassion121—even to the undeserving Israelites. It was, above all, God’s mercy and compassion that led Him to renew His covenant with Israel.
God then explained how He would show His goodness (glory) to Moses without causing Moses’ death. He used the terms “hand,” “back” and “face”122 to describe how He would appear to Moses. Since God is spirit and has no physical form, it is best to understand His “back” as being the “after-glow” of His radiance, and his “face” as being His full blazing radiance, which no human can look upon and live (John 1:18; 6:46; 1 Timothy 6:15–16).
The fulfillment of God’s promise to show Moses His goodness (glory) occurred a short time later and is described in Exodus 34:5–7.