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The Command to Leave Sinai


The L ord said to Moses, “Go, leave this place, you and the people whom you have brought up out of the land of Egypt, and go to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your descendants I will give it.’ 2I will send an angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanites, the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 3Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, or I would consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.”

4 When the people heard these harsh words, they mourned, and no one put on ornaments. 5For the L ord had said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘You are a stiff-necked people; if for a single moment I should go up among you, I would consume you. So now take off your ornaments, and I will decide what to do to you.’ ” 6Therefore the Israelites stripped themselves of their ornaments, from Mount Horeb onward.

The Tent outside the Camp

7 Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, far off from the camp; he called it the tent of meeting. And everyone who sought the L ord would go out to the tent of meeting, which was outside the camp. 8Whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people would rise and stand, each of them, at the entrance of their tents and watch Moses until he had gone into the tent. 9When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent, and the L ord would speak with Moses. 10When all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise and bow down, all of them, at the entrance of their tent. 11Thus the L ord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Then he would return to the camp; but his young assistant, Joshua son of Nun, would not leave the tent.

Moses’ Intercession

12 Moses said to the L ord, “See, you have said to me, ‘Bring up this people’; but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ 13Now if I have found favor in your sight, show me your ways, so that I may know you and find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” 14He said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” 15And he said to him, “If your presence will not go, do not carry us up from here. 16For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people, unless you go with us? In this way, we shall be distinct, I and your people, from every people on the face of the earth.”

17 The L ord said to Moses, “I will do the very thing that you have asked; for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” 18Moses said, “Show me your glory, I pray.” 19And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The L ord’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20But,” he said, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.” 21And the L ord continued, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; 22and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; 23then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.”

20. And he said, Thou canst not see my face Moses had indeed seen it, but in such a mode of revelation, as to be far inferior to its full effulgence. Long before the birth of Moses, Jacob had said, “I have seen God face to face,” (Genesis 32:30;) and to Moses, as I have lately shewn, a still clearer vision was vouchsafed. Now, however, he obtains something better and more excellent; and yet not so as perfectly to see God such as He is in Himself, but so far as the human mind is capable of bearing. For, although the angels are said to see God’s face in a more excellent manner than men, still they do not apprehend the immense perfection of His glory, whereby they would be absorbed. Justly, therefore, does God declare that He cannot be seen by a mortal man; for we shall not see him as He is, until we shall be like Him. (1 John 3:2.) For it must needs be that that incomprehensible brightness would bring us to nothing. God, therefore, whilst He withholds us from a complete knowledge of Him, nevertheless manifests Himself as far as is expedient; nay, attempering the amount of light to our humble capacity, He assumes the face which we are able to bear.

21. And the Lord said, Behold, there is a place by me This description may illdeed appear puerile, but it is well adapted to our imperfection; nor will any despise it who is duly conscious of his own imbecility and ignorance. There seems to be a contradiction between these two things, that the beauty of God should be shewn to Moses, and still that the sight of Him should be refused. This difficulty is here solved, for Moses was to see God only from behind. It is a similitude taken from men, whom we only partially recognise, if their face be turned away; for clear recognition is only obtained by seeing the face and countenance.

The fissure or hole in the rock was like a narrow and oblique window, which so far admits the sun’s rays as that one, who is shut up in a deep and obscure place, may receive some advantage from the light, yet never see the sun itself nor enjoy its brightness. Thus we, imprisoned as it were in our bodies, cannot behold God’s glory freely and directly; but He illuminates us obliquely, so that at least we see Him from behind. I do not speak of all, but of the most perfect amongst us, such as Moses was, who, although he obtained the extraordinary privilege which is here recorded, yet could not endure God’s glory through the infirmity of his flesh; and therefore the hand of God was interposed, so that he should only see Him in part. By God’s hand is meant the darkness wherewith He was covered, lest the eyes of Moses should be stretched in curiosity to see further than was lawful. Some 375375     “Tertullian referreth these backer or latter parts to the latter times of the Messiah: My glory which thou desirest to see, shall be revealed in the latter times.” — Willet in loco. Owen’s exposition of this passage is worthy of quotation: “The face of God, or the gracious majesty of his Being, his essential glory, is not to be seen of any in this life; we cannot see him as he is. But the glorious manifestation of himself we may behold and contemplate. This we may see as the back parts of God; that shadow of his excellencies which he casteth forth in the passing by us in his works and dispensations. This Moses shall see. And wherein did it consist? Why, in the revelation, and declaration of this name of God. Exodus 34:6, 7. To be known by this name, to be honored, feared, believed, as that declares him, is the great glory of God.” — Owen’s Expos. of Psalm 130. (Edin., edit. 1851, vol. 6, p. 481.) refer “my back parts” to the fullless of time, when Christ was manifested in the flesh, as if it were said, Thou shalt not see me until clothed in human nature; this is a subtle speculation, but by no means sound, nay, altogether wide of the genuine meaning.

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