a Bible passage

Click a verse to see commentary
Select a resource above

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.”

1. Depart, and go up hence, thou and the people I have used the pluperfect tense; 360360     See Lat., “Locutus autem fuerat Jehova;” but the Lord had spoken, etc. Prof. Bush says, “The right adjustment of the events of this chapter in the chronological order of the narrative, is a matter attended with some difficulty. From the rendering of our established version, it would seem that what was now said to Moses was posterior in point of time to the incidents recorded in the close of the preceding chapter; but from an attentive consideration and collation of the tenor of the whole, we are persuaded, with Calvin, and other critics of note, that the proper rendering of ver. 1 is in the pluperfect, ‘The Lord had said,’ and that the appropriate place for the interview and incidents here related is prior to the order and the promise contained in ver. 34 of chap. 32. In that verse God declares his purpose of sending his angel before the people, and we naturally inquire how it happens that such an assurance was necessary? Was there any danger that an angel would not be sent? Had any intimation been given that his guidance and protecting presence would be withdrawn? To this the correct answer undoubtedly is, that all that is related in chap. 33 had occurred anterior to the promise made in chap. 32:34. God had threatened to send Moses and the people forward without the accompanying presence of the angel of the Shekinah, and it was only in consequence of the fervent intercession of Moses that He was induced to retract this dread determination. In the foregoing chapter, therefore, the historian merely, states in a summary way the fact of his earnest prayer, and the concession made to it; in the present, he goes back and relates minutely the train of circumstances which preceded and led to the declaration above mentioned. In doing this he virtually makes known to us one main ground of the urgency of his supplications. He was afraid that God would withdraw the tokens of his visible presence. As a punishment for the mad attempt of the people to supply themselves with a false symbol of his presence, he was apprehensive that God might be provoked to take from them the true, and hence his impassioned entreaty that He would not visit them with so sore a judgment.” for the reason is here given, whereby Moses was stirred up to such vehemence in prayer, viz., because, although God had not altogether abandoned the care of the people, still He had renounced His covenant, and had proclaimed to them that, after He had once performed His engagement of giving them possession of the land, He would have no more to do with them. Wherefore, what is here related, preceded, in order of time, the prayer of Moses; for, being astonished at the sad and almost fatal message, he burst forth into that confused and wild request, that he might be blotted out of the book of life.

Let us now endeavor to elicit the true meaning of the passage. It is plain, that when God bids Moses depart with the people, He utterly renounces the charge which He Himself had hitherto sustained. He only promises that He will cause them to attain the promised inheritance, and not that He will preside over them, will there preserve them in safety, and even cherish them, as a father does his children; in fact, that he will merely fulfill the promise He had made to their fathers. And thus He anticipates their complaints; for they might reply, that consequently His promise would be rendered vain and ineffectual; but by way of anticipation, He says, that although He should renounce them, still He should maintain this truth, because He will cast out the inhabitants of the land of Canaan, so that their abode would be vacant for them. In sum, He repudiates them, that they may no longer count themselves to be His peculiar people, or expect more from Him, than as if they were strangers, He mentions His oath, lest they should accuse Him of faithlessness; as if He had said that He should be discharged from His engagement when they had obtained the land. And thus, whilst depriving them of the hope of salvation, and the grace of adoption, He still asserts the stability and stedfastness of His covenant. I, therefore, understand the word angel in a different sense from that which it has just before, and in many other passages of this book; for, when mention was before made of the angel, the familiar presence of God was denoted by it, nay, it was used interchangeably with the name of God itself. But here God is said to be so about to send the angel, as to separate Himself from the people. “I will not go up (He says) in the midst of thee;” and the reason is subjoined, viz., because it could not be that He could endure any longer their perverse spirits. Again He uses a similitude taken from refractory oxen, which cannot be broken to bear the yoke. The sum is, that because they are so intractable, God cannot perform the office of their guide without straightway destroying them.

VIEWNAME is study