Note: A number of the following ideas were inspired by several talks in James B. Jordan’s audio lecture series “Studies in Exodus.”
Opening Prayer: Gracious and long-suffering God, we come before you now and ask that your Word would transform us and glorify us. Fill us with your Spirit that we might be your faithful servants. Through Jesus our Son and our Lord, Amen!
The Image of God is related to the Word of God: Adam imaged God as he obeyed his Word. When the Word was broken so was the Image. Like Adam, Israel needs a Word-keeping Image to lead them. Moses is that Christ-like mediator.
God Becomes the Curse
God initially proposes to send Israel to the land of promise with his Angel ahead of them; he says that he will not go in their midst because he would end up “consuming” them (33:1-3). This is the same word he used back in 32:10 and 12 which means to “finish/complete.” He would bring them to an end if he was in their midst. Remember the promise of the Angel of Yahweh was the promise of God’s presence/nearness (23:21, 23, 25). God had originally intended to dwell with the people of Israel (Ex. 25:8, 29:45-46). The ornaments (Egyptian spoils) are significant because they were what the golden calf had been made out of (33:4-6, cf. 32:2-4). Moses’ response is to move his tent “outside the camp” for the safety of Israel (33:7). But being “outside the camp” is itself a kind of curse: it is where the sin offerings are deposited (Ex. 29:14, Heb. 13:11), it is where lepers live (Lev. 13:46), it is where the condemned are taken for execution (Lev. 24:14, Num. 15:35). Being outside the camp is a sign of a curse (cf. Heb. 13:13). Moses and the Presence of God go outside the camp bearing the curse of Israel, so that Israel can still worship in their doorways without being consumed (33:8-10).
A New Passover
Being in the doorway reminds us of the Passover (Ex. 12:7, 22-23). The doorway is also where the continual offering was supposed to be, where God would meet with Israel and dwell in their midst (29:42). Now only Moses meets with God at the door and Israel worships in their doorways from a distance (33:8-10). Instead of the pillar of smoke ascending from the altar at the doorway, God’s own cloud presence is the pillar ascending. Instead of Israelites offering the worship directly and “standing” in the doorway of God’s house, they are “standing” in their own doorways and worshipping from a distance. The word for pillar is the same for “standing” and literally means “stood up” (33:9-10). Thus, every time Moses enters the tent, and God does not consume Israel, the Angel is “passing over” the camp and descending upon the doorway of Moses, but Moses is not consumed because he has found “grace in the eyes of the Lord.”
Moses is a New Noah
Moses is like a new Noah in this story in that he has “found grace in the eyes of the Lord” (Ex. 33:12-13, 16-17, cf. Gen. 6:8). God promises to send his presence with Moses and give him “rest,” a verb related to the name of Noah (33:14). While God decisively distinguished between Noah and his family and all the rest of the people “upon the face of the earth,” Moses asks that God be just as faithful with him and all Israel (33:16, cf. Gen. 6:7, 7:4). Wound through this exchange is Moses’ request for God not only to go with him but also to go with the people (33:13). God initially says he will go with Moses (33:14), but Moses insists that his presence go with “us” (33:15-16). And Yahweh agrees to do this thing (33:17). This new covenant appears to be made with Moses as opposed to the whole nation. God makes the covenant with Moses and all who are “in him” (cf. 1 Cor. 10:2). The other request of Moses was to know God’s way and to see his glory (33:13, 18), and God also grants this request through proclaiming his name to Moses (33:19). God places Moses in the cleft of the rock and allows him to see God’s “back” as he declares his Name (33:20-23, 34:5-8). His Name is His Glory. Like Noah, God makes a new covenant with Moses; Exodus 34:10-28 is a recapitulation of Ex. 21-23 the book of the covenant. Compare 34:10-17 to 23:23-24:8 and 34:18-26 to 22:29-23:19. Again, Moses tells them the “Ten Words” of Yahweh (34:28), and he explains the covenant to Aaron, the rulers, and all the people (34:31-32). Exodus 34 basically retells the story of Ex. 19-24 only with a single character (Moses) instead of the entire nation: proclamation, specific laws, forty days and nights on the mountain, and a descent with the Ten Words.
The Shining Face
Jim Jordan points out that this story begins with a golden (shining) idol which is meant to replace the leadership of Moses and the glory cloud of God (32:1ff). This story ends with Moses shining with the glory of God (34:29). Part of this is an explanation of the second commandment that Israel has broken: people are the image of God as they are conformed to his Word (34:1-2, 7, 14, 17, cf. Ex. 20:4-6). In 2 Corinthians 3, Paul explains that Moses’ veil is a parable for the people to show them their own hardness of heart. Paul says that Moses wore the veil to show the people that the glory was “rendered ineffective” (2 Cor. 3:7, 11, 13). Moses takes the veil off when he speaks to the elders, the people, and to God (Ex. 34:31-35). But Paul says that it was “rendered ineffective,” and this happens when minds are blinded but for those who “turn to the Lord” the veil is taken away (2 Cor. 3:16), and with unveiled faces we behold the glory of the Lord and are transformed into the same image, the image of Christ as the gospel is proclaimed (2 Cor. 3:17-18, 4:3-6). Paul ties all of this to creation: just as the Word commands light to come out of darkness, so too the Word precedes and produces the Image (2 Cor. 4:6).
Conclusions and Applications
Christians gather “outside the camp” for worship, to the Lord Jesus who has borne our curse, to bear his reproach with him (Heb. 13:13). He has borne our curse. We are called out of the camp to our new Moses to share in his glory, to a Moses-like ministry on behalf of the world. We like Moses must have the same kind of love that intercedes for the world (Jn. 3:16). God wants us to wrestle with him for the world. Remember, Jacob wrestles with God before entering the land. It’s in the wrestling that Jacob sees God and is blessed (32:24-32). God gives us his Name/Word for wrestling with him (34:6-9), and this is for our glory and blessing. This is a wonderful promise, but this is also a sobering threat. If the Word of God is not received in faith, it can be “rendered ineffective.”
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Closing Prayer: Almighty God, since you abound in truth and goodness, we ask that you cause your Word to penetrate into us deeply. Teach us to love your Word that we might wrestle with you and be blessed so that you might go with us as take this land.