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Exodus 33

The LORD is moving His people on from mount Sinai.  They now have the portable mountain - the tabernacle - and they must press on to the promised land (v1).

But who will go with them?  That's the key question.  And it's one that was actually settled back in chapter 23:

20 "See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared. 21 Pay attention to him and listen to what he says. Do not rebel against him; he will not forgive your rebellion, since my Name is in him. 22 If you listen carefully to what he says and do all that I say, I will be an enemy to your enemies and will oppose those who oppose you. 23 My angel will go ahead of you and bring you into the land

The Angel would be the One through Whom the Father brings them in.  To have the Angel is to be brought into the land, to have forgiveness and the very gospel character (the Name) of God Most High.  To listen to the Angel is to listen to the Unseen LORD.

In chapter 23 the Father speaks of sending the Son as the way that He draws near and blesses the Israelites.  Now in Exodus 33, He speaks of sending His Son as the way to keep His distance from the Israelites:

2 I will send an angel before you... 3 Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people... 5 You are a stiff-necked people; if for a single moment I should go up among you, I would consume you.

So which is it?  Does the Father save through the Son because that's how He draws near or is it because that's how He keeps His distance?  Well prior to the sin of chapter 32, the Father described the Angel's mediation in terms of closeness.  Now (v1-6), after the idolatry of chapter 32, the mediation is described as a response to sin.

But from 33:7 onwards we will return to the chapter 23 perspective - i.e. to have the Angel is to have the favour and blessing of God Most High, because the Name of the Unseen LORD is in the Visible LORD.

Verses 7-11 are a parenthesis, describing a common occurence.  Moses used to go and see the LORD face-to-face. This is incredible intimacy: "face to face as a man speaks with his friend." (v11)  Moses chooses to tell us of this regular blessing down at the foot of the mountain so we can contrast it with the events of v12 and following.

On top of the mountain Moses (very forgetfully) asks again who will go with the Israelites.  He's told "My Presence will go with you."  This is literally the word for "face."  Moses has just told us of his face-to-face enjoyment of the LORD in the tent of meeting and now the LORD on the mountain says His "Face" will go with Moses.  The Father is yet again pledging the help of His Son, His Angel, His Face - the LORD Jesus.  When Moses hears the Angel described as the Presence of the Unseen LORD he is satisfied:

"If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here." (v15)

Give me Jesus or give me death!  This is the sentiment of all who truly know the Father's Face.

Moses then asks a question reminiscent of Philip's in John 14:

Show me your glory (v18)

How will God Most High reveal His glory?   Well He will not show His face - for no-one can see Him and live (v20).  The LORD in the tent of meeting can be seen face to face, but the LORD on the mountain is known in a different way.  He is known through His name - the Name that is in His Angel.

It is a Name dripping with compassion and mercy (v19) - a Name that is seen when we look to the concrete and visible saving actions of the Son.

And as we will see in the next chapter, when that Name is pronounced, Moses recognizes immediately that the Name of God Most High is precisely what he has seen in the Visible LORD:

O Lord (Father), please let the Lord (Son) go in the midst of us

To have the Son is to have the Father after all.  Sin is a problem - it does cause estrangement.  There is indeed a sense in which the Father cannot dwell with His people because of their rebellion.  But precisely through the gracious salvation of the Angel, we are not finally estranged from God Most High, but rather brought near.

No-one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.  (1 John 2:23)


11 thoughts on “Exodus 33

  1. Charlie Allison

    Hi Glen,
    Been meditating on Ex23:20 (I will send my angel) and Ex 32:24 (my angel will go before you).

    I had previously understood Matt 11:27 and Ephesians 1:1 to be a foundational grid for understanding that mankind cannot see or know the Father directly. The “Lord-sent-from-God” is our middle-man, and has always been our middle man.

    But in those Exodus verses we see the Lord speaking directly to a man (Moses) about the middle-man (the angel).

    Conclusion? That the father / God Most High does actually reveal himself himself directly (ie he speaks directly) to men. Hey, so we didn't need a mediator of revelation after all. Moslems don't need a middle man etc..

    Whaddya reckon?

  2. Glen

    Good question!

    We know that one day we will see God - that's Jesus' promise in the beatitudes. The Son's mediation won't be made superfluous by this - the Son's mediation is precisely what brings it about. In the same way the LORD-sent-from-God saves the Israelites in order for them to worship the unseen LORD on the mountain. When Moses speaks with the unseen LORD it's not proof that the Son is unnecessary but rather that the Son has done His work perfectly - bringing us to the Father.

    In the same way think about the baptism - it's not as though the Father speaks only through the Son's voice, but the Father makes His own voice heard (and what is the Father saying? Behold my Sent One!). Same with transfiguration and John 12. Christ's mediation does not mean that the Father has no voice of His own nor that His voice can never be heard (although notice how the Jews can't discern God's voice in John 12), but actually Christ's mediation is seen in that A) it's Christ who brings us to the Father and it's Christ who the Father is speaking about. Same with Exodus I reckon.

  3. Charlie Allison

    Another thought:
    There seem to be two mediators, two middle men in Exodus. The Lord-sent-from-God and the Man, Moses. Moses seems to be the main player in view (if we crassly compare number of times we read Moses and Angel/seen-Face/Presence).
    Will the real mediator / rescuer please stand up? I feel like we're seeing mediation happening from God's side (Angel/Seen-face / presence) and man's side (Moses) and the two fuse together in the tent of meeting Ex33.
    Man - [Moses - Angel] - God.

    Q: what do we make of this dual mediatorship? Is this the Lord teaching Israel to look forward to the One who would be God-man mediator?

    So we mustn't over-egg the Angel redemption at the cost of the human mediator Moses?


  4. Howard Nowlan

    Sounds like you're in the right ball park there, Charlie. Surely, redemption is about the union of heaven and earth in the New Creation, so everything we 'see' (i.e. in moments such as those you've mentioned) is a foretaste of the full reality that is coming because of what The Father achieves through the Incarnation. That's something to truly think upon at this time of year.

  5. Brian Midmore

    The Hebrew for angel is malak which as we know means messenger ( one dispatched as a deputy). (Is there a connexion with melek meaning king?)

    ...the lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple even the messenger (malak) of the covenant...Mal 3.1.

    This is an obvious reference to God's Messiah as a 'malak'. I suppose the only possible objection I have is with the logic that states that Jesus is God's face and therefore God's face is Jesus. However I dont expect this reasoning is far off the mark.

  6. Charlie Allison

    I'm afraid I'm just questions at the moment. I'm hoping to bring a load of mediatorial thoughts together to help us think about how we engage with Islam

    How do we put these scriptures together concerning SEEING:
    1 Tim 6:16: "God... whom no one HAS SEEN or CAN see"
    Matthew 5:8: "Blessed are the pure in heard, for they shall see God"

    John 1:18 "No one HAS EVER seen God but GOD the one and only ..has made him known"
    Daniel 7:9 "the ancient of days took his seat... and one like a son of man ... approached the ancient of days..."
    So who did Daniel see, if not the Father?

    So there was I reading Timothy thinking that the Father might me ontologically invisible. But Daniel saw him, and we will see him. Who, according to Timothy cannot see the Father, and why?

    Hoping that the spaghetti can be laid out in nice straight rows. Suspecting it can't!

  7. Brian Midmore

    Maybe the visible God is always God the Son (as we would say). Thus the Ancient of Days (Dan 7.9) is the Son (compare John's vision in Rev 1.14-15) and the Son of man (Dan.13) is the Son too. The Son of man is a representation of the Son in his earthly form whereas the Ancient of Days is the Son as he eternally is. The Ancient of days is spoken of v22 as making judgement for the saints of the Most High (God the Father?)

    I didnt realise that there is a problem in this passage.

  8. Charlie Allison

    Hi Brian,
    Given that Jesus really owns the 'son of Man' title, and says that he will be the one riding on the clouds in his trial, I'm inclined to let that be my first bit of the Daniel jigsaw. As to the ancient of days, I'm disinclined to introduce a two person schizophrenia into Daniel that says: "eternal son (ancient of days) welcomes the son of Man and gives him authority etc". The giving of authority in Daniel 7 really chimes with all that Jesus says of his father in John.
    I take your point about the matching descriptions.
    It's all in the pipe for smoking! Thanks for your thoughts and time.

  9. Brian Midmore

    Hi Charlie,
    I just thought that given it was a prophetic vision that anything was possible and perhaps everyday logic might be suspended as we glimpse eternity. If the AOD is the Son then at least we have solved the problem of seeing the Father. We have just created another one of the Son meeting the Son.

  10. Chris W

    Along with Brian, I reckon in Daniel 7, Jesus is the Ancient of Days (already ascended) and the Saints are the "Like a Son of Man". The title "Son of Man" is actually more general than we might think. It is often used to describe Ezekiel, for instance - it's a priestly title. This explains why the subsequent parts of Daniel interpret that part of the vision as the ascension of the Saints.

    In the New Testament, Jesus often puts himself into the picture as the Son of Man ascending with the clouds of heaven. However, this is a sort of pre-emptive fulfilment, which happens before the ascension of the Saints. In the Bible it's head first, then body (that's how the ascension offering worked). Jesus ascends first as our Great High Priest (hence the title "Most High", which appears later in the chapter) and is seated in heaven, with a river of fire (the Holy Spirit) flowing out from Him and down to the Saints. Then they ascend later on, as His priestly people.

  11. Brian Midmore

    The orthodox tradition (which is usually correct!) has the AoD as the Son, and so sometimes depicts Jesus as an old man in its iconography.

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