Book of Exodus Chapter Thirty-Three Commentary by
Pastor Ron Beckham
God Answers Prayer
Though most of this people in the desert lacked faith in the Lord, they listened to Moses, who did have such faith, and it was time for them to move on. In Verse 1, "Then the Lord spoke to Moses, 'Depart, go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up from the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your descendants I will give it.’" Why did the Lord choose THIS nation, which He created out of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob? The answer is: Because His will (and our salvation) would be accomplished through them. Through these historical individuals within Israel, we are to see how we are supposed to live and how NOT to live. Most important, Israel would be the setting for the Messiah, the Christ who was to come, and Israel was, without any doubt the very best this world could offer for God's purposes to be done.
In Verse 2, God said to the people through Moses, "I will send an angel before you and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite." Do you know that God has sent "an angel before you?" An intricate mix of what we think of as invisible beings are guarding and leading us at all times. Most of us, probably all of us, deviate from God's protection, as seen in today's news headlines and yesterday's failures, but the protection is offered whether we receive it or not. God means to drive your enemies away from you, just as He would do for Israel.
Many look at outward success as a sign that God is pleased with them, and here was Israel, about to enter a place of richness, but with a problem, as seen in God's words of Verse 3: "Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; for I will not go up in your midst, because you are an obstinate people, and I might destroy you on the way." The good news was that they were about to enter the land promised to them, but there was bad news: God would not visibly accompany them as He had in the wilderness. No pillar of fire or cloud would be with them, and in Verse 4, "When the people heard this sad word, they went into mourning, and none of them put on his ornaments." All of us should wonder: How obstinate are we? We really don't know, but some of the setbacks in our lives may indicate we are not as good as we think we are.
Considering that Moses and the people might miss the point, Verse 5 points out: "For the Lord had said to Moses, 'Say to the sons of Israel, ‘You are an obstinate people; should I go up in your midst for one moment, I would destroy you. Now therefore, put off your ornaments from you, that I may know what I shall do with you.'" Not unlike people today, this was a group more concerned about outward appearance than faith in the Lord. They got the message when Moses transmitted those words to them, for in Verse 6, " So the sons of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments, from Mount Horeb onward." But would their comprehension deepen to a point of real TRUST in God?
In Verse 7, "Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, a good distance from the camp, and he called it the tent of meeting. And everyone who sought the Lord would go out to the tent of meeting which was outside the camp." This was not the Holy Place, the Tabernacle which was later to be the Temple, because the materials for that tent would not be gathered until Chapter 35, and it would not exist until the events of Chapter 36. In Verses 8-10, "And it came about, whenever Moses went out to the tent, that all the people would arise and stand, each at the entrance of his tent, and gaze after Moses until he entered the tent. 9 Whenever Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent; and the Lord would speak with Moses. 10 When all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would arise and worship, each at the entrance of his tent." It was the "pillar of cloud" that would soon be gone, causing the people to mourn, as we saw in Verse 4. So many people have said, "If only I could see God, then I would believe," and yet something more is needed for us all. As Jesus commented to His disciples (and to us) in John 20:29, "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." Faith in the Lord, which includes honest belief that He exists and trust in His attributes and character, is God's requirement. Moses had such faith, decades before the events of these verses (Hebrews 11:24-27), and because of it, he had become the man who could hear the Lord in this tent outside the camp.
Verse 11: "Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses returned to the camp, his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent." Would you like to speak to God, face to face? A part of us might be afraid of such an encounter, but another part wants that relationship. I like this Joshua, who moved right in and would not "depart from the tent," unlike the many who avoid the Lord. Moses' dialogue with the Lord continues in Verses 12-13, as "Moses said to the Lord, 'See, You say to me, ‘Bring up this people!’ But You Yourself have not let me know whom You will send with me. Moreover, You have said, ‘I have known you by name, and you have also found favor in My sight. 13 Now therefore, I pray You, if I have found favor in Your sight, let me know Your ways that I may know You, so that I may find favor in Your sight. Consider too, that this nation is Your people.'" Moses had found something that all need to learn: We need the Lord in EVERYTHING. You and I think and speak within our limited cultural experiences, but His ways and thoughts are infinitely higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9). We need to find His perspective, His thoughts, if we are to become more like the Moses of these verses, who fought for his people in prayer.
And notice in the verses that follow, that the Lord said "yes" to Moses' prayer. In Verse 14, we read, "And He said, 'My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.'" We NEED the presence of the Lord in our lives. He is the One who gives us the deep rest we have always hungered for. Moses wasn't done with his prayer and his concern is expressed in Verses 15-16: "Then he said to Him, 'If Your presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here. 16 For how then can it be known that I have found favor in Your sight, I and Your people? Is it not by Your going with us, so that we, I and Your people, may be distinguished from all the other people who are upon the face of the earth?'" Many decide that "their" group or nation is somehow better, but such decisions are based on superficial thinking. Moses knew that only two types of people exist in humanity: Those who know the Lord through faith, and those who don't.
In Verse 17, "The Lord said to Moses, 'I will also do this thing of which you have spoken; for you have found favor in My sight and I have known you by name.'" This verse is huge in its importance because God ANSWERED Moses' prayer, saving an entire nation from destruction. This Moses was fashioned by the Lord into a person of faith and the Lord intends much more for you and me. The "Spirit" is individually praying for each one of us right this minute (Romans 8:27) and so is "Christ Jesus" in His place "at the right hand of God" (Romans 8:34). One of the names of Jesus Christ is "Almighty God" (Isaiah 9:6). The Son and the Spirit are praying continually for you and me, and their prayers are ANSWERED.
Note that Moses never had enough of the Lord—he always wanted more. Verse 18 reports, "Then Moses said, 'I pray You, show me Your glory!'" We should always want more of the Lord, who is limitless in what He is and what He has in store for us. And see that the Lord said "yes" to Moses in Verses 19-20: "And He said, 'I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the Lord before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion. 20 But He said, 'You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!'" If you ever feel left out of anything, keep in mind that God has more for you and me, though we are limited in what we are able to receive from Him. What we have is appropriate to our ability to receive. Trust in the Lord, seek Him, ask for more of Him, and yet be content with who and what you are. He is doing a work in you, and His "compassion" is right for each one.
There was to be more for Moses, just as there is more for you and me. In Verses 21-22, "Then the Lord said, 'Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock; 22 and it will come about, while My glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by.'" There are good reasons why we do not see the invisible God, including this one: We are so sinful, even when we think we're not, and He is so holy, so pure, that we would not survive the experience. When we're ready, which is likely not until eternity, we will see Him. Moses had faith in the Lord as we should and his faith opened the door for still more, but he was human, too, and could only take so much. Notice how the Lord protected him in Verse 23—"Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen." We are being readied for more. How much more we do not yet fully understand, but in the meantime, TRUST in the Lord and learn that He answers prayer.
Lord, I trust in You. I am Yours. And Lord, I want more of You, now and forever. Thank You. In Jesus Name. Amen.