1 - 6 The People Must Depart
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.’ 2 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. 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.” 4 When the people heard this sad word, they went into mourning, and none of them put on his ornaments. 5 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.’” 6 So the sons of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments, from Mount Horeb [onward].
Through the intercession of Moses and the judgment exercised, God can still give Moses the order to bring the people to the promised land. That does not mean that God is pretending that nothing has happened. He will not go up in their midst Himself. As a guide He will send an angel. If He Himself came into their midst, it would mean the end of their existence. In His holiness He should consume them.
The people are impressed by God’s intention not to go up in their midst. They leave out their ornaments. Then God speaks again of the stubbornness of the people and that He should consume them if He were just in their midst.
Had not Moses pleaded for the people? Was the evil not judged? Yes, but God also wants to see repentance in the people themselves. He recommends that they take off their ornaments. It means the recognition that there is no place for outward appearance. Then He withdraws as it were to reflect. The outcome of these deliberations depends on what He sees in the people. This gives the people the time and opportunity to show that they truly want to humble themselves.
7 - 11 The Tent Outside the Camp
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. 8 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. 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.
During this deliberation of God, Moses acts in the power of faith. God does not give Moses a command, but in the right judgment of the situation he takes a tent and pitch it outside the camp. In faith he gives it the name “tent of meeting”.
Moses knows the condition of the people and he knows the heart of God. God can no longer dwell in the camp. But He desires to dwell with His people. Faith gives Moses insight to meet this desire according to the demand of holiness that goes with it. If God can no longer dwell in the camp, a tent can be set up outside the camp. And for all who have the same desire as God and Moses, the way to the tent of meeting is open.
God recognizes that place by attaching to it the visible sign of His presence. When Moses goes to the tent, many look at him, but do not go with him. It is the same today. Everyone who seeks the Lord goes out of the camp. By going out, Moses condemns the camp. Where the golden calf is served, the faithful cannot abide.
The same applies later on to the faithful Hebrews because of Israel’s rejection of the Lord Jesus. In the religious Jewish system that has cast out their Savior, they can no longer remain. They must leave the camp (Heb 13:13). It is the place of separation from evil. The camp is where there is great emphasis on outward things and a mediating priesthood is maintained, but where there is no place for the Christ of the Scriptures. Where the characteristics of the camp are seen, the task today is to go out to Him.
This is the place where a special fellowship with God is experienced. Yet it is only a few who look for this place, while turning their backs on the camp. Joshua, a young man, is such a person. He will later be able to be used by God in a special way.
12 - 17 The LORD Must Go with Them
12 Then 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.” 14 And He said, “My presence shall go [with you], and I will give you rest.” 15 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?” 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.”
Moses again pleads for the people. There is never a better basis to plea for others than to take the place of separation from evil. This position places him in the presence of God and therefore gives him an even closer connection with the people. This is the result of separation sought to be faithful and where only the glory of God is the motive that leads to that separation.
Moses is not content with an angel to go out for them. He wants the LORD to go with him. He appeals to what God has said to him: that He knows him by name and that he has found grace. These are two things with a special meaning:
1. the LORD has a personal relationship with Moses and
2. Moses recognizes that that relationship is based on grace.
On that basis he approaches God. Moses does not want to know only the way that will lead him and the people to the promised land. He wants to know the way of God. He reminds God that it is about His people. Taking the place of separation is done personally, but you are only there in the right way if you have the whole people of God in your heart and bring it in intercession for God. Moses brings up the people. He asks God “do not lead us up from here”. At the same time He appeals to God’s grace. He asks Him to proof it by “Your going with us”.
God answers that He will do what Moses has asked. He Himself will go along and give rest to Moses. Where God is present, there is rest.
18 - 23 A Place by the LORD
18 Then Moses said, “I pray You, show me Your glory!” 19 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!” 21 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. 23 Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen.”
Moses has not finished asking questions yet. He has assured himself of God’s presence for the way he must go. There is rest. From that rest he now asks to see the glory of the LORD. This goes beyond asking for His way. Going the way of and with God is the way that gives sight of the glory of God. Seeing God’s glory is also more than what he saw on Mount Sinai of God. There he saw the holiness of God.
God tells him that he will see His glory. Moses asks, “Show me Your glory!” The LORD answers that He will show all His goodness. God’s goodness is His glory. He wants us to know Him by the glory of His grace, more than by the glory of His majesty. The prophet Hosea speaks of a time when the Israelites will “come trembling to the LORD and to His goodness” (Hos 3:5).
The special thing about the glory of God’s goodness is its free power. We see this free power in it, that He will be gracious to whom He will be gracious. He is the sovereign Owner of every human being and completely free to make distinctions in granting His grace. Nowhere do we read that He says “I will be angry with whom I will be angry,” for His anger is always righteous and holy. He never dedicates to judgment, because judgment is something man makes himself worthy of.
Paul quotes what God here says of Himself to Moses in response to those who accuse God of injustice. They find it unjust that He gives His grace to some, while righteously remitting that grace to others (Rom 9:15,18).
Yet Moses does not get to see the glory of the LORD in full, but only a part of it, and standing on the rock in the cleft of the rock. In the Old Testament, God’s glory can only be seen in a limited way. At that time God cannot yet show what He did show in Christ later on. In Him God’s righteousness and God’s love have become perfectly visible. Christ can say: “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9).
Moses can only see the glory of God if He has passed him by. We can only see the glory of God when He has gone His way. We also see that in Christ. We look back at a completed work on the cross where the perfect revelation of God as light and love has become visible.