Exodus 33+34

Introduction

The Lord has delivered his people from their captivity in Egypt; and he brought them to Mount Sinai where he made a covenant with them; but they very quickly turned from the Lord and broke the first and second commandments by worshipping a golden calf. Moses prayed to the Lord, asking the Lord to withhold his anger to refrain from destroying them. And though the Lord punished some of them, he did not destroy all of them, even though that is what they deserved. So, that’s where we’ve got to in the book of Exodus. Today we turn our attention to chapters 33 and 34.

Chapter 33

And the main lesson from chapter 33 is that the Lord always provides his people with someone to intercede for them.

The chapter begins with the Lord telling Moses that it was time to leave Mount Sinai and to go on their journey to the Promised Land, to the land he promised to Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and their descendants. So, here we have more evidence of the Lord’s willingness to pardon his people: instead of destroying them in the desert, he’s willing to pardon their sins and to bring them to the Promised Land as he said he would. And the Lord promised to send his angel before them to drive out the Canaanites and all the other nations who were living in the land at that time. This angel would drive out the nations so that they would be able to take over the land.

As an aside: let me remind you that this was not an act of aggression. God driving out the nations from the land of Canaan was not an act of aggression or terrorism or genocide. That’s what some people think when they read about what God did to the Canaanites. That’s what they think when they read of all the other Old Testament wars. However, it wasn’t an act of aggression, but of justice. The Lord was going to use the Israelites to punish the Canaanites for their sin. He had been very patient with them, giving them hundreds of years to change their ways. But they remained stubborn and rebellious; and so, in the end, the Lord sent the Israelites to punish them by driving them out of the land. And, of course, many years later, the Lord would do the same to the Israelites: because of their sin and rebellion, God sent the Babylonians to drive them out of the land. So, when God revealed to Moses that he would drive out the nations, we’re not to think of this as an act of terrorism or genocide, but of justice; God drove them out because of their sin and rebellion.

Anyway, back to chapter 33: the Lord assured Moses that Canaan was a land of plenty, flowing with milk and honey, a land like the Garden of Eden where they would have all they wanted. However, the Lord also announced in verse 3 that he would not go with them in their midst. His angel would go with them, but he would not go with them in their midst, because they were a stiff-necked people who were unwilling to yield themselves to him and to his law. And since they were so stiff-necked and unwilling to yield to him, his anger might burn against them and they would be destroyed because of their sin and rebellion.

Now remember: the Lord had given Moses all those plans for constructing the Tabernacle, which was meant to be God’s tent, so that the Lord would dwell among his people. He had given Moses all those instructions about what the Tabernacle should look like and how to make it and what to put in it. The Lord had wanted to live in their presence and to go with them. That was his intention. But now, since they had broken the covenant by bowing down to the golden calf, and since they were stiff-necked and obstinate, he would no longer go with them in their midst or dwell in their presence.

However, the Lord was not going to abandon them completely. He’s still gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love; and he doesn’t deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. And so, although he wasn’t going to live in the midst, in the Tabernacle, he was going to meet with Moses in a tent outside the camp. And so, we read in verses 7 to 11, how Moses would pitch this tent of meeting. And the people would watch as Moses entered the tent; and then the pillar of cloud, representing God’s presence, would come down and stay at the entrance to the tent. And the Lord would speak to Moses ‘face to face’. Now, the Lord doesn’t have a face like us; nor does he possess a body like ours. ‘Face to face’ is an expression which conveys the idea that this was an intimate, personal encounter. Whereas the rest of the Israelites had to remain at a distance, Moses enjoyed an up close and personal relationship with the Lord.

And from verse 12 to the end of the chapter, we see Moses interceding on behalf of the people. And, in particular, he appealed to God to go with his people. So, in verse 12 he said:

You have been telling me to lead these people. But you haven’t let me know whom you will send with me. Who will go with us to protect us and to guide us and to help us on the way to the Promised Land? And at the end of verse 13 he reminds the Lord that this nation is your people. You know: they’re you’re people; therefore you’re responsible for them. And the Lord replied in verse 14 and said:

My Presence will go with you and I will give you rest.

So, earlier in the chapter, the Lord had said he will not go with them; instead he’d send his angel to lead them. But now, as a result of Moses’s intercession, the Lord agreed that he himself will go with them. His Presence will go with them and he will lead them to the promised rest in the Promised Land.

But Moses hasn’t finished. He continues to appeal to the Lord and to make clear just how necessary and vital it is for the Lord to be with them personally. So, he says in verse 15 that they’d be better off staying where they are if God doesn’t agree to go with them. After all, if God doesn’t go with them, then how will anyone know that the Lord is pleased with them? What else will distinguish them and make them stand out from the other nations than this one glorious truth that the Lord is with them to help them and to protect them. Without the Lord’s presence, they’re just like any other nation: on their own in a difficult and dangerous world. But what a difference it will make if the Lord is with them, because then the other nations will know it.

And, of course, if the nations know the Lord is with them, then they’ll be afraid to attack Israel, won’t they? Just think of what it was like when the Israelites reached the city of Jericho? Do you remember from the book of Joshua? The people of Jericho were terrified when they saw the Israelites; their hearts melted within them for fear, because they knew the Lord was with them and would help them.

And so, Moses pleaded with the Lord once more. And once more the Lord listened to Moses and agreed in verse 17 to do the very thing Moses asked of him, because the Lord was pleased with Moses and knew him personally by name.

Application

Back in chapter 32, the Lord was angry with the people and he was prepared to destroy them all and to make Moses into a great nation in their place. But Moses interceded for the people and the Lord listened to him and he turned from his great anger and was merciful to them and he did not destroy them. In this chapter, the Lord was going to separate himself from them. Instead of dwelling in their midst in the Tabernacle, he was going to send an angel in his place. But Moses interceded for the people and the Lord listened to him and he agreed that his Presence would remain with them and he would lead them and guide them to the promised rest in the Promised Land.

The Lord always provides his people with someone to intercede for them and to appeal to him on their behalf. In the days of the Exodus, he sent them Moses to intercede for them. In other books of the Old Testament, we see Samuel and the other prophets, appealing to the Lord on behalf of his people. And, of course, this is something we’re able to do ourselves for one another. Every believer is able to come in the name of the Lord Jesus to God the Father in heaven in order to pray for each other, asking the Lord to send us the help we need and to uphold us and to help us everyday so that we’re able to stand firm and remain faithful and to overcome whatever trials and sorrows we face.

That’s why we have our prayers of intercession in church on Sundays. And that’s why we have the congregational prayer meeting, because it’s an occasion when the whole congregation can gather together to pray for one another and for the Lord’s people around the world. We can come to our Heavenly Father, and pray to him in the name of the Lord Jesus, who has opened up the way for sinners to come before God in prayer. Whereas the Israelites had to remain at a distance, and only Moses could come up close and personal to the Lord, every believer is able to come through Christ to God in prayer. And we may speak to him personally, because for the sake of Christ our Lord, God has become our Heavenly Father, and we, his children, can call out to him for one another.

But, of course, not only can we intercede for one another, but we have the Lord Jesus Christ as our Great Intercessor, for he now lives to intercede for his people. Every moment of every day, he presents himself before the Father as the one who has paid for our sins in full, so that we might receive the forgiveness we need and every other help we need.

And, of course, he’s so much greater than Moses ever was. At the end of chapter 33, we read how Moses asked to see God’s glory. And the Lord agreed to show him his goodness, but you can’t see my face, the Lord said. In other words, you can’t see me directly, because no sinner can see me like that and live. The experience of standing before the presence of this almighty, all-holy God would overwhelm and destroy Moses. So, even in the tent of meeting, when Moses was up close and personal with the Lord, he couldn’t have seen the full glory of the Lord. But the Lord Jesus Christ, who intercedes for us, is able to come right before his Father in heaven and stand before his throne in heaven. He’s able to see God in all his glory, because, of course, he himself is God. And there he stands on our behalf, the Son of God, our Saviour, who loves us and who gave up his life for us, and who was raised from the dead to live eternally. And now he lives to intercede for us.

And so, we need never worry that God will condemn us for our many sins, because the Lord Jesus Christ is there, in heaven, presenting himself to God as the one who has paid for our sins in full. And we need never worry about what people might do to us or how we’re going to cope with this life’s troubles, because the Lord Jesus Christ is there, in heaven, appealing to the Father to give us the help we need. The Lord always provides his people with someone to intercede for them. He provided the Israelites with Moses. He calls us to intercede for one another in the name of the Lord Jesus. And above all, there’s the Lord Jesus himself who lives and intercedes for us all.

Chapter 34

Let’s move on now to chapter 34. And the lesson of this chapter is that the Lord always provides his people with a mediator. What’s a mediator? A mediator is the person who brings together two parties in order to reconcile them and to make peace between them. And in chapter 34 we see how the Lord appointed Moses to this important role.

And so we read in verses 1 to 4 how the Lord instructed Moses to chisel out two stones tablets. Do you remember? Since the Israelites had broken the covenant with God by worshipping the golden calf, Moses had broken in pieces the first two stones tablets which the Lord had provided. However the Lord was now willing to renew the covenant with his people. And so, they needed new tablets, because the two tablets were used to display the Ten Commandments, which were the terms of agreement between them.

And after Moses chiselled out the tablets, he once against went up to the top of Mount Sinai where the Lord met him in the glory-cloud. And first of all, the Lord passed in front of Moses and revealed to him all of his goodness. And really, this is the fulfilment of Moses’s request at the end of chapter 33. Moses asked to see the Lord’s glory; the Lord replied that he would show him his goodness. And now, at the top of Mount Sinai, the Lord showed him his goodness, by making clear to Moses that the Lord is compassionate and gracious and slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness. Being compassionate, he cares for us. Being gracious, he’s kind towards us even though we don’t deserve it. Being slow to anger, he’s patient with us. And since he’s abounding in love and faithfulness, we can always trust in him to be faithful to his people. And look: he maintains his love to thousands of generations; and he’s always willing to forgive our wickedness and our rebellion and our sin. So, when we repent and confess our sins, he pardons us. But when people refuse to repent and when they do not confess their sins, he will not ignore their sins, but he will punish them and their children.

We sometimes wonder why God will punish the children for the sins of their parents. However, in those days, several generations in a family would live together; and presumably the Lord is speaking of those occasions when everyone in the family home was guilty of the same sins. And so, since they all were guilty of the same sins, they were all liable to the same punishment, if they did not repent.

So, the Lord spoke to Moses and revealed to him his goodness. And then in verse 9, Moses once again asked the Lord to forgive them and to go with them on the way; and to regard them as his inheritance, his special treasure. So, here’s Moses, speaking up on behalf of the people. And in verse 10 the Lord replied that yes, he will renew the covenant with them. Though they broke it because of their rebellion, he will forgive them and commit himself to them.

And in the verses which follow, he makes clear what he will do for them: he’ll drive out the nations from the land so that they can take possession of it. And then he gives them a sample of all the laws and regulations which make up this covenant between them. So, they’re not to make a covenant with any of the nations in the land, because that would only lead them into false worship. And they’re not to let their daughters marry the sons of any of the nations in the land, because that too would lead them into false worship. And they’re to be careful to worship the Lord only; they’re to celebrate the annual feasts; they’re to offer the necessary sacrifices; and they’re to remember to keep the Sabbath Day holy, even during the ploughing and harvest seasons of the year.

And so, the Lord set before Moses a sample of some of his laws and regulations which made up this covenant between them. And in verse 27, the Lord commanded Moses to write down these words, because these were the terms of their agreement.

And then, in verse 29, we read how Moses went down the mountain. And, because he’d been in the presence of the Lord, his face had become radiant. And so, the people were afraid to come near him. But when he called them, they came to him and he spoke to them and he gave them all the commands of the Lord. And so, the covenant which they had broken was renewed. The Lord will go with them and will lead them to the Promised Land. He will drive away the nations and give the land to them, a land flowing with milk and honey, a land like the Garden of Eden. The Lord will do all that for them. They in return will obey the Lord and will love, trust and worship him only.

And Moses was their mediator, the one who appeared before the Lord on behalf of the people; and the one who appeared before the people on behalf of the Lord. When he appeared before the Lord, he received from the Lord the terms of the covenant. When he appeared before the people, he passed on to them everything the Lord had said. He was their mediator, the one who was able to bring them together in order to reconcile them and to make peace between them. So, for a time, the Lord was angry with the people and he wanted to destroy them. But Moses persuaded the Lord not to destroy them. For a time, the people were rebellious and they turned from the Lord. But Moses persuaded the people to return to the Lord. And so, he brought them together and once again there was peace between them.

Application

The Lord always provides his people with a mediator. In the days of the Exodus, he provided them with Moses. But now he has provided us with his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the one true mediator between God and his people. By his death on the cross, he has paid for all our sins and has therefore made a lasting peace between us for ever. Like the Israelites, we’re sinners who sin continually against the Lord. We deserve to be condemned and punished for ever. But the Lord Jesus Christ loved us and gave up his life as a ransom to pay for all our sins. By his death, he was removed our guilt from us; and he has satisfied the justice of God which stood against us; and through faith in Jesus Christ, we’re pardoned for all that we have done wrong and we’re reconciled to God in heaven. So, he is our mediator, the mediator of a new and better and lasting covenant by which God promises to forgive our wickedness and to remember our sin no more for the sake of Christ who died to bring us to God.

And so, if Jesus Christ is your Saviour, if you trust in him as the only true mediator between God and sinners, then you can rejoice because he has made peace between God and sinners forever. God’s justice has been satisfied forever; his wrath has now been put away from us; and we need never fear the Day of Judgment, because Christ has paid for our sins in full; and instead we can look forward to his coming, when at last, our mediator will be able to bring us before the Father in heaven and we can live with him for ever and without fear.

The glory

But there’s one last thing to notice this evening. When Moses came down from the mountain, his face was radiant, because he’d been in the presence of the Lord. Then, when he had finished speaking to the people, he put a veil over his face. That became his routine practice during those years of wandering in the wilderness.

Why did he put the veil over his face? We might assume he did it because it was frightening. You know: the people were afraid of the radiance; and so, in order to shield them from it, he covered it up. However, that’s not the reason. The Apostle Paul tells us what the real reason was. In 2 Corinthians 3 he explains that the reason Moses covered his face was because the radiance on his face was fading away. When he came out of the presence of the Lord, his face radiated with the likeness God’s glory. And it was wonderful. But he didn’t want them to see how this radiant glory faded away over time. So, he covered up his face until the next time he went into the presence of the Lord. This is how Paul puts it; he said:

[Moses] would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away.

The radiance on Moses’s face — his likeness to God — diminished over time. However, says Paul, we who believe in Christ are being transformed into the likeness of Christ with ever-increasing glory. The likeness to God in Moses faded over time; the likeness to God in us grows stronger over time. It’s not less and less, as it was for Moses, but it’s more and more. It’s not an ever-decreasing glory in us, but an ever-increasing glory. The likeness to God in Moses faded over time; the likeness to God in the believer grows stronger over time.

And this is true because the Lord Jesus has given us his Spirit to fill us. And so, as we believe what we hear in church about Jesus Christ who loved us and who gave up his life for us, and as we pray to God for his help to resist sin and temptation, and as we make use of all the means of grace which God has provided to help us, the Holy Spirit works in us to transform us more and more into the likeness of our glorious Saviour, so that more and more we become like him in holiness and obedience. And that, of course, is God’s aim: his great plan is for us to become holy and obedient like his Son. And by his Spirit, he works in us throughout our lives to renew us in Christ’s glorious likeness. And then, ultimately, he’ll glorify us in his presence and make us perfect for ever.

The likeness to God in Moses faded over time; but the likeness to Christ in us who believe will only increase over time, until at last we’re brought into his presence and we’ll be like him for ever.