3 May 2012

Exodus 33:1-23

"Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. Then he would return to the camp; but his young assistant, Joshua son of Nun, would not leave the tent." (v. 11)


Today's story continues from the one we read yesterday. The relationship between God and Israel is in crisis after Israel made and worshipped a golden calf. But now they face a new threat - they can have the Promised Land of which they have dreamed, but God will not go with them (verse 3).

The ornaments that the people first refuse to wear (verse 4) and then strip off (verse 6) have a special significance. When the Israelites left Egypt they took with them gold and silver jewellery that the Egyptians gave them (Exodus 12:35-36). Aaron made the golden calf out of gold jewellery (Exodus 32:2). The implication seems to be that now the ornaments themselves are a problem; perhaps the story is saying that having plundered the Egyptians, now the people should show their repentance by doing the same thing to themselves.

But if the first half of the story is one where God's absence is threatened and the people repent, the second half leads up to one of the great biblical encounters with God. It is noticeable that verse 11 already assures us that God speaks to Moses intimately - somehow now Moses is to see even more of God. We are asked to reflect on the idea that to see God's glory is greater even than an experience of speaking to God face to face.

In the conversation in verses 12-16 we see again that Moses is at a point of crisis and that the crisis can only be met if he knows God and knows God's ways. Moses also continues to pray not only for himself but for all the people of Israel; without God's presence they will be nothing and there is no point going any further.

When Moses prays "show me your glory" (v. 18), Yahweh responds with the promise of a proclamation which will say something about what God is like. Moses has prayed to see, he promised that he will hear the voice of God, learn more about who God is, but to see God directly would be more than he could bear.

To Ponder

  • Moses is very direct in his prayer - what does this have anything to teach us?
  • Moses asks to see God's glory, but is promised only that he will hear God's voice and see God's back. Do you see any significance in this? What?

Bible notes author

The Revd Judith Rossall

Judith Rossall is a Methodist tutor at Queen's Foundation in Birmingham. Before moving to Queen's, she was a circuit minister and taught at STETS in Salisbury.