20 November 2014

Exodus 33:1-11

“Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend.” (v. 11a)


At the end of chapter 32 Moses destroyed the golden calf, rebuked Aaron and ended the rioting in the camp by means of a warning-massacre of 3,000 people and then pleaded with God to forgive God's own people. God agreed to continue to accompany the people to the land which they had been promised, but promised to punish the people in due time and sent a plague on the people.

In today's passage God reiterated the promise to give the people a land of their own. As slaves they had no access to the produce of the land, but were dependent on what the Egyptians would give or sell to them; as landowners they would have food security and be able to provide not only for themselves but for the vulnerable in the community. The image of a land flowing with milk and honey, suggests that there will be both rich pasture for livestock and fertile land for cultivating fruits and grains. Despite their arrogance, the people were not abandoned by God.

There was, however, a new distance in the relationship. God would no longer guide them with God's own presence in pillars of cloud and fire, but send an angel to guide them instead. It was because of their arrogance that the presence of God would endanger them. Israel had now lost her uniqueness as the people whose God dwells in her very midst - the "tent of meeting" (v. 7) had to be pitched outside the camp, as God now keeps a distance. The "tent of meeting" is an early form of the tabernacle commanded by God for worship - Moses has not yet had the opportunity to construct the elaborate structure dictated by God on the mountain-top.

By contrast, Moses himself is allowed an extraordinary degree of intimacy with God, meeting with him "face to face, as one speaks to a friend". To be a 'friend' of God is remarkable in the Old Testament, but Jesus promised to call his disciples his friends (John 15:14-15), and made it possible for all who follow him to have the same kind of intimacy with God as Moses had.

To Ponder

  • Do you ever find that reliance on your own resources prevents you from being close to God? What might you need to do to overcome this?
  • Jesus said, "You are my friends if you do what I command you … I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father" (John 15:14-15). What does it mean, in practice, to be a 'friend' of God?

Bible notes author

The Revd Anna Bishop

Anna Bishop is a wife, mother and Methodist presbyter. She is currently without appointment while her two small children teach her a spirituality of interruption! She is living in the Salisbury circuit, where she leads Baby-interrupted Bible Study and Little Blessings, a service of worship for babies, toddlers, pre-school children and their carers.