The sorrow of the people over their sins. — V.1. And the Lord said unto Moses, Depart, and go up hence, thou and the people which thou hast brought up out of the land of Egypt, unto the land which I sware unto Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, Unto thy seed will I give it. The intercession of Moses in behalf of the children of Israel had been successful: the Lord, in accordance with the promise given to the patriarchs, did not destroy the people, did not even withdraw the special Messianic feature of the promise, although His pardon, for the present, was limited. V.2. And I will send an angel before thee, cp. chap. 32, 34; and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite: v.3. unto a land flowing with milk and honey, distinguished for its extraordinary fruitfulness; for I will not go up in the midst of thee; for thou art a stiff-necked people; lest I consume thee in the way. Because they had shown themselves a people with a rigid neck, chap. 32, 9, as incorrigible as a stubborn draught-animal, therefore the Lord, for the time being, withdrew His presence from their midst. His purpose was to lead the people to a proper estimate of their guilt and thus to full repentance; for as it was, their willful transgressions continually challenged destruction. This announcement had the desired effect. V.4. And when the people heard these evil tidings, they mourned, they showed their deep sorrow by putting on the garments of mourning; and no man did put on him his ornaments. The repentance was general and sincere. V.5. For the Lord had said unto Moses, Say unto the children of Israel, Ye are a stiff-necked people: I will come up into the midst of thee in a moment and consume thee; that had been the Lord’s intention when His anger first flared up, chap. 32, 10; therefore now put off thy ornaments from thee, that I may know what to do unto thee. The Lord demanded this evidence of sincere repentance; for if they had refused and He had appeared in their midst for as much as a moment, their total destruction would have resulted. V.6. And the children of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments by the Mount Horeb. From this time on, from Mount Horeb onwards, the children of Israel discarded rings, bracelets, and all other jewelry, as in a period of mourning, to remind themselves always of the guilt which they had loaded upon themselves through similar ornaments at Mount Horeb. V.7. And Moses took the tabernacle, his own tent, and pitched it without the camp, afar off from the camp, and called it the Tabernacle of the Congregation, the “tent of meeting.” Until matters were adjusted between the Lord and the people and the building of the Sanctuary could be undertaken, his own tent had to serve the purpose. The people were to become more deeply conscious of their guilt and of their separation from Jehovah, and yet Moses wanted to keep the way open for the renewal of the covenant, by giving the people an opportunity to keep in touch with Jehovah. And it came to pass that everyone which sought the Lord went out unto the Tabernacle of the Congregation which was without the camp. This was the first step in bringing the penitent people to a new life, that individuals went out to consult with Jehovah, instead of following their own ideas and opinions. V.8. And it came to pass, when Moses went out unto the Tabernacle, that all the people rose up, and stood every man at his tent door and looked after Moses until he was gone into the Tabernacle. This was a second sign of repentance, the expression of reverence with which the people accompanied the going of Moses into the tent of meeting. V.9. And it came to pass, as Moses entered into the Tabernacle, the cloudy pillar, which served to show the way by day, descended and stood at the door of the Tabernacle; and the Lord, who was present in the pillar, talked with Moses. V.10. And all the people saw the cloudy pillar stand at the Tabernacle door, in the place which was afterward occupied by the altar of burnt offering. And all the people rose up and worshiped, every man in his tent door. That was the third proof of their sincerity and of their desire to enter into the former relations with Jehovah once more. V.11. And the Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend. It was not a communicating from a distance, nor through any mediating person or agency, but the perfect intercourse of God with the friend of God, although not in the full revelation of His glory. And he (Moses) turned again into the camp, after having communicated with God; but his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, departed not out of the Tabernacle. To him, as an unmarried man, was entrusted the care of the Sanctuary by day and by night. We learn here that unfaithfulness, idolatry, excludes a person from the intercourse, from the fellowship with God, and that it is the will of God that all transgressors should turn to Him in sincere and earnest repentance.
The Lord promises his gracious presence. — V.12. And Moses said unto the Lord, See, Thou sayest unto me, Bring up this people; and Thou hast not let me know whom Thou wilt send with me. The people having given such unmistakable evidences of a real change of heart, Moses thought the time opportune to intercede once more and, if possible, to have the mercy of the Lord turn back to His people, as of old. Yet Thou hast said, I know thee by name, and thou hast also found grace in My sight. Upon this promise Moses bases his assurance in making his plea, just as we Christians come before Him with all boldness, trusting in the grace belonging to us in Christ Jesus. V.13. Now, therefore, I pray Thee, if I have found grace in Thy sight, show me now Thy way that I may know Thee, that I may find grace in Thy sight; and consider that this nation is Thy people. Moses wanted to know how the Lord intended to lead His people, what intentions He had with regard to their further journey, just in what way the Angel of the Lord would assume the leadership, incidentally reminding the Lord that the children of Israel were His people, His commonwealth. By the granting of this prayer the fact of his having found mercy in God’s sight would be confirmed. V.14. And he said, My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest. The face of Jehovah, the Angel of the Presence, the Son of God Himself, was to be the Leader of the people. Under His leadership the people were to reach the Land of Promise and there settle down to a life of peace and plenty, Deut. 3, 20. Thus the Lord heard the prayer of His servant. V.15. And he said unto Him, If Thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence. It would be better to remain in the wilderness, to die in the desert, than to attempt a continuance of the journey without the presence of Jehovah. V.16. For wherein shall it be known here that I and Thy people have found grace in Thy sight? Is it not in that Thou goest with us? The presence of the Lord would be a sign, a guarantee, to Moses and the people that the Lord had really forgiven their great sin and turned back to them in mercy. So shall we be separated, I and Thy people, from all the people that are upon the face of the earth. The visible guidance of God would be a sign to all men that Israel was the nation of God’s choice. V.17. And the Lord said unto Moses, I will do this thing also that thou hast spoken; for thou hast found grace in My sight, and I know thee by name. The boldness of faith shown by Moses vanquished even the Lord, and He yielded to this request, because He cherished Moses with an extraordinary love. V.18. And he said, I beseech Thee, show me Thy glory. The success of Moses made him so bold that he desired to see the revelation of God in the totality of His attributes, as Isaiah saw it in the vision, chap. 6. V.19. And he said, I will make all My goodness pass before thee, He would reveal Himself in the greatness of His excellence, and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee, He would call out, explain to Him, Jehovah’s name; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. The entire revelation, as promised to Moses, was an act of God’s free grace and mercy, upon which no man, not even Moses, could lay claim. V.20. And He said, Thou canst not see My face, Moses could not endure to look upon the full revelation of God’s glory; for there shall no man see Me and live. No mortal, sinful man could survive a glance into the face of the holy God. It is only after we have become partakers of the divine nature, 2 Pet. 1, 4, and have entered into the state of glorification, Phil. 3, 21, that we shall see Him face to face, as He is, 1 John 3, 2. V.21. And the Lord said, Behold, there is a place by Me, and thou shalt stand upon a rock; v.22. and it shall come to pass, while My glory passeth by, that I will put thee in a clift of the rock, and will cover thee with My hand while I pass by; v.23. and I will take away Mine hand, and thou shalt see My back parts; but My face shall not be seen. While standing in the cave or in the cleft of the rock, under the protecting power of the Lord, Moses was to see the afterglow, the reflection, of the Lord’s glory, which would enable him to form some conception of the surpassing beauty and excellence of the divine majesty, as he would see it later, in the life of glorification. For us Christians it is a matter of great comfort that the Son of God, our Savior Jesus Christ, protects us from wrath and judgment, and will finally bring us to the home above, where we shall see His glory, world without end.