Home  |  Old Testament Studies  |  Exodus Table of Contents  |  Previous Section   |  Next Section  |



The Journey Resumed The Command to Leave Sinai The Lord's Guidance The Lord Orders Israel to Leave Mount Sinai The Israelites Ordered to Depart
33:1-3 33:1-6 33:1-3 33:1-3 33:1-4
33:4-6 33:4-6 33:4-6
Moses Meets With the Lord The Tent of the Lord's Presence 33:5-6
The Tent
33:7-11 33:7-11 33:7-11 33:7-11 33:7-11
Moses Intercedes The Promise of God's Presence The Lord Promises to be With His People Moses Prays
33:12-16 33:12-16 33:12-16 33:12-13 33:12-17
33:17-23 33:17-23 33:17-23 33:17 Moses on the Mountain
33:18 33:18-23

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Bible Interpretation Seminar")

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.
  1. First paragraph
  2. Second paragraph
  3. Etc.


  1. This chapter begins Israel's movement from Mt. Sinai to Canaan.

  2. Moses' special relationship with YHWH is highlighted.

  3. Because Israel is obstinate, YHWH struggles how to remain with them personally. Again Moses'intercession is crucial and YHWH remains.
    YHWH remaining set the literary stage for the renewal of the covenant (i.e., rewriting and re-giving of the Ten Commandments (i.e., Exod. 34:1-9).

  4. Moses' request to behold YHWH physically shows the ongoing need of humans to visualize Deity! YHWH again grants Moses' request in a limited fashion.


1Then 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.' 2I will send an angel before you and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite. 3Go 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."

33:1 "Depart, go up from here" This phrase has two IMPERATIVES.

  1. "depart" (lit. "go" or "walk") - BDB 229, KB 246, Qal IMPERATIVE
  2. "go up" - BDB 748, KB 828, Qal IMPERATIVE; this VERB is used several times in this chapter
    1. "brought" - Hiphil PERFECT, Exod. 33:1
    2. "go up" - Qal IMPERFECT, Exod. 33:3
    3. "go up" - Qal IMPERFECT, Exod. 33:5
    4. "bring up" - Hiphil IMPERATIVE, Exod. 33:12
    5. "go" - Hiphil IMPERFECT used in a JUSSIVE sense, Exod. 33:15

▣ "from here" They had been on Mt. Sinai for an extended period of time (compare Exod. 19:1 with Num. 10:11-12). Now they were to begin their trek to Canaan (i.e., Gen. 15:12-21).

▣ "the people whom you have brought" This is not meant to imply that YHWH was not the impetus or power behind the exodus (cf. Exod. 32:7).

▣ "to the land I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob" This is a recurrent theme (cf. Gen. 15:18-21; 17:8; 26:3; 28:4,13; 35:12; 48:6,16,21-22; Exod. 3:6,7; 6:8; 13:5; 23:23,28-33; 31:1-3; 34:11; Num. 34:29; Deut. 1:17-18; 3:21; 7:16,19; 9:1-3; 11:23-25; 31:3-8; Jos. 1:2-5). See SPECIAL TOPIC: COVENANT PROMISES TO PATRIARCHS.

33:2 "I will send an angel before you" This personal representative of YHWH (see SPECIAL TOPIC: THE ANGEL OF THE Lord) appears several times.

  1. at the burning bush - Exod. 3:2
  2. at the Red Sea - Exod. 14:19
  3. as a protector and guide - Exod. 23:20,23; 32:34; 33:2
This angel may be the pre-incarnate Christ. See SPECIAL TOPIC: THE TRINITY for the places in the OT where the Spirit and the Angel seem to be divine but separate from YHWH.

▣ "I will drive out" This VERB (BDB 176, KB 204, Piel PERFECT with waw) is mentioned in Exod. 23:27-33. This is predicted in Gen. 15:12-21. YHWH gave these people time to repent but they did not/could not. When Israel also becomes involved in fertility worship, she is removed from God's land (i.e., Assyrian and Babylonian exiles). The covenant promise of a land is conditional (see SPECIAL TOPIC: COVENANT).

▣ "the Canaanite, the Amorite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite" See SPECIAL TOPIC: PRE-ISRAELITE INHABITANTS OF PALESTINE.

33:3 "a land flowing with milk and honey" See note at Exod. 3:8.

▣ "for I will not go up in your midst" This was a shocking statement. It becomes the focus of Moses' intercession in Exod. 33:12-16. YHWH still cares for them ("you" is a COLLECTIVE SINGULAR, cf. Exod. 33:5), but because of their faithlessness (i.e., Exodus 32) He will send His angel.
The exodus, wilderness wandering period, and the conquest were tests of the true character of both YHWH and Israel. They were faithless; He was faithful. God's character (cf. Exod. 34:6-7) is sure and unchanging (cf. Mal. 3:6); see SPECIAL TOPIC: CHARACTERISTICS OF ISRAEL'S GOD (OT).

▣ "an obstinate people" See note at Exod. 32:9.

4When the people heard this sad word, they went into mourning, and none of them put on his ornaments. 5For 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.'" 6So the sons of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments, from Mount Horeb onward.

33:4 The people were sad because of

  1. YHWH's judgment on their rebellion with the calf (note Num. 14:39, related to another lack of faith)
  2. YHWH's statement that He Himself would no longer be in their midst and travel with them

33:5-6 This removal of ornaments was a sign of repentance and contrition.
It is in vogue today, in some quarters, to take the last part of this verse as a theological statement about God's decision-making process. He does not foreknow or predestine (i.e., "Process Thought," or "Open Theism"). These theologians take questions, such as Gen. 3:9, and turn the imagery (i.e., anthropomorphism) into theology or use Gen. 22:12 as a proof that God does not know the future choices of human creatures. I prefer "classical theism," where the omniscience of Deity is affirmed (see Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed., pp. 304-308).
Exodus 33:6 looks like an editorial comment, which denotes the 38 years of wilderness wanderings. The ear rings of gold must not remind YHWH of the golden calf!

33:6 "Mount Horeb" This is another name for Mt. Sinai (cf. Exod. 3:1). Horeb (BDB 352, KB 350) is a Semitic word for "desert," "waste land." Some scholars think it refers to a dry mountain range, while Sinai (BDB 696, cf. Exod. 16:1; 19:1) is the highest peak. This is speculation.
Sinai is related to a desert bush. There is a wilderness in the southern area called "The Wilderness of Sin" (BDB 695 II, cf. Exod. 16:1; 17:1; Num. 33:11,12). See SPECIAL TOPIC: THE LOCATION OF MT. SINAI.

7Now 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. 8And 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. 9Whenever 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. 10When 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. 11Thus 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.

33:7-11 "the tent" This is separate from the tabernacle described in Exodus 25-30, which is in the midst of the camp (cf. Num. 2:2; see SPECIAL TOPIC: TABERNACLE OF THE WILDERNESS). Later in this verse it is called by the fuller title "the tent of meeting" (this becomes the name of the tabernacle in Exod. 27:21; Num. 4:3). It was the place where YHWH and Moses communicated "face to face" (Exod. 33:11; Num. 12:8; Deut. 34:10) after Mt. Sinai (cf. Num. 11:16,24-26; 12:4). It may have originally been Moses' personal tent, but no longer.
Its position outside the camp was because of its holiness and Israel's sin with the golden calf. Access was limited to Moses alone at this point (i.e., no priest). Joshua guarded it (Exod. 33:11).
If anyone of the people had a question or issue they could approach the tent and seek Moses' counsel (cf. Exod. 33:7).
The people honored its presence by these actions:

  1. "arise" - BDB 877, KB 1086, Qal IMPERFECT, Exod. 33:8,10
  2. "stand" - BDB 662, KB 714, Niphal PERFECT with waw, Exod. 33:8
  3. "worship" - BDB 1005, KB 295, Hithpalel PERFECT with waw, Exod. 33:10

33:7 "everyone who sought the Lord" Notice the inclusive term "everyone." What a wonderful aspect of Israel's theocracy (i.e., availability; see SPECIAL TOPIC: YHWH'S ETERNAL REDEMPTIVE PLAN).
The VERB "seek" (BDB 134, KB 152, Piel ACTIVE PARTICIPLE) could denote two things (possibly both).

  1. seek fellowship with YHWH (cf. Deut. 4:29; 1 Chr. 16:10; 2 Chr. 11:16; Isa. 51:1; Jer. 50:4; Hos. 3:5; Zech. 8:21-22)
  2. seek information (cf. Pro. 28:5; Zeph. 1:6). The exodus contexts (Exod. 33:13) fit Moses as judge (i.e., oracle of YHWH). Often in the Psalms (with different phrasing) worshipers ask for God to teach them His ways, truth, will (cf. Ps. 16:11; 25:4; 119:66; 142:8).

33:9 "the pillar of cloud" See notes at Exod. 13:21. It was a physical symbol of the personal presence of YHWH.
It is difficult to distinguish between the tabernacle one, where the pillar stands over the holy of holies (cf. Exod. 40:34-38) and the tent outside the camp, where the pillar comes and goes (cf. Exod. 33:9-11).
I think, although the terminology is not distinct, that their locations and symbolism denote two tents.

12Then 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.' 13Now 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." 14And He said, "My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest." 15Then he said to Him, "If Your presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here. 16For 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?"

33:12-16 Moses is trying to convince YHWH to personally travel with His covenant people, even though they are rebellious.
He approaches this request by:

  1. You told me to bring this people from Egypt to this mountain (cf. Exod. 3:12).
  2. You have not clarified if You (Exod. 3:17) or Your angel (Exod. 32:34) will accompany us.
  3. You have claimed to know me by name (Exod. 3:4-6).
  4. You have said, "I have found favor in Your sight." This is a recurrent prayer (cf. Gen. 18:3; 47:29; 50:4; Exod. 33:13,17).

33:13 "let me know Your ways that I may know You" Notice the VERB "know" occurs twice (BDB 393, KB 390); see SPECIAL TOPIC: KNOW (OT).

  1. Hiphil IMPERATIVE
  2. Qal IMPERFECT used in a COHORTATIVE sense
Moses wants to know YHWH as YHWH knows him. YHWH can be understood and known by His ways (cf. Ps. 25:4; 27:22; 51:13; 86:11; 119:33; see SPECIAL TOPIC: TERMS FOR GOD'S REVELATION). YHWH has revealed Himself through
  1. personal encounter (i.e., the burning bush of Exodus 3)
  2. the plagues and exodus
  3. the ten words and the book of the covenant (Exodus 20-23)
Moses realizes that to find "favor" or "grace" (BDB 336, i.e., Noah, cf. Gen. 6:8; Abraham, cf. Gen. 18:3; 19:19; Moses, cf. Exod. 33:13,17) one must seek YHWH.

▣ "consider" This VERB (BDB 906, KB 1157, Qal IMPERATIVE OF ENTREATY) is literally "see" in the sense of recognize (cf. Exod. 3:7,9; 4:31; Qal IMPERATIVE in Exod. 33:12,13).

▣ "this nation Your people" This is covenant language (cf. Exod. 6:7; 19:5-6; Lev. 26:12).

33:14 YHWH heeds Moses' request. He will personally (i.e., His face, BDB 815, cf. Deut. 4:37; Isa. 63:9; Lam. 4:16) accompany Israel on their journey to Canaan.
The phrase "I will give you rest," refers to entering and dwelling in Canaan (cf. Exod. 3:20; 12:10; Jos. 1:13,15; 21:44; 22:4; 23:1). In the NT book of Hebrews 3-4, this word "rest" has several connotations.

  1. God's rest - Gen. 2:2; Exod. 20:11; 31:17; Heb. 4:4,10
  2. Promised Land - Ps. 95:11; Heb. 3:11; 4:3,5
  3. heaven - Heb. 4:1,8-11 (the rest was still available in David's day, i.e., Psalm 95)
The land of Canaan has taken on a larger significance. This is true of all OT prophecy. See SPECIAL TOPIC: WHY DO OT COVENANT PROMISES SEEM SO DIFFERENT FROM NT COVENANT PROMISES?
The land without God's personal presence (lit. "face") was not the goal. The theological goal is fellowship with God, our Creator. The name in Isa. 7:14, "Immanuel" (BDB 769) embodies this concept —"God with us"!

33:15-16 If YHWH will not go with them, they should not leave Mt. Sinai! YHWH's personal presence (i.e., the Hebrew idiom, "face," see Exod. 33:14) is what made Israel distinct (cf. Exod. 19:5-6; Lev. 20:24,26).

33:16 "from all the other people who are upon the face of the earth" This last phrase can refer to

  1. a field
  2. a country
  3. a land
  4. the whole earth
Only context can determine. The term for "earth" is adamah (BDB 9). It is often synonymous with erets (BDB 75, KB 90), which also has several meanings. See SPECIAL TOPIC: LAND, COUNTRY, EARTH (erets).

17The 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." 18Then Moses said, "I pray You, show me Your glory!" 19And 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." 20But He said, "You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!" 21Then the Lord said, "Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock; 22and 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. 23Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen."

33:17-23 Moses wants to visibly see YHWH. Already he has a unique, intimate relationship (cf. Exod. 33:11; Num. 12:8; Deut. 34:10), but he wants more. Apparently Moses

  1. did not think seeing YHWH meant death
  2. did not fully grasp Exod. 20:4
  3. wanted another experience like Exod. 24:10,11, but this time just for him
There is uncertainty about the fear of seeing God, which was thought to cause death because of God's holiness.
  1. some did see God (in the Angel of the Lord) and live
    1. Gen. 16:13 - Hagar, as the Angel of the Lord
    2. Gen. 32:30 - Jacob in a vision
    3. Exod. 24:10-11 - 70 elders and Moses in a theophany
    4. Deut. 5:24 - Israel sees the glory of YHWH as the Angel of the Lord
    5. Jdgs. 6:22-23 - Gideon
    6. Jdgs. 13:21-22 - Samson's parents as the Angel of the Lord
    7. Isa. 6:1,5 (cf. John 12:41) - Isaiah in a vision,
    8. Ezek. 1:26-27 - Ezekiel in a vision of YHWH's chariot/throne
    9. Dan. 7:9-14 - Daniel in a vision as the Ancient of Days
  2. no one has seen God and lived
    1. Exod. 3:6; 19:21; 33:20,23
    2. Lev. 16:2
    3. Num. 4:20
    4. 1 Kgs. 19:13
    5. even angels hid their faces, Isa. 6:2
    6. John 1:18; 5:37; 6:46
    7. 1 Tim. 1:17; 6:16
    8. 1 John 4:12,20
  3. no one has heard God and lived
    1. Exod. 20:19
    2. Deut. 4:33; 5:24-26; 18:16
    3. 2 Cor. 12:1-4
  4. believers can see God in Jesus - John 12:45; 14:9
  5. one day believers will see God
    1. Matt. 5:8
    2. 1 Cor. 13:12
    3. Heb. 12:14
    4. Rev. 22:4
    5. note Job 42:5; Ps. 17:15; 42:2

33:18 "Your glory" There are three, possibly four, images used to denote a visible aspect to Deity.

  1. "Your glory," Exod. 33:18,22 - BDB 458, cf. Exod. 16:7; see SPECIAL TOPIC: GLORY (kabod, OT)
  2. "All My goodness," Exod. 33:19 - BDB 375 CONSTRUCT BDB 481
  3. also note "My hand," Exod. 33:22,23; see SPECIAL TOPIC: GOD DESCRIBED AS HUMAN
  4. "My back," Exod. 33:23 - BDB 30, KB 35
This sets the theological stage for the theophany of Exod. 34:5-9, where
  1. #3 above is fulfilled
  2. the revelation of "the name," cf. Exod. 33:19; see

33:19 "I Myself. . ." YHWH will do two things before Moses to reveal Himself.

  1. All His goodness (i.e., character, both mercy and judgment, cf. Exod. 34:6-7) will pass before Moses.
  2. He will pronounce His covenant name, Yahweh, to Moses (cf. Exod. 3:13-16). To know a deity's name was very important in the ANE.

▣ "I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious. . ." This is quoted by Paul in Rom. 9:15 to assert the sovereignty of YHWH. He is free but chooses to act in compassion and mercy (cf. Hos. 11:9). However, remember here it is sinful, idolatrous, rebellious, impatient Israel! There is mystery here, as Romans 9-11 demonstrates, but also always purposeful mercy (see SPECIAL TOPIC: YHWH'S ETERNAL REDEMPTIVE PLAN).

33:22 "the cleft of the rock" One wonders if this (BDB 849) is "the" cave of 1 Kgs. 19:9-14. In Isa. 2:19-21. Several parallel terms for a hiding place are used.

  1. caves of the rocks, Exod. 33:19 - BDB 849
  2. holes of the ground, Exod. 33:19 - BDB 320
  3. caverns of the rocks, Exod. 33:21 - BDB 669
  4. clefts of the cliffs, Exod. 33:21 - BDB 703

33:23 "My hand. . .My back" This is anthropomorphic imagery. See SPECIAL TOPIC: GOD DESCRIBED AS HUMAN. Remember, God is an eternal spirit (i.e., John 4:24), present through creation and time.
There is a word play on "face" (see note at Exod. 33:15-16; also note stark contrast between Exod. 33:11 and 20) and "form." No one can see God's face (i.e., full personal revelation) but humans can see His glory, majesty, and power. Moses is allowed to see a part of YHWH's glory, but not His "face," as He "passes by" (DB 716, KB 778, Qal IMPERATIVE, cf. 1 Kgs. 19:11-13).


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

  1. How is Exodus 32 related to Exodus 33?
  2. How do Exodus 32 and 33 set the stage for Exodus 34?
  3. How does Israel's faithlessness highlight the character of YHWH?
  4. List the different uses of "face." (BDB 815)
  5. Is the land or YHWH's personal presence the goal?
  6. How are "the Angel of the Lord" and "the Lord" different yet the same?
  7. What did "the ornaments" of Exod. 33:4 represent?
  8. What "tent" is referred to in Exod. 33:7? How is it related to the tabernacle?
  9. What did Moses want God to show him? What did he see?

Home  |  Old Testament Studies  |  Exodus Table of Contents  |  Previous Section   |  Next Section  |