During Moses’ second forty night and day period on Mount Sinai—after Israel commits idolatry—he pleads with the Lord to restore His promised blessings to them. By God’s grace, Moses fulfills his purposes: God promises to go with Israel, God shows Moses a glimpse of His glory, and God forgives Israel’s sins.
God’s presence with the nation (33:12-17)
Moses makes his appeal to God on the basis of His grace. For God showed mercy when He refrained from completely destroying the people for their sin of idolatry. Moses’ request lines up with the factor that set Israel apart from the other nations: God’s presence with Israel. Moses reminds the Lord of His promise to go with the people on their journey to the promised land. He must have been ecstatic when God promises once again to escort them to the Promised Land.
So does God’s people have the right to “negotiate” with God as Moses did? Warren Wiersbe (Be Delivered) gives an interesting observation: “It all depends on our relationship with God. Moses knew the ways of God (Ps. 103:7) and was the intimate friend of God, and therefore he was able to present his case with faith and skill. The godly Scottish minister Samuel Rutherford, who knew what it was to suffer for Christ, wrote, ‘It is faith’s work to claim and challenge loving-kindness out of all the roughest strokes of God.’ That’s what Moses was doing for the people.”
God’s Glory Revealed (33:18-23)
Although Moses and the Jews witnessed God’s glory in the pillar of cloud and fire, and in the storm on Mt. Sinai, Moses tells God he wants to see His glory revealed to him personally. God’s response? “’I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.’ ‘But,’ He said, ‘you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live,’” (33:19-20).
Moses is given a guarded glimpse of God’s back when He places Moses in the cleft of a rock and covers him with His hand. When God later calls Moses to bring two new stone tablets—before He renews the covenant—He associates His name with the greatness of His attributes. This declaration is the foundation to both Jewish and Christian theology.
God’s Forgiveness Granted (34:1-28)
Moses must have received a bolt of confidence with God’s renewed promise to go with the people. But would He accompany them like a policeman with criminals, or like a caring Father? Wiersbe writes: “The answer came when the Lord ordered Moses to prepare two new stone tablets, for this meant He was going to replace the tablets that Moses had broken! God would renew the covenant! . . . .Faith comes by hearing and receiving God’s Word (Rom. 10:17), so Moses by faith asked God to forgive the people.”
Even though Moses wasn’t guilty of disobeying God, he bows before the Lord and asks God to “pardon our iniquity and our sin” (34:9). As God graciously forgives the people and renews the covenant He repeats the crucial features in the covenant, especially laws concerning idolatry. For temptation would loom in the Promised Land. God clarifies: His people are not to compromise through making agreements, intermarriage, and/or adopting pagan ways. For idolatry to God is like adultery in marriage.
So God commands the Israelites to destroy everything associated with idols when they reach the promised land. Sound harsh? Wiersbe observes: “We who live many millennia after these events can’t begin to comprehend how filthy Canaanite idolatry was when Israel conquered the land. It was unspeakably immoral, and like cancerous tumors in human bodies, the pagan temples and altars had to be removed and destroyed before the land could be healthy. . . . Idolatry was the enemy that almost destroyed the nation.”
This passage offers several great insights, but the following truth really stands out to me: Instead of God showing Moses a vision of His power and majesty, He simply declares who He is. His character—associated with His name—is demonstrated through love, patience, forgiveness, mercy, grace, compassion, faithfulness, and justice. Although God abhors idolatry, He still pursued Israel with great patience and love. He didn’t yoke His commands around their necks, rather, He offered them another chance to embrace His laws and obey. For to obey would bring them happiness and freedom. God also pursues us, even in the times of discipline and punishment. We glorify Him when we obey His commands and allow Him to develop His character in us.
Although we would die if we were to see God’s face now, because of His great holiness and power, He made a way for us to know Him through His Son, Jesus Christ (John 14:21). It’s hard to fathom that this great God would even want a personal relationship with us. But He does! And He went to great lengths to make this possible.
Do you hunger to know this God who created you and loves you? The New Testament Gospel books—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—tell the story of Jesus’ life and ministry. If you have never read these books in the Bible, why not start now? Reading one chapter daily is doable. You don’t have to have it all together to come to God. None of us do! If you ask God in sincerity to reveal Himself to you, He will. “But if from there you seek the Lord your God, you will find Him if you seek Him with all your heart and with all your soul,” (Deuteronomy 4:29). . . . Have a great week!