12 Moses said to the Lord, “See, you say to me, ‘Bring up this people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’ 13 Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight. Consider too that this nation is your people.” 14 And he said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” 15 And he said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. 16 For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” 17 And the Lord said to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.” 18 Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” 19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” 21 And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, 22 and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”
I am an unapologetic fan of The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien’s great fantasy epic. I have always thought that one of the most touching parts of the story is when the fellowship (tasked with destroying the one ring of power) passes through the elven forest kingdom of Lothlorien. There they encounter the beautiful and powerful elf ruler Galadriel. As the fellowship departs the woods, Galadriel offers each of them a gift. She finally asks Gimli the dwarf what gift he would like. This exchange intrigues the watching elves since elves and dwarves, Tolkien informs us, do not normally care for one another. But Gimli is smitten by the beauty, power, and grace of Galadriel, so he dares to make a great request.
“And what gift would a Dwarf ask of the Elves?” said Galadriel, turning to Gimli.
“None, Lady,” answered Gimli. “It is enough for me to have seen the Lady of the Galadhrim, and to have heard her gentle words.”
“Hear all ye Elves!” she cried to those about her. “Let none say again that Dwarves are grasping and ungracious! Yet surely, Gimli son of Gloin, you desire something that I could give? Name it, I bid you! You shall not be the only guest without a gift.”
“There is nothing, Lady Galadriel,” said Gimli, bowing low and stammering. “Nothing, unless it might be—unless it is permitted to ask, nay, to name a single strand of your hair, which surpasses the gold of the earth as the stars surpass the gems of the mine. I do not ask for such a gift. But you commanded me to name my desire.”
The Elves stirred and murmured with astonishment, and Celeborn gazed at the Dwarf in wonder, but the Lady smiled. “It is said that the skill of the Dwarves is in their hands rather than in their tongues,” she said; “yet that is not true of Gimli. For none have ever made to me a request so bold and yet so courteous. And how shall I refuse, since I commanded him to speak? But tell me, what would you do with such a gift?”
“Treasure it, Lady,” he answered, “in memory of your words to me at our first meeting. And if ever I return to the smithies of my home, it shall be set in imperishable crystal to be an heirloom of my house, and a pledge of good will between the Mountain and the Wood until the end of days.”
Then the Lady unbraided one of her long tresses, and cut off three golden hairs, and laid them in Gimli’s hand.
Wonderful! I love the audacity of Gimli’s request. I love his desire to have the great Galadriel with him at all times. I love her gracious willingness to give him strands of her hair.
I thought of this when reading of Moses’ exchange with God at the tent of meeting in the latter half of Exodus 33. Moses dares to make an audacious request of God. Why? Because he wants to know that God is with him, that God has not and will not abandon him, and, indeed, that God is with His people still.
Moses desires assurances that God is with him.
We have seen that Moses would go out to the tent of meeting, outside the camp, and there meet with God. The people marveled at this. They, of course, still saw themselves as under the wrath of God for having worshiped the golden calf, but Moses goes to stand before the Lord. Now we are privileged to see what Moses and the Lord say to one another.
12 Moses said to the Lord, “See, you say to me, ‘Bring up this people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. Yet you have said, ‘I know you by name, and you have also found favor in my sight.’
We begin by seeing that Moses wants to know that God is near to him, that God is still with him. He offers his request in the form of something like a complaint. He alleges that God has not told him if he, Moses, will have to go to the promised land alone. We might think that Moses is asking for an earthly assistant, but this likely is not so. After all, Moses has Joshua essentially glued to his hip at all times, as we have seen. No, what Moses really wants to know is that God is with him! He simply goes on a roundabout way of asking the question. By the beginning of verse 13, however, Moses has become much more explicit:
13a Now therefore, if I have found favor in your sight, please show me now your ways, that I may know you in order to find favor in your sight.
This desire on Moses’ part to know God, to know that he is known by God, and to know that God is with him is evidence that Moses is part of the people of God. Put another way, to be in the family of God is to live in a place where you cannot abide the thought of anything hindering your relationship with God.
In John 10:27, Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” Salvation is no mere transaction. It is not a social arrangement. It is not a business transaction. It is a deep and life-altering relationship! We are known by God in Christ! In Philippians 3 Paul says this of his desire to know Christ:
10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death,11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
Paul wanted to know Jesus! The believer wants to know that he is in right relationship with Jesus Christ. Without that, nothing else matters!
Thus, Moses calls out for assurance. “Are you still with me, God?!”
Moses desires assurances that God is still with His people.
Even as we recognize Moses’ appeal for assurance, we realize that it is an odd thing for Moses to ask. After all, God had been with Moses, had never abandoned Moses, and had never failed to instruct Moses in what he wanted him to do. We suspect that more was at play here than simply Moses’ desire for personal assurance. We do not deny that this desire was actual. Moses wanted to know that God was with him. But as Moses continues we realize that he was also up to something else.
13b Consider too that this nation is your people.” 14 And he said, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” 15 And he said to him, “If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. 16 For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?” 17 And the Lord said to Moses, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.”
Notice that Moses almost appears to be smuggling the rebellious-now-repentant children of Israel into his request:
- “Consider too that this nation is your people.”
- “…do not bring us up from here.”
- “…I and your people?”
- “…your going with us…”
- “…that we are distinct”
- “…I and your people…”
There is not only a cry for assurance. This is also intercession. Moses is not only asking, “Are you still with me?” He is also asking, “Are you still with us?” And well he might ask this question, for God had seemingly rejected his intercessory efforts at the end of Exodus 32 and, as we have seen, signs remained that God’s anger burned hot against Israel still. Yet notice God’s amazing responses.
- “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
- “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight, and I know you by name.”
How glorious this is! God’s response is directed at Moses, but it must be seen as including the totality of Moses’ request. God will go with Moses and, because of that, God will go with Israel! Tony Merida points out that the phrase “my presence will go with you” from verse 14 “literally says, ‘My face will go,’ which refers to the closeness of God’s presence.”
There is a note of hope here for the first time in seemingly a long time! Terence Fretheim puts it in a wonderfully understated way when he writes that “God’s response (v.17) relieves some of the tension built up in the narrative.” He then states that “the reason” why God will be with Israel is because “God knows Moses by name and Moses has found favor with God.
This last point is worthy of further consideration. God does indeed appear to be including Israel in his love for and faithfulness to Moses. In other words, Moses intercedes for Israel and because God loves the intercessor, Moses, God will love and be faithful to Israel. In a very real sense, then, what God appears to be saying is that since Israel is under the banner of Moses’ love and mercy therefore God, who loves Moses, loves them as well.
None of this is to deny that God simply loves Israel as Israel. This is evident from Genesis to Revelation in countless different ways. But it is to suggest that here, in Exodus 33, the point appears to be being made that Moses’ intercessory work covers Israel in a way that prepares the way for the coming of Jesus Christ and His mediatorial work for the world. We have seen numerous ways in which Moses is a type or picture of Christ. This particular episode in Israel’s story seems to be a raising of the stakes in such a way that the exact nature of Christ’s saving work on the cross is being foreshadowed or alluded to.
The beloved, Moses, pleads the case of Israel and God declares that His love for Moses will include all who are Moses’. This points to the coming cross of Jesus Christ! All who are in Christ are saved because when the Father looks at us He sees His Son! We who are in Christ are within the love of God! This is not to suggest that the Father hates us outside of Christ. After all, it is the Father who, in love, sends the Son just as it was the Father who, in love, called Moses. But God’s love is given to us through the mediatorial work of Jesus Christ.
Moses desires to see the glory of God.
It is most fitting that Moses immediately makes his most daring request.
18 Moses said, “Please show me your glory.” 19 And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. 20 But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” 21 And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, 22 and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. 23 Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”
I would like to call this Moses’ “Gimli moment,” his moment of audacious request. He asks to see God’s glory. Victor Hamilton demonstrates that the visibility of God’s glory is something that many in scripture desire to see and get to see.
The Scripture frequently mentions God’s glory as something one can see: Exod. 16: 7, “and in the morning you will see the glory of the LORD”; Isa. 35: 2, “They will see the glory of the LORD, the splendor of our God”; Isa. 66: 18, “And they will come and see my glory”; Ezek. 44: 4, “I looked and saw the glory of the LORD filling the temple”; Matt. 24: 30 (= Mark 13: 26; Luke 21: 27), “They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory”; Luke 9: 32, “But when they [Peter, James, John] became fully awake, they saw his glory”; John 1: 14, “We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only”; John 11: 40, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”; John 12: 41, “Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus’ glory and spoke about him”; Acts 7: 55, “But Stephen . . . looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God.”
Moses wants to see God’s glory! Why? Let us remember that this request comes fast on the heels of God finally acknowledging, apparently for the first time since the golden calf incident, that His people can be forgiven, that He is still with them. Perhaps we might read Moses’ request to see God’s glory as something like this: “What kind of God are you that you would show mercy to the undeserving? What kind of God are you that you would not abandon us in our sin? How amazing you are! Please show me your glory!”
And God, for His part, responds that He will allow Moses to see Him in part. He says that Moses cannot see His face, “for man shall not see me and live.” This helps to nuance this chapter’s earlier reference to Moses and God conversing “face to face” (33:11) More than that, it points out the difference between God and man and the fact that mortal fallen man simply cannot behold the unveiled glory of God without experiencing immediate annihilation! We cannot handle His unmediated glory. It would simply be too much for us.
For this reason, God agrees to allow Moses to see His “back,” but notice the extent to which God goes to protect Moses: He puts Moses in the cleft of the rock and He covers Moses with His hand. It has been said of this text that God protects Moses from God! So glorious is God, so majestic, so powerful, and so awesome, that His glory would reduce us to ash and dust were we to see it without His protection.
Even so, scripture reveals that we will, one day, see the Lord God in His full glory! In Revelation 22 we read:
4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
Not only will we finally see God’s face, but our existence in eternity will be lived out in the radiance of His glory. How? How is this possible? It is possible because the glory of God became incarnate and present in the person of Jesus Christ. In fact, it is most interesting to read John’s language about the coming of Jesus in John 1. Consider:
14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Yes, “we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.” Christ is the glory of God! All of humanity has offered up Moses’ call, “Show me your glory!” Then, in the fullness of God’s timing and providential care, He answered, “Yes! I will! I will show you My glory! Here! Here it is! Here He is! This Jesus, my Son, will show you my glory! Would you see my glory? See my Son!” In John 14, Jesus says this to Philip:
9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?
Jesus is God’s answer to Moses’ question, to the world’s question! He is also God’s answer to Moses plea for assurance. Jesus is God’s assurance that He will never leave us, never forsake us, never abandon us. Jesus is God’s revelation of His own glory!
Christ, crucified and risen, reveals the surprising glory of our loving God. In Christ, God meets us all at the tent of meeting and says, “I do forgive you! I am still with you! I will be with you forever!”
 John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. (Allen & Unwin, 1954), p.392.
 Merida, Tony. Exalting Jesus in Exodus. Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary. (p. 209). Kindle Edition.
 Terence E. Fretheim, Exodus. Interpretation (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), p.298.
 Hamilton, Victor P. Exodus: An Exegetical Commentary (Kindle Locations 17630-17640). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.