7 Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, far off 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. 8 Whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people would rise up, and each would stand at his tent door, and watch Moses until he had gone into the tent. 9 When 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. 10 And when all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise up and worship, each at his tent door. 11 Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses turned again into the camp, his assistant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent.
The Christian musician Michael Card once wrote a song about his relationship with his father that I find haunting. His father was a good man, Card explains, but he carried a great burden on his shoulders by being a doctor. In his case, this burden would often create distance between him and his children. When he would come home, he would walk past his children and shut himself up in his office. Michael Card, from a very early age, began going to the door of his father’s office and pushing little pictures or notes under the door in an effort to have some kind of connection with his father. He says that sometimes he would just wiggle his little fingers at his dad beneath the locked door. Here are the lyrics to the song:
My father was a doctor
Who would come home late at night
With a soul so bruised and bleeding
From his unending, faithful fight
To keep ahold of kindness
In a world that isn’t kind
To hold out the hope of healing
To his hurting humankind
Then he’d flee back to his study
To his bookish, quiet place
With notes and books and journals
To wall in his special space
And then he’d lock the door
From things that cannot be locked out
And his youngest son was starved for what
He’d always do without
But it was meant to make me who I am
And for all these many years
Still the little boy down on his knees
Full of hope and full of fear
Calling underneath the door
“This is me, it’s who I am.”
Cause we love the best by listening
When we try to understand
Desperate stubby fingers
Pushing pictures ‘neath the door
Longing to be listened to
By the man that I adored
Inside someone who needed me
As much as I did him
Unable to unlock the door
That stayed closed inside of him
It’s strange the way we tend to flee
From what we need the most
That a father would lock out a son
When his heart would hold him close
But our wounds are part of who we are
And there is nothing left to chance
And pain’s the pen that writes the songs
And call us forth to dance
As we progress through Exodus 33, I cannot help but think of this song. Perhaps Israel felt like Michael Card felt. That is, Israel felt that there was distance between them and God, that He was there but that a door had, in a sense, been shut. Their great sin in worshipping the golden calf had indeed created distance in their relationship with God, but God was indeed still there and never walked away from His children. We can see this in the “tent of meeting,” to which we now turn.
Israel, because of its sin, felt distant from God.
As we turn to our text we see the continuing effects of Israel’s great sin.
7 Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, far off 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. 8 Whenever Moses went out to the tent, all the people would rise up, and each would stand at his tent door, and watch Moses until he had gone into the tent.
God is still with Israel, but the tent of meeting is “far off from the camp.” Moses goes outside of the camp to talk with God, and, as he goes, the people watch, then follow. But only Moses talks with God. This spatial terminology—“outside the camp, far off from the camp”—is compelling. It reminds us of the devastating effects of sin.
Sin creates distance. Sin create space. Forgiveness creates closeness. Forgiveness creates proximity.
This tent of meeting is far outside the camp. Bruce Wells interestingly observes that the tent of meeting “may represent a reversion, albeit partial, to Yahweh’s earlier mode of interacting with humans—occasional and, at times, unpredictable appearances such as that of the burning bush.” In other words, the tent of meeting may represent a backwards step in Israel’s relationship with God.
Sin creates distance! In James 4, James writes:
4 You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
In worshiping the golden calf, Israel had chosen the world over God. As a result, they felt the distance that sin created. None of this, of course, negates the reality of God’s mercy, grace, and forgiveness. Yet at this point in the unfolding story of the Exodus the seriousness of sin and the seriousness of sin’s consequences is being stressed.
Do you feel distant from God, as if God is outside the camp? The first question to ask is whether or not their might be some rebellion in your life that is creating that distance! It may not be that you are in sin in such a particular situation, but it is a fact that if you are in sin there will be distance between you and God.
Moses, because of his friendship, was close to God.
If God’s distance from Israel communicates the effects of sin then God’s closeness to Moses communicates the effects of friendship.
9 When 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. 10 And when all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise up and worship, each at his tent door. 11 Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. When Moses turned again into the camp, his assistant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent.
Israel stood at a distance from God. Moses stood near to God. In fact, the scriptures say that Moses would stand inside the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend to the entrance, and Moses and the Lord would talk “face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” The phrase “face to face” has caused many to stumble, especially as, in this very chapter, it is revealed that no one can see the face of God and live.
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.”
If, in Exodus 33:11, Moses is said to have spoken to God “face to face” and, in Exodus 33:20, God tells Moses that he “cannot see” His face “and live,” it must mean that the reference to God and Moses conversing in the tent of meeting is a qualitative and not a literal statement. “Speaking face to face,” writes The IVP Bible Background Commentary, “is an idiom, suggesting an honest and open relationship. It does not contradict 33:20-23.” What is more, this idiom, “face to face,” is not uncommon in the Old Testament, as Victor Hamilton demonstrates.
Finally, only with Moses does the Lord speak “face to face” (v. 11) at the entrance to this tent. The language is close to that of Deut. 34: 10, “Since then, no prophet has risen in Israel, whom the LORD knew face to face”; and to Num. 12:8, “With him [Moses] I speak face to face.” It is an experience that Moses shares with Jacob (Gen. 32: 30 , “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared”); with Gideon (Judg. 6: 22, “I have seen the angel of the LORD face to face!”); and with Israel earlier (Deut. 5: 4, “The LORD spoke to you face to face out of the fire on the mountain”). In the case of Deut. 5: 4, “face to face” is pānîm bĕpānîm (literally, “face in face”), a tad different from the phrase used with Moses, pānîm ʾel-pānîm, and perhaps to distinguish God’s speaking with Moses from God’s speaking with Israel.
“Face to face” conversing is intended to communicate the closeness of Moses’ relationship with God. It also stands in stark contrast to Israel which must stand at a distance. Even so, the “face to face” language is only one of the intriguing phrases found in verse 11.
11 Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.
How powerful! How moving! “As a man speaks to his friend.” God saw Moses as His friend. It is not a term that we in our fallenness would ever dare to claim for ourselves. Even so, God has used it of us! This is seen most powerfully in Jesus’ usage of the term. In John 15, Jesus says:
13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.
Here he refers to us as His “friends” and highlights the intentionality and relational dynamics behind the term. That is, we are called “friends” because He has lain down His life for us and has made known to us what He “heard from my Father.” He also uses the term in Luke 12:
4 “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. 5 But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!
Surprisingly, He even calls Judas “friend” in Matthew 26:
50 Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.” Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him.
I cannot help but wonder what it would do to our discipleship, our worship, and our evangelism if we could grasp the full implications of the fact that, like Moses, we are God’s “friends” through Jesus Christ. This is not a call to the flippancy of a “pal” or “buddy.” We stand ever and always in reverential awe of the holiness, grandeur, splendor, and power of our great God. But it does mean that He has drawn near to us in Jesus, that He is not far from us, that He is no longer outside the camp! In Christ, God has come near. God is with us! God is among us! God calls us “friend!”
Moses’ intercession outside the camp was a picture of the cross of Christ.
For the believer, Moses’ going outside the camp to make intercession for Israel before God will seem familiar. This is the because at the very heart of our faith is the fact that Jesus Christ, Israel’s Lord, walked out of the camp, Jerusalem, to make intercession for us on Calvary. If Moses is a type of Christ then the tent of meeting is a type of the cross, for on the cross Christ Jesus dealt with the sinfulness of man and fulfilled the righteousness of God.
The distance that sin creates can be seen in Christ’s cry from Matthew 27:
46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
While Christ Jesus quotes Psalm 22 here, a psalm that ends in ultimate victory and highlights the faithfulness of God, it is telling that he quoted these words: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It is as if, on the cross, Christ internalized and communicated the soul-wrenching distance that sin creates between God and man. In taking on our sin, Christ communicated what perhaps Israel herself said in the pain they felt at the distance between them and God. However, in the case of sinful man, it is ever and always our movement away from God that causes the distance. We wreck the relationship, never God.
Even so, just as Moses stood in the tent of meeting and conversed with God face to face as a friend talks to a friend, so too the Father did not allow the Lord Jesus, His beloved Son, to be ultimately defeated by the death He died on the cross. In Peter’s amazing sermon from Acts 2, he proclaimed:
22 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— 23 this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. 24 God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.
God raised him up! He died for our sins but God raised Him up! Jesus, like Moses, walked out of the camp to meet with God, but, unlike Moses, Jesus walked out of the camp to pay the price for our sin and rebellion so that we could be redeemed! Moses will make verbal intercession for the people, but Jesus will make an intercession of blood, dying on the cross for us.
Because Jesus walked out of the camp, God now comes into the camp.
We have a restored relationship with the Lord God of heaven and earth because Jesus, the greater Moses, paid the price on the cross, the greater tent of meeting, that we could never pay. He paid the price, died in our stead, and then rose again in victory over sin, death, and hell.
Has your sin brought a sense of separation between you and God? Then call on the name of Jesus who came to close the gap and remove the enmity between man and God. Call on the name of the conquering King who defeats the darkness of death and sin and hell through His cross and empty tomb! Run to the tent of meeting, the cross, and there find that God in Christ calls you “friend.”
 Bruce Wells, “Exodus.” Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary. Gen. Ed. John H. Walton. Old Testament vol. 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009), p.261.
 John H. Walton, Victor H. Matthews, Mark W. Chavalas, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), p.116.
 Hamilton, Victor P. Exodus: An Exegetical Commentary (Kindle Locations 17418-17426). Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.