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Exodus 33:12–17

“[Moses] said to [the LORD], ‘If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. 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?’ ” (Ex. 33:15–16).

If the Israelites who had committed the grave sin of idolatry found God’s withdrawal of the divine presence to be a “disastrous word” (Ex. 32:1–33:6), how much more must Moses have been dismayed by the announcement of the Lord that He would be distancing Himself from the people? Today’s passage shows us that God’s words greatly troubled Moses, for it features the prophet’s plea that the Lord go with them.

Moses begins by appealing to the apparent incongruity between the task given to him and the Lord’s withdrawal. God has told Moses that he is to bring the people out of Egypt and that he has found favor in the Lord’s sight, but God has not said whom He will send “with” Moses (Ex. 33:12). Here, Moses refers to the more immediate statement that the Lord would not be dwelling among His people as they journeyed to Canaan because of the golden calf incident (Ex. 33:1–6). In light of the broader biblical teaching that we can do nothing apart from our God and Savior (see, e.g., John 15:5), Moses’ consternation makes good sense. In effect, it seems to the prophet that the Lord has called him to a task that he will be unable to accomplish, for God will not be with him. Note the close identification of Moses with the Israelites. In effect, Moses is claiming that if God will not be with them, He will not be with Moses either. This is not a charge of wrongdoing on the Lord’s part; rather, Moses is showing his sound understanding of theology. Because Moses is the covenant mediator and representative of his people, there is no way that God can be with the people and not with him or with him and not the people. A mediator so represents his people that what is true of them is also true of the mediator. Our very salvation hinges on this—unless our sin is reckoned to Christ the Mediator, it cannot be atoned for on the cross and we cannot become the righteousness of God in Jesus (2 Cor. 5:21).

Having pointed out the disconnect between his task and the absence of the Lord, the prophet appeals to God to prove His commitment to Moses and to His people, to show that they are objects of His favor by remaining with them (Ex. 33:13–17). It will not be enough for God to go before them, for Canaan will be nothing to Israel if God is not with them. Moses understood that the real blessing of God was His blessed presence. He was looking beyond the mere ownership of a portion of land in the Middle East to a better country, a heavenly one, where the Lord Himself would be the reward (Heb. 11:1–28).

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

Matthew Henry comments, “God’s special presence with us in this wilderness, by his Spirit and grace, to direct, defend, and comfort us, is the surest pledge of his special love to us and will redound to his glory as well as our benefit.” God has promised in Christ never to leave us or forsake us (Heb. 13:5). If we want to know His love for us as we live on this side of glory, let us never forget this precious promise.

for further study
  • 1 Chronicles 16:11
  • Psalm 105:4
  • Matthew 28:20
  • John 14:18

    Moses at the Tent of Meeting

    Moses Asks to See God

    Keep Reading A Reasonable Faith

    From the November 2022 Issue
    Nov 2022 Issue