Exodus 33–36: God’s Goodness & Glory

Read the Bible in 2011–2021* ◊ Week 22: Monday

Thus Yahweh used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend.
Exodus 33:11a1

Today’s Bible reading is Exodus 33–36. Before you begin reading, ask God to teach you from His Word.

Exodus 33 begins right after the execution of 3,000 Israelites in judgment of Israel’s idolatry of the golden calf. These chapters include Israel’s repentance, replacement of the stone tablets, and the beginning of construction of the Tabernacle and all of its implements.

I want to focus, however, on God and Moses. Exodus 33:7–11 describes what Moses called his tent of meeting:

Now 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 Yahweh would go out to the tent of meeting which was outside the camp. And 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. Whenever Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent; and the Yahweh would speak with Moses. When 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. Thus the Yahweh 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.
Exodus 33:7–11

God spoke with Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend. In this Moses was unique among the prophets.

Since that time no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face.
Deuteronomy 34:10

What is meant by God speaking face to face? Hywel Jones explains the meaning of the phrase:

The face of God. The presence of God is His ‘face’; cf. Ex. 33:20. ‘My face’ and ‘me’ are interchangeable and so ‘the face’ stands for God’s own presence. To see God as He is is possible only through a Self-disclosure which, though true and reliable, is not exhaustive. The presence of God was never a sense of the numinous, but always the presence of a known, personal and distinctive Deity.”2

In other words, this was not an experience of feeling or “sense” when God spoke to Moses. God speaks to us today in His Word. It is there we read about who He is and what He is like. It is by the agency of Scripture that His Spirit teaches us and changes us, not by the face to face interaction He had with Moses.

In Exodus 33:17–23 Moses ask God to show him His glory.

Yahweh 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.” Then Moses said, “I pray You, show me Your glory!” And He said, “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the Yahweh before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.” But He said, “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!” Then the Yahweh said, “Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock; and 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. Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen.”
Exodus 33:17–23

Have you wondered what glory means? Jones explains the word and how it is used in the Old Testament:

The glory of God. This is an important theme in the book [of Exodus] and appears in relation to the deliverance and wandering in the wilderness, the ratification of the covenant, and the Tabernacle. The comment that follows here will bear relation to all these contexts.

“It could be concluded that a discussion on this theme should be related to a discussion on the being and attributes of God. In the OT, however, ‘glory’ is the visible and supernatural manifestation of the supreme and incomparable majesty of God. The Hebrew word for ‘glory” (bôd) mains ‘weight’ or ‘substance’ and comes to mean the honour stemming from the manifestation of the sum total of God’s attributes, and also from the awe such a revelation inspires and those who behold it; cf. Ps. 96:5–9.”3

In Exodus 34 God responds to Moses’ request:

Now Yahweh said to Moses, “Cut out for yourself two stone tablets like the former ones, and I will write on the tablets the words that were on the former tablets which you shattered. So be ready by morning, and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai, and present yourself there to Me on the top of the mountain.”
Exodus 34:1–2

Read Exodus 34:5–8 carefully. Remember God had told Moses in Exodus 33:19, “I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the Yahweh before you.” Look at what God says about Himself. Here He tells Moses who He is: He shows Moses His glory, and Moses worships in awe.

5Yahweh descended in the cloud and stood there with him as he called upon the name of the Yahweh. 6Then Yahweh passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “Yahweh, Yahweh God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; 7who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations. 8Moses made haste to bow low toward the earth and worship.”
Exodus 34:5–8

Martin Luther called Exodus 34:6–7, the sermon on the Name.4 Philip Ryken writes (my emphasis):

“This [verse 6] is one of the most important verses in the Bible. We know it’s important because it is quoted or referred to dozens of times, especially in the Old Testament. King David prayed, “But you, O Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger abounding in love and faithfulness” (Ps 86:15 ; cf. 103:8; 145:8). The prophet Joel said, “Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love” (Joel 2:13). Jonah said the same thing when he complained about God’s mercy to Nineveh, “I knew that you were a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love” (Jon. 4:2). The words that God first spoke to Moses became Israel’s confession of faith, the people’s working definition of God. Whenever anyone wanted to know who God was, they went back to Moses and said, “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.”

“This is probably where we would like to stop, with all the divine attributes that we love to praise; gracious compassion, faithful love, patient forgive­ness. However this is not where God stopped, and we must not stop before he does. God concluded his sermon on the divine attributes by making a strong affirmation of his justice: “Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sins of the fathers to the third and fourth generation” (Exod. 34:7b).”5

In a sermon on this section of Exodus, Ligon Duncan said:

“Notice also that the revelation of verses 6-7 focuses on God’s mercy and grace. If you were look back at Exodus 20:5-6, where God describes His character in language very similar to Exodus 34:6-7, you would notice something quite interesting. In Exodus 20, the Lord says, “I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing loving kindness to those who keep My commandments.” And you say, “Well, that sounds very similar to this.” It is, but notice the emphasis there is on the covenant jealousy of God and the judgment of violators, whereas in Exodus 34 the emphasis is on God’s grace. “I’m merciful, I’m compassionate, and I’m slow to anger. Yes, I visit iniquity to the third and fourth generation,” but the focus is on God’s mercy and grace and that is wholly appropriate for this context. The children of Israel are perfectly aware that they deserved to be blasted into oblivion, and in precisely this context God says, “You are now ready because of what you know about yourself, and because of what you know about your deserving judgment, now, you are ready to learn something else about Me. And that is that I am more gracious than you could ever possibly imagine.” It’s absolutely impossible for the children of Israel, based upon God’s words about Himself, based upon their display of faithlessness and loyalty in the whole experience of the golden calf, based upon God’s unfolding disciplinary providences, to think that they have been chosen or redeemer or kept by anything other than God’s grace.”6

Wyatt Graham also has some thoughts on these verses in his post, “Does God Punish Sons for the Sins of Their Fathers?

Look at Exodus 34:6–7 again, and then read these Old Testament passages that quote the same attributes of God. So often to our great detriment, our understanding of God is influenced by other people with opinions that are not the truth about God. From the Garden of Eden until today, Satan casts aspersions and confusion on who God is. God has told us in His Word who He is. Spend times thinking on the truth, and ask Him to renew your mind about Him according to His Word. Give thanks for who He is.

Thus says Yahweh, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am Yahweh who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares Yahweh.
Jeremiah 9:23–24


Isaiah 42 Photograph: ChristianPhotos.net – Free High Resolution Photos for Christian Publications. (Site has been deleted since posting).
Mount Sinai Morning: Abraham. (CC BY-SA 4.0).
1In the NASB LORD is used to translate the Hebrew word, Yahweh. I’ve replaced LORD with Yahweh in the Bible passages in the post. Alec Motyer, is his book, Psalms By The Day: A New Devotional Translation (Christian Focus Publications Ltd, Ross-shire, Scotland, U.K. 2016) 10, explains the use of Yahweh:
“The divine name ‘Yahweh’ well at first sound strange in your ears, being used to the established (but mistaken) English convention I’ve representing the name as ‘the Lord’. We who are of an older generation will remember the days when calling someone by their Christian name was a privilege granted not to be presumed upon. It meant something to us when a senior friend said, ‘Please call me by my Christian name’; the relationship had ripened into a new intimacy and privilege. So it was in Genesis 4:26 when people began to call their God by his personal name; so it was even more when the significance of that Name was revealed to Moses (Exod. 3:15). A totally false sense of reverence later said ‘The Name is too holy for us to use,’ and the custom was introduced of representing it as ‘the Lord’. No, no. He has granted us the privilege, and we should learn (belatedly) to live in the benefit of it. Hebrew has two main nouns for ‘God’. There is a plural elohim, God in the fullness of the divine attributes ― for simplicity I translate this as ‘God’ ― and the singular el which I translate as ‘transcendent God’. But there is only one ‘Name’. ‘God’ is what he is; Yahweh is who he is.”
2,3,4Hywel R. Jones, “Exodus,” The New Bible Commentary: Revised, D. Guthrie, J. A. Motyer, eds., A. M. Stibbs, D. J. Wiseman, contributing eds. (Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove IL: 1970) 117, 117, 138.
5Philip Graham Ryken, Exodus: Saved For God’s Glory (Crossway Books, Wheaton IL: 2005) 1041, 1045–1046.
6Ligon Duncan, Exodus 34:1-9 The Lord Passes By.

*In 2011 I started a year-long series of posts, “Read the Bible in 2011.” You can find the other posts in the navigation menu in the header. If a day doesn’t have a link to a post, the post was simply a brief reminder about the reading. I’m filling in some of those gaps with new posts with “Read the Bible in 2011 Redux” as a category.

Copyright ©2011–2021 Iwana Carpenter

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