Elon, North Carolina
We have been studying the Book of Exodus for over a year. This is our fifty-third week on the book. I love this book. It has been a huge blessing to study the Book of Exodus. Let’s review some of the key points of the book.
We have seen three main themes in this book. All three of these themes are important today.
The first theme is REDEMPTION. God redeemed his people from slavery in Egypt and he did it miraculously. God is a rescuing God. The second theme is COVENANT. After God redeems us, He tells us how to live. He gives us laws. The third theme is WORSHIP. The last part of the book deals with the Tabernacle. That was the way the Jews worshiped God in the OT.
This will be our final lesson in the Book of Exodus, as we cover parts of Exodus 33-34. In some ways, this is the most important section in the book. What is so important about these chapters?
Israel just committed its greatest sin. Thousands of people began worshiping a golden calf. They broke the covenant God gave them. God almost destroyed them. He said that He would not go with them to the Promised Land. Here, God renews His covenant with the Jews (34:10-27). He forgives them but He also commands them not to make any idols (34:17) or worship any other gods (34:14).
It is also important because Moses gets a fresh experience of God. God reveals some things about Him for the first time to Moses. Next week, we will be beginning a new study on the Book of Ezekiel. The theme of the book of Ezekiel is the glory of God. Here Moses does what no one else in the Bible ever did. He asked to see God’s glory and God showed it to him in a theophany.
A theophany is a visible appearance of God. Theophanies do not happen every day. They are rare. Most of us will never see a theophany our entire life. There are several theophanies in Exodus.
Moses received a theophany at the Burning Bush in Exodus 3. God appeared to him as a bush that was on fire and talked to him.
The whole nation received a theophany on Mount Sinai in Exodus 19. God spoke the Ten Commandments to the entire nation audibly. They could hear God talking to them in a loud voice and saw a visible manifestation of God at the top of the mountain. There was thunder, lightening, fire and smoke. The whole mountain was on fire.
The leadership of the Jews also received a theophany on Mount Sinai in Exodus 24. They travel up Mount Sinai by God’s request and all seventy of them had a vision of God on the mountain. We are going to look at another theophany today as Moses comes face to face with the weight of God’s glory. God passed in front of Moses (34:6). It all begins with the prayer of Moses.
God’s Glory Requested (33:18)
Moses says to God, “Show me your glory.” Matthew Henry calls this a humble request. It was not a humble request. It was a bold request, perhaps the boldest request of Moses’ life. We need to unpack this. Moses knew God. He had seen the power of God.
He saw God’s power over Pharaoh, the most powerful man on the planet at that time. He also saw God’s power over nature, over animals, over weather and over the gods of Egypt. He saw them in the Ten Plagues.
Moses had seen the POWER of God. Now, He asks to see the GLORY of God. Moses already had already had some revelation of the glory of God. He saw it in the burning bush. He saw it in this bush that was on fire and talked to him.
He saw God’s glory on Mount Sinai. He saw it in the fire and smoke. He saw it in the thunder and lightning. He saw it in the Shekinah glory cloud, the pillar of fire and the pillar of cloud, so why does he pray to see God’s glory?
Moses knew God. He did not just know about God. He knew him personally. It is one thing to say that you know about a famous person. It is another thing to say that you know them personally. Moses knew God. He saw Him work.
He had a relationship with God like no other person. He talked to him face to face as a friend (33:11). He spent forty days directly in God’s presence, not once but twice. None of us have ever done that one time but Moses was not satisfied.
It is almost like the more Moses knew God, the more he wanted to know God. The more he knew, the more he wanted. He wanted to know Him on a deeper level. He wanted a deeper level of intimacy. That should be true of all of us.
We are to love God with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength (Luke 10:27). We are to seek him with all of our heart and all of our soul (Deuteronomy 4:29).
Psalm 42:1-2 says, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. 2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?” (NIV)
David talks about a hunger for God. It describes a craving, a deep longing. When we are dehydrated, we long for water. Our life depends on it. We want our thirst quenched.
Does that describe how we feel about God? Unfortunately, it does not describe all of us. Some of us thirst for God and some of us thirst for other things. What is the deepest longing of your heart? What is our consuming desire? What is our passion?
This prayer is interesting. Moses does NOT pray for God’s blessing; he prays for God’s glory. Most of our prayers are self centered. We want God to give us something. Moses does not just seek God’s hand to get something. He seeks His face. He wants to see His glory.
God’s Glory Revealed (33:19-23)
Moses had a bold request and that request is granted with some restrictions. In order to get his prayer answered, Moses has to climb to the top of Mount Sinai again and he is to go alone.
He tells Moses to “be ready in the morning, and then come up on Mount Sinai. Present yourself to me there on top of the mountain. 3 No one is to come with you or be seen anywhere on the mountain; not even the flocks and herds may graze in front of the mountain.” (34:2-3 NIV)
This is about his fifth trip up the mountain and he is eighty years old. He is on Mount Sinai another forty days and forty nights and once again he fasts during that time. Moses was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant—the Ten Commandments. (34:28 NIV)
In order to get his prayer answered, God had to make some changes to his prayer. Moses had good intentions but he did not know what he was asking. If God gave him exactly what he asked for, it would have killed him. People still pray this prayer today. We sing about it in church. They are great songs but the theology of these songs is a little weak.
Third Day sings a song called “Show me Your Glory.” Mac Powell says that God’s glory is the most beautiful thing he has ever seen. He says, “I wanna see your face.” Jesus culture also has a song called “Show Me Your Glory.” It is even bolder. The lyrics say “I want to see your glory like Moses did but I’m not afraid. I’m not afraid. Show me your glory.”
The problem is that we should be afraid. God says “you CANNOT see my face, for NO ONE may see me AND LIVE” (33:20 NIV). You say “That is just what the OT says.” Actually, the NT says the same thing. The Apostle Paul said that God alone who “has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one HAS ever seen or CAN see” (1 Tim. 6:16 ).
A full dose of God’s glory would be lethal to any sinner in a mortal body. It is too strong for the human eye to take. It is like standing right in front of the Sun. When we are in heaven, we will see his face, according to Revelation 22:4 but we will have resurrected bodies.
Let’s be honest. Some of our prayers are foolish. We sometimes pray for things that would be bad for us. A wise father would never give a child something that would hurt him. That is like giving a child a loaded gun to play with. God does not give us everything we ask for. He did not give Moses everything he asked for and He did not do this because He is a good God.
God let Moses see His glory but He did not let him see all of it. He was given a PARTIAL REVELATION of God’s glory but NOT a full revelation. He gave Moses what he was capable of seeing. How did God limit what Moses saw? He put him in the cleft of a rock and He covered his face with his hand when God went by, saw what Moses saw was God’s back after He went by him.
There is some symbolism here. God said to Moses, “When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my HAND until I have passed by. 23 Then I will remove my HAND and you will see my BACK; but my FACE must not be seen” (33:22-23 NIV).
Biblical scholars call this an anthropomorphism. God is described in human terms with human parts. The truth is that God does NOT have a back. He does NOT have a face. He does NOT have a hand. In fact, He does not have a body. God is a spirit. Jesus said God is a spirit (John 4:24). These are FIGURES OF SPEECH.
Moses asked to see God’s glory and he saw it. God passed by Moses in His glory. What did he see? Many scholars say that he did not see anything. He just heard something. God described his glory by describing his attributes. That is the standard answer all the commentators give. It seems to be correct because when the prayer is answered, notice what the text says.
5 Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. 6 And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, 7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.” (34:5-7 NIV)
If you look a little closer, it is clear that this revelation was BOTH visual and verbal. God did not just say some things to Moses. He showed up. He passed by Moses. There must have been a visible revelation of some kind, because God had to veil it by covering up his face and putting him in a rock. That would not have been necessary if all God did was talk to Moses.
If God’s glory was not physical, then why did Moses’ face shine so bright when he came down the mountain? There had to be some physical manifestation. Moses does not take the time to describe what he saw but he saw something. The focus is on what Moses heard in Exodus 34:5-7, so that is what we will focus on.
A Divine Self-Portrait
This is a very important passage. It tells us who God is. Many people have all kinds of false views of God. It is not limited to the world. Some professing Christians have some false views of God. This passage tells us what God is like. It does not come from Peter, James or John. It comes from God Himself. God talks about God here. It is a divine self-portrait.
This is the greatest self-revelation of God found in the OT. God appeared to Moses in the burning bush and gave him His name. Now, God tells Moses some things about himself. He mentions seven attributes. It does not describe all of his attributes. It does not say anything about God being all-knowing or all powerful or eternal.
This is a selective list of ten attributes of God. It is not exhaustive. What is on the list in Exodus 34? God is COMPASSIONATE, GRACIOUS, SLOW TO ANGER, LOVING, TRUE, FORGIVING, HOLY. We are told later on in the chapter that God is JEALOUS. In fact, it says that his name is Jealous (34:14). There are two more attributes mentioned in Exodus 33. First, we are told that God is GOOD.
And the Lord said, “I will cause AL MY GOODNESS to pass in front of you” (33:19). Moses was not allowed to have a revelation of all of God’s glory. It would kill him but he was allowed to have a revelation of ALL of God’s goodness. God is a good.
Many question God’s goodness. If God is so good, why is there so much suffering in the world? Many questioned God’s goodness or even His existence after the holocaust but God did not build Auschwitz. Man did. God is good but He also give people free will. The Psalmist says “taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8).
God is also SOVEREIGN. Many people do not like that one. It means that God is in charge. Many do not want God in charge. They want to be in charge themselves. God says, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion” (33:19 NIV).
This passage is quoted by the Apostle Paul in the NT. After Israel began worshiping the golden calf, God pardoned the nation but not because they deserved it. It was an act of sovereign grace.
What do we learn about God from these ten attributes? There are two lessons from these attributes that stand out. First, there are two sides to God. His love, compassion and mercy is combined with holiness and justice. God is a God of love. God is also a God of wrath.
God is slow to anger but that does not mean that he gets angry. In fact, we are explicitly told that God “does NOT leave the guilty unpunished” (34:7)
Some see God as all love, and all forgiving. That is Rob Bell’s approach. He wrote the heretical book Love Wins. Others see God as all wrath and judgment, a God of hell fire (the lightening, thunder and fire of Mount Sinai). The Bible says that He is both.
There is a second important lesson about God from these attributes. Most of these attributes are what we would call positive attributes (compassionate, gracious, patient loving, true, forgiving). Very few are negative. The love of God is emphasized on this list more than the wrath and terror of God. What is surprising is that this list comes from the OT.
Many think that the God of the OT is different from the God of the NT. The God of the NT is love, a God of compassion and grace. Here, we see that the God of the OT is also a God of love and compassion. He abounds in love. He forgives sins. It even mentions three different kinds of sins (“forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin) that God forgives (34:7).
God’s Glory Reflected (34:29-35)
When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him. (34:29-30 NIV)
This brings us to one of the most incredible miracles in the book, the miracle of Moses’ shining face. God tells Moses to go down the mountain and take the two tablets of with him. Hopefully, they were not too heavy for an eighty year old man to carry down the mountain. When he gets to the bottom of the mountain and sees the people, something amazing happens.
The glory of God reflected on Moses’ face. Moses spent eight days in God’s presence and it shows. Why didn’t he glow the first time he was with God for forty days? For some reason, his face only glowed the second forty days he was in God’s presence. The reason that his face glowed this time was because he prayed to see God’s glory and saw it. That is what gave him the special glow.
When he comes down the mountain, Moses’ face has a glow or radiance and it was visible to everyone. People could see it. It was verifiable. There was no denying it. It was proof that Moses had been in the presence of God. As Matthew Henry said, “He carried his credentials in his face.”
If everyone else saw it, why didn’t Moses see it? “When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord” (34:29 NIV). Maybe there were not any mirrors around.
It led to fear among the people. “When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him” (34:30 NIV). Why were they afraid? He looked like an alien, as someone in my class suggested. This was not normal or natural. It was supernatural. In addition, they may have had a guilty conscience. The last time Moses came down the mountain, he was angry and people died. Now he comes down again and his face is glowing.
Application for Today
What is the application for us today? If you spend time alone with God and meditate on his Word, it will change you and others will see it. “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13 NIV). They had not been to school but they had spent time with Jesus and people could see it.
When you hang out with God, you begin to glow. If you come face to face with God’s glory, you will be changed. You will undergo a transformation. We become like Christ. You will be transformed into the likeness of Christ. Church alone will not change you but time with God will. The Apostle Paul said that all Christians get to see the glory of the Lord, not just Moses
II Corinthians 3:18 says, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (ESV).
How do we see it? What was Paul talking about? Most of us have not had any visions of God’s glory like Moses had. We have not see God’s glory face to face. Let’s look at the context. In the very next chapter of this book, Paul tells us that he is not talking about a literal vision. It is not something we see with our eyes but with our minds.
And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the MINDS of the unbelievers, to keep them FROM SEEING the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.
6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone IN OUR HEARTS to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (II Corinthians 4:3-6)
We see the glory of God in the gospel. We see it in the Bible. We see it in Jesus. He is the full manifestation of the glory of God and when we see Jesus, we are transformed into the same image. It does not just happen at salvation. Paul does NOT say we all were transformed. He says that we ARE BEING TRANSFORMED into the same image (3:18).
Change is gradual. It does not happen overnight. It happens by the renewing of our minds. Rom. 12:2 says, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” That happens when we spend time with God and His Word.
 Mathew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, I, 422.
 Mathew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, I, 429.