God promised to bless the world through Abraham’s descendants (Gen.12:1-3). Abraham’s family multiplied but was enslaved in Egypt until they cried out and God called Moses to lead Israel out of Egypt. God brought out of Egypt by ‘His mighty acts of judgment’ and Pharaoh let the Israelites go (Exodus 7-12, 12:12). Yet, Pharaoh changed his mind and sent his troops who trapped the Israelites by the Red Sea. Then the Lord divided the sea so Israel walked through on dry ground, but Pharaoh’s army pursued them only to drown in the sea. The Lord led Israel by the pillar of cloud and fire and miraculously provided them with ‘manna and quail’ and ‘water from a rock’ despite their grumbling. Israel camped by Mt. Sinai and the Lord called Moses up the mountain to establish His covenant and give Israel the 10 commandments. Moses spent 40 days and nights with God on the mountain until the Lord told Moses to go down because the Israelites had corrupted themselves by making a golden calf as an idol. Moses interceded and the Lord preserved Israel. Moses went down the mountain and smashed the idol, ground it to powder and made the Israelites drink it. The Levites stood with Moses and at the Lord’s command they went through the camp putting 3000 people to death. Afterwards, Moses went back up the mountain to the Lord to see if he could make atonement for the Israelites which brings us to our story.
The Lord told Moses to take the people Moses brought out of Egypt, and go to the land the Lord promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Lord would fulfill his covenant and drive out the inhabitants of the land. However, the Lord would not go with the Israelites because might provoke the Lord to destroy them because the Israelites were a stiff-necked people (33:1–6). So Moses wanted to know who the Lord would send with him to lead the people. Now Moses would meet with God outside the Israelite camp at what was called the “tent of meeting”. The people would watch Moses enter the ‘tent of meeting’ and the pillar of cloud would rest at the tent’s entrance. There the Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend (11). This closeness enabled Moses to boldly ask God to go with Israel on their journey.
If the Lord was pleased with him then Moses wanted to be taught the Lord’s ways. Moses wanted to know the Lord and know the Lord’s favor. Then Moses reminded the Lord that Israel was the Lord’s people and the Lord responded by saying, “My presence will go with you.” But Moses wanted to be sure because if God didn’t go with them then how would anyone know that the Lord was pleased with Israel? Furthermore, what else would distinguish Israel from all the other peoples on earth? So God promises to be ‘present’ with the people because He was pleased with Moses. Then Moses asks to see God’s glory (18) and the Lord promised that His ‘goodness’ would pass by Moses (19). Yet, Moses would not be able to look upon God directly (20) because no one could look at the Lord directly and live (33:12-23).
So Moses was to chisel two stone tablets and to go alone up Mount Sinai in the morning and present himself to the Lord. Moses went up Mount Sinai and the Lord came down in the cloud and passed by Moses. The Lord proclaimed His name to Moses revealing himself as the merciful and compassionate God, who forgives wickedness, rebellion and sin (33:19), but who is just and will not leave the guilty unpunished (see Pss. 86:15; 103:8; 145:8). Moses bows in worship and sought further assurance that the Lord would go with them to Canaan. They were a ‘stiff-necked people’ so Moses asked the Lord to forgive their sins and take them as the Lord’s inheritance (34:1-9).
The Lord confirmed that He was making His covenant with Moses and Israel and that He would perform His wonders before them. They were to obey the Lord’s commands and the Lord would drive out the inhabitants of the land. They were not to make treaties with them; rather they were to tear down their idolatrous places of worship because the Lord was jealous for their affections. The Lord would drive out these idolatrous nations, enlarge Israel’s territory, and protect their land when their men went up three times each year to appear before their God. So the Lord told Moses to write down these words, for the Lord was making His covenant with Moses and Israel (34:10-28).
When Moses came down Mount Sinai with the tablets of the covenant his face was radiant from speaking with the Lord. They were afraid but Moses summoned the elders and after giving them God’s commands, Moses veiled his face (33). Then when Moses entered the Lord’s presence he would remove the veil and after speaking with God his face would be radiant again. Then Moses after speaking with Israel would cover his face until he would go back to meet with God again (34:28–35).
The New Testament tells us that this covenant was glorious but that it is far surpassed by the ‘New Covenant’ in Christ. The glory of the ‘older covenant’ was a fading glory like the radiance on the face of Moses. The ‘new covenant’ is permanently fulfilled in Jesus Christ and will never fade away. Paul also tells us that as believers in Jesus we are being transformed by God’s Spirit into Christ’s likeness with ever-increasing glory (2 Corinthians 3:18).