Knowing God (Exodus 33:1-11)

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One idea that is rather popular in the church today is that we are all on a “journey” and that the thrill is in the journey itself. The Bible presents another worldview: The purpose of a journey is to get somewhere. The purpose of a journey is to reach a destination—and not just any destination but rather the destination to which God has appointed us. That destination is the knowledge of God. Theology is the goal of the Christian life: knowledge from God, about God, which leads to the knowledge of God. Augustine said it succinctly: “Thou hast made us for thyself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.”

Yes, the believer in the Lord Jesus Christ is indeed on a journey: the journey to know God. In his classic, Knowing God, J. I. Packer wrote,

What were we made for? To know God.

What aim should we set ourselves in life? To know God.

What is the “eternal life” that Jesus gives? Knowledge of God. “This is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent” (John 17:3).

What is the best thing in life, bringing more joy, delight, and contentment, than anything else? Knowledge of God. “This is what the LORD says: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom or the strong man boast of his strength or the rich man boast of his riches, but let him who boasts boast about this: that he understands and knows me (Jer. 9:23f.).

What, of all the states God ever sees man in, gives God most pleasure? Knowledge of himself. “I desire . . . the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings,” says God (Hos. 6:6, KJV).1

Idolatry is what results when the knowledge of God ceases to be our pursuit. Exodus 32 is always the result of a life lived apart from the pursuit of God. We may think that we are being “religious” (and that may very well be true—see Acts 17:22!) but if we are not pursuing God in accordance with His prescribed instructions (recorded in His Word), then we are merely following idols of our heart. And our hearts will indicate this with a sense of even greater emptiness. The reason is simple: There is no substitute for the presence of God in your life. Sex won’t satisfy. Sport and leisure will not satisfy. Money and things and fame cannot satisfy. Relationships cannot satisfy. Ministry cannot satisfy. No, none of these things can substitute for the satisfying presence of God. Only God can forgive us and reconcile us to Himself. And once He does so, then our passion in life becomes the pursuit and the knowledge of our great God and Saviour.

Next to Jesus, Moses was the greatest leader ever to arise from the loins of Abraham. He was the only person (next to Jesus) with whom God ever spoke “face to face,” and Scripture identifies him as the meekest man on the planet (Numbers 12:3).

Usain Bolt is the fastest man alive today, and is in fact said to be the fastest human being out of the some 100 billion people who have ever inhabited earth. That is not an accomplishment to be scoffed at. But it does not even compare to being commended by God as the most humble man who has ever lived. A man who can run faster than all others will be wealthy and famous; but the meek will inherit the earth!

A recent edition of Runner’s World magazine published an interview with Bold, in which he was asked about his plans for the future. He revealed that he plans to retire after the 2016 Olympics. He talked about his desire to make as much money as he can before then because he knows that his ability and fame has a shelf-life. I was struck with how often he spoke of retirement and making money. That seems to be his driving goal in life. (Granted, he seems to be doing much social good with his money. The fastest man on the planet—the fastest man who ever lived—is pursuing the passion of making money with a view to retirement. Contrast that with Moses. What was the overriding desire of this great man? Knowing God!

In Exodus 33 Moses pleaded with God, “Show me now Your way, that I may know You” (v. 13). In fact, the word “know” appears five times in vv. 12-17, thus indicating that the matter of knowing God is a paramount theme in this pericope.

Moses knew that he and the children of Israel were on a journey, but in contrast to many in our day, he understood that their journey had an assigned destination: the knowledge of God. And, again, contrary to so many of our time, he was certain about this destination.

As we turn our attention to Exodus 33 we do so as those on a journey; we are all heading in a linear direction toward an eternal destination. I trust that your destination is the knowledge of God.

Having identified in recent studies the idols of our hearts, and having learned how to put off such idolatry (Exodus 32), we now focus on how to put on the knowledge and the worship of the true God. This is the theme of Exodus 33-34. In this several-part series we will see that there is nothing that can satisfy the human heart but to know, worship and serve the God who is. Exodus 33:1-11 highlights two foundational experiences for those who will know God.

The Experience of Divine Estrangement

If we will know our God then we must first experience the reality of divine estrangement (vv. 1-6). Until His presence becomes our supreme desire, we will never seriously pursue the knowledge of God. And, more often than not, we will only come to crave His presence as we are faced with the fear of experiencing His absence. This was the situation faced by the children of Israel.

Let me briefly remind you of the context. God’s chosen and graced people were at the foot of Mount Sinai and were in big trouble. They had disrespected and disregarded their human leader (“this Moses,” 32:1), but more significantly, they had disobeyed and defied their God by demanding that Aaron make a gold calf to worship. They had trampled underfoot the glory of God by breaking His Second Commandment.

When Moses saw this he symbolically broke the tablets on which the law of God was written indicating that the people were transgressors. And so, in the words of Paul, by the law came the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:20). And because of this the children of Israel were now estranged from God. The wages of sin is always death.

As proof of this estrangement, God had threatened to kill them all and to make another nation with Moses as head and leader. But his shepherd’s heart would have none of that. Moses interceded and God relented.

Moses then calls for repentance on the part of the people (32:19-20) and those who refused were run through with the sword by the Levites (no passive, wimpy church leaders here!). And yet even as 3,000 corpses testified to the wrath of God, He remained angry. Moses knew this, and so he once again interceded for the people—even to the point of offering himself as a substitutionary sacrifice for these idolatrous sinners. It was a merciful, wonderful, gracious offer, but God rejected it. And He did so for the simple reason that no man (except Jesus!) could pay the wages of sin for another. Rather, God stated that He would blot out of His book whoever had sinned against Him. The chapter closes with God revealing to Moses that He would visit punishment upon the Israelites for their sin, and then v. 35 informs us that “the LORD plagued the people.”

We are not informed exactly when or how “the LORD plagued the people”; only that He did. Perhaps He brought the plague upon them at that time, or at another specific time. Perhaps, as many hold, the Lord was speaking of a delayed punishment, which came about over their 40 years of wandering in the wilderness.

God’s Declaration

Whatever the correct interpretation of the “plague” that God sent, there was a ray of hope in the midst of His word of judgement. Regardless of their sin, the people would be led to the Promised Land; and, in fact, God’s “Angel” would go with them. In fact, that was both good news and bad news. Let me explain.

The Promise

The opening of this chapter is filled with hope and with the sense that all is well. The plague (perhaps) had passed and the people of God now anticipated that they would get back on track on their trek to Canaan. And the opening words seem to confirm this—at least at first blush.

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Depart and go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your descendants I will give it.’ And I will send My Angel before you, and I will drive out the Canaanite and the Amorite and the Hittite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite. Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; for I will not go up in your midst, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.”

(Exodus 33:1-3)

According to v. 1 the Lord instructed the people to pack their bags and to prepare to continue their march toward the Promised Land. The Lord, who is faithful, would give them their promised real estate. He would not renege on His promise.

Because of His covenantal faithfulness, God would fulfil His promise by taking them to Canaan and giving them the land. God here promised property and the required protection and power to secure the property. He also confirmed His promise to make them prosperous—with “a land flowing with milk and honey.” What wonderful news for a recently judged people! Or was it?

All was not well. There was a dark lining to an otherwise silver cloud. Note carefully how God spoke of Israel: “the people” (not, “My people”), and “whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt” (not, “whom I have brought out of the land of Egypt”). It feels as if we are back in 32:7-9. God was distancing Himself from the children of Israel. To be sure, it was perhaps a touch better than His reference to them as “your people” in 32:7, but it still indicates a sense of divine estrangement.

Note also that, whilst the Hebrew text speaks of “My Angel” in 32:34, the personal pronoun is removed from our present text, so that (despite the effort of the NKJV translators to supply what they perceived to be the personal pronoun) the text in v. 2 actually reads, “I will send an angel before you” (ESV). Things clearly were not looking good. In fact, it appears that the Lord was merely fulfilling a covenantal obligation, but His heart was not really in it. What follows in v. 3 confirms the mood of the moment.

His Proviso

If any doubt remains as to the sombreness of the moment, it is removed in the last part of v. 3, which reads, “I will not go up in your midst, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people.”

After graciously announcing that “the people” would inherit a land flowing with milk and honey, the Lord juxtaposed the promise with the proviso that they would enter that land alone. He would not attend their way. In fact, He could not attend their way because, by His very nature, He would be moved to consume them. They were a stiff-necked, stubborn, obstinate people and so His distance from them—at least at this juncture—was for their benefit.

This proviso was God’s declaration that He would not be close to them on their journey. God was distancing Himself from the children of Israel. And that is always a tragedy. You cannot know a God who is distant.

Consider the irony of this whole scene. The Lord was responding to their idolatry by saying, “So, you made a god with a face because you longed for my presence? You made a graven image to accompany you on your journey because you longed for my nearness? Very well, you now have neither the presence of your idol nor My presence!”

In summary, they sought God’s presence in an unauthorised manner, and the result was that they lost out on God’s presence entirely. In fact, they forfeited God’s intention for them to have His presence by their sinful attempt to manufacture His presence. Let me explain, for this will help us to understand what took place in Exodus 33-34.

As we have learned, God desired to dwell in the midst of His people. Because of this, He commanded Moses to pay attention to His plans for the construction of the tabernacle (25:8). The plans for the tabernacle were provided by the divine Architect, and Moses was to make everything according to the precise prescriptions of the triune God. When the construction was complete, God would dwell with His people wherever they went until the permanent resting place of the temple replaced this more temporary structure.

By possessing the tabernacle the people of God would be set apart from all other peoples and the glory of God would be made known to the nations. In a real sense, this building was a missional tool. With Yahweh dwelling in the midst of His people, they could experience a taste of heaven on earth as God extended His kingdom on earth to the grand hallowing of His name. But then came Exodus 32, and it seemed as if God would mothball the project.

It appeared now that the tabernacle project might never see the light of day. And the people of Israel would be the ones to suffer. After all, how could they go through life claiming to be the people of God while at the same time being estranged from Him? There would certainly be no effectiveness to their testimony. In fact, this was not merely a setback; it was a complete train smash. The wheels of the plan of redemption for Israel seemed to have come off completely. This is where we find Moses and the children of Israel in these opening verses.

Ryken summarises the scene well when he writes,

When God said, “I will not go with you,” he specifically meant there would be no tabernacle at the center of their camp. . . . The Israelites were facing life without God. There would be no divine presence in their camp—no tabernacle. And without the tabernacle, there would be no altar for sacrifice, no laver for cleansing, no lampstand for light, no table for bread, no incense for prayer, no ark for atonement, and no glory in Israel. The Israelites would have to go it alone. They were still booked for the Promised Land, but God had cancelled his reservations.2

Pause for a moment to consider the scene and for us to consider ourselves.

If God promised you vast real estate, which was agriculturally overflowing with produce, protection from your enemies, and prosperity like you had never imagined—health, wealth and welfare—but all of this came at the expense of His presence, how would you respond? In other words, how important is it for you to know God?

This is not merely a theoretical question. The fact is, we face this question every day of our lives. We are constantly confronted with the choice to go it alone while enjoying the blessings of God, or to pursue the God who is the blessing. Is it not true that all too often we appreciate the gifts more than the Giver and the blessings more than the one who blesses?

Utilitarian religion frequently offers the goods without God. The prosperity gospel offers health and wealth, but with no guarantee of God’s presence. You will be blessed, to be sure, but you may have to enjoy those blessings without the divine presence. We are frequently tempted to choose peace, happiness, contentment, a better family life, better relationships, etc. and to ignore the quest for the presence of God in the very same breath.

Consider the example of the rich young ruler (Matthew 19:16-22). He came to Jesus with a question about how he might attain eternal life. But when Jesus confronted him with the idol of his heart (his great wealth), he proved unwilling to forsake the blessings for the privilege of knowing the Giver.

There are many who are quite content to have prayers answered with regard to their safety and their health, to have cupboards filled by the gracious provision of God, to be employed, and to enjoy God’s beautiful gifts of creation, and yet who have no desire to experience His presence. They have no interest in knowing God. They want a wedding in a church, a funeral with some hymns and a baby dedication with the pastor, but they are quite content to skip through life without the presence of God. In fact, if they were honest they would admit that His presence is a nuisance.

If that describes you then I have no good word for you; only a word of judgement. But if being alienated from God—despite the experience of His blessings—bothers you then I have wonderful news: That can change! In fact, that terrible sense of being estranged from God is evidence that God wants to be reconciled to you!

As we will come to see more clearly, the Lord was proving the hearts of the children of Israel in this very area. Their response serves to instruct us as to our priorities.

The People’s Decision

Though the question just posed may appear theoretical to you, it most certainly was not for the children of Israel. The Lord was effectively offering a prosperity gospel. They could have health, wealth and prosperity—so long as they were prepared to live apart from Him. How would they respond?

Their Distress

How would you respond if God offered you every material blessing, minus His presence? The response of these people was not, perhaps, what we might expect: “And when the people heard this bad news, they mourned” (v. 4).

The response of “the people” to the news that God was not claiming them as “My people” was one of great sadness. They interpreted this declaration from God as a “disastrous word” (ESV). J. Ligon Duncan says that “this statement by God is the greatest possible disaster. . . . Nothing that He has said in verses 1-2 about taking them into the land of promise could possibly make up for what He is saying: that He will withdraw.”3

Their response is encouraging. It is a blessing to know that these people were, at least at this point, Unhappy to have the land without the Lord. The thought of God not dwelling with them was cause for mourning. Matthew Henry captures this well when he writes, “Of all the bitter fruits and consequences of sin, true penitents most lament, and dread most, God’s departure from them.”4

To “mourn” means “to languish,” and it conveys the word picture of “walking with the head cast down” (Gesenius). These people were lamenting God’s offer of the prosperity gospel! They were disturbed that they were being offered their “best life now.” They did not want that; they wanted God! Chrysostom once commented that “to be separated from God is greater punishment than a thousand hells.” Picking up on this comment, Currid writes, “No wonder the Hebrews went into great mourning and lamentation over God’s threat not to be with them. No greater chastisement exists than separation from the Holy One of Israel.”5

By way of application, what causes you distress? What do you define as “bad news” or a “disastrous word”? Does the awareness of God departing from you cause you sorrow or, like Samson (Judges 16:20), are you so superficial that you don’t even realise when God has departed from you? If God was to refuse to present Himself with us at BBC and yet give us more church members, more property and a bigger budget, would we be distressed or oblivious? I am sure that I know the answer. Let us count it a blessing when the sense of God’s estrangement bows our backs and saddens our hearts. The grace of repentance and His return may be around the corner. It certainly was for these people.

Their Determination

Having responded to the “bad news” with an appropriate sense of mourning,

no one put on his ornaments. For the LORD had said to Moses, “Say to the children of Israel, ‘You are a stiff-necked people. I could come up into your midst in one moment and consume you. Now therefore, take off your ornaments, that I may know what to do to you.’” So the children of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments by Mount Horeb.

(Exodus 33:4-6)

It is quite clear from their response of removing their “ornaments” that the repentance displayed was genuine. Let me briefly explain what these “ornaments” were and why it was necessary for the people to remove them.

The “ornaments” were the items of jewellery that the people had brought from Egypt. It was from that jewellery that they had made the golden calf. Now they literally “plundered” themselves in obedience to God. (The word translated “take off” is the same word used in 3:22 and 12:36 with reference to plundering the Egyptians.) This demonstrated their commitment to turn from their sin (cf. Genesis 35:2-4). God was proving their contrition by demanding that they bring forth fruit in accordance with repentance.

Rushdoony helpfully notes that “the custom was to wear no ornaments when mourning to indicate that some loss, the cause of their sorrow, had in effect left their lives poorer.”6 They had lost something significant—God’s presence—and they consequently demonstrated their poverty of spirit. Pink observes, “The removal of their ornaments was for the purpose of evidencing the genuineness of their contrition. Outward adornment was out of keeping with the taking of a low place before God.”7

In short, they were demonstrating their determination to worship the true and living God (1 Thessalonians 1:9).

If we are intent on knowing God, then we must take practical steps to “invite” His presence. We must put off that which God tells us to put off and then put on the garments that He prescribes. We dare not hold onto our sin, nor dare we foolishly make provision for our flesh while at the same time pursuing the presence of God. The two are mutually exclusive.

When the sense of God’s estrangement moves us to repentance then we will rid ourselves of “the sin which so easily ensnares us” (Hebrews 12:1). In their case, it was their ornaments. In your case, it may be reading material, recreational choices, how you spend your money, how you spend your time, what you view on your computer, your associates, etc. The point remains the same: Get rid of it! And then replace those “ornaments” with the practical and passionate pursuit of the presence of God.

Interestingly, it was these very ornaments that were eventually used for the construction of the tabernacle (35:22). That which was misused and resulted in divine estrangement was later used in a way that God blessed with His presence. The application is clear: God’s gifts to us can be a means of either much harm or much spiritual benefit. This is especially true with reference to money (see 1 Timothy 6:17-19).

Let me point out something very important before we move on: We need to note that God’s estrangement from His people was actually an act of grace. Verse 5 especially brings this out. If God attended their way, at that point, their sins would have invited His just and holy wrath. That was why the Lord distanced Himself. By doing so He was teaching them the awfulness of sin. It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God!

It is helpful to note that, beginning with chapter 32, the concept “sin” begins to take prominence in the Exodus record. This is important, because it was time for the children of Israel to stop pointing their fingers at “those awful Egyptians” and to begin taking note of their own sinfulness.

If we will make progress in knowing God then we must make progress also in knowing ourselves. This will lead to conviction and to contrition, which will then open the door for us to appreciate the grace, mercy and longsuffering of our holy and just God. It would appear from this passage that perhaps the children of Israel were beginning to make some progress in this pursuit.

If, on the other hand, God’s distance does not lead to distress then you have not made much progress in your knowledge of God.

No one likes to fall and none of us enjoys the humiliation that attends the realisation that we have fallen short of the glory of God. And yet it is at these times—when we sense the Lord’s estrangement (even His alienation)—that we feel the weight of our sin as we feel the weight of His glory. And this leads to the grace of “weight-lifting” (see Matthew 11:28-30).

The Experience of Distant Encampment

If we will know our God then the experience of divine estrangement must lead to identifying with a distant encampment (vv. 7-11). We must be committed to separating from the status quo. Like Moses, we dare not be content to dwell in a situation in which God is estranged from us. Rather, we must do whatever it takes to enjoy His presence—even if it means going it alone. And the irony is that, only when we do so, are we in a position to help others to sense their own estrangement so that they will join us outside the camp to enjoy the presence of God.

The Position of Separation

Having heard all that the Lord had to say to His people, “Moses took his tent and pitched it outside the camp, far from the camp, and called it the tabernacle of meeting. And it came to pass that everyone who sought the LORD went out to the tabernacle of meeting which was outside the camp” (v. 7). Let me explain the scene before us here.

You will remember that the tabernacle was designed as God’s appointed place of meeting for all His people. It was to serve as a witness to the surrounding nations that Israel belonged to God (v. 16). But after all the elaborate plans for the tabernacle had been revealed to Moses, God was estranged from His people. They would not enjoy His presence. And so “Moses took his tent and pitched it outside the camp.”

Literally, the Hebrew text reads that Moses “pitched it for himself” outside the camp. The Septuagint reads, “And Moses struck his tent, and pitched it without the camp.” Evidently, Moses made a deliberate move from being with the people to separating from them for the purpose of being with God. If God was not going to remain in the camp, neither would Moses! “It was corporate idolatry which made Jehovah refuse to continue in Israel’s midst. It was when the Lord Himself had been rejected, and not till then, that Moses pitched the Tent outside the camp.”8

Moses loved the people (as can be evidenced in his intercession for them) but he loved God more. The presence of God was more important than the presence of the people. Fortunately, as we will see, he was able to enjoy both.

The verse further stresses the separation factor when it says that Moses moved “far from the camp.” And, just in case the reader missed it the first time, it is further emphasised that “the tabernacle of meeting . . .  was we outside the camp.”

It certainly seems as if Moses did this in response to God’s actions in vv. 1-6. Moses was spiritually sensitive enough to know that it was not safe for the children of Israel to be near God. In a very real sense, he moved outside the camp so that God would be respected and the covenant nation protected.

Some interpreters have noted that the text can read, “Moses used to pitch his tent outside the camp.” It is therefore possible that this was not an unusual action on Moses’ part. However a couple of things need to be pointed out.

First, there is no specific time reference here, and so it may be saying that, ever since the events of chapter 32, Moses began a new custom and kept it up.

Second, although it is true that the tabernacle had not yet been constructed (and therefore this may be interpreted as a natural course of action on Moses’ part), it should be noted that there is no previous mention in Exodus of such a tent. It thus appears that this was a fairly new practice on Moses’ part. Further, in the light of the recent context regarding the tabernacle, this scene seems to be deliberately juxtaposed to draw a contrast between what God had planned for His people and the sad situation that transpired in the light of their recent great sin of idolatry.

Putting this all together we can fairly conclude that, even though the people of God were mourning their sin, God was still estranged from them. He had moved away from them. He was no longer in their midst. Is there anything worse than the absence of God?

But v. 7 also gives us a glimpse of grace and thus of hope for the nation. The text tells us that God was willing to meet with anyone who came to Moses’ tent outside the camp. Those who were truly repentant were given the opportunity to commune with God.

Their deliberate move outside the camp was a very public declaration that they meant business. It was a very loud statement that they were not content to live without God. “If any desired to seek the Lord, and humble themselves before him, they were required to show abhorrence of the idolatry of Israel, by separating from among them, and following the tabernacle out of the camp.”9

Such an action called for a public statement. It called for public identification. It called for public renunciation of idolatry. It called for willingness to separate. In some ways, it was tantamount to the call by Moses earlier to join him on the Lord’s side (32:26).

We are invited to know God but we must respond to the invitation. God has given to us plenty of opportunities and we dare not ignore them. But to pursue the knowledge of God will require that we publicly identify with the place of contempt—“outside the camp.”

By way of application let me ask, what you are willing to leave in order to know God? From whom are you willing to separate in order to know God? What sin are you willing to forsake in order to know God? From what (or whom) do you need to seriously separate in order to meaningfully seek the Lord?

The Profound Anticipation

In vv. 8-11 we have another glimpse of Moses as a wonderful mediator appointed by God for His people.

So it was, whenever Moses went out to the tabernacle, that all the people rose, and each man stood at his tent door and watched Moses until he had gone into the tabernacle. And it came to pass, when Moses entered the tabernacle, that the pillar of cloud descended and stood at the door of the tabernacle, and the LORD talked with Moses. All the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the tabernacle door, and all the people rose and worshiped, each man in his tent door. So the LORD spoke to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend. And he would return to the camp, but his servant Joshua the son of Nun, a young man, did not depart from the tabernacle.

(Exodus 33:8-11)

Samuel Rutherford said, “It is faith’s work to claim and challenge loving-kindness out of all the roughest strokes of God.”10 This is precisely what Moses was doing on behalf of the people. And the people understood it.

Earlier, the people treated Moses with contempt when they referred to him as “this Moses” (32:1). But here they showed him great respect. As Moses arose to go out to the tent, it was as if all eyes were upon him. As he entered the tent of meeting, they watched him closely. And when the pillar of cloud descended they knew that God was present there with their mediator. They seemed to grasp the reality that Moses was making intercession for them.

As you read this passage it teems with tension and anticipation. Again, all eyes were on Moses as he went to meet with God. The people looked intently and waited to see if God would present Himself. Perhaps Moses would soon come forth with the good news that God had relented and that He would indeed go with them.

The people seem to have grasped the reality that if Moses failed as their mediator—as the one interceding for them—they would be of all men most miserable. And so they watched to see whether God would present Himself with Moses. Oh what joy as they observed the pillar of cloud standing at the tent door! God was present! Their God, who had seemingly estranged Himself from them, was near once again. And His nearness was an offer of hope. Perhaps He would, after all, go with them to Canaan!

When the people saw the evidence of God’s nearness they responded in the only reasonable way: They worshipped. Indeed, God was present and they had not been forsaken!

Verse 11 contains a profound statement. Moses is the only person in Scripture of whom such words are ever spoken. No one else is said to have met with God “face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” This is a picture of profound intimacy. “Face to face” implies transparency rather than fullness of revelation (see v. 20). God saw Moses—as He had seen Abraham—as His friend. “Moses and God were friends. God told him everything he needed to know about his plans for Israel. He spoke with Moses like a friend with a friend. This meant that there was still hope.”11

Such an individual makes for a wonderful intercessor! When you have a friend who is the friend of God then you have a friend indeed. You have much reason to hope. And we have such a friend in Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour. Our Mediator, the Lord Jesus Christ, ascended to the heavenly tent of meeting to intercede for all who will come to God by Him. And He never fails. You see, God accepts Jesus face to face.

As Moses would return to the camp after such an encounter the people would no doubt be encouraged about the possibility of the knowledge of the presence of God. And, of course, it is because of the face-to-face presence of our Mediator in heaven that we are assured of such possibility. We can know God because Jesus Christ is perfectly accepted by the Father. When we look into the face of Christ we are indeed looking into the face of almighty God (2 Corinthians 4:6). And though now we see dimly as though in a mirror, there is coming a day in which we will see face to face (1 Corinthians 13:12). Matthew Henry sums this up well: “Thus we must worship God, looking to Christ as the Mediator.”12

Finally, note that Joshua, Moses’ “servant,” stayed at the tabernacle of meeting. He was a military man and so I assume that he was to dwell at the tabernacle to keep the curious from trespassing. Moses could enter, but the common people could not. Only those who have been appointed by God can appear and survive in the presence of the holy God. And because Jesus Christ—our Joshua—never leaves the right hand of the Father, we can be sure that we are eternally safe and secure!

The Place of Reconciliation

As we draw our study to a close we need to consider that this place “outside the camp” typifies the place where God meets with man, and thus points to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is where our journey to know God begins. The writer to the Hebrews refers to this place in 13:10-13.

We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach.

(Hebrews 13:10-13)

In this letter, Jewish readers were exhorted repeatedly to openly identify with Christ. They were warned (see chapter 12) that the city of Jerusalem was about to be destroyed and that the supposed meeting place with God (the temple) was soon to be shaken to its very foundations. If they wanted to escape the judgement of God upon the covenant nation then they must be willing to “go forth to [Christ], outside the camp, bearing His reproach.”

Verse 12 identifies the place “outside the camp” as Calvary, where Jesus shed His blood. The point the writer was making is that there must be a separation between those who are sincere in their faith in Christ and those who are superficial.

We don’t begin our journey to know God in a leather-covered tabernacle or in a stone temple, but with the flesh-and-blood God-Man, who died on a wooden cross and who rose from the dead three days later.

Are you serious about wanting to be right with God? Are you serious about knowing Him? Then the journey begins with you seeing and embracing the Lord Jesus Christ as your Saviour, the One who died for sinners on the centre cross at Calvary. Strip off the “ornaments” of your sin, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be saved. You will then find yourself worshipping, realising the glory of God dwelling in and with you. And such awareness will drive you on your journey to knowing God. After all, as the Lord Jesus revealed, eternal life is nothing less than knowing God (John 17:3). And when you know God then you have all you need.

Show 12 footnotes

  1. J. I. Packer, Knowing God (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1973), 33.
  2. Philip Graham Ryken, Exodus: Saved for God’s Glory (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2005), 1019.
  3. J. Ligon Duncan III, “I Will Not Go in Your Midst,”
  4. Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, 3 vols. (Nashville: Royal Publishers, 1979), 1:214.
  5. John D. Currid, Study Commentary on Exodus, 2 vols. (Darlington: Evangelical Press, 2001), 2:296.
  6. Rousas John Rushdoony, Commentary on the Pentateuch, 5 vols. (Vallecito: Ross House Books, 2004), 2:480.
  7. A. W. Pink, Gleanings in Exodus (Chicago: Moody Press, 1981), 334.
  8. Pink, Gleanings in Exodus, 336.
  9. Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, 1:214.
  10. Warren W. Wiersbe, Be Delivered: Finding Freedom by Following God (Colorado Springs: Chariot Victor Publishing, 1998), 170.
  11. Ryken, Exodus, 1024.
  12. Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, 1:214.