Verses 12–23

Moses, having returned to the door of the tabernacle, becomes a humble and importunate supplicant there for two very great favours, and as a prince he has power with God, and prevails for both: herein he was a type of Christ the great intercessor, whom the Father heareth always.

I. He is very earnest with God for a grant of his presence with Israel in the rest of their march to Canaan, notwithstanding their provocations. The people had by their sin deserved the wrath of God, and for the turning away of that Moses had already prevailed, Exod. 32:14. But they had likewise forfeited God’s favourable presence, and all the benefit and comfort of that, and this Moses is here begging for the return of. Thus, by the intercession of Christ, we obtain not only the removal of the curse, but an assurance of the blessing; we are not only saved from ruin, but become entitled to everlasting happiness. Observe how admirably Moses orders this cause before God, and fills his mouth with arguments. What a value he expresses for God’s favour, what a concern for God’s glory and the welfare of Israel. How he pleads, and how he speeds.

1. How he pleads. (1.) He insists upon the commission God had given him to bring up this people, Exod. 33:12. This he begins with: “Lord, it is thou thyself that employest me; and wilt thou not own me? I am in the way of my duty; and shall I not have thy presence with me in that way?” Whom God calls out to any service he will be sure to furnish with necessary assistances. “Now, Lord, thou hast ordered me a great work, and yet left me at a loss how to go about it, and to through with it.” Note, Those that sincerely design and endeavour to do their duty may in faith beg of God direction and strength for the doing of it. (2.) He improves the interest he himself had with God, and pleads God’s gracious expressions of kindness to him: Thou hast said, I know thee by name, as a particular friend and confidant, and thou hast also found grace in my sight, above any other. Now, therefore, says Moses, if it be indeed so, that I have found grace in thy sight, show me the way, Exod. 33:13. What favour God had expressed to the people they had forfeited the benefit of, there was no insisting upon that; and therefore Moses lays the stress of his plea upon what God had said to him, which, though he owns himself unworthy of, yet he hopes he has not thrown himself out of the benefit of. By this therefore he takes hold on God: “Lord, if ever thou wilt do any thing for me, do this for the people.” Thus our Lord Jesus, in his intercession, presents himself to the Father, as one in whom he is always well pleased, and so obtains mercy for us with whom he is justly displeased; and we are accepted in the beloved. Thus also men of public spirit love to improve their interest both with God and man for the public good. Observe what it is he is thus earnest for: Show me thy way, that I may know that I find grace in thy sight. Note, Divine direction is one of the best evidences of divine favour. By this we may know that we find grace in God’s sight, if we find grace in our hearts to guide and quicken us in the way of our duty. God’s good work in us is the surest discovery of his good-will towards us. (3.) He insinuates that the people also, though most unworthy, yet were in some relation to God: “Consider that this nation is thy people, a people that thou hast done great things for, redeemed to thyself, and taken into covenant with thyself; Lord, they are thy own, do not leave them.” The offended father considers this, “My child is foolish and froward, but he is my child, and I cannot abandon him.” (4.) He expresses the great value he had for the presence of God. When God said, My presence shall go with thee, he caught at that word, as that which he could not live and move without: “If thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence,” Exod. 33:15. He speaks as one that dreaded the thought of going forward without God’s presence, knowing that their marches could not be safe, nor their encampments easy, if they had not God with them. “Better lie down and die here in the wilderness than go forward to Canaan without God’s presence.” Note, Those who know how to value God’s favours are best prepared to receive them. Observe how earnest Moses is in this matter; he begs as one that would take no denial. “Here we will stay till we obtain thy favour; like Jacob, I will not let thee go except thou bless me.” And observe how he advances upon God’s concessions; the kind intimations given him make him yet more importunate. Thus God’s gracious promises, and the advances of mercy towards us, should not only encourage our faith, but excite our fervency in prayer. (5.) He concludes with an argument taken from God’s glory (Exod. 33:16): “Wherein shall it be known to the nations that have their eyes upon us that I and thy people (with whom my interests are all blended) have found grace in thy sight, distinguishing favour, so as to be separated from all people on earth? How will it appear that we are indeed thus honoured? Isa. it not in that thou goest with us? Nothing short of this can answer these characters. Let it never be said that we are a peculiar people, and highly favoured, for we stand but upon a level with the rest of our neighbours unless thou go with us; sending an angel with us will not serve.” He lays a stress upon the place—“here in this wilderness, whither thou hast led us, and where we shall be certainly lost if thou leave us.” Note, 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.

2. Observe how he speeds. He obtained an assurance of God’s favour, (1.) To himself (Exod. 33:14): “I will give thee rest, I will take care to make thee easy in this matter; however it be, thou shalt have satisfaction.” Moses never entered Canaan, and yet God made good his word that he would give him rest, Dan. 12:13. (2.) To the people for his sake. Moses was not content with that answer which bespoke favour to himself only, he must gain a promise, an express promise, for the people too, or he is not at rest; gracious generous souls think it not enough to get to heaven themselves, but would have all their friends go thither too. And in this also Moses prevailed: I will do this thing also that thou hast spoken, Exod. 33:17. Moses is not checked as an unreasonable beggar, whom no saying would serve, but he is encouraged. God grants as long as he asks, gives liberally, and does not upbraid him. See the power of prayer, and be quickened hereby to ask, and seek, and knock, and to continue instant in prayer, to pray always and not to faint. See the riches of God’s goodness. When he has done much, yet he is willing to do more: I will do this also—above what we are able to ask or think. See, in type, the prevalency of Christ’s intercession, which he ever lives to make for all those that come to God by him, and the ground of that prevalency. It is purely his own merit, not any thing in those for whom he intercedes; it is because thou hast found grace in my sight. And now the matter is settled, God is perfectly reconciled to them, his presence in the pillar of cloud returns to them and shall continue with them; all is well again, and henceforth we hear no more of the golden calf. Lord, who is a God like unto thee, pardoning iniquity?

II. Having gained this point, he next begs a sight of God’s glory, and is heard in this matter also. Observe,

1. The humble request Moses makes: I beseech thee, show me thy glory, Exod. 33:18. Moses had lately been in the mount with God, had continued there a great while, and had enjoyed as intimate a communion with God as ever any man had on this side heaven; and yet he is still desiring a further acquaintance. All that are effectually called to the knowledge of God and fellowship with him, though they desire nothing more than God, are nevertheless still coveting more and more of him, till they come to see as they are seen. Moses had wonderfully prevailed with God for one favour after another, and the success of his prayers emboldened him to go on still to seek God; the more he had the more he asked: when we are in a good frame at the throne of grace, we should endeavour to preserve and improve it, and strike while the iron is hot: “Show me thy glory; make me to see it” (so the word is); “make it some way or other visible, and enable me to bear the sight of it.” Not that he was so ignorant as to think God’s essence could be seen with 1f4d bodily eyes; but, having hitherto only heard a voice out of a pillar of cloud or fire, he desired to see some representation of the divine glory, such as God saw fit to gratify him with. It was not fit that the people should see any similitude when the Lord spoke unto them, lest they should corrupt themselves; but he hoped that there was not that danger in his seeing some similitude. Something it was more than he had yet seen that Moses desired. If it was purely for the assisting of his faith and devotion, the desire was commendable; but perhaps there was in it a mixture of human infirmity. God will have us walk by faith, not by sight, in this world; and faith comes by hearing. Some think that Moses desired a sight of God’s glory as a token of his reconciliation, and an earnest of that presence which he had promised them; but he knew not what he asked.

2. The gracious reply God made to this request. (1.) He denied that which was not fit to be granted, and which Moses could not bear: Thou canst not see my face, Exod. 33:20. A full discovery of the glory of God would quite overpower the faculties of any mortal man in this present state, and overwhelm him, even Moses himself. Man is mean and unworthy of it, weak and could not bear it, guilty and could not but dread it. It is in compassion to our infirmity that God holdeth back the face of his throne, and spreadeth a cloud upon it, Job 26:9. God has said that here (that is, in this world) his face shall not be seen (Exod. 33:23); that is an honour reserved for the future state, to be the eternal bliss of holy souls: should men in this state know what it is, they would not be content to live short of it. There is a knowledge and enjoyment of God which must be waited for in another world, when we shall see him as he is, 1 John 3:2. In the mean time let us adore the height of what we do know of God, and the depth of what we do not. Long before this, Jacob had spoken of it with wonder that he had seen God face to face, and yet his life was preserved, Gen. 32:30. Sinful man dreads the sight of God his Judge; but holy souls, being by the Spirit of the Lord changed into the same image, behold with open face the glory of the Lord. 2 Cor. 3:18. (2.) He granted that which would be abundantly satisfying. [1.] He should hear what would please him (Exod. 33:19): I will make all my goodness pass before thee. He had given him wonderful instances of his goodness in being reconciled to Israel: but that was only goodness in the stream; he would show him goodness in the spring—all his goodness. This was a sufficient answer to his request. “Show me thy glory,” says Moses. “I will show thee my goodness,” says God. Note, God’s goodness is his glory; and he will have us to know him by the glory of his mercy more than by the glory of his majesty; for we must fear even the Lord and his goodness, Hos. 3:5. That especially which is the glory of God’s goodness is the sovereignty of it, that he will be gracious to whom he will be gracious, that, as an absolute proprietor, he makes what difference he pleases in bestowing his gifts, and is not debtor to any, nor accountable to any (may he not do what he will with his own?); also that all his reasons of mercy are fetched from within himself, not from any merit in his creatures: as he has mercy on whom he will, so, because he will. Even so, Father, because it seemed good in thy sight. It is never said, “I will be angry at whom I will be angry,” for his wrath is always just and holy; but I will show mercy on whom I will show mercy, for his grace is always free. He never damns by prerogative, but by prerogative he saves. The apostle quotes this (Rom. 9:15) in answer to those who charged God with unrighteousness in giving that grace freely to some which he withholds justly from others. [2.] He should see what he could bear, and what would suffice him. The matter is concerted so as that Moses might be safe and yet satisfied. First, Save in a cleft of the rock, Exod. 33:21, 22. In this he was to be sheltered from the dazzling light and devouring fire of God’s glory. This was the rock in Horeb out of which water was brought, of which it is said, That rock was Christ, 1 Cor. 10:4. It is in the clefts of this rock that we are secured from the wrath of God, which otherwise would consume us; God himself will protect those that are thus hid. And it is only through Christ that we have the knowledge of the glory of God. None can see his glory to their comfort but those who stand upon this rock, and take shelter in it. Secondly, He was satisfied with a sight of his back-parts, Exod. 33:23. He should see more of God than any ever saw on earth, but not so much as those see who are in heaven. The face, in man, is the seat of majesty, and men are known by their faces; in them we take a full view of men. That sight of God Moses might not have, but such a sight as we have of a man who has gone past us, so that we only see his back, and have (as we say) a blush of him. We cannot be said to look at God, but rather to look after him (Gen. 16:13); for we see through a glass darkly. When we see what God has done in his works, observe the goings of our God, our King, we see (as it were) his back-parts. The best thus know but in part, and we cannot order our speech concerning God, by reason of darkness, any more than we can describe a man whose face we never saw. Now Moses was allowed to see only the back-parts; but long afterwards, when he was a witness to Christ’s transfiguration, he saw his face shine as the sun. If we faithfully improve the discoveries God gives us of himself while we are here, a brighter and more glorious scene will shortly be opened to us; for to him that hath shall be given.