Here is, I. One mark of displeasure put upon them for their further humiliation: Moses took the tabernacle, not his own tent for his family, but the tent wherein he gave audience, heard causes, and enquired of God, the guild-hall (as it were) of their camp, and pitched it without, afar off from the camp (Exod. 33:7), to signify to them that they had rendered themselves unworthy of it, and that, unless peace was made, it would return to them no more. God would thus let them know that he was at variance with them: The Lord is far from the wicked. Thus the glory of the Lord departed from the temple when it was polluted with sin, Ezek. 10:4; 11:23. Note, It is a sign that God is angry when he removes his tabernacle, for his ordinances are fruits of his favour and tokens of his presence; while we have them with us we have him with us. Perhaps this tabernacle was a plan, or model rather, of the tabernacle that was afterwards to be erected, a hasty draught from the pattern shown him in the mount, designed for direction to the workmen, and used, in the mean time, as a tabernacle of meeting between God and Moses about public affairs. This was set up at a distance, to affect the people with the loss of that glorious structure which, if they had not forsaken their own mercies for lying vanities, was to have been set up in the midst of them. Let them see what they had forfeited.
II. Many encouragements give them, notwithstanding, to hope that God would yet be reconciled to them.
1. Though the tabernacle was removed, yet every one that was disposed to seek the Lord was welcome to follow it, Exod. 33:7. Private persons, as well as Moses, were invited and encouraged to apply to God, as intercessors upon this occasion. A place was appointed for them to go to without the camp, to solicit God’s return to them. Thus when Ezra (a second Moses) interceded for Israel there were assembled to him many that trembled at God’s word, Ezra 9:4. When God designs mercy, he stirs up prayer. He will be sought unto (Ezek. 36:37); and, thanks be to his name, he may be sought unto, and will not reject the intercession of the poorest. Every Israelite that sought the Lord was welcome to this tabernacle, as well as Moses the man of God.
2. Moses undertook to mediate between God and Israel. He went out to the tabernacle, the place of treaty, probably pitched between them and the mount (Exod. 33:8), and he entered into the tabernacle, Exod. 33:9. That cause could not but speed well which had so good a manager; when their judge (under God) becomes their advocate, and he who was appointed to be their law-giver is an intercessor for them, there is hope in Israel concerning this thing.
3. The people seemed to be in a very good mind and well disposed towards a reconciliation. (1.) When Moses went out to go to the tabernacle, the people looked after him (Exod. 33:8), in token of their respect to him whom before they had slighted, and their entire dependence upon his mediation. By this it appeared that they were very solicitous about this matter, desirous to be at peace with God and concerned to know what would be the issue. Thus the disciples looked after our Lord Jesus, when he ascended on high to enter into the holy place not made with hands, till a cloud received him out of their sight, as Moses here. And we must with an eye of faith follow him likewise thither, where he is appearing in the presence of God for us; then shall we have the benefit of his mediation. (2.) When they saw the cloudy pillar, that symbol of God’s presence, give Moses the meeting, they all worshipped, every man at his tent door, Exod. 33:10. Thereby they signified, [1.] Their humble adoration of the divine Majesty, which they will ever worship, and not gods of gold any more. [2.] Their joyful thankfulness to God that he was pleased to show them this token for good, and give them hopes of a reconciliation; for, if he had been pleased to kill them, he would not have shown them such things as these, would not have raised them up such a mediator, nor given him such countenance. [3.] Their hearty concurrence with Moses as their advocate in every thing he should promise for them, and their expectation of a comfortable and happy issue of this treaty. Thus must we worship God in our tents with an eye to Christ as the Mediator. Their worshipping in their tent doors declared plainly that they were not ashamed publicly to own their respect to God and Moses, as they had publicly worshipped the calf.
4. God was, in Moses, reconciling Israel to himself, and manifested himself very willing to be at peace. (1.) God met Moses at the place of treaty, Exod. 33:9. The cloudy pillar, which had withdrawn itself from the camp when it was polluted with idolatry, now returned to this tabernacle at some distance, coming back gradually. If our hearts go forth towards God to meet him he will graciously come down to meet us. (2.) God talked with Moses (Exod. 33:9), spoke to him face to face, as a man speaks to his friend (Exod. 33:11), which intimates that God revealed himself to Moses, not only with greater clearness and evidence of divine light than to any other of the prophets, but also with greater expressions of particular kindness and grace. He spoke, not as a prince to a subject, but as a man to his friend, whom he loves, and with whom he takes sweet counsel. This was great encouragement to Israel, to see their advocate so great a favourite; and, that they might be encouraged by it, Moses turned again into the camp, to tell the people what hopes he had of bringing this business to a good issue, and that they might not despair if he should be long absent. But, because he intended speedily to return to the tabernacle of the congregation, he left Joshua there, for it was not fit that the place should be empty, so long as the cloud of glory stood at the door (Exod. 33:9); but, if God had any thing to say out of that cloud while Moses was absent, Joshua was there, ready to hear it.