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Wednesday in the Word

Second Baptist Church

May 30, 2018

Exodus  33:1-11

  1. Recapping from last chapter, we studied how some of the Israelites had led the community in idol worship. This group of people influenced many to turn from the living God to the worship of a false idol. Moses was so disappointed that he threw the stone tablets to the ground as a symbol of the broken covenant with God. God was extremely angry, and this led Moses to intercede on behalf of the people. Moses asked for mercy, and God didn’t destroy the whole community. This was a terrible time for the people because their sin put a separation between them and God. Their sin had cost them the lives of some 3000 people as well as a plague. The point that God was making is that sin brings separation and division. Sin always creates barriers between men and God. Some barriers are the result of man’s withdrawal. After Adam and Eve sinned, they hid from God, even when He came to fellowship with them (Gen. 3:8-9). These Israelites must learn the consequences of sin going unchecked in their lives. If God would have allowed their idol worship to continue they would have destroyed each other and become a laughingstock. God must save us from ourselves sometimes or else we will destroy our destiny.

  2. Verses 1-3. As Moses was speaking to God, God tells Moses to leave the place and go towards the promise land. God tells Moses that the angel will go before him, but God would not go with them as before in an intimate way. God tells Moses he doesn’t want to go with the people because the people are stiff-necked and will probably do something to incur his wrath on the way. God is basically telling Moses he can’t stand the sight of these people right now. Moses knows that this isn’t good. God is basically saying, I will fulfill my promise, but you are on your own after that. God was thus threatening to not dwell in the Tabernacle. The consequence for Israel’s idolatry was that of losing the more intimate presence of God which the Tabernacle was designed to provide.

  3. Verses 4-6. Now, when God indicates that He will lead Israel into the blessings of Canaan, but from a distance, the Israelites mourn. I believe that they mourned as well over the remoteness of God’s presence. The Israelites are no longer content with just a land of milk and honey, with a God who is far removed. They mourn the threatened loss of intimacy with God which they might have had. The mourning of the Israelites was not only commendable, it was accompanied with the fruits appropriate to repentance (cf. Matt. 3:8; Acts 26:20). The appropriate act of repentance was to remove the ornaments. I believe that these ornaments they wore somehow were connected to the idol worship. I am inclined to believe that the gold ornaments had a direct association with the false worship of the Egyptians. I would not doubt that these ornaments had a direct connection with the idols which Amos spoke of much later, when he spoke of the “gods” which the Israelites brought with them out of Egypt (Amos 5:26). Do you see why the putting off Israel’s ornaments and jewelry was an appropriate act of repentance? Because these ornaments were like those which had been contributed to make the golden calf (Exod. 32:2-4). To put off these ornaments was to show Israel’s repentance over the golden calf incident. The Israelites, we seem to be told, never again put on these ornaments: “So the sons of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments from Mount Horeb onward” (Exod. 33:6). I believe that it is these ornaments, which the Israelites put off here, were later offered to God to be used for the furnishings of the Tabernacle (Exod. 35:21-22).

  4. Verses 7-11. The evidence all points to the fact that the “tent of meeting” described here is a unique, provisional place for God to meet with Moses and the Israelites. On the one hand, it is inferior to the Tabernacle, but on the other hand, any place of meeting with God is better than none. The function of the “tent of meeting” and the Tabernacle was similar, in that the Tabernacle was also a “tent of meeting” (cf. Exod. 35:21), and thus superseded the mysterious “tent” of verses 7-11 of our text. Therefore, we will see references to the “tent of meeting” later on, but I think these are all referring to the Tabernacle. The period of time which this “tent of meeting” was used is not made clear either. It had to be used for some period, because verse 7 indicates that Moses repeatedly took the tent outside the camp and pitched it. I think this can be explained by the fact that while the Israelites camped at the base of Mt. Sinai, they would have had to move about to find pasture for their flocks. We cannot say for sure how long Moses and Israel made use of this tent, but I would suppose that it was until the time that the Tabernacle was completed. It may also be that God graciously provided this tent for Moses to meet with Him and to mediate for the people, rather than having to scale Mt. Sinai every time he wished to worship God. We just don’t know for sure.

  5. There are four things which impress me with the account of the “tent of meeting” in verses 7-11: (1) that the “tent of meeting” was a place where the Israelites could seek out God; (2) the fact that the “tent of meeting” was “outside the camp” (v. 7); (3) the intimacy which Moses experienced with God; and, (4) the respect which the people showed for Moses when he met with God. We will consider all of these, as well as their inter-relationships.

    1. The great wonder of the “tent of meeting” was not that Moses could go there to seek God, but that the Israelites could seek Him as well: “And it came about, that everyone who sought the Lord would go out to the tent of meeting which was outside the camp” (Exod. 33:7b). The God who had appeared at the top of Mt. Sinai, which the Israelites were not allowed to approach (Exod. 19:12-13), not even the priests (19:23-25), was now willing for people to seek Him in this tent, outside the camp.

    2. The “tent of meeting” was located “outside the camp,” “a good distance from the camp” (v. 7). I believe that the principle reason for this was to fulfill God’s words to Moses, that He would not go up with Israel to Canaan “in the midst of them” (v. 3). When God’s presence was manifested at the tent of meeting, it was always outside the camp. When an Israelite would seek God, he or she would do so “outside the camp.” This tent symbolized the remoteness of God, due to Israel’s idolatry, yet also provided a nearness to God that was more intimate than anything the people had yet experienced. When any Israelite wanted to seek God, he would have to remove himself from the midst of his people, separate himself from their sinfulness, to seek God on His own holy ground.

    3. In our text we see Moses enjoying an intimacy with God which is virtually unparalleled in the Old Testament. When Miriam and Aaron later on spoke against Moses, God Himself said, “Hear now My words: If there is a prophet among you, I the LORD shall make Myself known to him in a vision. I shall speak with him in a dream. Not so, with My servant Moses, He is faithful in all My household; With him I speak mouth to mouth, Even openly, and not in dark sayings, And he beholds the form of the LORD” (Num. 12:6-8a). No other prophet spoke “face to face” with God as Moses did here. And when Moses entered the “tent of meeting,” the cloud, representing the presence and the glory of God, descended to the door of the tent (Exod. 33:9). I believe that the intimacy of worship we see here is the fulfillment of God’s promise to Moses, made at the same place, before he had returned to Egypt: “Certainly I will be with you, and this shall be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God at this mountain” (Exod. 3:12).

    4. The actions of the Israelites in our text can only be appreciated in the light of their rejection and disdain for Moses as reflected in their words to Aaron: “…as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him” (Exod. 32:1). When Moses had been gone for some time, the Israelites were not really concerned for his life or safety. They did not pray for him or send out a search party. They just concluded that he was gone and not coming back. Thus, they unofficially appointed Aaron to lead them, and to make a golden god for them to worship. The people could care less about Moses at the time of their rebellion against God. Now, however, it is a vastly different story. Whenever Moses went out to the “tent of meeting” the whole congregation stood at the entrance of his tent and intently watched Moses, until he had entered the tent (v. 8). And when Moses entered the tent and the cloud descended, the people then worshipped God (v. 10). The intimacy which God had with Moses was God’s way of emphasizing that Moses was the leader God had appointed, whom the people should respect and obey. When God spoke to Moses from that cloud, the people saw it and learned that this man was God’s man, and that they had better not disregard him again. No wonder the whole congregation stood when Moses went “outside the camp.”

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