Exodus 33:7-11 are parenthetical verses, to help us understand the relationship Moses had with God. The actual events described would not occur until after completion of the Tabernacle in Exodus 40. Understanding this relationship gives insight into why he was chosen to lead Israel.
“And Moses took the tabernacle, and pitched it without the camp, afar off from the camp, and called it the Tabernacle of the congregation. And it came to pass, that every one which sought the LORD went out unto the tabernacle of the congregation, which was without the camp.”(Exodus 33:7)
Religion is a person’s basic core value system, whether it is called Islam, or Buddhist, Catholic, Baptist, or Atheist. Throughout history, people have tried to impose their religion on others. Many have become Catholic or Moslem in name, while not really changing their basic beliefs. People who say they don’t allow their religion to affect their decisions are mistakenly referring to the accepted values of their nominal religion rather than their real beliefs.
The Jews had a history of believing in God dating back over six hundred years to Abraham. In addition they had seen God’s working in their own lives to deliver them from slavery in Egypt and meet their needs for the previous six months or so. When the Tabernacle was completed, it provided a point of reference for their beliefs, quickly becoming the center of Jewish life, even when located outside the camp.
“And it came to pass, when Moses went out unto the tabernacle, that all the people rose up, and stood every man at his tent door, and looked after Moses, until he was gone into the tabernacle. And it came to pass, as Moses entered into the tabernacle, the cloudy pillar descended, and stood at the door of the tabernacle, and the LORD talked with Moses. And all the people saw the cloudy pillar stand at the tabernacle door: and all the people rose up and worshipped, every man in his tent door.” (Exodus 33:8-10)
After confronting Pharaoh, then leading Israel out of Egypt, Moses was definitely a celebrity, and everything he did was as closely observed as the actions of celebrities and political leaders are today. The people were especially aware when he went to the Tabernacle.
From the time they left Egypt, the pillar of cloud by day and of fire by night had shown them where God wanted them to go. When the people saw the pillar come down on the tabernacle when Moses entered it they were reassured of Moses’ relationship with God, and that they were where they were supposed to be. Many leaders resent such close scrutiny, not understanding people’s need for assurance that one is still focused on the job at hand and thus will not lead them into trouble. When they were sure of God’s leadership in Moses’ life the people worshipped God, and people today are no different.
“And the LORD spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend. And he turned again into the camp: but his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, departed not out of the tabernacle.” (Exodus 33:11)
Moses’ relationship with God was far more than mere religious activity. Many people have work friends, but they have a smaller group of close friends who they spend their free time with. Of that smaller group there may be one or two best friends they can share everything with. Many people don’t have even one person they feel that close to. Moses’ relationship with God was like that of a best friend. Joshua, who would eventually replace Moses as leader was developing a similar relationship.
The requirements for church leaders described in I Timothy 3:1-12 and Titus 1:7-9 describe the attitudes characteristic of men with a similar relationship with God. Without developing a similar closeness to God themselves, they will be unable to consistently lead the people properly.
“And Moses said unto the LORD, See, thou sayest unto me, Bring up this people: and thou hast not let me know whom thou wilt send with me. Yet thou hast said, I know thee by name, and thou hast also found grace in my sight. Now therefore, I pray thee, if I have found grace in thy sight, show me now thy way, that I may know thee, that I may find grace in thy sight: and consider that this nation is thy people.” (Exodus 33:12-13)
Even though he had such a close personal relationship with God, Moses had times of doubt and felt the need for human support. In addition he was troubled about the lack of a clear understanding of his goals. Most of us hesitate to step out without a clear destination like Abraham did according to Hebrews 11:8. “By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.” It seems easier to trust when we know the details.
“And he said, My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest.” (Exodus 33:14)
God’s answer was that he would go with him and Moses was to just trust God. Too often we spend our time making sure everything is in place because we don’t trust God. Hundreds of people who said God called them to the mission field have not gone because they were unable to raise as much support as they thought they needed, and hundreds of churches have not been built because they couldn’t raise the funds. While counting the cost is definitely a scriptural principle, we definitely have to live by faith, because “whatsoever is not of faith is sin,” according to Romans 14:23.
“And he said unto him, If thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence. For wherein shall it be known here that I and thy people have found grace in thy sight? is it not in that thou goest with us? so shall we be separated, I and thy people, from all the people that are upon the face of the earth.” (Exodus 33:15-16)
We are often told there is a fine line between faith and foolishness. Actually it is a pretty clear delineation. Are we actually being directed by God or by our own or others opinions and desires. Some of the missionaries who didn’t go were not impelled of God and the church buildings that ran into financial problems were the result of man’s not following God’s plan either in building the church at all, or in how they attempted to do it. Many times our efforts to finance the church are based on worldly principles rather than faith. Sometimes we start in faith then change to human wisdom and lose God’s blessing.
“And the LORD said unto Moses, I will do this thing also that thou hast spoken: for thou hast found grace in my sight, and I know thee by name.” (Exodus 33:17)
Before sending Moses to lead Israel out, God had revealed himself as Moses friend by sharing his name Jehovah with him. Now God reveals his friendship, saying I know the by name. It is that closeness that is the basis for God’s being willing to commit to going with him. Giving others the right to use our personal names and using theirs is a mark of personal respect and trust, whereas titles indicate mere obligatory respect.