Following the Golden Calf incident, we come into one of the most important parts of the book of Exodus, as we see the Lord’s grace and mercy on full display. After Moses pleads with the Lord to spare Israel, the Lord shows his grace and mercy even further. First, we see a description of Moses (and Joshua) regularly spending time with God in the Tent of Meeting. They would go in the tent, and the Lord’s presence would descend outside the tent, and Moses is described as speaking with God “face to face,” meaning, as one would speak with a friend (Exodus 33:7–11). Not only does the Lord spare Israel, but he makes it evident he is still within their midst and will be with them every step of the way.
We then see that Moses wants to know the Lord even more deeply. It was not enough for him to speak with the Lord from the Tent of Meeting; he wanted to see the Lord’s glory (vv. 12–19). What an attitude for us to live with as well! Just like Moses, I pray that each one of us always longs to know the Lord more deeply.
The Lord tells Moses that he will make his glory pass before Moses, but Moses cannot see his face, for no one can see God and live. The Lord would hide him in a cave, pass before him, and then allow Moses to see his “back” (vv. 20–22). This could mean the back side of him as he was passing by, but could also mean that Moses could see the place where the Lord was, and even that would be an incredible display of his glory.
While upon the Mountain, Moses would also take new tablets to re-write the commandments and covenants since he had broken the first set of tablets (Exodus 34:1–4). As the Lord’s presence passes before Moses, he declares his name, the Lord (Yahweh), to Moses, and then declares a description of his character: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation” (vv. 6–7).
Verse 6 is one of the most important verses in the Old Testament, as we see God describe himself to his people. Its importance is shown even more as this verse becomes quoted or referenced in some way more by other Old Testament writers than any other verse in the OT. We see it quoted in Psalms and in some of the Prophets, as the writers grapple with who the Lord is.
He is a God who is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. He is a God who forgives the sins of those who turn to him in repentance. He is faithful to his promises. He overflows with steadfast, or loyal, love. He has already demonstrated this time and again to the people of Israel, and will continue to do so throughout the story of Scripture. As followers of Jesus, we know that this has come to its fullest meaning in the sacrifice of Jesus for our sake and the eternal life he promises through Jesus. At his very core, God is gracious, merciful, and faithful, and we can trust in him to keep his promises.
When Moses comes down from the mountain and his encounter with the Lord, we see that the Lord’s glory is so brilliant that even Moses’ face was shining so bright that the people made him put a veil over his face, except for when he was speaking with the Lord in the Tent (vv. 29–35). Paul comments on this story in 2 Corinthians 3:12–18. He states that the Israelites could not look at Moses’ shining face because their hearts were hardened to God’s glory and goodness. We who belong to Christ, however, are able to gaze at God’s glory with unveiled faces because the freedom of the Holy Spirit allows us to experience and be transformed by God’s glory. What a great truth to end the lesson on. If we have trusted in Christ, we have God’s very Spirit living within us, making us more like him, and allowing us to behold his glory just as Moses did. This can be hard to believe at times, but if we continue to look to him in faith, he will continue to work in our hearts!