Tent of Meeting “Outside the Camp” (Exodus 33:1-11)
A number of years ago I saw a cartoon in the newspaper which applies to our study. It was a spoof on army life. In the first frame, the mess sergeant informs the commandant that they are all out of food, with the exception of peanut butter. His fear was that the troops would revolt at having this as the sole item on the menu. In the next frame, the commandant, with a sneaky smile, tells the mess sergeant not to worry. The final frame of the cartoon strip shows three large kettles arranged at the mess, with the first labeled “fried critter,” the second labeled “baked varmint,” and the third labeled “peanut butter.” All of the troops are happily standing in line for the peanut butter, while the commandant and the mess sergeant stand nearby, looking on with a knowing smile.
As we consider the old covenant, with all of its weaknesses and inadequacies, we are inclined to think of it like the “peanut butter” of the comic strip. Peanut butter may not be all that exciting if we have the option of eating steak and baked potatoes instead, but it is a real treat in comparison to “critter” and “varmint.”
As the story of Israel’s idolatry in the incident of the golden calf unfolds, the “peanut butter-like” old covenant begins to look better and better, at least from the standpoint of the Israelite of that day. If one had to choose between the old covenant or the New, there would be no question as to which one would prefer. But the only likely option for Israel seemed to be her destruction. The people had forsaken God and Moses, choosing to follow a golden calf, which Aaron made for them from their jewelry. In Moses’ absence, they began to worship the idol in a way that involved the additional evils of sexual immorality and the lack of all restraint (Exod. 32:1-6; cf. vss. 19, 25). God’s first words to Moses threatened the complete destruction of the entire nation, and the creation of a whole new people through the descendants of Moses (Exod. 32:7-10). When faced with the choice of survival or destruction, survival at almost any price seems better. Thus, the “peanut butter” provision of the old covenant is looking better and better all the time. Israel, like the finicky soldiers of the cartoon strip, would be delighted to accept the one thing God would offer—the Mosaic Covenant.
The latter part of Exodus chapter 32 leaves us with but a glimmer of hope for Israel’s preservation. Moses first destroyed the tablets of the Law and the golden idol, making the people drink the gold dust in their water (vss. 15-20). He then rebuked Aaron for leading the people in their disobedience, and letting them get out of control (vss. 21-24). Calling those who would serve God to his side, Moses instructed the faithful Levites, who identified with him as a group, to slay those who refused to follow God, so that 3,000 died (vss. 25-29). This severe action, however, did seem to prevent God’s total destruction of the people. In the closing verses of chapter 32 Moses petitioned God to forgive the people for their great sin. God could not set aside sin, and assured Moses that each person would have to bear the death penalty for his sin, but that this would come at a later time, probably when that whole generation died in the wilderness. God then sent a plague on the people, apparently to immediately evidence His anger.
Israel, therefore would not be suddenly and completely wiped out. If for no other reason, this was to give the second generation of Israelites time to grow up, so that God’s covenant promises could be fulfilled through them. Also, Israel would go on toward Canaan, but God would not personally be present with them. As He told Moses in chapter 32: “But go now, lead the people where I told you. Behold, My angel shall go before you” (Exod. 32:34a).
The question no longer is, “Will the Israelites live?,” or even, “Will Israel possess the land, as God promised?,” but “Will God ever be present in the midst of His people?” The presence of God with His people is the great issue at stake in this episode. It is that presence of God which was visible, but distant, on Mt. Sinai, but was intended on an on-going basis to be manifested in the midst of the camp by means of the Tabernacle (Exod. 25:8). Moses has already received the detailed plans for the Tabernacle (chapters 25-31). Now the only question is whether or not God will manifest Himself in the Tabernacle, due to Israel’s sin at Mt. Sinai.
In this lesson we will study the first eleven verses of chapter 33. There is even more hope given the Israelites of having the presence of God among them, due to the events of our passage, and those which are still to follow. When the Israelites learn that God has threatened not to be present among His people, even though they will press on to possess the land of Canaan (vss. 1-3), they repent, mourning for their sin and putting off their jewelry (vss. 4-6).
In the midst of Israel’s sin, and the threat of God withholding His presence from being in the midst of the people, there is the “oasis-like” account in verses 7-11. There was a tent of meeting set up outside the camp, where not only Moses, but the people could go to seek God. This temporary place of meeting gave the people a means of worshipping God, and offered them a hope for a future, fuller, fellowship with God.
Let us look more carefully at verses 1-11 of Exodus chapter 33, for these are truly words of instruction and of encouragement to all who would seek to draw near to God.
God’s Remoteness and Israel’s Repentance
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). At other times, God may appear to withdraw from men. Exodus 32-34 is one such occasion. God has relented from destroying the nation outright, and has allowed this rebellious people to live, at least until a later time, but He has also appeared to withdraw from the people. In our text God continues to speak of the Israelites as Moses’ people (“the people whom you have brought up from the land of Egypt,” 33:1; cp. 32:7). He promised to have His angel lead them into the promised land (32:34; 33:1-2), but He threatened to not go up with them in their very midst (33:3): “Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; for I will not go up in your midst, because you are an obstinate people, lest I destroy you on the way” (Exod. 33:3).
What irony there is here. Israel wanted Aaron to fashion an idol for them so that they could feel assured that their “god” was with them. The idol did precisely the opposite, for it threatened to cause their God to remove Himself from them. The very thing Israel tried to promote they nearly prevented.
The grace of God is seen even in God’s threat to remove Himself from their midst. God’s stated purpose for keeping a distance between Himself and the Israelites as they travel on toward the promised land was that their sinfulness would require Him to destroy87 them. Thus, to be in their midst was to greatly endanger the Israelites, while to be distant from them was to assure their safety, unless there was some means provided to deal with Israel’s sins, and thus to appease God’s righteous anger.
A casual reading might cause one to think that the “angel” which will lead Israel to the promised land is something new. Thus, it might appear that God once planned to personally lead Israel into Canaan, but that now a mere angel will do so. This is not accurate, for it was an angel that was promised to lead Israel to Canaan, even before the people sinned in the worship of the golden calf. God had said, “Behold, I am going to send an angel before you to guard you along the way, and to bring you into the place which I have prepared” (Exod. 23:20, cf. also v. 23).
Most commentators have tried to explain the threat of God’s remoteness in terms of different angels. They suggest that it was the “angel of God’s presence” (cf. Exod. 3:2; Isa. 63:9) who was first to lead Israel into Canaan, but now, after Israel’s idolatry, it is some lesser angel, a kind of “buck private angel” who is going to do so. Initially, I felt this explanation was correct, but the more I have read the passages referring to the “angel” I have been uneasy about seeing different angels here. The angel seems to be the same. There is no effort to clearly distinguish the “angel” of chapters 32 and 33 with the “angel” of chapter 23.
If I am correct that the “angel” is the same angel in all the places where it is mentioned, then the question must be asked, “How is God threatening to be removed from His people?” The answer is to be found in a more careful look at what God said He would and would not do with regard to His presence. In Exodus chapter 25, when God was speaking to Moses about the Tabernacle, He said, “And let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them” (Exodus 25:8). The Tabernacle, which was to be in the center of the camp, was to be God’s dwelling place, so that He would dwell “among” them.
In Exodus chapter 33, God said, “… I will not go up in your midst” (v. 3). God was thus threatening to not dwell in the Tabernacle, in the midst of the camp. He was not threatening His complete absence, only that His presence would be manifested to Israel at a distance. God was present in the angel, who would go before the Israelites, leading them to Canaan (32:34). The presence of God was also manifested in “the tent” which Moses pitched “a good distance from the camp” (v. 7). The threatened consequence for Israel’s idolatry was that of losing the more intimate presence of God which the Tabernacle was designed to provide.
I believe that Israel’s response is a genuine act of repentance, and one of the first commendable things the people have done. First, I believe Israel is to be commended in grieving at all. If the hearts of the people were totally hardened, there would be very little cause for grief. After all, God has promised not to destroy the nation, and He has also promised to lead them to “a land flowing with milk and honey” (v. 3). Many of the originally promised benefits which God promised Israel are still assured the nation. The only thing missing is that God will deal with His people from a distance, rather than from within their midst.
Keeping God at a distance was Israel’s first inclination and request, as we saw in Exodus 20:18-21. 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 were mourning over their sinful actions in the incident with the golden calf. 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 here was that which God Himself had prescribed: “Now therefore put off your ornaments from you, that I may know what I will do with you” (v. 5b).
Why was Israel’s putting off of her ornaments an appropriate act of repentance? This requires a little more inquiry into the role which ornaments played, both in Israel’s apostasy in the golden calf incident, and in other occasions as well.88 A brief survey of the role jewelry has already played in Israel’s history, and throughout her history, will enable us to better appreciate what God required and what Israel did, as an act of repentance.
The first significant text pertaining to the use of ornaments and jewelry is found in Genesis 34 and 35, where Jacob’s sons killed the Shechemites for defiling their sister. After the male Shechemites had all been killed, the sons of Jacob looted the city:
Jacob’s sons came upon the slain and looted the city, because they had defiled their sister. They took their flocks and their herds and their donkeys, and that which was in the city and that which was in the field; and they captured and looted all their wealth and all their little ones and their wives, even all that was in the houses (Gen. 34:27-29).
After this, God told Jacob to go up to Bethel:
Then God said to Jacob, “Arise, go up to Bethel, and live there; and make an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you fled from your brother Esau.” So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, “Put away the foreign gods which are among you, and purify yourselves, and change your garments; and let us arise and go up to Bethel; and I will make an altar there to God, who answered me in the day of my distress, and has been with me wherever I have gone.” So they gave to Jacob all their foreign gods which they had, and the rings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the oak which was near Shechem (Gen. 35:1-4).
The plunder which Jacob’s sons took from Shechem included foreign gods and jewelry, both of which were considered idolatrous, and which thus had to be put away before Jacob and his sons could worship God by building an altar at Bethel. I would imagine that the earrings may well have had either the names of the idol-gods, or a small engraved impression of the image of that god, or both. For example, you can find bracelets, necklaces, and earrings with astrological signs on them today.
Later, in the Book of Judges, we read of the gold which is taken as spoil from the Midianites. After Gideon and his men had prevailed over the kings of Midian, the Israelites wanted to honor Gideon:
Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, “Rule over us, both you and your son, also your son’s son, for you have delivered us from the hand of Midian.” But Gideon said to them, “I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the LORD shall rule over you.” Yet Gideon said to them, “I would request of you, that each of you give me an earring from his spoil.” (For they had gold earrings, because they were Ishmaelites.) And they said, “We will surely give them.” So they spread out a garment, and every one of them threw an earring there from his spoil. And the weight of the gold earrings that he requested was 1,700 shekels of gold, besides the crescent ornaments and the pendants and the purple robes which were on the kings of Midian, and besides the neck bands that were on their camels’ necks. And Gideon made it into an ephod, and placed it in his city, Ophrah, and all Israel played the harlot with it there, so that it became a snare to Gideon and his household (Judges 8:22-27).
Later, the prophet Ezekiel condemned Israel’s idolatry, more frequently than any other prophet, making reference to the gold ornaments and jewelry which was involved. It seems that almost the reverse of what happened in Exodus is described. The Israelites took the ornaments which belonged to God and turned them into abominable images (Ezek. 7:19-20). The abominable images or ornaments which Israel made for themselves of God’s gold were used to play the harlot (Ezek. 16:17; 23:40). Hosea condemned the same evil: “And I will punish her for the days of the Baals When she used to offer sacrifices to them And adorn herself with her earrings and jewelry, And follow her lovers, so that she forgot Me,” declares the Lord (Hos. 2:13).
Finally, in the Book of Revelation, the “Great Harlot” is described in all of her abominations as one who is decked out with gold and ornaments, which seem to play a part in her iniquity: “And the woman was clothed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a gold cup full of abominations and of the unclean things of her immorality” (Rev. 17:4; cf. 18:7, 16).
From all of these references to golden ornaments, I have concluded that idolatry and immorality are often linked to such items of jewelry in the ancient Near East. You will recall that the gold ornaments obtained from the Egyptians (Exod. 3:22; 11:2; 12:35) were actually plunder (12:36). 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: “You also carried along Sikkuth your king and Kiyyun, your images, the star of your gods which you made for yourselves” (Amos 5:26).
Do you see why the putting off of Israel’s ornaments and jewelry was an appropriate act of repentance? Because these ornaments were similar to those which had been contributed to make the golden calf (Exod. 32:2-4). These images seemed to have an idolatrous association with the past, with pagan gods. Thus, 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).89 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). As implements of idolatry, these golden ornaments were fit only for destruction. As tokens of Israel’s repentance, these ornaments were fit for use as tokens of God’s presence in the Tabernacle furnishings.
Moses and the Mysterious “Tent of Meeting”
The “tent of meeting” of Exodus 33:7-11 is mysterious to me, something like Melchizedek, who mysteriously appears in Genesis chapter 14. The first thing we must establish is that the “tent of meeting” is not the Tabernacle, which will appear later. That the “tent of meeting” and the Tabernacle are distinct entities can be seen from these lines of evidence:
(1) The “tent of meeting” was outside the camp, while the Tabernacle was within the camp.
(2) The “tent of meeting” was served by Moses and Joshua, while the Tabernacle was served by the Levites.
(3) The cloud of God’s presence came down to the “tent of meeting” only when Moses was there, while the cloud hovered over the Tabernacle at all times, except when Israel was to break camp and march.
(4) The structure of Exodus is such that the sections of Scripture dealing with the Tabernacle (chaps. 25-31, 35-40) are clearly set apart from the rest of the text.
The evidence all points to the fact that the “tent of meeting” described here is a unique, provisional place for God to met 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 at all. 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,90 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 of time because the construction of verse 7 indicates that Moses repeatedly took the tent outside the camp and pitched it.91 This, I think, 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.
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.
THE PEOPLE’S PLACE OF MEETING WITH GOD
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 sought92 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.
“OUTSIDE THE CAMP”
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.93
THE INTIMACY OF MOSES WITH GOD
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”94 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).
THE ISRAELITES’ RESPECT FOR MOSES
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. They 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 watched95 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: “And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Behold, I shall come to you in a thick cloud, in order that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe in you forever’” (Exod. 19:9).
This statement was made before the giving of the Law, but it is even more significant after Israel’s apostasy, when Moses’ authority had been rejected. 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.”
There are a number of lessons which can be learned from our passage. The first is a reminder of the grace of God. At the very point of Israel’s greatest sin, when the judgment of God appears imminent, God’s grace is still very visible. It is visible in the warnings which God has given. The warning of extermination (32:10), of death (32:34), and of a distant relationship (33:1-3). God did not warn the Israelites to torment them, however, but to turn them from their sin to repentance:
Then the word of the LORD came to me saying, “Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?” declares the LORD. “Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel. At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it, if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it” (Jer. 18:5-8).
God’s grace was evident in the provision of the “tent of meeting.” While God evidenced Israel’s sin by being present with His people at a distance, nevertheless, God was nearer to the people than He had ever been to this point in time. He was once only atop Mt. Sinai, where only Moses was permitted to go. Now, He will meet not only Moses, but those who seek Him at the tent. When men need God most, His grace provides a way.
God’s grace was evident as well in the provision of Moses as the mediator for the people. Moses and Joshua, the two men untainted by Israel’s sin, were those who served God at the “tent of meeting.” As the people well knew, their very lives, as well as their relationship with God, was dependent upon the mediation of Moses.
What a picture, what a prototype, of the grace of God in the provision of Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, as our mediator. We, in our trespasses and sins, are dead, with no claim on God, no hope of salvation, no future but death, have One who offers to be our Mediator with God. Just as Israel’s future rested with Moses, so all men’s future rests on Christ, for only He has paid the price for our sin, only He has continual access to God. Let us look to the Lord Jesus Christ, receiving the grace of God which has been offered through Him, and Him alone.
There is also a lesson to be learned from the “tent of meeting” which was “outside the camp.” God’s provision for the people was removed from and distant from their camp, and thus from their sin. So it was in Jesus’ day. When John the Baptist preached, it was in the wilderness, not in the Temple. That was because the Judaism of John’s day had become corrupt, just as Israel in Moses’ day had become defiled by their idolatry. If men wanted to repent and return to God, they had to dissociate themselves from their religious system which had become defiled. Those who trusted in the Lord Jesus were forced to do so in opposition to the leaders of Judaism. Jesus was crucified “outside the camp” (Heb. 13:12). The Jews did not like it, but they had to enter into the kingdom of God through what to them was a Gentile door (cf. Gal. 2:14-17).
There are many today who are a part of a corrupt religious system. It may once have been true to God’s Word. It may not. But for those who are trusting in a religious system, in a denomination, a church, and not in Christ, I urge you to come “outside the camp” where you will find God’s provision for your salvation in Jesus Christ alone.
There is a lesson for us to be learned in the repentance of Israel. The Israelites mourned because they had only the promise of prosperity, but not the promise of God’s intimate presence among them. In our day and time, prosperity is touted as the proof of God’s presence. It frankly is not true. If you can have prosperity in the presence of God, then you are blessed. If you can have either one or the other, I urge you to learn from the Israelites, who desired the presence of God more than mere prosperity.
Finally, there is an encouraging word for each of us whose former lives have been defiled by sin. There are many who mourn the days of their unbelief, when they defiled themselves with sins of the flesh. They may feel that because they have been thus defiled, they will have no use to God.
It is simply not true, my friend, as you should learn from the golden earrings and ornaments of the Israelites. Those earrings which were donated to Aaron for the making of the golden calf were destroyed and defiled, so that they would never be of use to man or God again. But virtually identical earrings, those which were the result and evidence of Israel’s repentance, even though they had been defiled in the past, were the raw material which God used in the Tabernacle, where He manifested His glory to men. If you have repented and turned from your pagan past, my friend, you have been cleansed by the blood of Christ. Old things have passed away, and you are now a vessel of honor, fit for God’s use.
87 The term “destroy” is a strong one, suggesting extermination or total annihilation, the very thing which God had threatened in 32:10.
88 Hyatt implies that Israel’s ornaments played a role in her idolatry, but without a great deal of biblical support when he states: “The refusal of Yahweh to go up with the people here, lest he consume them, may be based upon the fact that they were wearing ornaments associated with a foreign deity, though this is not clearly stated; thus the removal of the ornaments would have made it possible for him to accompany them.” J. P. Hyatt, Exodus (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1980), pp. 313-314.
89 The term “onward” is italicized in the NASB, indicating that it is not in the original text, but rather supplied to fill in the sense of the text. I do feel that this term does convey what the text was intended to teach us.
90 Other references to the “tent of meeting”: Exod. 35:21; Num. 11:24ff.; 12:4f., 10; cf. 1 Sam. 2:22; 2 Chron. 1:3, 13.
91 Davis agrees with the customary or habitual imperfect: “The structure of the Hebrew text at the beginning of verse 7 indicates that what Moses did here was not a single event but one repeated many times.” John J. Davis, Moses and the Gods of Egypt (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1971), p. 293. Davis, in a footnote on the same page, deals more extensively with the grammar of the verse.
92 This term “sought” is a strong word in the Hebrew language, thus underscoring the intensity of the desire of the people to seek out God. This is a significant change from the rebellion and apostasy of the incident described in chapter 32.
93 Ironically, it would seem, the “tent of meeting” reverses what is true with the Tabernacle. When the “tent of meeting” is “outside the camp” that place is holy, while the camp is defiled by Israel’s sin. On the other hand, when the Tabernacle is in the midst of the camp, the camp is holy and “outside the camp” is profane, where the flesh of the sacrificial bull and its dung, for example, are burned (cf. Exod. 29:14).
94 Cole refers to Numbers 12:8 where God is said to speak to Moses “mouth to mouth” to explain the meaning of the phrase “face to face.” R. Alan Cole, Exodus (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1973), p. 224.
It should be pointed out that the expression “face to face” is an anthropomorphism, that is, a figure of speech, describing God in man-like terms. Since we will shortly read that Moses cannot look at God’s face (Exod. 33:23), we know that Moses spoke with God on intimate (“face to face”) terms, but that he did not actually see God’s face.
95 I am disappointed with the word “gaze” in verse 8, the choice of the translators of the NASB. Gaze implies a casual look, while the Hebrew term is one that conveys great concern and interest. It is the term used, for example, for the “looking” of the Israelites at the bronze serpent, so that they can be healed (Num. 21:9). Zechariah used this term to describe those who will “look upon” the Messiah, whom they have pierced (Zech. 12:10).