Exodus 33:1-23

Daybreak for Students

Exodus 33:1-23

Exodus 33
And the Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend. — Exodus 33:11

When I was seventeen years old, some friends and I drove from the West Coast to our church’s Midwest camp meeting in Edwardsville, Illinois. Wanting to see some of the country along the way, we stopped at several historical sites and scenic areas. We also visited Winfield, Kansas, and stayed for a couple of days in the home of Dolly Walker, who was pastor of our church in Winfield at that time.

One day while I was sitting in Sister Dolly’s living room, I could hear her talking to someone in the kitchen. After a few moments my attention was caught by her words. I realized that Sister Dolly was having a conversation with the Lord in a simple, matter-of-fact manner, just as if she were talking to an intimate friend. What an impression that made on me as a young Christian!

Today’s focus verse says, “The Lord spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend.” Imagine! Although Moses did not see God’s face, God came down in the cloudy pillar and they talked as friends. This intimate exchange was not based on the fact that Moses was humanly perfect, or supremely talented, or a great leader. Rather, Moses communicated with God on the basis of relationship. They were friends! 

Think about the characteristics of a true friendship. Common interests, shared experiences, matching goals, and unity in thinking are among the things that draw friends together. We expect understanding from our friends, along with support, trust, help in times of crisis, and comfort in times of sorrow. We like to spend time with our friends, and appreciate opportunities to get to know each other better. 

Are those characteristics part of our relationship with God? Do we enjoy that close connection with Him that enables us to talk as friends? Communication between friends is more than one person doing all the talking; it also involves listening. A friendship where one person only came by to ask for favors and gifts would not last long. At times we might be inclined to tell God all our needs and cares and forget to listen to what He has to say. He does want us to talk to Him about our needs and cares, but He also wants us to offer Him our praises, express gratitude for His blessings, and make evident our interest in hearing from Him.

A friend of God does not rush in and out of His presence. It takes time to communicate! Martin Luther once said that the busier he became, the more he needed time to pray. Perhaps when we look at our hectic schedules, we are tempted to compensate by cutting short our time with God. However, if we truly want to be God’s friend, we will take time to build that relationship. Then our friendship with Him will take first place in our lives!


Chapter 33 deals with Israel’s repentance and reconciliation to God following their sin regarding the golden calf, and Moses’ intercession on their behalf.

Verses 1-6 relate how Israel mourned. Because of their disobedience, God had said He would not go with them into the Promised Land, though He indicated that He would send an angel to help them (Exodus 32:34). When Moses told the Israelites God’s words, they were deeply distressed. As a sign of their repentance, and at God’s instruction, they took off their ornaments. 

Verses 7-11 describe God’s meeting with Moses in the sacred tent. Since the more permanent Tabernacle was not yet built, the Tabernacle of the congregation referenced in this passage was probably the tent where Moses had his headquarters. By moving it far away from the camp, Moses visually reinforced to the Israelites that God was not dwelling with them. Others beside Moses could go to this tent and pray; verse 11 shows that Joshua availed himself of this opportunity, and remained there after Moses left. 

Verses 12-17 relate the third time that Moses interceded for the people after they made the golden calf. In his first intercession (Exodus 32:11-14), Moses had petitioned God to turn away from His wrath; in the second (Exodus 32:30-35), he had requested forgiveness and received the promise of an angel to accompany them. In his third intercession before God, Moses pled that he had no interest in moving forward without God’s presence in its fullness. Moses’ plea prevailed; God promised to answer Moses’ prayer and go with the Children of Israel, and give them rest.

Verses 18-23 record Moses’ request to see God’s glory. Perhaps he felt he needed to know more of what God was like in order to lead the often-straying Children of Israel. Whatever Moses’ reason, he yearned for a fuller and more glorious disclosure of God himself. God granted his request, saying He would place Moses in a fissure of a rock and would cover him with His hand while He passed by, removing His hand so that Moses could see His back. 


(Hannah’s Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)
V.   The construction of the Tabernacle
    C.   The delay in the building
          2.   The renewal of the covenant
                a.   The journey continued (33:1-6)
                b.   The praying of Moses (33:7-23)
                      (1)   The place of his prayer (33:7-11)
                      (2)   The content of his prayer (33:12-16)
                      (3)   The fulfillment of his prayer (33:17-23)


  1. What promise caused God to say that the Children of Israel should continue toward Canaan? 

  2. How was the promise of an angel’s presence different than the previous arrangement?

  3. What steps can we take to develop a closer relationship with God?


Moses highly valued his relationship with God, making regular communion with Him an important priority in his life. May we follow his example in developing a similar relationship with the Lord.