The narrative in Exodus of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and their wandering in the wilderness as they headed towards the land of Canaan is well known to Christians and non-Christians alike. Exodus recounts Israel’s deliverance from the physical bondage under Egyptian rule and from the deliverance of spiritual bondage from sin in the lives of Israel (Stuart 20). While many common themes in Exodus are discussed regularly, other equally important themes are often overlooked. One of these themes is the way Moses’ intercession on behalf of Israel (Exodus 33:12-17) points to Christ’s ultimate intercession.
In Exodus 32:12-17, Moses functions as an imperfect mediator between God and the people of Israel. Through his dialog with God, Moses intercedes on the behalf of the people of Israel and pleads God to remain with His people despite their sins. In this way, Moses is a typological figure who points to Christ’s perfect fulfillment of this role. The attributes of Moses’ intercession model the attributes of Christ’s intercession on the believer’s behalf. Just like Moses, Christ was persistent in prayer, held favor with God, and identified Himself as a fellow believer. However, unlike Moses, Christ perfectly fulfilled the role of mediator whereas Moses could only be a dimly lit portrait in comparison.
Literary Context and Background
To understand our passage one must begin by looking at Exodus as a whole in order to draw any meaningful conclusions about the text. Exodus exists as part of a larger collection of writing – the Pentateuch. Determining authorship of Exodus is difficult because it is tangled with the larger question of who wrote the five books of the Pentateuch (Enns 20). Moses is said to have written a great deal of the law, and the words of a song in Deuteronomy, but ultimately we need to recognize that it was God who orchestrated this record of His history (Enns 21-21). Exodus falls into the literary category of narrative history, but specifically, it is God’s narrative history. It describes theological history which allows us to properly recognize that its purpose is to “teach lessons” primarily about “what God is like and what it means for his people to live with that knowledge” (Enns 24). What we must realize examining Exodus that In order that it would teach God’s people about Himself reveal attributesHe wished to express to those He “knows by name” in Moses’ agein the ages to come (cf. Ex. 33:17; Deut. 6:6,7; Jn. 10:14; 14:7).
In order to understand Moses’ intercessory dialog in Exodus 33 one must examine the larger context of events and dialog, which occurs within Exodus, namely Exodus 32-34. In Exodus 32 Moses is mediating on behalf of Israel as a result of their transgression against God while the Law was being given at Mount Sinai. The people had fallen into apostasy by building a golden calf for themselves to worship in place of the true and living God who had led them and delivered them from Egypt. As a consequence God threatened to destroy the nation of Israel because they were obstinate, and a “stiff-necked people” in their practicing of idolatry (Ex. 32:9). Moses intercedes on their behalf pleading with God not destroy them based upon the established standing of Israel in relationship to other nations appeal to the character of God in removing them from Egypt as his chosen people (Ex. 32:12). Moses emphasizes the position of Israel as God’s chosen people by appealing to the promises made to Abraham, Issac, and Israel (Jacob) where God promised them the inheritance of the Promised Land and the multiplication of their offspring (Ex. 32:13). Moses upon discovering Israel’s idolatry after establishing “Whoever is for the LORD” is commanded to instruct the Levites to run through the encampment kill three thousand (Ex. 32:26-28). Moses intercedes on behalf of Israel for the forgiveness of their sin asking God rather than those who have sinned against Him (Ex. 32:32-33). The LORD responds to Moses rejecting his offer but affirm that he will blot them all out immediately in this context but will withdraw his presence and instead of dwelling among them, send His angel before them (Ex 32:33-34).
The LORD again commands Moses to depart with the people to the land promised to Abraham, Issac, and Jacob (Ex. 33:1). God sends them out without accompanying them, again calling them a stiff-necked people unable to be with God lest He “consume” them on the way (Ex 33:1-3). Upon hearing this word from God the people were commanded to strip off their ornaments, which they did, and wait to hear from the LORD what was to become of them (Ex. 33:4-6). Afterwards, Moses went outside of the camp pitch a tent that he called the “Tent of Meeting” (Ex. 33:7). Israel watch the tent until Moses entered, and upon seeing a pillar of cloud come down to the entrance of the tent the people worshipped at the doors of their tents. It is written here in the Tent of Meeting that Moses is said to have spoken to the LORD “face to face, as a man speak to his friend” (Ex. 33:11). It is within the Tent of Meeting, away from encamped Israel, where Moses begins to mediate on Israel’s behalf a third time.
It is here Moses pleas as Israel’s mediat with God for His presence to go with them into the promise land, and complete the plan God has entrusted to Moses. The threat of removal of God’s presence was discouraging to Moses and Israel, marked by Moses’ continual entry into the tent of meeting and Israel’s worship inside the camp (Gispen 307, Ex. 7-11). Moses felt as though he wouldn’t be unable to carry out God’s plan without the presence of God as he had come to know intimately (Gispen 307). The carrying out of God’s plan for His presence to dwell in the tabernacle would eventually take place (Ex. 40). God would reveal His ways to Moses in response to Moses’ plea in verse 13 with his response in Exodus 34:6-7 and restore the covenant with His chosen people.
What we see in Exodus 33:12-16, however, is God’s grooming of the spiritual intercessor which Israel needed in the wilderness, while also pointing forward to the ultimate intercessor God would provide for spiritual Israel.
The “Presence” Crisis
For Moses and Israel the removal of God’s presence was a present and real crisis. Israel’s sin had angered God in such a way that God needed to remove Himself from them “lest (He) consume them on the way” (Ex 33:3). According to Childs because Israel was so “inclined to evil, God fear that his presence would be a threat to their existence” (589). The presence of God with Israel was an essential part of Israel’s identity as God’s promised and chosen people (Childs 593). It was also God’s presence that delivered them from the hands of the Egyptians and had led them through the wilderness (593). The plan revealed to Moses for God to dwell among them in the tabernacle, that was yet to be constructed, seemed to be in jeopardy (Enns 579). It too was known that God was in the midst the nation of Israel, delivering them from the hands of the Egyptians and through the wilderness(Ex 32:12). “Rejecting Israel,” by not accompanying them into the Promised Land, would have “widespread implications” and would be devastating to Moses and the people of Israel (Enns 572).
The Mediator is Persistent in Securing God’s Presence
Moses’ intercession is persistent in presenting his plea before God, indicated by the context and the nature of Moses’ plea. Verses 7-11 indicate the pattern of which Moses’ pleading occurred. It is here that the Hebrew form of the verbs in verses 7-11 indicate that Moses’ entry into the tent outside of the camp was a continual process of meeting with God rather than a singular event (Childs 590). The indication being that the dialog between God and Moses in verses 12-17ff was one of many attempts to secure God’s presence with Israel. The implication then is that this successful plea for God’s presence to accompany Israel was one of several attempts, or perhaps that the account occurred over a long period of time (592).
Moses also, repeatedly appeals to God on the basis of what God has already said to him and the covenant God established. Rather than employing the use of softer indirect rhetorical language than what is used in Ex. 32:7-14, Ex. 33 verses 12 and 13 in their clauses use רְ֠אֵה ,“See!” or “Consider!” to convey Moses’ insistence upon God to consider his request (Suomala 30). Moses opens within these verses using imperative commands to “forcefully direct God’s attention to his own promise” (30). “See! ou say to me” is a demand by Moses for God’s direct attention towards his following request to “show me now your ways” (30, Ex. 33:13). Moses closes his request demanding God “Consider” and to recognize that the people are God’s own possession (30). Moses here grounds His plea in its entirety upon the covenant established between God and Israel, which “Moses continues to regard as still operative throughout his intercession” (Childs 594).
Moses is furthermore, unyielding seek what he wants with an emphasis upon the people of Israel not himself. Debate exists between scholars as to whether God’s partial concession to Moses’ request in verse 14 with, “you” is in the singular form referring to Israel as a single nation or to Moses specifically. However, Moses’ repeated request with the inclusion of “us” in verses 15 and 16 could be an indication of the latter (Enns 581). Moses is insistent that will not go without God them (Ex 33:15). Regardless, it is clear that Moses is unable to yield in any respect until God allows Moses’ request.
The Mediator Secures Grace out of the Favor God Gives Him
Moses begins his appeal to God on the basis of the “favor” God has granted him (Gispen). “Favor” in Hebrew s associated coming from “unmerited kindness”, and “goodness not based on obligation (Gispen 307). This is a favor that can’t be earned but was given to Moses when God has established His relation with Moses. Moses’ divine appointment as God’s servant and mediator is established early when God called him out the burning bush in Exodus 3. Moses repeatedly appeals to God based upon the position of favor that God has established four times during his intercession. His attempt to have himself “blotted out” to satisfy God’s righteous anger was rejected, so Moses could only rely upon the favor God held towards Him to grant reconciliation (Ex. 32:32). that he had the Lord’s favor, Moses was able to base “his plea on God’s own words to him” (Gispen 308).
Further Moses understood that God’s favor towards His people was a “display of his greatness to the nations” (Stuart 703). Moses’s emphasis was on God’s mission in Exodus. The Exodus deliverance was miraculous, mighty, and awesome for it to fail would mean God’s testimony of favor amongst the nations would be tarnished.
Moses’ argument was compelling because it was based upon the very words which God had spoken (Gispen 308). Later in the Pentateuch following Exodus we see that anything less would be contrary to God’s immutable character: “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” (Numbers 23:19). Moses knows that God’s promises are in fact always true, and because God is unchanging He will always fulfill His word. Moses is able to secure the reconciliation of His people on the basis that God is not like men to change His mind but instead faithful to His word and promises.
The Mediator Places and Identifies Himself with His People
Within Moses’ persistent intercession, out of the favor granted to him, we see Moses identifying himself with Israel. Moses, who enjoyed the choice favor that God held towards Him, used His position to remind God that it was His people that he was leading (Ex. 33:12, 16). This is clearest in verse 16 where Moses insists that it is necessary for God’s favor to be known for both “I (Moses) and your people.” Moses again reiterates that God’s presence must go with “us” not with “me” (Ex 33:16; cf. v.12). He finishes in verse 16 reminding God that it not simply himself that he is favored with His presence, but that it is “we (that) are distinct” and favored among the nations of “every other people”, “I (Moses) and your people.”
The fact God knew Moses “by name” infers that He “did not merely like Moses” but that they enjoyed an intimate and special relationship with Him (Stuart 704). Moses knew that this relationship that God had established could only continue if God was “pleased with him” (Gispen 309). Moses places Israel’s identity upon himself securing the relationship with God and His people. Ultimately, Moses’ was providentially placed to intercede for His people identifying with them in this way from the very beginning; cf. Ex. 2:11. Moses was rejected in His attempt to be the object of God’s wrath in Ex. 32:32-33, but was able to place himself as the object of God’s favor making God’s grace known to the people.
The Grace of God’s Presence Secured
God responds to Moses in verse 17, “This very thing that you have spoken I will do, for you have found favor in my sight and I know you by name.” God would show Moses His ways in Ex. 34 and continue with them in the wilderness. Moses’ role as intercessor between Israel and God was sealed, with God’s intimate relationship with Moses still intact; cf. Num. 12. More importantly God’s presence would continue with them into the land of Caanan and it would be known among the nations the greatness and favor God which had for Israel. God would indeed give Israel rest and deliver them into the Promised Land. The reason why God gave Moses this commission as leader and mediator, was to display his love and kindness towards Israel; cf. Deut. 7-6-8. Moses’ pleas were successful because God provided a mediator, not to so the gravity of Israel’s sin would be overlooked but in order “to plead God’s own mercy on the basis of his former promise (Childs 599).
God Models the Perfect Mediator
God’s sovereign leading of Moses in his role as intercessor and mediator points to God’s greater sovereign plan in providing the perfect mediator Jesus Christ. The attributes of Moses’ intercession on behalf of Israel are a type for Jesus’ role as mediator of a new and greater covenant founded upon greater promises than those given to Moses (Heb. 8:6). God demonstrates typologically His perfect attributes and the role of Christ as the perfect mediator in the Old Testament through His sovereign leading of Moses to intercede as mediator on behalf of his people.
Christ as an antitype to Moses is persistent in prayer for His people now and always, “he always lives to make intercession for (us)” (Heb. 7:25). Paul writes that along with the Holy Spirit, it is Christ who has been raised at the right hand of God “who indeed is interceding for us,” the Church (Rom. 8:34). Perhaps Christ best shows this in John 17, known as His High Priestly Prayer, where He prays, “I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours”; cf. Jn. 17:11, 17, 20 (Jn 17:9).
Christ is also the perfect antitype Moses by securing our grace in being a perfect sacrifice pleasing to God not dependent on God’s grace. Moses’ pleading to be blotted out in place of Israel wasn’t the bad idea essentially, but it would have been useless in wiping clean the sins of everyone; cf. Gen 12:3, 22:18, 26:4, 28:14. But Christ is the fulfillment of the law because the law was kept perfectly by Christ. All of God’s righteous anger for our sin was poured out upon Christ (Mt. 5:17-18, Rom 3:25). Jesus then makes his appeal for our forgiveness with His blood, which he shed; cf. Rom 3:26, Heb. 9:22. Christ’s intercession is possible for His church through the perfect pleasing sacrifice and the favored earned in Christ keeping the law perfectly.
Christ is the perfect mediator in that he placed himself with His people. Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:21 says that “for our sake, He (God) made Him (Jesus) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” Humbled himself, and became obedient, to His death that we might be saved (Phil. 2:8). Christ became like us in every human so that He could identify Himself with His people so that grace would abound. Because of our sinful flesh and blood, “he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death,” He had to be “fully human in every way, in order that … he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted” (Heb. 2:14, 17-18).
The purpose of Moses mediation was ultimately to point forward towards Christ’s ultimate fulfillment as High Priest and mediator for His people. Moses’ imperfect mediation secured a partial reprieve from the loss of God’s presence with them in Israel’s wandering through the wilderness. Christ’s perfect mediation has secured His Church for eternity now awaiting the final consummation of His people; until which He ever lives to make intercession for the Church (Heb. 7:25). “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5).
The Secured Presence in the Christian Walk
Those belonging to Christ should look to the example of Moses and the completion of the work of Christ with great encouragement. Our struggles with sin show us the need for a Savior in continual prayer until we have been made fully glorified. Paul instructs us to “pray without ceasing,” keeping us continually in God’s presence (1 Thes. 5:17). Jesus Himself taught that we should be persistent in our prayers; cf. Mt. 7:7; Lk. 11:5-10, 18:2-8.
Moses intercession gives us an example in our insistent approach to be bold before God in our prayers (Eph. 3:12, Heb. 4:16). Christ made possible for our prayers to be more than profane utterances before a Most Holy God, He has mediated God’s presence to dwell within us, to lead us and help us in our time of need (Heb. 9:15, 10:22; Rom. 8:14; Jn. 14:26, 16:12-13).
Furthermore, the Church must place and identify themselves with their people as Christ did, and as Moses did. We see this too in others throughout the Old Testament throughout biblical history; cf. Jer. 42:2, Ezra 9:5-15, 1 Kings 18:36-39. This call is for the church to be prayerful for the spiritual needs, the presence and indwelling of God, for those around them.
Understanding these aspects of Moses as typological of Christ should encourage us in our walk with Him. In his intercession Moses identifies with his people, which is an encouragement to us in our intercessory prayers. With that in mind, how much more so is Christ’s intercession for His people? Our encouragement should come from seeing Christ fulfill the greater calling that Moses pointed to, God’s presence and redemption available for all of humanity.
Childs, Brevard S. Exodus, a Commentary. London: S.C.M., 1974. Print.
Enns, Peter. Exodus. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000. Print. The NIV Application Commentary.
Gispen, Willem Hendrik. Exodus. Trans. Ed Van D. Maas. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Pub. House, 1982. Print.
Henry, Matthew. “Exodus 33 Commentary – Matthew Henry Commentary on the Whole Bible.” BibleStudyTools.com. SALEM Communication, n.d. Web. 20 Apr. 2013.
Suomala, Karla R. Moses and God in Dialogue: Exodus 32-34 in Postbiblical Literature. New York: P. Lang, 2004. Print.
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