Israel’s obstinance and sinfulness during the golden calf debacle led to death. It also severed the nation’s relationship with their all-holy God. God said, “Go up from here, you and the people you brought up from the land of Egypt, to the land I promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying: I will give it to your offspring. I will send an angel ahead of you and will drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hethites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites. Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go up with you because you are a stiff-necked people” (Exodus 33:1–3). God said, “I’ll send an angel, but I’m not going.”
The Bible says, “Your iniquities are separating you from your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not listen” (Isaiah 59:2). My experience tells me that this is true. When I’m puffed up with pride, or when my heart is black with bitterness, or when apathy and selfishness haunt me, then my prayer-life suffers, my Bible-reading is distracted, and my passion for worship is chilled.
My experience also teaches me that God is quick to forgive a repentant heart. Truly, “if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Israel “mourned” before God, humbled themselves by removing their jewelry, and begged for God’s forgiveness and His ever-present guidance (Exodus 33:4-6, 12-13). In response, God promised, “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” (Exodus 33:14).
During the months that Israel camped at Mount Sinai, their efforts seem to be focused on building the Tabernacle. Prior to its completion, “Moses took a tent and pitched it outside the camp, at a distance from the camp; he called it the tent of meeting... the tent of meeting that was outside the camp” (Exodus 33:7). When the Tabernacle was finally complete, it was pitched in the middle of the camp (Numbers 2:1-2). “When Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and remain at the entrance to the tent, and the Lord would speak with Moses. As all the people saw the pillar of cloud remaining at the entrance to the tent, they would stand up, then bow in worship, each one at the door of his tent. The Lord would speak with Moses face to face, just as a man speaks with his friend, then Moses would return to the camp” (Exodus 33:9–11). God welcomed Moses into His presence, just as He does us. Intimately, “face to face,” Moses communed with God.
Interestingly, when Moses asked to see God’s glory (Exodus 33:18), God told him, “you cannot see my face, for humans cannot see me and live” (Exodus 33:20). Indeed, “no one has ever seen God” (1 John 4:12), for He “lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see” (1 Timothy 6:16).
So, who met face to face with Moses? I believe that Moses spoke with the preincarnate Jesus, the One who “became flesh and dwelt among us. We observed his glory, the glory as the one and only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). I think the preincarnate Jesus also met with Hagar (Genesis 16:7-16), Jacob (Genesis 32:24-32), Joshua (Joshua 5:13-15), Gideon (Judges 6:11-24), and others.
One day, those who have trusted Jesus as Savior will see God face to face. We won’t have to go outside the camp to the tent of meeting, but we’ll dwell in His ever-glorious presence for eternity (Revelation 21:3).