Exodus 33:1-11 Sermon Notes


Pastor Rick Duncan

How have you disappointed God? I’m not talking about a sin that’s a slip-up. I’m talking about something catastrophic. Lying. Stealing. Cheating. Bitterness. Resentment. Unforgiveness. Pride. Anger. Greed. Lust. Envy. Gluttony. Sloth. How have you disappointed God?

In our study of Exodus, we’re in a section of Scripture where the people have just displeased God greatly. What’s going to happen to them? What’s God going to do about it? What can we learn from what happened to them.

The text tells us why they disappointed God. They were stiff-necked… 

… you are a stiff-necked people. Exodus 33:3b

This term “stiff-necked” is a figure of speech that describes people who are stubborn, obstinate, unwilling to submit.

The term comes from the farm. Oxen were often yoked together. Their necks needed to be responsive to the farmer’s direction. A “stiff-necked” ox resisted the yoke, refused to be guided. The farmer couldn’t direct a stick-necked ox where he needed it to go. So, a stiff-necked person is someone who resists the guidance of God.

The Bible refers to these particular Israelites in Moses’ day in other ways.

  • Stiff-necked: Exodus 33:3
  • Rebellious: Deuteronomy 9:24
  • Murmuring / Grumbling: Numbers 14:27
  • Stubborn / Disloyal / Unfaithful: Psalm 78:8
  • Contemptuous / Disbelieving: Numbers 14:11
  • Distrusting: Deuteronomy 1:32

When you are at your furthest from God, which of these terms describe you? Not sure? Ask your kids… or your spouse… or your friends! What would they say? Now, how close to God does that behavior make you feel? When you act that way, do you have the sense that God wants to go with you throughout your day – that He wants to hang out with you? You might be thinking, “I’m such a knucklehead – such a punk, such a sinner – that God really should abandon me! Why would God want to walk through life with the likes of me?”

We see a similar problem happening with the people of God in ancient Israel. Open your Bibles to Exodus 33.

God had brought His people out of slavery in Egypt with mighty acts of supernatural power. God’s leading them through the wilderness to their Promised Land. On the way, Moses, the leader, had gone up on a holy mountain to talk with God. He received the 10 Commandments. Plans were made for the people to have an intimacy, a closeness, a proximity to God through Tabernacle worship. The Lord promised, “I’m going to lead you the Promised Land. I will be with you. I will dwell among you and be your God.” And the people say, “Everything the Lord has commanded we will do. We’re all in.”

Moses went back up the mountain to meet with the Lord. He was there for 40 days. And the people became restless. “Maybe the Lord isn’t who Moses said He was.” They wanted another god that they could see and control. They wanted to play! So, they created an idol, a golden calf. They mingled pagan worship with the worship of the Lord. They sacrificed to this idol.

The Lord says, “I’m going to wipe these people out! After all I’ve done for them…” But Moses prays for them. “If it takes, blotting me out of Your book, save them.” So, the Lord shows the people mercy. He gives grace.

But their sin still has consequences.   

Read Exodus 33:1-2. This is good news right here. After the sin of the golden calf – idolatry and immorality – they had reason to believe that a God would take back His promise to bring the people to the Promised Land. And who would have blamed Him if He would have said, “Let that golden calf lead you into the land of Canaan. See how that works out for you. I’m done with you. I’m not going to wipe you out. But I’m finished.”

But the Lord said, “No. The Promised Land is still yours. I’m not going to renege on any of those promises. I promised that land to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and you are their descendants. So, keep heading that way. I am going to send an angel before you and I will drive out your enemies.”

This is a radical display of God’s grace. Even after the sin of the golden calf, the Lord did not deny His people Israel the grace of His protection.

Read verse 3. You know that intensive presence of Mine that you’ve experienced in the past few months? That’s not going to be happening in the future. You’re not getting that intensive presence from Me anymore. The Lord says, “I will not go up among you! But, I’m going to give you your promised land.” Maybe this was a test. “What’s more important to you – My promise or My presence?”

Notice how the people of God respond in verse 4. I’m glad they mourned. They knew they needed the intensive presence of the Lord. So, when they heard He wasn’t going with them, they knew it was a disastrous word. Maybe through this story, the Lord is asking, “Do you want Me? Or do you just want the land? Do you want Me? Or do you want the good things I can give you?”

What if the Lord asked us those questions? Are you OK with just getting $5 worth of God in your tank as long as He gives you a nice house and a good job and a happy family life and good health and a few friends and some fun along the way? “I want just a little bit of God and a whole lot of the good stuff that He gives!”

What if the Lord is testing you? What if the Lord wants to see if something will stir in your soul that is saying, “Lord, unless I have You to the fullest measure, all that other stuff means nothing. Lord, I need You! I need the intensive presence of the Lord. All day. Every day. I have to have YOU!”  Something needs to be awakened in our hearts that says, “Lord, I want You. I want the intensive presence of God in my life. I want You in the greatest measure possible.”

Read verses 4-6. The people of God in Moses’ day knew that it was disastrous for them to get the promise of the land without the presence of the Lord. “What good is the good life without God?” God wants to know if I have a passion for His presence. Do you? So, these people take off their ornaments – their rings, their bracelets, their necklaces, their belts, their buckles, their gold, their silver, their jewels. Why? It isn’t time for business as usual. We can’t go on as if everything is the same. We’re in mourning. And as a sign of our repentance, we’re taking off all that glitters!

What if the verse said, “They thought that God not going with them was disastrous, but they put on more ornaments”? We’d think, “What??? We dare not sin grievously and then go on living like everything’s OK. What is it that sparkles in your life that you need to remove because it is getting in the way between you and the Lord? What would it look like for you to eliminate that ornament as an act of repentance because you are mourning your sin and the fellowship that you’ve lost with the Lord because of it?

The way to true renewal and revival is always through the door of repentance. So, we have a problem. It’s disastrous. God said, “Go ahead. Go on to the Promised Land. I’ll even send you an angel to guide you. But you won’t have My intensive presence. You have seen Me protect you from Pharaoh’s pursuing army. You have seen Me bring you through the Red Sea on dry land. You have seen Me destroy your enemies. You have seen Me feed you with manna from heaven. You’ve seen Me bring water for your to drink the desert out of a rock. You’ve experienced My intensive presence. But you will not experience Me that way anymore. Yes, I’ll send an angel to guide you. But as far as experiencing My intensive presence – My doing supernatural things to guide and guard you? You’ll be on your own.”

And this may be the way some of you have been feeling. You know that God is displeased with you. He could’ve taken you out. But you’re still here. However, since of blessing, closeness, protection, guidance is gone. What now? What next? What now? What next for the people of God in Moses’ day? Verses 7-11 seem to interrupt this story. These verses could be seen as a kind parenthesis dropped into the middle of a story. Why? The verses don’t fit here. Or do they?

Moses built a tent of meeting because they hadn’t had time to build the Tabernacle. They got the instructions for it starting in chapter 25. But the building of the Tabernacle comes later. When the tabernacle was built it was to be erected in the center of the camp. But this tent of meeting was placed at a distance, separate from the people. Why? They had just sinned a great sin and God had just said, “I am not going with you to the Promised Land.”

Therefore, the meeting between Moses and the Lord was taking place away from the people. Why? Maybe the Lord wanted to see who would be willing to come away from the people to the tent of meeting in order to publicly demonstrate their loyalty to the Him. The people who were questioning God’s leader and dancing around the golden calf, just a few days before, are now showing respect for God’s leader and worshipping the Lord. Whatever you were doing yesterday that grieved God can be forsaken today. It’s not too late and it’s not too soon for you to worship the Lord – to fill your tank to the top with God.

Face-to-face is a figure of speech. Moses can’t literally look at the face of this holy and awesome God and survive (as we’re going to see a chapter 34). This means that Moses had clear, unhindered friendly conversation with the Lord. Now, next week, Pastor Joe is going to unpack the rest of Exodus 33. We’re going to learn about the specific nature and content of Moses conversation with God. We’re going to see how Moses prays and intercedes for God’s people.

Today, we’re not going to focus on the content of Moses’ intercession, but the role he plays as the intercessor. He functions as a mediator. He advocates for the people. Moses is mediator, advocate, intercessor. In fulfilling these roles, he points forward to Jesus and His ministry in our behalf – to the work that He does for stiff-necked, rebellious, stubborn, unfaithful, contemptuous people who don’t deserve the presence of God!

Moses is an illustration of Christ as our advocate. As Moses intercedes for God’s people, he foreshadows the work of Christ as our Intercessor. Moses’ mediation was a shadow of Christ as our perfect Mediator. As Moses interceded for the people and turned away God’s wrath, so our Lord Jesus, through His continual intercession, turns away the wrath of God and secures for us His favor. How do we know this? Hebrews 3 tells us that Moses points us to Jesus. He foreshadows Christ. It says, “Consider Jesus… who was faithful… just as Moses also was faithful… For Jesus has been counted worthy of more glory than Moses…” (Hebrews 3:1-3). He foreshadows Christ. In Acts 3:22, we read that Moses said, “The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet like me.”

Moses is an example but he’s not the best example. That’s Jesus. What Jesus did for us is far greater than what Moses could ever do. What we see Moses doing is an illustration of what Jesus would do, but better. Moses prefigures Christ. He is a picture of – a type of – Christ. Moses goes into the tent of meeting and pleads with God for the people! Intercessor. Mediator. Advocate. Like Christ would do… only better.

Jesus intercedes for us…

Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Romans 8:34

Jesus didn’t go to heaven after His earthly ministry to “take a break.” He’s praying for you to the Father.

He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. Hebrews 7:25

Although Christ’s work on the cross to save you is finished, your salvation continues to take place because Jesus is alive and pleading to the Father on your behalf. He’s saying, “Father, keep on applying My work on the cross to her life – even though she continues to sin.”

For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus. 1 Timothy 2:5 

Jesus stands in the gap between a holy, holy, holy God an unholy, unholy, unholy you. He shields you from the Father’s wrath against sin because on the cross He took it in your place. He invites you into His experience of the Presence – the intensive presence of a merciful, gracious God.

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin [even stiff-necked, rebellious, stubborn, unfaithful, contemptuous sin], we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. 1 John 2:1

Jesus is the Advocate for sinning Christians. He is our Defense Attorney.

Jesus is interceding for us while Satan (whose name means “accuser”) accuses us, pointing out our sins to God. And we accuse ourselves! “He doesn’t deserve Your presence. You shouldn’t go with her! Look at how unfaithful he’s been! Look at her forgetfulness and ingratitude. But the accusations fall upon deaf ears in heaven, because Jesus is reminding the Father that His work on the cross paid our sin debt in full. Therefore, God always sees in His children the perfect righteousness of Jesus.

What is the resurrected Christ doing – right now? He is interceding at the Father’s right hand. Even now, He is thinking of us, bringing our needs to the Father’s attention. 

John Frame, Systematic Theology

It is a consoling thought that Christ is praying for us, even when we are negligent in our prayer life; that He is presenting to the Father those spiritual needs which were not present to our minds and which we often neglect to include in our prayers; and that He prays for our protection against the dangers of which we are not even conscious, and against the enemies which threaten us, though we do not notice it. He is praying that our faith may not cease, and that we may come out victoriously in the end. 

Louis Berhof, Systematic Theology

When you dare not pray for yourselves Christ is still praying for you: when under a sense of sin you dare not lift so much as your eyes towards heaven, when you think “Surely it would be in vain for me to seek my heavenly Father’s face,” He is pleading for you. 

CH Spurgeon, Jesus Interceding for Transgressors

How is Jesus interceding for you?

No matter what your sin has been, Jesus can connect you to the very presence of God. I hope your heart longs for that!

Dear Lord Jesus, I confess to You my guilt. I have been stiff-necked, rebellious, grumbling, stubborn, and unfaithful. I don’t deserve God’s presence in my life. But through Your life, death, and resurrection You have made a way for me to be forgiven. Please intercede for me. Please be my Mediator and my Advocate. From the rest of my life, I long to live in the presence of the Lord. Amen. 

What ornament do you need to set aside? From what and from who do you need to separate? Where do you need to go to seek the Lord? What might become a tent of meeting for you? How will you remind yourself of the intercession of Jesus?