Moses Fights for the People

Exodus 33:1-23

Although God forgives the nation, He tells Moses from now on, they will be led by an angel, lest God consume the people on the way. The people are devastated by the news, and remove their ornaments in mourning. Moses appeals to God to change His mind and continue to be a presence among the nation. God agrees.


Encouraged by his strengthened relationship with God, Moses now asks Him to reveal His glory. God chides him that nobody can see His face and live; nevertheless, He agrees to show Moses His back.


As an aside, this section also describes how Moses and God would communicate during the nation’s travels. Moses would set up the Tent of Meeting at a distance from the camp. When he would go there, all the nation would watch him approach it. When he arrived, the pillar of cloud would appear before the door of the tent and God would converse with Moses as two friends might. The people would bow in worship.


When God commands Moses to continue journeying at the start of this section, He uses the verb “go up”. From here, the Israel Bible points out, the Talmud learns that the Promised Land is considered the highest point on Earth.


Virtual Classroom Discussion

What do you think the difference would be between having an angel lead the nation rather than God being directly present among them? Why do you think the people were so upset with the original verdict?

Comments ( 7 )

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  • Herman Arentsen

    This might be a first stage of the remoteness of G-d in their covenant. I think it might be a try out: how much do you really care for ME, PERSONALLY ? HaShem would not abandone them but what we call a 'separation of table and bed'. They justly were very upset with this idea. At Horeb G-d promised His Holy commitment to them,

  • Bonnie Pritchett

    Is this angel a messenger, is it the same angel, possibly who is mentioned receiving the Torah with Moses on the mountain? It makes me wonder if it has some Messianic picture or prophecy connected to it. Was Messiah leading the people in this way? I believe I have heard that the word for “angel” can mean messenger?

    • David Spafford

      No. Moses was leading the people. No jc

  • Kenneth Osterman

    Interesting question when you consider God saw their sin and told Moses this people are a stiff necked people and was about to destroy them and make Moses a great nation instead, but Moses reminded God of his covenant promises to the Fathers.
    Moses then showed his anger breaking the tables of the law invoked the Levites to go about and slay certain ones.
    Then chapter 32 ends with a direct punishment from God and he blots out certain ones from the Book of Life.
    Why the people preferred God over an angel? Perhaps they saw the anger of Moses and the anger of God and realized that God showed mercy and compassion as well as punishment. Perhaps they feared a greater than Moses (an angel) would be capable of greater punishment and not compassion and mercy.
    Finally, as a nation they were immature, but within this nation was a nucleus, a remnant that recognized that God was True and this remnant (including Aaron) who previously could not prevent the golden calf, now held sway for the moment in leading the people to a good decision.

  • When one is not directly connected, the relationship is not as strong. In Deuteronomy 11:10-17 we are told of the difference between Egypt and the Land of Israel. While Egypt has plenty of water with the Nile, Israel is dependent on rain and dew. Water is what sustains us, our crops and our animals. In Israel, God sends rain or not depending on our actions, creating a deeper relationship between the people and God.

  • Diana Brown

    It was God and not an angel who cut the covenant (brit) with Abraham and reaffirmed it with Issac and Jacob (later named Israel). The people wanted God to stay in the mix and not hire out His Part of the agreement. They knew He loved them and they did not want a Shepherd other than Himself.

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