He hurt her, he knew. He tore out her heart, it was true. After the tears dried up, she walked away with a clear message still ringing in his ears, “Leave me alone! I don’t want to have anything to do with you!” He knew he would have to respect her wishes or all hope would be completely lost. It was barely limping along as it was. But there was a weak, pale hope; a hope he clung to with everything he had. They had a mutual friend and she had not walked out on her. Years passed and he still looked at her picture daily filled with bittersweet memories mixed with regrets. And every time his friend mentioned her name; her conversation; her existence, he rejoiced with a hope dancing with shame.
Some have suggested that Exodus 33:7-11 is chronologically challenged. After all there was a clear statement of Yahweh’s intent of not going along with them because of their stubborn rebelliousness; because of their tromping all over his covenant. And then, all of a sudden, we are told of a tent of appointed meetings being set up in which the people could seek Yahweh. But three times in verse 7 it is stressed that this tent is erected outside the camp. One of these times it is emphasized that the tent is far from the camp. When the Tabernacle, representing Yahweh’s Presence, is completed, it is set up in the middle of the camp (cf. Numbers 1:53). Yahweh is not in their midst as planned. He will still meet with whoever wants to seek him, but they must now travel some distance away from the camp full of riotous sinners to do so.
Okay, so when it was time to talk to Yahweh, Moses would rise up and walk out to the tent. I don’t know if the times for this were set, or if the people just somehow knew it was happening. Either way the people would come out of their own tents, standing at the doors, and watch Moses’ solitary march. When Moses reached the tent, the pillar representing God’s presence would descend to the door of the tent of meeting. And it was in this moment that God would speak to Moses. The people then prostrated themselves to the ground and worshiped Yahweh. Was this a command or was it a spontaneous heart thing? We have no record of God commanding this and I like to believe the people are, in this moment, understanding the seriousness of what they had done. I like to believe that, as one, they all dropped to their faces in hope and adoration. I think the Tent of Meeting was a constant reminder of their sin. But it was also a constant reminder that there was still hope. God was still there, lurking out there, in the distance. Yes, God was still there, and he was still talking to Moses.
And what conversations God and Moses must have had. We are told that they talked “face to face just as a man speaks to a friend.” Does that make you smile? The phrase “face to face” is not to be taken literally, as if the author didn’t know that verse 20 was just around the corner in which God would say, “You cannot see my face, for no man can see me and live.” Nah, “face to face” is a metaphor for close conversation. That is why it is modified by “just as a man speaks to friend.” Picture Moses in that tent for hours. Was there laughter? Raised voice? Weeping? This is what God desires. A relationship that shares self. You know, like how you are with your close friends. We are not sure why Joshua stayed behind. What we know is Joshua is described as Moses’ servant. He remains in the tent as the servant of Moses. Maybe he is guarding it, keeping wild animals out along with over curious Israelites. The overall impression of the passage is that Moses communed with God and then would talk to anyone who might be interested to seek to understand Yahweh. Moses is the mediator between God and the people.
For what it’s worth, I don’t believe that God is taunting the people. He chooses not to be in their midst until they fully grasp the seriousness of what they had done. And we should probably keep in mind, that what they deserved was to be completely cut off with zero hope. They had taken God’s offer of relationship and trampled all over it. They turned their worship of Yahweh into debauchery. So, for a time, the people wake up every morning and see God camped far away from them. And the sadness of this should hit us right between the eyes. But there is hope here. Moses is still talking to God. God is still willing to allow them to seek him. And there is always hope. In this new age that we live under, it is not God who camps away from us. It is man who has consistently and stubbornly moved their tents further and further away from God. And still, God cries out, “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden.” Ah, hope. Peace, Walter