“Then the LORD said to Moses, “Leave this place, you and the people you brought up out of Egypt, and go up to the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob… I will send an angel before you… Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way.” Exodus 33:1-3 (NIV)

The events in Exodus 33 took place after the children of Israel had sinned against God by making and worshipping a golden calf. God told Moses to lead the people to the promise land and promised that His angel would go with them. But He, Himself, would not go with them because they were a stiff-necked people. This caused Moses and the people to mourn.

Moses did not want the people to be without God’s presence, so he set up a tent where the people could meet with God.

“Now Moses used to take a tent and pitch it outside the camp some distance away, calling it the ‘tent of meeting.’ Anyone inquiring of the LORD would go to the tent of meeting outside the camp… Moses went into the tent, the pillar of cloud would come down and stay at the entrance, while the LORD spoke with Moses… The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend…” Exodus 33: 7, 9, 11(NIV)

Anyone who wanted to inquire of God could come to the tent, and Moses often did. He loved God. He had developed a personal relationship with God and wanted to spend much time with Him. To indicate the depth of the friendship between Moses and God, Exodus 33:11 tells us that God would speak to Moses “face to face,” as a person speaks to a friend.

Having this deep personal relationship with God, Moses felt comfortable questioning God about the fact that He would not go with them to the promise land.

“Moses said to the LORD, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’ If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.” Exodus 33: 12-13 (NIV)

Moses questioned God, “You have told me to bring this people to the land, but you have not told me who will go with me.” But this was not true; God had told Moses that He would send His angel with them. What Moses meant was, “You said you will send an angel with me, but I don’t know this angel. I don’t know what he is like. I know You, and I want You to go with me.” Moses had spent time with God. He knew God intimately and trusted Him. The thought of God not going greatly disturbed him.

Moses continued, “You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found grace in My sight.’” Moses was wondering why God would not go with him if he had indeed found grace in His sight. Moses also asked God to teach him His ways so that he might know Him more and continue to find favor with Him. This showed Moses’ heart. His current knowledge of God was not enough. He wanted to know God more; he also wanted for God to keep pouring His favor upon Him. Based on this request, God responded.

“The LORD replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.”
“Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” Exodus 33:14-16 (NIV)

God said He would go in verse 14, but look at Moses’ response in verse 15. It appeared Moses didn’t even hear God. The thought of going anywhere without God was too much for Moses. He said, “If Your presence doesn’t go, don’t send us.”

There is an interesting play on words happening here in the Hebrew. The Hebrew word translated presence is pânı̂ym (pronounced paw-neem’). It means ‘the face.’ Verse 11 says that God talked to Moses face to face. This is the same Hebrew word – pânı̂ym. God talked to Moses pânı̂ym to pânı̂ym, meaning – Presence to presence.

When Moses says, “If You presence doesn’t go with us,” it is like Moses is saying, “I have seen You face to face. I have had that deep intense relationship with You. I cannot bear the thought of not seeing Your face. Please say that Your presence (Your face) will go with us. I don’t want some angel. I want You. I cannot go without Your Presence. I want to continue to talk to You face to face (pânı̂ym to pânı̂ym) as we always have.”

“And the LORD said to Moses, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.” Exodus 33:17 (NIV)

God granted Moses request. Moses had shown an earnest desire to continue in deep relationship with God. This pleased God, so He responded to Moses by assuring him that His presence would go with him.


God desires a deep, personal relationship with each of us. He has given us His Son, the Holy Spirit, and His Word for this purpose. We, like Moses, can know Him intimately, but to do so, we must choose to spend time in His presence.

How deeply do you desire to know God?

Do you crave His presence?

Does the thought of going anywhere without the recognizable presence of God cause you anguish?

Do you desire to have a pânı̂ym to pânı̂ym relationship with God as Moses did?