Time to break camp and go
- 1 The LORD told Moses, “It’s time to go. Take the people you led out of Egypt and get going to the land I promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I told them, ‘I’ll give this land to your descendants.’”
- 2 I’ll send an angel ahead of you to clear the road. I’ll drive out the local residents—Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites.
- 3 Go to this fertile land, rich in milk and honey. But I’m telling this: you’ll be leaving without me. It’s for your own good. These people are so obnoxiously stubborn and disobedient that if I traveled with you, you’d end up dead. I’d have to see to it.”
- 4 When people heard that bad news, they went into mourning and changed out of their good clothes.
- 5 They did this because the LORD told Moses to quote him. So Moses told the people: “You’re so obnoxiously stubborn and disobedient,” God says, “that if I traveled with you, you’d end up dead. I’d have to see to it. So, change out of your dress clothes and pack away your jewelry while I think about what I’m going to do with you.”
- 6 From that time on, after leaving Mount Sinai,1 the people of Israel wore no jewelry or fancy dress clothes.
Moses pitches a tent to meet God
- 7 When the people stopped to camp, Moses would set up a tent outside the camp, at a fair distance. He called it the Meeting Tent.2 That’s where people went when they wanted to hear from the LORD.
- 8 Whenever Moses left the camp to go to the Meeting Tent, people came out of their own tents to stand and watch him. They kept watching until he stepped inside the Meeting Tent.
- 9 The column of smoke that led the people would move over to the entrance of the Meeting Tent whenever the LORD came to talk with Moses.
- 10 When that happened, and the people saw the column of smoke descend and hover beside the Meeting Tent, they stood reverently in a spirit of worship beside their own tents.
- 11 That’s how the LORD used to talk with Moses—one on one, just as someone talks to a friend. When Moses came back to the camp, he left his servant behind, to stay at the tent: Joshua, Nun’s son.
God tells Moses to calm down
- 12 Moses told the LORD, “Look, you told me, ‘Get these people out of Egypt.’ But you didn’t say which people. You didn’t tell me who’s going with me. You also told me, ‘I know you by name and I’m pleased with the man you’ve become.’
- 13 If you’re pleased with me, let me in on what you want me to do. At this point, I don’t know what it is. I want you to continue to be happy with me. But to do this, I need to understand what you expect of me. And I want you to consider this nation, which is made up of your very own people.”
- 14 The LORD answered, “I’m going to be with you. Don’t get worked up over this. I’m giving you a sense of peace about what you’re doing.”
- 15 Moses told the LORD, “I’m holding you to that. If you’re not going to travel with us, let us stay right here.
- 16 After all, how could anyone possibly know that you’re pleased with us if you’re not with us? Don't you have to be with us, and among us, for us to see that we’re special to you—unique among all the other people of the world?"
- 17 The LORD answered, "I'll do what you ask because I do know you by name and I'm delighted that I do."
- 18 Moses said, "Please let me see you in all your glory."
- 19 The LORD said, "Here's what I'm going to do. I'm going to pass right beside you. All the goodness that is within me will be right there. I'll call out my name, LORD,3 as I pass by. I choose who I'm going to be kind and compassionate to.”
- 20 But the Lord also said, "I need to warn you not to look at my face. Any human who looks directly at me will die."4
- 21 So the Lord said, "Look over at that rock. Stand beside it, because I'm nearby.
- 22 I will slip out and pass beside you while you step back into the crevice of the rock. As I pass by, I'll protect you by holding out my hand and blocking your line of sight.
- 23 As I pass you, I will drop my hand and you can see the back of me leaving. But I will not let you see my face."
Literally, “Horeb.” That’s another name for Mount Sinai.
Some scholars say this was not the tent worship center, which has not been built yet and which would be located in the middle of the camp (Numbers 2:17). This was another place where Moses apparently spent some time, and where people would go to hear from Moses about what the Lord had to say about any particular question they had. Some scholars say Moses likely set up this Meeting Tent outside the camp because of God’s refusal to travel with the people. Moses may have figured that if God wouldn’t come to them, they would go to God.
“LORD,” usually printed in all capital letters, is a name of God that appears around 7,000 times in the Christian Bible, which makes it the most common way of referring to God. The lower-case “Lord” is a translation of the Hebrew word Adonai. It refers to God as our master, our life coach, or the boss. He’s in charge of us, and we try to obey him. “LORD” is the spelling most Bibles use when the writer refers to the name of God. Moses asked God what his name was, and God said Moses should tell the Israelite ancestors of the Jews that his name is “I AM” (3:14). In the original Hebrew language, the name is spelled with only consonants—no vowels. It’s an ancient shorthand, to save hides used to make scrolls. The name is YHWH. Without knowing which vowels, most scholars have settled on YAHWEH, pronounced YAH-way. God’s name is so sacred to many Jews that they refuse to speak it. Instead, they’ll use names that describe the character of God, such as Adonai, which means “my Lord.” They won’t even write the name. In English, they’ll spell the name G-d.
God doesn’t say what it is about his full presence, face and all, that would kill a human being. God and other celestial beings are often described as glowing. If it’s a matter of physics, some might wonder if seeing God is like staring into the sun, but more dangerous. Yet, it might not be a matter of physics. Some scholars even question the authenticity of this story. That’s because other stories report that Moses did, in fact see God face-to-face (Numbers 12:8). But other scholars say those other stories come later, after Moses had grown in his relationship with God.