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How do we reconcile the seeming two disparate clauses in the following passage:

Exodus 33:18-19: "Then Moses said, 'I pray You, show me Your glory!' And [God] said, 'I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.'”

That is, how do 1) "I Myself will make all My goodness pass before you, and will proclaim the name of the LORD before you" and 2) "I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion..." relate to each other?

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  • Simply because our limited human minds (and often the limitation is due to our own ill-spent time on this earth) do not immediately appreciate the connection between conjoined statements in scripture does not mean that they should be described as 'disparate' nor that they need to be 'reconciled'. But I spare you a down-vote on this occasion, for the basic question is a reasonable one. (Up-voted +1.) – Nigel J May 22 at 7:53
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    It was an honor and a privilege to receive any kind of divine revelation to begin with, let alone one of that magnitude. – Lucian May 22 at 19:13
  • I'll second that. What a revelation! – Cory Haffly May 29 at 4:19
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I have debated on just how much information to post that would satisfy your question without being excessive. What I have decided to do is first establish a context for Moses' request.

Consider this possibility.

I. Moses seeks confirmation from God as a sealing of the terms of the agreement. “Show me your glory.”

This was not a simple matter of curiosity on the part of Moses. This was a means of confirming the restoration of covenant. God always confirms covenant. What Moses requested was a revelation of Jehovah himself that went beyond any encounter Moses had previously had with God. He wanted to see God without any protective barriers between himself and the unshielded presence of the Almighty. Moses did not simply wish to see another manifestation of God. He wanted to see God in his actual glory, not just a representational form of God. Moses was not requesting to see some anthropomorphic form or some form that accommodated the frailness of the human frame such as the burning bush or the pillar of cloud or of fire. Moses wanted to see God himself and God agreed. So, just what was it that God showed Moses?

II. God Revealed Himself to Moses, Yet in Very Limited Expressions, 33:19 - 34:9.

Moses needed a visual aid to establish a base representation for the nature of God. God revealed Himself to Moses in very limited yet remarkable expressions, 33:19 – 34:9. Moses wanted to experience the nature of God first-hand. What Moses asked to see was the glory of God. What God said he would show him to satisfy his request was:

 “I myself will make all my goodness to pass before you.”

 “I will proclaim the name of Jehovah before you.”

 God would then declare his graciousness and his compassion.

These are all extended moral attributes that are characteristic of God’s glory. God issued this one limitation for Moses' sake – “You cannot see my face, for no man can see Me and live!” Back and face here do not seem to be used in any corporeal sense as we understand the use of these terms. These are anthropomorphic terms that are limited to the context; the lesser as opposed to the greater In the context provided, back and face seem to be defined in the following ways.

A. Face – the greater – intrinsic attributes – These cannot be seen. These would be attributes that relate to essence, that which makes a thing what it is. Intrinsically, the essence of God is spirit, ever-present, Immortal, holy, eternal, self-existing, all-powerful, invisible, self-sustaining, all-knowing, unified, and transcendent. These are attributed that make God, God. These are also attributes God did not declare to Moses as he passed by.

B. Back – the lesser – extended attributes – This seems to represent the character of God. These are qualities that define His moral integrity. The character of God as defined in scripture is: holy, good, faithful, patient, righteous, honest, loving, just, fair, forgiving, pure, consistent, and merciful. These are the qualities God agreed to reveal to Moses in an intimate way.

God also made a provision to shield Moses from the effects of the presence of the Lord.

“Behold, there is a place by me, and you shall stand there on the rock; and it will come about, while my glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take my hand away and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”

C. The rendering of “back” – אֲחֹרָ֑י – offers two possibilities.

  1. “The back of me, or back parts.”

In other words, Moses would be permitted to see only the least glorious of God's attributes. These would be the moral attributes of God, representing the “back” or lesser of God's glory.

  1. “That which is left behind.”

Moses would not be permitted to see even the least glorious of God's attributes but, would only be allowed to see where these attributes had “passes by” witnessing only the residual glory from those attributes. Whatever God allowed Moses to see would be all that Moses would be able to endure in the flesh and still live. What Moses could not see were those attributes that characterize God's intrinsic nature.

When God passed before Moses, there was a pattern that had been laid out by the Lord as to how this would be done.

“So, he cut out two stone tablets like the former ones, and Moses rose up early in the morning and went up to Mount Sinai, as the Lord had commanded him, and he took two stone tablets in his hand. The Lord descended in the cloud and stood there with him as he called upon the name of the Lord. Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, 'The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in loving kindness and truth; who keeps loving kindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.'”

Moses ascended the mountain to the place the Lord instructed. God then descended in the cloud just as he had at other times. God stood there with Moses as Moses called upon the name of the Lord. Then, the Lord “passed by in front of him.” As he “passed by in front of him” the Lord placed Moses in the cleft of the rock and shielded him with his hand against the glory that was passing before him. Then, the Lord began to declare his name and his extended attributes of goodness.

a. His compassion

b. His graciousness

c. His slowness to anger

d. His abundance of loving kindness

e. His abundance in truth

f. His forgiveness

g. His justice and judgment

D. What Moses asked to see was the glory of God. What God said he would show Moses to satisfy his request was:

  1. “I myself will make all my goodness to pass before you.”

  2. “I will proclaim the name of Jehovah before you.”

  3. God would then declare his graciousness and his compassion. These are all extended moral attributes that are characteristic of God’s glory.

E. The prohibition

“You cannot see my face, for no man can see Me and live!”

In his natural state, God does not have a back or front as we understand the use of these terms. Since back and face are anthropomorphic terms, how should they be understood in the context; the lesser as opposed to the greater? How is back defined in the context?

  1. Face – the greater – intrinsic attributes – These cannot be seen.

  2. Back – the lesser – extended attributes. These can only be seen provisionally.

F. God's provision to shield Moses from the presence of the Lord.

“Behold, there is a place by me, and you shall stand there on the rock; and it will come about, while my glory is passing by, that I will put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take my hand away and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen.”

The rendering of “back” – אֲחֹרָ֑י – offers two possibilities.

  1. “The back of me, or back parts.” In other words, Moses would be permitted to see only the least glorious of God's attributes. These would be the moral attributes of God, representing the "back" or lesser of God's glory.

  2. “That which is left behind.” Moses would not be permitted to see even the least glorious of God's attributes but, would only be allowed to see where these attributes had “passes by” witnessing only the residual glory from those attributes. Whatever God allowed Moses to see would be all that Moses would be able to endure in the flesh. This seems to be thus defined in the text.

  3. What Moses could not see were those attributes that characterize God's intrinsic nature.

G. God passes before Moses.

“So, he cut out two stone tablets like the former ones, and Moses rose up early in the morning and went up to Mount Sinai, as the Lord had commanded him, and he took two stone tablets in his hand. The Lord descended in the cloud and stood there with him as he called upon the name of the Lord. Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in loving kindness and truth; who keeps loving kindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations.’”

  1. Moses ascends the mountain to the place the Lord instructed.

  2. God then descended in the cloud just as he had at other times.

  3. God stood there with Moses as Moses called upon the name of the Lord.

  4. Then the Lord “passed by in front of him.”

  5. As he “passed by in front of him” the Lord placed Moses in the cleft of the rock and shielded him with his hand against the glory that was passing before him.

  6. Then the Lord began to declare his name and his extended attributes of goodness.

a. His compassion

b. His graciousness

c. His slowness to anger

d. His abundance of loving kindness

e. His abundance in truth

f. His forgiveness

g. His justice and judgment

H. Moses Response to the glory of God

“Moses made haste to bow low toward the earth and worship. He said, if now I have found favor in your sight, O Lord, I pray, let the Lord go along in our midst, even though the people are so obstinate, and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us as your own possession.”

This is a plea to renew the fellowship and the covenant – “Take us as your own possession.” God sealed and ratified the bargain with Moses by the revelation of his own presence in a very unique way that had never been seen before by any man and has never been seen by any man since. This is an unparalleled event in human history. All of the natural boundaries between the two worlds have been suspended for this one man.

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    I find several of your comments very interesting. +1. – Xeno May 22 at 2:29
  • I would suggest the 'back parts' relate to seeing the passage of God, seeing the consequences of his passing by : seeing the effects of his judgments upon the earth : seeing the events of history as God passes through the generations. Seeing what remains after he has visited. But only a suggestion, I am not claiming any special 'enlightenment'. – Nigel J May 22 at 7:57
  • Whatever you perceive God’s natural state to be (most likely spirit - lacking a heavenly or earthly body) it is clear that God revealed Himself to Moses in a visible form because God placed His hand over Moses preventing Moses from seeing His face/front and only allowing Moses to see Him from behind. For this reason claiming this was a perception experience and not a physical/visual/audible experience makes zero sense. – Nihil Sine Deo May 22 at 15:39
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Moses asks the Lord to show him His glory.

What one understands by glory determines how the response is to be understood also

Glory as a very simple and practical definition means, “that which someone is most well known for”. Moses was asking to know what God was most well known for and/or what God looked like (this is also what God is most well known for, His unique appearance, these two are inseparable, appearance and what it represents).

For example

“You must tell my father of all my honor כבודי in Egypt, and of all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.”” ‭‭Genesis‬ ‭45:13‬ ‭

The word is כבודי and essentially Joseph was asking his brothers to tell their father what he is known for. Or what makes him famous, honored or glorified in Egypt. That would be his rank and power as second in command over Egypt. Anyone who saw Joseph saw his glory, saw what he was renowned for. Joseph’s glory was manifest in both his physical appearance and in what it represented, not just merely the appearance.

Joseph wasn’t asking his brother to only tell their father what he looks like but what it also represents.

In a similar fashion.

Moses is asking God to see what God was most well known for? “Show me your glory”? To see what God looked like and what made God most renown, what His image represented.

And God answers curiously. For God connects the physical with its representation.

When anyone sees God’s face they instantly think of all the goodness that can exist. So much goodness that it will kill a man. And when they see God’s backside they think, God is gracious and merciful to those He is gracious and merciful.

God can and did limit His manifest goodness to avoid killing men in the OT. This is obvious because many men saw God’s face in the OT. No man has ever seen God’s full goodness and Lordship and lived to speak of it.

God says.

That He will pass before Moses, (this is a physical manifestation), all His goodness, and also He will speak His own Name “the Lord”, this is audible. This is related to God’s face/front.

And then the visible God who spoke to Moses face to face in the darkness and in the cloud, the visible God of the OT, that which He is most well known for when God leaves you, walks past you and you see His backside is this phrase

“And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” ‭‭Exodus‬ ‭33:19‬ ‭

That’s what makes God renowned once He has passed by. People exclaim what they had experienced and it’s summed up by that phrase.

This is two part idea

The first part is connected to seeing God’s face, which is connected to His goodness and what He is most well known for when someone sees His face, namely He is most known for being “The Lord”

Anyone who sees His face/front thinks goodness and The Lord!!

The second part is connected to seeing God’s backside and anyone seeing God in hindsight, understands God is most well known for being gracious to whom He is gracious and merciful to whom He is merciful. He (God) does not back down.

The face of God Moses was forbidden to see but was told what it was. God’s goodness, ALL of His goodness would kill a human.

It is curious that Moses sees God’s backside. This was done intentionally to eliminate the possibility that Moses saw the Father. For no one has seen the Father or the invisible God of the OT. Had Moses seen the Father’s backside then Jesus could not have said

“not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father.” ‭‭John‬ ‭6:46‬ ‭

And so Moses did not see all His goodness.

“And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” ‭‭Mark‬ ‭10:18‬ ‭

But heard His unmistakable name The Lord

“On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.” ‭‭Revelation‬ ‭19:16‬ ‭

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Thu passage has a huge context here is the first context as translate by Jewish Hebrew experts:

12Moses said to the LORD, “See, You say to me, ‘Lead this people forward,’ but You have not made known to me whom You will send with me. Further, You have said, ‘I have singled you out by name, and you have, indeed, gained My favor.’ 13Now, if I have truly gained Your favor, pray let me know Your ways, that I may know You and continue in Your favor. Consider, too, that this nation is Your people.” 14And He said, “I will go in the lead and will lighten your burden.” 15And he said to Him, “Unless You go in the lead, do not make us leave this place. 16For how shall it be known that Your people have gained Your favor unless You go with us, so that we may be distinguished, Your people and I, from every people on the face of the earth?”

17And the LORD said to Moses, “I will also do this thing that you have asked; for you have truly gained My favor and I have singled you out by name.” 18He said, “Oh, let me behold Your Presence [Glory, כְּבֹוד ]!” 19And He answered, “I will make all My goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim before you the name LORD [YHWH], and the grace that I grant and the compassion that I show. 20But,” He said, “you cannot see My face, for man may not see Me and live.” 21And the LORD said, “See, there is a place near Me. Station yourself on the rock 22and, as My Presence passes by, I will put you in a cleft of the rock and shield you with My hand until I have passed by. 23Then I will take My hand away and you will see My back; but My face must not be seen.” -- Jewish Publication Society. (1985). Tanakh: The Holy Scriptures (Exodus 33:12–23). Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society.

What is remarkable about this passage is God had already been showing Moses and the people his Glory/Presence in the cloud at the Tent of the Meeting; more context.

7Now Moses would take the Tent and pitch it outside the camp, at some distance from the camp. It was called the Tent of Meeting, and whoever sought the LORD would go out to the Tent of Meeting that was outside the camp. 8Whenever Moses went out to the Tent, all the people would rise and stand, each at the entrance of his tent, and gaze after Moses until he had entered the Tent. 9And when Moses entered the Tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the Tent, while He spoke with Moses. 10When all the people saw the pillar of cloud poised at the entrance of the Tent, all the people would rise and bow low, each at the entrance of his tent. 11The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as one man speaks to another. And he would then return to the camp; but his attendant, Joshua son of Nun, a youth, would not stir out of the Tent. (Exodus 33:7–11, JPS)

Note the significance of the cloud.

When Moses had ascended the mountain, the cloud covered the mountain. 16The Presence [Glory, כְּבֹוד ] of the LORD abode on Mount Sinai, and the cloud hid it for six days. On the seventh day He called to Moses from the midst of the cloud. (Exodus 24:15–16, JPS)

The word translated abode is the verb שָׁכַן. A word not in the Tanakh but from this root coined to represent the presence is shekinah. With Tent of Meeting see Exodus 25:8; 29:45-46; 40:36-38.

Apparently, Moses struggled with a physical appearance for God (What did Moses see on the back side of God?). But, God is spirit (John 4:24) and invisible in this physical world (Rom. 1:20). God prohibited the children of Israel from making a physical representation of God.

You shall not make for yourself a sculptured image, or any likeness of what is in the heavens above, or on the earth below, or in the waters under the earth. (Exodus 20:4, JPS)

It is God's invisible attributes that we can perceive.

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Rom. 1:19–20, ESV)

Thus, all God's goodness, mercy/grace, and compassion is what God wanted Moses to see.

Look at what John wrote:

 And the Word became flesh and dwelt [σκηνόω, שָׁכַן] among us, and we have seen his glory [presence], glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (...) 16 For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. (John 1:14–18; ESV)

Also:

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves. (John 14:8–11, ESV)

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  • It seems a bit surprising that no contributors (I'm not singling you out) have mentioned Ex. 33:11: "Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend." This and many other passages tell us Moses spoke to God - not merely in clouds or pillars of fire, but face to face. Surely, the Preincarnate Christ is He to whom Moses regularly spoke? Ex. 33:20 seems (to me) a relatively straight-forward encounter with God the Father -- unlike all others. In fact, Moses may have been the only human is history to "see" the Father. (cf. 1 Tim. 2:5). – Xeno May 22 at 18:10
  • פָּנִ֣ים אֶל־פָּנִ֔ים is a Hebrew expression for presence. If Moses was actually looking at God in Ex. 33:11, Why is he asking to see him in 33:18. – Perry Webb May 22 at 19:12
  • Well, just as I related in my last comment. Moses (nor anyone else) had ever seen the Glory of the Father. That (the glory) was just about all Moses was allowed to see: anything more would have been lethal. – Xeno May 22 at 19:15
  • Gen. 3:8, 12:7, 16:11,13, 17:1, 18:1-3, 22:15-17, 32:24-30, Ex. 3:2-6, 24:9-10, 33:11, Num. 12:5, Jos. 5:15...). Any of these passages (and many more) should tell us: "[There] is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man [God] Christ Jesus" (1 Tim. 2:5). Respectfully, these aren't as described by "Y e z": "[Descriptions] of Moshe's clarity of communication," or "[statements] that even Moshe, being a created being, could not grasp Hashem's 'essence.'" All of this avoids the simple fact that God spoke visibly and often throughout the O/T as the Preincarnate Christ. – Xeno May 22 at 19:45

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