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In Exodus 23:20-23 God promises to send an angel before to enable them to gain the promised land; this is a word of assurance and encouragement. God places his name in the angel he mentions there (23:21) and consequently he might well be called “the angel of God’s Presence”. He is to be obeyed implicitly for he will not forgive flagrant rebellion (23:21).
Exodus 32 gives us an account of the golden calf affair when ’s treachery and impulse to ungodliness showed itself. In response to that, God makes it clear that he cannot go with them and might even have destroyed them completely if it were not for Moses interceding (32:30-34). However, God withdraws himself and in 33:1-6 he speaks of what must be an angelic figure other than the one mentioned in 23:20-23. The angel mentioned in 33:1-6 might be called “the angel of God’s absence” (Chadwick’s remark, I think) but he replaces the “angel of God’s Presence” as a sign of God’s withdrawal. We’re not to think that God is not going to fulfil the promise he made to Abraham but we are to see the angel of 33:1-6 as a step down in intimacy and a reminder of the nation’s treasonous character.
Moses is very bold and is not content with this new arrangement and because God has led him to believe that he (Moses) is special to him (33:12-13) he asks God for a second great gift. He asks God to change his mind about “the angel of his Absence” (33:12-13) and instead for his “Presence” to go with them and God grants his request (33:14-17). This is a reversal of 33:1-6 and a return to 23:20-23.
Adding to his intercessory request and the reversal of 33:1-6 Moses now asks a third gift. In Exodus 33:18 Moses asks God to show him his glory and God in response says, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence…” To proclaim the name, Lord, is to exult in it and develop its meaning. [See Judges 2:1 and 6:22 and note that exalted angelic beings stand in for and speak as God who is too exalted to be seen personally.]
In 34:5-7 (NIV) God fulfils his promise to Moses when a cloud-wrapped being passes before Moses declaring, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.” Click for something on the word "punishment" here.
Moses asks to see God’s “glory” and God shows him his “goodness” (33:19, 21). We’re not to construe God’s “goodness” as if it were solid sugar (his punishment of the guilty and the consequences that fall on their children make that clear) but we’re not to reduce it to God flexing his divine muscles and doing feats of strength. He speaks his name and gives us the content of his glory as it relates to us. Read the text again and bear in mind that it is spoken in light of the golden calf outrage. We’re not to think of God as self-absorbed, as one whose only thought is what he can do to get himself more praise; he is not like a vain man or woman, which is why we cannot cease from praising him!
Read the text again and note that if outrage and rebellion gets in the way of his fulfilling his generous and holy promises to the human family through Abraham and that he will deal decisively with them. But the aim, even of judgment, is ultimate blessing for humanity and the heart of the God of blessing is one slow to anger, eager and quick to forgive and faithful to his rich promises even at his own expense (see Philippians 2:5-8). That is the meaning of his name and he "proclaims" it (33:19); he exults in it.
And if “the back parts” of God are like that, what must his face be like? Haven’t we been given more than a hint when he came in and as Jesus? See Hebrews 1:3 and Colossians 1:15 and be assured, inspired and strengthened!