When Mosheh Declined the Messenger of YHVH

Posted by on Feb 22, 2022

We should recall that there was a messenger, who led the people out of Egypt and went before them in the pillar of cloud and fire, to guide and to defend them day and night (Exo 13:21) in the wilderness for forty years. But because it was the Eternal who was guiding His people in the person of His messenger, He demanded unconditional obedience to him. He said concerning this messenger,

Beware of his presence and listen to his voice. Do not rebel against him, for he is not going to pardon your transgression, for My Name is in him. (Exo 23:21)

The Messenger who led the people out of Egypt and went before them in the pillar of cloud and fire to guide them day and night in the wilderness for forty years.

But we should also recall that it was Mosheh who declined this same messenger, when the Eternal told Mosheh He would not lead the people to the Land. That was the consequence for the great sin they committed against Him, when they made the golden calf. It is the object of this work to explain certain obscure passages in the Exodus that are not distinctly explained by the commentators.

The sin of the golden calf

After the awesome revelation of Elohim over Mount Sinai and giving the Covenant (the Ten Commandments), Mosheh went up to the mountain to receive the tablets of stones with the words of the Covenant engraved on them with the finger of the Eternal. In forty days, Mosheh returned to the camp only to find that the people had already made an image of the Eternal Elohim in the form of a golden calf. In his anger Mosheh broke the tablets with the Covenant in order to save the people from the wrath of the Almighty. Why did Moses Have to Break the Tablets of the Covenant of YHVH? We explained this in the said article. Three thousand men of Israel fell that day by the swords of the Levites. And the Eternal plagued the people because they and Aharon made the calf.

On the next day, Mosheh pleaded before the Eternal to forgive the great sin the people committed against Him, but if not, Mosheh requested that he be blotted out of the Book of Life. These words of self-sacrificing love were met with rejection and with the command to lead the people into the Promised Land. The Eternal said to Mosheh,

Whoever has sinned against Me, I blot him out of My Book. And now, go, lead the people to the place of which I have spoken to you. Behold, My messenger goes before you. (Exo 32:33-34)

The Messenger of YHVH as a guard and guide

And YHVH said to Mosheh,

Come, go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought out of the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Avraham, to Yitschak, and to Ya’akov, saying, ‘To your seed I give it’. And I shall send a messenger before you, and I shall drive out the Kena’anite and the Amorite and the Hittite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Yevusite, to a land flowing with milk and honey. For I do not go up in your midst because you are a stiff-necked people, lest I consume you on the way. (Exo 33:1-3)

These words of YHVH commence in a similar manner the Covenant commences, but there is this great difference. While the presence of the Eternal was to go before the Israelites in the messenger, as a guard and guide in the covenant promise (Exo 23:20-23), now, though His messenger would still lead the people, He Himself would not be in their midst, because of the sin of the people with the golden calf. Nevertheless, the Eternal said, “I shall drive out the Kana’anites and …”

Note: They are six nations listed here, although seven nations were mentioned in Gen 15:18-21, as the original inhabitants of the land. This is because the Girgashites emigrated of their own accord because of the [fear] of the Israelites. [from Lev. Rabbah 17:6, Yerushalmi Shevi’ith 6:1].

The people were so overwhelmed by these words of YHVH, that they all obeyed the commandment and took off their ornaments as their hearts were troubled. Mosheh then took his tent and pitched it outside the camp, at some distance off, and called it “tent of meeting”. This “tent of meeting” was neither the sanctuary of the tabernacle described in Exodus 25, which was not made until after the restoration of the covenant in Exodus 35, nor another sanctuary, although it was called by the same name as the Tabernacle (see Exo 27:21).

A cloud came down and out of it the Eternal spoke with Mosheh “face to face, as a man talks with his friend” (Exo 33:7-11). He talked with him not through any kind of medium, but “mouth to mouth” (Num 12:8), as closely and directly as it was possible for a human to come close to his Creator. YHVH appeared to Mosheh in some peculiar form of manifestation but never in His own essential glory, only in such a form of medium which human can perceive, as it was said, “You cannot see My face”. There was no and since then, there has never been any prophet equal to Mosheh, who has attained the same respect to talk with the Eternal face to face as Mosheh did.

The messenger Mosheh declined

The Eternal commanded Mosheh to lead the people to the land of Kana’an and promised him the guidance of His messenger, but He Himself would not go with them because they were a stiff-necked people, lest He consume them on the way. By giving them His messenger to guide them to the Land, the Eternal thus expressly distinguished this messenger from Himself by saying, “I shall send My messenger before you”. The people heard that and mourned. Mosheh reminded YHVH of His binding commitment to bring the people to the Promised Land, saying,

See, You are saying to me, “Bring up this people”. But You have not made known to me whom You would send with me, though You have said, “I know you by name, and you have also found grace in My eyes”. (Exo 33:12)

With such courage which Mosheh alone could have had, he in fact said to YHVH, “If I have found grace in Your eyes, as You have said, do not leave me in uncertainty as to Your Messenger whom You have given us as a guide, that through him I may know You”. This plea would be fulfilled later at the end of our story, but in the meantime, Mosheh said, “You have not made known to me whom You would send with me”. We should not err and say that Mosheh did not know that a messenger would lead Israel to the Land (he had already been told that). But his concern was that he did not know who that messenger was, i.e., his identity. And upon the strength of his courage, Mosheh presented his petition,

And now, please, if I have found grace in Your eyes, please show me Your way, and let me know You, so that I find grace in Your eyes. And consider that this nation is Your people. (Exo 33:13)

To which YHVH replied, “My Presence will go, and I shall give you rest” (Exo 33:14). The “Presence” of YHVH (literally, “face”) is identical with the messenger in whom the Name of the Eternal is (see Exo 23:20-22), and who is therefore called in Isa 63:9 “the Messenger of His Face“. The sages called him “the Minister of His Face” and “Metatron“. The sages teach that the meaning of the words “listen to his voice” rather than, “listen to what he says” (in Exo 23:20-22) is that whatever this messenger says he says only in the Name of the Eternal. In other words, the Eternal is the active part in the communication with the people, while His messenger is only the echo, and his voice is the voice of the Eternal One.

The tradition also says that when the Israelites committed the sin of the golden calf, this messenger, who had previously accompanied them, disappeared. It is for this reason, YHVH said to Mosheh, “I shall send [back] My Messenger before you”. With this assurance on the part of YHVH, that His messenger would go again with the people, the Covenant bond should have been completely restored. But to make it indeed certain Mosheh replied,

If Your Presence is not going, do not lead us up from here. For how then shall it be known that I have found grace in Your eyes, I and Your people, except You go with us? Then we shall be distinguished, I and Your people, from all the people who are upon the face of the earth. (Exo 33:15-16)

A peculiar thing we should notice here. “My Presence does go”, said the Eternal, but Mosheh said to Him, “If Your Presence is not going, do not lead us up from here”. What was the necessity for Mosheh to say that? Had YHVH not already told Mosheh that He would go with the people to the Land He promised them? If so, why did Mosheh reply with the conditional phrase, “If Your Presence is not going …”? When Mosheh said, “If Your Presence is not going, do not lead us up from here”, we need to recall that when the Almighty was uttering the words of the Covenant, the people were trembling in fear. They saw the thunders, the lightning flashes, the voice of the shophar, and the mountain in fire and smoke. And the people saw all this, and they trembled. They were so afraid that they asked Mosheh to talk to them, not YHVH Elohim, unless they would die. It was granted as they wished, and Mosheh became a mediator between the Eternal and the people, but what they did not hear was the words that came after the utterance of the Covenant, namely, the prohibition of making idols of silver and of gold for themselves. This mistake of rejecting the direct revelation of the Eternal cost them a lot when they made the golden calf.

Therefore, when Mosheh said, “If Your Presence is not going, do not lead us up from here”, it was meant that the camp would not move unless Mosheh had told them so, for he alone was the mediator between the Eternal and the people. So, when Mosheh replied: “If Your Presence is not going, do not lead us up from here”, he meant, “I desire no one (no messenger) but You”. And later, in fact he said, “O Yehovah, I pray, let Yehovah go in our midst” (Exo 34:9). These words of Mosheh do not express any doubt as to the truth of the provided assurance, but perhaps a certain feeling of the insufficiency of the assurance. For this reason, the Eternal assured Mosheh that this request also should be granted,

Even this word you have spoken I shall do, for you have found favor in My eyes, and I know you by name. (Exo 33:17)

Emboldened by this but still seeking more assurance, Mosheh prayed to YHVH to see His glory. “Please, show me Your glory”, pleaded Mosheh (Exo 33:18). But Mosheh must have asked for something else other than the glory of YHVH, because he and the entire nation had already seen His glory in great instances (see Exo 16:7, Exo 16:10, Exo 24:16-17). Therefore, what Mosheh desired to see must have been something surpassing all former revelations of the glory of YHVH and even surpassing the intimate way of communication he had with Him, when he merely was seeing a “similitude of Yehovah” (Num 12:8), and not the direct glory of YHVH. This time, however, Mosheh desired of YHVH to see His direct glory, this is to say, His essence. The Eternal too granted this request, but He also set the limits that exist between the infinite Elohim and a finite human, saying,

“I shall cause all My goodness to pass before you, and I shall proclaim the Name of Yehovah before you. And I shall be gracious to whom I shall be gracious and shall show mercy on whom I shall show mercy“. And He said, “You are unable to see My face, for no man does see Me and live”. (Exo 33:19-20)

We should note here that Mosheh pleaded, “Please, show me Your glory”, but YHVH did not answer him except for: “You are unable to see My face, for no man does see Me and live” thus equating His essence (Glory) with His Presence (Face)? And in order to reveal His direct glory to His friend, Mosheh, the Eternal told him to go to the rock,

Behold, there is a place with Me! And you shall stand on the rock. And it shall be, while My glory passes by, that I shall put you in the cleft of the rock and cover you with My hand while I pass by. Then I shall take away My hand and you shall see My back, but My Face shall not be seen. (Exo 33:21-23)

The Eternal stated: “I shall be gracious to whom I shall be gracious and shall show mercy on whom I shall show mercy”. But how could that be an answer to the plea: “show me Your Glory”? This is how. His graciousness and mercy are as solid and unmoving as the rock He told Mosheh to go to, the rock where He indeed revealed His glory. A rock alludes to something that is heavy, unmovable, and stable, hence unchangeable (the Hebrew word for “glory”, kavod, comes from the word “to be heavy”).

Note: The cleft in the rock has been supposed to be the same place as the cave in which Eliyahu (Elijah) was hiding at Mount Horev and where YHVH appeared to him (1Ki 19:9). This supposition is supported by the words of YHVH Himself who said, “there is a place with Me” referring to the rock; a place of a special designation where Mosheh was to go in order to see the glory of YHVH.

Contrary to the verse’s assumed meaning, that Elohim will be gracious to those who deserve His grace and will be compassionate to those who deserve His compassion (as if grace and compassion can be deserved), this is not what it is said in our verse. Rather, as the sages explain, this verse means, “I shall grant favor to those whom I deem it fit”. For it is indeed a grant, not a merit. What in fact the Eternal answered was that He would decide, if, when, and how one would receive an answer to his prayers. In other words, He said, “I shall be disposed to be gracious and merciful when I shall desire so”. This may sound cold and heartless, but this is the plain meaning of this statement. The Eternal only gave Mosheh the promise that He might answer prayers according to His will, not according to the merits Mosheh had already had. And because showing grace and mercy is not by earning any merits, He will choose when or if to grant them. For He said to Mosheh, as the apostle correctly understood it when he wrote,

“I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” So, then, it is not of him who is wishing, but of Elohim who shows grace. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, “For this same purpose I have raised you up, to show My power in you, and that My Name be declared in all the earth.” So, then, He is gracious to whom He wishes, and He hardens whom He wishes. (Rom 9:15-18)

But this is not what Mosheh expected to hear. This answer led Mosheh to seek by means of reasoning an explanation to the statement: “I shall be gracious to whom I shall be gracious and shall show mercy on whom I shall show mercy”. For the people sinned unintentionally by making an image of the Eternal Elohim, and they had been judged, according to Mosheh, more severely than they deserved, besides the three thousand who fell under the sword that day. Mosheh loved his people and did all he could to comfort Elohim’s wrath,

Oh, these people have sinned a great sin, and have made for themselves elohim of gold! And now, if You would forgive their sin, but if not, please blot me out of Your book which You have written. (Exo 32:31-32)

This was Mosheh, the friend of YHVH, who loved his people! For this reason, it is said about him, “Mosheh was very humble, more than all men who were on the face of the earth”, and after his death, it is said, “since then no prophet had arisen in Israel like Mosheh, whom YHVH knew face to face”.

The unanswered prayer

As the prophet of YHVH, who exceeded in righteousness Noach, Avraham, Yitschak, and Ya’akov combined, Mosheh sought an answer. Seeking the best for his people, this prophet asked YHVH, “Please, if I have found grace in Your eyes, please show me Your way [of judgements], and let me know You [closer]”. But the only answer he received was, “I shall be gracious to whom I shall be gracious and shall show mercy on whom I shall show mercy”. How had Mosheh understood this? Perplexed by the words of YHVH, “I shall be gracious to whom I shall be gracious and shall show mercy on whom I shall show mercy”, he had to look into it by the use of reason.

The polemical Book of Job

The Book of Job is considered by some the oldest book in the Bible written some time before the Flood, although there is no evidence for this supposition. But who wrote this book, and who was Iyov (Job) in the first place? For further knowledge on the Book of Job, the reader may do well to read what we have written in our articles: Misunderstanding of Job’s Trial Few Could Bear and Did Job’s Wife Say, ‘Curse God and Die’?

There are strong hints in the Scripture that Iyov (regarding his social status and wealth) was King Yovav in Gen 36:31-34 and 1Ch 1:44. If this is correct, this would make Iyov an Edomite. Another hint on the identity of Iyov is that Eliphaz, one of the three companions of Iyov (see Job 2:11), could have been the son of Esau (see Gen 36:10-12). Alternative view, supported by the Jewish tradition, is that King Solomon wrote the Book of Job.

However, the Bible commentator Rabbi Meir Leibush ben Yehiel Michel Wisse (Malbim) suggests something quite different and radical. According to him, and supported by another Jewish tradition, Mosheh was the author of the Book of Job, and “Iyov” is a fictional character; according to Malbim, “Iyov” and Mosheh are one. If Malbim is correct in his supposition that Iyov is a fictional character and Mosheh had identified himself with the character he created (the present author tends to agree with Malbim), then through the character of “Iyov” Mosheh had raised the questions before YHVH that perplexed him. Mosheh must have himself the question such as: “Did not all Israel put the blood of the Passover lamb in Egypt?”, and “Did not all Israel leave Egypt by the command of the Eternal, cross the Yam Suph, and come to the mountain of YHVH?”; “Did not all Israel say, ‘All that the Eternal has spoken we shall do’ before even He had told them what He wanted from them?” Then, Mosheh must have asked, “Would the Merciful One not forgive the sin of making an image of Him?”

Or, perhaps (this is the opinion of the present author), the Book of Job was collective work to find the answer not only to the above question but also to the question as to why the Eternal did not forgive his sin when he hit the rock and did not let him enter the Land with the people. We do not know what was in the heart of Mosheh, but if indeed Mosheh was the author of the Book of Job, through the character of “Elihu”, Mosheh asked these questions,

If you have sinned, what do you do against Him? If your transgressions have increased, what do you do to Him? If you are righteous, what do you give Him? Or what does He receive from your hand? For a man like yourself is your iniquity, and for a son of man is your righteousness. (Job 35:6-8)

Mosheh had now come to the most important point of his argument. Through “Elihu” he pointed out to “Iyov” and to his three companions that he [Mosheh] had totally misunderstood the nature of the Presence of YHVH. Mosheh must have known that all laws and commandments in the Torah are conventional wisdom and justice based on a reciprocity between man and Elohim. The conventional justice postulates that the Supreme has laid His righteous laws before men to do: if they live by them, there will be rewards; if they break them, there will be disciplining and punishment. Men’s rewards and punishments are inherent in their choices and actions; Torah is all about conventional wisdom and justice. According to them, the only person affected by man’s behavior is man himself. This principle applies both to individuals but also to a nation. The nation of Israel has been provided with the faculty to govern its own affairs by the laws of the Torah. If the nation does so properly, it prospers; if it does not, the nation suffers.

But the Presence of YHVH however does not always work through conventional justice. Mosheh must have come to the conclusion that there is higher wisdom that works through the means of trials and hardship. Mosheh must have come to this realization in order to write his polemical work, the Book of Job. Perhaps, he composed the Book of Job and recorded all his reasoning and insights into these matters to find the answers he was seeking. But when he did not find them, he asked the Eternal to make the direct (essential) Glory of His judgments known to him. And when YHVH told Mosheh, “I shall be gracious to whom I shall be gracious and shall show mercy on whom I shall show mercy”, and showed Mosheh His essence at the cleft of the rock, he was then comforted for being dust and ashes and answered the Eternal through the character of “Iyov”,

You know that You are able to do all, and that no purpose is withheld from You. Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge? Therefore, I have uttered that which I did not understand, matters too marvelous for me, which I did not know. Listen, please, and let me speak. I will ask You and make it known to me. I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You. Therefore, I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes. (Job 42:2-6)

Thus, the moment of truth had come for the final outcome of his polemic: the revelation at the cleft of the rock. Mosheh had never doubted in the Presence of YHVH, nor in His messenger. However, Mosheh knew that knowledge of the Eternal was superior to blind faith, and matters as important as grace, mercy, and the essence of YHVH should not be incomprehensible and perplexed to the righteous. Mosheh’s intention in initiating this polemic in the Book of Job had been to find a way to answer these fundamental matters through rationale and contemplation. For this purpose, Mosheh had to adopt the role of “Iyov”. By employing his own thoughts in the polemic with the three fictional companions, Mosheh explained that he had called on the Eternal to show him His Glory, which He indeed did at the cleft of the rock to enlighten his understanding as to why He would grant favor to those whom He deemed it fit. Because Mosheh did not want the questions that perplexed him to remain unanswered, he wrote the Book of Job. By asking YHVH in his own words through “Iyov”, Mosheh sought to find the answers from the Eternal, as “Iyov” had been seeking answers from Him. And if Mosheh was unable to find rational answers, YHVH ought to provide them through the revelation at the rock in a prophetic vision, as He answered “Iyov”.

Now, through the experience of prophecy, as “Iyov” was graced with sure knowledge of those truths which previously he did not know, so was Mosheh graced with the knowledge he attained in the vision to his realization that he was just dust and ashes before the Supreme Elohim, when he saw His Glory.

Mosheh indeed declined the Messenger of YHVH, then sought His glory and saw it. What did he see, we have explained in To Foresee Yeshua the Messiah of Time of Reckoning Ministry.

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