Following Moses’ second intercession to deliver the people from God’s wrath in Exo. 32:30 – 35, the LORD commanded the people to leave Sinai and begin their trek to the Promised Land. The LORD reestablished His fellowship with the people and stated His intent to fulfill His vow to lead them to the land and ensure their victory when driving out the inhabitants. God said He would send an angel before them rather than going in their midst Himself. However in this chapter Moses successfully petitions God to accompany them with His presence.
Chapter 33 begins with the LORD commanding Moses to tell the people to leave Sinai and begin their journey to the land He promised them. He would guide them using an angel and would guarantee victory in their conquest of the land. When the people heard that the LORD would not be leading them from their midst, they went into mourning and refrained from wearing jewelry from then on.
The LORD has decided to no longer dwell in the cap with Israel. Instead, He met Moses in a tent that was outside the camp. When the LORD met Moses, a pillar of cloud would appear at the tent. When the people saw the pillar of cloud descend upon the tent, they worshipped the LORD by standing in reverence.
Moses approached the LORD with two petitions. One concerned the LORD’s intentions with the people of Israel. The second concerned whether the LORD was going to accompany His people as they travelled to the Promised Land.
Moses needed a visible sign that would confirm the LORD’s promised presence, so he asked Him to make Himself visible to him. The LORD answered Him by allowing Moses to see His back but not His face.