Exodus 33: Lessons on Restoring Fellowship with God After Repenting of Your Sins

Introduction. Exodus Chapter 33 picks up in the aftermath of the Jews’ seventh rebellion against God with the building of the golden calf. After having been given the chance to repent, a staggering 3,000 people refused. They experienced God’s punishment. For those who survived, they lived in shame. They had broken their Covenant with God. The Ten Commandments were their wedding contract with God, but Moses broke the physical Ten Commandment stones after finding the nation to be unfaithful. The pain that they felt was similar to what spouses might feel after an act of infidelity shatters their trust and happiness. The Jews faced a question that all survivors of infidelity face, how to restore their relationship. Thankfully for us, God is forgiving when we are unfaithful to Him. But being forgiven and being in fellowship with God are not the same thing. There are plenty of carnal Christians who can’t feel God’s peace in their lives even though they are forgiven. From this chapter, God gives you seven lessons for restoring fellowship after you repent of your sins.

First, restoration requires that you believe in faith in the promises that God has made for you. If your lack of faith won’t let you believe that God’s promises for you still apply, your relationship with Him will not be fully restored. Second, restoration requires that you rely upon God’s Holy Spirit to guide and protect you. If you are relying upon your own flesh (intellect, skill, or power), you won’t fully restore your relationship with God. Third, restoration requires that you turn away from your sins. The Jews had to fully turn back to God before He would be in their presence. Fourth, restoration requires that you seek out a relationship with God, just as Moses did. If your faith merely consists of formalities and rituals, you don’t have a true relationship with God. Fifth, restoration requires a patient faith. God may not fully restore you immediately. Through the model of Joshua who patiently waited for Moses’ return, God wants you to have a faith that is patient. Sixth, restoration requires constant prayer. Through the example of Moses’ constant intercessory prayer for the nation, God wants you to be constantly praying for both your needs and the needs of others. Finally, through Moses’ desire to see God’s shekinah glory, God reveals that true restoration comes with a craving to know Him more intimately. He briefly allowed Moses to experience this glory. He then gave this glory to Jesus. Jesus in turn has given part of it to every believer with the Holy Spirit. When your relationship and fellowship are fully restored, you experience the peace of the Holy Spirit that surpasses all understanding (Phil. 4:7). Then you will know that you are restored.

1. Restoration Requires Faith in God’s Promises for You. Ex. 33:1.

  • God’s reaffirmation of His promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. After bringing judgment upon 3,000 unrepentant Jews, God began the restoration process by reassuring the Jews that He would keep His promises to their patriarchs to give them the Promised Land: “Then the Lord spoke to Moses, ‘Depart, go up from here, you and the people whom you have brought up from the land of Egypt, to the land of which I swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying, ‘To your descendants I will give it.’” (Ex. 33:1). God offered the Promised Land to Abraham (Gen. 12:7; 15:18-21). He repeated His promise to give the Promised Land to the Jews even after 40 years of rebellion in the wilderness: “‘See, I have placed the land before you; go in and possess the land which the LORD swore to give to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to them and their descendants after them.’” (Dt. 1:7-8; 11:24; Lev. 20:24). He again promised this land to Joshua (Josh. 1:4). The lesson is that God will remain faithful even when you are not: “If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.” (2 Tim. 2:13). No matter how terrible the sin, we can find strength in God’s promise to never to leave or forsake us: “Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the LORD your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.” (Dt. 31:6; Heb. 13:5). When the enemy attacks you with feelings of guilt or worthlessness, are you trusting in God’s unconditional promises?

  • God has promised that you will reach the eternal Promised Land. Like the Jews, God has also promised to bring every believer in Christ to the eternal Promised Land. No matter how bad you sin, you cannot lose your salvation through sin: “and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand.” (Jo. 10:28). “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.” (Jo. 6:37). “This is the will of Him who sent Me, that of all that He has given Me I lose nothing, but raise it up on the last day.” (Jo. 6:39). Thus, no matter how bad your sins, you can take joy and comfort in Jesus’ promise of eternal salvation.

2. Restoration Requires Letting God’s Holy Spirit to Guide You and Protect You. Ex. 33:2.

  • God’s promise to send His angel to guide and protect the Jews. Also to reassure the Jews and to restore their relationship, God promised that He would send a mighty angel before them to guide them and drive out their enemies in the Promised Land: ‘“I will send an angel before you and I will drive out the Canaanite, the Amorite, the Hittite, the Perizzite, the Hivite and the Jebusite.”’ (Ex. 33:2). This was also a reaffirmation of a prior promise: “Behold, I am going to send an angel before you to guard you along the way and to bring you into the place which I have prepared.” (Ex. 23:20; Ex. 14:19; 3:8, 17; Gen. 24:7, 40; Is. 63:9). “Isaiah 63:9 looks back at the Exodus and says: In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the Angel of His Presence saved them. The Angel of His Presence describes the presence of God with His Israel in Exodus 23:20-23, the angel that had the name of God in Him. The angel described here in Exodus 33:2 was simply an angelic being, not the LORD Himself.” (David Guzik on Exodus 33) (emphasis original).1 If you have sinned, are you trusting God to still guide and protect you?

  • Have faith in God’s promise to guide and protect you. Also, no matter how bad your sin, God’s Word will always light your path out of darkness: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” (Ps. 119:105). Through the Word, the Holy Spirit will also guide and protect you: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.” (Jo. 14:26). Yet, in order for the Spirit to bring you into “remembrance of all that [Christ] said to you” you need to know God’s Word. Have you given the Holy Spirit a lot of verses to work with? Can He remind you of much if you have only memorized a few verses? (Jo. 14:16-18, 26). Likewise, can you expect to find God’s light if you aren’t reading His Word?

3. Restoration Requires that You Turn Away From Your Sins. Ex. 33:3-6.

  • God’s warning that He cannot be in the presence of sin. After reassuring the Jews, God warned them that the restoration process could go no further until they shed themselves of their pride (symbolized by their ornaments) and fully turned from their sins back to Him. The Jews mourned at the prospect of getting to the Promised Land of milk and honey if it meant that God would no longer be their presence: ‘“Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; for I will not go up in your midst, because you are an obstinate people, and I might destroy you on the way.’ When the people heard this sad word, they went into mourning, and none of them put on his ornaments. For the Lord had said to Moses, ‘Say to the sons of Israel, ‘You are an obstinate people; should I go up in your midst for one moment, I would destroy you. Now therefore, put off your ornaments from you, that I may know what I shall do with you.’ So the sons of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments, from Mount Horeb onward.” (Ex. 33:3-6). God’s charge that the Jews were “obstinate” or “stiff-necked” meant that they were too prideful in their ways to accept correction. This was a charge that God frequently made against them (Ex. 32:9; Dt. 9:13; Ps. 78:8; 2 Kgs. 17:14; Acts 7:51). God’s Holiness is a consuming fire (Ex. 24:17). Thus, if they continued being obstinate to change, He could not be in their presence (Is. 59:2). God’s commandment for the Jews to strip their ornaments was a command to make themselves humble before Him. The Jews showed their repentance by removing their “ornaments from Mount Horeb onward.” (Ex. 33:6). In other words, they did more than make a temporary change. Indeed, they later donated their ornaments to build the Tabernacle (Ex. 35:22). Instead of a stiff heart, God wants a humble heart of clay that He can mold (Jer. 18:5-8). If you find yourself returning to your sins, will you make a permanent change for God? Will you strip yourself of the things that cause you to feel pride in exchange for a relationship with God?

  • Although sin won’t cause you to lose your salvation, it can impair your prayers. Although God will not permanently forsake a believer (Dt. 31:6; Heb. 13:5), He warns that He will temporarily hide His face from a believer in open rebellion: “But I will surely hide My face in that day because of all the evil which they will do, for they will turn to other gods.” (Dt. 31:18; 32:19-20). When God hid His face from the Jews, He did not “hear” their prayers: “So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood.” (Is. 1:15; 8:17; Ps. 66:18; Prov. 28:9). In the New Testament, God also warns that sin can cause a believer’s prayers to be temporarily “hindered” or impaired (1 Pet. 3:7; Jo. 9:31). The reason for this is that sin cannot be in God’s presence, and He “cannot look on wickedness.” (Hab. 1:13). When we act righteously, our prayers are a sweet aroma (Ps. 141:2; Rev. 5:8; 8:3). Yet, when we are in open rebellion, our prayers are putrid. If you are sinning and you repent of your sins, God is faithful to forgive you (1 Jo. 1:9). Are there any sins in your life that you need to repent of?

4. Restoration Requires that You Seek Out a Relationship with God. Ex. 33:7-11(a).

  • When you are lost, God will seek you out to restore your relationship with Him. Even though sin prevented God from being near the people, He still heard Moses’ petitions for them through a tent outside the camp: “Now Moses used to take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, a good distance from the camp, and he called it the tent of meeting. And everyone who sought the Lord would go out to the tent of meeting which was outside the camp. And it came about, whenever Moses went out to the tent, that all the people would arise and stand, each at the entrance of his tent, and gaze after Moses until he entered the tent. Whenever Moses entered the tent, the pillar of cloud would descend and stand at the entrance of the tent; and the Lord would speak with Moses. 10 When all the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, all the people would arise and worship, each at the entrance of his tent.” (Ex. 33:7-10). Because the people could not be in God’s presence, Moses was forced to create a tent of meeting “outside the camp” to petition God for the people (Ex. 33:7). Likewise, when John the Baptist taught people on how to restore their broken relationships with God, he did so in the wilderness outside of Jerusalem. Jesus also mostly taught outside the synagogue to reach the lost. He was also sacrificed “outside of the camp” for our sins (Heb. 13:12). Matthew Henry remarked on these verses that: “If our hearts go forth toward God to meet him, he will graciously come to meet us.”2 If you become corrupted by sin and lost outside of the Church, give thanks that God will seek out wherever you may be to restore you. You don’t need to be inside a church for God to find you and restore His relationship with you. Likewise, if a church becomes corrupted by sin, the Holy Spirit will find the people by moving outside the church.

Moses in his tent sought to restore fellowship with God3

  • God spoke to Moses “face to face, just as a man speaks to a friend”. Through the example of Moses, God gives an analogy of what true restoration looks like. He does not want a relationship that consists of mere ritual and formality. Instead, He wants a relationship “just as a man speaks to his friend”: 11 Thus the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend.” (Ex. 33:11(a)). “Since that time no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face . . .” (Dt. 34:10). This expression did not mean that Moses saw God’s actual face. God later clarified that Moses could not look upon Him and still live (Ex. 33:23). He later explained that He spoke directly to Moses, not through dreams or visions: ‘“With him I speak mouth to mouth, even openly, and not in dark sayings, and he beholds the form of the LORD.”’ (Nu. 12:8(a)). Like Abraham, Moses was “a friend of God.” (Is. 41:8; Ja. 2:23). Like Adam, Enoch, and Noah, he also “walked with God.” (Gen. 3:8; 5:22, 24; 6:9). In heaven, believers will finally be able to see God’s face (Rev. 22:4). Until that time, God wants you to seek out a relationship with Him through faith will all your heart and mind: “But from there you will seek the LORD your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul.” (Dt. 4:29). “You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” (Jer. 29:13). God, however, does not want your worship if it consists of mere ritual or routine (Is. 1:14; Amos 5:21). Are you actively seeking out a relationship with God with all your heart and soul? Or, are you merely going through the motions?

5. Restoration Requires That You Wait on God with Patience. Ex. 33:11(b).

  • Joshua’s patience in waiting on God. As demonstrated through the example of Joshua patiently waiting for God, your restoration with God requires a faith that produces patience: “When Moses returned to the camp, his servant Joshua, the son of Nun, a young man, would not depart from the tent.” (Ex. 33:11(b)). After forty years of patient and faithful service, God told Moses to bring Joshua back to the tent of meeting to commission him as the next leader of Israel (Dt. 31:14). Unlike the disciples who abandoned Jesus, Joshua patiently waited for Moses at Mount Horeb when others gave up hope of his return. Joshua also did not participate in the building or worship of the golden calf (Ex. 32:17). He was also one of only two Jewish spies to have faith in God’s promises after scouting out the Promised Land (Nu. 14:9). Are you, like Joshua, willing to wait on the Lord when others give up? Are you willing to be the quiet servant in the background helping someone else’s ministry?

  • Patience is a fruit of someone delivered from bondage. Hoshea, Joshua’s original name, meant “deliverance.” Moses later renamed him as “Joshua,” which means “the Lord is deliverance.” (Nu. 13:16). Although Joshua as a man was a sinner, he foreshadowed Christ. Joshua in Aramaic (the language of Christ) is translated as “Yehoshua.” “Yeshua,” the Hebrew name for Christ, is a shortened version of this word. Joshua, like Christ, delivered God’s people to the Promised Land (Ps. 18:2; 68:20). While Joshua delivered God’s people to the physical Promised Land, Jesus delivered His believers to the eternal Promised Land. Although Joshua was sinful by nature, he acted righteously before God and was unstained by the sins of the world (Jam. 1:27). His patience was a fruit of his deliverance. Patience is also a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). Is the fruit of patience missing your life?

6. Restoration Requires Constant Prayer. Ex. 33:12-17.

  • Moses’ intercessory prayer for God’s people. As demonstrated through Moses' intercessory prayer, God also wants you to restore your relationship with Him by constantly communicating with Him through intercessory prayer. This includes both praying for your needs and for others: “12 Then Moses said to the Lord, ‘See, You say to me, ‘Bring up this people!’ But You Yourself have not let me know whom You will send with me. Moreover, You have said, ‘I have known you by name, and you have also found favor in My sight.’ 13 Now therefore, I pray You, if I have found favor in Your sight, let me know Your ways that I may know You, so that I may find favor in Your sight. Consider too, that this nation is Your people.’ 14 And He said, ‘My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.’ 15 Then he said to Him, ‘If Your presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here. 16 For how then can it be known that I have found favor in Your sight, I and Your people? Is it not by Your going with us, so that we, I and Your people, may be distinguished from all the other people who are upon the face of the earth?17 The Lord said to Moses, ‘I will also do this thing of which you have spoken; for you have found favor in My sight and I have known you by name.’” (Ex. 33:12-17). God spared the Jewish nation in response to Moses’ prayers after they made the golden calf (Ex. 32:11-14). He again spared the Jews in response to Moses’ prayer after they rebelled at the edge of the Promised Land (Nu. 14:18-22). He also spared the Jews in response to the prayers of Moses and Aaron after 14,700 Jews rebelled against them (Nu. 16:21-24). One of Christ’s last seven statements before His death was the following prayer: “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” (Lk. 23:34). With Christ’s death, we now have direct access to God, just like Moses did (Matt. 27:51; Mk. 15:38). As a believer in Christ, you are also part of God’s nation of priests (1 Pet. 2:5, 9). Moses used his prayers to help others. Are you using that power of prayer that God has given you to help others? Or, are you merely praying for yourself?

God is also always there for you when you seek Him out4

  • If you pray with doubt, God may not grant your prayers. In addition to sin, doubt can also hinder your prayers: “But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord,” (Jam. 1:6-7). Do you doubt your prayers?

7. Restoration Should Bring a Desire to Know More of God. Ex. 33:18-23.

  • Moses’ request to see more of God through His Shekinah glory. Finally, in an effort to know God better, Moses asked to see His Shekinah glory. Unlike believers today, Moses could only briefly encounter this glory without dying. God in turn allowed Moses to see His “goodness” pass before him while Moses hid within the protections of a rock: “18 Then Moses said, ‘I pray You, show me Your glory!’ 19 And He 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.” 20 But He said, ‘You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!’ 21 Then the Lord said, ‘Behold, there is a place by Me, and you shall stand there on the rock; 22 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. 23 Then I will take My hand away and you shall see My back, but My face shall not be seen.’” (Ex. 33:18-23). Moses would have had no way of knowing what God’s Shekinah glory was before he asked to see it. We can only assume that God revealed it to Moses while they spoke as friends. Moses’ desire to see His Shekinah glory showed that the more Moses knew God, the more he wanted to know Him further. He had become a “slave to righteousness.” (Ro. 6:18). God in turn rewarded Moses for his request by showing His “goodness”. Has your thirst for God hit a plateau? Or, like Moses, do you have a burning desire to know Him better?

Moses experienced God’s Shekinah glory5

  • God can be seen today through Jesus. Although no one can see God directly and live, we can see Him through Jesus: “No one has seen God at any time; the only begotten God who is in the bosom of the Father, He has explained Him.” (Jo. 1:18). Are you studying Jesus’ life and teachings to learn God’s character and will for you?

  • Jesus has given a part of His glory to you through the Spirit. While in the wilderness, the appointed place for worship was in God’s Tabernacle because His Shekinah glory was there (Ex. 40:35). Yet, after the Philistines captured the Ark, “The glory is departed from Israel.” (1 Sam. 4:22). His Shekinah glory later entered Israel’s first Temple after Solomon dedicated it (2 Chron. 5:3; 7:1-4; 1 Kgs. 8:1-11; Ezra 3:1-4). His glory later left again after Israel’s many sins. It was, however, later prophesized that the Shekinah glory would return with the Messiah (Ez. 43:1-5). While Jesus was on Earth, He fulfilled this prophesy by becoming the dwelling place of God’s glory and the place for our worship. Jesus then gave His glory to us: “The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one;” (Jo. 17:22). Today, God’s Holy Spirit dwells within us (1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19; 2 Cor. 6:16; Eph. 2:22; Heb. 3:6; Rom. 13:14; 2 Tim. 1:14). Whenever two or more are gathered in His name, God’s presence is there: “For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” (Matt. 18:20). The appointed place or worship today is not a “place” but a “gathering.” It is any place where you congregate with two or more believers to pray in Jesus’ name. A believer must therefore not forsake the fellowship of other believers (Heb. 10:25). Are you regularly going to church? Are you praying with others in Jesus’ Holy name?

  • The rock will protect you from God’s tribulations in the world. Only from the protection of a rock was Moses spared from being burned by God’s glory. Like Moses, has God offered us a rock of protection through Christ: “Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock.” (Matt. 7:24-25; 1 Cor. 10:4). In the end times, people who do not have the Rock of Christ will cry out for the rocks to fall upon them to end their agony: “and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?’” (Rev. 6:16-17). If you will seek out the Rock of Christ, God will let you experience His glory, just like Moses did.

  • The meaning of God’s name was revealed. In verse 19, God said that He would “proclaim the name of the Lord. As part of His holy name, He revealed: “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show compassion on whom I will show compassion.” (Ex. 33:19). In other words, He shows grace and compassion without regard to merit. There is nothing that you can do to earn His favor or your salvation. Yet, out of gratitude, Paul reveals that you can make yourself a “living sacrifice” for Him (Ro. 12:1). If God has restored you, He did so out of grace. Does your life reflect gratitude for your deliverance?

  • Moses’ response to knowing God’s holy name. After experiencing God’s holy name, Moses responded by singing a song of praise: “For I proclaim the name of the LORD; ascribe greatness to our God!” (Dt. 33:2). Throughout the Psalms, the psalmist also specifically and repeatedly referred to the “glory” of God’s holy name as an example for us in both prayer and song: “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name; bring an offering, and come before Him; worship the Lord in holy array.” (1 Ch. 16:29). “O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt His name together.” (Ps. 34:3). “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due to His name; worship the Lord in holy array.” (Ps. 29:2). “All nations whom You have made shall come and worship before You, O Lord, and they shall glorify Your name.” (Ps. 86:9). “God is known in Judah; His name is great in Israel.” (Ps. 76:1). “A Psalm, a song for the Sabbath day. It is good to give thanks to the Lord and to sing praises to Your name, O Most High;” (Ps. 92:1). “I will be glad and exult in You; I will sing praise to Your name, O Most High.” (Ps. 9:2). “I will give thanks to the Lord according to His righteousness and will sing praise to the name of the Lord most high.” (Ps. 7:17). “Sing the glory of His name; make His praise glorious.” (Ps. 66:2). “Sing to God, sing praises to His name; lift up a song for Him who rides through the deserts, whose name is the Lord, and exult before Him.” (Ps. 68:4). “Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good; sing praises to His name, for it is lovely.” (Ps. 135:3). Jesus also instructed that the model prayer should specifically start by acknowledging God’s holy name: “Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father who is in heaven, hallowed be Your name . . .” (Matt. 6:9). To “hallow” a thing is to make it holy or to set it apart as being worthy of absolute devotion. Alternatively, to “hallow” the name of God is to regard Him with complete devotion and loving admiration. If God has delivered you, are you acknowledging His power by calling His name “holy” in your prayers?

  • Give thanks in God’s name. The Psalmist also gave thanks for God’s holy name: “Willingly I will sacrifice to You; I will give thanks to Your name, O Lord, for it is good.” (Ps. 54:6). “It is good to give thanks to the Lord, and to sing praises to Your name, O Most High.” (Ps. 92:1). Jesus freed us from the obligation to give thanks because He only wants your freely felt devotion: “And when you offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving to the Lord, offer it of your own free will.” (Lev. 22:29) (NKJV). “Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.” (Heb. 13:15). Are you giving thanks with heartfelt gratitude for your deliverance?

  • The peace of the Spirit is the fruit of your deliverance. How do we know if our relationship has been fully restored? God promises us that the nine fruits of the Spirit will be manifest in your life. This includes the fruit of peace (Gal. 5:22). Moreover, this peace is different from the world’s peace, which can be quickly taken away. Instead, this is the peace that surpasses all understanding (Phil. 4:7). Are you at peace no matter what happens around you? If not, seek out a closer relationship with God like Moses did to find God’s peace.