The Golden Calf Incident:
Moses was delayed on the mountain. Jesus delayed in His 2nd Coming? So, the people gathered around Aaron and said, “Come, make us a god who will be our leader.” Getting the Egyptian idolatry out of the Israelites after 400 years in the pagan culture would take more time and effort, for the Israelites quickly revert to worshiping a calf deity. Aaron fashions a golden calf for them. Then, they cried out “This is your God, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.” Aaron built an altar for the calf saying “tomorrow is a feast of the Lord.” The people then offered holocausts and brought peace offerings. In mockery and antithetical imitation of the Theophany of the Covenant, “Then they sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to revel.” (Ex. 32:6) In ratifying the Covenant “they ate and drank and beheld God,” but now, in this demonic mockery, they ate and drank and “rose up to revel.” Rose up to revel is probably a Semitic euphemism for sexual immorality and pagan ritualistic orgies. God immediately informs Moses to go down to the people “for they have become depraved.” Is this how the current culture is descending into depravity before the return of the Lord? God then wished to let His wrath blaze up and consume them. However, Moses acting as intercessor and mediator for his people saying “Let your blazing wrath die down; relent in punishing your people.” (Ex. 32:12) Moses is the prefigurement of Jesus as Mediator of the Covenant and intercessor for his people before the Father, just as Jesus, the One true Mediator, would assume that role. “So the Lord relented in the punishment He had threatened to inflict on His people.” God heeded the intercession of Moses. When Moses and Joshua came down the mountain, they heard “cries of revelry.” As they drew near to the camp, they saw “the calf and the dancing.” With that, Moses angered flared up and he threw down the 10 Commandments, breaking them. Moses then threw the calf in the fire and ground it down to powder. He then scattered the powder into the water and “made the Israelites drink.” Moses then instructed the Levites to kill the idolaters. “Now go up and down the camp, from gate to gate, and slay your kinsmen, your friends and neighbors! The Levites carried out the command of Moses, and that day there fell about three thousand of the people.” (Ex. 32:27-28) Here, on Mt. Sinai, 3,000 people fell in the Old Covenant, but then, at Pentecost of the New Covenant, Acts says 3,000 were saved on the first day. 3,000 died under the Law, but then, 3,000 saved by grace and faith and the Spirit in the New. Moses told them you have committed a “grave sin.” “Perhaps I may be able to make atonement for your sin.” Moses continues his role as Mediator and priest to make atonement for the people. Moses asks the Lord “If you would only forgive their sin!” The Lord answers “Him only who has sinned against me will I strike out of My book,” that is, the Book of life where God writes down the names of those saved.
The Lord Distances Himself from the Israelites but Remains Close to Moses:
The Lord then informs Moses that He Himself will no longer be accompanying the Israelites directly, as “You are a stiff-necked people. Were I to go up in your company even for a moment, I would exterminate you.” (Ex. 33:5) The glory of God would destroy the sinfulness of the people along with the people themselves. “When the people heard this bad news, they went into mourning..” Instead, the Lord will “send an angel before you to the land flowing with milk and honey.” Moses used to pitch the “meeting tent” some distance away “outside of camp.” As Moses would go in the tent, “the column of cloud would come down and stand at its entrance while the Lord spoke to Moses.” (Ex. 33:9) The Lord and Moses spoke “face to face.”
The Lord shows Moses the glory of His back:
Moses requests to see the Lord’s glory, but God tells Moses “My face you cannot see, for no man sees Me and still lives.” But, there is a place in the hollow of the rock that Moses can stand, where as the glory of God passes by, “I will cover you with My hand.” After God passes by, “I will remove My hand, so that you may see My back; but My face is not to be seen.” (Ex. 33:23) Approximately 1,500 years later, God would indeed show His glorified face to Moses. At Jesus’ Transfiguration on the mountain, Jesus speaks directly with Moses and Elijah: “And He was transfigured before them, and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Eli′jah, talking with Him.” (Mt. 17:2-3) Moses finally sees the face of God in Jesus Christ, and he appears finally in the Promised Land.