God then again tells Moses to take the people to the land of Canaan. This was not so much an order to depart as an assurance that God would ultimately keep His promise. The Israelites did not actually depart from Sinai until after the giving of the complete law. (Numbers 10:11-12) God also said that He would send His angel as a guide. Moses asks “But You Yourself have not let me know whom You will send with me.” The emphasis was on the fact that the guide was a substitute for the presence of God. The reason given was not so much to punish the Israelites but to protect them, “I might destroy you on the way.”
The Israelites removed their ornaments as a sign of mourning, as well as a sign of obedience. It is possible that the ornaments may have been religious medallions of some sort. Archaeologists have uncovered many such. On the other hand, they may have been put away since it was from these ornaments that they had made the idol. In this case they would have been removing the temptation. Not wearing such ornaments set them apart from their neighbors and reflected their relationship with God.
The “tent of meeting” was placed at a distance from the camp because sin had caused a distance between them and God. God would no longer be in their midst. In order to seek Yahweh the people would have to separate themselves from the rest of the people. The principle applied here is that man must separate himself from the world to commune with God. It also showed that Moses had a closer relationship with God than that of the people. The Lord spoke with Moses “face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend.”
We have no explanation why Joshua remained behind in the tent after Moses departed. Perhaps Joshua had become Moses’ closest assistant instead of Aaron. Aaron had forfeited this right by his sin with the golden bull.
Moses pleaded with God for more assurance. Moses was asking specifically to know who would go with them as a guide. Or Moses may have been seeking indirectly for an assurance that God would go with them. “Let me know Your ways” may mean that Moses was wanting a road map or an additional revelation of the purposes of God.
God assured Moses of two things, His presence and His rest. Once again, Moses’ intercession had laid hold of God’s willingness. The “rest” of God was a sense of security and peace rather than a cessation from labor. This would be an inner rather than an outer experience.
God’s assurance of His presence to Moses was that which would make Israel distinct from all her neighbors. The ultimate distinctiveness of people rests upon the relationship that people have with God. Without God any distinctiveness people have is superficial.
Following this assurance, Moses prayed for a special, unique vision of God. The word “glory” used here, referred to the actual presence of God. Moses was first given an inner revelation if God, that God’s real nature is grace and mercy. The real glory of God is seen not in a form but in the experience of His gracious mercy. Grace is the real evidence of the glory or presence of God. Moses was also assured that the holiness of God was such that no one could really see Him and live. Man can only see where God has been. The description of looking upon God’s back was a picturesque way of describing the fact that our best view of God is found in seeing what He has done and what He is doing. This is precisely what Jesus had said to messengers of the imprisoned John the Baptist. He told them to report what they had seen going on. (Matthew 11:2-6) It is in the actions of God that we really discover His nature.
Numbers 10:11-12, Matthew 11:2-6