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Exodus 33:20-23

Context
33:20 But he added, “You cannot see my face, for no one can 1  see me and live.” 2  33:21 The Lord said, “Here 3  is a place by me; you will station yourself 4  on a rock. 33:22 When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and will cover 5  you with my hand 6  while I pass by. 7  33:23 Then I will take away my hand, and you will see my back, 8  but my face must not be seen.” 9 

1 tn In view of the use of the verb “can, be able to” in the first clause, this imperfect tense is given a potential nuance.

2 tn Gesenius notes that sometimes a negative statement takes the place of a conditional clause; here it is equal to “if a man sees me he does not live” (GKC 498 §159.gg). The other passages that teach this are Gen 32:30; Deut 4:33, 5:24, 26; Judg 6:22, 13:22, and Isa 6:5.

3 tn The deictic particle is used here simply to call attention to a place of God’s knowing and choosing.

4 tn Heb “and you will,” or interpretively, “where you will.”

5 sn Note the use in Exod 40:3, “and you will screen the ark with the curtain.” The glory is covered, veiled from being seen.

6 tn The circumstantial clause is simply, “my hand [being] over you.” This protecting hand of Yahweh represents a fairly common theme in the Bible.

7 tn The construction has a preposition with an infinitive construct and a suffix: “while [or until] I pass by” (Heb “in the passing by of me”).

8 tn The plural “my backs” is according to Gesenius an extension plural (compare “face,” a dual in Hebrew). The word denotes a locality in general, but that is composed of numerous parts (see GKC 397 §124.b). W. C. Kaiser says that since God is a spirit, the meaning of this word could just as easily be rendered “after effects” of his presence (“Exodus,” EBC 2:484). As S. R. Driver says, though, while this may indicate just the “afterglow” that he leaves behind him, it was enough to suggest what the full brilliancy of his presence must be (Exodus, 363; see also Job 26:14).

9 tn The Niphal imperfect could simply be rendered “will not be seen,” but given the emphasis of the preceding verses, it is more binding than that, and so a negated obligatory imperfect fits better: “it must not be seen.” It would also be possible to render it with a potential imperfect tense: “it cannot be seen.”



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