Bible studies with Don Isaac Abravanel’s commentary (also spelled Abarbanel) has withstood the test of
time. For over five centuries, Abravanel has delighted – and enlightened – clergy and layman alike,
offering enduring interpretations of the Bible.

“And I will send an angel before you. And I will drive out the

Don Isaac Abravanel (1437-1508) was a preeminent Jewish thinker, scholar, and prolific Biblical
commentator. Exodus chapter 33 dives into a fascinating subject: Which holy force will lead the
Hebrews during their desert wandering – God or God’s angel? For Abravanel, it’s anything but a
question of semantics. See Abravanel’s World for the full discussion.

In fact, the question of which mystical force would guide the Jews had already been broached earlier in
the Bible (See Torah Portion Mishpatim). Abravanel provides key context, in order to better get a grip on
this issue of divine versus angelic escort or chaperoneship.

Well, what was at stake? Why did Moses insist on God’s presence (and not an angelic one) and why did
the Creator ultimately acquiesce to the prophet’s entreaty? Moreover, when God tells Moses about the
“changing of the providential guards”, the seer wasn’t the only disheartened party; collectively, the Jews
sulked. “And when the people heard these evil tidings, they mourned. And no man did put on him his

Explaining the complementary and supplementary passages, Abravanel elucidates. In chapter 32, divine
anger is explicit when God addresses His prophet: “And now go. Lead the people…My angel shall go
before you…Nonetheless, in the day when I visit, I will visit their sin upon them.” Moses would have no
part in it. He was not about to shepherd the Creator’s flock in the wilderness, accompanied by an angel.

Thus, Moses held his tongue, saying nothing in response to God’s announcement, for he believed the
angel’s presence would bring trouble. The prophet also noted that last chapter’s verse made no mention
of the patriarchs, or the Holy Land, for that matter. These omissions were out of character, as other
verses had made reference to the patriarchs and Israel’s comeliness.

This background, for Abravanel, leads us to chapter 33’s lead verses. “And God spoke unto Moses:
Depart, go up…” The Creator informed Moses that He would deed the land to the Hebrews for two
reasons. One stressed Moses’ merit: “You and the people that you brought up out of the land of
Egypt…” God meant, that since the prophet threw his fate with his brethren, and “brought up out of the
land of Egypt”, there would be divine forgiveness for the Golden Calf sin, as well as title to Israel.

The second rationale focused on the fulfilment of an oath uttered to the patriarchs: “unto the land
which I swore unto Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, saying unto your seed will I give it.”

Here we have two rationales which illustrate God’s forgiveness for the Molten Calf. But what transpire
in the interim? Which force would escort the Hebrews during the arduous desert trek – God or His
angel? See Abravanel’s World for the full discussion.