The LORD is moving His people on from mount Sinai. They now have the portable mountain - the tabernacle - and they must press on to the promised land (v1).
But who will go with them? That's the key question. And it's one that was actually settled back in chapter 23:
20 "See, I am sending an angel ahead of you to guard you along the way and to bring you to the place I have prepared. 21 Pay attention to him and listen to what he says. Do not rebel against him; he will not forgive your rebellion, since my Name is in him. 22 If you listen carefully to what he says and do all that I say, I will be an enemy to your enemies and will oppose those who oppose you. 23 My angel will go ahead of you and bring you into the land
The Angel would be the One through Whom the Father brings them in. To have the Angel is to be brought into the land, to have forgiveness and the very gospel character (the Name) of God Most High. To listen to the Angel is to listen to the Unseen LORD.
In chapter 23 the Father speaks of sending the Son as the way that He draws near and blesses the Israelites. Now in Exodus 33, He speaks of sending His Son as the way to keep His distance from the Israelites:
2 I will send an angel before you... 3 Go up to a land flowing with milk and honey; but I will not go up among you, lest I consume you on the way, for you are a stiff-necked people... 5 You are a stiff-necked people; if for a single moment I should go up among you, I would consume you.
So which is it? Does the Father save through the Son because that's how He draws near or is it because that's how He keeps His distance? Well prior to the sin of chapter 32, the Father described the Angel's mediation in terms of closeness. Now (v1-6), after the idolatry of chapter 32, the mediation is described as a response to sin.
But from 33:7 onwards we will return to the chapter 23 perspective - i.e. to have the Angel is to have the favour and blessing of God Most High, because the Name of the Unseen LORD is in the Visible LORD.
Verses 7-11 are a parenthesis, describing a common occurence. Moses used to go and see the LORD face-to-face. This is incredible intimacy: "face to face as a man speaks with his friend." (v11) Moses chooses to tell us of this regular blessing down at the foot of the mountain so we can contrast it with the events of v12 and following.
On top of the mountain Moses (very forgetfully) asks again who will go with the Israelites. He's told "My Presence will go with you." This is literally the word for "face." Moses has just told us of his face-to-face enjoyment of the LORD in the tent of meeting and now the LORD on the mountain says His "Face" will go with Moses. The Father is yet again pledging the help of His Son, His Angel, His Face - the LORD Jesus. When Moses hears the Angel described as the Presence of the Unseen LORD he is satisfied:
"If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here." (v15)
Give me Jesus or give me death! This is the sentiment of all who truly know the Father's Face.
Moses then asks a question reminiscent of Philip's in John 14:
Show me your glory (v18)
How will God Most High reveal His glory? Well He will not show His face - for no-one can see Him and live (v20). The LORD in the tent of meeting can be seen face to face, but the LORD on the mountain is known in a different way. He is known through His name - the Name that is in His Angel.
It is a Name dripping with compassion and mercy (v19) - a Name that is seen when we look to the concrete and visible saving actions of the Son.
And as we will see in the next chapter, when that Name is pronounced, Moses recognizes immediately that the Name of God Most High is precisely what he has seen in the Visible LORD:
O Lord (Father), please let the Lord (Son) go in the midst of us
To have the Son is to have the Father after all. Sin is a problem - it does cause estrangement. There is indeed a sense in which the Father cannot dwell with His people because of their rebellion. But precisely through the gracious salvation of the Angel, we are not finally estranged from God Most High, but rather brought near.
No-one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also. (1 John 2:23)