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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 33

Calvin's Commentary on the BibleCalvin's Commentary

Verse 1

1.Depart, and go up hence, thou and the people I have used the pluperfect tense; (360) for the reason is here given, whereby Moses was stirred up to such vehemence in prayer, viz., because, although God had not altogether abandoned the care of the people, still He had renounced His covenant, and had proclaimed to them that, after He had once performed His engagement of giving them possession of the land, He would have no more to do with them. Wherefore, what is here related, preceded, in order of time, the prayer of Moses; for, being astonished at the sad and almost fatal message, he burst forth into that confused and wild request, that he might be blotted out of the book of life.

Let us now endeavor to elicit the true meaning of the passage. It is plain, that when God bids Moses depart with the people, He utterly renounces the charge which He Himself had hitherto sustained. He only promises that He will cause them to attain the promised inheritance, and not that He will preside over them, will there preserve them in safety, and even cherish them, as a father does his children; in fact, that he will merely fulfill the promise He had made to their fathers. And thus He anticipates their complaints; for they might reply, that consequently His promise would be rendered vain and ineffectual; but by way of anticipation, He says, that although He should renounce them, still He should maintain this truth, because He will cast out the inhabitants of the land of Canaan, so that their abode would be vacant for them. In sum, He repudiates them, that they may no longer count themselves to be His peculiar people, or expect more from Him, than as if they were strangers, He mentions His oath, lest they should accuse Him of faithlessness; as if He had said that He should be discharged from His engagement when they had obtained the land. And thus, whilst depriving them of the hope of salvation, and the grace of adoption, He still asserts the stability and stedfastness of His covenant. I, therefore, understand the word angel in a different sense from that which it has just before, and in many other passages of this book; for, when mention was before made of the angel, the familiar presence of God was denoted by it, nay, it was used interchangeably with the name of God itself. But here God is said to be so about to send the angel, as to separate Himself from the people. “I will not go up (He says) in the midst of thee;” and the reason is subjoined, viz., because it could not be that He could endure any longer their perverse spirits. Again He uses a similitude taken from refractory oxen, which cannot be broken to bear the yoke. The sum is, that because they are so intractable, God cannot perform the office of their guide without straightway destroying them.

(360) See Lat., “Locutus autem fuerat Jehova;” but the Lord had spoken, etc. Prof. Bush says, “The right adjustment of the events of this chapter in the chronological order of the narrative, is a matter attended with some difficulty. From the rendering of our established version, it would seem that what was now said to Moses was posterior in point of time to the incidents recorded in the close of the preceding chapter; but from an attentive consideration and collation of the tenor of the whole, we are persuaded, with Calvin, and other critics of note, that the proper rendering of Exodus 33:1 is in the pluperfect, ‘The Lord had said,’ and that the appropriate place for the interview and incidents here related is prior to the order and the promise contained in Exodus 32:34 of chap. 32. In that verse God declares his purpose of sending his angel before the people, and we naturally inquire how it happens that such an assurance was necessary? Was there any danger that an angel would not be sent? Had any intimation been given that his guidance and protecting presence would be withdrawn? To this the correct answer undoubtedly is, that all that is related in chap. 33 had occurred anterior to the promise made in Exodus 32:34. God had threatened to send Moses and the people forward without the accompanying presence of the angel of the Shekinah, and it was only in consequence of the fervent intercession of Moses that He was induced to retract this dread determination. In the foregoing chapter, therefore, the historian merely, states in a summary way the fact of his earnest prayer, and the concession made to it; in the present, he goes back and relates minutely the train of circumstances which preceded and led to the declaration above mentioned. In doing this he virtually makes known to us one main ground of the urgency of his supplications. He was afraid that God would withdraw the tokens of his visible presence. As a punishment for the mad attempt of the people to supply themselves with a false symbol of his presence, he was apprehensive that God might be provoked to take from them the true, and hence his impassioned entreaty that He would not visit them with so sore a judgment.”

Verse 4

4.And when the people heard these evil tidings Hence it more clearly appears that, as I have said, it was like a thunderbolt to them when God withdrew Himself from the people; for this divorce is more fatal than innumerable deaths. It might indeed at first sight seem delightful to be the masters of a rich and fertile land; but dull as the people generally were, God smote them suddenly, so that all its delights became insipid, and its fruitfulness like famine itself, when they perceived that they would be but fatted unto the day of slaughter. A useful piece of instruction is to be gained from hence, viz., that if we neglect God’s favor and are captivated by the sweetness of His blessings, we are ensnared like fishes on a hook. God promised the Israelites what might attract them for a little season: He denied them what they should have alone desired, that He would be their God. The evil tidings affected them with sorrow, for they felt that men cannot be happy unless God be propitious; nay, that nothing can be more wretched than to be alienated from Him. “It is good for me to draw near to God,” (Psalms 73:28,) says David; and elsewhere, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,” (Psalms 33:12, and Psalms 144:15;) again, “the Lord is the portion of mine inheritance, my lot is fallen in pleasant places.” (Psalms 16:5.) This, therefore, is the climax of all miseries to have God against us, whilst we are fed by His bounty; and consequently the Israelites began to shew some wisdom, when, awaking from their lethargy, they counted all other things as naught, unless God should pursue them with His paternal favor. We infer from the grossness of their stupidity, that it was brought to pass by a special gift of God, that they were affected with such sorrow as to conduct them to a solemn mourning. First, Moses says that they did not put on their ornaments, and then that they were commanded by God to put them off; but this will be perfectly consistent if we take the latter as explanatory, as if he had said that they did not wear their ornaments because God had forbidden it, by enjoining them to mourn.

God here assumes the character of an angry judge, preparing to inflict vengeance in His wrath, in the words, “I will come up into the midst of thee in a moment, and consume thee;” in order that their alarm may humble them the more, and stir them up to earnest prayer. It was avisible sign of mourning to He in squalidhess and uncleanness, that thus their penitence might be openly testified; for there was no efficacy in the rite and ceremony to propitiate God, except in so far as the inward affection of the mind manifested itself by a true and genuine confession. For we must bear in mind what God requires by Joel, (Joel 2:13,) that we should “rend our heart, and not our garments;” nevertheless, whilst He cares not for the outward appearance, nay, whilst He abominates hypocrisy, still, if the sinner has truly repented, it cannot be but that, humbly acknowledging his guilt, he will add the outward profession of it. For if Paul, who was guiltless of any offense, deemed that the Corinthians were to be mourned for by him when they had not “repented of their uncleanness, and fornication, and lasciviousness,” because God humbled him in their sin, (2 Corinthians 12:21;) how should not those mourn publicly who are conscious of their own guilt, especially when, being convicted by the judgment of men, they are summoned to the tribunal of God? And therefore it is not without reason that he elsewhere teaches, that the sorrow which worketh repentance should also bring forth these other fruits, viz., carefulness, clearing of themselves, indignation, fear, vehement desire, zeal, revenge. (2 Corinthians 7:10.) For the sake of example also, sinners should not only grieve in silence before God, but willingly undergo the penalty of ignominy before men, so as by self-condenmation to confess that God is a just Judge, to provoke others to imitate them, and, by this warning of human frailty to prevent them from a similar fall.

After, however, God has inspired them with fear, He allays His anger as it were, and declares that He will consider what He will do with them, in order that they may gather courage to ask for pardon; for, although he does not actually pardon them, He sufficiently arouses them to hope, by giving them some taste of His mercy; for, by seeming to leave them in suspense, it is not with the intention that they should approach Him hesitatingly to ask forgiveness, but that their anxiety may urge them more and more to earnest prayer, and keep them in a state of humility.

Verse 7

7.And Moses took the tabernacle This was a sign of the divorce between God and the Israelites, that the tabernacle should be removed from the camp and pitched at a distance, as if God were tired of His connection with them. He had promised as a special blessing that He would dwell in the midst of the people; and now, by departing elsewhere, He declares them to be polluted. In a word, the removal of the tabernacle was like the breaking of the tables; for, just as by the breaking of the tables Moses dissolved the covenant of God, so he thus deprived the Israelites for a time of His company and presence. (361) The explanation which some give that it was Moses’ own tabernacle, is refuted by many sound arguments. First, it is not said that he took away his own tabernacle, but the word tabernacle is used simply and without any affix, κατ ᾿ ἐξοχήν Secondly, he did not change his own place of habitation, but only went out thither from time to time for the purpose of worshipping, or, at any rate, of consulting God. Thirdly, it would have been by no means lawful to assign the sacred name which God had bestowed on His Sanctuary to a private tabernacle. Fourthly, God, by manifesting His glory there, testified that it was His own dwelling-place. Fifthly, it would have been absurd that the people should have sought God in that direction, unless the place had been sacred. Sixthly, the object (of its removal,) which I have above adverted to, must be taken into consideration, for Moses did not withdraw himself from the people, but rather continued, as was his custom, in the midst of the camp, and merely wished to shew that God withdrew Himself from that profane place lest He should be infected by the contagion; so that it was a kind of excommunication. It is said, indeed, that he pitched it for himself, yet not for his private use, as is plain from the context, but in accordance with the common form of expression, (362) in which לו, lo, is often redundant; still properly speaking, he did pitch it for himself, for he alone, had access to it, apart from others. Those who understand it to have been his private tabernacle, suppose that their opinion is supported by what follows, viz., that he called it, the tabernacle, Moed; (363) for they thence infer that it had not before been distinguished by that honorable title. But this objection is easily got over, since it is more probable that this was inserted parenthetically in the text, and therefore may be properly rendered in the pluperfect tense. For by this clause the reason is alleged why God had betaken Himself elsewhere, viz., that the place which He had appointed for covenanting with the people should remain deserted. Nevertheless, if we should refer it to this actual time, it will not be unsuitable that the people, at the present moment, should be reminded of their sad separation, and that Moses, in order to inflict more ignominy and shame upon them, should have called it the tabernacle of convention, though it was now far distant from the camp. As to the word Moed, I will not repeat what I have elsewhere said. Let my readers, therefore, refer to it at the end of chapter 29. (364)

7and it came to pass that every one which sought the Lord Some translate it, “asked counsel;” but, in my opinion, the ordinary signification is preferable. Whether, therefore, they desired to testify their piety by public worship, or to pray, or to seek counsel in doubtful matters, they went out towards that sanctuary in order that their eyes might rest upon it. Moses does not mean that they actually came to the place, from access to which they knew themselves to be prohibited on account of their pollution. But their thus going out was in token of repentance; as though they acknowledged that they were unworthy to receive an answer from God, unless they departed from that place which they had defiled by their atrocious crime. Now, it was useful for them to be thus humbled, in order that idolatry might be held in greater detestation. Nor is there any contradiction in what follows, viz., that they “stood, every man at his tent-door,” whenever Moses went out; for the glory of God, which at that time was more manifest, was such as then to inspire them with greater reverence and terror. Whensoever, therefore, the mediator presented himself before God, they were permitted to do no more than behold from afar the pillar of cloud which then enveloped Moses, so as to separate him from them. Meanwhile, it must be observed, that though God at this time departed from them, it was only so far as to reject them from close access to Him, and not that they were altogether alienated. For their worship was a sign of faith; they were allowed to pray to God and implore His favor; and they knew that they were heard in the person of Moses. Their separation, therefore, was not such as totally to cut off the hope of pardon, but such as to quicken their anxiety, and to exercise them to repentance. Thus God often designedly hides His face from sinners in order to invite them to Him in true humiliation. And this we nmst carefully attend to, lest, when He chastises us either by word or deed, terror, or a sense of our criminality, should hinder our prayers; but rather let us seek Him from however great a distance. The object of excommunication is nearly similar; for those whom the Church rejects from the company of the faithful,are delivered to Satan, but only “for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord;” (1 Corinthians 5:5;) and hence Paul would not have them counted as enemies, but admonished as brethren. (2 Thessalonians 3:15.)

When it is said that “the people rose up, and stood every man at his tent-door,” some improperly, as I conceive, refer it to mere respect to him as a civil magistrate, as if honor was thus paid to their leader; but I rather suppose that:, when at stated hours Moses presented himself before God in the name of all, they partook in his service and worship. Wherefore also they followed him with their eyes, until the cloud covered him. To the same effect this rising up is repeated immediately afterwards, where reference is made to the cloudy pillar. Wherefore I have no question but that both verses must be expounded as relating to spiritual worship. But we have elsewhere shewn how they testified their piety before the visible sign, without worshipping God therein in any gross imagination.

(361) So the LXX., Καὶ λαβὼν Μωυσὢς τὴν σκηνὴν αὐτοῦ the Syriac, Grotius, and many other commentators quoted in Poole. The greater number, however, even although disagreeing with C. in his notion that the tabernacle was already built, (see vol. 2, p. 143, et seq.,) are satisfied with his reasons why it should not be the private tent of Moses. “Wherefore, this was some peculiar tabernacle which Moses erected specially for the service of God, as it may appear by the name of it, (for) it hath the same name which the other great tabernacle was to be called by; there was the cloud, the visible sign of God’s presence, and the people worshipped towards that place. Simlerus, Osiander, Tostatus,” in Willet. So also Rosenmuller, “after Michaelis, and some of the Hebrews,” in Brightwell; and Prof. Bush, who adopts C.’s opinion as to the clause, “he called it the Tabernacle of the Congregation.” — Vide infra.

(362) לו, is properly either. for him, or, for it.W. Ainsworth’s literal translation is, “And Moses took a tent, and pitched it for him.”

(363) מועד moed, or, mogned. A.V., “The tabernacle of the congregation.” The noun is formed from יעד to call together, to appoint either a place, or time of meeting; and hence it means either an appointed place, or time of meeting. — W.

(364) See vol. 2, p. 297, on Exodus 29:42, where C. gives his reason for translating the words, Tabernaculum conventionis.

Verse 11

11.And the Lord spake unto Moses face to face Moses will hereafter be dignified by this distinction, where God would declare the difference between him and other Prophets. (Numbers 12:8.) Familiar intercourse is therefore described in this phrase, as if it were said that God appeared to Moses by an extraordinary mode of revelation. If any object that there is a contradiction between this statement and what we shall presently see, “Thou canst not see my face,” the solution is easy, viz., that although God revealed Himself to Moses in a peculiar manner, still He never appeared in the fullness of His glory, but only so far as man’s infirmity could endure. For this expression contains an implied comparison, i.e., that no man was ever equal to Moses, or arrived at such a pitch of dignity. And this tends to magnify the Law, that Moses its minister reported what he had familiafly learnt, so that no ambiguity might be suspected. When it is said that Joshua departed not from the tabernacle, we gather that the dwelling-place of Moses was in the camp; and perhaps the fact of his being a young man is mentioned, (365) in order more highly to illustrate God’s grace, in choosing that he should have the charge of the sanctuary. It is true that Joshua at this time was of mature age; but God’s special blessing was manifested in him, in that God passed over many old men, and set him who was younger to be the keeper of His tabernacle.

(365) “So called (says Ainsworth) in respect of his service, not of years, for he was now above fifty years old, as may be gathered by Joshua 24:29. But because ministry and service are usually by the younger sort, all servants are called young men. See Genesis 14:24.” “Perhaps, (adds Adam Clarke,) נער naghar, here translated young man, means a single person, one unmarried.” Others suppose that he was so called as being integer, upright, and without guile; and De Lyra, as being young in respect to Moses.

Verse 12

12.See, thou, sayest unto me, Bring up this people Moses is still diligently engaged in endeavoring to reconcile the people, for the fuller promise was inserted by way of anticipation. Since the revolt, however, God had promised no more than that He would give the land to the people; but although wishing only to assure them that they should possess the land, He had added that His angel should lead them, still this was but a temporary blessing, and one which He is wont to confer promiscuously on other nations also. Thus Moses saw that he and the people were deprived of a special privilege which they had previously enjoyed; for that same angel who had gone before them was frequently called the God of hosts, in order that they might perceive that God was present with them in a peculiar manner. Hence Moses complains not without cause that God had not signified whom He would send, inasmuch as, when He spoke generally of an ordinary angel, He had withdrawn that special Deliverer, the guardian of the people, and the perpetual maintainer of their safety. He does not, therefore, request that Aaron should be restored to him, or that any companion should be associated with him in his difficult and arduous task; but he desires to be assured of the continuance of God’s previous favor. As the ground of his confidence in asking, he adduces nothing but the promises of God. He rests, then, on no dignity of his own, nor alleges any duties performed, whereby he had merited so great favor; but contents himself with this brief statement, Lord, cause the event to correspond with Thy words. We have already shewn (366) what it is to “know by name,” viz., to choose from amongst others, or to hold in peculiar honor. After, however, Moses had made mention of what had been promised by God, he implores him by this grace, “if (says he) I have found grace in thy sight,” confirm or ratify it by this proof, i.e., by again undertaking the care of us; for by the way of God he means that guidance in which He had declared that He would go before them to shew them the way. In a word, he requests that this token of favor should be given them, that God should continually guide His people. Therefore, He says, thus shall I know thee, and it will appear that I am acceptable to thee. Finally, he refers to the Covenant of God with the whole people; as much as to say, that although God should be unwilling to grant this to him alone individually, still there was a weightier reason, viz., because God had adopted that people; and, consequently, it was just that he should distinguish it from other nations by peculiar marks.

(366) See ante on Exodus 31:2, p. 291.

Verse 14

14.And he said, My presence shall go with thee We gather from this answer what the desire of Moses was, for God, in accepting his prayer, affirms in one word that He will go before them as He was wont, and this was a sure pledge of His presence in no ordinary manner. For although the whole world is governed by His providence, still His face does not therein appear so conspicuously as in His protection of the Church’s welfare. And, in fact, since the same Angel, who had before presided over the camp, now undertakes the charge of guiding the people, the eternal divinity of Christ is clearly proved from hence.

This clause, “My face (367) shall go before,” is equivalent to his saying, I will so go before thee, that thou shalt truly perceive that I am with thee, as if thou shouldst see my face set before thine eyes in a mirror. Now, since this was fulfilled in Christ, it follows that He is the eternal God, whose glory, power, and majesty is far above all creatures. The rest which He promises has reference to the perseverance of His grace, and its final accomplishment, (368) as if it were said, when the people shall have entered the land, they shall be under God’s protection and guardianship; for what was common to the whole people is ascribed to the person of Moses.

(367) “My presence shall go with thee.” — A.V.

(368) “Et au but ou Moyse pretendoit;” and to the object at which Moses aimed. — Fr.

Verse 15

15.And he said unto him, If thy presence go not Moses accepts what is accorded to him, whilst at the same time he signifies that it would be better and more desirable for him to perish in the desert than to go any further without the manifest token of God’s presence; and this he confirms in the following verse, and therefore I have inserted the expletive particle certe (indeed,) although the copula might also be resolved into the causal particle nam (for.) For he declares that the paternal favor wherewith God had embraced the people could not be known unless He should remain with them. They are mistaken who suppose that something different is here indicated from what was said just before, for exactly in the same sense God is said to go before, and to dwell in the midst of His people; but Moses refers to the promise already given, the symbol of which was the Tabernacle of the Covenant, which just before had been removed from its proper place to punish the people’s sin. What he adds at the end of the verse, (369) “and we shall be separated,” may also be resolved, “that thus we may be separated,” or, “because in this way we shall be separated.” Whence it is abundantly clear that the favor which is mentioned refers to their election or gratuitous adoption, and is its fruit or effect. For it was the intention of Moses to restore the Covenant which had been violated by the people to its original force, as if the people were reinstated in that honorable condition from whence they had fallen. And surely this is our real happiness after all, to be separated from heathen nations as God’s own property; as it is said in Psalms 106:4, “Remember me, O Lord, with the favor that thou bearest unto thy people: O visit me with thy salvation.”

(369) “Le mot que, j’ay translate,. Afin que nous soyons glorifiez, signifie aussi estre separez;” the words which I have translated, To the end that we may be glorified, signifies also to be separated. — Fr.

Verse 17

17.And the Lord said unto Moses, I will do this thing also He adds nothing new, but confirms by repetition what He had just said, in order to remove all doubt. Still He declares that He is induced by no other reason than by the gratuitous favor wherewith He had embraced Moses. This, therefore, is a kind of renewal of the Covenant, when the people is consecrated to God, so as to recover again the sacerdotal kingdom.

Verse 18

18.And he said, I beseech thee, shew me thy glory Thus far the desires of Moses had been confined within the limits of moderation and sobriety, but now he is carried beyond due bounds, and longs for more than is lawful or expedient; for it is plain from his repulse that he had inconsiderately proceeded further than He should. He desires that God should be revealed to him more closely, and in a more manifest form than before. Still it is not foolish curiosity that impels him to this, which so often tickles men’s minds, so that they daringly attempt to penetrate into the deepest secrets of heaven; for he had no other design than to be animated to confidence, whereby he might more cheerfully go on with his charge. But that the desire itself was improper though its object was correct, we learn from the reply of God, wherein He shows that it would be injurious and fatal to Moses, if he should obtain that which he seeks as great privilege. (370) How, then, will it be with us, if the vanity of our nature tempts us to investigate God’s glory more deeply than is right? Wherefore let this passage act as restraint upon us, to repress the speculations which are too wild and wanton in us, when we desire to know what God would have concealed from us. This is the rule of sound and legitimate and profitable knowledge, to be content with the measure of revelation, and willingly to be ignorant of what is deeper than this. We must indeed advance in the acquisition of divine instruction, but we must so keep in the way as to follow the guidance of God.

(370) This interrogative sentence is entirely omitted in Fr.

Verse 19

19.And he said, I will make all my goodness pass At the outset He declares how far He has listened to Moses; but a limitation is presently added to prevent excess. Thus his prayer is not altogether rejected, but only so far as he was too eagerly set on beholding the perfection of God’s glory. The passing by signifies a vision of brief duration; as if He had said, Let it suffice thee to have seen once, as for a moment, my glory, when it shall pass before thine eyes. The word טוב, tub, which I have rendered beauty, (decorem,) others translate good, (benum;) and hence, some take it to mean goodness; but the expression beauty (pulchritudinis, vel decoris) is more suitable, in which sense we find it used more than once. Hence that which is pleasing and delectable is said to be good to be looked upon.

“To call in the name of the Lord,” (371) I understand thus, to declare in a clear and loud voice what it is useful for us to know respecting God Himself. It had been said before to Moses, “I am the God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, — but by my name, — was I not known to them.” (Exodus 6:3.) Whereas, then, Moses was already superior to the patriarchs, he is now still more highly exalted, inasmuch as God makes Himself more fully known to him, and carries His manifestation of Himself to its very utmost. First, therefore, it must be borne in mind that God was now known to Moses more familiarly than heretofore; still, at the same time, let it be observed, that although a vision was exhibited to his eyes, the main point was in the voice; because true acquaintance with God is made more by the ears than by the eyes. A promise indeed is given that he shall behold God; but the latter blessing is more excellent, that God will proclaim this name, so that Moses may know Him more by His voice than by His face; for speechless visions would be cold and altogether evanescent, did they not borrow efficacy from words. Thus, therefore, just as logicians compare a syllogism to the body, and the reasoning, which it includes, to the soul; so, properly speaking, the soul of a vision is the doctrine itself, from whence faith takes its rise.

and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious It will be well to consider how this sentence is connected with the foregoing, which has been either altogether neglected, or not sufficiently attended to. As to me, although I think that God’s mercy is magnified by the fact, that He deals so indulgently to this guilty people, still I have no doubt but that He desired purposely to cut off occasion from the audacity of men, lest they should exclaim against his unwonted and as yet unheard of liberality; for, whether God executes His judgments, or mercifully pardons sins, profane men never cease to quarrel with Him; (372) thus, out of mere disputatiousness, they ask why He delayed the advent of His Son for so many ages; why He has deigned to bring forth the light of the Gospel out of darkness in our own days; nay, they take flight even to the creation of the world, inasmuch as it seems absurd to them that God should have been idle for so many ages, and therefore they inquire, in ridicule, why it at length entered His mind to make the world, which has not yet reached its sixth millennium? Especially, however, does the frowardness of many advance beyond all due bounds on this point, viz., because the reason does not appear, why God should be merciful to one nation or one age, and severe both to other ages and other nations. Hence the admirable counsel of God, whereby He has chosen some, and reprobated others, has always been exposed to the calumnies of ungodly men; for unless they see the cause of the diversity, they do not hesitate to condemn the injustice of God in making this distinction between the two. (373) God here checks this insanity, and asserts His power, which men, or rather worms of the earth, would gladly deprive Him of, viz., that according to His own will He exercises peculiar mercy towards whomsoever He pleases. When the Prophet relates how the fathers obtained possession of the land of Canaan, he assigns no other reason except that God “had a favor unto them.” (Psalms 44:3.) And this doctrine, which filthy dogs endlessly assail with their barking, everywhere occurs in the Scriptures. Especially, however, do they rail when God shews Himself to be propitious, and beneficent towards the unworthy. For this reason Paul reminds believers of the incomprehensible counsel of God, because, by the preaching of the Gospel, He revealed the mystery, which was kept secret from all eternity. (Romans 16:25.) Again, because by ingrafting the Gentiles into the body of the Church, from which they had so long been aliens, He commends the depths of that mystery, which, though hidden even from angels, He made known to all men in the fullness of time. (Ephesians 3:9.) With the same intent, He here expressly declares that the cause why He manifests Himself to Moses more fully than of old to the patriarchs, is only to be sought in His own counsel or good-pleasure. Now, although this in the first place relates to Moses, still, inasmuch as he beheld the glory of God for the common good of the people, this mercy, which is referred to, extends to them all. And assuredly it was an inestimable proof of God’s grace that, after this most disgraceful fall and wicked apostasy of the people, He nevertheless revealed Himself more clearly than before to Moses for their spiritual good. This, indeed, is certain, that by this reply a restraint is put upon whatever carnal feelings might allege in consideration of the novelty of the act; as if God had declared in one word that the dispensation of His grace is in His own sole power; and that men not only do amiss: but are carried away by impious and blasphemous madness when they endeavor to interfere with Him; as if it were their business to arraign that supreme Judge whose subjects they are. The mode of expression simply tends to this, that God’s will is superior to all causes, so as to be the reason of all reasons, the law of laws, and the rule of rules. And surely, as long as men permit themselves to inquire into the secret counsels of God, there will be no bounds to their seditiousness. God, therefore, does not correct this insanity by disputing with it, but by the assertion of His right to be free in the dispensation of His grace; for in His sovereignty He says that He will be merciful to whomsoever He will. Let us beware, then, lest, when He is kind, our eyes should be evil.

Further, the better to convince dissatisfied men of their pride and temerity, He sets forth His mercy and compassion; as much as to say, that He is under obligation to none; and hence that it is an (374) unworthy thing in them to murmur, because He does not indiscriminately do good to them to whom He owes nothing. Hence it is clear how appropriately Paul, when treating of gratuitous election, accommodates this passage to the matter in hand, (Romans 9:15,) viz., that God must be by no means accounted unjust, because He passes by some and elects others; for the words loudly proclaim that God’s grace is destined to a certain number of men, so as not to appear equally in all. The phrase itself needs no exposition, for it is common in all languages when we wish to prevent our reasons from being investigated, to repeat the point in question; thus, a person, wishing to rid himself of the censures of others, would say, I will go whither I will go, or I will do what I will do.

(371) “Proclaim the name of the Lord.” — A. V.

(372) “Voyla, comme aujourd’huy beaucoup de gaudisseurs pour debatre de toutes choses;” behold, how now-a-days many jeerers, to dispute about everything. — Fr. C. discusses the third question, as to the creation of the world, in his Inst., Book I., chap. 14, sec. 1. It is also very neatly met in Pet. Martyr. Loci. Com. C1. I., chap. 12, sec. 2. “Sunt qui quaerant, Cum potuerit Deus longe prius mundum producere, cur tam sero? Est petulans, et procax haec inquisitio, nec humanae curiositati, nisi illam retundendo, satisfieri potest: nam quoeunque puncto temporis ante ficti vel imaginati dedissem tibi factum mundum, tu adhuc conqueri posses id sero fuisse factum, si tuam cogitationem referres ad Dei aeternitatem. Igitur hic pie est agendum, non hac procaci, et temeraria, curiositate.”

(373) Addition in Fr., “Seulement pour son plaisir;” only for his pleasure.

(374) “C’est trop grande presomption;” it is too great a presumption. — Fr.

Verse 20

20.And he said, Thou canst not see my face Moses had indeed seen it, but in such a mode of revelation, as to be far inferior to its full effulgence. Long before the birth of Moses, Jacob had said, “I have seen God face to face,” (Genesis 32:30;) and to Moses, as I have lately shewn, a still clearer vision was vouchsafed. Now, however, he obtains something better and more excellent; and yet not so as perfectly to see God such as He is in Himself, but so far as the human mind is capable of bearing. For, although the angels are said to see God’s face in a more excellent manner than men, still they do not apprehend the immense perfection of His glory, whereby they would be absorbed. Justly, therefore, does God declare that He cannot be seen by a mortal man; for we shall not see him as He is, until we shall be like Him. (1 John 3:2.) For it must needs be that that incomprehensible brightness would bring us to nothing. God, therefore, whilst He withholds us from a complete knowledge of Him, nevertheless manifests Himself as far as is expedient; nay, attempering the amount of light to our humble capacity, He assumes the face which we are able to bear.

Verse 21

21.And the Lord said, Behold, there is a place by me This description may illdeed appear puerile, but it is well adapted to our imperfection; nor will any despise it who is duly conscious of his own imbecility and ignorance. There seems to be a contradiction between these two things, that the beauty of God should be shewn to Moses, and still that the sight of Him should be refused. This difficulty is here solved, for Moses was to see God only from behind. It is a similitude taken from men, whom we only partially recognise, if their face be turned away; for clear recognition is only obtained by seeing the face and countenance.

The fissure or hole in the rock was like a narrow and oblique window, which so far admits the sun’s rays as that one, who is shut up in a deep and obscure place, may receive some advantage from the light, yet never see the sun itself nor enjoy its brightness. Thus we, imprisoned as it were in our bodies, cannot behold God’s glory freely and directly; but He illuminates us obliquely, so that at least we see Him from behind. I do not speak of all, but of the most perfect amongst us, such as Moses was, who, although he obtained the extraordinary privilege which is here recorded, yet could not endure God’s glory through the infirmity of his flesh; and therefore the hand of God was interposed, so that he should only see Him in part. By God’s hand is meant the darkness wherewith He was covered, lest the eyes of Moses should be stretched in curiosity to see further than was lawful. Some (375) refer “my back parts” to the fullless of time, when Christ was manifested in the flesh, as if it were said, Thou shalt not see me until clothed in human nature; this is a subtle speculation, but by no means sound, nay, altogether wide of the genuine meaning.

(375) “Tertullian referreth these backer or latter parts to the latter times of the Messiah: My glory which thou desirest to see, shall be revealed in the latter times.” — Willet in loco. Owen’s exposition of this passage is worthy of quotation: “The face of God, or the gracious majesty of his Being, his essential glory, is not to be seen of any in this life; we cannot see him as he is. But the glorious manifestation of himself we may behold and contemplate. This we may see as the back parts of God; that shadow of his excellencies which he casteth forth in the passing by us in his works and dispensations. This Moses shall see. And wherein did it consist? Why, in the revelation, and declaration of this name of God. Exodus 34:6. To be known by this name, to be honored, feared, believed, as that declares him, is the great glory of God.” — Owen’s Expos. of Psalms 130:0. (Edin., edit. 1851, vol. 6, p. 481.)

Bibliographical Information
Calvin, John. "Commentary on Exodus 33". "Calvin's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cal/exodus-33.html. 1840-57.
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