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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

Exodus 33

Verses 1-23

The Presence Shall Enlighten the Way (for the New Year)

Exodus 33:13-15

We have here:

I. An unenlightened prayer for light. A rash prayer, impatient, unwise, and of the kind which God never answers according to our pleasure. Show me now Thy way. He wanted to have the sealed book opened, unrolled and set before him that book in which God has written things to come.

The Lord is too merciful to let us look ahead. It is in mercy that He overthrows our predictions and mocks our guesses. It is nearly always the unexpected that appears. We know not anything about to-morrow we can only hope and trust: and it is better so. The uncertainties of life keep us sober, watchful, reverently humble and prayerful. They help to make us patient, brave, dutiful and religious. It would not help us to know the way that God is going to take with us.

II. The rash and inconsiderate prayer is answered in God's larger wisdom. Show me what is coming, said Moses. And the voice replies, Only this much will I show thee. My presence shall go with you, and I will give thee rest. God strips the request of all that is presumptuous and unwise, and answers what remains. He denies the wish that would work mischief, and grants the sure blessing. It is a mercy that most of our prayers are dealt with in this manner. Faith and foolishness go hand in hand in most of our approaches to God. We should miss most of the best and highest things of life if God were to say yes to all our requests, and we should imbibe a great deal of poison in the course of life if He allowed us to drink every cup that we asked for. If the presence go with us, all will be well. In the desert there will be water springs, and in all barren and rugged places the green pastures of His love.

III. Now see how faith at once recognizes that this is the surest and best blessing, and eagerly asks that it may be given. Yes, cries Moses at the finish, that is what I need, just that and not the other thing Thy presence. If Thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence.

This will be the confession of every religious man and woman at the beginning of the year. We dare not trust ourselves; we cannot depend upon any of life's uncertainties. If the past has taught us anything it is this: That we were weak when we thought ourselves strong, often most foolish when we deemed ourselves specially wise, most erring where we claimed infallibility, most disappointed where our calculations were most confident, and that we only acted wisely and well when we took hold of God's hand and in trustful prayer let Him lead us.

J. G. Greenhough, Christian Festivals and Anniversaries, p. 10.

Exodus 33:14

Many are quite conscious that the person has never yet appeared who can unlock for them and lead their way into the depths and hiding-places of their nature. Others are quite conscious that the presence of certain individuals gives them a totally new and different possession of their being.... If the presence of a gifted creature be so mysteriously helpful, what help must there be for us in the Divine Presence?

Dr. Pulsford, Quiet Hours, pp. 222 f.

I Will Give Thee Rest

Compare Nietzsche's analysis in The Twilight of the Idols of spurious 'peace of soul'. It may be the beginning of fatigue, the first shadow which the evening every sort of evening casts. Or a sign that the air is moist, that southern winds arise. Or unconscious gratitude for a good digestion or the quieting dawn of the convalescent to whom all things have a new taste and who is waiting in expectancy. Or the condition which follows upon a full gratification of our ruling passion, the agreeable feeling of a rare satiety. Or the senile weakness of our will, of our desires, of our vices. Or laziness, persuaded by conceit to deck itself out in moral guise.

God's Presence and God's Rest (Third Sunday After the Epiphany)

Exodus 33:14

I. God's Presence. Notice the promise of the text, 'My presence shall go with thee'. Whatever the world may say, however men may scoff, there is something real in the presence of God.

( a ) God's presence gives us safety. Whatever our work may be, in whatever land it may lie, however risky it may seem to men, if we have God's presence with us we are truly safe.

( b ) God's presence gives us also perfect strength. It was in the realization of that presence that David went forth to meet Goliath. If God is with you, you will have strength to be holy.

( c ) God's presence gives strength to live as God would have us live.

( d ) God's presence gives us the song. You remember the Psalmist's words, 'In Thy presence is fullness of joy; at Thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore'. When the Lord Jesus Christ had ascended to heaven the disciples 'returned to Jerusalem with their joy.'

II. God's Rest. The rest God gave to Moses was not a rest of idleness without service, but a rest in service, and if you have God's presence with you, you will find rest even in your busiest moments. You will find that you must be up and doing, that you cannot, you dare not, be idle, as, for every hour, you must give account to God; but in the midst of service, service which is tiring and oftentimes dispiriting, you will find that the presence of God will give you perfect rest.

III. The Condition of God's Presence. God will not come and take possession of an unholy temple. The heavenly Dove will never dwell in a foul nest. If you want His presence you must come out from all that is evil and be separate, and then He will be a Father to you, and you His son or daughter. Do you know His presence? If you want to know it, you will know it Give yourself up to Him, wholly and entirely, for as you give yourself wholly you shall be holy. Holiness lies in being wholly Christ's.

A New Year's Promise (for New Year's Day)

Exodus 33:14

I. The Call to Service. Today there is a call to consecrate again ourselves and our time to the service of Almighty God: as this new year stretches before us all uncertain in its issue, to step out, upheld by the great resolve that by God's help our feet shall be set upon a higher ridge than before, that we shall go across a battlefield where we shall not always be the vanquished, that our lives shall have less of self in them and more of God, that we will cast away some garment that impedes our every step and rise and come to Jesus, that we will take the wider views, look for larger horizons. Dim and misty and all uncertain lies before us this coming year. As you and I have sat upon some hill in the early morning, and have seen all the country covered with a mist, here and there perhaps some hill top or mountain standing out, so lies our life before us today. But read these words of the text into that life, and they will intershine it, will irradiate it and make it to glow with the purpose and the power of our God.

II. Freedom in Service. Freedom is a necessity if we would enter into the meaning of the words of our text. Freedom is not licence to live to self, but power to live to God. And how is the presence here spoken of manifested but through love? What are the desires that we are conscious of from time to time, desires for something better, something purer, something higher than we ourselves ever yet attained to what are these but God bending down to the soul to draw it up to Him, and the soul reaching up to God that it may answer to that attraction? In order that I may be able to render the free service of love, God has given me the power of refusing His love, and of refusing His service, in order that my service which is evoked by the love of God may be the service of a free and a willing man. So through the love of God raising in us an echo, the returning love of our soul, there comes the free service that we would render to God. In the family life and in the life of the family of God, first there comes the love, and then the love issues into the desire of obedience or of service on the part of the members of the family, and so that love of God that evokes my love in willing service is to me an abiding proof of the presence in me of One Who not only attracts but upholds, supports, uplifts me. And then there comes that mysterious guiding of the hand of God of which we must be conscious from time to time in our lives. Looking back, we can see that there has been something mysterious from time to time that has shaped and guided our life, and we recognize the finger-marks of God upon the life.

III. The Promised Rest. And the rest that is promised, what are we to understand by that?

( a ) Partakes of God's character. If it is to come from God it is clear that it must partake of the character of God. When God rested from the work of creation, as we read, did it mean inactivity, or did it mean a passing on to further and still greater work? Our Lord has answered that question for us, 'My Father worketh hitherto and I work' work, progress in work, change in work. In active loving service there is rest for the spirit of man. There stands before us the Central Figure in the history of the world, and from His lips is coming the precious promise, 'Come unto Me all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,' and He goes on to tell us still, 'Take My yoke upon you, and learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart; and ye shall find rest unto your souls'. To take the yoke, the daily burden under the guiding hand of God, to do the Lord's work that He sets for you and me today, to live the life of God by the power that God can give us thus may we find rest unto our souls. In doing the will of God alone is there rest for the soul of man. We look into the Garden of Gethsemane and we see the Lord battling there with all the evil weight of temptation, and we see at last the human will bending to the will of God the Father; then it is that the rest begins and the agony is over, 'Nevertheless not My will but Thine be done'.

( b ) Sanctified by the presence of God. In proportion as we learn to recognize the presence of God with us we shall be able to bow our will before God. In that surrender and in the active service of God that follows depend upon it we shall experience the promised rest. Today once more we try by the power of God to prepare our hearts that the presence of God may be there. Let us rise to the height of our vocation! Try sometimes to take wider views, to look to more boundless horizons; not always to walk with our heads down and hearts heavy and lives depressed, but to look up into the sunshine.

References. XXXIII. 14. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvii. No. 1583. J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons (9th series), p. 249. R. Higinbotham, Sermons, p. 84. C. Brown, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxv. 1904, p. 22. C. Stanford, Central Truths, p. 227. XXXIII. 14, 15. T. G. Rooke, The Church in the Wilderness, p. 139. R. H. McKim, The Gospel in the Christian Year, p. 61. XXXIII. 15. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlviii. No. 2811. XXXIII. 18. W. Winn, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliii. 1893, p. 262. R. Waddy Moss, The Discipline of the Soul, p. 219. XXXIII. 18, 19. H. Varley, Spiritual Light and Life, p. 113. S. Baring-Gould, Village Preaching for a Year, vol. ii. p. 264.

Exodus 33:19

God's goodness appeareth in two things, giving and forgiving.

Matthew Henry.

References. XXXIII. 19. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. x. No. 553. XXXIII. 19-23. C. H. Osier, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lxxiv. 1908, p. 121. XXXIII. 23. R. Collyer, Where the Light Dwelleth, p. 249. XXXIV. 1-10, 27-35. A. B. Davidson, The Called of God, p. 129. XXXIV. 2. J. W. Mills, After Glow, p. 111.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Exodus 33". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/exodus-33.html. 1910.