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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 34

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - UnabridgedCommentary Critical Unabridged

Verse 1

And the LORD said unto Moses, Hew thee two tables of stone like unto the first: and I will write upon these tables the words that were in the first tables, which thou brakest.

Hew thee two tables of stone. God having been reconciled to repentant Israel through the earnest intercession, the successful mediation of Moses, means were to be taken for the restoration of the broken covenant. Intimation was given, however, in a most intelligible and expressive manner, that the favour was to be restored with some memento of the rupture; for at the former time God Himself had provided the materials, as well as written upon them. Now Moses was to prepare the stone tables, and God was only to retrace the characters originally inscribed for the use and guidance of the people.

Verse 2

And be ready in the morning, and come up in the morning unto mount Sinai, and present thyself there to me in the top of the mount.

In the top of the mount - not absolutely the highest peak; for as the cloud of the shechinah usually abode on the summit, and yet (Exodus 34:5) it "descended," the plain inference is, that Moses was to station himself at a point not far distant, but still below the loftiest pinnacle.

Verse 3

And no man shall come up with thee, neither let any man be seen throughout all the mount; neither let the flocks nor herds feed before that mount.

No man ... neither ... flocks nor herds. Although no details are given, there is great probability that the arrangements made previous to the first promulgation were renewed, fences being placed around the base of the mount, and guards appointed to prevent unwarrantable intrusion, or even the too close encroachments of presumptuous curiosity. None of those who had accompanied him a considerable way up the mount were allowed to go on this occasion-not even his favourite attendant, Joshua, who had been privileged to make the highest ascent of all. He was left behind, perhaps as Moses' substitute in the government of the people-his tried fidelity and the energy of his military genius recommending him as fitter to overawe and restrain the turbulent spirits in the camp than the timid and compliant Aaron.

The mount was not now dreaded from the terrible phenomena that rendered it formerly inaccessible; but it was still enveloped in the dark cloud which symbolized the divine presence. It being still therefore 'holy ground,' all the people were strictly prohibited from approaching the mount-even irrational animals, the flocks and herds, were not allowed to stray near its base.

All these stringent enactments were made in order that the law might be a second time renewed with the solemnity and sanctity that marked its first delivery. The whole transaction was ordered so as to impress the people with an awful sense of the holiness of God: and that it was a matter of no trifling moment to have subjected him, so to speak, to the necessity of redelivering the law of the Ten commandments.

Verse 4

And he hewed two tables of stone like unto the first; and Moses rose up early in the morning, and went up unto mount Sinai, as the LORD had commanded him, and took in his hand the two tables of stone.

Moses rose up early in the morning, and went up unto mount Sinai. In the sultry climate of Arabia all journeys are entered on betimes in the morning; but God had commanded him to start thus early, and by a faithful attention to the divine instructions he evinced his alacrity and zeal in the service of God.

Took in his hand the two tables of stone. Since he had no attendant to divide the labour of carrying them, it is evident that they must have been light, and of no great dimensions-probably flat slabs of shale or slate, such as abound in the mountainous region of Horeb. An additional proof of their comparatively small size appears in the circumstance of their being deposited in the ark of the most holy place (Exodus 25:10), which itself measured no more than 3 feet 9 inches in length by 2 feet 3 inches in breadth.

Verse 5

And the LORD descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD.

The Lord descended in the cloud. After graciously hovering over the tabernacle, it seems to have resumed its usual position on the summit of the mount, and to have made a slight descent visibly in the sight of the camp, and for the sake of the people. It was the shadow of God manifest to the outward senses, and at the same time, of God manifest in the flesh. The emblem of a cloud seems to have been chosen to signify that, although He was pleased to make known much about Himself, there was more veiled from mortal view (cf. Exodus 19:9; Exodus 19:16). It was to check presumption and engender awe, and give a humble sense of human attainments in divine knowledge, as now man sees but darkly.

Verse 6

And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth,

The Lord passed by. In this remarkable scene God performed what He had promised to Moses the day before.

Proclaimed, The Lord ... merciful and gracious. At an earlier period He had announced Himself to Moses, in the glory of His self-existent and eternal majesty, as "I am;" now He develops the grand truths implied in that name (see the notes at Genesis 2:1-25, p. 33), especially making Himself known in the glory of His grace and goodness-attributes that were to be illustriously displayed in the future history and experience of the Church. Being about to republish His law-the sin of the Israelites being forgiven, and the deed of pardon about to be as it were signed and sealed, by renewing the terms of the former covenant-it was the most fitting time to proclaim the extent of the divine mercy which was to be displayed, not in the case of Israel only, but of all who offend. The proclamation was specially designed, in the first instance, to describe the procedure of God to the Israelites under the Sinaitic covenant, in which justice would be tempered with abundant mercy-the temporal punishment of parents' crimes would, in the consequences to their families, be limited to the third and fourth generation: while the temporal rewards of piety and obedience would, in value as well as duration, far exceed what in the ordinary course of nature could be expected (see the note at Exodus 20:5-6).

Abundant in goodness and truth. "Truth" must be considered, from its relative position in this passage, as pointing directly to the fulfillment of promises and threatenings under the covenant. But some writers rather take "goodness and truth" as used here by a hendiadys, for 'sincere, real goodness.'

Verse 7

Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.

Keeping mercy for thousands. The Septuagint has: dikaiosuneen diateeroon kai eleos eis chiliadas, keeping justice and mercy. The Chaldee version has for "thousands" - `for a thousand generations.'

Forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin. These three terms are not to be separated or considered unmeaning repetitions of the same idea. They describe different phases and shades of evil-guilt, transgressions, trespasses-sins committed both against God and man-sins of a moral as well as positive nature.

And that will by no means clear the guilty. This translation, which intimates the divine vengeance on sinners, and is commonly regarded as an addition, to correct erroneous impressions of God's unlimited goodness-to show, in short, that He is just and righteous, as well as benevelent and merciful-is quite inconsistent with the occasion as well as the object of this proclamation, which was, in answer to the solicitude and prayer of Moses for the people of Israel, to announce, His special kindness in dealing with that chosen nation. But the word "guilty," being in italics, is an improper supplement by our translators. Gesenius, who renders the words, 'but will by no means always leave unpunished,' connects them with the preceding clause; so that the passage will stand thus: 'keeping mercy for thousands, but not always pardoning the guilty' (Nahum 1:3).

But others, preferring another meaning of the verb, given also by that lexicographer, to be vacant, empty, destroyed, render these words, in connection with the subsequent context, thus-`but I will not utterly empty or destroy, though visiting the iniquities,' etc. This translation accords with Jeremiah 25:29; Jeremiah 30:11; Jeremiah 46:28; Jeremiah 49:12; Nahum 1:3, where the same phrase, though rendered in our version, "I will not leave thee altogether unpunished" - the best commentators prefer, as the parallelism requires, 'I will not utterly destroy thee;' and with Numbers 14:18, where Moses, taking up this phrase, which came from the mouth of God, urges it as a plea for the exercise of clemency, though it would have been singularly inapposite if the right sense had been that given in the English translation (see 'Israel after the Flesh,' p. 19).

Verse 8

And Moses made haste, and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshipped.

Moses ... bowed ... and worshipped. In the East people bow the head to royalty, and are silent when it passes by; while in the West they take off their hats and shout.

Verses 9-10

And he said, If now I have found grace in thy sight, O Lord, let my Lord, I pray thee, go among us; for it is a stiffnecked people; and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for thine inheritance.

He said, If now I have found grace. On this proclamation Moses, in the overflowing benevolence of his heart, founded an earnest petition for the divine presence being continued with the people; and God was pleased to give His favourable answer to his intercession by a renewal of His promise under the form of a covenant, repeating the leading points that formed the conditions of the former national compact.

Verse 11

Observe thou that which I command thee this day: behold, I drive out before thee the Amorite, and the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite.

Behold, I drive out before thee the Amorite ... (As to the absolute right of God, as the Creator and Proprietor of the earth, to make a free gift of any portion of it; as to His justice in employing the Israelites as the instruments of His providence in exterminating the occupiers of Canaan, who were a race of incorrigible and hopeless sinners; and as to His faithfulness in fulfilling His promise made to the patriarchal ancestors of Israel, by settling them in the land of promise, see the note at Exodus 23:27-33; and further at Deuteronomy 7:1-5; Deuteronomy 20:16-17; Joshua 21:43.)

Verses 12-13

Take heed to thyself, lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land whither thou goest, lest it be for a snare in the midst of thee:

Take heed to thyself, lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land. Since the Canaanites were gross idolaters, and their rites were infamous for cruelty and lust, the Israelites were forewarned against forming any sort of league with them, lest they should be seduced into a fondness for their pagan revelries. All participation in those revolting abominations was denounced under the severest penalties-whether prostration before their images offering sacrifices on their altars, or frequenting their consecrated groves, which covered a great part of the country. So far from any countenance or toleration being given to any of these, every monument of the odious and malignant superstition was to be destroyed.

Verse 14

For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God:

Thou shalt worship no other god: for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous god. The first commandment is frequently taken as a test of adherence to the national covenant. While the breach of any precept of the Decalogue was a sin against God, He who knew the inconstancy and fallibility of man did not consider every infringement of the law as implying a violation of the compact between Him and Israel; but obedience to God, as the true and only object of religious worship lying at the basis of the covenant, a transgression in that one fundamental point was tantamount to the guilt of offending in all; and hence, God is never represented as angry or jealous except for a breach of the first, which was the whole law (cf. Deuteronomy 6:14-15; Deuteronomy 11:16-17; Deuteronomy 31:29; Deuteronomy 32:21; 'Israel after the Flesh,' p. 18).

Verses 15-16

Lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they go a whoring after their gods, and do sacrifice unto their gods, and one call thee, and thou eat of his sacrifice;

They go a whoring after their gods. This is the first instance of the use of a phrase which occurs very frequently in the later books, and it is applied to pagan women worshipping their idols. It describes a literal fact, as their worship was always accompanied with licentious rites and bacchanalian orgies; and hence, the Israelites were prohibited from forming matrimonial alliances with the people, lest such connections should lead them, as frequently happened, into the same wild revelry, (Leviticus 17:7; Leviticus 20:5-6; Numbers 14:33; Numbers 25:1, etc.)

Verses 17-21

Thou shalt make thee no molten gods.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 22

And thou shalt observe the feast of weeks, of the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year's end.

The feast of ingathering - (see the note at Exodus 23:16, and further at Leviticus 23:24-44; Deuteronomy 16:13-17.)

Verses 23-24

Thrice in the year shall all your men children appear before the Lord GOD, the God of Israel.

Thrice in the year shall all your men-children appear before the Lord God - i:e., in the central place of national worship. While the males faithfully obeyed this injunction; in celebrating the national feasts, the absence of the great mass of the population from their families and homes must have left the country defenseless; but they received from the first a distinct assurance, which Providence made good in their subsequent history, that neither intestine nor foreign enemies disturbed the country at these seasons. God fulfilled His part of the conditions by a periodical miracle for three weeks every year; but the 'Israelites neglected theirs, by allowing numbers of the Canaanite population to remain among them: and so the promise, through their sloth or cowardice, was not fully realized (see the notes at Exodus 23:14-17).

Verses 25-26

Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leaven; neither shall the sacrifice of the feast of the passover be left unto the morning.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verses 27-28

And the LORD said unto Moses, Write thou these words: for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel.

Write thou these words - i:e., the ceremonial and judicial injunctions comprehended above (Exodus 34:11-26); while the re-writing of the ten commandments on the newly prepared slabs was done by God Himself (cf. Deuteronomy 10:1-4).

Was there with the Lord - as long as formerly, being sustained for the execution of his special duties by the miraculous power of God. A special cause is assigned for His protracted fast on this second occasion (Deuteronomy 9:18).

He (namely, Yahweh) wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the ten commandments, [ `ªseret (H6235) hadªbaariym (H1697)] - the ten words (cf. Deuteronomy 4:13; Deuteronomy 10:4), not "commandments," which they are never called in the original Scriptures. They are all prohibitory of sin, and hence, called "the ministration of death" (2 Corinthians 3:7). The number of them was ten-denoting completeness, perfection; but the division of the Decalogue into these ten words has been a subject of much discussion. The distribution adopted by Josephus ('Antiquities,' b. 3:, ch. 5:, sec. 5), though Rabbinical superstition prohibited him from recording the very words (b. 2:, ch. 12:, sec. 4) -- namely, that which makes the prohibition of idolatry the first commandment; of images the second; and of covetousness the tenth-was followed by most of the Greek fathers, and universally by the Latin, until Augustine's time, and by all the Reformed churches.

The Talmud, which is followed by the modern Jews, considers what is commonly called the Preface to be the first commandment, and the law against idolatry and image worship as forming conjointly the second. Augustine advocated a different order, making the precepts relative to the worship of one God, and the exclusion of images the first commandment, while the tenth was split into two: the one consisting of the law against coveting a neighbour's wife, and the other comprised everything that is his. This is the division which obtains in the Lutheran and Popish churches.

The arrangement of the Ten Commandments on two tables is universally believed to have been according to their subject-matter-namely, the duties toward God being contained in the one table, those relating to man in the other. Theorisers, however, have not been content with this simple and natural explanation: for some, from Philo down to modern times, have maintained that there was a symmetrical equality between the tables-five commandments in each; and to effect this result, they consider that the precept which inculcates honour to parents was placed on the first table, as parents are the earthly representatives of God. But to place the law which enjoins respect to parents on the same footing with the religious reverence and worship due to God is opposed to the express and repeated declarations of Him who will not divide His honour with any creature.

Others, who conjoin the prohibition against idolatry and image-worship in one law, allege that there were only three commandments in the first table, while there were seven in the second, and that in this order there was a symbolical meaning: three being the number of persons in the Godhead, and seven the covenant number (B„hr, 'Symbolik,' 1:, 115; Kurtz, 3:, pp. 134-136).

Verse 29

And it came to pass, when Moses came down from mount Sinai with the two tables of testimony in Moses' hand, when he came down from the mount, that Moses wist not that the skin of his face shone while he talked with him.

Moses came down ... with the two tables of testimony in Moses' hand - probably supporting them with the extremities of his girdle, in the Eastern fashion.

Moses wist not that the skin of his face shone, [ qaaran (H7160)] - was 'horned ' - i:e., shone. The word signifies to push with the horn, to emit rays. The Septuagint renders it as dedoxastai, was glorified. The Vulgate has adopted the former sense, and translated, 'cornuta erat.' Hence, Moses was delineated by the mediaeval painters with horns. It was an intimation of the exalted presence into which he had been admitted, and of the glory he had witnessed (2 Corinthians 3:18); and in that view it was a badge of his high office as the ambassador of God.

No testimonial needed to be produced. He bore his credentials on his very face, instead of the thunder and lightnings on the first delivery of the law (Exodus 19:16; Exodus 20:18); and although this extraordinary effulgence was a merely temporary distinction, destined to vanish away, it cannot be doubted that this reflected glory was given him as an honour before all the people. For it was not a lamp, lit at some heavenly altar, he carried in his hand; but the light was in his face, the result of that which, during forty days of heavenly converse, his soul had been receiving from God. We may say, that in the shining of Moses' face, as he came down from the mount of God, we have already a weaker transfiguration, a feeble fore-announcement of that brightness which, not from without, but breaking forth from within, should clothe with a light which no words could adequately utter, not the face only, but the whole person of the Son of God (Trench's 'Hulsean Lectures,', p.


Whitby has instituted an elaborate comparison between Moses on this occasion and the apostles on the day of Pentecost, at the inauguration of the Gospel, with a view to show the superior glory of the Gospel (Acts 2:3). But the comparison does not hold good in this respect, that the visible glory did not remain on the apostles. The rationalistic explanation of this reflected radiance on the countenance is so ridiculous and contemptible that it would not deserve any notice, except as a specimen of the lengths to which these writers go in their sneers at everything supernatural.

'The shining of Moses' face could only have been deemed miracuious so long as the nature of electricity was not known. He came down in the evening from the mountain; and those who saw him remarked only the shining of his countenance (because the rest of his body was covered with his clothes), the origin of which he and his contemporaries could not explain on physical grounds. Was it not natural, therefore, that Moses should impute it to what he was already convinced was a fact?-to his relationship with Deity' (Eichhorn, quoted by Hengstenberg, 'Pentateuch,' 1:, pp. 31, 32).

Verse 30

And when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone; and they were afraid to come nigh him.

Afraid to come nigh him. Their fear arose from a sense of guilt; the beaming radiance of his countenance made him appear to their awe-struck consciences a flaming minister of heaven [cf. 2 Corinthians 3:7 - mee (G3361) dunasthai-could not, is not said by the apostle of physical inability, but of inability from fear (Alford)].

Verses 31-32

And Moses called unto them; and Aaron and all the rulers of the congregation returned unto him: and Moses talked with them.

No JFB commentary on these verses.

Verse 33

And till Moses had done speaking with them, he put a vail on his face.

And till Moses had done speaking ... he put a veil on his face, [ macweh (H4533)] - a face covering, a veil worn in Arabia, different from [ hatsaa`iyp (H6809)] the word used in the Pentateuch for this article of attire as worn by women (Genesis 24:65; Genesis 38:14), and from the mitpachath employed in the later books (Ruth 3:15; Isaiah 3:22), or the radid (Song of Solomon 5:7). That veil was with the greatest propriety removed when speaking with the Lord-for everyone appears unveiled to the eye of omniscience; but it was resumed on returning to the people: for the effect of it was to obscure his features rather than to conceal them-to diminish the dazzling brightness of the supernatural splendour, rather than to hide it.

The Septuagint has: epeidee katepause laloon pros autous, when he had done speaking to the people. The Vulgate follows that version; and Stanley, in conformity with both, says, that Moses put on the veil, 'not during, but after, the conversation with the people, in order to hide, not the splendour, but the vanishing away of the splendour, and wore it until the moment of his return to the Divine Presence, in order to re-kindle the light there. With this reading agrees the obvious meaning of the Hebrew words; and it is this rendering of the sense which is followed by Paul in 2 Corinthians 3:13-14 ' ('Lectures on Jewish Church,' p. 153, note). Such a rendering, however, is not supported by the grammatical construction of the Hebrew context, and it is obviously contrary to the tenor of the apostle's argument.

Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Exodus 34". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/exodus-34.html. 1871-8.
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