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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 34

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New TestamentsSutcliffe's Commentary

Verses 1-35

Exodus 34:1. I will write upon these tables. Deuteronomy 10:4. The Lord wrote on these tables according to the first writing. In the last clause of Exodus 34:28, the pronoun he refers, not to Moses, but to the Lord, who wrote on the two tables while Moses was commanded to write the words of the covenant in a book. They contained the duties we owe to God and man.

Exodus 34:9. Oh Lord, let my Lord, I pray thee, go among us. This address is to Adonai, who is twice named, as Messiah or Angel of the covenant. Adonai is addressed as “My Lord,” probably in imitation of Moses in this place, in Psalms 110:1.

Exodus 34:15. Go after their gods. Israel as a nation was betrothed and married to the Lord; hence the worship of idols is branded, in continuous language, with the detestable epithets of fornication and adultery. Jeremiah 2:3, and Ezekiel 16:0.

Exodus 34:16. And thou take their daughters. Marriage with the daughters of the land was absolutely prohibited to prevent idolatry. Esther 9:7; Esther 9:7. Though the Idumeans, the Edomites, and the Ammonites were related to them; yet Solomon is censured for taking wives of those nations. Moses allows, however, of a female captive being married to a Hebrew, because, it would seem, that no danger of idolatry existed from a solitary child. Deuteronomy 21:10.

Exodus 34:21. In harvest thou shalt rest. This marks the sabbath to be hallowed above the most urgent labours of secular life. He who grants a dispensation to violate this day of rest, arrogates to himself a sovereignty above his Maker, who has sanctified the sabbath from the creation of the world.

Exodus 34:29. The skin of his face shone. The Hebrew, the Septuagint, and the Vulgate read, “his face was horned.” Rabbi Kimchi gives the true sense in saying, that his face was radiated with splendour. The variations are merely idioms of speech. This refracted splendour of uncreated glory designates the divine authority of the law, but veiled with shadows till they were superseded by the perfect and ever-during splendour of the glorious gospel of Christ. So St. Paul illustrates this passage. 2 Corinthians 4:0.


As the sweetest serenity and fragrance are diffused through the air after a thunder storm; so after the storm of divine anger, excited by the calf, had subsided, every blessing of peace and joy was shed down on the pardoned Hebrews. The Lord heaped new favours and new promises on their heads, and seemed to love them the more, because he had forgiven their sin. How sweet, how divinely sweet and attractive are the reconciling charms of grace! Israel were instructed by their fall, and God rejoiced to see his people have a better mind.

Though the sacred tables had been broken, yet God, now reconciled to his people, was once more pleased to write the precepts with his own hand. Carnal men, ever biased by passion and self-love, have need that the laws of heaven should ever be before their eyes, and in broad characters. But the end of the commandment being charity, out of a pure conscience and faith unfeigned, let us pray the Lord to write all these laws on our hearts by his Holy Spirit.

When this law was given the Lord clothed himself with every character of terror, and suffered no one to approach him but the mediator of the covenant. Now, iniquity being purged with blood, the Lord assumes every character of mercy and compassion. He caused his goodness to pass before his servant, while the voice proclaimed, the Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious to his people; longsuffering to the wicked, forgiving iniquity on repentance, and keeping mercy to thousands of generations: but withal guarding the riches of grace by the terrors of justice, for he will visit the iniquities of the impenitent world upon their descendants. Where children on coming of age fall in with their fathers’ habits and crimes, they seem to inherit their sins, as well as their substance. Because the Jews persecuted our Saviour and his apostles, he accounted them guilty of their fathers’ crimes in killing the prophets. Let all ministers therefore learn of Moses to hold forth the gracious idea of God, but never to preach mercy to wavering men in an unqualified way. How gracious, how good is the Lord! Of the eleven attributes named here, nine are attributes of grace, that sinners might be encouraged to repent and serve so gracious a Being.

Israel once more restored to the divine favour, are cautioned against future falls. They were enjoined to make no covenants, to contract no marriages with the idolatrous nations, because it would draw them into all the sins of the heathen, and into greater punishments, as having more light and higher privileges. In future ages, the truth of this prediction was evinced by sad experience. Samson, mighty Samson, the glory of Israel and the terror of all its foes, lost the divine favour by feasting with the Philistines. The danger is equally great to the christian world. If regenerate people intimately connect themselves with those whom the Holy Spirit calls uncircumcised in heart and ear, they will surely imbibe the same spirit, and be involved in the same punishment.

God having promised very great things to Israel, was graciously pleased to give a specimen of the evangelical and eternal glory, couched in these proclamations of grace, by communicating a divine lustre to the countenance of Moses. He saw in a vision the Word made flesh, and the uncreated glory was for a while reflected by the face of his servant, though he knew it not. Oh let it be the object of our heart, the end of all our life, to see him as he is, and then we shall be like him. And in order to that, let us seek the glory of perfect love and sanctifying grace. Let us behold, as with open face in the gospel glass, the glory of the Lord, that we may be changed from glory to glory, even as by the spirit of the Lord. 2 Corinthians 3:18. But the lustre of Moses’ face soon faded, intimating that the glory of the shadowy law was to be superseded by the everlasting glory of Christ. Hence, one day, we shall see him in the brightness of the Father’s glory, and reflect his lustre for evermore. And even here, communion with God gives, I know not what, of lustre to the soul. It purifies it from low desires, fills it with every sentiment and affection noble and divine; and from this participation of the divine nature, it sheds looks of grace and heaven on all around.

Moses, surprised to see the elders embarrassed, and shrinking from his presence, was obliged to veil his countenance. This is figurative of the dark veil of ignorance on the Jews, and on the carnal world. But when they turn to the Lord, the veil is done away in Christ. The mystery of the gospel hid in ages past under the shadows of the ritual law is made manifest. The Saviour reveals himself under them as he does not unto the world; and even to the christian world the veil which covers futurity is but slightly rent. Now we see through a glass darkly, or by the analogy of crowns, robes, feasts, glory, &c; but then we shall see his face. The Truth himself cannot lie; if it were not so he would have told us; and our faith which is the substance of things hoped for, shall deceive us only by revealing a heaven ten thousand times happier than it could enter into the heart of man to conceive.

Exodus 34:3. No fire. The manna being prepared on the preseding night, they had no need of fires for dressing their food, Exodus 16:29; and fires for furnaces and other works are here expressly forbidden. Some think that this precept was temporary, and respected only the time they dwelt in the desert: but I see no authority for limiting the precept to that period. Be that as it may, the law was not absolutely observed among the Jews, as appears from the diversity of opinion among the rabbins on the subject; and it was never considered as binding on the christian church. In the colder regions of Europe, our little infants and sick people require the indulgence of a fire: nevertheless, as God has twice written the law of the sabbath with his own hand, we may mark its sanctity to be immutable and inviolably great.

Bibliographical Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Exodus 34". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jsc/exodus-34.html. 1835.
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