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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 33

Peake's Commentary on the BiblePeake's Commentary


III. Israel at Sinai ( XIX. XL.) .

The division Num 19– 40 presents difficulties due to its very importance, see introduction to Ex. (last paragraph). But Num 25– 31, 35– 40 readily fall apart from the rest, as containing P’ s account of the Tabernacle ( see on Exodus 25:1), the introduction to which is found in Exodus 19:1-2 a and Exodus 24:15 b Exodus 24:18 a, Exodus 34:29-35 being a link section. All critics confess that in the remainder many details must remain doubtful. The Oxf. Hex. is for the most part followed here. It does not differ very widely from Baentsch, who has made a special study of this part. Gressmann’ s drastic reconstruction is highly suggestive in particulars, but as a whole is over-bold. The noteworthy fact is that both J and E preserve important traditions. In each there is an older stratum preserving these elements of the national memory of the religious and political confederation of the tribes: an awful appearance of God upon Sinai-Horeb (Exodus 19 JE, Exodus 20:18-21 E), and the giving of a sacred code, the (Ten) Covenant Words, inscribed upon stone tablets ( Exodus 31:18 b E, Exodus 34:28 J) and sealed by a solemn sacrificial feast ( Exodus 24:5 E, Exodus 24:11 J). Now these passages concur in presenting a favourable view of Israel at this period: he is the son gratefully responding to the compassionate love of his Father ( cf. Exodus 4:22 *), or the lowly bride returning the affection of her Husband. And this agrees with the view of the period taken by all the pre-exilic prophets who refer to it (see Hosea 2:15; Hosea 11:1; Hosea 11:3 f., Hosea 12:9; Hosea 12:13, Amos 2:9-11; Amos 3:1 f., Jeremiah 2:1-3; Jeremiah 2:34). Even Ezekiel’ s severe view rather points to the ancestral heathenism of the tribes (Egyptian, Exodus 23:3, but Canaanite or Amorite-Hittite, Exodus 16:3) than to any apostasy just at this epoch. Only Hosea 9:11, if it refers to the incident Numbers 25:1-5 JE, implies such a lapse. On these grounds it is probable that Numbers 32 JE (the Golden Calf and its destruction E, and the vengeance of the Levites J), together with not a little expansion elsewhere, belongs to a later stage in the moulding of the tradition. The order of incidents is hard to follow, because the editor who united J and E, in his care to preserve as much as possible of both, took the story of the tablets in J as a re-giving and rewriting of them with a renewal of the broken covenant. Much of Numbers 33 containing the colloquies with the Divine Leader belongs to this stage. All this, of course, involves a considerable disturbance of the Bible order and representation in Ex., which, but for one section, is substantially followed by D. But the essence of the great religious facts is irrefragably secure: Israel did, by whatever stages short or long, emerge from a condition little removed from contemporary heathenism, and learned to worship one gracious and holy God (p. 84). Differences concern only the manner and form of events, and their times. Later historians have so accustomed us to having at least the main events fitted neatly into their centuries B.C. or A.D. that we find it hard to think that serious writers could be centuries out in their reckoning. But just as prophets saw future events near and distant in a foreshortened perspective, so it may be that the Bible historians— called “ the former prophets” (pp. 38, 244) by the Jews— saw their instances of the nation’ s glory and shame as more closely crowded together than they actually were. The main thing is that they actually saw them, and that, too, in the mirror of eternity.” Throughout the whole we see the material, as it were, in a plastic state. As older conceptions were outgrown new touches could modify the details, though, fortunately for our chances of recognising the earlier levels of inspiration, traces of the old were not always obliterated. Sometimes we must suppose that these modifications had already been made during the period of oral tradition.

Verses 1-23

Exodus 33:1-4 J, Exodus 33:5-11 E, Exodus 33:12-23 J. Yahweh’ s Presence.— The sections of 34 have been glossed and disarranged. In Exodus 33:1-4 J, Yahweh’ s refusal to “ go up in the midst of” Israel leads the people to put off their ornaments. In Exodus 33:5 f. follows from E Yahweh’ s order to put off ornaments and its execution. This may have been connected with the construction of the sacred Tent which is assumed as known in Exodus 33:7-11 , the details being dropped in view of Exodus 25-28. Anyhow, we have here the earlier representation of the simple tent outside the camp. as were the “ high places” outside the towns. The visits to the tent were ( Exodus 7:11) more for obtaining oracles than for offering sacrifice, and Joshua, not Aaron, had charge. The sequel is to be found in Numbers 11:16-17 a, Numbers 11:24 b Numbers 11:30, Exodus 18, where sacrifice implies a sanctuary. The more natural order of verses in Exodus 33:12-23 would be: Exodus 33:17; Exodus 33:12-16; Exodus 33:19; Exodus 33:18; Exodus 33:20-23 , leading up to the sequel Exodus 34:5-9. The whole then gives a remarkable account of the yearning for Yahweh’ s “ presence” (lit. “ face” ) amongst His people. Moses is granted a view of Yahweh’ s back as He passes by (Driver, “ the afterglow which He leaves behind Him” ). [Observe the difference of this and Exodus 24:11. Here it would seem that the sight of Yahweh’ s face must inevitably bring death, as if Yahweh Himself could not prevent the fatal consequence. In Exodus 24:11 the preservation of those who see Him is ascribed to His gracious self-restraint. He does not put His hand upon them, or “ break forth upon” them as Exodus 19:22 puts it.— A. S. P.] It may be that originally the Ark was here expressly named as the symbol and means of the real but invisible presence.

Bibliographical Information
Peake, Arthur. "Commentary on Exodus 33". "Peake's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pfc/exodus-33.html. 1919.
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