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Exodus 33:18. Thy glory] = Kebodecha, from kabod = glory, i.e., the mysterious essential qualities of the Deity in all their magnificence and stupendousness. Moses felt forced to make this request on account of the pressure of circumstances. He was fully alive to the heinousness of the sin which the Israelites had committed in the worship of the golden calf (Exodus 32:30); he had witnessed God’s indignation upon it (Exodus 32:10), and yet, upon his intercession on their behalf, the Lord repented (i.e., recalled) the evil which He thought to do to His people (Exodus 32:14). This blending of justice and mercy; this stern reproving, and again yielding with all tenderness and love and forbearance, on the part of God, was so contrary to all that he feared, and therefore so bewildering to him, that he was induced to ask, “Show me now Thy way that I may know Thee” (Exodus 33:13), i.e., “reveal unto me now, at this juncture of contrarieties, Thy secret, that I may know once for all the principles on which Thou dost act thus.” To this God answers him with a promise (Exodus 33:14). To which, again, Moses replies with great naivete (Exodus 33:15), as if he said, “Of course, Thy presence must go with us; only that is not exactly what my request means,” and, as if for the sake of greater perspicuity, he amends his request and resumes, “I pray Thee, show me Thy glory,” i.e., “Give me that which will unlock to my understanding Thy mysterious self, for then shall I feel at rest and never again be confounded, however contradictory Thy wonderful dealing with us may appear in future.” And again God replies (Exodus 33:19-22), and of which Exodus 33:23 is an ax omatic conclusion, viz., that man in his present state can only know or see the glory of God experimentally, and in the manifestations of His providence, as indicated in Exodus 33:19-22, and that only retrospectively, by seeing His “back-parts = Achoray, i.e., His past, or His works; but His “face” = Panav, i.e., future, in all its mysteriousness no man can see while in a mortal state.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Exodus 33:1-12
THE HIDDEN COUNTENANCE
I. The fact of the hiding of God’s face. God has not here wholly deserted Israel—far from it. In consequence of the intercession of Moses, and of that retribution which had been inflicted upon Israel, God promised not to forsake His people; but we are instructed here, Exodus 33:2-3, that God’s presence shall not be so fully and brightly granted to Israel as it has been. “I will send an angel before thee,” Exodus 33:2. That is, God will stand by His elect people, but He will be more hidden by agents and instruments. Is not this sometimes still the case with God’s people? They feel that God has not forsaken them, but He is not near to them, so sensibly near and precious to them as He once was. They feel as the children of Israel did here—that an angel takes the place of God—a star takes the place of the sun. They feel as Job did (Job 29:3.) As David did (Psalms 42:5). There is not the rich, full abiding sense of the Divine presence and love.
II. The reason of the hiding of God’s presence. This hiding is not arbitrary. The sin of Israel was the explanation of this eclipse of the Divine Face. When God withdraws His fuller presence from the souls of His people it is
(1) partly in judgment. “I will not go up in the midst of thee, for thou art a stiff-necked people,” Exodus 33:3. Because of our forgetfulness, or unbelief, or perversity, God takes from us the joys of His salvation. Our sins separate between us and God, and when they do not create an impassable gulf, they create a distance between us and God which fills the soul with the gloom of the night and the chill of the winter. But it is
(2) also in mercy that God hides Himself. “Lest I consume thee in the way.” With fuller revelations of God’s presence come loftier responsibilities, and God lessens the gifts that He may lessen our perils. It is as much in mercy as in anger that God denies us fuller revelations of truth, fuller measures of joy, higher privileges and gifts.
III. The sorrow of the hiding of God’s presence, Exodus 33:4-6. The people put off their ornaments as the sign of their great loss and sorrow. Putting away their ornaments signified
(1) that in losing God they had lost their glory. Their God was their glory, and if He refused to shine upon them, their glory departed. Putting away their ornaments signified
(2) that in losing God they had lost their treasure. God was their portion, and in Him they had all riches.
(3) Putting away their ornaments signified that they had lost their joy. No more joy without Him. Thus is it still with God’s people. In diminishing measures of God’s love and grace they find reason for profoundest sorrow. It is no use wearing jewels if we are losing Him—for without Him we have no glory, no treasure, no joy.
“Should I from Thee, my God, remove,
Life could no lasting bliss afford;
My joy, the sense of pardoning love,
My guard, the presence of my Lord.”
IV. The method by which we are to seek the restoration of the light of God’s presence, Exodus 33:7-12. Drawing nigh to God in penitent sorrow—in ardent supplication. Then God is moved to forgiveness; He causes His face to shine upon us, and we are saved.
THE MANIFESTED PRESENCE.—Exodus 33:12-17
The manifested presence is—
I. The saint’s privilege, Exodus 33:12-13. Moses pleads that it is his privilege to have a clear knowledge of God’s will and way. God has condescended to honour Moses: “I know thee by name, and thou hast also found grace in My sight,” Exodus 33:12. Therefore Moses pleads that God will give to him a clear knowledge of His mind and purpose, Exodus 33:13. It was not only the privilege of Moses thus to know God, but all God’s people are to be sharers in the same privilege. God has called us His friends, and sons, and people, therefore it is not for us to walk in uncertainty and darkness and sorrow. We ought to seek—
1. For a clear manifestation of God’s character.
2. For a comfortable assurance of God’s favour.
3. For a full acquaintance with God’s will concerning us. “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him,” and none of God’s people ought to be content to live in a state of perplexity and misery.
II. The saint’s rest. “And He said, My presence shall go with thee, and I will give thee rest,” Exodus 33:14. The clear bright consciousness of God’s favour and presence will give rest unto the soul. There is rest from doubts. We feel we are God’s, and all fear is cast out. Rest from fear of enemies. “If God is with us, who can be against us?” Rest from anxieties about the way. He finds the path for us. Rest from misgivings about the future. In the knowledge of God’s truth, love, power, promise, the soul realises a peace which passeth understanding.
The manifested presence is,—
III. The saint’s joy and glory, Exodus 33:15. If God does not go with them, they do not wish to proceed to Canaan. True, Canaan was a land flowing with milk and honey; but it had no charms in the eyes of Moses if God was to be hidden. The manifested love of God is the Canaan of His people, and without this, lands flowing with milk and honey are desolate and undesirable. And, in Exodus 33:16, we are taught that God is the glory of His people. The consciousness of God’s love renders the people of God singularly rich, and great, and happy.
REV. WILLIAM ADAMSON
Bible-Truths! Exodus 33:1-23. Beautiful Book of Life! Everlasting Word! though heaven and earth should pass away thou art all-abiding. Thou art the book of love and of peace; thy pages are brightened with the intelligence that “God is love,” and thou makest by thy soft influence families and nations peace-makers. Thou art the book of truth; from thy pages have shone forth the clearest and must certain words that ever fell on human ear. Thou art the book of freedom; priests and kings have clasped and chained thee, dreading the dreadful power of light. Thou art the book of eternity and of time; thou hast the promise of a life that now is, and of one that is to come. What a lovely world would that be where the page was not only widely and openly spread, but where all men and women walked steadily in the light of it! What would such a world be but a Paradise regained?
“Speak! for Thy servant heareth; bid Thy word
Draw me to Thee, encourage, or reprove;
Incline my heart to do Thy will, O Lord;
And on its tablets trace Thy words of love.”
Divine-Restraint! Exodus 33:3.
(1.) In Madagascar, some natives asked a missionary to take the leadership of their deputation to the governor of the province, on the question of their being allowed to migrate to another and more fertile part of this great island. On the way, some of the members of the party fell into committing excesses by drinking, and under its influences plundering some of the properties. As soon as the complaint was made to the missionary, he refused to go any farther, and intimated his intention of returning the following morning at daybreak, leaving them to shift for themselves. “I cannot go up with you, for your irregularities dishonour my character as a messenger of truth and righteousness.”
(2.) Was it not something of this kind here! “I will not go up in the midst of thee.” But why not? Surely God had forgiven them in Exodus 32:0! But it was forgiveness conditional upon Israel’s penitence. If a child, who has done wrong, and who has heard of its father’s readiness to pardon, does not arise and go to him, saying, “Father, I have sinned,” can he obtain the father’s forgiveness? Ought he to expect it? No. Just so Israel. God could not, consistently with His attributes, go up with Israel so long as there was no repentance. This impenitence was a Divine restraint upon Him.
“May repentance be the ember
Which upon my lips shall lie,
And, from head to foot, my nature,
With its burning, purify.”
Palestine-Promised! Exodus 33:3. Bannister says that all that can delight the eye, and feed the imagination, is lavished over the surface. The lovers of scenery can find there every form and variety of landscape. Its snowy heights and mountains, its valleys and its waters, are as beautiful as when David sang their praises, and far more interesting by the accumulation of reminiscences. The land, unbroken by the toils of the husbandman, awaits but the hour appointed, when it will sustain and fructify its millions of products, and flow, as of old, with milk and honey, reasserting its rightful title, “the garden of the Lord”—“the glory of all lands!”
“O blessed land! the whole world envies thee,
Thy fields, by His pure footsteps hallowed.
O happy people, whom, as Shepherd, He
With gentle crook unto green pastures led.”
Sin-Scars! Exodus 33:1-3. Have you ever attempted a carpenter’s work as an amateur? There is a right and a wrong way of planing a board. Even the skilled carpenter will by accident plane one shaving the wrong way of the grain. Of course, the surface is left rough. What is to be done! Turn the board and plane in the reverse direction. It will take more than one driving to get the surface smooth again; and it is necessary to go over it again and again. So with Israel. One stroke—a wrong one—cut deeply and roughly, and long weary years were needed to efface the error. Efface! That could never be. The cut made by the urchin’s hand remains in the giant oak centuries after that boy became hoary and went to the other world. The scar formed from some slight wound received by a child in some act or deed of disobedience when but three years of age, remains on the finger or leg when threescore years and ten have been reached. The mark of Israel’s cross-grainedness at Sinai remained afterwards on the national life.
“The wind is hushed, and the storm is gone,
Yet the waves of the ocean are rolling on,
And, reckless of all they have done before,
Madly they rush on the trembling shore,
And whiten the beach with foaming spray,
Like wreaths of snow on a winter’s day.”
Hiding-Discipline! Exodus 33:4. A father walking with his child in the city, and fearful of losing him, owing to the restless spirit of the child, whose curiosity led him to gaze on every new object which presented itself, withdraws himself behind some pillar, or hides himself at the corner of a street. He has thus hidden away, not that he may lose the child, but in order to prevent it from being lost, by making it keep closer to him in future. So did God hide Himself from Israel when that people rambled from Him in their worship at Sinai. It was done to make the Israelites seek Him the more earnestly, walk more circumspectly, and keep closer to Him for the time to come.
“Therefore, although ’tis hard to flesh and blood,
Believe, my children, this is for your good.”
Divine-Tuition! Exodus 33:5.
(1.) Sailing down the might-sweeping Amazon were an English mother and her children. One of them of very tender years was yet of wayward and self-willed spirit. On one occasion, having landed from the boat at a creek on the shore to catch turtles and game, the little one, contrary to solemn injunctions, wandered off into the wood, and caused extreme anxiety and delay. The search all night for the wanderer led to an elder brother catching the swamp fever, from which he never recovered. It was necessary that the self-willed child should be punished. Yet the mother-heart yearned to relax the severity of the chastisement. Could this be done without an expression of penitence? No; but none was evidenced. Tenderly the mother took the boy’s hand, reasoned with him, pointed out that the moral attributes of a parent required contrition for an offence, and urged upon him true repentance.
(2.) Great as is a mother’s love, the Divine is greater. Solemn as are the moral attributes of a parent, God’s are more so. He cannot be inconsistent with His own perfections, yet He longs to reduce the severity of His sentence. How can it be done? He on Sinai—ay, in Egypt—condescended to be Israel’s Teacher and Parent; therefore He here instructs Israel in the law of repentance. Like that mother, He, as it were, sits down to teach Israel the necessity of true heartfelt contrition, with confession of sin. Awful as Exodus 33:5 seems, it is the awfulness of the Divine Heart thirsting to extend mercy, if only the scandalous offenders will bend their stiff necks in penitence: “Therefore now, put off thy ornaments from thee.”
“It is good for you, though it seems not now;
Although your eyes are now bedimmed with tears,
Yet on your darkness purer light shall glow,
Till, through the cloud, the Crown of Faith appears.”
Self-Mortification! Exodus 33:6; Exodus 33:4.
(1.) A nobleman employed at a continental court on an important State mission heard of the unfaithfulness of his wife during his absence. Duty to his country at a perilous crisis required its careful and complete discharge. On his return home and arrival at the town nearest his castle, he sent forward a friend to disclose the revelation which had been made to him. Stricken with remorse at her sire’s knowledge of her guilt, she implored mercy, and besought the friend to intercede for her forgiveness. The husband promised that she should be provided for, but declared his inflexible resolution not to restore her as before. Overwhelmed with a sense of shame, and of the utter hopelessness of life under such circumstances, she stripped herself of her princely attire of silks and jewels, and assumed the meanest garb of sackcloth and humiliation.
(2.) God tells us that Israel had been to Him as a wife: “Thy Maker is thy husband.” The calf-worship was indeed idol-fornication on the part of the nation’s soul. He had discovered Israel’s unfaithfulness while Moses was in the mount. He sends Moses to announce an entire separation of Himself from the nation. The intercession of Moses secure milder terms; but God says, “I will not go up in the midst of thee.” This terrible declaration led to deep humiliation on the part of the people. They stripped themselves of their ornaments, in token that separation from God meant the drying-up of all heart joy and gladness. This explains Exodus 33:4, which chronologically comes in after Exodus 33:6.
“No good thing in me resides,
All my soul an aching void,
Till Thy Spirit there abides,
And I am filled with God.”
Congregation-Tent! Exodus 33:7.
(1.) Some suppose this to have been the official tent-residence of Moses, as the leader of Israel. Porter says that the tents of eastern leaders are often very lovely, spacious, and encompassed with walls of waxed cloth. He describes one pasha’s tent near Cairo, inside of which was a pavilion lined with flowered tapestry. Around this costly tent were pitched two hundred other tents in such a manner as to look towards the pasha’s tent.
(2.) Others, however, are of opinion that this was really a temporary sacred tabernacle, provisional to the construction of the one according to Divine direction by Bezaleel, Aholiab, and their workmen. This seems to be the most correct view; and its removal without the camp was clearly symbolic instruction to Israel of their increased need of a mediator in their approaches to God.
“Times have been when tempests beat,
And I suffered great defeat;
When loved comrades fell away,
Till it seemed that none would stay;
But amid the storm’s wild rush
There has come a solemn hush
Over life’s oft-troubled sea,
For a Friend has said to me,
‘I will never leave thee.’ ”
Scripture Sublimities! Exodus 33:9. What a mistake it is, says the author of the Schönberg Gotta Family, to look upon the Bible as a mere collection of many books! It is so essentially One Book—the first page linked to the last—not by similarity of opinion, but by identity of authorship. If Exodus 14:0 is evidently by the same author as Revelations 14; so clearly is this chapter with other portions of the apocalypse. Exodus and the apocalypse are portions—verses, if you like—of one great, wonderful poem, by one whose ideas are all eternal realities. The simplicity of the old classics is strained and artificial beside its stories and pictures. The vivid visions of Dante are faint and dusky as the air of his Inferno itself beside the Scripture sublimities of Exodus 33:0 and Revelations 4 or 11. And there is this infinite difference between it and all human compositions: that its heroes were those who were alive, and are dead, and yet are alive for evermore. Its visions are not guesses, but glimpses of realities which shall soon familiarly surround us. Its thoughts are messages, to each soul among us, from “the Lord our God talking with us.”
“Then I felt my fainting soul
Filling with a new delight,
On my darkened vision stole
Dawn of day that hath no night;
Thirsting, trembling for the vail
To be wholly rent for me,
That from sin’s entangling toils
Evermore I might be free.”
Divine Communion! Exodus 33:11.
(1.) Some say the Lord Jesus is in visible guise; while others say, invisible. The blind communicate without seeing a form, and the deaf without hearing a voice. We may speak to a person behind a wall or a screen, if only assured that he is within call. By letters we address friends hundreds of miles distant. The telegraph hourly gives instances of men in close contact, though physically far apart. Writers have addressed multitudes separated from them by continents of space and centuries of time. Here, however, was some sense of nearness to God.
(2.) It may be, therefore, that the Divine Son appeared in visible form, as He had formerly done to Abraham and to Jacob—deigning thus to shroud His glory before the time when, born of a woman, He should wear the veil of human flesh. But what the Lord revealed of Himself only raised a more intense desire in the heart of Moses for higher knowledge—more exalted communion. It is ever so. Each glimpse of Emmanuel’s beauty makes us long for fuller revelations. Each draught of divine fellowship fills us with deeper thirstings.
“As pants the hart for cooling streams
When heated in the chase,
So longs my soul, O God, for Thee,
And Thy refreshing grace.”
Prayer-Pleadings! Exodus 33:12-16.
(1.) Hamilton not inaptly remarks that the insulated cloud, which from its lonely bosom launches a bolt big enough to rend the mountain, or make the welkin ring again, if touched at every point by its trailing neighbours—if stranded on the tree tops or the mountain side—soon loses all its lightning, drawn off in inconspicuous sparklet—a thin pale ghost of vapour.
(2.) From isolated spirits, soaring hearts like those of Elijah and Moses, great bolts of prayer went up, or, like the fire from heaven, in some flashing word the long-gathered thought came down. And such was this mighty supplication, which Moses dared to flash out from his Horeb heart up into the Divine and Infinite.
(3.) Nowadays, instead of the whole soul going up to God in some heaven-rending ejaculation, it is all that our spent and diluted pity can do, when the sacred fire is drawn off in driblets, to appreciate the sublime upsoarings of souls such as Luther and Knox, John or Paul, Daniel or David, Elijah or Moses. Yet, let us not forget that a thousand smaller orgins may equal the might and melody of that in the giant minster.
“Prayer, like the Saviour, ever pleads
For faithless friend—for keenest foe;
Prayer, like the Spirit, intercedes
For every grade of human woe.
And yet like Him, so vast its power,
That it can calm the fiercest blast,
And, over misery’s darkest hour,
A sunlet radiance sweetly cast.”
Name-Knowledge! Exodus 33:12-17. Kitto says that this denotes personal favour towards those whose names are thus known. To be known by name to a great personage or king in the East is still considered a high distinction. Knox, in the History of his Adventures in Ceylon, mentions that, when he desired the Cingalese to bring him rice for his daily food, they told him that, as “the king knew his name,” the nobles of the Court would see that he was daily supplied with all necessary provisions and dainties. Before Theodore, the Emperor of Abyssinia, became a victim to the vice of strong drink, the missionary found a frequent passport through the wilds and villages of that region in the same way: “The king knows your name.” in Isaiah 43:1, the Lord exhorts to confidence and trust, because “I have called thee by thy name.” His knowing the name of Moses was indicative of honour. Even so, God knew Jesus by name: “Thou Shalt call His name Jesus;” and, “He has given Him a name above every name, that at the name of Jesus (as the Mediator and Intercessor) every knee should bow.”
“Thy precious name, Lord Jesus Christ! is better far to me
Than all the wealth that can be found in earth, or air, or sea.
Thou art the Paradise, set forth by God’s own hand of love;
Thy presence is itself the heaven where I shall dwell above.”
Divine Guidance! Exodus 33:14. Two boys were conversing about Elijah’s ascent on the chariot of fire, when one inquired of the other whether he would not have been afraid to ride in such a chariot. “No,” replied the other, “not if God drove the horses.” If God holds the reins there can be no danger. As the child on board the ship, amid the howling blast, exclaimed, “My father is at the helm,” Moses felt that with the Divine Guidance all would go well, and Israel reach the haven where they would be. He realised that God’s presence was the only guarantee for safety, success, and happiness.
“I fear no foe with Thee at hand to bless,
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness;
Where is death’s sting? Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still if THOU abide with me.”
Presence-Power! Exodus 33:15. It was church-time. The bells had ceased tolling, and still the messenger of God came not to conduct the services. The congregation were wondering and impatient, for they were blessed with a faithful pastor, whose ministry they esteemed. Anxious about the delay, the elder sent the verger across to the parsonage to remind the preacher that he was expected in the house of God. On entering the open door, what was the worthy man’s astonishment to hear his pastor apparently in earnest and urgent conversation with some one, whose replies he could not hear. Returning hastily to the place of prayer, he acquainted the pious elder with the fact. A ray of light flashed in upon the elder’s mind, and he asked the verger what words he had heard. The reply was, “I cannot go without Thee; I must have Thy presence.” “That will do,” said the elder; “He’ll come with our pastor, and we’ll have a blessed day with God.” The minister was, like Luther and Knox, agonising with God in prayer, imploring Him in the words of Moses, “Let Thy presence go with us.”
“Does He promise that His presence
Shall go with us to the end?
Will our dear Lord ne’er forsake us?
Will He all our steps attend?”
Mosaic-Self-forgetfulness! Exodus 33:16.
(1.) In England’s historical annals stands a king of high renewn, against whom a nobleman had secretly conspired with a rival prince. A neighbouring baron, on intimate terms with the offender, and yet held in high esteem by the sovereign because of his probity and valiancy, undertook to intercede. Hastening to court, he sought the royal presence-chamber, and pressed his suit for mercy. The king told him that his intention was to confiscate the estates and titles of the offending nobleman and confer them upon himself, as a most faithful and devoted subject, to whose wisdom and valour king and country alike owed much. He assures him of his sovereign’s favour and grace. What was the astonishment of the courtiers around to see the favoured baron cast himself again at the feet of his monarch benefactor, and plead the royal favour towards himself us a reason for pardoning the conspiring peer.
(2.) Israel’s Sovereign assures Moses of His favour, and offers to confer on him Israel’s inheritance and title as “God’s People.” Whereupon Moses makes the assurance of God’s favour to himself a plea for offending Israel: “If I have found grace in Thy sight, go up with us.” He identifies himself with Israel because he derives no separate advantage or privilege. “I and Thy people.” Surely, if the earthly monarch grasping England’s sceptre wondered at the spirit of the mediator, acceded to his request, and honoured him in many ways, we can understand the Divine King, swaying the sceptre of righteousness, according Moses his petition, and rewarding him with a vision of His glory.
“Father of Jesus, love’s reward,
What rapture will it be,
Prostrate before Thy Throne to lie,
And ever gaze on Thee.”—Faber.
Mosaic-Yearnings! Exodus 33:18.
(1.) Not Nature’s glory. Moses had seen glorious landscapes—the Nile brimming over with bounty—sunrise from behind the Pyramids—the majestic mountains of this great wilderness. The 90th Psalm, and all the poems in the Pentateuch, show that Moses was alive to the glory of God in Nature. He realised the Divine Glory in the twinkling stars and shining sands, in the wild thunderstorm and in the soft sweet breath of eve. But this was not the glory for a vision of which he thirsted.
(2.) Not Jehovah’s glory. Moses had beheld His glory at the Burning Bush in Midian—on that night, so much to be remembered, when His royal ensign fired the firmament, and under Heaven’s immediate guidance the glorious march began; and in that mount, whose mountain-top was encircled with the Divine glory like devouring fire, whilst the voice of the Eternal filled the surrounding solitudes with words which echo still far and wide o’er earth and sky and sea.
(3.) But Grace’s glory. Moses would gaze on the heart of Jehovah, rich in forgiveness, and radiating forth its ceaseless loving-kindness. Like those mysterious boxes of Eastern Asia and Japan, the Divine attributes had opened up their glories one by one; and now Moses glimpses a glory still interior—the glory of His Grace. God has just shown mercy to scandalous insulters of His supremacy; and grasping at this inlet mild and merciful, Moses prays, “Show me Thy glory.” As the astronomer
“Who on the starry heavens the livelong night
Has gazed unwearied, in the dewy morn
Returning homeward, plucks a simple flower,
Promise, or cowslip, or anemone,
And in its tender beauty peering finds
More sweet delight than in those mighty orbs
With all their pendant satellites.”
Mediator-Mirror! Exodus 33:19.
(1.) Moses interposes between God and the breakers of His holy laws. He even offers himself a sacrifice (Exodus 32:0) in the place of recreant Israel. His mediation avails, so that God mitigates the penalty on the repentance of the evildoers. He declares His favour for the man who has so generously offered himself as a substitute. The Divine assurance of favour and grace emboldens the mediator to become the intercessor. In Exodus 33:0 we have these eloquent utterances of self-forgetful devotions; as well as the Divine revelation that He will vouchsafe to manifest Himself to the intercessor.
(2.) Messiah interposed between God and the offenders of His righteous will. He offered Himself a sacrifice unto God for a sweet-smelling savour—doing what Moses could not do. The Lord accepted His mediation—laid on Him the iniquity of us all—and announced pardon to those sinners who repented. He spoke from the excellent glory this word, “Thou art My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” On the Cross of Calvary, the Intercessor’s prayer rose high and clear: “Forgive them, for they know not what they do.” St. Mark in his last chapter, and St. Luke in Acts 1:0 relates that God then “received Him up into glory,” as Paul expresses it in one of his epistles; see also Revelation 1:0
“And lo! the Everlasting Father rose
Diffusing beams of joy ineffable,
Which centred on His Son, His only Son.”
Face-Fire! Exodus 33:20.
(1.) Heathen mythology has an extraordinary caricature of this Divine declaration in the tradition-fable of Jupiter and Semele. She is reported to have entreated Jupiter to show her his glory. At first he was very reluctant, knowing that it would be fatal to her; but he at last yielded to her solicitations. The story runs that she paid dearly for her importunate temerity, as she was consumed by his presence on the revelation of his majesty.
(2.) Oh! Profane parody of the Divine Ideal! Jupiter cannot do aught to ward off the peril. Whereas, Jehovah accedes to the request, only by preventing danger to the suppliant Moses. Bagster thinks that “the face of God” here signifies that light inaccessible before which angels may stand; and concerning which the apostle says, “Now we see through a glass, darkly; then face to face”—with no dim, darkling veil between.
“Light of the world! be Thou a sword of wrath
Flashing its threat’ning gleam across the path
Which leads to sin and shame—and guide us on,
Until we bathe in bliss before Thy throne!”
Divine-Face! Exodus 33:20. The Incas of Peru have a curious tradition of one of their princes. He had been driven from the palace and court; and had to tend the sacred llamas amongst the lonely plains of Chita. Here a glorious being, with robes brighter than the light, appeared to him, and ordered him to return to his city, to deliver his people from oppression: “For to thee it is given to deliver thy people.” He did as he was told—secured the deliverance of his people—and was appointed their ruler and prince After this was accomplished, he built a beautiful temple. Here he stood in the court before all the people, wearing a beautiful tunic of blue wrought with gold threads, and a long mantle glittering with shining jewels. He dared to raise his eyes to the awful burning face of the great father, and to say, “Let me behold thy brightness.” Is there in this ancient legend no relic of the histories of Moses, Aaron, and Solomon—blending together in the far distance of time?
“But who can wander to Thy bright abode,
And look on Thee, the Everlasting God,
If angels, veiled, before Thy presence sing,
And sinless seraphs droop the golden wing!”
God-Emblems! Exodus 33:22. Bowes says that one of the most ancient hieroglyphic representations of God was the figure of an eye upon a sceptre, to denote that God sees and rules all things. The Egyptian hieroglyphic was a winged globe with a serpent coming out of it: the globe to signify God’s eternity, the wings His active power, and the serpent His wisdom. The Thracian emblem was a sun with three beams; one shining upon a sea of ice and melting it, another upon a rock and dissolving it, and the third upon a dead man and putting life into him. But we know nothing of the imagery which God decided to employ in order that Moses might behold this beatific vision.
“How wonderful, how beautiful,
The sight of Thee must be;
Thine endless wisdom, boundless power,
And awful purity!
“Yet I may love Thee, too, O Lord,
Almighty as Thou art;
For Thou hast stooped to ask of me
The love of my poor heart.”
Rock-Clift! Exodus 33:22.
(1.) There is a remarkable passage in Song of Solomon 2:14, which is uttered by Christ
(1) to His Church, and so
(2) to the Christian: “Thou art in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stairs.” Some suppose that the second clause refers to the gardens in the east, where the terraces one above another were cut out of the rock. But the natural significance is the cavernous precipices of the rocks resembling stairs. What are these words designed to indicate?
1. Some say “the rock of nature,” in which Christ finds the Church and Christian before He calls them by His grace.
2. Others assert that Christ is the hiding-place. Thrice blessed are they who are hidden in Him, that they may see the goodness of the Lord!
(2.) The subsequent expression is equally remarkable: “Let me see Thy face, let me hear Thy voice.” It was Moses who besought God for this. But here we have God asking for this at the hands of Moses. To Him the voice of Moses’ prayer had been sweet: “The prayer of the upright is His delight.” He loves to hear the breathings of the Spirit of His Son in our hearts. See Song of Solomon 4:13; Malachi 3:16. Moreover, it is only while we are thus in Christ Jesus that our countenance beams with the reflection of His glory. Thus when Moses was forty days in the mount His face shone. “So shall the King greatly desire thy beauty.”
“Oh, droop not! Though a cloud may be
Between the glorious Son and thee,
No shade His face can dim;
Beneath His smile away shall roll
The sin-mist of thy wounded soul:
Only abide in Him.”
Deity-Dazzling! Exodus 33:23.
(1.) When a heathen king objected to the missionary’s testimony concerning the One living and true God, that he could not see Him, and, therefore, could not believe in Him, he took the king into the courtyard, and asked him to look intently upon the sun, which was burning in high noon. When the monarch replied that the attempt would blind him, the missionary retorted, “If thou canst not look upon one of His servants without being dazzled by his brightness, how canst thou endure looking upon Himself?”
(2.) But this incapability not only arises from the inherent glory of God, but from man’s imperfection. True, when Daniel by the river Hiddekel, and John in Patmos, beheld even the veiled glory of the Lord, their comeliness was turned into corruption; but still sin has much to do with this fact, that no man shall see God and live. Angels, who never sinned, may look upon Him and be undismayed; but sinful man cannot. Yet we have the Messianic beatitude: “Blesssed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
“O Holy, wondrous vision! to think, when this life’s past,
The beauty of Mount Tabor shall end in heaven at last!
To think that all the glory of uncreated light
Shall be the promised guerdon of them that win the fight!”
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Exodus 33". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent