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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 34

The Pulpit CommentariesThe Pulpit Commentaries

Verses 1-4



THE TWO TABLES RENEWED. The fervent and prolonged intercession of Moses had brought about the pardon of the people; and that, together with their repentance and their prayers (Exodus 33:7), had been accepted as a renewal of the covenant on their part; but it remained for God to renew the covenant on his part The first step to this was the restoration of the tables, which were essential to the covenant, as being at once the basis of the law and of the ordained worship. To mark, however, that something is always forfeited by sin, even when forgiven, the new tables were made to lose one glory of the first—they were not shaped by God, as the first were (Exodus 32:16), but by Moses.

Exodus 34:1

Hew thee two tables of stone. Literally, "of stones"—two separate tables, i.e; made of two separate stones. Moses is required to do this with strict justice, since it was by his act that the former tables were broken (Exodus 32:19). Upon these tables. Literally," upon the tables," which has exactly the same force. The words that were in the first tables. It is quite true that we have not yet been explicitly told what these words were. (See Exodus 31:18; Exodus 32:15, Exodus 32:16, Exodus 32:19.) It has been left to our natural intelligence to understand that they must have been the "ten words" uttered in the ears of all the people amid the thunders of Sinai, as recorded in Exodus 20:1-19, which are the evident basis of all the later legislation. We have, however, in verse 28, and still more plainly in Deuteronomy 10:4, and Deuteronomy 5:22, the desired statement. The fiction of a double decalogue, invented by Goethe and supported by Hitzig, and even Ewald, is absolutely without foundation in fact.

Exodus 34:2

Be ready in the morning. An interval was required for the hewing of the tables. It was made as short as possible. In the top of the mount. Where he had been with God previously (Exodus 19:20; Exodus 24:12, Exodus 24:18).

Exodus 34:3

No man shall come up with thee. This time, no one, not even Joshua, was to accompany Moses. The new manifestation of the glory of God was to be made to him alone. Neither let any man be seen throughout all the mount, etc. Compare the injunctions given in Exodus 19:12, Exodus 19:13. The present orders are even more stringent.

Exodus 34:4

Moses obeys all the directions given him to the letter—hews, or causes to be hewn, the two tables, making them as like as he can to the former ones—rises early, and ascends the mountain to the appointed spot—and takes with him the tables, for God to perform his promise (Exodus 34:1)of writing the commandments upon them. It has been questioned whether God did actually write the words upon the second tables; but Kurtz's arguments upon the point are unanswerable.


Exodus 34:1-4

The second promulgation of the moral law, by the renewal of the two tables

may teach us—

I. THAT ALL COVENANT WITH GOD MUST REST ON THE BASIS OF THE MORAL LAW. Moses had not asked for a renewal of the tables. He had requested the return of God's favour and the renewal of God's share of the covenant. It was God who made the restoration of the tables a condition. God, that is, will not divorce favour from obedience, privilege from the keeping of his law. Man desires the rewards that God has to bestow, but is not anxious to have the rewards tied to a certain course of action. God insists on the combination. He can only enter into covenant with those who accept his law as their rule of life. This is not for his own sake, but for theirs. They can only be fitted to enjoy his favour, and the rewards which he has to bestow on them, by leading a life in accordance with his law and acquiring the character which such a life forms in them.

II. THAT THE MORAL LAW IS ETERNAL AND UNALTERABLE. The broken tables must be restored. In restoring them no change must be made. Their very form must resemble as nearly as may be the form of the preceding ones. This, of course, was typical. It foreshadowed the further—not mere resemblance, but—identity of the words that were to be written on the tables. From first to last, "the words were those that were in the first table" (Exodus 34:1). There is no hint of any alteration. Even Christianity changes nothing in the law that is moral. "Think not that I am come to destroy the law and the prophets," says our Lord; "I am not come to destroy but to fulfil" (Matthew 5:17). No "jot or tittle" of the moral law is to pass away. Even with respect to the Sabbath, which verges upon positive law, nothing is changed but the day of the week, and to a small extent the method of observance. Apostolic writings show us the Decalogue as still binding (Romans 13:9; Ephesians 6:2; James 2:11; etc.).

III. THAT BREAKING THE MORAL LAW IMPOSES ON US FRESH OBLIGATIONS. "Hew thee"—literally, "hew for thyself"—"two tables of stone," said the Lord to Moses; repair the loss caused by thine own action. Repentance is no part of man's original duty to God; but if he once break the moral law, it becomes obligatory on him. Every infraction involves this new duty; some infractions involve more. Fraud involves the duty of restitution; calumny, that of retractation; insult, that of apology; and the like. Each of our sins lays upon us as a new burthen, not only of guilt, but also of labour, to efface it. We had best refrain from evil, even in our own interest, or we may increase our burthen till we sink under it.


Exodus 34:1-4

The renewal of God's covenant.

I. THE FIRST EFFECT OF RECONCILIATION IS THE RE-WRITING OF THE LAW. Moses ascends that God may again inscribe his commandments upon the tables of stone; Jesus, that God may write them upon the fleshly tables of the heart. The sprinkling of the blood is "unto obedience." We are to be "zealous of good works."

II. THE AWFULNESS OF GOD'S HOLINESS MORE EVIDENT IN THE RESTORATION THAN IN THE FIRST GIVING OF THE LAW. Formerly Moses had been accompanied so far by the elders, and further still by Joshua. Now he must go up alone. No man is to be seen throughout the mount. Neither flocks nor herds are to feed before it. The terrors of Sinai awe the heart less than the cross of him who treads the wine-press alone.

III. THE REDEEMER'S ZEAL. "And Moses rose up early in the morning." He cannot loiter; for man's life hangs upon the issue; the world's cry rings in his ears. "For Zion's sake I will not hold my peace," etc. (Isaiah 62:1).

IV. THE MEDIATOR MUST MOULD THE HEART TO RECEIVE GOD'S LAW. "He hewed two tables of stone, like unto the first." The power of Christ's love must cut between us and sin, and give again the form man wore when he came from the hands of God. We must experience the circumcision of Christ. Christ's work may be measured by the heart's tender receptivity for the re-writing of God's law.

V. THERE MUST BE UNION BY FAITH WITH CHRIST IN HIS RISEN LIFE. He "took in his hand the two tables of stone." We pass up with Jesus into the presence of God. That the law may be written upon the heart, our life must be hid with Christ in God.—U.


Exodus 34:1-4

The second set of tables.

Jehovah graciously answered the supplications of Moses (Exodus 33:12-23) so far as it was possible to answer them. Supplications may be very importunate, and, therefore, so far well pleasing to God, and yet at the same time they may be faulty in two respects: first, they may ask for things which it is impossible altogether to grant; and, secondly, they may omit from the field of view, certain other things which form a necessary accompaniment of every Divine gift. In all his supplications, Moses said nothing about these broken tables; it would be too much to say that they were never in his thoughts. But whether in his thoughts or not, they assuredly had to be considered and provided for. Moses had asked for the presence of God to go with Israel; and the presence of God meant for one thing the commandments of God. Furthermore, all the elaborate furniture of the tabernacle had for the centre around which it was gathered, these very tables of stone. When Moses broke them, he broke the holiest thing in all Israel's belongings; these tables, appointed to rest within the ark, and underneath the cherubim. No word of censure indeed is uttered against Moses for having broken them; but it does not therefore follow that he is to be praised for having broken them. The action, so to speak, was one to be regarded neither with praise nor blame, but simply as an inevitable result of Moses' sudden and violent wrath. When Moses broke the tables, he was not in a mood of mind for considering anything but the monstrous transgression before his eyes. What had happened to the fragments we are not told; except this much, that they were no longer available. All that Jehovah does is simply to command from Moses the preparation of new tablets. As Moses prepares them, he may safely be left to his own thoughts. Whatever lesson he needed in respect of self-control, the opportunity was given him to learn. Opportunity was also given to learn the need of being continually on the watch for manifestations of human weakness and instability. If Moses was in so many things the type of Christ in respect of mediatorial office, it was, alas! also true that he was unlike Christ in respect of penetrating insight into human nature. Moses was not like Christ; it could not be said of him that he knew what was in man.—Y.


Exodus 34:1-10, Exodus 34:28

Renewal of the tables, and fourth intercession.

One more mighty effort of intercession, and Moses will bear away the blessing which he seeks. It needs, however, that it be a mighty one. The covenant is not yet restored in its integrity. The people's sin is not yet perfectly forgiven. God, indeed, has promised to go with them, but he has not said, as of old, "I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God" (Exodus 6:7). The new relations are not those of perfected friendship. They are moreover, unstable. New transgressions of the people may at any moment upset them. Moses, accordingly, would not only have the covenant renewed—restored in its old completeness and integrity—the last trace of the Divine displeasure wiped away—but would have God give him a pledge of grace beyond anything he has yet received—a pledge that he will show great forbearance with the people: that he will not deal summarily with them, or cast them off, on account of backslidings which he now perceives to be inevitable (Exodus 34:9). It was a high thing to ask: too high, Moses may have thought, for him to be able to attain to it. If he did, it could only be as the result of an earnestness, a perseverance, and a sublimity in intercesssion beyond everything of which he had yet felt himself capable. The strength he needed, however, was not to be withheld from him. He had already, though, probably, without this being present to his mind as a motive, put himself in the way of getting it, by asking for a vision of the Divine glory. From this would flow into his soul a spiritual might which would make "all things possible" to him. By sheer power of prayer, he would obtain what he desired. Jehovah, on his side, was too well pleased with his servant's zeal and devotion, too willing to be entreated of him, too entirely in accord with the object of his supplication, not readily to grant him the opportunity of pressing his request.

I. JEHOVAH'S "COME UP HITHER" (Exodus 34:1-4).

1. The command to hew out tables (Exodus 34:1). Formerly, it was God himself who furnished the tables on which the law was written (Exodus 32:16). Now, the tables are to be provided by Moses. This may have had reference to the facts

(1) that it was Moses who had destroyed the former tables (Exodus 32:19); and

(2) that it was by the mediation of Moses that the covenant was being renewed. It was a suitable reward for his intercession, that God should give him this honour of supplying the tables on which the covenant terms were to be inscribed.

View the command to hew out tables as

(1) Retrospective. God had already promised that his presence should go with Israel (Exodus 33:14). This implied, on the part of the people, return to their obedience. The law is unalterable. God can walk with men only as they are willing to walk with him in the way of his commands. The tables testified to the unchangingness of the obligation.

(2) Anticipative. It had in view the fact that, through Moses' intercession, the covenant was about to be restored.

(3) Promissory. It gave Moses encouragement to entreat for its restoration.

2. The command to ascend the mount (Exodus 34:2). The summons to ascend the mount was,

(1) An answer to prayer—"Shew me thy glory" (Exodus 33:18).

(2) A preparation for vision.

(3) An opportunity for intercession.

3. The command to preserve the sanctity of the mount (Exodus 34:3). This was to be done by keeping man and beast from approaching it. Moses was to ascend alone. The command—a parallel to that in Exodus 19:12-13—has for its end the warning back of intruders from what, for the time being, is "holy ground" (cf. Exodus 3:5). Other reasons are, that there might be

(1) No interruption of communion.

(2) No distraction in intercession.

(3) No injury done by the manifestation of the Divine glory.

"The manifested glory of the Lord would so surely be followed by the destruction of man that even Moses needed to be protected before it" (Exodus 33:21, Exodus 33:22).

II. THE NAME REVEALED (Exodus 19:4-8).

(1) Jehovah "passed by before him" (Exodus 19:5), i.e; gave him the glimpse of his glory promised in Exodus 33:22, Exodus 33:23.

(2) He "proclaimed his name"—i.e; made known to Moses the essence of his character. This was the higher revelation. The other is only alluded to; this is dwelt on and expanded (Exodus 33:6, Exodus 33:7).

1. The name itself. Note here in regard to it—

(1) It unites mercy and justice.

(2) The merciful attributes preponderate.

(3) The word which syllables it is "Love."

Love is the union of goodness and holiness. The history of revelation has been but the spelling out of this name. Christ is the perfect embodiment of it.

2. The effects on Moses.

(1) It awed him (Exodus 33:8).

(2) It encouraged him. It gave iron a new ground of confidence in entreaty (Exodus 33:9).

(3) It strengthened him. Cf. the chorus of the archangels in Goethe's "Faust"—

"Though none may fathom thee—thy sight
Upon the angels power bestows," etc.

III. THE COVENANT RESTORED (Exodus 33:9, 27, 28).

1. The intercession. This fourth and last intercession presents us with several noteworthy features.

(1) It was very prolonged. The account here is summary; but Moses tells us in Deuteronomy (Exodus 9:25), that he "fell down before the Lord forty days and forty nights as at the first," and prayed earnestly that the people might not be destroyed (cf. verse 28).

(2) It included intercession for Aaron (Deuteronomy 9:20).

(3) It is marked by a deep perception of the root of depravity in the people's nature. Moses has no longer the same optimistic views regarding them as when he disputed with God the necessity of giving them further warning about not approaching the mount (Exodus 19:23). Note how, in the first intercession, it is the people's danger; in the second, the people's guilt; and in the last, the people's depravity, which is chiefly before the intercessor's mind. He here pleads the innate tendency as a reason why God should deal mercifully with them (verse 9). Human nature does not improve on closer inspection. But there is weakness as well as sin in its condition. The Divine ruler may be trusted to make the requisite allowances (cf. Genesis 8:21).

(4) It is marked—and this is the outstanding circumstance in connection with it—by the degree in which Moses is now able to identify himself with the people for whom he intercedes. "Let my Lord, I pray thee, go among us …. And pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for thine inheritance" (verse 9). More than ever he feels himself one with his nation. Intercession has perfected sympathy. But not intercession alone. It may be inferred that no act had more to do with this result than the supreme act of self-devotion, already considered, in which he expressed his willingness to die, and, if need be, to be blotted out of God's book, for the salvation of the people. In that amazing act, the last traces of selfishness must have perished. He has given himself for Israel, and is thenceforth one with it. Subsequent intercessions can but develop, and give clearer and fuller expression to the sense of unity with his people born within him in that supreme hour in his experience. Sinful as the people are, accordingly, Moses, in his present entreaty does not shrink from including himself among them. "Our iniquity"—"our sin." The just takes part with the unjust. He makes their sin his, and pleads for its forgiveness. The worse they show themselves, the more earnestly he holds by them, and endeavours to sustain them by his prayers. If sympathy be a qualification for the task of mediation, Moses thus possesses it. His intercession, in this respect, throws striking lights on Christ's.

2. The success. The prolonged, fervent, and sympathetic intercession of Moses did not fail of its reward. "The Lord," he tells afterward, "hearkened unto me at that time also" (Deuteronomy 9:19). Nothing was wanting to the completeness of his success. The last frown had. disappeared from the countenance of Jehovah. Covenant relations were perfectly restored. The people were reinstated in privilege. No wonder that the mediator's face "shone" as he descended from the mount! We, too, have an intercessor whom the Father "heareth always" (John 11:42).—J.O.

Verses 5-8


THE FULFILMENT BY GOD OF HIS PROMISE TO MOSES. This section coheres closely with the last section of the preceding chapter, and must be regarded, as the historical account of how God fulfilled the promises there made by him to Moses (Exodus 33:19-23). The promises were mainly two—

1. That he would proclaim his name to him afresh; and

2. That he would pass by him, and let him see, after he had passed, what man might see of his glory. The fulfilment of the first promise appears in the long enumeration of attributes contained in Exodus 34:6, Exodus 34:7; the fulfilment of the second is expressed with extreme brevity in the words—,' And the Lord passed by before him" (Exodus 34:6). Probably no further description could be given of that marvellous manifestation beyond those words in which it was promised (Exodus 33:21-23). Its effects were seen in that permanent reflection of God's glory on the face of Moses, which thenceforth compelled him to wear a veil mostly when he showed himself to the people (Exodus 34:33-35).

Exodus 34:5

The Lord descended in the cloud. The cloudy pillar, which had stood at the door of the Tent of Meeting (Exodus 33:10), was withdrawn while Moses ascended Sinai, and probably disappeared from men's sight. When Moses reached the top, it descended once more from the sky, and stood with him there. Then a voice from the cloud proclaimed the name of the Lord in the manner more fully stated in the ensuing verses.

Exodus 34:6, Exodus 34:7

The Lord passed by before him. God did as he had promised in Exodus 33:22, Exodus 33:23. He made his glory pass by, Moses, as he stood in a "clift of the rock," and "covered him with his hand as he passed by," and, when he had passed, "took away his hand," and allowed Moses to look after him, and see a glorious and transcendent vision—a vision so bright and radiant, and so real, that the light which streamed from it settled on Moses face, and remained there (Exodus 33:20). And proclaimed. In his passage God proclaimed his name; not however, as in the burning bush, an actual name contained in a single word—but a description in many words of his essential nature—a description setting forth especially his three qualities of mercy, truth, and justice, but dwelling most upon the first of the three—perhaps, as most essential, for" God is love" (1 John 4:8)—certainly, as moot needing to be prominently set forth at the time, when his favour had been justly forfeited, and but for ]]is mercy could not have been restored. Note the accumulation of terms that are nearly synonymous—

1. Merciful (or pitiful);

2. Gracious;

3. Long-suffering;

4. Abundant in goodness;

5. Keeping mercy for thousands: and

6. Forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin

an accumulation for the purpose of emphasis—to assure Moses, and through him mankind at large, of the reality of this attribute, on which the possibility of our salvation depends, and which had never hitherto been set forth with anything like such fulness. That will by no means clear the guilty. Some critics take this clause in an entirely different sense, translating "who in destroying will not wholly destroy" (Maimonides, Pool, De Dieu, Patrick), or, "who acquits even him who is not innocent" (Geddes); but the rendering of our translators (which agrees with the LXX.], is approved by Rosenmuller, Gesenius, Kalisch, Keil, and others. It seems to have been also the meaning assigned to the passage by the prophet Nahum, who quotes it (Nahum 1:3) when he is threatening Nineveh. Visiting the iniquity. See above, Exodus 20:5. While setting forth his attribute of mercy in all its fulness, God will not have his attribute of justice forgotten (Exodus 20:8).

Exodus 34:8

Moses made haste and bowed his head. Worshipping the glory that had passed by, and accepting the gracious words addressed to him.


Exodus 34:6, Exodus 34:7

The second proclamation of God's name.

God had proclaimed his name to Moses, when he spoke with him out of the burning bush. He had declared it to be JEHOVAH, "the Self-Existent One." Under this name the people of Israel had known him from the time of Moses' return to Egypt from Midian, until that of which he is here speaking. Hitherto it had sufficed for them. It had marked him as,

1. eternal;

2. uncaused;

3. unconditioned;

4. self-sufficient;

5. all-powerful.

But it had not revealed his moral nature. Something of that had always been known to man. Something more had become known to Israel through the law already given from Sinai. But in their present state of sorrow and depression (Exodus 33:4-6) something further was needed. God accordingly "proclaimed his name" afresh. Of this second proclamation we may note—

I. THAT IT CANCELS NOTHING, BUT ADDS. The first words of the name are "Jehovah, Jehovah El," or "the Self-Existent, the Self-Existent God." What had been revealed before is confirmed; nay, is still put in the fore-front, as the proper foundation of all the rest. For a true knowledge of God, we must, first and foremost, have the conviction that there is a self-existent being, eternal, uncaused, the cause of all things, and therefore of our own existence, on whom we are absolutely dependent. It follows, after this, to inquire and learn the moral character of this Eternal One.

II. THAT IT SETS FORTH GOD AS, ABOVE ALL THINGS, MERCIFUL. The Jewish commentators make out thirteen epithets of God in these two verses, and say that all but one are epithets of mercy. This seems to be an overstatement of the actual fact, that the epithets of mercy form a large numerical majority. They are

1. Rakhum, "the tender or pitiful one," who is full of kindness and compassion;

2. Khunnun, "the gracious one," who bestows his benefits out of mere favour, without obligation;

3. Erek appayim, "the long-suffering one," who is not easily provoked, but "suffers long and is kind";

4. Rab-khesed, "the great in mercy" which needs no explanation;

5. Notser-khesed, "the keeper of mercy," he who does not desert those he loves, bet is merciful to them, and their children, from generation to generation;

6. Nose 'avon, vapesha vekhattaah, "the forgiver of iniquity and transgression and sin"—the being who alone can forgive sin and give peace to the guilty soul. Moses did well to make appeal to this description of himself by God himself, when Israel had a second time provoked God to destroy them (Numbers 14:17, Numbers 14:18). We shall do well to make our appeal to the same, whenever we have offended our Lord and Master by our faults and shortcomings, our "sins, negligences, and ignorances." Conjured by this "name," God can scarcely refuse to reply, as he replied to Moses, "I have pardoned according to thy word" (Numbers 14:20).

III. THAT IT FURTHER SETS HIM FORTH AS JUST AND TRUE. God gives it as part of his name, that he "will by no means clear the guilty," or rather perhaps that he will not "always" do so (Kalisch). There is some guilt that he will not, cannot pardon. "There is a sin unto death—I do not say that a man shall pray for it" (1 John 5:16). Unrepented sin cannot be forgiven. "Blasphemy against the Holy Ghost" cannot be forgiven. God's justice is an essential part of his nature, no less than his mercy; and is perhaps, as has been argued, a necessary consequence of his love. £ Again, God is true—"abundant in truth" (Exodus 34:6). There can be no trust in any being who is not true. Truth lies at the root of all moral goodness; and the truth of God is pre-supposed in any revealed religion, since without it revelation could have no force or value. Further, beth in the Old and the New Testament, God reveals himself as "true," or sometimes as "the truth." "Thy truth reacheth unto the clouds" (Psalms 108:4). "The truth of the Lord endureth for ever" (Psalms 117:2). "God is true." "I am the truth." It is essential to a right conception of him that we should believe in his absolute veracity. If we "make him a liar," we ruin our whole idea of him. We might as well make him non-existent.


Exodus 34:5-8

The name.

Consider on this

I. THE CONNECTION WITH THE NAME JEHOVAH. "Proclaimed the name of Jehovah" (Exodus 34:5). Observe—

1. The name Jehovah connotes moral attributes. The absolute being is, at the same time, the most perfect being. His excellence includes all possible perfection. This implies the possession of moral attributes. "That character," says Dean Graves, "from which the acutest reasoners have endeavoured demonstratively to deduce as from their source all the Divine attributes, is SELF-EXISTENCE. Is it not then highly remarkable that it is under this character the divinity is described, on his first manifestation to the Jewish lawgiver?"

2. Former revelations implied moral attributes. The attributes on which, in former revelations, the main stress needed to be laid, were those to be illustrated in the events of the exodus—power, freedom, supremacy, changelessness (cf. on Exodus 3:14; Exodus 6:2, Exodus 6:3). But that moral attributes—the attributes of truth, mercy, goodness, justice, also belonged to Jehovah was shown—

(1) From the nature of his purpose.

(2) From the character of his actings.

(3) From the simple fact of his revealing himself.

3. The new revelation declares moral attributes. Formerly, the revelation was in deeds, now it is in words. Formerly, God told Moses what, as Jehovah, he would do. Now he declares what, as Jehovah, he is. The name was first spelt, then pronounced. Cf. with law of ordinary historical progress—

(1) action;

(2) reflection on what has been done, with generalisation of principles.

Or of scientific progress—

(1) accumulation of facts;

(2) generalisation of law.

For this announcement of the name, the renewal of the covenant furnished an appropriate historical occasion.

II. TEACHING OF THE NAME. The name exhibits the Divine character. It lays bare to us God's very heart. It reveals his essence. Learn—

1. There is justice in God. "That will by no means clear the guilty," etc. (Exodus 34:7).

(1) This attribute is essential. Without it, God would not be God. Says the poet, "A God all mercy is a God unjust." We go further, and affirm that without justice, there would be no mercy left to exercise. See Homily on Exodus 32:10. We have defined love in God as the perfect union of goodness and holiness. Mercy we would define as a mixed feeling of pity and resentment. See this point well illustrated in the chapters on "the Law of Mercy" in "Ecce Homo."

(2) Justice cannot be laid aside. God "will by no means clear the guilty." See Homily on Exodus 23:21. But if God cannot clear the guilty, cannot, i.e. call guilt other than what it is, or refuse to punish it, he can, on the ground of his Son's atonement, which fulfils every condition of a perfect satisfaction to justice, forgive the guilty.

(3) Manifestation of justice. In his personal dealings with individuals—not clearing the guilty. In his general government of the world—"visiting the iniquity of the fathers," etc. (cf. on Exodus 20:5; Deuteronomy 5:9).

2. There is mercy in God. This side of the Divine character is exhibited with much greater fulness than the other. "Merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth, keeping mercy, forgiving iniquity, and transgression, and sin" (Exodus 23:6, Exodus 23:7).

(1) God delights in mercy; he does not delight in judgment. Judgment is "his work, his strange work" (Isaiah 28:21). The visitation of sin is viewed as extending only "unto the third and fourth generation"; mercy is kept for "thousands" (cf. Psalms 103:17).

(2) Mercy is "abundant." Cf. Isaiah 55:7—"will abundantly pardon." A wonderful utterance this from the standpoint of the Old Testament. Anticipates Paul—"where sin abounded, grace did much more abound" (Romans 5:20).

(3) Mercy qualifies judgment. It leads to forbearance with the sinner—"long-suffering" (cf. Romans 2:4). It secures pardon on repentance—"forgiving iniquity," etc.

(4) It is yet exercised in strictest harmony with the requirements of justice. The mode of the reconciliation of these two sides of the Divine character, however, remains in the Old Testament a partially unsolved problem.

3. Mercy rules in the character of God. This is a fair inference

(1) from the preponderating place assigned to the attributes of mercy, and

(2) from the fact that the attributes of mercy stand before the attributes of justice. It is but an earlier expression of the truth which the Gospel has now made a great spiritual certainty to us—"God is love" (1 John 4:16). Not simply loves, but is love. But if God is love, and love constitutes his essence, then must love dominate, wield, work through his other perfections, using all for its own purposes, transmuting all into its own nature. There cannot be discord or division in the breast of the Eternal. What God is, he must ever have been, must be at all times, through all ages, in all his works, under all forms of his manifestation. This is a conception so deep and far-reaching as to pass in its length and breadth beyond our grasp. Its lines prolong themselves to infinity. There lie in it possibilities which it is not given to man to fathom.


1. We need a revelation. It is but a dumb, inarticulate revelation of this name which we have in nature. What is revealed relates more to God's justice than to God's love. If there is much in nature which supports, there is also much which seems to discredit, belief in the entire goodness of God. Nature in. particular, has no answer to give to the questions—Can God forgive and restore sinners? Can he undo their evil? Can he turn back from its avenging course that terrible law of retribution which holds us in its grasp?

2. We may expect a revelation. If God loves men, we may expect him in some way personally to attest his love to them. "Gracious thoughts never revealed are not gracious thoughts at all. It is essential to the being of grace or love that it manifest itself. Love unrevealed is love unreal" (Dr. A. B. Bruce).

3. The revelation has been given.

(1) In deeds.

(2) In words.

(3) In the Son.—J.O.


Exodus 34:5-9

The Manifestation of God.

I. GOD'S GLORY VEILED THAT IT MAY BE REVEALED. "The Lord descended in the cloud." The glory of Jesus was veiled by his humanity. There is but one avenue through which the knowledge of God can come—the spirit; it cannot come by the senses. God reveals himself by a word, by one in whom he has put his name, and by the Spirit's unveiling of the word in the heart.


1. Faithfulness: he proclaimed "JEHOVAH." He changes not, his purpose abides, his word is fulfilled.

2. Faithfulness and might. "Jehovah, Elohim." God's power waits upon his unchanging purpose.

3. "Merciful." He will not spurn need. He is moved by, and drawn to, it.

4. "Gracious." God is not merely a just master, bestowing rewards which have been earned. There is favour to be found with him, unmerited and free.

5. "Long-suffering." He is patient with blindness and weakness and sin. He waits to be gracious. The great husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth and "hath long patience for it."

6. "Abundant in goodness and truth." The ages have been unveiling their fulness; but the story is not yet told. Eternity will never know all the length and breadth and depth and height.

7. The largeness of God's mercy

(1) toward persons. "Keeping mercy for thousands,"

(2) toward sins, "forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin."

8. The severity of God.

(1) He will not always leave sin unpunished.

(2) His mercy may save men from sin, but will not acquit them in sin. "Be not deceived."

(3) The father's sins are visited upon the children. The inheritance of wrong is accompanied by an inheritance of wrath. What is punishment for the fathers may be mercy for the children.


1. Adoration. For deep and true worship the soul must know God in the reality of his existence and the glory of his nature.

2. Prayer for himself and his people. To Jesus the vision of God is intercession for his Church and the world.

(1) Prayer for God's presence. "Let my Lord, I pray thee, go among us."

(2) That God may come in mercy, not in judgment. "Pardon our iniquity."

(3) The transforming power of the presence of God. "And (so) take us for thine inheritance."—U.


Exodus 34:6, Exodus 34:7

The name of the Lord.

Moses had asked to see the glory of Jehovah, a request which it was possible to grant only in a very modified way. As much as Moses could bear to see he was allowed to see; and for what he was not able to see he received a most abundant and timely compensation in the revelation made to him of the Divine character. For this of course is what the proclamation of the name of Jehovah amounts to. The name of Jehovah is what we should call the character of Jehovah. It is always a great comfort and stay to know that the character of one with whom we have to deal is satisfactory through and through. Nay more, it is well to know character, whether it be good or bad; not to go to a man, uncertain of his disposition and altogether in doubt as to what we may expect. From the proclamation here made we may judge Moses to have been up to this point ignorant of certain fundamental qualities in the character of God. He might have certain guesses, certain inward promptings, which led him into supplication and conduct accordant with the Divine character; but now he is lifted above all guess-work. From God's own lips he gets an account of all that is deepest in the disposition and relations of God toward man. He is made to see that God's recent action towards apostate Israel was based, not on incessant importunity in supplication, but on what was a constant source of the Divine action. God was pleased to see Moses so importunate; importunity we may even say was needful to the occasion; but God bad not in him the spirit of the unjust judge, that he should be moved by importunity alone. The character here revealed doubtless gave Moses confidence in all future necessary intercession. Henceforth he knew, and knew from as solemn and authoritative a communication as could be made, what there was in the great Disposer of his movements upon which he could at all times rely. The aspect of Jehovah's character here presented is of course one which it is important for his sinful creature man to know. God does not tell us here all that may be known of him; he singles out that, the knowledge of which we cannot do without in our hours of deepest need, and although there is thus revealed to us only a part of the Divine nature, it is a part which has the harmony of a whole. God is here made known as indescribably considerate of all the needs of men, and yet at the same time inexorably just. His mercy and love are not as human mercy and love too often are. There is a mercy which, while it may soothe present agonies and smooth present difficulties, is yet essentially nothing more than an opiate; it does not go to the root of the trouble and show how it may be entirely swept away. The' tender mercies of the wicked, it is said, are cruel; and so in another sense the tender mercies of the thoughtless and the ignorant may be called cruel. Stopping suffering for the immediate present, they may be sowing the seed of suffering a hundred times greater in the future. But God's mercy is so offered and exercised that it needs never to be regretted. It is mercy gloriously allied with great considerations of righteousness. It is mercy for the repentant; for those who confess and forsake their sins; and although from a superficial glance this visitation of suffering upon children and children's children may seem to contradict the mercy of God, we find on further reflection that it is a great warning against human selfishness. What a rebuke to the man who, knowing that his sin will involve posterity in suffering, yet goes on with the sin! Who are we, to indulge in aspersions on the mercy of God, when perhaps at the very moment we are sowing in self-indulgence what others must reap in pangs which our self-denial and regard for God's wise will might have utterly prevented?—Y.


Exodus 34:6, Exodus 34:7

God is love.

A previous revelation, cf. Exodus 3:14. Then the emphasis was on the name, now it is on the character of him who bears the name. Moses, in common with the people, longed after some visible manifestation of the glory of the unseen God who spoke to him (Exodus 33:18). His desire is granted; but at the same time God turns his thoughts from the visible to the invisible. "It is not," he seems to say, "what I appear to be that man has to trust to; it is what I am." Consider—


1. It implies intelligence in the Being who is characterised. The name Jehovah might, conceivably, be given to "a stream of tendency." Law, irresistible and impersonal, might be described as "the eternal." You cannot, however, speak of law as "merciful and gracious," etc. There must be some one who works through law. A divine heart is the mainspring whence flow all "streams of tendency," the issues of the universal life.

2. It is not such as man could have imagined. Men do create their own gods; deifying the exaggerated and distorted shadows cast by their own characters—so the mountaineer is at first awe-struck when confronted by his own gigantic shadow. Here, however, is a character which cannot he traced to such an origin; it is not man's thought about God, it is God's revelation of himself to man. Contrast the character of the shadow, man-created, god, with that of Jehovah. The one is revengeful, arbitrary, cruel, etc.; the other is merciful and gracious, etc. The man-made god is at best kindly with a weak and sentimental kindliness; with Jehovah, love is the heart-root of his nature, a love which will by no means clear the guilty. Nature "red in tooth and claw" scarcely suggests such a god as this; man could never have conceived him. The character is a revelation of himself, made here to Moses; made, yet more clearly, later, in the life of "the Word made Flesh."

II. THE CHARACTER AS EXPRESSED IN ACTION. Men are treated by some one or some thing as God says he treats them. The "stream of tendency" makes for righteousness; it is not purposeless, it must be purposed. Though experience was insufficient to suggest the character, it yet helps us to verify the revelation. Notice, specially, the stern side of love. The latter part of the revelation seems at first inconsistent with the first part; they give, however, two aspects of the same homogeneous character. True love is quite distinct from kindliness; its brain is wisdom, and justice nerves its right hand.

1. The action which love will take, must depend upon the circumstances which call for action. Our own experience shows sufficiently that love does not shrink from giving pain. The parent wilt forgive his child, and yet, at the same time, not "clear" him; he cannot pass over without notice conduct of which he disapproves. Love may wield the surgeon's knife; or the scourge, with a view to moral surgery. So long as the child keeps sound and well, physically and morally, love is all sunshine; with illness or danger, physical or moral, love—seeking the good of the beloved object—may strike and pierce like lightning. Apply the general principle and it explains:—

2. A special case. Can love visit upon children the sins of their parents? Yes, for children inherit the sinful tendencies of their parents; and it is just this visitation which may best secure them against falling into sin. Sad that the drunkard's child should be an epileptic; yet epilepsy may be a loving visitation if it guard against the confirmed drunkenness which might otherwise have mined body and soul. A warning for parents; yet consolation for the victims of their sins, when it is seen that love has inspired severity (cf. Hebrews 12:11).

Conclusion. Such the God revealed to Moses, and such the God revealed in Christ. Before such a Being what attitude so fitting as that of Moses? (Exodus 3:8; cf. Job 42:1-6).—G.

Verses 9-26


THE RENEWAL OF THE COVENANT. Dazed, as it would seem, by the splendour of the vision which he had beheld, Moses forgot that God had already pledged himself to renew the covenant, and lead the people in person to Canaan. In his forgetfulness, he once more set himself to intercede with God on their behalf, and besought him—

1. That he would go up with them;

2. That he would pardon them; and

3. That he would once more take them as his inheritance (Exodus 34:9). Without replying separately to these requests, God formally renews the covenant; promises not only to go up with the people, but to work miracles for them (Exodus 34:10), and to drive out the nations before them when they have arrived (Exodus 34:11); and makes a brief summary of the chief points of positive observance, which he requires of them in addition to the moral law. These points may be reduced to twelve:—

1. That no treaty of peace should be made with the Canaanite nations (Exodus 34:12).

2. That all their images, altars, and groves should be destroyed (Exodus 34:13).

3. That no molten image should be made to represent God (Exodus 34:17).

4. That the Passover festival should be observed as previously commanded (Exodus 34:18).

5. That the first-born should be dedicated, or redeemed (Exodus 34:19, Exodus 34:20).

6. That the Sabbath rest should be observed at all times of the year (Exodus 34:21).

7. That the feast of Pentecost (weeks) should be observed regularly (Exodus 34:22).

8. That the feast of tabernacles should also be observed (ib,).

9. That at all the three great festivals all the males should appear before God (Exodus 34:23).

10. That no leaven should be used with any sacrifice (Exodus 34:25).

11. That first-fruits of all things should be offered to God (Exodus 34:26). 12. That no kid should be seethed in her mother's milk (Exodus 34:26).

Exodus 34:9

If now I have found grace in thy sight. The vision vouchsafed him makes Moses feel that he has indeed been received into favour with God. The first use which it occurs to him to make of his position is to intercede anew for his people, he, apparently, forgets that God has already promised to go with them (Exodus 33:17), and prefers exactly the same request which he had made on the preceding day, and which had been granted. To this he adds a prayer for pardon, and a request that God would take Israel for his inheritance. The last phrase is a new one, but expresses perhaps no more than has been implied in such phrases as "thy people, which thou hast purchased" (Exodus 15:16)—"ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me" (Exodus 19:5).

Exodus 34:10

I make a covenanti.e; "I lay down afresh the terms of the covenant between me and Israel." On my part, I will go with them (implied, not expressed), and do miracles for them, and drive out the nations before them (Exodus 34:10, Exodus 34:11), and enlarge their borders, and not allow their land to be invaded at the festival seasons (Exodus 34:24): on their part, they must "observe that which I command them" (Exodus 34:11). Marvels such as have not been done in all the earth. As the drying up of the Jordan (Joshua 3:16, Joshua 3:17); the falling down of the walls of Jericho (Joshua 6:20), the slaughter of the army of the five kings by hailstones (Joshua 10:11), and the like. It is a terrible thing that I will do with thee. Terrible, not to Israel, but to Israel's enemies. Compare Deuteronomy 10:21; Psalms 106:22; Psalms 145:6, etc.

Exodus 34:11

Observe thou that which I command thee this day. The precepts expressly given (Exodus 34:12-26) are, as observed above, almost wholly positive. The moral law did not require recapitulation, because it was enjoined on the people afresh by the writing on the two tables (Exodus 34:28). I drive out before thee. Compare Exodus 3:8, Exodus 3:17; Exodus 6:4, Exodus 6:8; Exodus 13:5, Exodus 13:11; Exodus 33:2.

Exodus 34:12

Take heed to thyself lest thou make a covenant. See above, Exodus 23:32 A snare. See Exodus 23:33.

Exodus 34:13

Ye shall destroy their altars, etc. This command is more sweeping than the corresponding one in the "Book of the Covenant" (Exodus 23:24), which expressly mentions only the "images." Here the destruction of idol-altars and idol-groves is further commanded. On idol-altars, see Numbers 23:1, Numbers 23:29; Jdg 2:2; 1 Kings 16:32; 1 Kings 18:26, etc. Groves are here for the first time mentioned. They appear to have been artificial constructions, either of wood or metal, or both, more or less imitative of trees, and regarded as emblems of the Oriental nature-deities, especially Baal and Astarte or Ashtoreth. The word translated "grove" (asherah) is a modification of the name Ashtoreth. The well-known "sacred tree" of the Assyrians is probably an asherah.

Exodus 34:14

For thou shalt worship no other God. This is a reference to the Second Commandment (Exodus 20:5). The meaning is—"Thou shalt not spare the idolatrous emblems of the Canaanite nations, for thou couldst only do so to worship them, and thou art already forbidden to worship any other god beside me." The existence of the Decalogue and its binding nature, is assumed throughout this chapter

Exodus 34:15, Exodus 34:16

The probable consequences of making treaties with the Canaanite nations, alluded to in Exodus 34:12, and in Exodus 23:33, are here fully set forth. They include—

1. Joining in their idol-feasts;

2. Intermarriages;

3. The actual apostasy of. those who married idolatrous wives.

The event fully justified the warning here given. See Judges 2:2, Judges 2:11-13, Judges 2:17; Judges 6:25; Judges 10:6, etc. They go a whoring. This expression, so common in the later books, is here used for the first time It implies that the relation between man and God is analogous to that of the marriage-bond, so that deserting him for other gods is a species of adultery. Compare the frequent representations in the New Testament of Christ as the "Bridegroom" and the Church as his "Bride."

Exodus 34:17

Thou shalt make thee no molten gods. An express allusion to the recent sin of the golden calf.

Exodus 34:18

The feast of unleavened bread shalt thou keep. See Exodus 23:15, and compare Exodus 12:14-20, and Exodus 13:3-10. The month Abib. See the comment on Exodus 13:4.

Exodus 34:19, Exodus 34:20

All that openeth the matrix is mine, etc. This is a repetition of the command given in Exodus 13:12, Exodus 13:13, which had not been inserted in the "Book of the Covenant." It is again enjoined in Leviticus 27:26, Leviticus 27:27. None shall appear before me empty. Repeated from Exodus 23:15.

Exodus 34:21

Six days, etc. This is repeated from the "Book of the Covenant" (Exodus 23:12), but with a remarkable addition—in earing time and in harvest thou shalt rest. "Earing time" is "ploughing time"—to "ear" being to "plough" in Old English, a word cognate with the Greek ἄρω and the Latin are; and the command to rest both then and at harvest time is a command not to break the Sabbath rest at the seasons when it might seem most necessary so to do The temptation to "save the harvest" is readily intelligible to Englishmen. To appreciate the other temptation, we require to know the peculiar circumstances of the East. It is necessary there to complete the ploughing before the spring rains are over. These last but a short time; and when they are once past no rain can be looked for till the autumn.

Exodus 34:22

Of the first-fruits. There is here an unfortunate ambiguity. The English reader naturally supposes that three festivals are mentioned—

1. That of weeks;

2. That of the first-fruits of wheat harvest; and

3. That of in-gathering.

But in reality the feast of weeks is that of the first-fruits of wheat harvest. See Le Exodus 23:17; Numbers 28:26. The observance of this feast, as well as that of the feast of in-gathering, was commanded in the "Book of the Covenant" (Exodus 23:16).

Exodus 34:23

Thrice in the year, Repeated from Exodus 23:17.

Exodus 34:24

I will … enlarge thy borders. The original promise to Abraham was to give to his seed "the land of Canaan" (Genesis 12:5-7). Afterwards this promise was enlarged, and he was told that the land assigned them was the entire tract between the Nile and the Euphrates (Genesis 15:18). And practically, they took possession first of the one, while at a later date their border was enlarged, and they became masters of the other. See 1 Kings 4:21, 1Ki 4:24; 2 Chronicles 9:26. Neither shall any man desire thy land, etc. This promise is nowhere else made. It would serve as a great encouragement to the proper observance of the festivals.

Exodus 34:25

Repeated from Exodus 23:18.

Exodus 34:26

Repeated from Exodus 23:19. It is remarkable that both legislations terminate with the same, somewhat strange, proviso. There must have been an intention of impressing strongly upon the people the principle of tenderness involved in it. (See the comment on Exodus 23:19.)


Exodus 34:9-26

The covenant renewed.

That God should have consented to renew the covenant with Israel after it had been violated so flagrantly is evidence of two things:

1. His faithfulness towards his true followers, which makes him "merciful unto thousands of those that love him," and renders him tender to the children for the sake of the fathers;

2. The value that he sets on intercessory prayer, when offered earnestly by a believer. In the renewal itself we may notice:—

I. THAT THE PROMISES NOW MADE EXCEED ALL THOSE WHICH HAD BEEN MADE TO THE PEOPLE PREVIOUSLY. Leadership had been promised; help in driving out the nation had been promised; the possession of Canaan had been promised. But not "marvels such as had not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation" (Exodus 34:10)—not an enlargement of the nation's boundaries beyond the limits of Canaan (Exodus 34:24)—not security against their land being invaded when they went up to the three great festivals (ibid.). These, so far as the people were concerned, were new and additional pledges. God is apt "to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think." He ties himself down to perform certain promises; but he does not tie himself down not to do more than he has promised. He will give to man ultimately, not only more than he is bound to give, but more than "it has entered into the heart of man to conceive."

II. THAT THE PROHIBITIONS ARE IN SOME CASES MORE STRINGENT THAN BEFORE. According to the former covenant, idolatrous images were not to be spared; according to this neither images, nor altars, nor groves (Exodus 34:13); according to that, the Sabbath rest was not to be infringed, as a general rule—according to this, not even on account of the most necessary operations of husbandry (Exodus 34:21); according to that, treaties were not to be made with the Canaanitish nations—according to this, neither treaties nor matrimonial alliances. To balance the greater favours, there were imposed greater obligations, whereby was inculcated the lesson that the two are correlative.

III. THE PRECEPTS REIMPOSED WERE, IN ADDITION TO THE DECALOGUE, CHIEFLY THOSE CONNECTED WITH WORSHIP. It was the attraction of a corrupt worship which had caused Israel to fall away. Their best security against a second similar fall would be careful and constant observance of the pure worship prescribed to them. If they kept properly the Sabbath, the great festivals, the laws of sacrifice, of redemption, of first fruits, and whatever was similar to these, it might well content their religious aspirations, and leave no such vacuum in their lives as they had hoped to fill with their calf-worship. True, that many of the precepts could not be observed until they reached Canaan; but, as a compensation, they would have in the wilderness the daily worship—morning and evening—of the tabernacle, and the near presence of God in the pillar of the cloud, not henceforth to be withdrawn from them. The true spiritual life could be amply sustained on these—it was only a pseudo-spiritualism that the calf-worship would have exercised.


Exodus 34:10

I make a covenant.

I. A COVENANT RENEWED. Mark how in connection with this there is—

(1) A new command to ascend the mount.

(2) A new command that the mount shall not be touched.

(3) A new manifestation of the Divine glory. Yet how different!

(4) A new giving of the law.

(5) A new rehearsal (in summary) of the "rights."

(6) A new fast of forty days and forty nights.

II. A COVENANT RENEWED ON THE BASIS OF INTERCESSION. We have even more than this—we have a "shadow of the Cross" (ch. 32:32). Peace made by

(1) mediation,

(2) atonement,

(3) intercession.

The bestowal of the blessing on this ground—

1. Prevented the people from looking lightly on sin, or from imagining that God looked lightly on it.

2. Conserved the Divine honour.

3. Gave a higher value to the gift.

4. Put honour upon Moses.

5. Taught that blessings can be won from God by intercession.—J.O.

Exodus 34:10-29

Revived obligations.

Former instructions are renewed; only, however, so far as relates to the duties of religion. Renewal of the civil code was not required. Subject to this limit, the new book of the covenant (Exodus 34:27) revives, supplements, expands, and endorses the teachings and precepts of the old one. We have in it—

I. PROMISE (Exodus 34:10, Exodus 34:11). God, as on the former occasion (Exodus 23:23-30), pledges himself to drive out all their enemies. The work would be

1. Wonderful—"Before all the people will I do marvels," etc.

2. Terrible—"For it is a terrible thing which I will do with thee." Men have passed the same judgment upon it. God however, called it terrible before they did. They should remember this when they build on it an objection to the Bible. God can do terrible things.

3. Thorough. The extirpation would be complete.

II. CAUTION (Exodus 34:12-18). The Israelites were to beware of being snared into idolatry. To this end they were—

1. To make no league with the Canaanites. "Evil communications corrupt good manners" (1 Corinthians 15:33).

2. To destroy all signs of their idolatrous worship. No good comes of retaining in our midst that which can only be a snare to us.

3. To avoid intermarriages. "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers" (2 Corinthians 6:14).

III. COMMAND (Exodus 34:18-27). The command relates to the three feasts. See former Homilies.—J.O.

Verses 27-35


FINAL DESCENT OF MOSES FROM SINAI. The covenant having been renewed, Moses prepared to descend, having first however received a command to commit to writing the words of this second covenant (Exodus 34:27). He received back the tables from God, inscribed with the Ten Commandments, and after a stay in Sinai of equal duration with the former one (Exodus 34:28), descended, having the tables in his hands. He was not aware that the skin of his face had become radiant (Exodus 34:29), and first learnt the fact by the rulers being afraid to come near him (Exodus 34:30). After conversing with them and with the people he resolved to "put a vail on his face" ordinarily, only taking it off when he "went in before the Lord" into the "tent of meeting," and when, having received a message from the Lord to the people, he came out to deliver it.

Exodus 34:27

Write thou these words. Literally, "write thee these words"—i.e; "write them for thyself and for thy people." According to the tenor of these words have I made a covenant. That is, "the covenant on my part is conditional on the observance of these words on the part of Israel." The "words" intended are those of Exodus 34:10-26.

Exodus 34:28

He was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights. As on the former occasion (Exodus 24:18). The patience and faith of the people was tested by this second long delay. Happily, they stood the test; and on Moses' final descent from Sinai the Israelites were found expectant and obedient (Exodus 34:30-32). He did neither eat bread nor drink water. This was so also on the former occasion (Deuteronomy 9:9), though it is not mentioned in Exodus. The near presence of God sustained the vital powers and made food unnecessary. Moses, Elijah (1 Kings 19:8), and our Lord have alone accomplished a fast of this duration. Modern parodies are not held by scientific men to belong to the category of established facts. He wrote upon the tables. It has been argued from this expression that Moses wrote the words on the second tables; and it would be natural so to understand the passage, had nothing else been said on the subject. But in verse 1 we are told that "God said, I will write upon these tables;" and the same is repeated in Deuteronomy 10:2. Moreover in Deuteronomy 10:4, it is distinctly declared "He" (i.e. God) "wrote on the tables according to the first writing." We must therefore regard "he" in this passage as meaning "the Lord," which is quite possible according to the Hebrew idiom.

Exodus 34:29

The skin of his face shone while he talked with him. Rather, "through his talking with him." The glory of God, as revealed to Moses on this occasion, caused his face to become henceforth radiant. Compare the effect of the transfiguration (Matthew 17:2). The Vulgate wrongly translates haran, "to shine," as if it were derived from keren, "a horn"—whence the painters of mediaeval times commonly represent Moses as horned. St. Paul's words (2 Corinthians 3:7) are conclusive as to the true meaning.

Exodus 34:30

They were afraid. They shrank from Moses, as if he were more than man. (Compare Ezekiel 1:28; Revelation 1:17.) Perhaps they thought that what they saw was his spirit.

Exodus 34:31

Moses called unto them. Moses bade them approach—no doubt assured them that there was no cause for fear (cf. Luke 24:38, Luke 24:39)—and by his manner and familiar voice dispelled their fears and re-assured them. Aaron and all the rulers … returned unto him. Apparently, in their alarm they had drawn back. Being re-assured, they "returned."

Exodus 34:32

All that the Lord had spoken. "All," i.e; "that the Lord had commanded him to enjoin upon them"—especially the precepts in Exodus 34:10-26—not all that he had heard from God in the space of forty days and forty nights.

Exo 34:33 -36

Till Moses had done speaking with them. The Hebrew text will not bear this rendering. All the ancient versions (LXX. Vulg. Syr. etc.) and the Targums agree that the meaning is—"when Moses had done speaking, he put a veil on his face." And this agrees with the plain meaning of Exodus 34:34 and Exodus 34:35, which are to be taken connectedly. Moses first delivered his message with face unveiled, then he veiled himself, and thenceforth he wore a veil at all times except when he sought the Divine presence in the "tent of meeting" or the tabernacle, and when he delivered to the people any message sent them from God by him. He wore the veil ordinarily to prevent them from being dazzled. He took it off when he entered the tabernacle, that the Divine presence might shine fully on him and renew his strength. He kept it off when he returned, if he had any message to the people, until he had delivered it, in order the more fully to authenticate the message and shew to the people that it was from God. Then the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses' face shone (Exodus 34:35). Having discharged himself of the message intrusted to him, he once more covered himself, and continued veiled until he again entered the tabernacle. The only objection that can be taken to this exegesis is derived from 2 Corinthians 3:7-16, which has been thought to imply that Moses wore the veil whenever he was in the sight of the people. But the passage does not really assert any such thing. It is quite enough for the argument, that under the old covenant a veil had been worn to conceal some of its glory. This concealment St. Paul contrasts with the openness of Christianity (2 Corinthians 3:13, 2 Corinthians 3:18); while at the same time he argues that it may be viewed as typical of that blindness and darkness which was characteristic of the Jewish nation of his day.


Exodus 34:29, Exodus 34:30, Exodus 34:35

The shining of Moses' face.

This strange phenomenon, one of the distinctive marks which most closely assimilate the Jewish with the Christian lawgiver, is well worthy of our attentive consideration.

I. AS TO ITS ORIGIN. Admission to the Divine presence within the cloud had not, on the former occasion, left any such visible trace. It cannot, therefore, be ascribed simply to communion with God for a period of a certain duration. We must endeavour to see how the second sojourn in Sinai was differentiated from the first, if we would discover the real cause of the wonder. Now the difference was mainly this: that Moses in the interval had been severely tried, and had emerged from the trial better, purer, fitter for close intercourse with the Supreme. He had shown zeal, fervour, promptness, in checking the revolt against Jehovah; he had shown a spirit of extraordinary self-sacrifice in refusing to become the sole male progenitor of a people whom God would substitute for the existing Israel (Exodus 32:10), and in offering himself as an atonement for the people's sins (Exodus 32:32); and he had shown that persistent importunity in kindly intercession for others (Exodus 33:12-16) with which God is especially pleased. Under these circumstances—thus elevated above his former self—he had been admitted, not only to a second conference of forty days' duration, but also to a special vision—never vouchsafed to any but him—of the Divine glory (Exo 33:8 -28; Exodus 34:5, Exodus 34:6). The radiance that rested on his face is ascribed especially to his long "talk" with God (Exodus 34:29); but we can scarcely doubt that a portion of it was due to the transcendent vision which passed before him prior to the forty days' conference. The brightness then shed upon his face increased from day to day during the long and close communion closer now than before, from his greater fitness; and he, "with open face beholding the glory of the Lord, was changed into the same image from glory to glory" (2 Corinthians 3:18), until his countenance was such that it could not be steadfastly beheld for long; and he, in mercy to his people, veiled it.


1. Its immediate effect was to alarm. "Aaron and the elders were afraid to come nigh him." The unknown and unexpected is always fearful to man; and this was a novelty which might well startle. What did the sight portend? Certainly, an increase of supernatural power. Would this power be used to punish and avenge? Would the radiance burn like fire, or scathe like the thunder-bolt? They could not tell. Knowing their own sinfulness, they trembled, conscience making cowards of them, as it does of us all. And they feared to approach—nay, they drew back—perhaps fled.

2. Its after effect was to increase Moses' authority. The glow was a perpetual credential of his Divine mission. Like the moon, it witnessed, whenever seen, to the absent sun. Always beheld, whenever Moses had any new orders to give, it was a sanction to his entire legislation, and caused the laws which were least palatable to be accepted without resistance. Though it did not prevent partial revolts, it kept the bulk of the nation faithful to their leader for forty years. Even when they did not see the brightness, the veil that hid it showed that it was there. Its presence could never be forgotten. Moses was exalted by it into a condition half-Divine, half-human; and was felt to be marked out by Heaven as the supreme chief of the nation.

III. AS TO ITS INTENT. Its intent would seem to have been—

1. To strengthen and support Moses in his difficult position as leader of a wayward and "stiff-necked" people.

2. To impress the people, and render them more submissive and obedient. (See the preceding section.)

3. To symbolise the great truth, that by drawing near to God, by communion with him, we become like him—like him and ever more like; changing "from glory to glory;" reflecting his attributes, as snow-summits reflect the sunset; receiving from him a real effluence, which shows itself in our lives, in our acts, in our very features. There is in the countenances of God's most advanced servants a brightness, a gladness, a beaming radiance, which can come only of long communion with him, and which is a sensible evidence, to those who "have eyes to see," that they are indeed his friends, his favoured ones. The best artists—Perugino, Francia, Rafaelle sometimes, Fra Angelico, Fra Bartolomeo, Bellini, Luini, Basaiti—express this in their pictures. But it is not a grace that has passed away. The eye that has true spiritual vision may still see among those who walk the earth faces with such unmistakable glow of true piety upon them as marks their owners for God's friends, Christ's loved ones, souls constant in their communion with him who is "the Light of the world," and "in whose light we shall see light."

Exodus 34:33-35

The symbolism of the veil.

The veil upon Moses' face shrouded the glory of his countenance from Israel, except at such times as he spake to them the commands of God. So God himself shrouds his glory from us ordinarily, and only at rare intervals, when he would impress us most deeply, lifts the veil and lets the brightness flash forth. So Christ, when he came on earth, emptied himself of the glory which he had with the Father, hid it away, and seldom let it be seen. Tenderness and compassion for man's weakness is the cause of the concealment in such case. Human nature, while we are in the flesh, cannot bear the blinding light of Divine glory, any more than the eye can bear to gaze upon the noonday sun. The veil was thus, primarily, a token of Moses' love for Israel; but it was also a token of many other things besides; e.g.

I. OF THE DARKNESS AND MYSTERY IN WHICH DIVINE TRUTH WAS SHROUDED UNDER THE MOSAICAL DISPENSATION. The Trinity, the Incarnation, the Atonement, Justification, Sanctification, even Immortality—all the great doctrines which constitute the heart and kernel of true religion, though in a certain sense contained in Mosaism, were concealed, hidden away, wrapt in a veil. Men "saw through a glass darkly" fewer or more of these truths—had, that is, some dim conception of them, but saw none of them clearly till they were "brought to light" by the Gospel. "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation," said holy Simeon, when he looked upon the Lord, then first having made plain to him what had been darkness and cloud previously. Much of the Divine scheme of mail's salvation had been a mystery even to angels until it was revealed to them by and through the Church (Ephesians 3:4-10). When Christ came, and lived, and preached, "the people which sat in darkness saw great light, and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light sprang up" (Matthew 4:16). A solemn thought to Christians that this is so; for responsibility is in proportion to the light vouchsafed. "He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses. Of how much sorer punishment shall he be thought worthy who hath trodden under foot the Son of God?" (Hebrews 10:28, Hebrews 10:29).

II. OF THE BLINDNESS WHICH LIES PERMANENTLY UPON THE HEARTS AND MINDS OF THE JEWS. The veil of obstinate unbelief has so shrouded, and still so shrouds, the intelligence of the race, that, though Moses is read to them every Sabbath day, and the words of the prophets are continually sounded in their ears, they cannot see or understand. Still they remain "fools and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken" (Luke 24:25). Like the Ethiopian eunuch, they "understand not what they read" (Acts 8:31); but, unlike him, they will not accept guidance. "The veil is upon their heart" (2 Corinthians 3:15). Christians should ever pray that the time may come, and come speedily, when "the veil shall be taken away" (2 Corinthians 3:16), and so "all Israel be saved" (Romans 11:26). Hopeless as the task seems, Christians should still labour for the conversion of the eight millions of Jews dispersed throughout the world. Christians should beware lest they themselves, by their sinful lives, intensify and prolong the blindness of Israel, pressing the veil down upon the brows that otherwise might have cast it off, and dimming the brightness of the Gospel of Christ that otherwise might have pierced through the veil's folds, and have given sight to the shrouded eyes.


Exodus 34:29-35

The shining face.


I. THE SHINING OF MOSES' FACE (Exodus 34:29, Exodus 34:30).

(1) A result of personal communion.

(2) A symbol of the glory of his dispensation (2 Corinthians 3:7).

(3) A foreshadowing of the transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8).

(4) Partly a consequence of inward mental exaltation (cf. Acts 6:15). Communion with God, vision of Jesus, the joy of salvation, fulness of spiritual life, make both face and character to shine (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:18).

II. THE FEAR OF THE PEOPLE (Exodus 34:30). The beauty of the glory had something of terror in it. Symbol of the dispensation—"a ministration of death" (2 Corinthians 3:7). See sermon by Dr. John Ker on Moses and Stephen—"The Old Testament and the New".

III. THE VEIL (verses 31-33). The notable fact is that Moses did not veil his face during the time when veiling might seem to be most required, viz; while speaking to the people. The commandments were delivered with the face unveiled. When he had "done" speaking, Moses put this screen before it. The act, therefore, must be taken as symbolic. A symbol—

1. Of the veiled character of the dispensation—types, carnal ordinances, "broken lights," etc. Its "end" was not manifest.

2. Of the veiled hearts of the people. This kept them from perceiving even what might have been seen (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:12-18). The Gospel, in contrast with the law, is an unveiled system (2 Corinthians 3:14). Preachers of the gospel, bearing this in mind, should use" great plain-hess of speech" (verses 11, 12). The later system provides further for the removal of the veil from the heart (verses 16, 17). It ministers "the Spirit."

IV. THE VEIL TAKEN OFF ON ENTERING THE SANCTUARY (verses 34, 35). "When Moses went in before the Lord," etc. Again symbolic—

1. Of what is necessary for the removal of the veil from the heart. It must "turn to the Lord" (2 Corinthians 3:16). The instant it does so the veil will be taken away (verse 16).

2. Of the privilege of Christian believers. They are admitted to gaze "with unveiled face" on the "glory of the Lord" (verse 18).

V. RESEMBLANCES AND CONTRASTS. Compare and contrast the privilege of Moses with that now enjoyed by believers in Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18).

1. Resemblances.

(1) Both have a vision of the divine glory.

(2) Both are admitted to gaze upon it with face "unveiled."

(3) On both the vision exercises a transforming influence.

(4) Both must "go in" to the divine presence in order to obtain it.

2. Contrasts.

(1) It is a higher glory which is revealed in Christ.

(2) That, the privilege of one man; this, the privilege of all—"we all."

(3) That, an external transfiguration; this, spiritual.

(4) That, a transitory glory; this, permanent and progressive. "From glory to glory."—J.O.


Exodus 34:29-35

The shining of Moses' face.

I. THE PHENOMENON ITSELF. The skin of Moses' face shone. As to the precise manner of this shining, it is of course vain to speculate; but we may be tolerably certain it was not anything in the way of a mere reflection from a mirror. It must surely have been the shining out for a little while of some glorious gift which had entered, if one may say so, into the bodily constitution of Moses. There may be some connection of this glory with the miraculous sustaining of his life without the eating of bread, or the drinking of water. Thus we are led to consider what wondrous capabilities there may be in matter, capabilities beyond our present knowledge to conceive. Even with unorganised matter, man himself has been able to do much. And the God of the physical universe has shown us how many wonders, beauties, and enjoyments rise out of matter under the power of vital action. Think of all that is exquisite in form, colour, and fragrance in plant-life. Think of the refinement which distinguishes the face of a cultivated man from that of some embruted savage. Think of that best of all charms visible in the face of one who is truly good. Then think, on the other side, of the degradations of matter. Think of the physical results of sottishness and sensuality. Think of the putrescence and corruption which seem to dominate a body when its principle of life has passed away. We shall then feel how, beyond anything we can at present conceive, there may be on the one hand an exaltation of matter, and on the other a degradation of it.

II. THE UNCONSCIOUSNESS OF MOSES. He wist not that the skin of his face shone in this way. Of some change within him during the time when he was with God in the mount, he was doubtless conscious. He may have felt himself getting a clearer view of Jehovah's purposes, and a heartier fellow-feeling with respect to them. He may have felt himself conscious of a remarkable approach to inward holiness and purity; but of this outward and visible expression of it he knew nothing at all. That which was intolerable to his deeply-polluted brethren, so much alienated in heart from God, was utterly unperceived by him. Thus effectually separated from his brethren, the separation came from no pretension of his own, but from an inevitable confession made by those who once and again tried to repudiate him. He who is filled with the spirit of God becomes more glorious than he can imagine. And from those who live near to God, we may be sure there goes out an influence, which, though they themselves be utterly unconscious of it, is yet most mighty in its effect on others. As Moses came down from the mountain, he would be anxiously thinking how he could convey to the people some sense of that which he himself had been privileged to see. He may have despaired of putting into words the impression made on his mind; but now behold God has taken the matter into his own hands. When we take care to keep right Godwards, God will take care that we are kept right and powerful manwards. Our greatest impression upon men is to be made, not by that which we are labouring to achieve, but by that which we achieve unconsciously, when we become as much as possible mere instruments of the wisdom and power coming from above.

III. THE CONDUCT OF THE PEOPLE. It is not made clear as to whether the people were unable to gaze upon the splendour of Moses' face through the excess of light which radiated thence, or whether they were filled with superstitious terror because one who hitherto had looked but as themselves had become so changed in appearance. Probably the latter way of accounting for their conduct comes nearest to the truth. They were afraid of Moses, much as the disciples were of Jesus when they saw him walking on the lake and thought it was an apparition. Hence we have another instance of how men, whom God made to be so near to him, yet through their alienation from him, and constant immersion in earthly concerns, start back when there is some overwhelming manifestation of the unearthly and the divine. Presence of mind is lost just when presence of mind would be most helpful. Moses put on the veil in necessary toleration of human weakness; but we should always read of such necessities with a feeling of humiliation. In only too many things these ungodly Israelites are our representatives. God, who is our benefactor, cannot reveal himself in all his glory, because of our weakness. When God honoured and enriched the mediator Moses by putting a divine splendour into his countenance, as he came down among men with the laws of a holy and a happy life, this very splendour became a cause of abject terror rather than of confidence and gladness. Yet when the final Mediator came, full of grace and truth, men rushed to the other extreme. They could see no divinity and authority, and in their contempt and presumption, put the Mediator to death. It is very difficult for men to make a right estimate of the outward shows of things.—Y.


Exodus 34:28-35

Fellowship with God and its fruits.


1. The length of his sojourn—forty days and forty nights. Time sped unmarked in the presence and fellowship of God. The future glory an untiring joy. The redeemed serve him day and night in his temple.

2. Lower wants were forgotten: "he did neither eat bread nor drink water." The need of the body was unfelt in the satisfying of the desires of the spirit. "In thy presence is fulness of joy." To escape from temptation we have only to enter into the presence of God and to let the eye rest upon his glory.


1. The descent of Moses, radiant with the glory of God, the type of Jesus in his coming again the second time without sin unto salvation.

2. A prophecy of the after glory of them who believe. "They that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever." "We shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is."

3. An example of the present glory of those who have fellowship with him who is light. We are "light in the Lord."

4. Its effect upon the worldly and the sinful. They were afraid to come nigh. It awakens conscience. It proves the reality of the Unseen. It reveals the distance between the soul and God.

III. THE VEILING OF MOSES' FACE. He was unconscious of the glory: "he wist not that his face shone." The vision of God is ever accompanied with lowly self-judgment.

2. It was not worn ostentatiously. We may not boast of our nearness to God. Vanity in the Divine life is an impossibility.

3. The glory was veiled in accordance with the dispensation which alone these men were able to receive. The whole law with its types and shadows was a veiling of the sun of righteousness, and the redemption glory. We must meet men where they are that they may be led to God. The Apostle who spoke "wisdom among them that were perfect" knew how to give milk also to babes in Christ and to speak to the carnal.—U.


Exodus 34:29

Moses wist not that the skin of his face shone while he talked with him.

His face "shone"—literally, "shot out rays"—as we say, was irradiated, became radiant. Notice:

I. THE CAUSE OF THE PHENOMENON. "Talked with him." Self had been forgotten in communion with Jehovah, in hearing him and attending to his utterances. It is from such communion as this that the radiant countenance results.

1. What the communion is. God a Spirit. Communion must be spiritual The fleshly face cannot directly reflect spiritual light, that light "which never was on sea or land." Spirit is kindled by spirit, the human by the Divine, when spirit meets with spirit and realizes the sympathy which exists between them.

2. What the communion does. The illuminated spirit, reflecting God, kindled into brilliancy by his light, cannot but shine out through the fleshly envelope which shrouds it. [Illustration: As opaque porcelain shade to lamp, so is the body to the spirit; light the lamp, illuminate the spirit, and the shade, in either case, becomes radiant.] If you would have a happy face, a radiant countenance, you must first have an illuminated spirit. That can only be gained from the Fount of light in and through communion with God.

II. UNCONSCIOUSNESS OF THE SUBJECT OF THE PHENOMENON. "Wist not." His face was radiant, but Moses knew nothing of it. His mind was so full of God that his attention was drawn off from all thought of his appearance. Notice:

1. All sincerity forgets egotism (F. W. Robertson). Attention is a fixed quantity; to fix it on God is to draw it off from self [cf. a lock on a river; open the flood-gates of communion and the level of self-love is soon lowered].

2. Radiancy cannot be obtained by trying for it. If aim in prayer is to increase self-glory, it cannot succeed. God first; God all in all; then comes the illumination, and the light flows forth. Self lost in God [cf. wick saturated with oil] before we can ray out the light of God. How many selfish prayers are offered, and the countenances of those who offer them are often anything but radiant! The puritanical cast of countenance repels by its gloom rather than by its brilliancy. The best prayer is that which rises from communion; which seeks first, as in Christ's model prayer, that God's name may be hallowed, and his kingdom come, and his will be done, before going on further to seek satisfaction for personal needs.

Conclusion.—Do you want to have a radiant face? The best way is not to think about it. Lose self, as Moses did, in communion with God; then your face will be radiant, though you know it not.—G.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Exodus 34". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tpc/exodus-34.html. 1897.
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