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Bible Commentaries

Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments
Exodus 33

 

 

Verses 1-23

Exodus 33:2. I will send an angel: a created angel. Proof demonstrative that the christian fathers are all correct in declaring that the Angel of the covenant, in Exodus 3:2; Exodus 3:6; Genesis 48:16; and other places, was the Messiah, JEHOVAH, the Lord God of the fathers.

Exodus 33:4. No man did put on his ornaments. When the body is decorated with gems and costly apparel, it is far from being a sign of humiliation and repentance in the sight of God. But the Syriac reads, “and no one assumed his arms,” which implies that the Israelites submitted themselves to the divine disposal. The people came armed to Samuel at Mizpeh, a general custom among ancient nations, which still subsists, as Mr. Campbell states, among the Caffres.

Exodus 33:5. Put off thy ornaments. It was a custom to lay aside their best raiment in times of affliction, and to wail and lament like the dragons and the owls. Micah 1:8.

Exodus 33:7. Took the tabernacle, and pitched it without the camp. If God would not go with the people, his tent, used in a devotional way till the Mystical Tabernacle was built, must not remain among them. By this act Moses regarded the people as almost excommunicated.

Exodus 33:11. Face to face; that is, familiar, as with a friend; for he was told, Exodus 33:20, that he could not see the face of God and live. God spake to him without a mediator, and without any special sacrifice.

Exodus 33:14. My presence shall go with thee. פני Panai, my faces shall go with thee, the light of my countenance, variously manifested, according to circumstances, and so as to meet every want and difficulty; my omnipotent arm shall give thee the land, and preserve thee a separate people. What promise can be more encouraging to a minister in his work, or a christian in his pilgrimage! It is enough for suffering saints and pilgrims to have a God.

Exodus 33:19. I will make all my goodness. My blessedness, my light; or I will reveal to thee all my goodwill to men; or I will manifest my name, as in Exodus 34:5-6.—I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious. That is, I will be gracious to thee, and to the people for whom thou hast prayed; but not without a holy distinction; for those who presumptuously offend shall die. And in the issue, I will be gracious to the gentiles also. Thus the Almighty diversifies his favours.

Exodus 33:23. Thou shalt see my back parts. Here Moses was favoured with a vision of the Messiah incarnate, but he saw not his face. This was reserved for the happy age when God jointly favoured him and Elijah, and the three disciples, with that high honour on the mount. Matthew 17. There is not perhaps a text in all the sacred writings which more strikingly proves, that christianity is built on the foundation of Moses and the prophets.

REFLECTIONS.

Though the Lord had pardoned the iniquity of his people, in the worship of the golden calf; yet it was with such present punishments, and menaces of future visitation as were very intimidating, and calculated to preserve them from the contagion of idolatry. One of those punishments he here repeats, which affected them more than all the others; it was to withdraw the cloud of his glory, and leave them to the care of an angel.

Seeing the sacred tent removed from the centre to the extremity of the camp, they expected the awful threat to have been put into immediate execution. Every man stood at the door of his tent, and looked on with anxiety and fear. And behold, the cloudy pillar removed, and stood at the door of the tabernacle, where prayer was made. And all the people, when they saw the cloud move, prostrated at the door of their tents, and prayed earnestly that he would not remove his glory from among them. They joined with Moses in the fervent request, though unable to hear his voice, “If thou go not with us, send us not up out of this place.” Let the christian church learn of afflicted Israel, to esteem the divine presence above every honour and comfort which earth can afford. If once the glory of God should depart from the sanctuary, we have every thing to fear.

In order that God may not forsake us, nor take away his Holy Spirit when gross sins have been committed, let us mourn like offending Israel, nor dare immodestly to decorate ourselves, and display a vain parade of pride in his presence. What can those votaries of the follies and fashions of the day mean, by appearing in the house of God dressed so as scarcely to escape the censure of a profane theatre! Do they think that the Most High, who seeks his temple in the humblest heart, is like the giddy age, attracted by the splendour of exterior decorations? After profaning the early part of the sacred sabbath, after neglecting secret devotion through an excessive attention to dress, do they think that the Lord will accept their public service when they enter his house as a levee, merely to pay him a sort of civil homage and pompous respect. Ah, no! He resisteth the proud, but giveth grace to the humble. No, not one among the mourners of Israel put on his ornaments: they arrayed themselves in the more acceptable dispositions of a broken spirit and a contrite heart.

It was by repeated and fervent prayers, by humiliation and unfeigned repentance, that God was entreated to reverse the sentence, and promise that his presence should go with the people. How holy: how jealous is the Lord our God! How slow to anger: how easy to be entreated. When Israel murmured for water, and murmured for bread and flesh, the Lord passed by the transgression of his people: but here was a total revolt, and a revolt of the grossest kind. And what could have been expected, but that he would either have consumed them in a moment, or totally withdrawn the visible marks of his presence? But how soon his anger is turned away; how readily does he promise to continue his presence among them. And this God is our God: he governs us by the same gracious laws. We have indeed so often provoked him, that he might have given us up to our own way. But oh the riches of his mercy; we still live, and live to praise him; and we hope to praise him in the land he has promised to give us for an everlasting inheritance.

These very encouraging marks of the divine condescension, made Moses desire to see his glow; for as yet he had seen it only in the cloud. Men most favoured with interior marks of his love shed abroad in the heart are often animated with strong desires to see him as he is, and to be transformed into all the glory of his image: and while our desires after holiness and heaven are strong, we do not ask in vain. We anticipate future felicity. The Lord hides us in the cleft of the rock, and causes his goodness to pass before us. Oh the heaven, the unutterable heaven which meditation and prayer sometimes bring down into the soul. Oh the goodness of God which appears in the gift of Jesus Christ, and in all the grace which comes through him. While the soul is engaged in the contemplation of grace so abundant, and of a hope so glorious, earth retires, and loses all its charms. All the beauties of nature are eclipsed, and are accounted as nothing in comparison of the excellent knowledge of Jesus Christ the Lord.

The beatific vision was here expressly promised. Where are those philosophical divines, pests of the church, who say, that in all the writings of Moses no mention is made of a future state? Do they mean to insinuate, that God would trifle with a happy soul in the ecstasy of its devotion. Let them make the request of Moses, to see the glory or the face of God; and let them hear his voice saying, that no man can see it and live; and let them frankly say, whether they would not understand it as a declaration that men may see it in the life to come. On this immortality let all our confidence be reposed, it will sustain us under all the trials of life; and let our flesh rest in hope, for our bones shall not remain in Egypt.

 


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Bibliography Information
Sutcliffe, Joseph. "Commentary on Exodus 33:4". Sutcliffe's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jsc/exodus-33.html. 1835.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, May 29th, 2020
the Seventh Week after Easter
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