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Bible Commentaries

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical
Exodus 34

 

 

Verses 1-35

THIRD SECTION

The New Tables of the Law for the People prone to a Hierarchy. Clearer Revelation of God’s Grace. Sterner Prohibition of Idolatry. Stricter Commands concerning the Passover, the First-born, the Sabbath, and the Feasts. Return of Moses with the Tables. Moses’ Shining Face and his Veil

Exodus 34:1-35.

A.—The new stone tables for the divine writing

Exodus 34:1-4

1And Jehovah said unto Moses, Hew thee two tables of stone like unto the first: and I will write upon these [the] tables the words that were in [on] the first tables, which thou brakest 2 And be ready in the morning, and come [go] up in the morning unto mount Sinai, and present thyself there to me in [on] the top of the mount 3 And no man shall come [go] up with thee, neither let any [and also let no] man be seen throughout [in] all the mount; neither let the flocks nor [also let not theflocks and the] herds feed before that mount 4 And he hewed two tables of stone like unto the first; and Moses rose up early in the morning, and went up unto mount Sinai, as Jehovah had commanded him, and took [him: and he took] in his hand the [hand] two tables of stone.

B.—Jehovah’s grand proclamation of Jehovah’s grace on mount sinai—henceforth an accompaniment of the tables of the law

Exodus 34:5-10

5And Jehovah descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed 6 the name of Jehovah. And Jehovah passed by before him, and proclaimed, Jehovah, Jehovah God, merciful [Jehovah, a God merciful] and gracious, long-suffering, 7and abundant in goodness [kindness] and truth, Keeping mercy [kindness] for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will [sin: but he will][FN1] by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children [of fathers upon children] and upon the [upon] children’s children, unto8[upon] the third and to [upon] the fourth generation. And Moses made haste, and bowed his head toward [himself to] the earth, and worshipped 9 And he said, If now I have found grace in thy sight, O Jehovah, let my Lord [the Lord], I pray thee, go among us; for it is a stiff-necked people; and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for thine inheritance 10 And he said, Behold, I make a covenant: before all thy people I will do marvels, such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation: and all the people among which thou art shall see the work of Jehovah: for it is a terrible thing that I will do with thee.

C.—The golden calf an occasion for a most stringent prohibition of intercourse with the heathen canaanites. The more definite establishment of the Israelitish commonwealth in its negative relations

Exodus 34:11-17

11Observe thou that which I command thee this day: behold, I drive out before [from before] thee the Amorite, and the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite 12 Take heed to thyself, lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land whither thou goest, lest it be for [become] a snare in the midst of thee: 13But ye shall destroy [tear down] their altars, break their images, and cut down their groves [Asherim]:[FN2] 14For thou shalt worship no other God: for Jehovah whose name is Jealous, is [Jehovah—his name is Jealous;he is] a jealous God: 15Lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they go a whoring after their gods, and do [and] sacrifice unto their gods, and one call thee, and thou eat of his sacrifice; 16And thou take of their daughters unto thy sons, and their daughters go a whoring after their gods, and make thy sons go a whoring after their gods 17 Thou shalt make thee no molten gods.

D.—Leading positive features of the religious commonwealth of Israel. Supplementary laws likewise occasioned by the newly arisen necessity of emphasizing the distinctions

Exodus 34:18-24

18The feast of unleavened bread shalt thou keep. Seven days thou shalt eat unleavened bread, as I commanded thee in the time [set time] of the month Abib: for in the month Abib thou camest out from Egypt 19 All that openeth the matrix [womb] is mine: and every firstling among thy cattle, whether ox or sheep, that is male [all thy male cattle, the first-born of ox and sheep]. 20But the firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb: and if thou redeem him not, then shalt thou break his neck. All the first-born of thy sons thou shalt redeem. And none shall appear before me empty 21 Six days thou shalt work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest: in earing [ploughing] time and in harvest thou shalt rest 22 And thou shalt observe the feast of weeks, of the first-fruits of wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year’s end 23 Thrice in the year shall all your men-children24[thy males] appear before the Lord God [Jehovah], the God of Israel. For I will cast out the nations before [from before] thee, and enlarge thy borders: neither shall any man desire thy land, when thou shalt go [goest] up to appear before Jehovah thy God thrice in the year.

E.—The three symbolic principal rules for theocratic culture

Exodus 34:25-26

25Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leaven [leavened bread]; neither shall the sacrifice of the feast of the passover be left unto the morning 26 The first of the first-fruits of thy land [ground] thou shalt bring unto the house of Jehovah thy God. Thou shalt not seethe [boil] a kid in his [its] mother’s milk.

F.—Moses’ lofty and inspired mood at the renewed giving of the law. Contrast between the present and the other descent from the mountain

Exodus 34:27-35

27And Jehovah said unto Moses, Write thou these words: for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel 28 And he was there with Jehovah forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant the ten commandments 29 And it came to pass, when Moses came down from mount Sinai with the two tables of [of the] testimony in Moses’ hand, when he came down from the mount, that Moses wist [knew] not that the skin of his face shone[FN3] while he talked30[because of his talking] with him. And when [And] Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold [and behold], the skin of his face shone; and they were afraid to come nigh him 31 And Moses called unto them; and Aaron and all the rulers of the congregation returned unto him: and Moses talked with [spake unto] them 32 And afterward all the children of Israel came nigh; and he gave them in 33 commandment all that Jehovah had spoken with him in mount Sinai. And till Moses had done speaking [And Moses left off speaking] with them, he [and he] put a veil on his face 34 But when Moses went in before Jehovah to speak with him, he took the veil off, until he came out. And he came out and spake unto the children of Israel that which he was commanded 35 And the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses’ face shone: and Moses put the veil upon his face again, until he went in to speak with him.

TEXTUAL AND GRAMMATICAL

[ Exodus 34:7. The A. V. here entirely neglects the accentuation, and thus almost creates a paradox out of these antithetic clauses. By translating וְנַקֵּה as a relative clause (and that will, etc.), it makes the impression that the same construction is continued, whereas not only does the Athnach precede it, but, instead of the participle of the preceding clause, we have here a finite verb without the Relative Pronoun. The A. V, moreover, makes the chief division of the verse before “visiting,” contrary to the Hebrew accentuation, which, quite in accordance with the sense, connects the last clause with the declaration: “he will not clear,” etc.; the confusion of thought is thus made complete.—Tr.].

[ Exodus 34:13. The word אֲשֵׁרָה, here and elsewhere rendered “groves” in the A. V, always refers either to a heathen goddess or to images representing her—commonly the latter, especially when (as here and most frequently) it is used in the plural (אֲשֵׂרִים). It must denote the goddess, e.g. in 1 Kings 15:13, whore it is said: “She had made an idol for Asherah” (A. V. “in a grove”). This goddess sometimes seems to be identical with Ashtaroth. For particulars vid the Lexicons and Encyclopedias. That the word cannot mean “grove” is sufficiently shown by such passages as 2 Kings 23:10, where the Asherim are said to have been set up in every high hill and under every green tree; and 2 Kings 17:6, where it is said that Josiah “brought out the Asherah from the house of the Lord.”—Tr.].

[ Exodus 34:29. The verb קָרַן occurs only in this section in Kal; it is used once ( Psalm 69:31) in Hiphil, where it means “to have horns,” while the noun קֶרֶן ordinarily means “horn.” Hence originated the Latin translation of the Vulgate “cornuta,” “horned;” and this accounts for the notion, incorporated in art representations of Moses, that he had horns growing out of his face. The point of resemblance is in the appearance of the rays of a luminary shooting out like horns.—Tr.].

EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL

This chapter contains the acme and bloom of the Mosaic Revelation, and Song of Solomon, of the three middle books of the Pentateuch. In the first place, the renewed law is wholly removed into the light of grace by Jehovah’s grand proclamation of the significance of the name Jehovah—Jehovah’s own proclamation on Sinai itself concerning the very name Jehovah, that it means that He is “a God merciful, gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in grace and truth,” etc.:—all this most prominently; but for this very reason, next in prominence, and on account of His righteousness, that He is a punisher of all sin and guilt

Next, the Israelitish community is put on its guard against the danger of wrong intercourse with the Canaanites; and everything severe that is ordained against these is founded on a religious and moral ground. In contrast with the corruptions of the heathen worship the outlines of the worship designed for Israel are then summarily given, and finally the great blessing of peace secured by this worship is proclaimed. In this attempt to give the main features of the chapter a universal application, the specific precepts inserted in Exodus 34:25-26, create a difficulty. We regard them as symbolic precepts, requiring a strict form of worship, sanctified culture, humane festivity free from luxury. The last section, however, presents unmistakably the real glory of the Mosaic covenant in Moses’ shining face (vid. 2 Corinthians 3:7).

a. The New Stone Tables for the Divine Writing. Exodus 34:1-4.

Exodus 34:1. And Jehovah said unto Moses. Keil holds that Moses has already restored the covenant-relation through his intercession, according to Exodus 33:14. But if we refer to the first ratification of the covenant, we find that it presupposed the preparation of the tables of the law and a covenant-feast. Since now nothing is said of a new covenant-feast, Keil’s assumption may in some sense be admitted. For the covenant is not simply restored; it is at the same time modified. The law is now made to rest on pardon, and is accompanied by Jehovah’s proclamation of grace; yet nevertheless in many of its provisions it is made stricter in this chapter. The relation between the tabernacle and the camp is made more hierarchical; and in relation to His form of Revelation, Jehovah distinguishes more sharply between His face and the display of His essence. But with the notion of the face[FN4] is introduced also a further development of Revelation, as also with the proclamation of grace. Jehovah’s command, Hew thee two tables of stone, leads Keil to express the opinion that the first tables, both as to writing and material, “originated with God,” as contrasted with any co-operation from Moses, i.e. that they were made by God in an entirely supernatural way. This literalness of interpretation is made to receive support from the distinction between “tables of stone” ( Exodus 24:12; Exodus 31:18) and “tables of stones” ( Exodus 34:1; Exodus 34:4 of this chapter).[FN5] Hengstenberg and Baum-garten have in a similar way vexed themselves with this variation of the letter. It is barely possible that the stony hardness of the law was meant to be more strongly emphasized in the second case than in the first.

Exodus 34:3. And no man.—The sharp command not to approach the mountain Isaiah, it is true, substantially a repetition of the previous one; but it is to be considered that the mountain after the conclusion of the covenant had been made accessible up to a certain height to Aaron, his two oldest sons, and the seventy elders of Israel—nay, that they had been invited by Jehovah to celebrate there a feast. This is now changed since the sin in the matter of the golden calf.

Exodus 34:4. And Moses hewed two tables of stone.—Was he obliged to do it himself, because he had broken the first, as Rashi holds? Or, was he not rather obliged to do it before the eyes of the people, in order by this act to give the people another sermon? The tables were designed for the ten words ( Exodus 34:1)—a truth which ought to be self-evident, though Göthe and Hitzig have conjectured that the precepts of Exodus 34:12-26 are meant; vid. Keil’s note II, p239. The Epistle of Barnabas (Epistola XIV.) takes quite another view, and gives an allegorical interpretation of the difference between the first tables and the second. It was not till now that the ten words of the instruction (thorah, law), the angelic words ( Acts 7:53), really became words of stony ordinance.

*b. The grand Proclamation of Grace on Sinai, henceforth an Accompaniment of the Tables of the Law. Exodus 34:5-10.

Exodus 34:5. And Jehovah descended.—This is the heading. Then in Exodus 34:6 first follows the fulfilment of the promise that He would let all His goodness pass before him. The narrative goes beyond this in the grandly mysterious expression, “Jehovah passed by before him.” Then follows the proclamation. Here much depends on the construction. Would Jehovah Himself call out “Jehovah, Jehovah?” This is a form of expression appropriate to human adoration, but not to the mouth of Jehovah Himself. We therefore construe thus: “and Jehovah proclaimed”—a rendering favored by the fact that we are thus obliged to make a decided pause after the words, “Jehovah passed by before him.”[FN6] Jehovah, then, has expounded the name Jehovah on Mount Sinai; and what is the proclamation? It is not said, Jehovah is the Eternal one, but Jehovah as the Strong one (אֵל) is Lord of time, in that He remains the same yesterday, to-day, and forever, in His faithfulness. His loving-kindness (חֶסֶד) branches out in compassion (He is רַחוּם) on the miserable, grace (He is חַנּוּן) towards the guilty, long-suffering towards human weakness and perverseness. But He is rich in His loving-kindness and in the reconciliation of it with His truth, or faithfulness (אֱמֶת). His kindness He keeps unto the thousands (beginning with one pardoned man); in His truth He takes away (as Judges, Expiator, and Sanctifier) guilt, unfaithfulness, and sins; but He also lets not the least offence pass unpunished, but visits, in final retribution, the guilt of the transgression of fathers upon children and children’s children, upon the third and the fourth generation—grand-children and great-grand-children, vid. Exodus 20. As Elijah afterwards covered his face with his mantle at the still small voice, Moses at these words quickly prostrates himself on the ground. Thus the presentiment and the anticipation of the Gospel casts the strongest heroes of the law upon their faces in homage, vid. Luke 9:30-31. The petition which Moses feels encouraged by this great revelation of grace to offer is also a proof that the first covenant relation is not yet quite restored. He asks that Jehovah Himself, as the Lord (אֲדֹנָי) may go with them. This must mean, as a mighty, stern ruler of the stiff-necked people, in distinction from the angel of Jehovah’s face; this is one point. But he then asks that God, as the Lord, may go with them in the very midst of them, not merely go before them at a distance; this is the second point, little in harmony with the first. For it is again in a more definite form, as in the petition, “let me see thy face”—a petition for New Testament relations, a petition for the presence of Jehovah as the guiding Lord in the midst of the congregation. The addition, “for it is a stiff-necked people,” would be a poor reason for the request, were it not this time an excuse for the people’s sin on the ground of their natural slavery to sin, their inborn wretchedness, which makes it necessary that the personal presence of the Lord should be vouchsafed in order to overcome and control it. The thing aimed at in his petition is perfect fellowship; hence he says, “Pardon our iniquity and our sin, and make us thine inheritance.” He has in mind an ideal servile relation bordering on the N. T. idea of adoption, but one more likely to be realized in the N. T. hierarchy, just as the Platonic ideal state is realized in monasticism. Jehovah’s answer now does not point to a complete restoration of the violated covenant, but as little does it involve an immediate promise of the new covenant; He describes rather His future rule as a constant, continuous establishment of a covenant (הִנֵּה אֲנֹכִי כֹּרֵת, “behold, I am making a covenant”), a transition, therefore, from the old covenant, which already as a legal covenant has been violated, to a new covenant. And this is the means by which He will establish it: “Before all thy people I will do marvels.” The miracles are by this description put above all others that have been done in all the earth. “All the people in the midst of which thou art,” it is said in contrast with Moses’ desire that Jehovah should be in the midst of them, “shall see the work of Jehovah, how terribly great that is which I shall accomplish with thee.” Thus Moses himself is prominently elevated and appointed to be the animating soul of the people; the sublime and terrifying miracles of Jehovah are to proceed from Jehovah’s intercourse with him as the administrator of the law. Doubtless the sight which the people are to have of these miracles is designed to be a salutary one; but the strong expression indicates the decisive solemnity of the sight. Keil makes prominent among the terrible works of Jehovah the overthrow of all the powers that hostilely resist the kingdom of God.

Keil says: “This ‘sermon on the name of the Lord,’ as Luther calls it, discloses to Moses the inmost essence of Jehovah. It proclaims that God is love.” But in this way the old covenant is made the perfect new one. It is true, however, that here compassion, grace, and long-suffering are combined by means of kindness and truth—not merely in addition to kindness and truth—with holiness and justice, and that grace here appears in the foreground. Keil also rightly notices the collective expression, “it is a stiff-necked people; and pardon our iniquity,” etc. Keil’s remark, moreover, that “the reference made to the natural ground of the sin mitigates the wrath,” is not Augustinian.

According to Knobel Jehovah is to call out His name to Moses only in order that he may by means of it recognize Jehovah’s appearance. Also he makes נַקֵּה לֹא יְנַקֶּת mean, “He will not leave entirely unpunished.”[FN7] Exodus 34:9-28 he calls a repetition, and therefore ascribes to the “second narrator.”

*c. The Golden Calf an Occasion for a most Stringent Prohibition of Intercourse with the Heathen Canaanites. The more Definite Establishment of the Israelitish Commonwealth negatively considered. Exodus 34:11-17

To the religion of the law, supplemented by the proclamation of grace, corresponds the religious community, destined to be the upholders of this religion. A more exact fixing of their relation than that laid down in Exodus 23:23 has become necessary on account of the affair of the golden calf. In the paragraph before us this community is defined chiefly in a negative way. It has been already said, that Jehovah would drive out the Canaanites (vid. the names, Exodus 23:23), but not all at once. This may well refer to a destruction of them in war, but not to a destruction of them in so far as they have submitted themselves to the civil law. We know how, as being strangers, they are even put under the protection of the law. But inasmuch as they may tend to ruin Israel with their heathenish abominations, all intimate alliances with them are forbidden at the outset. Religion is the thing here chiefly concerned. The signs of a public heathen worship, especially the wooden pillars of the voluptuous worship, as well as the images of Asherah, they are to extirpate; they are to destroy the seductive symbols wherever found. There is here no trace of a persecution of private religious opinions and devotions. Moreover, the reason for that severity is given in Exodus 34:14 : it is to secure the adoration of the true God, who is jealous of His relation to Israel. Over against the dark, voluptuous religious worship is presented the pure image of conjugal fellowship between Jehovah and His people (vid. Keil II, p243)—a representation growing more and more definite all the way through the Scriptures to the Apocalypse, and introduced as early as Exodus 20:5, where Jehovah is called קַנָּא [“jealous”] in the giving of the law—an expression which twice recurs here. As heathen idolatry is in itself to be regarded as whoredom, i.e. as apostasy from the living God, so the Canaanitish heathenism particularly has developed within itself the consequences of moral whoredom. But Israel may become involved in this double whoredom, especially in two ways. In the first place, by taking part in the seductive sacrificial meals of the heathen, to which they will be invited, as afterwards such participation became a snare to the people at Shittim ( Numbers 25); but especially by intermarriages between Israelitish sons and heathen women, such as afterwards caused Solomon to fall. The dangerous influence of female bigotry on the religion of the men, the dangerousness, therefore, of mingling religions in marriage, is thus early expressed with the strongest words of warning. An impure marriage—often induced by lustful views of spiritual Asherah-images—easily works destruction to the archetype of pure marriage, the relation of Jehovah to His congregation. Therefore also the law here expressly treats of the setting up of molten gods, as being a transition to the lapse into complete idolatry. On the notion of whoredom in the religious sense, as well as on the names Asherah and Astarte, comp. especially Winer, Realwörterbuch. That the name Asherah denotes the idol-image of Astarte, the Syrian goddess, who was worshipped with voluptuous rites, is proved by the fact that it stands together with other monuments, and can be destroyed; but whether the form of it suggests Phallic worship is not determined; at all events the name might indicate something of the sort, as containing an allusion to lust.[FN8] The LXX. and Luther [so A. V.] have rendered the word by “grove” (idol-grove).

d. Leading Positive Features of the Religious Commonwealth of Israel. Exodus 34:18-24

The leading features of the theocratic commonwealth are sacred feasts, resting on the facts and doctrines which have given the community an organized existence. This section insists on the three chief feasts of Israel as essential to the life of the Israelitish commonwealth. But why is the first feast, which is a double feast, called the feast of unleavened bread rather than the Passover? The unleavened bread was the symbol of separation from Egypt and heathenism—a separation combined with abstemiousness; for this reason probably this idea is here made prominent, since the thing in point is to establish a perpetual opposition to heathenism. With this there is also united the fundamental law of the sacrifice of renunciation. With the claim actually made by Jehovah on all the male firstborn is asserted His right to all that are born, as being represented by the first-born; or, conversely, the entire dependence of the people, with all their possessions, on Jehovah. This consecration of the first-born has three leading forms. The first-born son is by birth a priest; he must therefore be released by an offering from the service legally required of priests. Also the first-born ass (this code of laws knows nothing of horses) must be either ransomed or killed. The first-born of cattle is the choicest offering; the calf, moreover, as an offering from among the larger animals, forms a suggestive contrast to the calf as an idol. It is then intimated, furthermore, that other offerings, besides those of the first-born, are to be brought, in the expression: “None shall appear before me empty.”

The first distinction between the people of God and heathendom involves renunciation of the world; the second, labor. In heathendom labor and holidays are confusedly blended; in the theocracy a clear contrast is made. Labor is marked by the time devoted to it, the weekdays. The Sabbath, as the seventh day, marks consecrated labor which has reached its goal in a holiday. After seven weeks, or seven times seven days, comes next the second feast, the feast of weeks, Pentecost. The grain harvest, which began after the Passover-Sabbath, is now finished; the feast of harvest is celebrated as the annual festival of the blessing of labor. The feast which embodies the highest form of theocratic enjoyment, the feast of the fruit-gathering and the vintage, or the feast of tabernacles, is here only briefly mentioned. It forms a contrast to the first feast of harvest; for Pentecost is the feast of the daily bread which is obtained by labor and at last by reaping, and two specimens of which are laid on the altar. The feast of tabernacles is the feast of the gathering up of the blessing poured out by God in gifts which contribute to joy and prosperity. This festival of joy and blessing is the real vital oil of the theocratic community. It Isaiah, however, a condition of the three feasts, that all the men (voluntary attendance of women and children not being excluded) must appear three times a year before Jehovah, i.e. at the sanctuary. There is something grand in the assurance of the security which the land will enjoy, in that no danger will accrue from the going up to the feasts. But never was the nation stronger and more warlike than when it had in this way obtained concentration and inspiration (vid. Exodus 12:15; Exodus 13:6; Exodus 13:12; Exodus 23:17; Leviticus 16, 23; Numbers 29). Knobel records only one contradiction in this section.

e. The Three Symbolic Principal Rules for Theocratic Culture. Exodus 34:25-26

The first of these main rules requires first of all that the feast of unleavened bread shall be kept pure, and so stands for the duty of keeping worship in general pure; it is marked by the precept requiring all leaven to be removed before the time when the passover was slain, and not less by the requirement that the remains of the passover must be burnt, not desecrated by common use, and not allowed to pass over, as an element of desecration, into the abstemious season of unleavened bread.

The second main rule requires that labor and enjoyment shall be kept sacred, and is marked by the requirement to bring, first of all, the first-fruits into the house of Jehovah. It has a special relation to the second feast.

The third main rule requires that the enjoyment of food shall be kept sacred by the avoidance of inhuman and luxurious forms of it (vid. Exodus 23:19; Deuteronomy 14:21). This indicates a special relation to the third feast.

f. Moses’ Lofty and Inspired Mood at the Renewed Giving of the Law. Contrast between the Present and the Former Descent from the Mountain. Exodus 34:27-35

Here is to be observed, first of all, a difference in the law which is given. The ten commandments were originally addressed directly to Israel, and through Israel designed for mankind, as the immutable fundamental laws of morality, which are now also repeated on the new tables, Exodus 34:28. But Moses received the fundamental laws of the Israelitish theocracy for Israel; before the conclusion of the covenant he received the outlines of the three-fold code of laws ( Exodus 20:22-23), which, it is implied, are also written down; but after the conclusion of the covenant he received the ordinance concerning the tabernacle, 25–31. Now, however, he is commanded to write down also the more minute regulations for the theocratic community, which have been shown to be necessary by the apostasy of the people, Exodus 34:11-26. We may therefore distinguish three classes: (1) The general ethical law of the ten commandments; (2) the general legislation for the Jewish national theocracy; (3) the special regulations made necessary by the alteration of the covenant, in which connection it is not to be overlooked that the covenant is here defined as a covenant which Jehovah has made with Moses and with Israel; more positively than before, therefore, is the covenant now made dependent on the mediation of Moses. The stay of forty days and nights on the mountain is then only briefly mentioned. Observe, first, the sacred number of forty days, a repetition of the first forty days ( Exodus 24:18); next, the circumstance that Moses neither ate nor drank, one that recurs in the sacred history of the Old and the New Testament ( 1 Kings 19:8; Matthew 4), and is to be conceived as indicating a total self-forgetfulness as regards the ordinary need of nourishment (vid. Comm. on Matthew,, Exodus 4); finally, the specific statement that Moses again wrote the ten commandments on the tables—which, literally taken, may be understood as different from the first account of the writing, but, according to the spirit, as a supplementary interpretation of the first report. Keil makes “Jehovah” the subject of “he wrote” [in Exodus 34:28], referring to Exodus 34:1.

When Moses now came down from the mountain, his face shone, or beamed, without his knowing it. A strongly materialistic conception (such as Keil’s) may regard this as a reflection of the outward splendor of the glory that had appeared to him; but his face was covered by God’s hand. Doubtless the resplendence is a reflection of the divine splendor, produced through the agency of the soul, this splendor, together with the law, having passed through his soul, filled it, and put it into an elevated mood. Thus Christ in a higher sense came with divine power from the mount of beatitudes ( Matthew 8:1 sqq.); Song of Solomon, in some degree at least, preachers of the Gospel ought to come down from their pulpit eminence; but how far they fall short of it in many cases!

The great difference between the lofty standpoint of the Law-giver and that of the people at the foot of the mountain becomes evident in the fact that not only the common Israelites are terrified by the splendor, and fear to approach him, but even Aaron also; and that Moses is obliged to encourage him and the rulers of the congregation to come near to talk with him, and in this way to inspire the people also with courage to approach in order to hear Jehovah’s precepts.

After giving the message Moses puts a veil on his face, in order to make it possible to hold familiar intercourse with the people. This continued for a period of time not definitely stated; when Moses entered the provisional tabernacle and came out again to proclaim Jehovah’s directions, he uncovered his face, but afterwards he veiled it again. This, too, serves as a type for those who hold office in the New Testament Church. Christian people should not be frightened away by the splendor of the priest or preacher, and a separation thus effected between the officials and the congregation.

This narrative, however, became a symbol of two things: first, of the glory of the Mosaic law and covenant ( 2 Corinthians 3:7 sqq.); secondly, of the predominantly slavish fear of the people, which makes them unable, in the exercise of an enthusiastic devotion, to understand Moses’ mood and to get a view of the spiritual nature of his law. The veil remains even to-day, as in Paul’s time, on the face of Jews proper, and, in a degree, of Judaizing Christians—even on the face of those who imagine that they are far beyond the spirit of this law. In Moses’ case we cannot, with Keil, call it “a symbol of the veiling of the saving truths revealed in the Old Testament,” for Moses always took the covering away, after he had spoken to the people; but it is a symbol of the great distance between the Old Testament revelation and the popular Judaism—between two things which modern theology loves to identify. Knobel here records again several contradictions.


Footnotes:

FN#1 - Exodus 34:7. The A. V. here entirely neglects the accentuation, and thus almost creates a paradox out of these antithetic clauses. By translating וְנַקֵּה as a relative clause (and that will, etc.), it makes the impression that the same construction is continued, whereas not only does the Athnach precede it, but, instead of the participle of the preceding clause, we have here a finite verb without the Relative Pronoun. The A. V, moreover, makes the chief division of the verse before “visiting,” contrary to the Hebrew accentuation, which, quite in accordance with the sense, connects the last clause with the declaration: “he will not clear,” etc.; the confusion of thought is thus made complete.—Tr.].

FN#2 - Exodus 34:13. The word אֲשֵׁרָה, here and elsewhere rendered “groves” in the A. V, always refers either to a heathen goddess or to images representing her—commonly the latter, especially when (as here and most frequently) it is used in the plural (אֲשֵׂרִים). It must denote the goddess, e.g. in 1 Kings 15:13, whore it is said: “She had made an idol for Asherah” (A. V. “in a grove”). This goddess sometimes seems to be identical with Ashtaroth. For particulars vid the Lexicons and Encyclopedias. That the word cannot mean “grove” is sufficiently shown by such passages as 2 Kings 23:10, where the Asherim are said to have been set up in every high hill and under every green tree; and 2 Kings 17:6, where it is said that Josiah “brought out the Asherah from the house of the Lord.”—Tr.].

FN#3 - Exodus 34:29. The verb קָרַן occurs only in this section in Kal; it is used once ( Psalm 69:31) in Hiphil, where it means “to have horns,” while the noun קֶרֶן ordinarily means “horn.” Hence originated the Latin translation of the Vulgate “cornuta,” “horned;” and this accounts for the notion, incorporated in art representations of Moses, that he had horns growing out of his face. The point of resemblance is in the appearance of the rays of a luminary shooting out like horns.—Tr.].

FN#4 - Lange refers, in what is here said, more especially to the preceding chapter, Exodus 34:14 sqq, where פָּנַי (literally “my face”) is rendered in A. V. “my presence.—Tr.].

FN#5 - So according to the literal translation of the Hebrew.—Tr.].

FN#6 - This change is secured by simply neglecting the Masoretic punctuation, and making the “Jehovah” following “proclaimed” the subject of the verb. But there seems to be hardly sufficient reason for the change. The repetition of the name Isaiah, on the contrary, natural and impressive, and need not in this connection be made to seem at all like an expression of mere awe.—Tr.]

FN#7 - This seems like a very questionable translation, since the Absolute Infinitive in a negative clause strengthens, rather than weakens the negation. But there are some cases in which the reverse seems to be the case, e.g. Jeremiah 30:11, where we have precisely the same phraseology as here in Exodus 34:7, and where the A. V. translates, “Yet will I not make a full end of thee: but I will correct tbee in measure, and will not leave thee altogether unpunished, וְנַקֵח לֹא אֲנַקֶּךָּ.” The context makes this translation natural, but not necessary. A more plausible case is Amos 9:8, “I will destroy it from off the face of the earth; saving that I will not utterly destroy (לֹא הַשְׁמֵיד אַשְׁמִיד) the house of Jacob.” Here it is necessary to give the Inf. Abs. a qualifying force; but hero the negative precedes the Inf. Abs.—Tr.]

FN#8 - Gesenius finds no such meaning in the root אָשַׁר, or אֶשֶׁר, the radical significance of which he defines as “happiness,” “fortune.” Hence he regards אֲשֵׁרָה as = Fortuna. Fürst, however, assumes as the radical meaning “to be united,” sc. by love; and Lunge probably refers to this derivation.—Tr.]

 


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Bibliography Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Exodus 34:4". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/lcc/exodus-34.html. 1857-84.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, November 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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