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Bible Commentaries

Matthew Poole's English Annotations
on the Holy Bible
Exodus 34

 

 

Verse 1

EXODUS CHAPTER 34

God commands Moses to hew two tables of stone like the former, wherein he promises to write, Exodus 34:1. Moses goes with these tables up to the mount, Exodus 34:4. God descends in a cloud, Exodus 24:5. He proclaims his name, Exodus 34:6,7. Moses worships, Exodus 34:8,9. God making a covenant with the people, commands them not to make a covenant with their enemies, Exodus 34:10-12; bids them beware of molten gods, Exodus 34:13-17. The feast of unleavened bread, Exodus 34:18. To rest on the sabbath day, Exodus 34:21. Other laws, Exodus 34:22-26. Moses wrote these words, Exodus 34:27. The time of Moses’s abode on the mount. Exodus 34:28. Moses’s face shining, Exodus 34:29, is covered, Exodus 34:33-35. He acquaints the people with what the Lord told him, Exodus 34:31,32.

The first tables were made immediately by God, who of his own mere grace and good pleasure, and without man’s merit or contrivance, entered into covenant with Abraham and his seed. These tables must be made by Moses, partly in token of God’s displeasure for their sin, and partly to signify, that though the covenant of grace was first made without man’s care and counsel, yet it should not be renewed but by man’s repentance. And as the tables of stone signified the hardness of their hearts, so the hewing of them by Moses might signify the circumcision and ploughing up of their hearts, that they might be fit for the receiving of God’s mercies, and the performance of their duties.

The words that were in the first tables; to show God’s reception of Israel into his favour, and their former state, and that the law and covenant of God was neither abolished nor changed by their sin.


Verse 3

This is said, not for the beasts, which are not capable of a law, but to restrain the presumption and curiosity of the people, by this argument, that even the beasts that come too near shall be destroyed, and much more man, whose knowledge aggravates his sin and punishment.


Verse 5

In the cloud; in the cloudy pillar, which ordinarily stood up in the air above the mount, but came down to the top of it when God spake with Moses. See Exodus 33:9 Numbers 11:17,25.

Stood with him there, to wit, in the mount, Exodus 34:2,4, and the clift of a rock, Exodus 33:22, which was in the mount, and near the top of it, as appears by comparing these places together.


Verse 6

The Lord God: this title shows his glorious being, power, and authority; the following titles note his goodness to men.

Abundant in goodness and truth; in fulfilling all his gracious promises made to Abraham, and to his seed, and to all his people; wherein he is said to be abundant, because he generally is better than his word, and gives more than he promised. There is a truth in Divine threatenings, but here the situation of this word in the midst of the attributes of Divine goodness plainly shows that it is to be restrained to the promises; this being usual and reasonable, that general words have their signification limited by the context. And indeed here seems to be a hendyadis,

goodness and truth, for true, sincere, and hearty goodness, as mercy and truth are oft put for true and real mercy. See Psalms 25:10 57:3, &c.


Verse 7

For thousands; the Chaldee and some others render it, for a thousand generations.

Iniquity, and transgression, and sin; sins of all sorts and sizes, secret or open, infirmities or presumptions, against God or men, as the heap of various words here put together signifies.

That will by no means clear the guilty: this is commonly esteemed a title of justice or vengeance, which is here added by way of correction lest men should mistake or abuse God’s mercy. God is most gracious indeed, but so as he is also just, and will not pity nor spare impudent and impenitent transgressors, but will severely punish them. And the Jewish doctors hereupon observe, that the mercy of God doth far exceed his justice; here being, as they number them, thirteen attributes of mercy, and but one of justice. But this translation and interpretation is rejected by some late learned interpreters, who make this an attribute of God’s goodness or clemency, and render the words thus, In destroying he will not utterly destroy, though visiting, &c.: q.d. He is so gracious, that though he will severely punish the iniquity of the fathers, and especially their idolatry, upon themselves, and upon their children, &c., as he hath said, Exodus 20:5, yet in judgment he will remember mercy, and will not utterly destroy his people for their sins. There are many things which favour this interpretation.

1. This suits most with Moses’s solicitude and prayer for the people of Israel, which was that God would not utterly destroy them, as he threatened to do.

2. This sense best agrees with God’s promise, Exodus 33:19, I will make all my goodness pass before thee; which general promise is particularly explained and performed in these two verses.

3. This place doth not speak of God’s disposition and carriage towards his enemies, against whom he proceeds with great severity, and commands the Israelites to do so in the verses here following; but towards his people, whose cause Moses is all along pleading with God. See Exodus 32:11-13,31,32 33:13,15 Exo 34:9.

4. The Hebrew verb here used frequently signifies to make empty or desolate, to empty men of their goods, or places of men. See Isaiah 3:26 Amos 4:6. So here, he will not utterly empty or destroy: though he will leave the marks of his vengeance for this sin upon thy people, even to their third and fourth generation; or, if it may be, further; yet he will not utterly root them out, which is the great thing thou fearest and labourest to prevent. And this very phrase, here used, we have in Jeremiah 30:11, and repeated Jeremiah 46:28, where, though interpreters generally render it, I will not leave thee altogether unpunished, which may make a good sense, yet it seems much better to be rendered, I will not utterly destroy thee,

(1.) Because hereby these words exactly answer to the foregoing clause, yet will I not make a full end of thee, and so the same thing is elegantly repeated in other words, which is very frequent in Scripture.

(2.) Because here is an opposition between the severity God useth to other people, and the kindness he useth to his own people, which is manifest in the former member of the verse, and therefore most probable and agreeable in this.

5. This is much confirmed from Numbers 14:18, where Moses, pleading with God for the pardon of his people’s sin, useth this very phrase and argument, as taken out of God’s mouth, which in this sense is very proper and prevalent, Thou hast said, that even when thou dost visit iniquity, &c., thou wilt not utterly destroy them. And God answers him, Exodus 34:20, I have pardoned according to thy word, i.e. so as not utterly to destroy them. But truly as I live, &c., Exodus 34:21-23, i.e. But I will severely punish them. But if this had been the meaning, Lord, thou hast said thou wilt by no means clear the guilty, as we render it, it was a most improper argument, and put a sword into the Lord’s hand to slay them even by virtue of this consideration.


Verse 9

It is a stiff-necked people, and therefore need thy glorious and powerful presence to rule them. Or rather,

though it be a stiff-necked people, as thou sayest, yet forsake them not. The Hebrew particle chi oft signifies though, as Exodus 5:11 Isaiah 44:6.

Take us for thine inheritance, i.e. deal with us as men do with their inheritances, dwell among us, protect us, improve us.


Verse 10

Behold, I make a covenant, i.e. I do hereby renew my covenant with thy people which they had violated and voided by their sin. But the shortness of the phrase, there being no mention here of any with whom this covenant is made or renewed, and the following words, make it more probable that this covenant is nothing but a solemn promise or engagement that God will do the thing which here follows. And the word covenant is oft used for a mere promise, as Genesis 9:9, &c.; Leviticus 24:8 Numbers 18:19 25:12.

It is a terrible thing that I will do with thee; either,

1. By thy ministry, as that phrase is sometimes used, as 1 Corinthians 15:10. Or,

2. In the midst of thee, i.e. of thy people, as Exodus 34:11, before thee, i.e. before thy people. This I prefer, because the next verse explains this of such things as were not done by Moses’s ministry, nor in his time, but afterwards.


Verse 13

Which at first were used by good men for their devotion, as Genesis 21:33; but afterwards being horribly abused to superstition and idolatry, were by God, s command to be destroyed.


Verse 14

Whose name is Jealous; who hath made himself known by, and glories in that name, The jealous God, who cannot endure any competitor or corrival; whereas the false and puny gods of the heathens were contented with multitudes of partners. So this is properly said to be the name of God, whereby he is known and distinguished from all other gods.


Verse 15

A covenant, for cohabitation, or to suffer them quietly to live among you, whom you should drive out.

Go a whoring, i.e. commit idolatry, which is oft called and compared to spiritual whoredom. See Jer 2 Jer 3 Eze 16.

And thou eat of his sacrifice to wit of the parts or remainders of his sacrifice, whereby thou wilt partake with him in an idolatrous worship; because such feasts were a part of the worship offered to the idol, and were accompanied with solemn benedictions and thanksgivings to the idol. See Numbers 25:2 Psalms 106:28 Ezekiel 18:6 Ezekiel 22:9 1 Corinthians 10:20 Revelation 2:20.


Verse 17

Nor graven, nor any other, as it plainly appears both from the nature of the things, and from many parallel scriptures; but he mentions molten, because their late idol was of that kind.


Verse 19

Heb. And (for that is, as the particle and is oft used; the words following here, and Exodus 34:20, being a particular explication of the general sentence in the beginning of this verse)

all thy cattle which (a particle oft understood)

shall be born male, (as it is also explained Exodus 13:12) the

opening, or,

whatsoever (to wit, of the male kind)

openeth the matrix (which word is fitly understood out of the former member; which is very usual) of ox or (and put for or, as it is oft done) sheep.


Verse 20

Either without a gift to me, so it is a precept; or without benefit to himself, so it is a promise. See Exodus 23:15.


Verse 21

Which times are expressed, because the great profit and seeming necessity of working at that time was likely to be a powerful temptation to make men break the sabbath.


Verse 22

The feast of weeks, i.e. which is numbered by weeks being just seven weeks after the passover, whence it is called pentecost, i.e. the fiftieth day, to wit, after the passover. See Leviticus 23:15 25:8.

The first-fruits of wheat harvest; so this is a designation of the time and business of the feast of weeks.

The feast of ingathering, to wit, of the fruits of the earth.

The year’s end; so it was in regard of the jubilee and civil contracts.


Verse 24

I will cast out the nations; so thou shalt have no intestine enemy to do time or thine mischief. This God promised to do, but upon condition of Israel’s discharge of their duty in following God in this work of driving them out, which they neglecting, it was not fully done.

Neither shall any man desire thy land; I will not only tie their hands, that they shall make no invasion upon you, but I will take off their thoughts and affections from such an enterprise, which it was very easy for God to effect many ways.


Verse 26

First of the first-fruits; thou shalt not delay to do this, but shalt bring the very first of them. Or, the first-fruits, even the first-fruits of thy land; which limitation seems here conveniently added, because they were not bound to bring thither all their first-fruits, to wit, those of their own bodies, their children.


Verse 27

Object.

God saith, I will write, Exodus 34:1.

Answ. 1. Moses was to write the ritual precepts mentioned here above, God wrote the moral law.

2. Moses wrote what he wrote in a book; see Exodus 24:7; but what was written upon the tables of stone was written by God himself, not by Moses, who had no graving instruments with him in the mount, and could not without them write upon the stone.


Verse 28

He was there forty days and forty nights; as he had been before, being now to renew the broken covenant. This forty days’ fast of his is mentioned four times, Exodus 24:18, and here, and Deuteronomy 9:18 10:10, but it is evident it was performed but twice, as the occasion of it happened only twice.

He wrote, not Moses, but the Lord, as appears from Exodus 24:1, and from Deu 10, the relative pronoun being here referred to the remoter antecedent, of which there are many instances, as Genesis 10:12 1 Samuel 21:14 27:8 Psalms 99:6.


Verse 29

Quest. Why now, and not when he came down from God before?

Answ.

1. Because now he obtained what he did not before, to wit, a glimpse of the Divine glory, which, though but very transient, left its print upon his face.

2. Now it was more necessary than before, to procure the greater honour to Moses, and to the law, 2 Corinthians 3:7,8,11, because of the late horrid Violation and contempt of them, which the Israelites had fallen into.


Verse 31

Unto him, to the tabernacle, which was still at a distance from the camp, though afterwards, God being reconciled, it was set up in the camp, Exodus 40:34.


Verse 33

In condescension to their weakness

 


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Bibliography Information
Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Exodus 34:4". Matthew Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mpc/exodus-34.html. 1685.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, November 20th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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