Exodus 34
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
And the LORD said unto Moses, Hew thee two tables of stone like unto the first: and I will write upon these tables the words that were in the first tables, which thou brakest.


(1-4) Before the covenant could be formally reestablished, before Israel could be replaced in the position forfeited by the idolatry of the golden calf, it was necessary that the conditions on which God consented to establish His covenant with them should be set forth afresh. Moses had asked for the return of God’s favour, but had said nothing of these conditions. It is God who insists on them. “Hew thee two tables.” The moral law must be delivered afresh—delivered in its completeness—exactly as at the first (Exodus 34:1), and even the ceremonial law must be reimposed in its main items (Exodus 34:12-26), or no return to favour is possible. Hence Moses is summoned once more to the top of Sinai, where the Law is to be delivered afresh to him, and is ordered to bring with him tables of stone like the former ones, to receive their written contents from God’s hand.

(1) Hew thee two tables.—Something is always lost by sin, even when it is forgiven. The first tables were “the work of God” (Exodus 32:16). the second were hewn by the hand of Moses.

Of stone.—Literally, of stones—hewn, i.e., out of two separate stones, which could not be said of the first tables, since none knew how God had fashioned them.

I will write.—It is quite clear, though some have maintained the contrary, that the second tables, equally with the first, were inscribed “with the finger of God.” (Comp. Deuteronomy 4:13; Deuteronomy 10:2; Deuteronomy 10:4.) It is also quite clear that exactly the same words were written on each.

Upon these tables.—Heb., upon the tables.

And be ready in the morning, and come up in the morning unto mount Sinai, and present thyself there to me in the top of the mount.
(2) Be ready in the morning.—It was necessary to allow an interval for the hewing of the stones.

In the top of the mounti.e., in the same place as before. (Comp. Exodus 19:20; Exodus 24:12; Exodus 24:18.)

And no man shall come up with thee, neither let any man be seen throughout all the mount; neither let the flocks nor herds feed before that mount.
(3) No man shall come up with thee . . . —These stringent commands were new. On the previous occasion, Aaron, Hur, and the elders had ascended the mount part of the way (Exodus 24:9-11); and Joshua had accompanied his master almost to the summit (Exodus 24:13), and had apparently remained in some part of the mountain during the whole time of Moses’ stay (Exodus 32:17). Now Moses was to be quite alone, and no one was to be seen in any part of the mount. The stringency of the new orders must be connected with the promised revelation to Moses of God’s glory (Exodus 33:21-23).

And the LORD descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD.

(5-8) The present ascent of Moses to the top of Sinai had two objects:—(1) The repair of the loss occasioned by his breaking the first tables; and (2) the accomplishment of the promise made to him that (under certain restrictions) he should “see God’s glory.” Combined with this promise were two minor ones—that God would make His “goodness” pass before him, and that He would reveal to him afresh His name. The revelation of the name is recorded in Exodus 34:6-7, the manifestation of the glory in Exodus 34:5. How Moses was enabled to see God’s goodness pass before him is not stated. (Comp. Note on Exodus 33:19.)

(5) The Lord descended in the cloud.—When Moses ceased to commune with God, the cloud removed from the door of the “Tent of Meeting,” and, as it would seem, disappeared. On Moses reaching the summit of Sinai it once more became visible, “descended” on the spot where Moses was, and “stood with him there.”

And proclaimed the name of the Lord.—Comp. Exodus 33:19; and for the terms of the proclamation see Exodus 34:6-7.

And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth,
(6) The Lord passed by before him.—In this brief phrase we have the entire historical narrative of the manifestation to Moses of God’s glory. For details we must refer to the terms of the promise (Exodus 33:21-23), which are also characterised by brevity, but still add something to the bare statements of the present passage. Moses was, no doubt, hidden and protected by God’s hand in a “clift of the rock” while God’s glory passed by. He was only allowed to look out from his hiding-place after the glory had passed, when he saw the remains of it—the “back parts;” even this was, however, so brilliant a vision that it left a permanent light upon his countenance, which he was fain ordinarily to conceal from the people by means of a veil (Exodus 34:29-35).

The Lord, The Lord God . . .The new “name” of God is not a “name,” as we understand the expression; it is rather a description of His nature by means of a series of epithets. At the bush He had revealed His eternal, self-existent character; in the descent on Sinai (Exodus 19:16-19; Exodus 20:18-21) He had shown His terribleness; now, in the act of pardoning His people and taking them once more into favour, He made known His attribute of mercy. The more to impress this feature of His character on Israel, He accumulated epithet on epithet, calling Himself Rakhum, “the tender or pitiful one;” Khannun, “the kind or gracious one,” who bestows His benefits out of mere favour; Erek appayim, “the long-suffering one;” Rab khesed, “the great in mercy;” Notser khesed, “the keeper of mercy;” and Nose ’avon, “the forgiver of iniquity.” Still, to prevent the fatal misapprehension that He is a Being of pure and mero benevolence (Butler, Analogy, Part I., Exodus 2, p. 41). He added, to complete the description, a reference to His justice. He “will by no means clear the guilty” (comp. Nahum 1:3), and will “visit iniquity to the third and fourth generation.” (Comp. Exodus 20:5.)

And Moses made haste, and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshipped.
(8) Moses made haste, and bowed his head.—As the Divine glory passed before him, Moses bowed his head in adoration, worshipping God, and not daring to look until the glory had gone by. It is thus seen that with his ardent desire to look into the things of God he combined the highest and deepest reverence.

And he said, If now I have found grace in thy sight, O Lord, let my Lord, I pray thee, go among us; for it is a stiffnecked people; and pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for thine inheritance.

(9) If now, I have found grace in thy sight.—Rather, Since now, &c. The evidences of God’s favour towards him—which Moses had now experienced, emboldened him to prefer fresh requests on behalf of the people. God has promised to go up in the midst of them; will He not also promise to forgive their iniquity and sin if they offend Him in the way, and permanently to attach them to Himself by making them “His inheritance?” God does not directly answer these prayers, but indirectly accepts them by renewing His covenant with Israel (Exodus 34:10; Exodus 34:27).

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 the LORD: for it is a terrible thing that I will do with thee.
(10) I make a covenant—i.e., “I lay down afresh the terms of the covenant which I am content to make with Israel. I will go with them, and drive out the nations before them (Exodus 34:11), and work miracles on their behalf (Exodus 34:10), and enlarge their borders (Exodus 34:24), and prevent their enemies from desiring their land at the festival seasons (Exodus 34:24); they, on their part, must ‘observe that which I command them this day.’” The “command” given included the moral law, as laid down in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 34:28), and a summary of the chief points contained in the “Book of the Covenant,” which must be regarded as a re-publication and re-authorisation of that book.

Marvels, such as have not been done in all the earthe.g., the drying up of Jordan (Joshua 3:16-17), the falling down of the walls of Jericho (Joshua 6:20), the destruction of the army of the five kings by hailstones (Joshua 10:11), and the like.

A terrible thing.—Comp. Deuteronomy 10:21; Psalm 106:22; Psalm 145:6. God is “terrible” to the enemies of His people.

Observe thou that which I command thee this day: behold, I drive out before thee the Amorite, and the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite.
(11) The Amorite, and the Canaanite . . . —The same six nations are particularised in Exodus 3:8; Exodus 3:17, in Exodus 23:23, and also in Exodus 33:2. In Deuteronomy 7:1, and Joshua 3:10; Joshua 24:11, the Girgashites are added, and the number of the nations made seven.

Take heed to thyself, lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land whither thou goest, lest it be for a snare in the midst of thee:
(12-16) This passage may be compared with Exodus 23:24-25; Exodus 23:32-33. It repeats, with some enlargements, the enactments there made, and traces in detail the evil consequences which would follow from a neglect of the enactments.

(12) A snare.—Comp. Exodus 23:33; and for the nature of the snare, see Exodus 34:15-16 of the present chapter.

But ye shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their groves:
(13) Ye shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their groves.—In the “Book of the Covenant” the command had been simply to “quite break down their images” (Exodus 23:24). Now, after the Israelites had displayed their idolatrous leanings, it is added that they are likewise to destroy the “altars” and the “groves.” Altars were common among all the idolatrous nations, sometimes attached to temples (1Kings 16:32; 2Kings 21:4-5), sometimes separate from them (Numbers 23:1; Numbers 23:29; 2Kings 16:10-11), and were used for much the same purposes as the Hebrew altars: i.e., for sacrifices, bloody and unbloody, and for burning incense. “Groves”—here mentioned for the first time—were peculiar to a limited number of nations, as the Assyrians, Babylonians, Phœnicians, Syrians, and a few others. They appear to have been artificial constructions, either of wood or stone, or both, imitative of vegetable forms, and probably emblematic of the productive powers of nature. The worship connected with the “groves” was of a peculiarly gross and licentious character. The very name, ashêrah, was a modification of Ashtoreth, or Astarte. It is remarkable that nothing is said of destroying Canaannite temples—an indication that as yet they did not exist, and a mark of the high antiquity of the book.

For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God:
(14) For thou shalt worship no other god.—The images, altars, and groves would, if retained, lead on to the worship of the gods to whom they were dedicated—indeed, they could be retained for no other purpose. Thus their destruction followed, as a corollary, from the second commandment.

Whose name is Jealous.—Comp. Exodus 20:5, and see Note 2 on that passage. Many attempts have been made to show that jealousy is unworthy of the Divine Nature; but that the one Only God, if there be but one Only God, should claim and exact under severe penalties an undivided allegiance is natural, reasonable, and in harmony with the most exalted conceptions of the Divine essence. If God looked with indifference upon idolatry, it would imply that He cared little for His human creatures: that, like the Deity of Epicurus, having once created man and the world, He thenceforth paid no attention to them.

Lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they go a whoring after their gods, and do sacrifice unto their gods, and one call thee, and thou eat of his sacrifice;
(15, 16) Lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants.—If a covenant were made with the idolatrous nations of Canaan, and they were allowed to dwell in the land together with the Israelites (Exodus 23:33), the danger would be, in the first place, that Israel would be induced to partake in the idol-feasts; secondly, that intermarriages would take place; and thirdly, that such Israelites as married idolatrous wives would be persuaded by them to join in their worship, and would thus be seduced into actual idolatry. Solomon’s example shows the reality of the peril. (See 1Kings 11:1-8.)

Thou shalt make thee no molten gods.
(17) Thou shalt make thee no molten gods.—It is just possible that the Israelites when they worshipped the golden calf may have conceived that they were not breaking the second commandment, which forbade the adoration of any “graven image.” An express law was therefore made against “molten images.”

The feast of unleavened bread shalt thou keep. Seven days thou shalt eat unleavened bread, as I commanded thee, in the time of the month Abib: for in the month Abib thou camest out from Egypt.
(18) The feast of unleavened bread shalt thou keep.—Comp. Exodus 12:15-20; Exodus 13:3-10; Exodus 23:15.

The month Abib.—See Note on Exodus 13:4.

All that openeth the matrix is mine; and every firstling among thy cattle, whether ox or sheep, that is male.
(19) All that openeth the matrix is mine.—Comp. Exodus 13:12, where the sanctification of the firstborn and the law of redemption had already been declared. For the exact mode of redemption sanctioned, see Numbers 18:15-16.

But 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 firstborn of thy sons thou shalt redeem. And none shall appear before me empty.
(20) The firstling of an ass.—See Notes 1-3 on Exodus 13:13.

Six days thou shalt work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest: in earing time and in harvest thou shalt rest.
(21) The law of the Sabbath meets us at every turn in Exodus. It was so fundamental to the entire polity, that it naturally held a place in every section of the legislation. We have already found it (1) propounded at the giving of the manna (Exodus 16:22-30); (2) reasserted in the fourth commandment (Exodus 20:8-11); (3) introduced into the “Book of the Covenant” (Exodus 23:12); and (4) appended to the directions given for the construction of the Tabernacle (Exodus 31:13-17).

In earing time and in harvest thou shalt rest.—“Earing-time” is ploughing time, “to ear” being an old English verb, etymologically connected with the Greek ἄρω and the Latin aro. (Comp. Genesis 45:6; Deuteronomy 21:4; 1Samuel 8:12; Isaiah 30:24.) There was a special temptation to trench on the Sabbatical rest at the times most critical in respect to agricultural operations.

And thou shalt observe the feast of weeks, of the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year's end.
(22) The feast of weeks.—Called in Exodus 23:16, “the feast of harvest,” and in the New Testament “the day of Pentecost”—seven weeks after the first day of unleavened bread. (See Note 1 on Exodus 23:16.) The special offering to be made at the feast consisted of “two wave loaves of fine flour, baken with leaven” (Leviticus 23:17), which were “the first-fruits of the wheat harvest.”

And the feast of ingathering.—Called also “the feast of tabernacles” (Leviticus 23:34; Deuteronomy 16:13; Deuteronomy 16:16; Deuteronomy 31:10, &c.), on account of the command to “dwell in booths seven days” during its continuance (Leviticus 23:42). On the character of the festival see Note 2 on Exodus 23:16.

Thrice in the year shall all your men children appear before the Lord GOD, the God of Israel.
(23) Thrice in the year shall all your men-children appear before the Lord.—On this requirement, and the political value of the three great festivals, see Note on Exodus 23:14-17.

For I will cast out the nations before thee, and enlarge thy borders: neither shall any man desire thy land, when thou shalt go up to appear before the LORD thy God thrice in the year.
(24) I will . . . enlarge thy borders.—The promise of “a land” for his posterity made by God to Abraham was twofold. At first it was the “land of Canaan” alone which they were to receive (Genesis 12:5-7); but subsequently the promise was extended, and made to include the entire tract of territory between “the river of Egypt” (the Nile) and “the great river, the river Euphrates” (Genesis 15:18). In remarkable parallelism with this double promise was the double fulfilment. At first Canaan alone was occupied, but under David and Solomon the borders were greatly enlarged; and “Solomon reigned over all kingdoms from the river (Euphrates) unto the land of the Philistines, and unto the border of Egypt” (1Kings 4:21). The rebellion of Jeroboam, and the establishment of the “kingdom of Israel,” caused a contraction of the land to its original limits; but Menahem seems once more to have carried the dominion of Israel to the Euphrates (2Kings 15:16).

Neither shall any man desire thy land.—It was a part of the unwritten law of the Greeks that free passage should be given to all who were on their way to or from any of the great Pan-Hellenic festivals. But the present promise went beyond any such understanding. It secured the territory of Israel from all attack at such seasons, and must have been enforced miraculously by that providential government which God exercises over “all the nations upon the earth(Psalm 67:4).

Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leaven; neither shall the sacrifice of the feast of the passover be left unto the morning.
(25) Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leaven.—Comp. Exodus 23:18, and the Notes ad loc.

The first of the firstfruits of thy land thou shalt bring unto the house of the LORD thy God. Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his mother's milk.
(26) The first of the firstfruits.—Comp. Exodus 23:19.

Thou shalt not seethe a kid.—See Note 3 on Exodus 23:19.

And the LORD said unto Moses, Write thou these words: for after the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with thee and with Israel.
(27) Write thou these words.—Heb., Write for thee these words, i.e., put them in writing for thine own use and the use of thy people. This express command accounts for the assignment of so much space to what is mainly repetition. The requirement of the repetition can only be explained by the importance of the laws laid down under the circumstances of the Hebrew nation, and the power of repetition to enforce upon the conscience what is pressed upon it by reiteration.

After the tenor of these words.—The summary of positive laws contained in this chapter (Exodus 34:12-26) was not intended to supersede the “Book of the Covenant,” but rather to confirm and reinforce it. The covenant was renewed not upon these words only, but “after the tenor,” i.e., after their general aspect or bearing.

And he was there with the LORD 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.
(28) He was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights.—As on his former ascent (Exodus 24:18). The long time is, at first sight, surprising, since there were now no instructions to be given. But we learn from Deuteronomy (Exodus 9:18-19) that it was required for an earnest and prolonged intercession by Moses on behalf of his nation, which ultimately prevailed with God, and induced Him to put away His “anger and hot displeasure.”

He did neither eat bread, nor drink water.—A similar fast had been kept on the previous occasion (Deuteronomy 9:9), though it is not mentioned in Exodus. Fasts of this extraordinary duration are only recorded of Moses, of Elijah (1Kings 19:8), and of our Lord (Matthew 4:2). They are absolutely miraculous, and modern attempts to rival them are viewed by scientific men as deriving such apparent success as may have attended them from imposture.

He wrote upon the tables.—It has been concluded from this statement that Moses engraved the words upon the second tables; and the passage, if it stood alone, would certainly admit, and, indeed, naturally suggest, this meaning. But the Hebrew idiom allows us to regard Jehovah as the nominative to the verb “wrote;” and it is necessary so to do in order to bring the passage into agreement with Exodus 34:1. and with Deuteronomy 10:2; Deuteronomy 10:4. Thus the second tables are to be viewed as “written with the finger of God” no less than the first (Exodus 31:18; Exodus 32:16).

And it came to pass, when Moses came down from mount Sinai with the two tables of testimony in Moses' hand, when he came down from the mount, that Moses wist not that the skin of his face shone while he talked with him.

(29) The skin of his face shone.—That an actual physical phenomenon is intended appears from the entire narrative, as well as from St. Paul’s comment upon it in 2Corinthians 3:7-18. According to some commentators, a radiance like that here described was a part of man’s original heritage, a feature of that “image of God” wherein he was created (Genesis 1:27). The gift was forfeited by the fall, and will not be restored generally until the time of the restitution of all things. But meanwhile, from time to time, it pleases God to restore to certain of His saints the physical glory, which is the symbol of internal purity and holiness, as to Moses on this occasion and afterwards to Elijah on the mount of transfiguration (Luke 9:31), and to St. Stephen when he pleaded before the Sanhedrin (Acts 6:15). A glory of the kind, but of surpassing brilliancy, belonged to the human nature of our blessed Lord, who concealed it ordinarily, but allowed it to appear temporarily at the transfiguration, and permanently after His ascension (Revelation 1:16; Revelation 10:1; Revelation 21:23; Revelation 22:5). The grant of the privilege to Moses was perhaps necessary to support his authority among a people of such materialistic leanings as the Israelites.

While he talked with him.—Rather, through his talking with him. The brightness of Moses’ face was the reflex of that eternal glory which Moses had been given to witness on this last occasion, though in a veiled and modified manner (Exodus 33:23; Exodus 34:5-6), and which he had not seen previously. It remained henceforth a property of his countenance. Painters represent it by rays, or sometimes—but improperly—by horns, this latter usage originating in a mistaken rendering of the Vulgate (quod cornuta esset facies sua, instead of quod splenderet facies sua).

And when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone; and they were afraid to come nigh him.
(30) They were afraid.—The supernatural appearance terrified them. Compare the feelings of Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:18) and St. John (Revelation 1:17).

And till Moses had done speaking with them, he put a vail on his face.
(33) Till Moses had done speaking with them, he put a vail on his face.—This translation exactly inverts the meaning, which is that “when Moses had done speaking with them, he put a vail on his face.” The vail became part of his ordinary costume, and was worn excepting upon occasions of two kinds: (1) When Moses was alone with God, either in the temporary “tent of meeting” or in the permanent Tabernacle, he ceased to wear the vail, and spoke with God face to face; (2) when he had a message to the people from God, and spoke to them as God’s representative, he authenticated his message by uncovering himself, and allowing the glory of his face to be seen. Otherwise, in his ordinary dealings with the people he went about veiled.

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

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