Exodus 34
Pulpit Commentary
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.
Verse 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, 16, 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 ver. 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.
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.
Verse 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, 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.
Verse 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, 13. The present orders are even more stringent.
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 the LORD had commanded him, and took in his hand the two tables of stone.
Verse 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 (ver. 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. (History of the Old Covenant, vol. 3. p. 186, E. T.)

CHAPTER 34:5-8
And the LORD descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD.
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 vers. 6, 7; the fulfilment of the second is expressed with extreme brevity in the words - ,' And the Lord passed by before him" (ver. 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 (vers. 33-35). Verse 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.
And the LORD passed by before him, and proclaimed, The LORD, The LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness and truth,
Verses 6, 7. - The Lord passed by before him. God did as he had promised in Exodus 33:22, 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 (ver. 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 ful. 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 (ver, 8).
Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.
And Moses made haste, and bowed his head toward the earth, and worshipped.
Verse 8. - Moses made haste and bowed his head. Worshipping the glory that had passed by, and accepting the gracious words addressed to him.

CHAPTER 34:9-26
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.
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 (ver. 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 (ver. 10), and to drive out the nations before them when they have arrived (ver. 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 (ver. 12).

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

3. That no molten image should be made to represent God (ver. 17).

4. That the Passover festival should be observed as previously commanded (ver. 18).

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

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

7. That the feast of Pentecost (weeks) should be observed regularly (ver. 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 (ver. 23).

10. That no leaven should be used with any sacrifice (ver. 25).

11. That first-fruits of all things should be offered to God (ver. 26).

12. That no kid should be seethed in her mother's milk (ver. 26). Verse 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).
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.
Verse 10. - I make a covenant - i.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 (vers. 10, 11), and enlarge their borders, and not allow their land to be invaded at the festival seasons (ver. 24): on their part, they must "observe that which I command them" (ver. 11). Marvels such as have not been done in all the earth. As the drying up of the Jordan (Joshua 3:16, 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; Psalm 106:22; Psalm 145:6, etc.
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.
Verse 11. - Observe thou that which I command thee this day. The precepts expressly given (vers. 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 (ver. 28). I drive out before thee. Compare Exodus 3:8, 17; Exodus 6:4, 8; Exodus 13:5, 11; Exodus 33:2.
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:
Verse 12. - Take heed to thyself lest thou make a covenant. See above, Exodus 23:32 A snare. See Exodus 23:33.
But ye shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their groves:
Verse 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, 29; Judges 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.
For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God:
Verse 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
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;
Verses 15, 16. - The probable consequences of making treaties with the Canaanite nations, alluded to in ver. 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 cf. those who married idolatrous wives.

The event fully justified the warning here given. See Judges 2:2, 11-13, 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."
And 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.
Thou shalt make thee no molten gods.
Verse 17. - Thou shalt make thee no molten gods. An express allusion to the recent sin of the golden calf.
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.
Verse 18. - The feast of unleavened bread shalt thou keep. See ch. 23. 15, and compare Exodus 12:14-20, and Exodus 13:3-10. The month Abib. See the comment on Exodus 13:4.
All that openeth the matrix is mine; and every firstling among thy cattle, whether ox or sheep, that is male.
Verses 19, 20. - All that openeth the matrix is mine, etc. This is a repetition of the command given in Exodus 13:12, 13, which had not been inserted in the "Book of the Covenant." It is again enjoined in Leviticus 27:26, 27. None shall appear before me empty. Repeated from Exodus 23:15.
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.
Six days thou shalt work, but on the seventh day thou shalt rest: in earing time and in harvest thou shalt rest.
Verse 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.
And thou shalt observe the feast of weeks, of the firstfruits of wheat harvest, and the feast of ingathering at the year's end.
Verse 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 Leviticus 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).
Thrice in the year shall all your men children appear before the Lord GOD, the God of Israel.
Verse 23. - Thrice in the year, Repeated from Exodus 23:17.
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.
Verse 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, 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.
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.
Verse 25. - Repeated from Exodus 23:18.
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.
Verse 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.)

CHAPTER 34:27-35
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.
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 (ver. 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 (ver. 28), descended, having the tables in his hands. He was not aware that the skin of his face had become radiant (ver. 29), and first learnt the fact by the rulers being afraid to come near him (ver. 30). After conversing with them and with the people he resolved to "put a vail on his face" ordinarily, only taking it of[ 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. Verse 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 vers. 10-26.
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.
Verse 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 (vers. 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 ver. 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.
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.
Verse 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.
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.
Verse 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.
And Moses called unto them; and Aaron and all the rulers of the congregation returned unto him: and Moses talked with them.
Verse 31. - Moses called unto them. Moses bade them approach - no doubt assured them that there was no cause for fear (cf. Luke 24:38, 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."
And afterward all the children of Israel came nigh: and he gave them in commandment all that the LORD had spoken with him in mount Sinai.
Verse 32. - All that the Lord had spoken. "All," i.e., "that the Lord had commanded him to enjoin upon them" - especially the precepts in vers. 10-26 - not all that he had heard from God in the space of forty days and forty nights.
And till Moses had done speaking with them, he put a vail on his face.
Verses 33-35. - 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 vers. 34 and 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 (ver. 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 (vers. 13, 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.

But when Moses went in before the LORD to speak with him, he took the vail off, until he came out. And he came out, and spake unto the children of Israel that which he was commanded.
And the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses' face shone: and Moses put the vail upon his face again, until he went in to speak with him.
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