PREPARATIONS FOR A RENEWAL OF THE COVENANT.
(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.
In the top of the mount—i.e., in the same place as before. (Comp. Exodus 19:20; Exodus 24:12; Exodus 24:18.)
Exodus 34:4And 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.
Exodus 34:5And the LORD descended in the cloud, and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the LORD.MOSES ALLOWED TO SEE GOD’S GLORY.
(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.
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.)
Exodus 34:9And 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.THE COVENANT RENEWED, AND THE DECALOGUE A SECOND TIME GIVEN.
(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).
Marvels, such as have not been done in all the earth—e.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.
(12) A snare.—Comp. Exodus 23:33; and for the nature of the snare, see Exodus 34:15-16 of the present chapter.
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.
The month Abib.—See Note on Exodus 13:4.
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; 1 Samuel 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 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.
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 seethe a kid.—See Note 3 on Exodus 23:19.
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.
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 (1 Kings 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).
Exodus 34:29And 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.THE DESCENT OF MOSES FROM MOUNT SINAI WITH THE SECOND TABLES.
(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 2 Corinthians 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).
Exodus 34:34But 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.
Exodus 34:35And 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.