Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Exodus 34

By Joseph Benson


Verse 1
Exodus 34:1. Hew thee two tables of stone like the first — Before, God himself both provided the tables and wrote on them; now, Moses must prepare the tables, and God would only write upon them. This might be intended partly to signify God’s displeasure on account of their sin; for though he had pardoned them, the wound was not, healed without a scar; and partly to show, that although the covenant of grace was first made without man’s care and counsel, yet it should not be renewed without man’s repentance. And as the tables of stone were emblematical of the hardness of their heart, so the hewing of them by Moses, and writing on them by the Lord, might denote that circumcision and renovation of their hearts by the ministry of God’s word, and the influence of his Spirit, which were necessary to prepare them for receiving God’s mercies and the performance of their duties. We may observe also, that although the first tables were broken, to show that there was no hope for mankind to be saved by their innocence, yet God would have the law to be in force still as a rule of obedience, and therefore, as soon as he was reconciled to them, ordered the tables to be renewed, and wrote his law on them. This plainly intimates, that even under the gospel (of which the intercession of Moses was typical) the moral law continues to oblige believers. For though Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, yet not from the command of it, but still we are under the law to Christ. When our Saviour, in his sermon on the mount, expounded the moral law, and vindicated it from the corrupt glosses with which the scribes and Pharisees had obliterated and broken it, he did, in effect, renew the tables, and make them like the first, that is, reduce the law to its primitive sense and intention. And by his writing it on our hearts by his Spirit, as he wrote it on the tables by his finger or power, we may be enabled to conform our lives to it.

Verse 5
Exodus 34:5. The Lord descended — By some sensible token of his presence, and manifestation of his glory. He descended in the cloud — Probably that pillar of cloud which had hitherto gone before Israel, and had the day before met Moses at the door of the tabernacle.

Verse 6-7
Exodus 34:6-7. And the Lord passed by before him — Fixed views of God are reserved for the future state; the best we have in this world are transient. And proclaimed the name of the Lord — By which he would make himself known. He had made himself known to Moses, in the glory of his self- existence and self-sufficiency, when he proclaimed that name, I am that I am; now he makes himself known in the glory of his grace and goodness, and all-sufficiency to us. The proclaiming of it denotes the universal extent of God’s mercy; he is not only good to Israel, but good to all. The God with whom we have to do is a great God. He is Jehovah, the Lord, that hath his being of himself, and is the fountain of all being; Jehovah-El, the Lord, the strong God, a God of almighty power himself, and the original of all power. This is prefixed before the display of his mercy, to teach us to think and to speak even of God’s goodness with a holy awe, and to encourage us to depend upon these mercies. He is a good God. His greatness and goodness illustrate each other. That his greatness may not make us afraid, we are told how good he is; and that we may not presume upon his goodness, we are told how great he is. Many words are here heaped up to acquaint us with, and convince us of, God’s goodness. 1st, He is merciful — This speaks his pity and tender compassion, like that of a father to his children. This is put first, because it is the first wheel in all the instances of God’s good-will to fallen Prayer of Manasseh 1:2 d, He is gracious — This signifies both freeness and kindness: it speaks him not only to have compassion for his creatures, but a complacency in them, and in doing good to them; and this of his own good-will, not for the sake of any thing in them. 3d, He is long-suffering — This is a branch of God’s goodness which our wickedness gives occasion for. He is long-suffering, that is, he is slow to anger, and delays the executions of his justice; he waits to be gracious, and lengthens out the offers of his mercy. 4th, He is abundant in goodness and truth — This imports plentiful goodness; it abounds above our deserts, above our conceptions. The springs of mercy are always full, the streams of mercy always flowing; there is mercy enough in God, enough for all, enough for each, enough for ever. It speaks promised goodness, goodness and truth put together, goodness engaged by promise. 5th. He keepeth mercy for thousands — This speaks, (1,) Mercy extended to thousands of persons. When he gives to some, still he keeps for others, and is never exhausted: (2,) Mercy entailed upon thousands of generations, even to those upon whom the ends of the world are come: nay, the line of it is drawn parallel with that of eternity itself. 6th, He forgiveth iniquity, transgression, and sin — Pardoning mercy is instanced in, because in that divine grace is most magnified, and because it is that which opens the door to all other gifts of grace. He forgives offences of all sorts, iniquity, transgression, and sin, multiplies his pardons, and with him is plenteous redemption. Nevertheless, 7th, He is just and holy, for he will by no means clear the guilty — The word guilty, indeed, is not in the original; but the sense requires this, or some such word, to be supplied, as it is in the Septuagint. The expression intimates, that however merciful and forgiving God is toward the penitent, yet he will not suffer his honour and authority to be trampled upon by those who wantonly abuse his lenity and forbearance. Therefore the passage is thus rendered by the Chaldee: Sparing those who are converted to his laws, and not justifying those who are not converted. It is true, Maimonides, and others after him, take these words to be a further amplification of the goodness of God, signifying, that in punishing offenders he will not utterly destroy them. For he translates, נקה לא ינקה, nakkeh lo jenakkeh, extirpating he will not extirpate, in visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon the children: that is, Though he chastise the guilty, yet he will not destroy them. But there appears to be no authority for translating the passage thus, unless Isaiah 3:26 be an instance in which the word נקה nakkeh requires to have such a sense affixed to it. Certainly the other is the common meaning of it, and is perfectly consistent with the account of God’s other perfections and the delineation of his character here given. For his justice is in perfect harmony with his mercy, and is equally a branch of his love and goodness, to curb and restrain sin, being as much an act of divine goodness as to pardon the penitent and reward the obedient. (1,) He will by no means clear the impenitently guilty, those that go on still in their trespasses. For none are pardoned but those that repent and forsake all known sin. (2,) He will not clear even the penitent without satisfaction to his justice, His pardoning mercy is never exercised but through the atonement of Christ, and by faith in him. For “without shedding of blood there is no remission.” (3,) The sin which is even pardoned is generally chastised, and the people of God themselves are corrected for the failures and imperfections of their obedience. Nay, in many cases, the children suffer for the follies and vices of their parents, and the parents may read their own sins in the disorders and miseries of their offspring. Thus, at least, does God “visit the iniquity of the fathers upon the children:” yet he “keepeth not his anger for ever,” but visits to the third and fourth generation only, while he “keeps mercy for thousands.” This is God’s name for ever, and this is his memorial to all generations.

Verse 8
Exodus 34:8. And Moses made haste and bowed his head — Thus he expressed his humble reverence and adoration of God’s glory, together with his joy in this discovery God had made of himself, and his thankfulness for it. Then likewise he expressed his holy submission to the will of God, made known in this declaration, subscribing to his justice as well as mercy, and putting himself and his people Israel under the government of such a God as Jehovah had now proclaimed himself to be. Let this God be our God for ever and ever!

Verse 9
Exodus 34:9. And he said, I pray thee go among us — Thus Moses prays for the things God had already promised, not as doubting the sincerity of God’s grants, but as one solicitous for the ratification of them. But it is a strange plea he urges; for it is a stiff-necked people — God had given this as a reason why he would not go along with them, Exodus 33:3. Yea, saith Moses, the rather go along with us; for the worse they are, the more need they have of thy presence. Moses sees them so stiff-necked, that he has neither patience nor power enough to deal with them; therefore, Lord, do thou go among us; else they will never be kept in awe; thou wilt spare, and bear with them, for thou art God and not man.

Verse 10
Exodus 34:10. Behold I make a covenant — When the covenant was broken, it was Israel that broke it; now it comes to be renewed, it is God that makes it; if there be quarrels, we must bear all the blame; if there be peace, God must have all the glory. Before all thy people I will do marvels — Such as the drying up of Jordan, the causing of the sun to stand still. Marvels indeed, for they were without precedent; and they were the terror of their enemies: it is a terrible thing that I will do.

Verse 11
Exodus 34:11. Observe that which I command thee — We cannot expect the benefit of the promises unless we make conscience of the precepts. The two great precepts are, 1st, Thou shalt worship no other gods — A good reason is annexed; for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God — As tender in the matters of his worship as the husband is of the honour of the marriage bed. 2d, Thou shalt make thee no molten gods — Thou shalt not worship the true God by images. This was the sin they had lately fallen into, which therefore they are particularly cautioned against. That they might not be tempted to worship other gods, they must not join in affinity or friendship with those that did.

Verse 12
Exodus 34:12. Take heed to thyself — It is a sin thou art prone to, and that will easily beset thee; carefully abstain from all advances toward it; make no covenant with the inhabitants of the land — If God, in kindness to them, drove out the Canaanites, they ought, in duty to God, not to harbour them: If they espoused their children, they would be in danger of espousing their gods. That they might not be tempted to make molten gods, they must utterly destroy those they found, and all that belonged to them, the altars and groves, lest, if they were left standing, they should be brought in process of time either to use them, or to take pattern by them.

Verse 21
Exodus 34:21. Here is a repetition of several appointments made before, especially relating to their solemn feasts: when they had made the calf, they proclaimed a feast in honour of it; now, that they might never do so again, they are here charged with the observance of the feasts which God had instituted. Thou shalt rest, even in earing-time and in harvest — The most busy times of the year. All worldly business must give way to that holy rest: harvest-work will prosper the better for the religious observation of the sabbath day in harvest-time. Hereby we must show that we prefer our communion with God, before either the business or the joy of harvest.

Verse 23-24
Exodus 34:23-24. Thrice in the year shall all the men-children appear — But it might be suggested, when all the males from every part were gone up to worship in the place that God should choose, the country would be left exposed to the insults of their neighbours; and what would become of the poor women and children? Trust God with them. Neither shall any man desire thy land — Not only they shall not invade it, but they shall not so much as think of invading it. What a standing miracle was this, for so many generations!

Verse 28
Exodus 34:28. He, God, wrote.

Verse 29
Exodus 34:29. The skin of his face shone — At this time of his being in the mount, he heard only the same he had heard before. But he saw more of the glory of God, which having with open face beheld, he was, in some measure, changed into the same image. This was a great honour done to Moses, that the people might never again question his mission, or think or speak slightly of him. He carried his credentials in his very countenance; some think, as long as he lived he retained some remainders of this glory, which perhaps contributed to the vigour of his old age; that eye could not wax dim which had seen God, nor that face wrinkle which had shone with his glory.

Verse 30
Exodus 34:30. And Aaron and the children of Israel saw it, and were afraid — It not only dazzled their eyes, but struck such an awe upon them as obliged them to retire. Probably they doubted whether it was a token of God’s favour, or of his displeasure.

Verse 33
Exodus 34:33. And Moses put a veil on his face — This veil signified the darkness of that dispensation; the ceremonial institutions had in them much of Christ and the gospel, but a veil was drawn over it, so that the children of Israel could not distinctly and steadfastly see those good things to come which the law had a shadow of. It was beauty veiled, gold in the mine, a pearl in the shell; but thanks be to God, by the gospel, the veil is taken away from off the Old Testament; yet still it remains upon the hearts of those who shut their eyes against the light.

Verse 34
Exodus 34:34. When he went before the Lord, he put off the veil — Every veil must be thrown aside when we go to present ourselves unto the Lord. This signified also, as it is explained, 2 Corinthians 3:16, that when a soul turns to the Lord, the veil shall be taken away, that with open face it may behold his glory.