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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 34

The Church Pulpit CommentaryChurch Pulpit Commentary

Verse 10


‘Behold, I make a covenant.’

Exodus 34:10

I. God undertook to do certain things for His people, ‘I will do marvels.’ What were they? Among these marvels were the passage of Jordan in face of the enemy, the taking of Jericho, and all those other supernatural signs by which God proved that He was with His people and against the unclean and idolatrous inhabitants of Canaan.

II. But God required certain things from Israel.—What were they? ( a) Not to make a league with the wicked. ( b) To destroy their polluted altars, and cruel, bloodthirsty idols, and the groves where so many unclean and abominable things were practised, ( c) Not to mix, or intermarry with the ungodly. ( d) Not to make idol gods of any kind. ( e) To keep the ten Commandments and the other ordinances of their church. Does God make such a covenant with us? What are our ‘Amorites,’ etc.? Will He drive them out? God’s great love which has provided so great and wonderful a salvation for those who will accept it, can save only those who ( a) believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, ( b) come to the light, ( c) do truth. The ‘New Covenant’ does not abolish law, but by it

III. God agrees to put His laws into our mind, and on our heart to write them.—These laws can only be disregarded at our peril. Do not think, because the Mosaic law is superseded, that you can, therefore, do just what you like. God proclaims Himself as ‘One who will by no means clear the guilty.’ This is not because God is hard and does not wish to remit punishment, but because the only salvation is sin surrendered. God is not an arbitrary Governor, but it is impossible for the unholy to enter heaven. God has done, and is doing His part toward our salvation. Are we doing ours?

Canon Dawson.


(1) ‘In a covenant each party is bound to certain conditions. God undertakes to do certain things for man, if man, on his part, will fulfil his undertaking towards God. Next show that this is not an arbitrary condition of grace, such as a conquering king might impose upon a subject nation according to his whim. There is nothing arbitrary about salvation. It is an efficacious gift to those who use it. God’s gift of grace saves those who are willing to be saved from their sins. They must give up their sins, or there can be no salvation for them. To go on sinning and hope for salvation is futile, though it is very commonly practised. This is God’s Covenant—“I will do marvels,” but “ thou shalt worship no other God.” God does His part, we must do ours.’

(2) ‘It is remarkable that the very system which was emphatically one of law and retribution should have been heralded by a word “forgiving” (ver. 7) which is perfectly “evangelical” in its whole tone. That fact should have prevented many errors as to the relation of Judaism to Christianity. True, the harmony of the two “covenants” and the great revelation of the means of forgiveness lay far beyond the horizon of Moses and his people, but none the less was it the message of Judaism that “there is forgiveness with Thee that Thou mayest be feared.” ’

Verse 24


‘Neither shall any man desire thy land, when thou shalt go up to appear before the Lord thy God thrice in the year.’

Exodus 34:24

I. The bravery expected—‘ Thrice in the year shall all your men-children appear before the Lord God.’ History has no parallel to this—the entire male population, from twelve years and upwards, leaving field and homestead, village and town, stripped bare of all its able-bodied male defenders, for a space of eight to ten days! this, too, not once in a while, but three times a year; and always when the plunderer’s spoil would be richest! And, worst of all, these dates were fixed, and must have been known, long before, by the neighbouring and hostile nations. What madness, what an inviting of overwhelming disaster, it must have seemed! Let us not be surprised if occasionally we, too, are called to what, in worldly eyes, are acts of madness,—to risk all for conscience and for truth, with an almost certain prospect of disaster.

II. The blessedness of the brave—God Himself was pledged to be their defence. Never were they so safe as when their homes lay apparently exposed to every invader. He promised to work a perpetual miracle on their behalf, saying:—‘ Neither shall any man desire thy land, when thou shalt go up to appear before the Lord thy God.’ Oh, there is a glorious security, and an indescribable blessedness, in stepping boldly forth to do what looks like an act of sheer insanity, solely on the ground of a clear mandate from the Eternal.


(1) ‘These gatherings would promote the bond of unity throughout the country, making it felt everywhere that though they were twelve tribes they were but one people, a sentiment especially needful to keep alive in a nation constituted as Israel was, composed of a number of cantons, separated from, as well as connected with, one another by blood and descent, organisation and traditions. Psalms 122, for example, is very expressive from this point of view; and we well remember how Jeroboam the son of Nebat so dreaded the binding effect of these pilgrimages that he was prompted to establish those rival worships at Dan and Bethel, which have for all time pointed him out as the man ‘who made Israel to sin.’

(2) ‘The picture, conceived in its normal idea and according to the divine intention, is exceedingly beautiful and captivating to the imagination. A scene of saintly pilgrims going up from all sides of a Holy Land to worship and serve the Creator in a sacred city with all the tokens of religious gladness, leaving the defence of their houses and lands to their heavenly King, according to His special promise; approaching from the more distant borders to assist in, and, as it were, to have a nearer view of, and to perpetuate the symbolic ritual of a half-disclosed revelation, until the fulness of time and the Messiah should arrive, just as they had once of old assembled round the awful mount to hear the first utterance of the Law, is indeed divine.’

Verse 29


‘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.’

Exodus 34:29

‘He wist not that the skin of his face shone.’ Few and simple as these words are, there could be none grander written to the memory of a hero. The noblest and loftiest character is assuredly that of the man who is so absorbed in the Divine nature of his calling, and so conscious of the need of those for whom he labours, that he becomes forgetful of the beauty in his character which others recognise, and almost unconscious that he is himself the worker.

I. There are many unconscious believers and workers in the world still, who may gather helpful thoughts from this fact concerning Moses.—Much time and ability have been devoted to discussing the question of ‘Christian assurance.’ To say that if we do not feel that we are saved, we are not saved, is to lose sight of what salvation really means. It is nowhere stated in Scripture that an assurance of that salvation which is a gradual matter, a day-by-day struggle and deliverance, is either universal or necessary. God may think it best that some of us should not have assurance, as on that great day He kept Moses unconscious that the skin of his face shone.

II. Perhaps some of us may feel that there were moments of such bright and hopeful experience once, but they are past now, and that seems to us the saddest thought of all.—Still we need not despair. We should go back as Moses did to the mount where God had spoken to him, to the source of the old enthusiasm and the former faith. If we go back and stand face to face with the crucified Christ, our life will glow anew with the radiance of His love, even though we ourselves are unconscious of it.

III. This holds good also regarding our work for God. Many a splendid silent work is done on earth, and the doer is perhaps unconscious of it, and may remain unconscious till the great day of the Lord shall reveal it.

—Canon Teignmouth Shore.


(1) ‘ “Moses wist not that the skin of his face shone.” I would fain refuse as emphatically to magnify myself.

For what have I which I have not received? If I am endowed with the spirit of power and love and discipline, if I am growing in the grace and knowledge of my Lord and Saviour, I owe it to nothing of my own—I owe it altogether to the undeserved kindness of God my Redeemer and Keeper and Friend.

And am I not far removed still from the perfect character? Habitually and deeply I am impressed with the conviction of my shortcoming and sin. There are dark spots on the whiteness of my robe. There are unholy thoughts in the secret of my heart.

And is not my sanctification a gradual process? The precious stone does not gleam rainbows the moment it touches the lapidary’s wheel, and the growth of my soul in spiritual lustre is quiet and progressive. I do not see it readily. I cannot boast of it yet.

And am I not in the company of a peerless Lord? Christ is my Exemplar, Master, End. The American singer says of his mother, “I read her face, as one who reads a true and holy book.” So, while Jesus inspires me, He compels me to confess, “I am a sinful man, O Lord”; He makes me conscious of inferiority.

Thus I do not know that my face is shining.’

(2) ‘The man whose face really shines is unconscious of it. In all regions of life this is the crowning charm. Whenever a man begins to think himself perfect, he begins to deteriorate. The beauty of childhood is its perfect unconsciousness; and if we would be born again and enter the Kingdom of Heaven, we must become as little children in this also. “I always thought that you were perfect until I heard you say that you were!” was the shrewd comment which a practical man made upon the credentials of one who was boasting of himself. When climbing the ladder never look down, or your head will become giddy, and your feet will slip; keep looking up, and you will hardly realise how high you have climbed.’

Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Exodus 34". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cpc/exodus-34.html. 1876.
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