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Bible Commentaries

Grant's Commentary on the Bible

Exodus 34

Verses 1-35



Though the first tables of the law had been given to Moses, they never came into the camp. Thus Israel never was under absolute law. This would have meant death for all Israel. But the Lord instructs Moses to cut two more tables of stone and again come up the mountain to meet the Lord who would write the commandments on these stones. Again, however, Moses was to be alone: neither people, herds or flocks were to come near the mountain.

When Moses came with the stone tables, the Lord descended in the cloud, standing with Moses to proclaim the name of the Lord. This was different than the first giving of the law (ch.20), for the Lord speaks of Himself as "the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin" (vs.6-7). In verse 6 and the first part of verse 7 the Lord is not declaring law at all, but that which is in contrast to law, for it expresses what is actually in the heart of God, and what is now manifested in perfection in the person of the Lord Jesus and in His great sacrifice of Calvary.

However, what follows seems practically contrary to this: "by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children's children to the third and the fourth generation." This was really a mixture of mercy and law, or in other words, law tempered with mercy. If this had not been the case, Israel could not possibly have continued under law for the years they did. In fact, all the sacrifices they had to make continually were a constant reminder of God's mercy toward them, while at the same time they were told to obey the ten commandments.

Even under law God would forgive cases of sin, transgression and iniquity, which includes badly aggravated cases of sin, but such forgiveness could only be where there was genuine repentance. So long as one took sides with his guilt, he would by no means be cleared. Also, the iniquities of the fathers would have solemn results in their children and children to the third and fourth generation. If a man was a thief or an adulterer, his children would suffer for this, on earth. In spite of such governmental results, the children can still be saved by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus. Yet we know that even when law was tempered by mercy, Israel's failure and disobedience has been total and complete.

This declaration by God moved Moses to bow and worship, also entreating the Lord's grace in going amongst Israel in spite of their obstinacy. God had already promised this (ch.33:17), yet no doubt Moses felt it right to add this extra plea.

The Lord tells Moses then that He will make a covenant with Israel. This is still a conditional covenant, though not one of absolute law. In fact, it is not based upon what God had already done (Exodus 19:4), but begins with what God would do, that is, "marvels such as have not been done in all the earth, nor in any nation" (v.10). Though the covenant was conditional, yet what God would do was not conditional. God would also drive out the inhabitants of Canaan before Israel. While this took place, yet Israel allowed part of some of these nations to remain in the land later (Judges 1:21; 27-31,33). God kept His covenant, but Israel was responsible to make no covenant with any of the inhabitants of the land (v.12), but rather to destroy their religious altars, their sacred pillars and images.

They were to keep themselves clear of every complicity with those nations and their practices. There was to be no intermarriage (v.16) and no making of molded idols.

On the positive side, they were to remember each year to keep the feast of unleavened bread at God's appointed time. Also, they were to recognize that the firstborn male child was the Lord's. The firstborn of their livestock also belonged to the Lord, whether ox or sheep (v.19). Verse 20 raises an interesting point, however. The firstborn of a donkey could be redeemed by the sacrifice of a lamb. If not redeemed, its neck was to be broken. The donkey is an unclean animal, typical of man is his rebellious state, and who therefore needs the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. If he is not redeemed, then violence is necessary to break the strength of his stubbornness: he will fall under the judgment of God. So that it is in the same verse we are told, "all the firstborn of your sons you shall redeem."

Also, no one could appear in God's presence without something to present to God. Law always required that man should present something to God, but law never provided the only sacrifice that God can possibly accept on man's behalf. The law proves man to be empty, devoid of the righteousness which the law required.

Again, the second covenant of the law still required the keeping of the seventh day Sabbath: people must rest on that day even in the busiest seasons of the year (v.21). They must also observe the feat of weeks, when the firstfruits were gathered, bringing these to the Lord before they harvested the rest of their crop. Then at the year's end, when crops were harvested, they must observe the feast of ingathering. Three times in the year the men must all appear at Jerusalem, for these two feast and for the Passover (ch.23:14-16). When this was observed, God would take care of their families, as verse 24 implies: they and their land would be safe.

God's claims must be fully recognized by the bringing of the first of the firstfruits to the house of the Lord. Interestingly, a kid was not to be boiled in its mother's milk. Milk symbolizes the elementary truths of the Word of God (1 Peter 2:2), and milk is intended to nourish the little ones, not to kill them. So, while God's rights are of first importance, the proper rights of even the youngest children are to be recognizes.

All of those things from verse 13 to verse 26 deal with Israel's side of the covenant, and while they were things to be done or avoided, yet it should be clear that the motives behind these were the most important. Without faith these things could never be properly carried out.

The Lord then told Moses to write these words of the covenant (v.27). The writing of Moses was not on the tables of stone, for God had said that He would write on these (the ten commandments), but Moses was to write what was told him in verses 10 to 26. For a second time Moses was in the mount forty days and forty nights, neither eating or drinking. In not drinking at all, he would have to be miraculously sustained by God. Then God wrote on the tables the ten commandments.



In returning now to Israel with the two tables of stone, Moses did not realize that the skin of his face was shining. This was a reflection of the glory of the Lord, not a full manifestation of God's glory, which is seen only in the Lord Jesus. In Matthew 17:2 we read of the transfiguration of the Lord Jesus, and that "His face shone as the sun." Only the skin of Moses' face shone, for this was a reflection exterior to Moses himself. But the face of the Lord Jesus shines with a brightness that comes from within, not a reflection (2 Corinthians 4:6), for He is God.

Still, God's glory is reflected in the giving of the law, as2 Corinthians 3:7-11; 2 Corinthians 3:7-11 tells us, though this gave only a faint picture of the fact that far greater glory was to be revealed in the person of the Lord Jesus. Aaron and the children of Israel were afraid to come near Moses when they saw this reflected brightness, so that it was necessary for Moses to put a covering over his face while he talked with them. When he went in to speak with the Lord he removed the veil. Even this reflected glory was too much for the people to endure, for it symbolizes only a partial manifestation of God's glory as seen in the giving of the law, which man is proven utterly unable to keep. Only in Christ, now revealed in pure grace, is the veil removed, but Israel, having refused Christ, still has the veil on their heart (2 Corinthians 3:14-15).

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Bibliographical Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Exodus 34". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. 1897-1910.