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Bible Commentaries

Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible

Exodus 34


The tables are renewed: Moses goes up into the mount, where the name of THE LORD is proclaimed: the Lord reneweth the covenant, and Moses descends again from the mountain.

Before Christ 1491.

Verses 1-4

Exodus 34:1-4. Hew thee two tables of stone, &c.— See Exodus 34:28. God being reconciled through Moses's intercession, the covenant is renewed.

REFLECTIONS.—1. Moses is commanded to hew new tables for God to write upon, instead of those which were broken. Note; (1.) Wherever God through Christ is reconciled to a soul, there he will anew engrave on the heart the law which sin had utterly defaced. We shall be under a dangerous delusion, if we promise ourselves peace with God, and live in the allowed transgression of his commandments. (2.) Whatever pains ministers may take to hew the table of the heart, it is God alone that can write his law there.

2. He goes up without delay into the mount of God, while the people with fear and trembling stand at a distance, and are left to lament for a season their late rebellion against God. Note; (1.) We can never be in too great haste to make up the breaches between God and our souls. (2.) Though God forgive our sins, we ought not to forget them.

Verses 5-6

Exodus 34:5-6. Proclaimed the name of the Lord Moses desired to see the glory of the Lord, ch. Exodus 33:18. The Lord promises to shew him his goodness; and, accordingly, he passes by before him, proclaiming his Name, the Deliverer and Covenant-God of the Hebrews; and also his attributes, at once of mercy and of terror; those attributes which were displayed in their most glorious light in the redemption of the world by the death of JESUS CHRIST: God thus shewing himself merciful, that is, abounding in tender mercy and pardoning goodness: gracious, i.e. free and disinterested in his love: long-suffering, patiently bearing with sinners, not willing that any one should perish: yet though thus exquisite in mercy, and ready to forgive sins, at the same time just; not clearing or suffering the obstinately guilty to escape; but visiting, &c. for which see the note on ch. Exodus 20:5.

Verse 7

Exodus 34:7. And that will by no means clear the guilty There is nothing for the guilty in the Hebrew: and Houbigant well observes, that the connective particle being placed before this clause, and none before the next, visiting the iniquity, &c. it is plain, that this former part of the sentence refers to the latter. The exact meaning of the Hebrew, according to him, is, qui erit impunis, non impune abibit; as much as to say, "if they shall neglect my laws that their crimes may be unrestrained and unpunished, I will not suffer them to pass unpunished; but will visit the iniquity of the fathers," &c. The verb נקה nake, signifies, to free from guilt, obligation, or punishment; and in this sense the Hebrew might literally be rendered, and who, by freeing from guilt, will not free from guilt; i.e. according to the Hebrew idiom, will not by any means free from guilt; will not suffer iniquity to pass unpunished. Or we may read it, but he will by no means clear, when he visits the iniquity, &c.

REFLECTIONS.—Moses is now, at the Divine command, gone up to meet God, and he condescends to manifest his glory, and proclaims those adorable perfections, which are not only the hope of Israel, but of all the ends of the earth. May we seriously consider this glorious character, and be duly affected with the proclamation before us!

The Lord, the Lord God, the Self-existent, and the Almighty, whose power is able to the uttermost to save or to destroy; and good as he is great, delighting in the darling attribute of mercy. Merciful and gracious: full of such bowels of compassion, as even earthly fathers never knew; end freely dispensing his grace, yea, making the most transcendent displays of it to the most undeserving. Long-suffering: though our provocations be numberless, and our sins repeated and aggravated, yet his patience is not tired, nor his offers of pardon withheld. Abundant in goodness and truth: like a mighty river are the streams of his grace, ever flowing, and overflowing; and in his promises, pledging his word, yea, his oath, for his fulfilment of his most extensive engagements of mercy: Yea, keeping mercy for thousands, inexhaustible the source, and endless the current: the greatness of the number who share it, does not in the least diminish the fulness of mercy in him; and it runs parallel with the days of eternity. Forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin: so that we may never be afraid to return, even after our longest or deepest falls, since He is the same yesterday, to-day, and for every and saves to the uttermost. But remember withal, he is as just as he is merciful; as incapable of clearing the impenitent, as of rejecting those who return to him; and, therefore, He executes vengeance on his enemies, visiting their iniquity upon children's children. How then should we fear, how should we love this great and gracious and holy Lord God!

Verse 9

Exodus 34:9. And he said, If now I have found grace in thy sight This verse might be rendered, and he said, since now I have found grace in thy sight, let my LORD, אדני adoni [an unquestionable name or title of the MESSIAH] I pray thee, go amongst us; though it be a stiff-necked people: for thou wilt pardon our iniquity and our sin, and take us for thine inheritance.

Note; Moses receives the proclamation of God with reverence, thankfulness, and submission; and having such grounds, improves them into a prayer for the pardon of Israel and God's presence among them. The more stiff-necked they had been, the more needful was God's patience and power to bear with and convert them. Note; 1. The ground of all prayer is the promises of God. 2. We have need continually to ask for the pardon of our sins, because we continually need it. 3. They who have found favour for their own souls, ought never to forget their stiff-necked neighbours.

Verse 10

Exodus 34:10. And he said, Behold, I make a covenant The terms of this covenant are delivered in this and the 11th verse: God promises to drive out the inhabitants of Canaan on his part; the Israelites, on theirs, were to do what is enjoined in the 12th and following verses. In the Hebrew the first part of this verse is, Behold, I make a covenant before, or, with all thy people. Which I will do with thee, at the end of the verse, expresses God's presence with the Israelites; as much as to say, in the midst of thee.

Verse 13

Exodus 34:13. Their images I should imagine that the original word מצבתם matzebotam, signifies pillars or something of that kind, dedicated to the צבא zaba or hosts of heaven.

Verse 14

Exodus 34:14. The Lord, whose name is Jealous See note on ch. Exo 20:5 where we have observed, that the context shews this word to signify the jealousy of a husband; in which relation the Lord was pleased to represent himself towards Israel, Thy Maker is thy Husband: and on this account it is, that idolatry is always represented in Scripture as infidelity to this Divine Husband—as spiritual adultery, Exodus 34:15. Some have conceived, that such expressions have reference to the very impure and infamous rites which the heathens paid to many of their idols.

Verse 15

Exodus 34:15. Thou eat of his sacrifice Eating of sacrifices offered to false gods, was an express declaration of communicating in the worship of those gods: this will shew the force of St. Paul's reasoning, 1 Corinthians 10:20.

REFLECTIONS.—God graciously answers Moses in the renewal of his covenant with them; and an astonishing instance of mercy it was.

1. He promises to go with them, to work his miracles in the midst of them for their comfort and the terror of their enemies; and to bring them into the promised land. Note; It is a marvellous thing how any soul gets safe to heaven, and we shall be a wonder to ourselves when we come thither.

2. He solemnly enjoins them to beware of idolatry, lest his jealousy again should be awakened, and burn like fire against them. They must take care of every occasion that might lead them aside. They must not only worship no other God, nor make any image to represent him, but they must destroy every monument of idolatry, and utterly avoid every connexion with those nations who might ensnare them. Learn, (1.) The great danger of being unequally yoked with unbelievers: they will more easily succeed to turn us aside from God, than we shall to turn them to him. (2.) The necessity of removing from us whatever may be a snare to us, and particularly of avoiding every occasion which would stir up our easily-besetting sin.

Verse 19

Exodus 34:19. Every firstling among thy cattle, &c.— Or, Every male-firstling of thy cattle, either of ox or sheep.

Verse 21

Exodus 34:21. Earing-time See Genesis 45:6. It is remarkable, with what minute care the observation of the sabbath is constantly provided for: no season, not even the most laborious and busy, was to exempt them from this duty.

Verse 24

Exodus 34:24. Neither shall any man desire thy land Almost every thing in the Jewish policy tends to prove the immediate interposition of God with them. But nothing can prove it more strongly, than that restraint which the Lord here promises to lay, and which in after-times he did lay, upon the minds of their enemies, while the Israelites went up to appear before him thrice every year. It is manifest, that without such a restraint upon their enemies, the Jewish polity must have been soon utterly subverted; and it is equally manifest, that God alone could lay such a restraint upon minds. Note; 1. When God calls, we may safely leave our all in his hands. 2. Every man is under the restraint of a superior power: even the wicked are confined in bounds which they cannot pass oExodus 34:3. God's service is a service of great gladness; they who are faithful in it, find that therein only true joy is to be found.

Verse 27

Exodus 34:27. Write thou these words, &c.— What was before spoken, is now committed to writing; and abundant cause have we to bless God, that his word is thus transmitted to us, and not left to oral tradition. A covenant is entered into between God and Moses in behalf of the people of Israel: thus peace is re-established, and Moses's mediation effectual. As we have a greater Mediator than Moses, we have also a part in a better covenant, established on better promises, and secured by the best of titles, even by the sacrifice and infinite merit of our Divine Lord.

Verse 28

Exodus 34:28. And he wrote upon the tables To try the patience of the people, Moses was detained a second time for forty days and forty nights in the mount with the Lord; where he, (i.e. the Lord; see Exo 34:1 and Deuteronomy 10:4.) renewing his covenant with the people, wrote upon the tables the ten commandments as before. Respecting this very long and extraordinary fast of Moses, all that need be said is, that the God who so universally sustains the human frame by the means of food, certainly can, and in the case of Moses certainly did, sustain that human frame without any animal support, by his own immediate and sole influence. See Matthew 4:4.

Verse 29

Exodus 34:29. Moses wist not that the skin of his face shone Moses did not know that the divine glory communicated itself to his face, and caused it to shine or irradiate, while he conversed with God. The word rendered shine, is קרן karan, which signifies primarily to irradiate, shoot forth, or emit rays of light; and so, to shoot forth as horns, whence it signifies a horn; and being rendered horned by the Vulgate, has given rise to that simple representation of ignorant painters, who describe Moses with two horns sprouting out from his forehead. The true meaning is, that the Divine Glory irradiated the face of Moses; from whence an extraordinary effulgence proceeded, so great as to terrify Aaron and the children of Israel, Exo 34:30 and to render it necessary for a vail to be put upon his face while he conversed with them; Exodus 34:33-35. We learn from St. Paul, 2 Corinthians 3:13; 2Co 3:18 that this was in allusion to the plainness of the Gospel-dispensation, compared with that of the law; which affords us a farther proof, that various actions in the legal, were emblematical and significative of future things in the evangelical dispensation; and consequently serves much to confirm that interpretation which we have given of ch. Exodus 33:18, &c. "Moses," says Stackhouse, "being now to bring down the tables of the covenant from the mount,—that the people might not suspect him of any fallacy or collusion, or think that his pretence to a correspondence with the Deity (as that of some subsequent lawgivers proved) was vain and fictitious, God was pleased to send along with him this testimony, as it were, of his having held communion with God: for the miraculous radiancy wherewith he was adorned, shewed in what company he had been during his absence; confirmed his message to the people; and in every respect carried new credentials with it. It was a custom among the ancient heathens, and probably derived from what here befel Moses, to represent the gods with a beamy glory around their heads. Moses was certainly in this, as well as in many other things, an eminent type of our Saviour Christ; and the change of his countenance, an emblem of our Lord's transfiguration upon the mount; when his face (as the evangelist relates the matter) did shine as the sun, and his raiment was white as the light. See Matthew 17:2. In both cases it was the same glorious Being within the cloud, who transfused this radiant splendour around his Son and servant." Some have supposed, that this brightness continued upon the face of Moses till the day of his death; a matter, concerning which we must be content to remain in ignorance. See a dissertation on that subject in Explication de textes dijficiles, p. 71.

REFLECTIONS.—Moses now spends forty days more with God, nor needed other refreshment than what was drawn from the presence of and communion with the Fountain of his life: no doubt he could say, "It is good to be here." They who know the blessing of communion with God, will never count the time long that they spend with him; but for the sake of it, will sometimes choose to rob their bodies of the refreshments of meat and sleep. His work being finished,

1. He descends with the tables in his hands, and bearing in his countenance a divine impression of the glory he had beheld. Thus God put upon him a distinguishing badge of honour. They who converse often with God, carry the impression on their countenances, and shew it in their conversation. A real Christian may be known by the brightness and glory of his daily walk, shining as a light in a dark world.
2. He knew not that such a glory was upon him; but the people were struck and terrified with it. Note; (1.) The saint who is most distinguished by God's gifts and graces, will have the lowliest opinion of himself, and be least conscious of his own excellencies. (2.) Others often see more grace in us, than we can see in ourselves; jealousy over their hearts sometimes leading believers to doubt more or less concerning the work of grace within them, or at least concerning the degrees of it. (3.) Guilt makes us afraid even of our best friends, when sent with messages of kindness to us, from the consciousness of our own demerits.

3. He vailed his face before the people that they might talk with him; but when he appeared before the Lord, he uncovered himself. True humility will lead us rather to conceal, than to make a shew of our excellencies; and as ministers, to seek rather to be useful, than to be admired. The vail on Moses's face was an emblem of the darkness of that dispensation. In Christ that vail is done away: only there is the vail of sense still around us; but when death takes away this body of flesh, then shall we with open face assuredly behold the glory of the Lord.

Reflections on the vail of Moses.

The lawgiver of the Jews, having ascended the second time to mount Sinai, where he obtained a sight of the Divine Glory, and had the second tables inscribed anew with the finger of God after the first were broken, now descends to the camp with the tables in his hands, but is greatly surprised to see his brother Aaron and other Israelites filled with perturbation at his approach, and afraid to look him in the face. Such horror might indeed have well become them the first time he descended; for they had, during his absence, been guilty of that almost unpardonable crime, the making of the golden calf, which they could not but suspect would be highly resented both by God and Moses. But now that their peace was made, and their prophet comes with the pledges of reconciliation in his hand, what can be the reason (might he say to himself) of my brethren's running away from me, as if I were still their enemy? The face of Moses was equally meek as before; but though the features were the same, it shone with a glory visible to every body but himself. This strange phenomenon was the cause of the awful distance which they kept. But perceiving that his voice was the same, though his face was altered, they resume their courage, and venture to approach him, though still they dare not come to any close interview with their shining Lawgiver, till, in condescension to their weakness, he put a vail upon his glorious face. Such honour it pleased God to confer upon his faithful servant, not only to inspire the minds of the Israelites with greater reverence for him, but chiefly to dignify that dispensation of which he was the minister.
Moses himself, perhaps, intended no more by vailing his face, than is expressed in the history. The wisdom of the Holy Spirit, however, having given us an allegorical interpretation of this action by the mouth of St. Paul, let us dwell upon it a little.
The vail upon the face of Moses, according to that eminent apostle, signified that, partly through the obscurity of their law, and partly through the blindness of their hearts, the children of Israel could not stedfastly look to the end of that which was abolished. Now that which was abolished, is their legal dispensation; and the end of that which was abolished, is Jesus Christ himself, who is the end of the law for righteousness, as having fulfilled its meaning, cancelled its authority, and introduced in its room a far more excellent economy.
What! may some reply, did Israel not know the meaning of their own law? Was it the intention of the Almighty to conceal from them a thing in which they were so highly interested? Had they no sufficient intimations, that their ritual institutions pointed at better things, and were in future time capable of repeal, and would actually receive an end?
In answer to this, it is not at all denied that there were many things in the writings and law of Moses, which not obscurely hinted its true design. The vail of Moses was not so thick and broad, but some rays of his light did actually transpire: even as the darkness and blackness which involved the frighted summit of mount Sinai, was interspersed with flashes of lightening and gleams of fire. The attentive Israelite, who meditated upon the law of the Lord day and night, might know that more was meant than was plainly expressed. The constant expectation of a Messias, which universally obtained in all ages of the Jewish church, might fully convince them of the weakness of their rites to do what they seemed to promise, and that the ceremonial law was far from being the whole of their religion. They had it hinted to them in the dying benediction of their great forefather, that their judicial law should not be always observed, but that a period should arrive, when the sceptre should depart from the royal tribe. A small measure of acquaintance with their own hearts, might have easily persuaded them, that the demands of the moral law could not procure for them justification. How can the proudest legalist plume himself with the foolish conceit of being able to conform himself in all respects to the very letter of the law, when the very letter of the law says, "thou shalt not covet?"——If then there were many Israelites who rested in their law without looking any further, and fondly imagined that it was able to give them eternal life, this fatal mistake was not owing to the obscurity of their dispensation, but to the blindness of their hearts, which were as hard as the stones on which their law was written, and vailed as their lawgiver's face.
But, after all, it must be confessed, that the law and holy books of Moses have much obscurity in them, when compared with the great plainness of speech used by the apostles in the New Testament. They may be compared to a fine picture placed in a dark corner; though its principal figures may be discerned by a penetrating eye, it is, however, impossible that the delicate touches of the pencil, the distributions of light and shade, the beauty of the tints, the elegancy of the designs, can be thoroughly perceived by the most vigorous sight, till the finished piece is translated from its obscure situation, and set in an advantageous light.
One who reads the writings of Moses, and throws but a cursory glance over the moral, ceremonial, and judicial law, without remembering that, like Moses, they put a vail upon their face, would be very apt to mistake the true design of the whole system, and to entertain many erroneous opinions, which are really inconsistent with its original intention, though they seemed to be founded upon it. One might think that the ceremonial worship, prescribed so minutely by Moses, must certainly have been very acceptable to God for its own sake, or he would never have been at the pains to adjust, by his express authority, the smallest circumstances relative to it. One might almost imagine, that the Deity took pleasure to eat the flesh of bulls, and drink the blood of goats; that the beauty of his worship consisted in outward rites; that the blood of slaughtered beasts was able to take away sin; that man had by nature a power to obey the moral law; that righteousness could come by the law; that the natural seed of Abraham could never have been rejected from being the people of God; that their civil state would never have been unhinged, and their ceremonies never abolished. These and many such false opinions might have been suggested by the terms in which the law is uttered; and many a carnal Jew was taken in this snare. "Even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart." 2 Corinthians 3:15.

In vain did the prophets endeavour to pull this vail aside, and reclaim from these vain imaginations that stiff-necked people; the bulk of whom persevere in their absurd prejudices and presumptuous expectations to this very day.
If any should enquire, why the revelation of the Divine will was not equally plain in the past as in the present age? Why the God with whom light dwells would deliver a law to his people, of which the true design and genuine scope was not obvious at the first view? It is not for us to dive into the eternal counsels: it was the will of God that it should be so; and who dares say to him "What dost thou?" Let us rather observe how the vail was gradually removed till Moses stands confessed, and the design of his economy is no longer a mystery since the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Much is said in the prophetic Scriptures which might have undeceived the blind Jews, and taught them to abate their vain confidence in their national privileges, their ceremonial observances, and their moral righteousnesses. The grand doctrines of Christianity, relating to the person, the character, and mediation of Jesus Christ, are laid down in these venerable writings with greater perspicuity than in the books of Moses. But though the prophets harmoniously conspire in giving their suffrage to every Christian doctrine, yet still they put upon their face the vail of poetical figures and ceremonial phrases. They describe spiritual blessings by images of civil peace and plenty. With them, the victory of Jesus Christ is the treading of a wine-press, in which the wine is the blood of slaughtered enemies; prayer is incense, and a pure offering; conversion is going up to Jerusalem; gospel-worship is the celebration of the festivals of the Jews.

But now comes John the Baptist, the harbinger of Christ, who talks still plainer than Moses or the prophets; and, instead of commending the Levitical sacrifices, he invites his hearers to regard that unknown Person, to whom he pointed as the complement of them all. "Behold the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world." John 1:29.

But by the ministry of Christ and his blessed apostles the law is wholly unmasked, and the vail on Moses's face entirely done away. The lowly birth, indigent life, and ignominious death of the Messias himself, was an incontestible proof that his kingdom is not of this world, as the Jews expected. Though he was the great High-Priest, he gave no attendance at the altar; and his fore-runner, though born a Levite, never officiated in the temple. This was a plain declaration, that he was come to abrogate these ancient rites. But if we attend to the strain of his doctrine, it will appear how it was calculated to remove the vail, and cure the prejudices of the mistaken Jews. He taught, that a man is not defiled by what enters in at the mouth; foretold, that their city and temple, the centre of their worship, should be razed, and that a spiritual worship should be established over all the world, and might be presented to God in every place. That he might pave the way for explaining the grand doctrine of justification, he expatiated on the vast extent of the moral law, and frequently inculcated the sad depravity of human nature. He spoke of himself as the fulfiller of all righteousness, the heavenly manna, and the antitype of the serpent lifted up in the wilderness.
But after his ascension he inspired his apostles to finish what he had only begun, and completely to remove that vail which Moses had put upon his face. By their apostolic decree they instructed the Christian Gentiles in their New-Testament liberty; and by their epistles, addressed to the primitive churches, they entirely dissipated the obscurity of the Old-Testament shadows. Now it appears, that the kingdom of God is not meats and drinks, but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost; that the Mosaic law was only a schoolmaster to tutor the church in her childish state, and train her up for a more perfect institution. Now we plainly see, that righteousness cannot possibly come by the law, nor pardon by the sacrifices. If the vail is not still upon our hearts, may behold with open face the glory of the Lord, and be changed into the same image from glory into glory. Now the face of the covering spread over all people, and the vail cast over all nations, is entirely destroyed; and therefore, O house of Israel, come and let us walk in the light of the Lord.

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Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Exodus 34". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. 1801-1803.