Exodus 33:18 Commentary - Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae (Old and New Testaments)
GOD’S GOODNESS HIS GLORY
Exo 33:18-19. And he said, I beseech thee, shew me thy glory. And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee.
NO man can have ever contemplated the intercession of Abraham in behalf of Sodom and Gomorrha, without being astonished at the condescension of God, who would permit a worm of the earth so to encroach upon his goodness, and so to make every fresh concession a foundation for yet further petitions. Somewhat of the same kind we behold in Moses when interceding for Israel, when God had threatened to destroy them for worshipping the golden calf. He had, by his importunity, prevailed on God to promise that he would suspend the execution of his judgments on them; and that, though he could no longer vouch-safe to conduct them himself, he would send an angel, who should lead them in safety to the promised land. Having succeeded so far, he prosecuted his work of intercession, till he had prevailed on God yet further to bear with them, and to continue to them his presence and guidance as he had hitherto done. And now, having found Jehovah so infinitely condescending to him when importuned for others, he determined to urge a petition for himself; a petition, which, under any other circumstances, he could never have dared to ask: and it was no less than this, “I beseech thee, shew me thy glory.”
His success in this petition will form the first part of our present subject: and some reflections arising out of that success will close it. Let us notice,
His success in this petition—
The petition itself must be first explained—
Respecting its import, commentators have differed: some having imagined that it proceeded from weakness and infirmity, as if he had needed further evidence of God’s presence and favour. But a due attention to God’s reply will remove all doubt respecting the precise meaning of his servant’s request. Moses had enjoyed many visible tokens of God’s presence: in the burning bush; in the bright cloud which conducted Israel out of Egypt; on the burning mount, where he had been admitted into the immediate presence of the Deity; and at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, whither God had descended on purpose to honour him in the sight of all Israel, and “spoken with him face to face, as a man speaketh to his friend [Note: –11.] ;” Jehovah had appeared to him. How then, after so many manifestations of the divine presence, could he say, “Shew me thy glory?” I answer, In all those manifestations he had seen only a symbol of the Deity: now therefore he desired a sight of the Deity himself. He knew that the Deity was visibly seen in heaven: and he did not know but that he might also be visibly seen on earth: and therefore he made this the subject of his request.
God’s gracious reply to him shews clearly that this was the thing desired: for he said to Moses, “Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live [Note: 0.].” Human nature, in its present shape, is incapable of sustaining so bright a vision; as the unprotected eye is of gazing upon the meridian sun. And therefore, whilst God approved of the petition as proceeding from an ardent desire after a more perfect knowledge of him, he told him that in its full extent it could not be granted; not because of any want of condescension in the Deity to grant it, but for want of a capacity in Moses himself to sustain it.]
The answer of God to it will be now clear—
[“I will make all my goodness pass before thee;” so that, though the full effulgence of my glory will be veiled, all that can be endured by thee, and that will profitably correspond with thy petition, shall be granted. In respect of the effulgence of my glory, I will favour thee with such a view of my back parts (for my face thou canst not see) as shall give thee as full a conception of my glory as thou art capable of in thy present state; and, by an audible voice, will make known to thee my perfections, which thou art more concerned to know, and by an acquaintance with which thy soul will be far more enriched, than it could be by any manifestation of my God-head, however clear or bright! Accordingly, God put him into a cleft of a rock, and covered him there with his hand whilst he was passing by; and then withdrew his hand, that he might have such a distant and mitigated view of his back parts, as might be seen without the utter destruction of the beholder [Note: 0–23.].
This vision God accompanied with a distinct and audible annunciation of his own attributes, as a God of infinite majesty, of almighty power, of unbounded mercy, and of immaculate and inexorable justice; all of which perfections were illustrative of his goodness [Note: Exo 34:5-7.]. Here it is of importance to observe, that God’s justice, no less than his mercy, is an essential part of his goodness. As in human governments the exercise of justice, however painful to those who by their violations of the law have incurred a sentence of condemnation, is beneficial to the whole community; so is it in the divine government, which, if it allowed impunity to transgressors, would be disparaged and dishonoured.
The particular perfection of sovereignty is supposed by many to be in direct opposition to the attribute of goodness; and is therefore denied by them as having any existence, or at least any exercise, in the divine government. But, the very moment that God says to Moses, “I will make all my goodness pass before thee,” he adds, “and I will proclaim the name of the Lord before thee, and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy to whom I will shew mercy.” This perfection, therefore, in conjunction with all the rest, must be considered as constituting an essential part of the divine character, and as properly illustrating his “goodness.”
And here let me remark, that it is not in any single perfection that God’s glory consists, but in the united and harmonious exercise of all. “God is light,” we are told [Note: 1Jn 1:5.]. Now light consists of many different rays, some of a more brilliant, and others of a more sombre aspect: and we can no more detach from it those which are of a darker hue, than those which are more bright and vivid. It is in the union and just admixture of all, that light consists. And so it is with respect to the divine glory; to which all God’s perfections—the more forbidding or terrific attributes of sovereignty and justice, no less than the more endearing perfections of love and mercy—are necessary. And this view of the divine glory fully answered the wishes of Moses, which a more literal compliance with his petition, even if it could have been endured, would not so well have satisfied.]
A more distinct explanation of the particulars contained in this answer to Moses will more properly arise, whilst we make,
Some reflections arising out of his success—
The excellence of the Gospel—
[In the Gospel, all that was vouchsafed to Moses is imparted to us with tenfold advantage: because, whilst a fuller insight into the revelation itself is granted to us than was ever vouchsafed to him, we can contemplate it at our leisure, and without any such emotions as would tend to embarrass our minds. Behold then, I say, that Almighty God, “who dwelleth in the light which no man can approach unto, whom no man hath seen or can see [Note: 1Ti 6:16.],” is become visible to us in the person of his Son: as it is said, “No man hath seen God at any time: the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him [Note: Joh 1:18.].” The Lord Jesus Christ, “having in himself all the fulness of the Godhead [Note: Col 2:9.],” is, on this very account, called “the image of the invisible God [Note: Col 1:15.] ;” because Jehovah, who in his own essence is invisible to mortal eyes, is become visible to us in the person of his Son, who is “the brightness of his Father’s glory, and the express image of his person [Note: Heb 1:3.] ;” insomuch, that “whoso hath seen him, hath seen the Father [Note: Joh 14:9.].” In truth, this was the mystery, which Moses probably did not understand at the time; the mystery, I mean, of his being put into the cleft of the rock. For, “that rock was Christ [Note: 1Co 10:4.]:” and it is in Christ only that God’s perfections can find scope for exercise towards sinful man, and be all displayed in united splendour. But in Christ, “mercy and truth meet together, and righteousness and peace kiss each other [Note: Psa 85:10.].” Come then, Beloved, come to the Gospel, even to “the glorious Gospel of the blessed God!” come there, and “behold in it, as in a glass, the glory of the Lord, that you may be changed by it, even as Moses was, into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord [Note: 2Co 3:18.] !” You are privileged beyond all the prophets, not excepting even the Baptist himself: for St. Paul says, that “what no eye had seen, nor ear heard, neither had it entered into the heart of man to conceive, (no, not even the eye, or ear, or heart of Moses himself,) God had revealed unto the Christian Church by his Spirit [Note: 1Co 2:9-10.].” And by that same Spirit, working in and by the word, will God reveal it unto you also, even all “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ [Note: 2Co 4:6.].”]
The power of faith—
[Faith is justly called “the substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen [Note: Heb 11:1.].” It penetrates into the highest heavens, and “beholds Him that is invisible [Note: Heb 11:27.].” It “sees God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God [Note: Act 7:55.],” able to succour, and ready to reward, his faithful people. Yes; “though now we see not our adorable Saviour with our bodily eyes, yet, believing in him, we rejoice with joy unspeakable, and full of glory [Note: 1Pe 1:8.].” We need not envy Moses: for, great as his privilege was, it was not to be compared with ours. His eyes were gratified with a glorious sight, no doubt; and his mind was instructed with audible sounds: but he saw not the truths realized; nor did he fully comprehend the things revealed to him [Note: 1Pe 1:10-12.]. But we have seen our God incarnate; and have “beheld his glory, the glory as of the Only-begotten of the Father [Note: Joh 1:14.].” We have seen in his atonement all the perfections of God harmonizing and glorified: and we understand clearly, how God can be “just, and yet the justifier of sinful men [Note: Rom 3:26.].” We know him to be “a just God, and yet a Saviour [Note: Isa 45:21.]:” and live in the sweet assurance, that he is not only merciful, but “faithful also, and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness [Note: 1Jn 1:9.].” The world at large, indeed, and multitudes even of the Christian world, have no experimental sense of these things: and the reason of their blindness is, they have not faith (for “all men have not faith [Note: 2Th 3:2.] ”): but to believers, “Christ manifests himself as he does not unto the world [Note: Joh 14:22.] ;” and so enables them to “behold his glory, that they are changed by it into the same image, from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord [Note: 2Co 3:18.].” Blush, then, ye who “see in Christ no beauty nor comeliness for which he is to be desired [Note: Isa 53:2.]:” know, that it is the result of “unbelief, by which the devil has blinded you [Note: 2Co 4:4.]:” and that, “if ye will believe, ye shall see the glory of God [Note: Joh 11:40.] ;” ye shall see it, not only in the exercise of his power, but also in the display of “all his goodness.”]
The efficacy of prayer—
[Wonderfully is this illustrated in the passage before us. But shall we suppose that God is less condescending now than in the days of Moses, or that he will not answer prayer at this time as well as then? Know ye, that God is the same gracious God as ever: “with him is no variableness, neither shadow of turning [Note: Jam 1:17.]:” “The prayer of the upright is still his delight [Note: Pro 15:8.],” as much as at any period of the world: and that “those who come to him in his Son’s name, he will in no wise cast out.” On the contrary, he tells us, that “we may ask what we will; and it shall be done unto us [Note: Joh 15:7.].” There is no limit to his answers to believing prayer, except such as his own glory, or our capacity, have imposed. “It is not in him that we are straitened, but in our own bowels [Note: 2Co 6:12.].” How, then, should we urge the petition of Moses, and say, “O Lord, I beseech thee, shew me thy glory!” Let us have but “one thing to desire of the Lord;” and let that be, that we may behold his glory [Note: Psa 27:4.]: let us go into his presence: and say, with David, “O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee; my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is; to see thy power and thy glory [Note: Psa 63:1-2.]:” and God will draw aside the veil that intercepts our views of him; yea, “he will come down from the habitation of his holiness and his glory [Note: Isa 63:15.],” and present himself before us, saying, “Here I am [Note: Isa 58:9.].” He would even fulfil to us his promise, “hearing us before we ask, and answering whilst yet we are speaking to him [Note: Isa 65:24.].” O that we would plead with him as he has commanded us to do [Note: Luk 18:1; Luk 18:7.], and “give him no rest [Note: Isa 62:7.],” till he answer us in the desire of our hearts! And let us not imagine, that he will be offended at the largeness of our petitions: for he is as willing, as he is “able, to do exceeding abundantly for us above all that we can ask or think [Note: Eph 3:20.].” Let us “open our mouths ever so wide, he will most surely fill them [Note: Psa 81:10.].”]
The blessedness of heaven—
[When Peter beheld his Lord transfigured upon Mount Tabor, he said, “It is good to be here.” And if such a view of Christ’s glory, with his bodily eyes, was so delightful, what must it be for our disembodied spirits to be introduced into his immediate presence, and to “see him as he is [Note: 1Jn 3:2.] !” What views shall we then have of the perfections of the Godhead all uniting and glorified in the work which he accomplished on the cross! Truly that heavenly city, where he abides, “has no need of the sun or moon to lighten it; for he will be the light thereof [Note: Rev 21:23.],” and with his glory shall every soul be filled. If we account Moses happy when favoured with his transient visions of God, what shall we be, when around his throne we behold him in all his glory, and look forward to a never-ending duration of our bliss! O that we could contemplate more the blessedness of that state; and live more in an habitual preparation for it! Lift up your hearts, Brethren; for the blessed period is nigh at hand. Be “looking for it, and hasting to it [Note: 2Pe 3:12.]:” and let “nothing short of that have any glory in your eyes, by reason of the glory that excelleth.” Take now already the golden harps into your hands; and begin “the blissful song.” Emulate to the utmost of your power those who are gone before you: and soon you shall join the countless choir in singing “the song of Moses and the Lamb.”]
Consult other comments:
Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae (Old and New Testaments)
Charles Simeon (1759 - 1836) was an English evangelical Anglican cleric.
Horae Homileticae reflects the rich source of Biblical understanding of Simeon, a towering figure in the history of evangelical theology.